July 22, 2001
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Sangams to unite Hindus in America

Nirshan Perera

Over 35 Indian organizations in the Bay Area put away petty differences of caste, language and geography to come together in a unified Hindu sangam (congregation) on Saturday.

The landmark event, which billed itself as a grand cultural festival, was a first for California and one link in a series of gatherings that are taking place across North America.

The sangam campaign, which began in Toronto last weekend and is continuing in Houston and New York over the next two, aims to bring about a massive Hindu reawakening and renaissance abroad.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief K S Sudarshan is personally flying to each event to deliver the keynote address.

Numbering about one million in America now, more and more Hindus want to be identified by their culture and faith, rather than the generic term, Indian.

Hinduism, they feel, is getting lost in the affable shuffle of political correctness and cultural amalgamation.

"I'm here on an H-1B visa and I miss India a lot," said Prashant Pimpalekar, a software engineer from Cupertino.

"I go to the melas and all the other standard Indians gatherings, but I came to this one in particular because this is the only event that is proudly saying it's Hindu."

"We Indians are so fond of secularism. Why can't we say with pride that we are Hindu?" he asked.

Resting in the shade of a tent on the thronging grounds of Milpitas High School, Pimpalekar was one of perhaps 10,000 Hindus who attended the sangam throughout the day.

The 9-hour event featured dozens of afternoon sessions on Hindu thought, spirituality and art, leading up to a gala evening with a children's pageant and a concert by bhajan (devotional song) artist Anup Jalota.

During the day, the high-profile panel of speakers included the respected authority on ayurveda in the Western world William Frawley, Swami Anubhavananda, Indologist Koenraad Elst, yoga expert N V Raghuram and Ganesha Institute founder Pratichi Mathur.

But the lively focal point of the sangam was really the evening performance of the Ramayana by 300 children hailing from every city in the Bay Area.

RSS chief Sudarshan reflected on the children's play while beseeching the crowd to keep Hinduism vibrant on American soil.

"It is from the epic of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata that we have imbibed all of our life values," he said. "Rama enshrines all of those qualities that exemplify our Hindu culture."

Hindu populations dispersed around the world, throughout history, have used the Ramayana as an important touchstone of cultural identity, Sudarshan observed in his keynote speech.

"When they went, they had only that [story] with them," he said. "Yet in spite of the heavy odds, all the obstacles in front of them, they have been maintaining their Hindu identity until today."

Although the sangam was put together by a patchwork coalition of groups over the past eight months, the main sponsors of the event were the Sunnyvale and Fremont temples and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh.

Conference organizers eagerly highlighted the massive group effort behind the successful event.

"It's not just about what I did or what he did or what she did," said spokesperson Gaurang Desai. "Everyone came together and contributed and that is the real beauty of this."

Organizer Govinda Rao seconded this theme of unity: "If you look at our Hindu community, individually we have excelled but as a group we have not come together. I think the time has come for this."

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