Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) of America (VHPA), founded in 1970 and incorporated in the state of New York in 1974, is an independent, nonprofit, tax- exempt and volunteer-based charitable organization serving the needs of Hindu community in USA . It aims to build a dynamic and vibrant Hindu society rooted in the eternal values of Dharma and inspired by the lofty ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam , i.e. the entire creation is one family.
From the smallest Hindu temple in Houston, located in an apartment complex where many refugees from Nepal reside, to the only temple for Goddess Meenakshi in the West, to the beautiful white marble BAPS temple, many local Hindus came and joined with Hindus involved as executives and active volunteers of over 90 Hindu Mandirs (Temples) from various parts of the US and Canada this past weekend. This took place in northern Houston at the fifth annual Hindu Mandir Executives. Conference (HMEC) from October 22-24, 2010. As one of the speakers with a military background, Shri Harnek Singh from Austin Gurudwara said on Sunday from the podium, "The entire event went so smooth from beginning to end that it was like a military drill". Delegates are already looking forward to next year.s conference in the Ohio area which will be hosted by several temples from the upper mid-west.
Addressing the conference by video, Swami Dayananda Saraswati of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam (AVG), emphasized that the Hindu Mandirs need to work together to stand up to external forces trying to interfere with their activities and goals. He suggested several concrete steps by which to do this which were accepted by the conference. Other prominent speakers included Swami Tattvavidananda Saraswati of AVG, Swami Parmeshananda Ji of Bharat Sevashram Sangha, and Swami Nikhilanand of Barsana Dham, who appreciated that .HMEC is helping to foster a spirit of fellowship and cooperation amongst the Hindu religious leadership in America.. Paramacharya Palaniswami of Hinduism Today spoke about using Festivals to inform others about Hindu traditions. A special gift to all attendees was a CD of ready-to-publish layouts for various festivals throughout the year. Vishal Agarwal, a scholar from Minnesota and Jignesh Patel of BAPS-Houston both were inspiring as they spoke of ways to involve the younger generation in Mandirs, including establishment of Youth Clubs for teenagers for whom traditional classes no longer appeal.
The conference was enhanced by the participation both of large organizations like Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Arya Samaj, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, ISKCON, Bharat Sevashram Sangha, and Kauai's Hindu Monastery as well as small to large multi-campus Hindu temples from throughout North America.
A feature of the program, for the first time, was a Gala night to which all local Hindus were invited, not only those who are temple executives. This included a delicious meal and talks by Krishna Maheshwari, a second-generation Hindu; and Gaurangbhai Nanavaty who is the respected Acharya of the local Chinmaya Mission-Houston, who provided some very practical guidance. A special award was given to Ramesh Bhutada, a businessman who devotes much of his time and resources to community work, including donations to NGOs involved in health, education and youth activities. There were extraordinary dances by Rathna Kumar.s Anjali Center of Dance and a very colorful and energetic folk dance by the young men of BAPS. Girish Naik, representing Hindus of Greater Houston which organized the Gala night, relinquished his time so that the Jiv Jago group from ISKON-Houston could take the stage and present their bhajans and devotional dances in which the audience joyf! ully joined.
The national and local volunteers from VHPA and host Mandirs had worked shoulder to shoulder for over nine months to organize the conference. Dr. Umesh Shukla, the convener of the conference, remarked that "with the 5th HMEC we have reached a milestone in establishing co-operation among the Hindu Mandirs and Hindu organizations to nourish and sustain Hindu Dharma in North America". The attendees, many of who had been involved in the earlier conferences were in agreement that the fifth conference was one of the best. They were appreciative of the many local volunteers, both youth and adults, who worked hard behind the scenes, helping with food, airport transportation, "goody" bags and more. Nirav Patel, a young volunteer, said afterward "Not only I had fun volunteering in different departments, but I also learned more about Hinduism and I also learned the importance of time management".
Due to massive efforts by many volunteers, there were more than 250 delegates from nearly 100 temples and Hindu organizations. The temples and Hindu organizations represented included those from as far away as Hawaii and California, Massachusetts and Florida, as well as from Canada. Delegates ranged in ages from teenagers to those in their eighty.s and also came from a variety of ethnic and career backgrounds.
As conference host, Dr. Sharma Tadepalli extended on behalf of the six host temples and the other 19 participating Texas mandirs a "Texas-size" welcome. Sri Meenakshi Temple which had accepted the hosting of this year.s conference was joined by VPSS-Houston, Shirdi Sai Jalaram Mandir, Hindu Temple of The Woodlands, Dallas/Fort Worth Temple, and Barsana Dham. As a 'by-product' of hosting the conference, Texas Mandirs, of which 25 participated, have become more united and able to work cooperatively, benefiting all.
One of the aims of the HMEC is to assist in the development of networks and relationships between Mandir executives so that a cohesive and focused Hindu-American community is created with Mandirs as its nucleus. The participants were focused on developing programs to provide leadership to nourish, protect and sustain Hindu Dharma in North America. There was also an emphasis on service to the broader community through blood drives, health fairs, school supply donations and tutoring projects.
A special feature of this year.s program was the inclusion of more young people and more women and topics of special interest to those groups. Preya Dave, one of the youth leaders, stated that "after hearing speakers and having our own youth sessions, I was empowered and ready to be the change in our Hindu Community." Another youth participant, Hirsh Shukla appreciated the "opportunity to connect with fellow Hindu youth". And because the action following a conference makes it worthwhile, it was encouraging to have Keya Bhatt commenting that she is "looking forward to implementing the action items from this HMEC with (her) fellow youth leaders." Samir Asthana, a young lawyer who has attended several HMECs, stated that "the landscape of the Hindu community in America is slowly evolving and refining itself thanks in large part to the work accomplished at, and through, HMEC". One comment made in the youth session really went to the heart of the matter: "The needs of upcoming youth should be understood; temples and youth organizations need one another. Neither one can isolate one from the other." Abhinav Suraiya, recent University of Texas graduate, stated that the .topic that most grasped my interest was the importance of youth involvement in Hindu communities and temples". He continued that attending HMEC helped him think about his "personal involvement in the development of the Hindu Temple of The Woodlands."
HMEC organizers did not hesitate to include possibly controversial topics in the various sessions. Sahna Reddy, a University of Texas student, stated that the topics included ones such as "the proper definition of a Hindu and the portrayal of Hinduism in schools and the public media. It is important for Hindus of all ages to think about these topics as they will shape the future growth and development of Hinduism here in America."
Another topic discussed at the conference was the contribution to better inter-group understanding throughout the US by the inclusion of main-stream Americans in celebrations of festivals. A good example of this is the community-wide Janmashtami celebration sponsored by "Hindus of Greater Houston" for the past 20 years. Other examples of festivals as celebrated throughout the US were presented.
Displays from several suppliers of books (including VHPA) and temple software management systems, as well as by local organizations contributed to the benefits offered to the delegates. Several out-of-towners also enjoyed visits to Sri Meenakshi Temple and BAPS Mandir.
An example of collaboration is the cooperative effort just beginning through which temples can combine their orders for various supplies and temple needs for better prices and convenience. Likewise, insurance programs providing medical coverage for priests and staff of various temples might be possible in the near future.
In the concluding session of the conference, the delegates agreed on a several action items and projects which emerged:
- Invest and train future leaders and facilitate this by developing a formalized application procedure which can be used by various Mandirs and other Hindu organizations.
- Publish an HMEC book which includes history of Hindu Mandirs in North America and profiles of both spiritual guides and other key volunteers.
- Provide help from established and well-performing Mandirs through a resource pool, assisting new and struggling Mandirs in the areas of operation and leadership.
- Encourage the networking of Hindu youth through the recently established Coalition of Hindu Youth (CHY).
- Provide informational resources for Hindu individuals and organizations through newsletters and books currently in progress, including a prayer book for hospitals, and supplementary educational materials for schools.
- Join together to promote distribution of Gitas in motels and elsewhere.
- Continue to give scholarships based on essays written by students on a topic concerning Sanatana Dharma as was done this year for the second time jointly by Om Temple, Tej Tanden, and HMEC.
As a result of the conference deliberations on the evolving social, religious, cultural, spiritual, and next-generational needs of the community, Hindu Mandirs throughout North America, working together, will be better able to meet the needs of the 2.5 million strong, confident, diverse and vibrant members of the Hindu-American community. Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami from Hawaii probably expressed the views of many when he wrote "... Thank you for organizing such a wonderful conference. It has been a pleasure, and fruitful in many ways, for us to be here and participate."
Press release prepared by Beth Kulkarni, email@example.com, 281-292-8381.
For further information, contact Vijay Narang at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-915-6913.
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L-R Krishna Maheshwari, Prem Dixit, Keya Bhatt, Samir Asthana, Preya Dave, Hirsh Shukla, Tejas Dave, Priya Ramachandra, Bhakti Mehta
HMEC-2010 - Dr Harnek Singh from the Sikh Temple in Austin.