Global Dharma




Minority Status Granted

IN MARCH, 2018, KARNATAKA’S Congress government granted minority status to Lingayats, a sect of the Virashaiva tradition founded by Basavanna in the 12th century. Among the benefits of being granted minority status is the freedom to run educational and religious institutions without interference or takeover by the State government. Currently India only grants this freedom to minority religions and not to the majority Hindus. In Karnataka there is a considerable political component involved, as Lingayats are a substantial voting bloc in the state.

Aarti Ramachandran explains the uniqueness of the Lingayats and Virasaivas in The Wire: “In addition to their demand, the faction of religious and political leaders at Bidar held that Lingayats and Virashaivas are not one and the same, as they are commonly held to be. According to them, Virashaivism was a sect of Shiva worship within Hinduism, whereas the Lingayat religion is an independent religion based on the Vachanas—the poetic corpus left behind by Basavanna. This, according to them, was the founding text of Lingayat worship. Therefore, they ought to be recognized as separate from both Virashaivas (who are one of the many sects within the Lingayat community) and Hindus.”


MASS PROTEST: A Lingayat rally in Bidar, India, in July, 2017. Fully 50,000 Lingayats came to voice their demand for a separate identity.

The cabinet mentioned Lingayats and Virashaiva Lingayats separately in order to pacify disgruntled Virashaivas, who were left out of the separate-minority-religion designation.

The movement was led by water resources minister M.B. Patil of the Congress party in Karnataka; its catalyst was S.M. Jamdar, a retired IAS officer.

Jamdar said Lingayats had separate religion status for 800 years until 1871, before it was taken away without reason in 1881.

To avoid backlash from other communities, the government added that this decision “should not affect the existing benefits available to other religious or linguistic minorities.”




Correcting Yoga and Spreading Culture

THREE ACHARYAS, SELECTED BY the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (an official agency of the Indian Government), have been promoting Indian culture in America starting in 2016. Given the title “Yoga and Indian Culture Acharya,” they are experts in Sanskrit, yoga and Hindu scripture. They were appointed initially for two years, extendable by two more. They have diplomatic passports. Based in Washington DC, New York and Chicago, they are mandated to travel around the country and organize events that promote Indian culture.

Prerna Arya, appointed on December 7, 2016, serves at the Indian consulate in Chicago. She completed her PhD from Gurukul Kangri University in Haridwar with a thesis on “Naturopathy in Vedic Literature.” Dayashankar Vidyalankar, serving at the Indian Consulate in New York, learned Sanskrit in Gujarat. He told The Hindu: “I taught yoga in Parliament House for nearly 15 years and serve on several advisory boards of government departments.” He opines that the entire world was “guided by the wisdom of the Vedas at one time, but we lost that due to various factors. After Independence, this is the first time that India has a government thinking its heritage should be propagated. That is why I am here.” Mokshraj, with a PhD in the Vedas from Rajasthan Sanskrit University, joined in January, 2018.

The three acharyas concur that yoga’s spiritual dimension has been undermined by commercialization. Acharya Mokshraj explains, “Our responsibility is to take yoga to each individual, without cost, so that they can reduce their medical bills and lead peaceful lives.”


SPIRITUAL AMBASSADORS: Mokshraj, one of the three Yoga and Indian Culture Acharyas




Ganesha Immigrates to Southern California

IT’S A STORY WHERE FICTION becomes fact. The arrival of the railroads in Southern California in the later years of the 19th century created a huge real-estate boom. A wave of immigrants from the eastern United States began to arrive. New towns with new names began to spring up. One such town was Pomona in eastern Los Angeles county, which sprang up on a large Mexican rancho. It was named after the Roman Goddess of orchards.

One of the real estate developments in the new city was called Ganesh Tract. It included homes on Ganesha Place, a street that bends to the right when seen from above. It exists to this day. Around the same time, in 1888, Ganesha Park was started by Patrick Tonner, a land developer, on six acres of land, which he planted with eucalyptus trees. It was the city’s first park. Tonner named it Ganesha Park after (to his understanding) the God of good things and water. The hills to the southwest of the park became known as Ganesha Hills.

Seventy years later a High School named after Ganesha, with His elephantine image on its crest, opened two miles to the west on what was then known as Ganesha Boulevard. Ten years later a new wave of immigrants arrived from India, bringing with them their love of Ganesha. Now, 130 years after that park was created, Ganesha is being worshiped daily at 15 Hindu temples in the Pomona area. And that old Mexican rancho? It is now home to another wave of immigrants, this time from the South. Ninety-two percent of the students at Ganesha High School live in homes where Spanish is spoken.


GOD, SHOW ME A SIGN: The Ganesha Park’s entry sign


Old street sign near Ganesha High


A view of Ganesha Hills in 1904


Ganesha High School Cheerleaders during football season



THE SATTRIYA DANCE: Introduced in the 15th century by a great Vaishnava saint and reformer of Assam, Mahapurusha Sankaradeva, as a powerful medium for propagation of the Vaishnava faith


NO EXCUSES: Tao performs an advanced yoga posture better than someone in their fifties—half her age. Her motto: There’s nothing you can’t do.


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