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1979, by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927–2001). It is a nonprofit educational activity of Himalayan Academy, with the fol- lowing purposes: 1. To foster Hindu solidar- ity as a unity in diver- sity among all sects

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IN MY OPINION My Discoveries in Distant India

A land of hospitality, community and true devotion BY AARTI VISSWAN ATHAN

R Founder:

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami Publisher:

Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami Editor-in-Chief:

Paramacharya Sadasivanatha Palaniswami

Publisher’s Aide: Paramacharya Sivanatha Ceyonswami Deputy Editor: Acharya Kumarnathaswami Managing Editor: Acharya Arumuganathaswami Production Manager: Sannyasin Brahmanathaswami Subscription and Distribution Manager: Sannyasin Shanmuganathaswami Advertising Manager: Sannyasin Kaivalyanathaswami India Editor: Sadhaka Jayanatha Assistant Editor: Sadhaka Rajanatha Correspondents: Rajiv Malik, Delhi; Choodamani Shi- varam, Bengaluru; Lavina Melwani, New York; Sally Acharya, Nepal; Paras Ramoutar, Trinidad. Copy Editor: Chamundi Sabanathan. HPI Staff: Chandra Sankara. Consultants: Dr. S. P. Sabharathnam Sivachariyar, Sheela Venkatakrishnan. Photo Contributors: Thomas L. Kelly, Dinodia Picture Agency, Dev Raj Agarwal. Digital Team: Andre Garzia, Dharmalingam Siddhan. Distribution: USA: Ingram Periodicals, New Leaf, EBSCO Subscrip- tion Services, Ubiquity. Europe: SWETS Subscription Service. Malaysia: Kovind Enterprises. Singapore: Sana- thana Dharma Publications India: Central News Agency Limited, Delhi. Mauritius: CODIP. Trinidad: Pandit Na- rendra & Ashwinee Ragoonanan. Printer: Quad/Graph- ics, Waseca, Minnesota.

ecently, my family and i revisited India after six years. Based on our previous journey to the land of my ancestral origin—when I was

eleven—my brother Mayuresh and I were disenchanted at spending our cherished three-week vacation in a place where pol- lution and poverty were hard to miss. An- ticipating a repeat of prior experiences, we embarked on this journey rather disinter- ested. Little did I realize that the enigmatic charm of India—often described by visitors to this holy land—was something I was about to experience. A strong sense of com- munity, genuine hospitality and the loving expressions of devotion among local resi- dents are what stood out to me most during this memorable visit. In Mumbai and Chennai, I was amazed

and amused at how lively these cities are, ôRô

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their “hustle and bustle” description, espe- cially when the unmarked vehicle-lanes on the road are often left to each driver’s wild imagination and the seemingly reck- less driving starts to feel like a spontaneous dance, set to the tune of the constant honk- ing of cars and ringing of bicycle bells with an occasional accompaniment of a “moo” from the honorable gomata (cow). Within minutes of stepping onto these streets, there is a lot to take in: from the colorful produce and aromatic grab-n-go foods sold by street vendors, to the multitude of little shops, buzzing with customers trying to get a good bargain; from people trying to cross the busy street whilst cars, buses, bicycles and auto rickshaws zoom by, to the cows and stray dogs relaxing on the pavement. Amidst the locals so actively engrossed in their work was an empowering sense of community spirit. One evening during peak ^

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began to clear up, we saw that it was thanks to the efforts of three professionally dressed onlookers who had voluntarily stepped in ô


these men, who were clearly not part of the police force, joined to help their community. Another enthralling sight to behold in India is its Hindu temples, showcasing

exquisite architecture, eye-capturing sculp- tures and grand ceremonies to honor their Deities. I was deeply touched by the pious expression of love I witnessed when attend- ing arati to Lord Ganesha at the famous Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai. This was ô ^ 3

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had thought few would wake up to attend. We were proven wrong when countless devotees of all ages eagerly stood in line to enter before the doors closed for the dura- tion of the arati. Despite being conducted daily, the arati was a grand event; the beat of the drums vibrated throughout the sanc- tum, while the rhythmic clapping of devo- tees accompanied the priest’s chanting, all enhancing the beauty of the Deity dressed in the most glittering jewels and ornate robes. While in South India I was overwhelmed

by the heart-warming hospitality, so gener- ously dispensed. On one occasion a priest invited us to his home for a freshly prepared meal after having just met us. Another instance was our encounter with a street- side coconut stand run by an elderly couple. Despite their humble circumstances, they had warm and loving personalities and took it upon themselves to ensure that we truly enjoyed the tender coconuts and palm fruits. Such boundless hospitality was refresh- ing and instantly created a family bond. A strong community spirit combined with devotion to God brings about a genuine sense of hospitality that’s rooted in our Hindu belief that the guest is God. Although I am happy to be back home in America, I readily await to be welcomed into India’s open arms again.

Aarti Visswanathan, 17, is an 11th grader at San Marcos High School, California, US

april/may/june, 2017 hinduism today 9

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