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The NewToReno.com Blog

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Hindu prayers in U.S. Senate

I think this is a significant story, given the sorry state of religious tolerance in the world today. Rajan Zed is a Hindu chaplain from Reno; here is his press release of today's historic event.

United States Senate opened with Hindu prayers for the first time

Washington DC, USA:

History was created today when Rajan Zed, Hindu chaplain from Reno, Nevada, opened the session of United States Senate here today with Gayatri Mantra from Rig-Veda, the oldest Hindu text composed around 1,500 BCE.

According to reports, this was the first Hindu prayer ever delivered on the Senate floor since its formation in 1789.

With his wife Shipa Zed watching from VIP Gallery of the Senate, he sprinkled few drops of water around the podium from Ganges River of India, which is considered holy in Hinduism and is used in the prayers, before the start of the Senate prayer. After Senator Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania introduced Zed, three protesters in the visitors gallery tried to disrupt the prayer and were arrested. Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, thanked Zed for the prayers and added that Gandhi was his hero.

Zed's prayer included recitations from Brahadaranyakopanisad and Tattiriya Upanisad. Reading from third chapter of Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord), the famous philosophical and spiritual poem often considered the epitome of Hinduism, he urged Senators to strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world, performing their duties with the welfare of others always in mind, because by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. May they work carefully and wisely, guided by compassion, and without thought for themselves, he added.

Sporting saffron colored robe, rudraksh mala, sandal paste tilak, and Hare Ram Hare Krishan inscribed yellow shawl, he ended his prayers with the last mantra of Rig-Veda and his concluding line was "Peace, Peace, Peace be unto all", which is the English translation of "Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti." Although Zed wanted to recite the mantras in Sanskrit, Senate Chaplain's Office communiqué clearly stated, "It must be given exclusively and entirely in the English language."

The announcement of history making Hindu prayer created stir across the globe.
and thrilled India where English, Hindi, and other regional languages media extensively covered it. Zed's unlisted phone and e-mail saw unusual activity during the last few weeks.

City of Reno issued a proclamation to Zed during the City Council meeting on July five where Mayor Robert Cashell presented him with a plaque and declared July 05,2007, "as a day to recognize Rajan Zed" and "encourage all citizens to congratulate Rajan Zed on his latest professional accomplishment" mentioning the July 12 Senate prayer in the proclamation. Reno Police Chief, Michael Poehlman, presented him with "Chief's Certificate of Commendation" on July 09 to recognize his good works in "promoting peace and tranquility for all, regardless of race or faith" and to commend him for continuing his work in promoting interfaith dialogue. Various other organizations in India and US are planning to honor him in the future.

People of Fazilka, a town of southwestern Punjab in India, have announced celebrations on July 12, which will include fireworks (at the same time as prayer is read in the Senate), hawan, fluttering of "Om" flags on rooftops, free langar (community lunch) in local Hanuman Temple, Ramayan Path (recitation), etc., in honor of Rajan Zed, who has worked in this town as Public Relations Officer for the Indian State of Punjab. The prestigious high school of the area, Sarvhitkari Vidya Mandir, has decided to honor Zed during his next visit. According to Lila Dhar Sharma, an area Hindu leader, the whole region is very thrilled by knowing that ancient Hindu scriptures will be read in the US Senate for the first time. Dharam Loonaa, a journalist activist in Chandigarh, when heard the news, immediately rushed to local Ganesh Temple to pray for its success.

Besides Hindus, various Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Sikh media has carried the news, including Pakistan Christian Post, World Sikh News, Christian Post, etc. Blogs, with differing viewpoints, have flooded various sites. Lines from various blogs include "…Senate will break a new ground on religious diversity on July 12…", "strange but true", "…That is the nicest news God has given us for a long time…". Website of Institute for Public Affairs, public policy arm of the nation's largest Orthodox Jewish organization, commented, "…here's something noteworthy and positive…". Many were surprised to know that Senate had opening prayers.

Harish Nevatia, an engineer in Mumbai, India, wrote in the blog "suite 101", "…When this event was reported in the Indian media, it evoked surprise and even shock. Religious prayers are not allowed in Indian Parliament and government events, because of the secular nature of the government…Another reason why this event has surprised many Indians, especially those of the younger generation, is that Indian society is slowly moving away from its original culture and adopting the culture of the west symbolized by MTV and McDonalds. Hence the interest that Hinduism, with its ancient heritage, is creating in the west is something of a conundrum to many."

