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Ex-president Kalam to celebrate 76th birthday at US spiritual centre

October 11, 2007 03:29 IST

Erstwhile Indian president A P J Abdul Kalam, will return to the United States for a second time in as many months, this time to celebrate his 76th birthday on October 15 by participating as chief guest in the JSS Spiritual Mission's anniversary celebrations in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The mission, a tax-exempt, public charitable organisation established in 1999, was formally inaugurated in 2001 in the Washington, DC area and formally started its activities in September 2006 with the purchase of a 51-acre property in Gaithersburg -- about an hour from Washington, DC -- and converting a massive 17-stall horse barn into a small house and temple, specifically built for puja purposes, till the project can be expanded, to include a large Hindu temple, a Community Center, a cafeteria and a bookstore.

Kalam's presence, which is expected to draw a crowd of over 1,000 people, is also envisaged as a major boost to expedite the building project and also disseminate the ideals of the mission, which include Indian cultural, artistic and spiritual values through the publication of books, lectures, and camps, in addition to conducting yoga workshops and producing CDs and cassettes and other information to spread its message of "integrating human spirituality" worldwide.

Joining Kalam in the anniversary celebrations, organisers said, would be His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Shivarathri Deshikendra Mahaswami of Sri Suttur Math in Mysore, and other spiritual leaders like Sri Siddeshwara Swami of Gnanayogashrama, in Bijapur, Sri Sugunendra Theertha Swami of Puttige Math of Udupi, Sri Nirbhayananda Swami of the Ramakrishna Ashram of Gadag, Sri Nithiyananda Swami of Dhyanpeetha, Bangalore, Sri Yuvaacharya Lokeshmuniji, founder of the Ahimsa Vishwa Barathi in New Delhi, and Sri Sooth Pragnaji, founder of the Peace of Mind in Rajkot.

According to the organisers, several diplomats and politicians, including Ambassador Ronen Sen, India's envoy to the US, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, Maryland's US Senators Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, both Democrats, and US Representatives from Maryland Congressmen Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader Elijah Cummings, Chris Van Hollen, Albert Russell Wynn, all Democrats, are also slated to attend.

Also, among the other political dignitaries invited are Gaitherburg's Mayor Sidney A Katz, Washington DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, and the Indian American Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates Democrat Kumar Barve, who has been responsible for the Hindu prayer opening a legislative session in the Maryland Assembly in Annapolis on more than one occasion.

After Kalam opens the anniversary celebrations, the organisers said, he would release the second edition of Shunya Sampadane consisting of five volumes and a representative of the government of Karnataka Public Libraries would also be on hand to donate books to the mission under the 'Suvarna Varsha' scheme for foreign voluntary organisation.

This would be followed by dinner and a cultural programme punctuated by several "inspirational speeches, melodious music, and captivating drama."

Vimala Siddalingaiah, one of the stalwarts of the mission, which is primarily owned by Suttur Math, told India Abroad that "the program is going to be held in the barn and they have gotten permission from the proper authorities, and lots of precautions have been taken from the standpoint of security, parking, audio-visual equipment,etc. in the covered cemented barn."

She said that a "big stage will be put in place for the dignitaries and another big tent for food, etc. and to accommodate the more than 1,000 people expected and it looks like at leasr 506 swamijis will be present along with Dr Kalam."

"This matha has opened many educational centers all over India and also in Mauritius, Dubai and I believe in a few more countries," she added.

Siddalingaiah said that "in Karnataka several religious maths have been the backbone of the educational system and they have classes from primary schools to medical, engineering, polytchechnic colleges and universities. And, many of them provide shelter, food, education for the village kids who cannot afford to go to school."

She pointed out that "one of the mathas near Tumkur called Siddaganga Matha is presided by the Swamiji who is running it in his 100th year. They also have similar educational institutions and they provide food and shelter for over 10,000 kids every day, who cannot afford to go to school."

Siddalingaiah declared that "Siddaganga Swamy is worthy for a Nobel Peace Prize."

"Dr Kalam had visited the matha in Mysore some two years ago and celebrated his birthday there and he wanted to do the same here and that's why they advanced his visit to the 15th rather than the 18th of October. Suttur Math has been visited by several presidents and prime ministers and the previous Swamiji was Raja Guru for the Maharaja of Mysore," she recalled.

Siddalingaiah said that "last year, in September, we had a huge convention for Kannadigas at the Baltimore Convention Center and there were many dignitaries who attended the Convention from Karnataka and they were all invited to the opening ceremony of this JSS Spiritual Center. This is the second anniversary function."

"The Swamiji came to know that Dr Kalam was coming to the US again and waited for his convenience to do a second anniversary function and invited him. In fact, Dr Kalam is professor-emeritus at Suttur Matha in Mysore currently," she said.

After opening the anniversary celebration at the JSS Spiritual Mission, and also celebrating his 76th birthday with those who flock to the former 51-acre farm, Kalam will head to Houston, Texas, to deliver a Presidential Lecture on Vision for Space Science and Technology at Rice University on October 18, which is being co-sponsored with IIScAANA.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC