“The most ancient civilization and the youngest civilization meet in you. This combination of the ancient and modern, you do not know how good you have it. The fundamental questions of life, the best answers that humanity has ever come across are found in your Hindu heritage.” –Swami Sarvapriyananda
The Hindu Temple Society of North America (HTSNA) is on a mission. The society aims to educate—really educate—future Hindu leaders in the United States. To HTSNA, imbuing a Hindu legacy the right way means resisting the homogenization of the religion through Bollywood films or its politicization through its home country’s growing nationalism.
“To be Hindu is to read,” said Vishwa Adluri, a professor of philosophy at Hunter College in New York and a panelist at a Hindu Temple Society seminar designed not just to educate but to provoke discussion.
The HTSNA venture, called Akshayam, targets young Hindus ages 18-35, a demographic that includes university students and young professionals.
Adluri feels that Hindus must take a cue from how other religions educate their young, making such venues as Sunday school and Bible studies available to them from early childhood on, leading to full-dimensional theological discussions with real-world applications later in life. The result is that their faith becomes part of their identity. Adluri said it is now time for young Hindus to do likewise.
HTSNA president, Uma Mysorekar, agrees. Speaking to young Hindus at the Šri Mahã Vallabha Ganapati Devasthãnam temple in Queens, New York, he said, “Temples are built for young people.”
Scholar Ravi Vaidyanaat Sivacharya, the temple’s religious consultant and a founder of Akshayam, said the seminars and talks are to give young Hindus a chance to discuss the tenets of their faith rather than having the stories and morals fed to them by an epic movie. This way they are far more likely to truly own what they’ve learned.
“Our Vedanta (Hindu philosophical tradition) is derived out of questioning, not just listening,” he said. “Customs and traditions keep changing. The texts we have are not about religion, or about prayer. They are about science, and way of life. Even atheists are considered in our faith.”
Because Hinduism by its very nature is not just religion, but also includes science and philosophy, it cannot be framed in a Judeo-Christian paradigm of miracles and the supernatural. The Akshayam program is an effort to break free of that Western framework and study and appreciate the stories and teachings of Hinduism by embracing the faith in its purity, through its sacred texts, rather than through the filter of TV and Bollywood.
“Hindus cannot hand over their traditions to a third party,” Adluri said.
Hindu scholar and Akshayam panelist Aditi Banerjee emphasized the importance of taking the time and reading the original texts of the Hindu holy scriptures of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Only then may one get their full nuance and dimension.
“The least we can do is read the Ramayana and Mahabharata to be practicing Hindus and good human beings in society—that is our duty to our ancestors,” she said.
“We underestimate how beautiful our traditions and our texts are.”
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