On August 29, Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami attended as the chief guest the 20th Grand Annual Janmashtami Celebration organized by the Hindus of Greater Houston. After an excited and devotional parade, Bodhinatha was led up on the main stage to participate in an Agamic Vishnu puja.
The puja was performed by this traditional South Indian Vaishnava priest from the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Pearland, just outside of Houston.
As the program was getting started and the devotees were streaming in, one of the event organizers took the opportunity to interview Bodhinatha on camera to get a personal sense of what his talk would be about.
During one of the cultural programs, Mike Morris, a freelance journalist on assignment from the Houston Chronicle, interviewed Bodhinatha in a private side room of the convention center.
He asked questions on a wide variety of topics ranging from "Who is Lord Krishna?" to "What position do you hold as a Hindu leader in relationship to this group?" to "What is the most important concern that Hindus in America are facing today?" Bodhinatha gave detailed, practical, easy-to-understand answers, in his inimitable style.
Anup Jalota, a famous Hindustani bhajan and ghazal singer from India, was one of the main attractions of the program. He and his troupe (the tabla player was superb) led the group in lots of Vaishnavite bhajans, some very relaxed and contemplative, some wild enough to entice the group into an ecstatic singing and dancing rapture, especially at the climax.
The celebration was held in a gigantic section of the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. Some 6,000 people were said to have attended, but we think it may have been closer to 8,000 or more at its height.
Bodhinatha gave a 10-minute talk that was well-received.
Even after the excited bhajan finale, hundreds sat down and listened intently to Bodhinatha's talk, which focused on Hindu unity, the main objective of the Hindus of Greater Houston, the organization that has successfully organized this event for twenty years now.
Bodhinatha was brought front and center for the arati, as everyone sang together, "Jaya Jagadish Hare, Swami Jaya Jagadish Hare…," the famous Hindi arati song.
On our way out, we stopped at the prominent Hinduism Today booth, among a few dozen others. Vijay Pallod (right) was instrumental in organizing both the event itself and Bodhinatha's presence here, and Ravi Raghavan (between Vijay and Bodhinatha) was our primary man at the booth. Ravi estimated that some 400-500 families visited the booth, enthusiastically perusing Hinduism Today, What Is Hinduism, The Master Course Trilogy, and taking flyers home so that they could order them on the web. It was a most successful visit to Houston!
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"Temples with multiple deities can be confusing, especially for today's Hindu youth. For clarity, we need to bring forward a more precise understanding of the different Hindu denominations and how the different Gods are viewed from within each denomination. For spiritual advancement it is best to focus on one deity and get to the vibration that deity. When we hear teachings from various Hindus, it is important to understand and identify which denomination they are speaking from. This will avert confusion when that teaching gets contradicted in a different context where someone is talking about the same subject but from a different philosophical background."
Bodhinatha reviews the main characteristic of Saivite philosophy and practice with an indepth focus on the four stages of religions evolution, chariya, kriya, yoga and jnana. He highlights how this shows that Saiva Siddhanta is unique and quite from the modern practice of Hinduism as Vedanta