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Hindu Heritage Day 2011

Dr. Amit Singh

(This article is sponsored by Masala Art)

A modern-day nationalist thinker of India (Bharat), and a practitioner of his own thoughts and teachings, Shri Guru Golwalkar once stated, “Our youth must be made to feel proud of being born in the great lineage of rishis (learned sages) and yogis (adepts). If we have to live up to their legacy, we must live as Hindus, we must appear as Hindus, and we must make ourselves felt by the whole world as Hindus.”

Close to 2000 Hindu Americans assembled at the Marlborough Middle School in Massachusetts on 21 May 2011 to celebrate the 15th Hindu Heritage Day (HHD).  The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) organized the HHD.  VHPA [http://www.vhp-america.org] is a national organization aiming to unite Hindus by instilling in them devotion to the Hindu way of life, to cultivate self-respect and respect for all people, and to establish contacts with Hindus all over the world.  To mark this annual occasion, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mr. Deval L. Patrick, as well as the Mayor of the City of Marlborough, Ms. Nancy E. Stevens, proclaimed Saturday, 21 May 2011 as "Hindu Heritage Day."  The Western calendar date is equivalent to Vaishakha Krishna Panchami of the Vikarami Samvat 2067 of the lunar calendar popular among Hindus.  “Krishna Panchami” denotes the fifth day of a waning moon.

The theme of this year's HHD was “ShivaShakti – Representation of Universal Wholeness.” When the energy principle is passive, it is called Shiva.  However, when it becomes active, it is represented by Shakti.

For new attendees of the HHD, the “mela,” akin to a typical country fair, was a surprise as it was unlike any event they had experienced elsewhere. They wondered how it could even begin to be managed. The mela was composed of three major programs that ran simultaneously. First, there was a cultural program that ran for over three hours. Second, there were more than 40 booths in the form of a bazaar that one could visit and browse. Third, there was a food court where one could find the popular delights from the northern and southern regions of India. A nominal entrance fee of $3 per person, exempting children 5 and younger, covered admission to the entire event.  Almost all attendees had to seek a trade-off among the three options to attend and benefit from all the programs in the available time without missing anything. An undercurrent for almost all of the people was meeting friends, some they had lost touch with. It became a juggling act on the part of each family to enjoy the available events. At the end of the evening, almost everyone wished that they had come earlier or had more time to do everything.

The cultural program featured more than 250 performing participants from 20-plus organizations. It allowed children of all ages to perform on stage. It was geared to be an open house program where the audience was free to go in and out of the auditorium as long as it was done discreetly without disrupting the performers or the attendees. The program brought together the work of the best music and dance teachers of the Boston metropolitan area. Overall, more than 25 performances were presented by those teachers. A highlight of the program was the Nepali/Bhutani community of Western MA performing bhajans in Nepali language, accompanied by a folk dance.  Each item was professionally done, complete with appropriate costumes under the expert guidance of the teachers. It was with pride that the teachers presented their student performances and it was with wonder that the audience watched these presentations by the talented youth.

The cultural program also covered a special skit on Shiva-Shakti.  It covered the story of Sati-Parvati and Shiva by tracing the events from the Daksha Yajna through the Shiva-Parvati Vivah.

At this point in the span of the 15-year history of the HHD, the demand for a slot in the program far outstrips the availability. The logistics of getting all of the participants ready in the green room, ensuring that the right computer disc is played for a respective performance, and getting the sound system and stage lighting to run smoothly is a performance in its own merit perfected by a number of volunteers over the last several years.

While the cultural program ran in the auditorium, there was a virtual bazaar established in the corridors. Two categories of booths or stalls were there. One was for-profit and sold merchandise from India not easily available in stores in the Boston metropolitan area. This category included garments, jewelry, books, nutritional supplements, and various decorative items. The second category of booths was of not-for-profit organizations offering information useful to the community at large. Contact information was available for various schools of yoga and meditation, VHPA camps, instruction in learning Sanskrit and Hindi, “Indian Circle for Caring,” temples in the region, Math and Science teachers, “Ekal Vidyalaya,” “Support-a-Child,” and financial services, to list a few. The mehndi (Henna) stall was very popular with young ladies regardless of their level of familiarity with the natural cosmetic of Bharat.  There was a very well-attended stall of fruit drinks and masala chai popular with persons accustomed to taking afternoon tea. It took considerable time to navigate these booths as one ran across friends and time had to be taken to chat with several families.  Without the HHD, many such friends often need an extra motivation to meet and greet.  The increasing popularity of the HHD could be gauged from the large attendance despite May 21 being the first sunny day after a stretch of about ten days of raw, rainy weather.  Such a rare sunny day easily pulls people in the directions of other outdoor attractions.

There was an easy to understand informational display, namely, Bhakti Exhibition. There was yet another category of booths which provided hands-on activities for children interested in face painting, drawing, kite flying, and mehndi. The kite flying activity attracted the young and not-so-young throughout the day in sizeable numbers.

Besides the booths, the cafeteria was a common area where one was certain to run into friends. It was crowded at all times. A prominent Indian restaurant, Dosa Temple (Ashland, MA), served the food. The fragrance of freshly prepared food wafted through the air as the kitchen staff worked non-stop to keep up with the demand for various items. One was reminded of weddings in India where such activity to feed a virtually unlimited number of guests is commonplace.

Behind the scenes, there were over 50 volunteers that worked, some of them over several months, to make the HHD mela possible and successful.  Many of such volunteers have been working for organizing the HHD since its beginning in the Boston metropolitan area.  If you are interested in participating in any segment of the HHD next year, please contact Mrs. Jaya Asthana at jasthana@hotmail.com or hhdboston@gmail.com.

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