IN MY OPINION
For the sake of our religion’s future, we must teach children the meaning behind our rituals
BY ANEESH BAIRAVASUNDARAM
IWAS BORN IN THE UNITED STATES, in Ashland, MA, home of the Sri Lakshmi Temple. I lived with my family in one of the priest houses on the temple grounds. Since birth I’ve been surrounded by Hinduism, its culture and its festivals; I didn’t even learn English until after first grade. Provided with a home, a place to play and a place to worship, I had never needed to leave the temple grounds. This nurtured my spirit and my family life, but left me completely unaware of American culture and society.
At five I received my sacred thread in the upanayanam ceremony and since then have been consistent in doing my sandhyavandanam, prayers, three times a day. Knowing it to be important, I have always been very proud of my thread, but at first this pride had no backing. During my school gym class, friends would ask me what my thread was. I was embarrassed because I had no answer to what it meant or why it was significant.
From this very young age I began to question why many of our rituals are performed. I asked many people, and most said they followed what their parents did, without understanding why. In American society blind faith is looked down upon, and I soon became increasingly embarrassed of all the things that I didn’t know. I felt that performing these rituals without understanding them was pure blind faith.
As time went on, more and more questions surfaced, and my faith began to waver. Thankfully, with the help of my father and my spiritual guru Abhaya Asthana, I learned that everything in Hinduism has reason. I learned why we bathe the Deity and what my sacred thread means. My father’s busy life as a priest occasionally limited my religious education, but thankfully, the temple environment still answered many questions.
One program I participated in was called Bala Vidya Mandir. Much of what I learned made me proud to be a Hindu, despite the many widespread Western misconceptions. One of these misconceptions is even taught in schools, where Hinduism is presented as a purely polytheistic religion. Many, including Hindus, do not know the truth and believe the many inaccuracies.
I’m sure that many Hindu children leave their traditions because of their community’s lack of awareness. From a young age, Hindu children in America learn of many other religions, such as Christianity and Islam, but not their own.
It is common today for parents to take their children to temple festivals, and rather than recognizing the temple murtis or explaining anything about the occasion, they just socialize and leave their children clueless. Many parents were raised in a strong religious culture, but the children who grow up here in the West are left in the dark. If this perpetuation of ignorance continues, Hinduism will become a religion of little else but meaningless ritual. Thankfully, there are temple programs that strive to teach Hindu children about their traditions and customs and clarify misconceptions.
I grew up facing the same cultural struggles felt by other Hindu American youth, or even more; but despite these challenges, I found a way to learn the deeper truths about our religion through many programs and people. I wish to see more Hindus taking an active role in serving their community. I wish to see the elders of the community, like our priests, teaching the younger generation about our Sanatana Dharma. I know firsthand the busy life of a priest, and how difficult it is to find time, but if my experience has taught me anything, it’s that it is imperative that our priests and religious leaders guide our youth.
ANEESH, 17, is a high school senior with interests in biology, drama and philosophy.