Hindu Heritage Month as India’s Octoberfest

Hindu groups in the US are campaigning & striving hard to declare HHM formally by the US government

Hindu groups in US are campaigning & striving hard to declare HHM formally by US government
Hindu groups in US are campaigning & striving hard to declare HHM formally by US government

Hindu diaspora comes together to celebrate October as HHM

What I am calling India’s Octoberfest, unlike the Oktoberfest rooted in the Bavarian culture of Germany since 1810, is a novel tradition to nurture the soul and mind of the world community and celebrate the rich culture, history, and heritage of an emerging new India. The Indian diaspora in the United States, particularly the believers in and followers of Hinduism, deserve accolade in getting more than a dozen states and communities (including Minnesota where I live and others such as New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Washington, D.C., just to name a few) proclaim October as Hindu Heritage Month (HHM). To the best of my understanding, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) in collaboration with numerous organizations and Hindu leaders led the successful HHM campaign. Reportedly, a serious campaign is underway to have the White House and/ or the U.S. Congress also proclaim October as the HHM. Given the excellent reputation of Indian Americans in professional, political, and financial sectors, it is only a matter of time when HHM is proclaimed nationally.

Today, on October 1, the United States community had the first-ever inaugural (virtual) event to celebrate HHM covering the vastness of our heritage including more than a thousand-year-old history, art, music, and culture rooted in the true unity of diversity. One of our ancient ethos, Vasudev Kutumbakam (The World is One) was the guiding principle throughout the event. In fact, a beautifully choreographed dance titled, “One and the Same,” summed up our Heritage and History, all in one, exemplifying our progressive worldview as Hindus. At the risk of being exclusive in this highly inclusive event, I cannot do without acknowledging Vindhaya Adapa for releasing her beautiful video for this very special event. Moving forward, everyone hopes that the proclamation of HHM will gain momentum and become a momentous global event.

All in all, the handful of like-minded academicians in DGH were spreading the venom against Hindus, Hinduism, and Hindutva under the cover of academic freedom.

I asked myself why October and that is how I conceived the title Octoberfest (with a “c”) alongside HHM. Historically, October is the beginning of many festivals and cultural events from ancient times. For example, in the ancient Dharmic history of Bharat, the Navratri, the nine days of fasting and prayers, are observed by most Hindus worldwide. India’s ancient scriptures have descriptions of Ayodhya, the birthplace of Ram, one of the revered Hindu Gods. The day he triumphed over the demon king of Sri Lanka, Ravan, is celebrated as Dussehra or Vijay Dashami in October. Most communities, large and small, celebrate about two-week long Ram Leela showing the life history of Ram which is seen by tens of millions in India and elsewhere. In Independent India, October 2 is celebrated as the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace and non-violence. It is also the birthday of the former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who did not live long for India to benefit from his statesmanship.

It is equally striking and fitting that everyone subscribing to the Hindu way of life is recognized as Bandhus (male gender) and Bhagini (female gender) as equals on the poster. In fact, those of us celebrating Navratri pray to different incarnations of Goddess Durga (signifying the women’s power) each night[1]. Also, in ancient India before being invaded and deprived of Hindu heritage and culture by external forces, there was no such thing as is the need for “women empowerment” in the contemporary world. Ancient Hindu culture valued women in every sense of the word until they had to find ways to protect women’s dignity and honor from the barbaric invaders.

The essence of HHM is to protect, preserve, and promote Hinduism for the betterment of humanity. In the spirit of World is one family, HHM is aimed at spreading the essence of Hindutva, Hinduism, and Hindu philosophy as a way of life among all, especially non-Indians, non-Hindus, and next-generation Indian Americans. We must inspire, infuse, engage, and inculcate the message of Hinduism being a very open architecture that includes spirituality, compassion, diversity, equality, and mutual respect for all.