Shiva Vishnu Temple of Lanham, Maryland, has invited Zed on July 12 evening to honor him for the feat. Dr. Nigel Subramaniam Siva, one of the Trustees of Murugan Temple of America, says, "This is a great moment in history for all Hindus."

Dr. Vedanand Thakur, retired trauma orthopedic surgeon from Lumberton, North Carolina, sent Zed congratulations "for this rare and great achievement for all of us" in his ten page note, besides sending letters to senators Edward Kennedy and Hilary Clinton concerning this event. Ishani Chaudhary, Executive Director of Hindu American Foundation of Kensington, Maryland, called it "a wonderful and momentous occasion." Sujata Shankar, Joint Secretary of the World Peace Centre of Maharashtra, India, in an e-mail to Zed, said, "You have rightly lit the lamp at the right time at the right place." Ann Shannon, President of Lokenath Divine Fellowship in Portland, Oregon, stated, "…it is a profoundly encouraging event…" Raghunandan Sharma, a community activist from Lorton, Virginia, and his wife Anita Sharma, remarked that it was a day of pride for all Americans in general and Indo-Americans in particular.

Various Hindu leaders of north India, like Liladhar Sharma, Atma Ram Kamboj, Jagdish Kataria, as well organizations like Sadhu Ashram Sabha, Seva Bharati, Bharat Vikas Parishad, were thrilled to know about this event and sent offers of whole-hearted support to Zed.

Rajan Zed states that more inclusive understanding of religion is needed. Bhagavad-Gita says ( 7:21)—Whatever form (of the Divine) any devotee with faith wishes to worship, I make that faith of his steady. The challenge is for us all to learn to live together with our seriously different traditions, not only in peace but in some sort of trust and mutual loyalty. Existence of different faiths is positively willed by God, as a sign of God's bountifulness. We are all looking for the truth. With the help of dialogue, we shall attempt to overcome prejudices, caricatures, and stereotypes.

About thirteen percent of the world's population is Hindu. Currently there are about 800 Hindu religious centers in the United States of America, concentrated in California, New York , Texas, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey . Hinduism in North America began in 1830s with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau studying Hindu scriptures like Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita. Vivekananda made a strong impression at World's Parliament of Religion in Chicago in 1893 and he then founded Vedanta Society, Protap Chunder Mozoomdar of Brahmo Samaj delivered his first American address on September 02, 1883 in Concord, Massachusetts .

When Zed delivered the first Hindu prayer in Nevada State Assembly and Nevada State Senate in March and May last, many clergy from various Christian denominations attended the prayers as a gesture of support for him.

Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has no datable beginning but some scholars put it around 3,000 BCE. It has no founder, no one authoritative figure, no one deity worshipped by all, an no single prophet or holy book. One of its scriptures, Mahabharata, is the longest poem ever written, comprising over 100,000 couplets.

Rajan Zed, besides being Director of Public Affairs and Interfaith Relations of Hindu Temple of Northern Nevada, is also Public Relations Officer of India Association of Northern Nevada, affiliated with World Congress of Faiths-London, listed in "Who's Who in America" 2006, volunteers as a chaplain in various hospitals of northwestern Nevada and nearby California, and is active in interfaith dialogue in the region. He lives in Reno with wife Shipa Zed, a community volunteer; son Navgeet Zed, recipient of Nevada Peacemaker of the Year award; and daughter Palkin Zed, an accomplished author of two published books.

According to US Senate website, "…Throughout the years, the United States Senate has honored the historic separation of Church and State, but not the separation of God and State…During the past two hundred and seven years, all sessions of the Senate have been opened with prayer, strongly affirming the Senate's faith in God as Sovereign Lord of our Nation…" Usually the Senate Chaplain delivers the opening prayer, but sometimes guest chaplains are invited from all over the country to read the prayer. According to a Senate Chaplain Office communiqué, the purpose of the opening prayer is to seek God on behalf of, and for the Senators and the prayer should affirm our rich heritage as a Nation "under God".

US Senate shares with the US House of Representatives responsibility for all lawmaking but is given important powers under the "advice and consent" provisions of the Constitution besides adjudicating impeachment proceedings.

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