Schuylkill Haven, PA—Hindu Students Council celebrated its 21st Annual Youth Camp at VRAJ Bhoomi Temple this past Memorial Day Weekend. More than 50 students across HSC’s 50 plus chapters attended the camp traveling from as far as California. Camp activities focused on facets of Hindu dharma, tradition, culture, and philosophy.
The weekend schedule consisted of a series of discussions, debates, competitive games, aarti (prayer), bhajans (devotional songs), yoga/meditation sessions, and even martial arts and dancing (raas/bhangra).
HSC was founded in 1990 by three students seeking to provide a way for their peers to stay connected to their Hindu culture and heritage while in college and away from home. “HSC gives us stage where we can share our knowledge and culture,” says Abhishek Pandey from the UMBC Chapter. Among the speakers was one of the original founders, Kanchan Banerjee, Chairman of the HSC Board of Trustees and his family. Haimanti Banerjee, who also has been working alongside Mr. Banerjee for HSC for the past many years led a discussion about “Empowerment for Hindu Women” discussing the hardships and challenges Hindu women face in India and in the West even today. Members were inspired and moved by the discussion and her stories as they urged women to be stronger, independent, and empowered in today’s society. Past HSC president and HSC’s Board member Nikunj Trivedi also spoke at the camp.
Camp was designed to create an educational, yet engaging experience for youth so that they may learn about the many different aspects of Hindu Dharma and about the philosophies and fundamental tenets of the Hindu tradition. Dr. Jeffrey Long, a professor from Elizabethtown College, shared his path to Hinduism and stressed the importance of matching personal values to those of a religious practice. His stories illustrated his path to becoming a Hindu as a non-Indian complementing them with his personal beliefs. Camp attendees further discussed Hindu philosophies and traditions with Acharya Vishwajitji, and debated about “Life After Death.” The intriguing topics of reincarnation and karma were discussed in depth to provide students with a better understanding of the Hindu views on these subjects.
On Sunday, Mr. Rajiv Malhotra, speaker, writer, and columnist on a variety of Indic areas of study was the main speaker at the camp. With 16 years of research experience, Mr. Malhotra is a public intellectual on current affairs, world religions, and cross-cultural encounters between the East and West and also founder and president of the Infinity Foundation promoting Indic studies. He spoke about his most recent work, Breaking India, a book which focuses on the threats India and Hinduism face and exposes the money trails and people aiding in the “breaking” of India and Hinduism. He further mentioned how these threats are problems that start from a foreign nexus and can lead to changes in identity, sense of history, and culture. Mr. Malhotra’s discussion sparked positive interest from camp attendees, which in return created an excellent question and answer portion motivating many attendees to buy his book immediately following the presentation. Samir Asthana, founder of Coalition of Hindu Youth (CHY), spoke about the importance of why today’s youth need to get involved with their respective temples so that the future of these temples are secured. Another speaker of the day was Tej Tanden, founder of the Sanatan Dharma Scholarship Contest. Mr. Tanden strongly believes that Hindu youth of this country will take advantage of such opportunities and start to ask and research those “why” questions in regards to their Hindu faith.
T hroughout the entire weekend, games were played including Hinduism Jeopardy, tug of war, the spinning Chakras, human chess, and many more. Following the games were Bhajan and Arti sessions, in which Pandit Premji of New Jersey took the lead. Poojas included one for Goddess Saraswati, one for Lord Ganapathi, and one for Lord Mritunjaya. The significance and symbolism behind each step was explained. Highly anticipated Bhangra and Raas dance celebrations ended the night as all the attendees looked their best in their cultural attire.
The last day of camp began with two student led discussions, which included the topics of the portrayal and misconceptions of the Caste system in the western world and the science behind Hinduism. Both topics yielded excellent feedback from everyone engaged, as a wide variety of perspectives and experiences were shared.
The last day’s activities wound down to a close as the awards for Best Chapter of the Year were presented. Stony Brook University received the award for the 2009-2010 academic year and Boston University for the 2010-2011 academic year. The awards were presented by Ravi Jaishankar, HSC General Secretary. Stony Brook accepted their award for their 3-fold increase in membership and phenomenal on-campus events such as Garba 2010, Holi, and a collaborative event with two other South Asian clubs on campus. Stony Brook University has received five nominations, and won four awards this past year, two at a national level, and recognition from the President of Stony Brook University. Pooja Sahani and Roshni Singh accepted the award on behalf of Boston University. BU received their award for their continued legacy of strong membership, weekly poojas, and the largest Garba held in the Boston area. The Chapter of the Year award is presented to chapters who have shown significant improvement or activity throughout an entire academic year.
Overall, the HSC’s Annual Camp was a great success; the speakers, discussions, and seminars left student attendees thinking deeply about important subjects that revolve around the Hindu tradition and heritage. Attendees left positive reviews of the camp and were all deemed young Hindu leaders of tomorrow due to their commitment and dedication. The result was a successful Memorial Day weekend to learn about Sanatan Dharma. Everybody appreciated the efforts of the camp’s organizing team led by Secretary Ravindra Jaishankar.