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Hindu Heritage Day 2009

Mona Khaitan




Verily, through action alone, Janaka and others attained perfection; even with the view to ensure lokasamgraha, the stability of human society, you should perform action (B.G. 3:20)

Over 1,500 Hindu Americans assembled at Marlborough Middle School on May 17 to celebrate the 13th Hindu Heritage Day. To mark this annual occasion, The Mayor of City of Marlborough, Nancy E. Stevens, proclaimed SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2009 as “HINDU HERITAGE DAY.”

The purpose of this year’s Heritage day has been LokaSaNgraha: the collective welfare of the entire community. This collective welfare is wholly dependent on the welfare and stability of the individuals composing the community. In turn, the individual welfare and stability arises from being connected with the non-divisible Self (Atman).

If an individual can connect even for a fleeting moment with the real Self, it brings a sense of great joy and peace. The human heart finds much joy in seeing others, in being connected with others, in being with others even though total strangers. We are all linked as the Atman is One. Ancient Maha Rishi Yajnavalkya instructs his wife Maitreyi in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad:

“It is not for the sake of the husband, my dear, that he is loved, but for the sake of one’s own Self (Atman) that the husband is loved… Not indeed for the love of all is all dear. But, for the love of the Atman is all dear” (Br. Up. II.iv.5).

When we connect with others we are connecting with ourselves. This love and connectedness was clearly visible from the little children who frolicked and danced in the aisles of the auditorium during stage performances to the elderly who beamed with delight, their hearts showering blessings at the organizers for undertaking this massive annual function. One retired music teacher from Bengal unable to contain his enthusiasm exclaimed: "Excellent...excellent...excellent.”

For new attendees of the HHD, the mela is a veritable surprise as it is unlike any event they have experienced anywhere. They wonder how it can even begin to be managed. The mela is composed of three major programs that run simultaneously. First, there is a cultural program that runs for slightly over three hours. Second, there are over 39 booths in the form of a bazaar that one can visit and linger over. Third, there is a food court where one can find the most popular Indian delights. The nominal entrance fee of $2 per person (over age 5) covers admission to the entire event. The problem that presents itself to almost all attendees is how to attend and benefit from all the programs in the available time without missing anything. The frequently unnoticed fourth event that is taking place simultaneously for almost all people is that of meeting friends, some they had lost touch with. It becomes a juggling act on the part of each family to balance the four events. At the end of the evening, almost everyone wishes that they had come earlier or had more time to do everything.

This year, the cultural program which ran like clockwork was over three hours long. There were 197 participants in total. The program brings together the work of the best music and dance teachers of Boston area. It allows children of all ages to perform on stage. It is geared to be an open house program where the audience is free to go in and out of the auditorium as long as it is done discreetly without disturbing the program. In total, 31 items were presented by the teachers of various schools in Boston area. These included skits, classical and folk songs, and various forms of classical dances including folk, bhangra, bharatnatyam, odissi, kuchipudi, and kathak. Even though the atmosphere of the auditorium is relaxed so that the very young children of 2 and 3 year of age start dancing in the aisles to the rhythm of the music, there is nothing relaxed about the quality of the program. Each item is professionally done complete with matching costumes under the expert guidance of the teachers of the various schools of Arts. It is with pride that the teachers present their student performances and it is with pride that the audience watches these presentations by talented students. As one expert dance teacher commented, the caliber of the students has been steadily rising to the point where it compares favorably with the best trained in the arts in India. At this point, the demand for space in the program far outstrips the available spots for performances. The logistics of getting all the participants ready in the green room, ensuring that the right DVD is played for each item, and getting the sound system and stage lighting to run smoothly without interruption is a command performance in itself perfected by a number of volunteers over the last thirteen years. An internship in management will be available in future years for those students interested in learning the necessary skills of managing a show.

While the cultural program runs inside the auditorium, there is a virtual bazaar established outside in the corridors. Two categories of booths are installed. One is for profit and sells merchandise from India not easily available in stores in Boston area. These include garments, jewelry, books, and various display items. The second category of booths is occupied by not for profit organizations that provide information. There is contact information on various schools of yoga and meditation, VHPA camps, instruction in Sanskrit and Hindi languages, Indian Circle for Caring, temples in the area, Math masters, Ekal Vidyalaya work, Support a Child work, and Shankara Eye Foundation. There are two invaluable easy to understand informational displays: Contributions of Bharat and Bhakti Exhibition. There is yet another category of booths which provides hands on activities for those children interested in face painting, drawing, kite flying, and mehndi. There is a very well attended stall of fruit drinks and masala chai popular with persons accustomed to taking afternoon tea. It takes considerable time to navigate these booths as one runs across friends and time must be taken to chat with each family.

Besides the booths, the cafeteria is a common area where one is sure to run into friends. It was jam packed the whole time. There are movies geared to informing on Sri Hanuman’s great devotional work for Sri Ram and clips from our commonly shared invaluable Hindu heritage history of Ramayana that played on a huge wall for children and adults alike. The servers that included 16 of our recently arrived brothers from Bhutan relentlessly worked to serve the most popular dishes of various kinds of chaats, North and South Indian foods, desserts, and mango lassi. The food was catered and staffed by a local restaurant. 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 is common place to feed guests. There was a raffle that attracted hundreds of entrants that listened patiently to see if they won a prize which was kept confidential.

Behind the scenes, there were over 100 volunteers that have worked to make the Heritage Day mela possible and successful. This year, the main stream Hindu Americans welcomed our recently arrived counterparts from Bhutan. The Bhutanese Hindu families wished to participate in the program in some way and sent 16 volunteers to assist with the program. As most of the recently arrived Bhutanese families do not yet own cars, bus transportation was specifically arranged to Lynn and Worcester areas sponsored by VHPA. 40 Hindu Bhutanese joined from Lynn and 120 members came by bus from Worcester area. The Bhutanese families were overjoyed to find a little India right here in the very foreign town of Marlborough and it is hoped felt a little less homesick and a little more connected with other Hindu Americans.

No mela is complete without a child getting lost. There was one child separated from the parents who was later successfully reunited with the parents with both parents and child shedding tears of joy at the time of reunion.

If you are interested in participating in any of the three programmatic areas of HHD next year, you are welcome to contact Smt. Jaya Asthana: jasthana@hotmail.com

VHP of America is a national organization which has among its objectives 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. For more information please visit http://www.vhp-america.org/

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