Hindus of Greater Houston’s Annual Youth Award Gala


Community leaders, lamp lighting at HGH youth award gala night.
From left: Rani Chilukuri, Chandrakala Gupta, Padmini Ranganathan, Venugopal Menon,  Thara Narsimhan,  Tom Reid, Judge Emmett,  Dev Mahajan, Beth Kulkarni, Sushma Pallod and S. Narayanan.

By Priya Prasad

PEARLAND: As the sun, illuminating the silver Ratham (chariot) at Sri Meenakshi Temple Society (MTS), set on April 9, a packed audience gathered to honor Houston’s seva-minded youth at the 6th annual Hindu Youth Award and Gala held by the Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH). The event recognizes Hindu youth, ages 16 to 30, who serve the society (seva bhav) while exhibiting academic excellence.

MTS Chairman S. Narayanan welcomed the distinguished gathering, including leaders from the Hindu community, Honorable Judge Emmett, Chief Guest Joseph Emmett, Keynote Speaker Vinay Mahadevan, Pearland Mayor Tom Reid, HSS Overseas Pracharak Saumitra Gokhale, and several others.

The evening began with an invocation by MTS Priests and a sloka recitation by young students of the MTS Vedic Heritage School (VHS). HGH President Partha Krishnaswamy kicked-off the program by appealing to the guests to donate generously. After the traditional lighting of lamps, six young Hindus received their awards and presented their achievements to the audience. The speeches throughout the event were interwoven with a Carnatic instrumental ensemble and two classical dances.

Quoting from the Bhagavad Gita, the dynamic young Vedantist, Joseph Emmett, brought out the gist of Vedic philosophy that has two paths: rituals and philosophic knowledge. He explained concisely that “Vedanta” is a combination of two words: “Veda” which means “knowledge” and “anta” which means “the end of’ or “the goal of.” The “knowledge” means the knowledge of God and our own divine nature. Joseph described that “while Vedanta is the underlying substratum of Hinduism, its universality extends far beyond.” His enthralling speech resulted in a standing ovation.


From Left: Arpan Amin, Aman Sharma, Maya Iyer, Judge Emmett, Joseph Emmett, Saumitra Gokhale, Smriti Ahuja, Nikhil Jaiswal and Vaishnav Kuruvanka.

The second guest speaker, Vinay Mahadevan, a West Point graduate, inspired the audience by sharing his experience as a commanding officer in the U.S. Army. He was deployed twice to the Middle East and Iraq and faced challenging situations that he could relate with the narrations of the Mahabharata war.

MTS Board teamed up to bring out the best of arrangements, decorations, and hospitality. Many other Hindu temples and organizations participated which added grandeur to the event. HGH reinforces togetherness not only in the young minds, through the Hindu Youth Awards, but also among the entire community at the annual grand Janmashtami festival.

Hindu Youth Award recipients for this year included:
Smriti Ahuja of Arya Samaj, a senior at Seven Lakes High School, is President of Arya Youth Mandal and represents Arya Samaj in the I-Lead program. Arpan Amin of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, a 2014 UT graduate and consultant for Price Water and Cooper, served as Counsel and Co-Director for the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp. Aman Sharma of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, a 2013 Georgia Tech graduate and an engineer for Accenture, served as a Youth Counsel for HSS leadership training. Maya Iyer of VHS at Sri Meenakshi Temple, a junior at Manvel High School in the top 1% of her class, serves as a co-teacher for the Vedanta class at VHS. Nikhil Jaiswal of SEWA International, a 2015 graduate of UH and Research Assistant at UT Health Center, participated in a 10 week Yuva for SEWA Internship last year, during which he taught yoga at a blind school. Vaishnav Kuruvanka of Hindu Temple of Woodlands, a sophomore at Klein High School, leading the Go-green garden project at the Woodlands temple, replaced store-bought vegetables used for Sunday lunches with organic produce from the community garden.

“Meenakshi Temple devotees who attended were privileged to listen to these fine young awardees. Keynote speaker Joseph Emmett gave a wonderful speech. HGH Board did an awesome job conducting the function” said MTS Chairman Narayanan.

Rishi Bhutada, treasurer of the Hindu American Foundation, spoke about the community-wide protests against the anti-Hindu banners at a Dairy Queen in Kemah. He urged the gathering to support and donate to the organization because a strong HGH is “critical to our community” – not only to bind the community or celebrate Hindu festivals but to respond quickly when the local Hindu community is attacked or misrepresented.

As the night dawned with the conclusion of the program and vote of thanks by event chair Tupil Narasimhan on behalf of HGH, guests made their way to the grand hall of the Youth Center for dinner catered by Madras Pavilion. Priya Prasad and Richa Dixit emceed the event.

HGH President Partha Krishnaswamy says “the host MTS made the Hindu Youth Award 2016 function a memorable one through their meticulous planning and dedicated efforts. It sets the benchmark higher for the future award functions.”