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Hindu community in Tuscaloosa are a close group kept together through cultural traditions

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image source: www.cw.ua.edu

By Chandler Padgett

(Tuscaloosa is a town in Alabama state in USA. Located approximately 60 miles from Birmingham, it has a population of about 95,000.- NewsGram)

Nagaraj and his wife kneel before an altar in their apartment, chimes ringing in the air. Laden with colorful deity figurines and ornate art, the altar, or mandir, acts as a small temple for the Hegdes and a vital aspect of their religion, Hinduism.

Unlike the many churches that fill the Tuscaloosa landscape, the approximately 400 Indians (many of whom are Hindu) primarily worship at small mandirs in their own homes, as mass gathering is not emphasized.

“A mandir is a place where we can surrender our mind, it’s a small set-up, this home is an extension of the temple,” said Nagaraj Hegde, UA Vedic Society president and a Ph.D. student. “Even though the television waves are everywhere, we still need a TV set to capture it and play it back. We understand that divinity is everywhere, but these are concentrated forms where the deity is present.”

Before eating, his wife placed food on the mandir.

“We offer prayers, we worship them,” Hegde said. “We offer the food, whatever we eat, before, to the divine beings, pray to them please will you accept it, and we will take the remnants.”

In addition to domestic mandirs, there is a modest temple in Tuscaloosa and a larger one in Birmingham, which has a larger population of Hindus. People gather there every Sunday.

“Once in a week it’s good to meet each other,” said Parnab Das, a Ph.D. student at the University. “They give good, home-cooked vegetarian food. We do a small worship service, and we discuss things from our scriptures. We try to discuss not only religious things. We try to discuss social things going on in this world. Just try to inspire each other what we should and should not do in our life.”

Though a mere fraction of the population, Indians in Tuscaloosa are a close group kept together through cultural practice and traditions.

“We are very much closely bound,” said Vaishali Batra, president of the Indian Student Association of Tuscaloosa and Ph.D. student. “We do a lot of events together, a lot of social gatherings together. We always make it a point that we get together on Indian cultural festivals. We also meet the senior citizens and families, so we are very well-knit in Tuscaloosa.”

As is natural with intercultural interaction, Hindus in Tuscaloosa sometimes have to deal with misconceptions and misunderstandings from Americans and other non-Indians, such as the name Hindu itself. Most likely coined by Persians, Hindu merely referred to people living on the Sindhu River. The original name of the religion is Sanatana Dharma.

“Sanatana means eternal and Dharma means law or the way, so Sanatana Dharma means the eternal way or eternal law of being close to God,” Das said.

Even then, Das clarifies that Hinduism is more of a way or law of life than a religion.

Das and Nagaraj Hegde have faced some negative experiences during their time as students here as well.

“I was being asked by one of my lab mates that after death, if I go to hell because I am not a Christian, and it is being written in the Bible that if you are not a Christian you go to hell, what will I do?” Das said. “So I said, then I will go to hell, what else can I do? If God cannot see the deeds which I have done in my life, if God cannot see my love towards him, if God cannot see my dedication towards him, if still he asks me to go to hell because I am not a Christian, then I have to go to hell.”

Nagaraj Hegde shared a similar story.

“Once, four years ago, we were singing Indian kirtan on Manderson Landing, and within 5 minutes, someone said you can’t do it here,” Hegde said. “But it’s really improved a lot. Last year, every single Thursday in the summer, we have done it and nobody bothered us.”

The positive change in the past few years hints at some of the positive relationships Hindus have in the community. For example, Hegde’s Vedic Society seeks to educate Americans and other non-Indians about Hindu and Indian traditions and beliefs like yoga, meditation and universal harmony.

“I try my best to present the real knowledge without adding my own interpretations and present the knowledge as Krishna presented it,” Hegde said. “We try to bring about harmony in this world. We get Christians, we get Muslims, we get atheists, every type of person, and we don’t exclude against anybody.”

Some new international students struggle to become acclimated to Alabama and find their way around, especially since few have cars. Batra and ISAT seek to help with that.

“Our organization on campus is about uniting people and helping new students as well as the older students to settle down here or to help them with the basic things they need in the beginning or give them campus tours,” Batra said. “And this organization is about organizing Indian festivals so that students can have the feel of home when they are away from home.”

Hindus and Indians have formed a community in Tuscaloosa that maintains cultural and religious ties while simultaneously interacting with and befriending others across the city.

“Initially it was hard, it was very hard, but once I started the Vedic Society meetings then I made such wonderful friends, such nice people I could never imagine, I feel at home,” Hegde said. “I have many nice friends. There are nice people everywhere. You just have to go and find them. You think ‘oh this is bible belt they will be close-minded,’ but that’s not a fact.”

Source: http://www.cw.ua.edu/

Next Story

Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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Hinduism
he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

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Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

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Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

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Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.