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September 28, 1999


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Texas Temples Woo The Young

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Radhika S Shankar in Houston

A decade ago, Indian parents, who wanted to have their children attend summer camp, had to choose from mainstream activities. Today many families are able to expose their children to their religious and cultural roots through area temples or local worship centers and through special summer camps.

For those who wonder if the temples have any meaning for second generation Indian Americans, visits to the shrines produce interesting revelations.

Piles of dirt from recent expansions at the Dallas Fort Worth Hindu Temple Society and the Sri Meenakashi Temple in Houston did not deter families from making it to the weekly services while in San Antonio, the Hindu community recently celebrated the opening of a new worship center.

These temples are beginning to attract the young and the old because the Hindu community has reframed the idea of worship to suit the interests of the new generation of Indian-Americans. And the younger generation is responding by taking an active role in organizing activities.

What is happening in Texas is a reflection of nationwide activities in which Hindu temples and organizations such as the Chinmaya Mission make sustained and passionate efforts to engage and involve second generation Indian Americans. Apart from holding summer camps for the younger as well as college-going students, the Mission offers cultural and language courses through its Bala Vihar in California. It is also active in many other states.

Says Dr Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple in New York, "There was a time young people refused to go to a temple because they had no idea of what was going on there. And their parents could not help them understanding the rituals and finer points of Hinduism."

"Today things are changing fast -- and certainly for the better because the older generation is realizing that the young boys and girls who are growing up in America should get to know Hindu religion and culture in a dynamic way -- and from people who are very much like mainstream religious teachers."

Traditional temple concepts accommodate the social needs of Hindus in America, particularly the younger generation. These worship centers are fast becoming community centers where the younger generation meets, discusses social and religious issues, learns an art or a language,

Temples also serve another social purpose: They are a place for people who are new in town to network, for people without medical insurance to sometimes get medical services. It is also a place for senior citizens to talk about the good old days.

The remote location in the suburbs north of Dallas where a few Hindu families regularly got together 20 years ago has now become the DFW Hindu Temple which draws more than 1,260 devotees from the area.

In 1993 the DFW society added a cultural center with classrooms for religious education and language classes and a large auditorium for meetings and wedding receptions.

Phillip M Ramsaroop, a native of Guyana and past president of the DFW society, says the current expansion phase is a $ 1.5 million project which when completed in two years will accommodate 850 people in the main prayer hall.

The current concrete-block buildings will be transformed into traditional Hindu-temple style architecture that is expected to please the Bengali Gujarati and Tamil communities.

Once the expansion is complete, the society plans to add youth and meditation centers, and enhance the temple library.

The key to the continued growth of many temples is their openness to various expressions of Hinduism.

The Sri Meenakshi Temple, instead of focusing on a particular tradition, offers communities from Indian states and South America a place to practice their individual rituals. It also encourages Houston's non-Hindus to visit the temple with periodic orientation seminars through local community colleges.

Vidya Bala, a second generation Indian, has visited the Meenakshi Temple since she was a child. "I find the Sunday classes helped me understand the meaning of the hymns and why we do certain rituals. I have made many friends though the youth programs," she said.

The youth forum at the Meenakshi temple is designed to help the youth live amidst American and Indian cultures by getting them to discuss issues involving biculturalism and sharing with each other their feelings about it. The activities encourages the younger generation participate in many temple activities like the Deepavali bazaar and temple fund raisers.

The annual MTS youth camp was a key activity that drew the younger members to the temple. The retreat is open to anyone between the ages of 7 and 20.

According to Seema Nair, programs like the Unity in Diversity fashion show and fundraising dinner was a fun and informative involvement for the youth.

"By being a participant in this event, we gained a greater appreciation for various aspects of Hindu culture and we realized that our participation helped make the dinner a huge success," said Nair.

The Hare Krishna Dham of Houston conducts Sunday school designed primarily to give children an opportunity to grow up knowing the spiritual heritage of India. It was started by Indian-American immigrants who felt they had not sufficiently grounded their children in Hindu spiritual discipline. Children between the ages 3 to 14 take part in the two-month Sunday school which has an activity class dance, mridangam lessons, a philosophy class and taught Vedic scriptures.

Dallas temples

DFW Hindu Temple

1605 N Britain Rd

Irving TX 75061

Phone: (972) 445-3111

Shree Swaminarayan Mandir

Meets every alternate Saturday

Phone: (817) 261-3797

Hare Krishna Mandir

Aarti, Bhajans, Kirtan, Pravadhan

Phone: (214) 827-6330

Swaminarayan Gurukul

Phone: (972) 438-6942

Houston Worship Centers

Sri Meenakshi Devasthanam

17130 McLean Road (CR 104)

Pearland, Texas, 77584-4630

Tel: 281-489-0358

Hare Krishna Dham of Houston

ISKCON of Houston

1320W 34th Street

Houston, TX 77018

Tel: (713) 686-GITA

Fax: (713) 686-0669

Arthur J Pais contributed to the feature.


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