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Sanskrit renaissance has begun and is here to stay: Dr. Jyotsna Kalavar

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By Nithin Sridhar

Hinduism in US: Present and Future: Part 1

Hindu community is a rattling and flourishing community in United States. According to recent PEW survey, Hindus form around 0.7% of total US population, a rise from 0.4% in 2007. That is, at least 2.23 million Americans are currently Hindus. But, these figures may well be much more in reality. A 2008 estimate given by Hinduism Today magazine, had given a figure of around 2.3 million Hindus in 2008 itself.

Picture credit: wsj.net
Picture credit: wsj.net

In any case, Hindu American community is well thriving and developing in US. Further, various Hindu practices like Yoga and Ayurveda have become very popular among non-Hindu Americans as well. Hence, there is a definite growth in Hinduism as a religion and community.

At the same time, there is a growing trend of irreverence among Americans, as more number of Americans are rejecting religion and a negative portrayal of Hinduism in certain sections of US academia and media that can have huge impact on young Hindu Americans and the practice of Hinduism in US.

NewsGram decided to speak to various people from diverse background who are associated with Hinduism and Hindu American community and get their views regarding the present condition of Hinduism in American society and the future of Hinduism in United States.

In the first installment of this “Hinduism in US: Present and Future” series, NewsGram spoke to Dr. Jyotsna Kalavar, who is a Professor of Human Development & Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University, USA and is an instructor at Samskrita Bharati, USA.

Dr.Jyotsna.Kalavar
Dr. Jyotsna Kalavar

Nithin Sridhar: Yoga, Vedanta and Ayurveda are very popular in the US today. But do they enjoy same popularity among Hindu Americans as well? How widespread is the practice of Yoga, Vedanta and Ayurveda among Hindus in US?

Jyotsna Kalavar: Indeed, these three have been packaged beautifully in the United States. In mainstream America, Yoga is widely popular, Ayurveda is rapidly gaining momentum, and Vedanta has not been left far behind. Among Hindu Americans, my personal observation is that of the three, the study of Vedanta is most frequently seen in the Hindu community, followed closely by Yoga, and then Ayurveda.

The study of Vedanta has been popularized by a number of institutions such as Chinmaya Mission, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, etc. These days, they also offer online courses on these subject matters, and many Hindus participate in webinars and other such offerings.

In health clubs, it’s non-Hindus primarily practicing yoga though temples and other centers of learning (Vedanta or Sanskrit) offer yoga lessons as well. Most Hindus here appear to rely on allopathic medicine, and infrequently, I have come across those who exclusively follow Ayurvedic medicine as well.

Nithin Sridhar: What does it mean to be a Hindu for the younger generation of Hindu Americans?

Jyotsna Kalavar: The question depends on the generation (first or second generation immigrant status), age, area of residence (urban/suburban), state of residence (number of Hindus in their community), family orientation towards assimilation of American culture and desire to retain the identity of culture of origin.

Compared to a couple of decades ago, Indian culture and exposure to Hinduism is fairly widespread now. We have multiple temples in nearly every state and in some cases, multiple temples in metropolitan areas.

Fostering Hindu identity and efforts to pass on our rich cultural and religious heritage is undertaken through weekly classes held in temples, libraries, community centers, and even family basements.

From what I have seen, most Hindu children in the United States take immense pride in their heritage, go through some period of soul searching and questioning, and pursue their personal definition of what it means to be a Hindu. Some take up the study of Sanskrit, literature, art, Vedic chanting, Vedanta, dance, music, Yoga – whatever aspect of Hinduism that appeals to them.

On the one hand, I have seen Hindu children in the United States being more Hindu than children in India. They have learned sections of the Vedas, speak Sanskrit fluently, and take great pride in their Hindu beliefs. Recently, I was at an event in Stroudsburg, PA where more than a dozen children had memorized the entire Bhagavad Gita, and were participating in a competition. I was simply bowled over by these children.

