It was a time for connecting and reflection for the 2500 Hindu delegates who had gathered at Hotel Westin in Chicago for the 2nd World Hindu Congress from 7-9 September. The mega initiative, a brainchild of IITian Swami Vigyananand, assessed ways to raise the visibility of Hindus on the world stage and work on challenges facing the community globally. Hindus from 60 countries were present with sizable delegations from Bharat and the US.
The event had a historical significance as it commemorated the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s iconic address at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
Against the backdrop of a life like statue of Swami Vivekananda, RSS Chief Dr. Mohan Bhagwat and keynote at the inaugural event addressed the congress on the core theme drawn from the Mahabharat, “Think collectively, Act Valiantly.”
He highlighted the need for Hindus to work together and said “We have stopped our descent and are contemplating how to ascend. Our universal values, now called Hindu values, lead to the welfare of the individual, the society, nature and the environment. It is the duty of Hindus to remind the world, the universal values from time to time.”
Stressing the need for unity, Bhagwat said if a lion is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy the lion. We must not forget that.”
“We want to make the world better. We have no aspiration of dominance. Our influence is not a result of conquest or colonization,” he noted.
Chair SP Kothari, said he and many speakers attending the conference received calls and petitions from organizations and individuals to withdraw from the Congress on the ground WHC or some of its organizers are “socially and religiously divisive.” “I urge them to listen to my talk and reflect on whether it is tainted with hate. I have chosen to disregard those petitions as originating from a lack of complete understanding of the World Hindu Congress.”
Coordinator Dr. Abhaya Asthana stated that WHC is not an event, it is a community movement. It seeks to encourage Hindus around the world to ascend to the highest levels of excellence. This Congress was important so we “may graduate from individual success to collective success.”
Award winning actor Anupam Kher said “Hinduism is a way of life and one becomes a Hindu by living like one. Tolerance was the centerpiece of Vivekananda’s message. My roots are steeped in Hinduism… As a Hindu, it pains me deeply to see how ignorance and half knowledge are trying to destroy one of the oldest, world’s most peaceful religion.”
Vice Chair, Raju Reddy, urged Hindus worldwide to become more visible as positive change makers in their respective countries they call home, wherever they may be today. He added, Hindus as a community should become economically more prosperous and be viewed as an economic powerhouse. Our immense soft power of Hindu teachings, Vedic knowledge and thought will be limited in its acceptance and reach without the accompanying economic power.
India’s Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, keynote for the concluding session, renewed Swami Vivekananda’s message and elaborated on some of the essential elements of Hinduism namely the breadth of its vision in treating the world as one family, tolerance and acceptance of plurality, and unity in diversity. True nationalism is in the preservation of India’s invaluable heritage, he said.
Swami Poornatmananda of Bharat Seva Ashram, Chinmaya Mission Spiritual Head Swami Swaroopananda, Swami Paramatmananda, secretary general of Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, Satguru Dalip Singh of Namdari, Madhu Pandit Dasa, chairperson of Akshaya Patra Foundation, ISKCON, Bangalore were some of the spiritual leaders who spoke at the event. Messages by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his Holiness the Dalai Lama and Art of Living Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shanker, BAPS Spiritual Guru Mahant Swami Maharaj were played via video.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, (D-IL) said “Some of my friends and constituents were very concerned about my presence here today…I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I’ve ever known and been taught…namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, accepts all people regardless of their faith including all my constituents.”
Lt. Governor of Illinois Evelyn Sanguinetti, Congressman Bill Foster, Congressman Bruce Fraser were also present. Other eminent dignitaries who spoke were Vice-president of the Republic of Suriname Ashwin Adhin, entrepreneur and Grammy nominated artist Chandrika Tandon, renowned classical dancer Sonal Mansingh, author Amish Tripathi of the Shiva Trilogy and Mohandas Pai chairperson of Board of Manipal Global.
Four organizations were recognized for their outstanding contributions to spreading Hindu philosophy. BAPS was honored for their architecturally beautiful temples, Chinmaya Mission for explaining the essence of the Gita, Geeta Press, Gorakhpur for making sacred Hindu literature accessible, and ISKCON for spreading the message of Gita.
Seven conferences and three plenary sessions over the course of three days highlighted issues facing Hindus. The Political Conference suggested the need for a permanent secretariat in the US or UK for the cause of Hindu rights around the globe, asserting a strong political voice especially in countries like the Caribbean, Fiji and the African countries, and developing young political leaders.
Other parallel sessions were on youth, media, economy, women, education, and Hindu organizations. To create awareness about atrocities committed against Hindus around the world, speak out against biased portrayals of Hindus, freeing temples from government control, making writing contemporary and relevant to the present generation, finding new ways to open trade, skill development, an Angel Investor group for women entrepreneurs and a global Hindu Women Business directory, a strategy for developing scholarship in religious studies were some of the recommendations of the conferences.
Prominent Houstonian, Col. Raj Bhalla said “Being a Sikh, 87 years old, I always had a personal belief that Sikhs are part of Hindus. The World Hindu Congress further enlightened me and strengthened my conviction. My earnest desire is, in India, Sanskrit should be taught to children at a very young age so they learn about Vedic, Spiritual and Scientific knowledge that Hindus gave to the world 5000 years ago – a rightful matter of pride.”
The third World Hindu Conference will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, from Nov. 4 to 6, 2022. The theme will be “Victory of dharma, not adharma.”