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Hindu University of America at Hindu Mandir Executive Conference – 2019

By: Ankur Patel, Director of Advancement, Hindu University of America

The 14th annual Hindu Mandir Executive Conference was held in New Jersey between September 20th and 22nd. Hindu University of America set up a booth and had a range of productive conversations with the attendees.

Kalyan and Ankur at the HMEC – HUA Booth

On the 2nd day of the conference, Interim President of HUA Kalyan Viswanathan spoke on a panel with a focus on sustaining our Hindu traditions, culture and identity here in America. In his talk, he addressed the relevance of Hindu mandirs for the younger generation, born and raised here in the US, especially in the age group 18 through 35. When he asked a question of the audience, “What percentage of Hindu youth in that age group actively participate in the Hindu Mandirs?”, the audience agreed that it was probably less than 10%. Whichever way we look at it, the attrition rate is severe with fewer members of the next generation participating at their Mandir. When he asked, “How much time do Mandir Board Members and Executive Committees” spend on developing strategies to engage young people, in that age group, one member of the audience responded, “Can we say below zero?”

Kalyan Viswanathan addressing the HMEC attendees

Mandirs are being sustained largely by the devotion and commitment of first-generation Hindus – which brings up the question – How do we sustain our Hindu culture and world view in the United States if the mandir, which is such a critical infrastructure for us, becomes increasingly irrelevant for the younger generation? What are the root causes for this attrition, how can we address them, and what do mandirs need to do to remain relevant to the next generation? These were the questions that Shri Kalyan Viswanathan raised on the panel on sustainability at the Hindu Mandir Executive Conference. There was consensus in the room that while most Hindu children do participate in the Hindu Mandirs as long as they are in school if their parents do so consistently, there is a dramatic shift away from the Mandir when these kids go to college.

Can Hindu University of America engage in mutually beneficial relationships with Hindu Mandirs across the country? Mandirs already serve as community centers, but what if we took that to the next level and mandirs partnered with HUA to serve as places where university-level courses, graduate programs, and advanced studies could take place? Mandirs can be sponsors of scholarship and establish professorships and take an active role in the development of the university if they choose to do so. After all, if we look at Jesuit institutions, they have created hundreds of learning institutions around the world. Is it not time for Hindu Mandirs of North America to take on a larger role in creating and fostering at least one major Hindu University in America?  This will not be a new idea since, in former times, many Hindu Mandirs were intimately associated with Gurukulams and Ashrams in India.

Can Hindu Mandirs partner with Hindu University of America?

This year’s HMEC was an opportunity for networking and outreach for HUA. One conversation we had with a group of young people was highlighted by their sentiment that “Mandirs don’t make sense to us, especially when they conduct rituals in a language we don’t understand, without even attempting to explain the purpose.” There is a gap of understanding of Hinduism in the next generation and mandirs aren’t very effective in filling those gaps. A creative partnership and program between Hindu University of America and individual mandirs across the United States could help to address these gaps in creative ways.

Overall, there is clearly an opportunity and need for institutions to represent Hindu Dharma here in North America. At HMEC, organizers are making a concerted effort to develop tools, materials, and resources so that best practices and successful endeavors, models and programs could be shared and made scalable with other mandirs. It is now up to us to implement such partnerships and pilot programs between Hindu University of America and our various Hindu mandirs who are ready for such innovation, to explore ways in which a University-Mandir alliance can make Sanatana Dharma more relevant and attractive for the younger generation.

Braham Ratan Agarwal pledges $ 1 million

Shri Braham Ratan Agarwal is shown in the picture below, making his announcement at the Hindu University of America Advancement Conclave held in Orlando, Florida on the weekend of June 22-23, 2019. Speaking on the occasion, he said “The time is right for the Hindu University of America to rise to become a respected university in the world. We pray and hope that our small gift will be supplemented by a wellspring of support from the Hindu community worldwide”. Braham Ratan Agarwal is Chairman of the Board of Park Square Homes, one of Central Florida’s premier residential and resort homebuilders, which has enriched and improved the quality of life in Central Florida for nearly 40 years. Also seen in the background is a photograph of Swami Tilak, who inspired the creation of this University in the 1980s.

Braham Ratan Agarwal

Padma Bhushan Ved Nanda, currently Chairman of the Board of the Hindu University of America, honored Shri Braham Ratan Agarwal, with the title, “Dharma Rakshaka” for his long-standing commitment and support for the Hindu University of America, during both good and difficult times, over the last 25 years. The picture shown below captures the moment.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Ved Nanda said “There are more than 600 Christian Universities in the United States, dozens of Jewish and several Islamic Universities in the west. Is it not time that we create a Hindu University that we can all be proud of? It was indeed a splendid idea several years ago to launch the Hindu University of America. The idea is as powerful today as it was then, and perhaps even more so as the current marketplace of ideas demonstrates a growing desire to learn more about the values enshrined in Hinduism through its practices, such as meditation, Yoga, Pranayama, and Ayurveda”. On the same occasion, Shri Abhinav Dwivedi who has been associated with Hindu University of America since the very beginning of the University in 1989, was also honored with the title “Dharma Rakshaka”. In the following picture, Mrs. Abhinav Dwivedi is seen receiving the award on behalf of her husband, in his absence, along with their daughter Ruti.

Dharma Rakshak Award Abinav ji

Also present at the event were Shri N.V. Raghuram, Chairman of Yoga Bharati, and a past President of Hindu University of America, Dr. Manohar Shinde, Founding Chairman of Dharma Civilization Foundation and a member of the Board of Hindu University of America, as well as Mr. Kalyan Viswanathan, serving currently as its interim President and Executive Vice President.

The Hindu University of America has had a 30-year existence, since its founding in 1989. Authorized by the State of Florida, it awards Graduate level degrees in Hindu studies and continuing education and certification programs in areas related to Hindu thought. From time to time in its history, the university has struggled for funds, students as well as community support. On the strength of a seed grant from Dharma Civilization Foundation, based in Los Angeles, California it is making a renewed effort towards revitalization and growth. The Advancement of Conclave was an important milestone in solidifying both belief and support for this initiative. The picture below shows four out of five members of the Board of Hindu University of America including Dr. Yashwant Pathak who served as its President until recently.

HUA Board Members

Swami Svatmananda, a student of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam group of institutions, also attended the event, representing Pujya Swamiji’s vision for the development of the Hindu University of America. For a more detailed write up on the Advancement Conclave – please “click here”. To see a photo essay of the conclave – please “click here”.

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