Janmastmi Meeting with Community Leaders

HGH 1inBy Manu Shah

HOUSTON: For 25 years, the biggest Janmashtami celebrations in Houston has been synonymous with the George Brown Convention Center drawing bigger crowds every year. Organized by the Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH), the event, over the years, featured actors Nitish Bharadwaj and Saurabh Jain, Anup Jalota, the unique concept of Phoolon Ki Holi, a spectacular Rangoli decoration, Dandiya Raas and a delightful costume contest.

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Despite its success, the question that arose is whether Janmashtami should be celebrated every year considering the resources needed in terms of money, time and effort.

The answer was a resounding yes and it came not just from the leaders of various Hindu organizations and temples in the city but from youngsters like Reshmi who believe that this community celebration “helps the younger generation understand its rich culture, connect with other Indo Americans, preserve our religion and provide a better understanding of our culture to the broader community.”

Such an appeal could not be ignored.  About 30 organizations gathered at the Guruvayurappan Temple in Houston on August 8th to discuss and plan the September 12th Janmashtami Annual celebrations at the George Brown Convention center.

Emcee Girish Naik, Past President of HGH invited Deepa and Reshmi Surendran to begin the meeting with an invocation prayer followed by the lighting of the lamp.

HGH President Anshuman Desai welcomed the gathering and outlined HGH’s major accomplishments in the year. He also pointed out the vital need to energize and involve the youth in HGH activities and to encourage and create commerce between Hindus as “prosperity is strength.” Finally, he stated that HGH would like to meet every organization’s Executive committee to see how “they can help each other, work together and be a collective voice.”

Dr. Hansa Medley, Outreach Director at ISKCON and HGH Board Advisor, described 2015-16 as a milestone year for the organization as it was celebrating 50 years of Swami Prabhupada’s arrival and the ISKCON foundation in the US. She stated that ISKCON will arrange for the Chief Guest – Ambarish Prabhu, the great grandson of Henry Ford, at the event.

Describing the VP of HGH, Partha Krishnaswamy as “one who has taken the Janmashtami celebrations to a new level,” Girish Naik invited him to highlight some of the attractions of this year’s celebrations. According to Partha, attractions like celebrities, Phoolon Ki Holi (Holi with flowers) and Dandiya Raas clearly determine the number of people who turn up to participate in the celebrations. This year’s celebrations will also have all the regular attractions with Phoolon Ki Holi being bought back on popular demand. He also appealed to the gathering to contribute with “health, wealth and wisdom” to achieve their goal of bringing more than 8000 people to the celebrations this year.

Rishi Bhutada, Director of HAF, an advocacy group that represents the Hindu American viewpoint in Washington spoke of HAF’s recent accomplishments which include correcting over 100 inaccuracies about Hinduism in Texas textbooks, introducing a resolution in Congress to highlight the war crimes committed against the Hindu community in Bangladesh and organizing teacher training programs to help teachers in the School District better understand Hinduism so they can, in turn, teach it correctly.

Rishi Bhutada also initiated an ambitious proposal of building a Hindu campsite which can be used by every organization in the city to conduct their events and camps.

Vijay Pallod, who is described as “the backbone of HGH” and was the convener of the meeting invited all the organizations present to state how they could contribute towards the celebrations. He also urged the gathering to help make the UH Hindu Students Association sustainable and strong. Encouraging responses poured in. Prasad from the Meenakshi Temple stated that the temple’s priests would purify the venue with a special puja. The temple would also promote and publicize the event through their extensive database. Ashwin Dave from BAPS said that their organization would organize the prasad. ICC’s President Charlie Patel will take up the responsibility for the allocation of the booths, Dr. Surya from the Char Dham Hindu Temple stated that they would support HGH as required, Vishnuji from the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir offered to provide the traditional music while Dr. Nik Nikam promised to publicize the event through his radio station.

Raunak Maheshwari of the Graduate Indian Student Organization (GISO) at the University of Houston promised 35 active volunteers, Durga Bari Temple’s representative Deep stated that their organization would publicize the event through its newsletters and Kantibhai Patel of the Sanatan Hindu Center promised to take care of the arathi arrangements. Several other organizations promised volunteers.

Past President of HGH, Sharad Amin, stated that his organization would “serve and empower any Hindu organization and synergize them into the bigger Hindu family.”   Dharmender Dargan invited all the organizations to post their upcoming events on HGH’s website as it’s a comprehensive guide to activities and events in the Hindu community.

In a concluding message, HGH Advisor Dr. Venugopal Menon emphasized that “despite all our perceived differences, we must transcend our organizations and stand as one, otherwise the next generation is lost.”

The gathering also visited the beautiful temple and prayed together after which a delicious lunch was served by the volunteers of the temple. VP Anil Kumar graciously invited the gathering to use the temple premises for their future meetings too.