On the other hand, I have also seen Hindu American children totally disconnected from their roots. Thankfully, the latter are few and far in between. So, it’s really a continuum with both extremes included.

Nithin Sridhar: Are young Hindu Americans enthusiastic to adopt Hindu identity and practice Hindu tenets? Or is there an increase in disillusionment towards Hinduism among young Hindus?

Jyotsna Kalavar: It really depends on how the family has laid the foundation, and what they seek to practice and preserve in their offspring. The children are enthusiastic about our festivals, dance, music, folklore, Puranas, epics, prayers, rituals, etc. Through adolescence, there is some questioning which is not unusual but fairly typical of this developmental period.

But Hindu children have the additional cultural tug of war between the culture of parental origin and the culture of the land of their birth. They are in a minority here, and seek to fit in with everyone else.

In their quest for approbation, it becomes a period of testing for the entire family. But, I have seen that if the family earnestly sows the seeds of Hindu heritage in childhood, as young adults, they inevitably return back to their roots.

Nithin Sridhar: What is the response of Hindu Americans to Sanskrit learning?

Jyotsna Kalavar: I have been amazed at the interest in learning Sanskrit among Hindu Americans. My first Samskrita Bharati family camp was in 2006, and the camp was attended by approximately 75 people. Today, Samskrita Bharati has five family camps (attendance of 200+ in some camps), three youth camps, and summer week long camps for children.

All this within a decade, so it reflects phenomenal growth and astounding interest in learning Sanskrit. Of course, the interest is more among the first generation immigrants than their offspring.

But the growth in youth camp attendance and increased enrollment in Samskrita Bharati’s Sanskrit as a Foreign Language (SAFL) program, is evidence enough that Sanskrit has a strong and promising future in the United States.

Of course, this is not uniformly seen throughout the country but mostly in the states of California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. But, the number of centers in other states is rapidly increasing.

Nithin Sridhar: What role do you see for Sanskrit, in the survival and future growth of Hinduism in US?

Jyotsna Kalavar: Sanskrit is inextricably linked to Hinduism but not limited to Hinduism alone. Sanskrit texts are found in Jainism and Buddhism also. Sanskrit provides the key to our culture and heritage.

It is the basis of Vedic thought, and also provides a treasure trove of information on various secular subjects such as astronomy, mathematics, engineering, medicine, etc. The language need not be cast in a religious mold alone. Knowing Sanskrit is empowering as it enables us to understand Hinduism without relying on translations (sometimes misguided) made by others.

As a liturgical language, Sanskrit will continue to play an important role among Hindus worldwide. As a trans-sectional language, I am very optimistic that it will pick up steam both in India and outside.

It seems like the Sanskrit renaissance has begun and is here to stay!

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Copyright 2015 NewsGram

  • Madhu K Agnihotri

    SanatanDharma Yoga Vedic way of Life is only way to Stop Arms Race of Evolution..Yes it’s dictat. Hari Om…No more Ignorance.

  • HmmmIzitso

    Academic Prof. Wendy Doniger of University of Chicago is the mother-pimp that leads the slander, pervert-sexualization and vilification of anything and everything that is Hindu. There are many many academics in the US, England and Europe that lead the assault for the Christian Evangelical Machinery. It is good that Hindus have woken up to the subtle and potent abuse.

  • V.Pant

    Satyameva Jayate!
    Bharat and her Samkrithi – the culture of this great nation are intrinsically interwoven with the Devabhasha Samskritham.
    It is indeed reassuring and extremely heartening to observe that there is a grand resurgence and revival of this most perfect and refined language (Samskrit means ‘that which is refined’) !

  • Madhu K Agnihotri

    SanatanDharma Yoga Vedic way of Life is only way to Stop Arms Race of Evolution..Yes it’s dictat. Hari Om…No more Ignorance.

  • HmmmIzitso

    Academic Prof. Wendy Doniger of University of Chicago is the mother-pimp that leads the slander, pervert-sexualization and vilification of anything and everything that is Hindu. There are many many academics in the US, England and Europe that lead the assault for the Christian Evangelical Machinery. It is good that Hindus have woken up to the subtle and potent abuse.

