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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Diversity, Indian variety, rears its head in Arkansas

Posted By on Sat, Mar 15, 2014 at 7:10 AM

click to enlarge HINDU TEMPLE: In Chennai, India.
  • HINDU TEMPLE: In Chennai, India.

click to enlarge bhool.jpg
A Hindu observance, a Bollywood film festival and a disagreement on religious matters at a Christian university in Arkansas figure in a post on topics related to India.

My trip to India last year, which included a visit to the Hindu temple shown above in Chennai (once known as Madras), remains one of the transformative experiences of my life. It inspired an even greater interest in the country. It comes to mind this quiet morning thanks to coincidental Indian happenings. (For cross-cultural chasms it's hard to beat the few blocks that separated our visit to the Hindu temple from a visit to the tomb  of St. Thomas in a Catholic basilica.)

On a happy note: The Central Arkansas Library System will celebrate Holi, the Hindu festival celebrating the arrival of spring, with a Bollywood film festival at the new Ron Robinson Theater in the River Market District. The library explains:

Holi is a popular Hindu festival that celebrates the arrival of spring. The festival is celebrated on the day of the full moon in March, which falls on Monday, March 17, 2014. It is traditionally celebrated by throwing vibrantly colored powder and water, playing music, dancing, and eating. One of Holi's biggest customs is the loosening strictness of social structures, which normally include age, sex, status, and caste. Holi closes the wide gaps between social classes and brings Hindus together. Legends associated with the festival all depict triumph of good over evil.

The theater will screen three Bollywood films  today — at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Details here. All films are free.

On a more disputatious note:

I received a news release yesterday under the name of Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, expressing unhappiness at an opinion column in the student newspaper at John Brown University in Siloam Springs. The article, "Rethink Yoga," referred to yoga as the "beautiful face that the very ugly religion of Hinduism uses" and, quoting a speaker, said "yoga has its roots in the worship of demonic Hindu gods."

Zed asked for a college apology. He commented: "Our gods were highly revered to us and we considered them divine and worship them and our religion was very sacred to us."

I inquired about the complaint to Dr. Charles Pollard, JBU president.

Lucas Roebuck responded for JBU. 

The Threefold Advocate is a student publication and operates with nearly complete autonomy and as such, opinions in the student newspaper do not represent official positions of the university. We value free speech and encourage the exchange of ideas in a respectful fashion. The student editors of that publication have seen the concerns of Mr. Zed and, on their own initiative, will invite him to write a response to appear in the same opinion section the piece in question ran. JBU has no position on yoga. With regards to Hinduism, JBU is a Christian university, and our Statement of Faith can be found on our website.

The editor of the paper has also issued a response noting that the article was an op-ed and the view of one student, not that of JBU.

Here's the op-ed that set off the exchange. 

One could stay mighty busy disputing every opinion expressed in newspapers on religious matters. See the daily D-G letters page. I take no sides on this one except to say this: East, West, religion, yoga, Bollywood musicals. Life in Arkansas remains interesting.

Can we meet at one of the increasing number of outposts of  Indian cookery in Little Rock for a chat over some chaat

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