More than 55 pundits, adults, and youth delegates representing temples and Hindu organizations across the nation attended the fourth Hindu Mandir Priests’ Conference (HMPC), an initiative of Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC) that was hosted by Hindu Temple of Minnesota (HTM), Maple Grove, Minnesota, May 15 through 16. Its four sessions on role and relationship of priests, sustaining Hindu temples, community links and Hindu-American youth viewpoint. Professor Anant Rambachan from St. Olaf College, Minnesota, delivered the keynote address on the second day.
Following lamp lighting and Vedic chanting, HTM religious committee chairman Raj Suryanarayanan delivered the welcome address and set the conference goals and objectives. Chief priest of Ram Mandir of Mississauga, Canada, Pundit Roopnauth Sharma, delivered the keynote on “Hinduism for the new age” that highlighted the need for consistency in communication by the priests and for congregational temple worship.
HTM founding trustee Dr. Shashikant Sane summarized the session by emphasizing the need to establish educational programs in temples, learning from positive communication practices, interfaith dialog and fundraising.
Vishal Agarwal shared the teaching curriculum used for 350 students of Hindu American Temple School (HATS) over the past five years and displayed all the teaching materials to be made available soon in e-book format.
HTM religious committee trustees and past chairs Raj and Anandi Balasubramanian coordinated the two sessions dedicated to the priests. All the HTM priests presented along with several from other Minnesota temples. HTM chief priest Pt. Ronur Murali Bhattar emphasized that priests should be tolerant toward devotees and conduct worship with utmost devotion.
Young mother and devotee Vallabha Tantry expressed the need to inspire the younger generation to choose the profession of temple priest. Pt. Gowtham Narayan described the role of Vedic chanting in temples and gave a practical demonstration. Parthan Gomadam elaborated on similarities between Sanskrit and Tamil in Vaishnava worship. Bhattar’s wife, Nagalatha Murali summarized the shared experiences of the wives of the HTM priests in balancing their religious lifestyle with the American cultural environment. She praised the support that priest families receive from devotees.
“Challenge our new generation of Hindus may face is not so much attraction toward other religions but becoming less interested in their own traditions,” said Rambachan in his second-day keynote.
Expressing joy at her adopted son from India attending HATS, Annette Kurek demonstrated how stories told thorough puppet shows can deliver powerful moral messages to children attending temple youth programs. Padmakumar of Sanskrit Bharati, California, spoke in Sanskrit and highlighted its significance and the value of learning the language. Attorney Harsh Voruganti of Hindu American Foundation, Virginia, spoke of temple safety and security requirements and shared HAF’s published guidelines.
The conference established the precedent of honoring distinguished senior priests for dedicated service to the Hindu community for more than two decades, by conferring the title of “Archaka Bhushana” (Priestly Ornament). Koteshwaran Gurukkal from Ganesh Temple, Nashville, Tennessee, Krishnarajan Devarajan from Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, Lemont, Illinois, and S. Venkatacharyulu of Sri Venkateswara Temple, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were the recipients of the 2015 award. Kandamangalam Gopala Deekshidhar was recognized for his service to HTM.
Sanjay Mehta of Pittsburgh concluded by summarizing actionable items: mechanism for constant communication amongst temple management and priests to share experiences and best practices; English language and communication workshops for priests; a short manual of common consistent answers delivered by priests to temple visitors; and a think tank to define and build a forward-looking priests development program.
HMEC provides leadership to Hindu-American communities by encouraging temples across North America to protect and sustain Hindu Dharma. HMPC is an initiative of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA).