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A Prayer For Bliss In The New Hampshire House Of Representatives

K. Arvind

A Prayer for Bliss in the New Hampshire House of Representatives

ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः |
OM sarve bhavantu sukhinaH sarve santu nirAmayaaH |

सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चिद्‌ दुःख भाग्‌ भवेत्‌ ||
sarve bhadraaNi pashyantu maa kashchid duHkha bhaagbhavet ||

 May all be happy, may all be free from illness |
May all see what is auspicious, may no one suffer ||

The Hindu Temple of New Hampshire, Nashua, NH, once again had the honor of being invited by the New Hampshire State Legislature to give the opening prayer in the chamber of the House of Representatives on Thursday, March 7th, 2019. Sri Veeramani Ranganathan, co-founder of the Temple, shared ancient Indian wisdom from the taittiriya upanishad with those assembled, and prayed for a blissful life for all. This special and unique event was made possible through the kind support and efforts of the New Hampshire State Representative from Nashua, Smt. Latha Mangipudi.

The Temple

The Hindu Temple of New Hampshire has over the decade of its existence grown into a well known place of worship, serving the religious and cultural needs of the Hindu community in Greater Nashua and Greater Boston. It draws significant crowds during major events such as the recently celebrated Maha Shivaratri and Ayyappa Makara Jyothi Pooja.  The Temple along with its cultural school Bharathi Vidyashram, has also been involved in various cultural, educational and community service activities. The Temple aspires to expand into a larger setting built according to traditional architecture prescribed for Hindu Temples, and is currently in the planning phase of this next stage of expansion.

The Temple received the honor of being invited by the New Hampshire State Legislature in March 2017 to deliver the prayer at the start of the legislative session of the House of Representatives. The Temple once again received the same honor this year, again thanks to the efforts and kind support of Smt. Latha Mangipudi, member of the House representing Hillsborough, Nashua.  Sri Veeramani Ranganathan, co-founder of the Temple, delivered the opening prayer in the chamber of the State House of Representatives in Concord, NH, on Thursday, March 7th, 2019. The prayers in Sanskrit drawn from the ancient Vedas composed millennia ago were well-received, and the event drew acclaim from the local Indian community.

The Prayer

The Honorable Speaker of the House, Mr. Steve Shurtleff introduced Sri Veeramani Ranganathan as the Guest Chaplain and invited him to deliver the opening prayer. All the assembled members of the House and the guests stood up in respect as Sri Veeramani delivered the prayer which lasted several minutes. Sri Veeramani started by offering pranaams to all assembled, offered salutations to parents and preceptors, and went on to deliver a selection of chants in Sanskrit from the yajur vedic composition known as taittiriya upanishad. The selection consisted of the first several anuvaakaas (sections) from bhriguvalli, the third chapter of this Upanishad. Bhriguvalli is structured as a conversation between the sage Bhrigu and his father Varuna, and the sections recited at the event are meant to impart what is known as bhaargavi vaaruni vidyaa (the knowledge Bhrigu received from Varuna).  In this piece of divine poetry, the sage Bhrigu seeks to understand the nature of “Brahman” (the ultimate reality) and approaches his father Varuna. Varuna seeds Bhrigu with some hints and repeatedly exhorts him to contemplate with devotion on the idea further, as Bhrigu continuously evolves his understanding of the nature of Brahman. After a few cycles of this evolution, he finally reaches the conclusion that bliss is the nature of Brahman. The taittiriya upanishad is highly regarded as a sacred source of wisdom, and holds a special place in some Temple rituals. The chanting of the taittiriya upanishad was followed by a universal prayer in Sanskrit (“sarve bhavantu sukhinah”) seeking the well-being of all, that is captured in the prologue of this article. Sri Veeramani followed up the chanting with an explanation in English of the meaning of the Vedic hymns that he chanted.  The members of the House and the guests gave him a warm applause to express their appreciation. This was indeed a proud moment for this growing Temple, and was a wonderful opportunity for the Temple to serve the larger community, and share and showcase ancient spiritual wisdom from the much revered Vedas.

The prayer was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and a beautiful rendering of the National Anthem in chorus.

The official video recording of this event from the New Hampshire House of Representatives may be viewed at the following link: http://bit.ly/2EHiWxX

Legislative Prayers

For the curious, here are some interesting facts about legislative prayer practices in the United States:

The custom of opening legislative sessions with prayer was borrowed from the British Parliament, where the practice of beginning each day with the reading of prayers had already existed for a long time. This custom has been practiced in the United States Congress starting from the first Congress in 1789. Most state legislatures have also adopted this tradition, and many have been practicing this for over a century.

State legislatures differ in whom they may call to deliver the prayer. The chaplain could be a designated legislative chaplain, a visiting chaplain, a legislator, chamber clerk or secretary, or even a guest in some state Houses. Many chambers rotate the visiting chaplains among religions, while others do not. Some chambers award a visiting chaplain a commemoration such as a certificate for giving an opening prayer.

Many legislative assemblies have established guidelines for delivery of the prayer, while others have no set guidelines. However, as per the National Conference of Community and Justice, accepting an invitation to lead the general community in prayer includes a genuine responsibility to be sensitive to the diversity of faiths among those on whose names the prayer is being offered.

  The constitutionality of legislative prayer was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1983, when it ruled that Congress and state legislatures do not violate the US constitution’s separation of church and state even when clergy are paid to lead daily devotionals. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote in his opinion that the use of legislative prayer is not an establishment of religion or a step towards establishment; it is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs.

  Here are some videos of Hindu prayers delivered in other legislative chambers in the US: Iowa Senate, Connecticut Senate, US House of Representatives.

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