  • V.Pant

    Satyameva Jayate!
    Bharat and her Samkrithi – the culture of this great nation are intrinsically interwoven with the Devabhasha Samskritham.
    It is indeed reassuring and extremely heartening to observe that there is a grand resurgence and revival of this most perfect and refined language (Samskrit means ‘that which is refined’) !

Next Story

Yoga Face-toning May Compete With Fillers, Face-lifts

"The jury is still out on whether or not facial yoga is effective in reversing the signs of aging," he said in an email.

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Yoga face toning is an effective way of reducing the signs of ageing. VOA
  • Yoga face toning may take over botox and face lifting procedures.
  • 27 participants noted changes in their faces after weeks of this experiment.
  • It is still a matter of discussion if this method can reverse ageing or not.

In his toolbox of Botox, fillers and plastic surgery, cosmetic dermatologist Dr Murad Alam has added a new, low-cost, noninvasive anti-ageing treatment: facial yoga.

Dermatologists measured improvements in the appearance of the faces of a small group of middle-aged women after they did half an hour of daily face-toning exercises for eight weeks, followed by alternate-day exercises for another 12 weeks.

Facial exercises are healthier than surgeries. Pixabay
Facial exercises are healthier than surgeries. Pixabay

The results surprised lead author Alam, vice chair and professor of dermatology at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“In fact, the results were stronger than I expected,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s really a win-win for patients.”

Participants included 27 women between 40 and 65, though only 16 completed the full course. It began with two 90-minute muscle-resistant facial exercise-training sessions led by co-author Gary Sikorski of Happy Face Yoga in Providence, Rhode Island.

Participants learned to perform cheek pushups and eye-bag removers, among other exercises. Then they practised at home.

Improvements noted

Dermatologists looking at unmarked before-and-after photos saw improvements in upper cheek and lower cheek fullness, and they estimated the average age of women who stuck with the program as significantly younger at the end than at the start.

Face yoga is a healthier substitute to surgical procedures. Pixabay
Face yoga is a healthier substitute for surgical procedures. Pixabay

The average estimated age dropped almost three years, from nearly 51 years to 48 years.

Participants also rated themselves as more satisfied with the appearance of their faces at the study’s end, Alam and colleagues reported in JAMA Dermatology.

“Now there is some evidence that facial exercises may improve facial appearance and reduce some visible signs of ageing,” Alam said. “Assuming the findings are confirmed in a larger study, individuals now have a low-cost, non-toxic way of looking younger or augmenting other cosmetic or anti-ageing treatments they may be seeking.”

The exercises enlarge and strengthen facial muscles to firm and tone the face, giving it a younger appearance, he said.

Happy Face sells instructional worksheets — promising smoother skin, firmed cheeks and raised eyelids — for $19.95. DVDs cost $24.95.

Some skepticism

But not all dermatologists are rushing to promote the videos or the exercises.

Dr John Chi, a plastic surgeon and professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, said the study raises more questions than it answers.

“The jury is still out on whether or not facial yoga is effective in reversing the signs of ageing,” he said in an email.

Chi, who was not involved with the study, said he would recommend facial yoga to patients who found it relaxing and enjoyable but not for the purpose of facial rejuvenation.

“While the premise of facial exercises to improve the facial appearance or reverse signs of ageing is an appealing one, there is little evidence to suggest that there is any benefit in this regard,” he said.

Chi said facial yoga had not been rigorously examined in peer-reviewed scientific studies. Asked whether procedures such as face-lifts, Botox and fillers had been rigorously examined in peer-reviewed studies, he replied: “Great question. Attempts to do so have been made in the scientific literature with variable levels of scientific rigour.”

Alam agrees that his study raises additional research questions, such as whether the exercises would work for men and how much time people need to commit to doing the exercises for them to be optimally effective. He would like to see a larger study. VOA