BY MAHADEV DESAI
United States Hindu Alliance (USHA) organized its first ever Diwali Dinner in Atlanta on November 2, at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta. The Chief Guest, Georgia Secretary of State, Cathy Cox graced the occasion with her presence, in the company with her husband Attorney Mark Dehler. Also attending were member of Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Shi Shailendra; National Convener of USHA, Gokul Kunnath; Director, Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), C.K.Patel; Attorney Shyam Reddy, past and present office-bearers of the Hindu Temple, Indian community’s dignitaries and community activists.
The President,Dr. Aruna Prasad Kancherla, the Treasurer of the Hindu Temple, Dr. Sujatha Reddy, and Secretary Hymavathy Mikkilineni greeted Cathy Cox and her husband and graciously escorted them inside the two temples, where they were blessed by the temple priests, garlanded and offered
After the tour, they proceeded to the auditorium where the remaining program was emceed by the past President of the Vedic Temple, Atlanta, Amitabh Sharma. Sharma welcomed all and invited Cathy Cox and Dr. Reddy to light the traditional lamps (diyas). Ms Sujya Dikshit recited the prayer to Lord Ganesha. Dr. Sujatha Reddy requested all to rise and observe a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the recent bombings in New Delhi and also countless victims of the natural disasters around the world.
Dr Sujatha Reddy who has done stupendous work in propagating the ethos of Hinduism spoke about the significance of Diwali. “Diwali is the festival of lights. All the lights of the world, however, cannot compare to even a single ray of inner light’ she said. “The true spirit of Diwali is to light the lamp of hope and cheer in the hearts of the needy and downtrodden and to illuminate the dark recesses of our inner selves.” She asserted.
Amitabh Sharma spoke of how India’s dynamic and charismatic religious ambassador Swami Vivekananda in 1893 at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago captivated the hearts of the attendees with his deeply spiritual insight, fervent eloquence and vast knowledge of Eastern and Western Culture. His first few words, “Brothers and sisters of America” were enough to mesmerize the audience and his speech, which received a thunderous ovation, enriched the religious consciousness of Americans. Swami Vivekananda, the father of modern Hindu renaissance de-mystified Hinduism in the US. The solid foundation he laid, the spirit he generated has proved invaluable to the almost 3 million Indian immigrants who have settled here and excelled in almost all walks of life. However, it was felt by many that something vital was missing- the prevailing ignorance and misconceptions about Hindu religion, traditions and culture and deliberate distortions in some quarters needed to be corrected. As a result, USHA, which means awakening, new beginning, was formed in November 2001 to spur the resurgence initiated by Swami Vivekananda, to promote the awareness of Hinduism in the media, academia and public and also to forge strong bonds with Hindus in India and other parts of the world, he concluded.
Gokul Kunnath said that post 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US; Hindus became targets of racial hatred, violence, discrimination and abuse due to ignorance and misperceptions. There are one billion Indians, about 20% of the global population. The global Hindu diaspora is peace loving, and believes in pluralism and freedom of worship. Sadly it is being targeted for the wrong reasons. Hindus everywhere need to be proactive in safeguarding their interests. USHA will strive to empower Hindus everywhere through education, advocacy and activism. It will release an agenda of its concerns and problems and deliver it to the political representatives to resolve the issues in a bipartisan manner, he said.
Shi Shailendra emphasized that the Indian community in the US must play an increasing role in politics. He lauded Ms.Cox for her outstanding contribution as Georgia Secretary of State. She was born in Bainbridge, South West Georgia. After earning degrees in Agriculture, Journalism and Law, she practiced law. She got elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1992. In 1999, she had the honor to be the first woman to serve as Secretary of State. Under her technological leadership, Georgia has become the national leader in election reform and in deploying the new touch screen system to ensure uniform voting system. Her genial nature and leadership has won her national acclaim. She is now running for Governor. She has been a great friend of the Indian community.
Responding, Ms. Cox began by thanking Shi Shailendra, Gokul Kunnath, the Hindu Temple of Atlanta and all the organizers of Diwali Dinner for their wonderful hospitality and a wonderful welcome. Reassuring the followers of Hindu faith, she said, “This country was founded on the basic principles of religious freedom and religious tolerance and a judicious separation between our state and our faith. Unfortunately some people have selective memories and forget about these basic principles. Paying a tribute to the Indian community she said “The rich cultural mosaic in Georgia has been enhanced with your beautiful culture, your rich family values and intellectual capital. Thank you for your friendship and support. You have enriched us and we are blessed by your presence in the US and in Georgia.” Turning to Shyam Reddy, she quipped,” I thank you for your friendship and support. I don’t know why you want my job, but you can have
C.K.Patel introduced Shyam Reddy, who is running for the Georgia Secretary of State. Shyam Reddy born, raised and educated, in Georgia has impeccable credentials for the post. His solid academic qualifications, corporate law experience in a large and prestigious international law firm, coupled with strong information technology background would make him an ideal Secretary of State. A diehard Southern Democrat, He has the passion, zeal and vision to serve Georgians in economic development, election reform, and job and business creation. Georgia Trend magazine recently named him one of its 2005 “Top 40 under 40 Georgians.” and Atlanta magazine named him as one of its 2005 “Georgia Rising Stars”. He best exemplifies the new generation of political leaders.
Shyam Reddy began by complimenting Ms. Cathy Cox calling her a truly great American and a great Georgian and a great friend of the Indian community who brings strong values to Georgia’s political landscape.” I feel honored to share the platform with you this evening” he said and went on to speak of his childhood experiences growing up in Georgia, when people often asked him if he was from China! His parents taught him to be strong and always be proud of who he was and where he came from.” I wore my religion, my faith, my heritage on my shoulders like a badge of courage. Our community is very tight knit and progressive. Organizations like USHA are playing an important role in promoting awareness of Hinduism in America and world over, and ought to be supported” he said.
Dr. Aruna Prasad and Dr. Sujatha Reddy presented Ms. Cathy Cox and Shyam Reddy with gifts including books on Hinduism. Amitabh Sharma took this opportunity to point out to Ms. Cox that some textbooks on Hinduism, in some States contain anomalies and distortions about Hinduism and appealed to her to get these corrected to which the latter readily agreed.
After Dr. Basant Tariyal expressed his Vote of Thanks, the attendees were served a delicious dinner catered by the South Indian Café.