The proclamation of HHM in the United States is also the beginning of the long-awaited recognition for the lost identity of the only surviving civilization for over 1300 years. Countless invaders and colonial rulers made all-out attempts to destroy, decimate, and dismantle Hinduism and its ancient heritage, culture, history, education system. However, with our deep roots embedded in Sanatan Dharma, Hinduism not only continued to breathe, then survive for centuries, and only now it is beginning to thrive in the emerging ‘new India’ under the current political climate. It was just last week when Prime Minister Modi told the world from the podium at UNGA that based on his own experiences, “Democracy can deliver and democracy is delivering.” He was clearly speaking about India.
The speakers in the inaugural event also spoke about the recent callous and sinister efforts of holding a conference titled Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH). By all accounts, it failed to even attract the audience because the world knows better than what the DGH was unsuccessfully preaching. Many organizations collaborating for HHM had put together another conference which was at least an order of magnitude more successful and well attended.

All in all, the handful of like-minded academicians in DGH were spreading the venom against Hindus, Hinduism, and Hindutva under the cover of academic freedom. We, the Hindus, and Hindu-believing friends globally must thank DGH for bringing us together and build an extraordinary momentum of collaboration, cooperation, and unity for getting Hindu culture, traditions, and heritage being acknowledged with HHM proclamations. The truth about Hinduism prevailed in the end. However, we must remain cautious and let the momentum like HHM grow because the DGH players must be seeking different avenues to attack Hinduism

It is also important to mention that almost all other ethnic groups in the United States have had their recognition with similar proclamations. For example, Hispanic Heritage Month has been in place as an official celebration for those with ancestry traced back to Spain, Mexico, Central, and South America, and the Caribbean. Their festival lasts from September 15 to October 15 every year which had started in 1968 as just a weeklong celebration. This year, the House of Representatives also proclaimed July as the Muslim American Heritage Month. Thus, it is very fitting, appropriate, and timely that Hindus get their identity recognized for contributing to American society. They are well represented and respected in academia, corporate world, engineering, medicine, sciences, and innovation, and now beginning to make inroads in politics.

The beauty of HHM and its inaugural event is that while dozens of organizations and communities with diverse geographical, philosophical, and religious backgrounds came as ONE, they are free to observe HHM when and how it suits them. The organizers were very clear about upholding the unity of diversity and celebrate Hindu Heritage in their own way. Based on my own experiences, however, it is predictable that common observances during HHM will include Garba (a colorful and dynamic dance form from the State of Gujarat during Navratri), the World Bindi Day on October 7, Dussehra on October 15, and the Karva Chauth observance for the long life of wedded couples on October 23. The festival dates may vary in some communities. Additionally, the communities may feature speakers discussing the virtues and values of Hinduism and ancient Sanatan Dharma, India in the 21st century, offering yoga and meditation classes as gifts of Hinduism to the global community, engagement in social causes, and raising awareness about Vasudev Kutumbakam and other ancient teachings.

It must be underscored that Hinduism has gone through much cultural genocide and spiritual jihad over centuries. The antiquity of its history and heritage is yet to be fully discovered, documented, and understood after it was incessantly dismantled for centuries. Thus, while HHM proclamations are for October, ancient Hindu culture, values, and traditions are perpetual and go far beyond, before and after, October.

October 1 in the United States was the beautiful beginning of what we all are embracing as HHM but we certainly hope there is no end to it in time and space. Hindus and believers in Hinduism irrespective of their own geographical, gender, racial, and social identity are welcome to embrace our ethos and virtues such as the World is One. As stated earlier, Hinduism is the most open way of life and our goal is not only celebrating Hindu Heritage but engaging, inspiring, and inculcating intellectual discussion on what we stand for, our Dharmic values, and our belief in Karma.

Let me conclude by saying that my choice of India’s Octoberfest is not meant to distract the HHM proclamations as practiced in the U.S. traditions. The most attractive part of HHM is Hindu in it but, who knows, the communities in other parts of the world seeking and valuing diversity may find India Octoberfest (with ‘c’ and not ‘k’) more appealing. Another option may just be calling it I-FEST. What I took away from the concluding remarks is the critical need for restoring our heritage and lost history associated with Hinduism, Hindutva, and Hindu philosophy. What we call our campaign does matter but what matters more is the long-overdue recognition of Hindu values whether and what they stand for.

Note:
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

References:

[1] Navratri & 9 Avatars of Goddess Worshipped on The 9 Days – Sakalam

Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic
administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.
Vijendra Agarwal

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