Flushing Hindus hope to keep traditions alive

Flushing Hindus hope to keep traditions alive
Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

Hindus in America face a challenge as traditions tends to fade in immigrant offspring, but a Flushing temple that offers instruction for children is hoping to push back against that trend and last weekend showed off the knowledge of some of its brightest students at Hindu Awareness Day.

“It’s time now we give a chance to all youngsters to speak,” said Dr. Uma Mysorekar, of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, headquartered at the corner of Bowne Street and Holly Avenue. “We want to make sure this is passed on adequately to the next generation.”

On Saturday, the facility’s auditorium was filled with eager parents and costumed children. Two young women sat side by side wearing elaborate hats topped with fake parrots. One sported a fake mustache.

Someone had attached traditional ankle bells to a few of the most fidgety youngsters, filling the air with a constant and faint jingling — as if any moment there would be a burst of festive celebration.

The program varied from the artistic to the academic. At one point intricately dressed dancers performed a routine depicting an ancient fable, while at another 17-year-old Gokul Iyer, who studied at the temple’s school, gave a well-researched dissertation on the often-unsung contributions ancient Hindus made to math, science, medicine — even plastic surgery.

The young scholars repeatedly demonstrated how ancient traditions are still relevant in modern times and how the two can co-exist.

At one point during the performances, an orange-clad swami passed by the front row. His draped robes and face paint would have made it hard to pinpoint when he existed throughout the many centuries of Hindu history — if it were not for the glowing smartphone he cradled between his clasped hands.

Anirudh Chandrashekar, an 18-year-old who was born in Southern India but grew up in Queens, said he notices the difference between how his parents experienced Hinduism and how he relates to the faith in America.

Even living in the diverse neighborhood of Flushing he had to seek out his religion instead of being constantly surrounded by it, which is why the temple played such a crucial role in his upbringing.

Chandrashekar, who speaks a Southern Indian dialect called Tamil, learned about culture, songs and prayers at the temple school while also learning Sanskrit from his father. He plans to pass that information on to someone else.

“I feel it is our duty to teach as much as we can,” he said.

The keynote speaker at the event was Sheetal Shah, senior director of the Hindu American Foundation, which advocates for Hindu awareness on a national level.

Her office is involved in many endeavors both locally and abroad, but mainly has been trying to bring a Hindu voice into mainstream discussions.

For example, her nonprofit has been trying to get Congress to extend a religious visa law, which allows priests to travel from countries like India and work in the United States, since no training facilities exist here.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by email at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.