IN AUGUST, 2013, hundreds celebrated the recommencement of Bali’s Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue construction. The project had been stalled for 16 years due to the country’s political and economic hardships. The restart was made possible by a generous donor who contributed over US$40,000,000.
Colossal creations: Currently the statue is in pieces—here, Garuda’s head—which are placed around the park, awaiting the completion of the sculpture’s many other titanic segments; (inset) artists depiction of the completed statue
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Surrounded by a 600-acre cultural park, the statue is a pioneering and engineering feat of wonder. When complete and standing on its base, it will rise to over 400 feet—100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Author of the work, master sculptor Nyoman Nuarta hopes to complete the project in three years. The 700-ton masterpiece is being made of copper and brass sheeting, cladding a stainless steel framework. The stated purpose of the GWK Cultural Park is to educate people, particularly youth, about the importance of preserving their rich cultural heritage.
RECENTLY PUBLISHED STUDIES HAVE REVEALED SOME KEY differences in how people view vegetarianism in the East and the West. A group from the University of British Columbia polling subjects from India, Europe and North America learned that ethical considerations, such as animal welfare, were widely shared reasons for not eating meat. But the cultural identifications with vegetarianism were vastly different. Western vegetarians tended to renounce authoritarianism and identify with liberal world views—having gone against prevailing social currents by abstaining from meat. In contrast, Indian associated their diet with strong cultural and social values, asserting it as an important part of maintaining the body’s purity, subjects, having been born in a vegetarian nation.
Yo’ wrap’s message: A healthy vegetarian diet might identify you as a liberal and environmentalist, or perhaps a high-minded religious conservative. It all depends on where you live.
HINDU REPRESENTITIVES OF 85 TEMPLES, from all across the United States and Canada, recently met for the eighth annual Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference. This year’s event, held September 20-22 in Mississauga, Ontario, created a platform of communication and networking for Hindu temples. It fostered kindred associations and solutions to the many challenges being faced.
The event consisted of 23 sessions, with 115 speakers and moderators. Talks focused on temple management, pride in one’s faith, culture and personal values as well as ways to engage youth in their religion and temple activities. Some of this year’s most inspiring talks were given by Hindu youth, who—being raised in the West—are facing far different circumstances than their parents did growing up. HINDUISM TODAY’S editors were among the keynote speakers.
Unity of purpose: Temple leaders all aim to promote and preserve their great faith. They enhance their communities by working together, learning from each others’ challenges and solutions.
THE 25-YEAR CELEBRATION of the Nar Narayan Dev Gadi’s Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Willesden, London, on July 19-27, 2013, drew 6,000 people from all over the UK for nine joyous days of worshipful music and dance.
Established in 1988, the temple has long been a center for Swaminarayan followers as well as a growing Hindu community who take part in its many classes and workshops, including music courses, language studies, youth camps and more.
One of the biggest highlights of the celebration was a street procession in which thousands of people walked for over four hours, accompanied by beautiful floats, marching bands, dancers and bhajan singers. Many participants from the local community joined the jubilee couldn’t help dancing to the uplifting beats. By the end of the nine days, devotees were filled with the event’s unforgettable experiences.
Many of the festivities were organized by over 500 temple youth. This was a great way for the youth to honor the temple their parents had built, solidifying their faith, their community and their future.
Time to celebrate: Devotees dance to lively music, a mix of Bollywood with traditional garba, contemporary and rock
OVER THE LAST DECADE there has been much news of yoga and Hindu thought becoming widespread in Russia. This rapid growth may look recent, but its roots stretch back to the mid 1500s, when Ivan the Terrible received Russia’s first Bhagavad Gita from the Moghul Empire, according to a Yoga Journal article by Olga Kazak. The Gita was known and studied through the following centuries. Today the country’s oldest copy is still archived in Moscow. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and works by Vivekananda became available in recent times.
Olga points out that Yoga was first popular among the nation’s artistic communities, later becoming a refuge of hope under Stalin’s harsh rule. Faced with persecution for the practice of yoga, citizens did so in secret. It would play an important role for some trapped in prison camps. The Cold War era that followed romanticized yoga, as it helped influential thinkers and famous figures survive their heroic trials.
In contrast with yoga’s gentle surge through the US, Russia’s yoga movement was catalyzed by times of hardship. This history accounts for its popularity today as a courageous and noble practice. Appropriated by the nation’s people during times of darkness and tyranny, yoga became, and still is, a statement of their unshakable inner freedom and unfettered spirit.
Popular poses: Russian students perform acrobatic yoga asanas in the streets of Moscow
Plentiful Pillayar: One of many popular Ganeshas that grace the Nakhon Nayok Province of central Thailand
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AMONG THAILAND’S 65 million people—most of whom are Buddhists—one of Hinduism’s most lovable Gods is gaining widespread popularity. This culturally rich nation, about the size of Spain, proudly presents itself as the only Southeast Asian nation to have never been colonized by European powers. The country’s long-standing Buddhist traditions are supplemented by an array of knowledge pertaining to spirits, the elements and the Gods of other faiths—particularly Hinduism, which was the nation’s principal religion before the spread of Buddhism.
