Tuesday June 18, 2019
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Sanskrit renaissance has begun and is here to stay: Dr. Jyotsna Kalavar

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Picture credit: huffpost.com

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!

  • 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’) !

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  • 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

Starting Over: 3 Best Yoga Practices for Getting Back in Shape

Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that yoga ameliorates depression, mood swings and insomnia

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As soon as you start doing asanas, you’ll know what the fuss is all about! Pixabay

If you have a good track record at recovering from injury, it doesn’t mean that you should be careless. Full disclosure here: I have a tendency to forgo safety measures whenever I partake in physical activities. It’s an adventurous side in me that also gets me injured. Not to dwell on details, but after a long recovery period that limited my allowance to exercise (doctor’s orders) a lot of my muscle had gone to fat and I’ve lost a considerable percentage of my strength. This certainly didn’t help my recovery, so while I searched for the best doctrine that can help me start over, I turned to yoga practices to get back into shape.

1. The right alignment and sun salutation

Certainly, there was a sense of risk that came with yoga practices, which is something I found intriguing, I’m ashamed to admit. While the right alignment could definitely help me speed up recovery, the wrong alignment could lead to additional injury. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that yoga ameliorates depression, mood swings and insomnia, which are all the symptoms that emerged during my downtime.

Since the injury that I suffered was mostly isolated to my lower back: a part of the core, unfortunately, I had to find the one ‘beginner’ practice that would not strain me too much, but which still has a ‘holistic’ effect. Therefore, I fully embraced one of the basic asanas known as sun salutation (Surya Namaskar). It actually consists of twelve yoga poses which will activate an impressive variety of your body-parts. It aided in the strengthening of my core and skeletal system as well, which was perfect for my injury.

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Surya Namaskar consists of twelve yoga poses which will activate an impressive variety of your body-parts. Wikimedia Commons

2. The upward plank and melting the weight away

Since I had to fortify my back muscles and abs, I also started practicing the upward plank after a week of doing the sun salutation exclusively. The name of this asana is Purvottanasana, and if you find this to be a mouthful, you can always fall back on the ‘upward plank’. It is an absolutely wonderful pose that also does wonders for your respiratory system.

It will make you sweat just about right which is amazing if you’ve accrued some unwanted fat. You can wear one of these comfortable sauna vests which are designed not to intervene with your exercises, no matter how crazy the positions get. Actually, any type of plank exercise is amazing for your core and your entire body, so you should see to it that you begin practicing these positions whenever you can because they are so convenient to do even in cramped spaces.

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Purvottasana is an absolutely wonderful pose that also does wonders for your respiratory system. Wikimedia Commons

3. The outdoors and the warrior pose

If you have a beachside near your apartment, you are in luck. Any yoga enthusiast would give everything they have for the opportunity to stretch in front of the rumbling waves every day. Me, I thankfully have a wonderful park at my disposal just two streets away from where I’m living right now. As soon as I felt I rebuilt some of my muscles and regained some of my strength, I began going to that park on a daily basis, with my trusty yoga mat in hand. This sublime outdoor environment is where I practiced the warrior pose – Virabhadrasana.

ALSO READ: Evening Exercise as Good as Morning Workout, Shows Study

Virabhadrasana starts off with mountain pose as the beginning position, and extends into a stretch of your left leg backward, as your right leg lunges into a ninety-degree position (it works with the legs switch as well, of course). Throughout this movement, your hands are constantly stretched above your head, and as your leg stretch stops, the arms go wide apart, like wings. This will do wonders for your legs in general, especially thighs, as well as arms and back. It is a welcoming asana for those that need to bring back a skip into their step after a long recovery.

If you are still cynical about yoga’s rejuvenating qualities, you can continue your online search for testimonies, lessons, and videos. God knows you’ll find an opulent range of verifiable sources just in the first fifteen minutes of your search, but know this now: nothing beats practice. As soon as you start doing asanas, you’ll know what the fuss is all about!