Ganesha, once only popular among Thailand’s artists and businessmen, has fast become a familiar sight for all. Worshiped as Phra Pikanet or Phra Phikhanesawora, this benevolent God is known to bring good fortune and can be found just about everywhere. He is seen on shop counters and roadside shrines; businesses make sure to worship Him before beginning any undertaking. His rounded form is present at His most revered shrine, in the Royal Brahmin Temple in Bangkok. He is even found on the country’s Ministry of Fine Arts emblem. He is particularly popular in the capital city of Bangkok, where Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated each year with great enthusiasm. Perhaps nowhere in the world are there more non-Hindus worshiping a Hindu God.
TODAY’S STRESS-INDUCING business world has become new ground for a growing interest in meditation throughout the United States. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to just be another passing fad. Many are spurred into the practice of meditation because of their demanding work or other related difficulties, but have found that the practice is more than just a tool to calm down. Simply put, when you take on the practice of going within yourself daily, regardless of the reasons, your view of life begins to change.
Meditation is being touted by CEOs and entrepreneurs as a new tool for success, according to an article in Financial Times. Many companies now offer classes to their employees aimed at decreasing stress and improving creativity and focus. Nowhere is this corporate meditation trend more popular than California’s Silicon Valley, an epicenter for information technology and innovative advancements. One of the most obvious examples is Google, which has instituted a “Search Inside Yourself” program for employees.
Founded by Chade-Meng Tan, one of Google’s earliest engineers, the program has been utilized by over a thousand employees, with hundreds more on the waiting list. The company has built a labyrinth for meditation walks and holds bimonthly “mindful lunches,” conducted in complete silence.
Though many of Google’s employees aren’t religious or spiritual, plenty are happy to sit through the meditation classes led by Meng. With eyes closed, he tells the large group to imagine the goodness of everyone on the planet: “When you breathe in, breathe all that goodness into your heart. Using your heart, multiply that goodness by ten. When you breathe out, send that goodness to the whole world, and visualize yourself breathing out white light—brilliant white light.” One employee would later say that when exhaling, “I actually feel a buzzing on the underside of my skull as I try to imagine pure love. For a minute, I forget that we’re in a room ordinarily reserved for corporate presentations.” Google, one of the world’s most innovative and powerful IT companies, is a trend-setter, so expect more meditation in the workplace.
An inspiring change: a man goes within himself before starting a business meeting, knowing that it can awaken ideas and help him focus
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Like the common yoga classes, meditation in the workplace is being facilitated by a degraded outward association with religion. Whether considered good or bad, the practice is being marketed in a way that appeals to anyone, with its deepest aspects remaining secret and sacred as they have throughout history. Today’s popular courses advertise neural health, immune benefits, calmness and clarity, but make no mention of meditation’s ultimate goal, Self realization. But you can bet that ardent practitioners in the corporate world and elsewhere, will inevitably find something beyond the goals of focus and productivity.
RARE ARTIFACTS WERE RECENTLY
returned to the National Archives of Nepal by the US Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The historical pieces are six wooden covers from ancient Hindu scriptures, intricately carved and colored with images of the Gods. They are some of the oldest known Nepalese paintings. Stolen decades ago, the are valued at US$150,000-$200,000.
THE KARNATAKA SANSKRIT
University has adopted a new structure for its Sanskrit textbooks aimed at making the language more accessible by presenting it in smaller segments and short question and answer form, rather than long passages and lengthy memorizations. The books will be made available to some 45,000 students across Karnataka state, from high school level to post-graduation.
IN MANGALORE, KARNATAKA,
the Kudroli Shree Gokarnanatheshwara Temple has appointed two widows, Lakshmi and Indira, as temple priests. It is an important appointment, standing against the cultural stigma towards widows, which considers them inauspicious, often keeping them away from religious events. The women have received four months of scriptural training, will be paid a monthly salary and be cared for by the temple management.
TO COMMEMORATE THE 150TH
birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America held its World Without Borders event in Chicago, Illinois. Beginning on September 27, the two-day program was attended by several thousand. During the event, a letter from the Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, proclaimed September 28 Swami Vivekananda Day.
INDIA’S CENTRAL BANK HAS
recently stirred up resistance and mistrust from several of the nation’s richest temples by issuing letters asking for details of the gold in possession of the temples. Though they claim the inquiries are simply for data collection, many devotees and temple trustees believe the bank may seek to use the massive gold reserves to alleviate India’s current account deficit. Most temples have refused to divulge any details about their gold, stating that it has been gifted by devotees over thousands of years and belongs to the Deity.