The inaugural speech at the three-day second World Hindu Congress in Chicago on September 7 by Sarsanghchalak (chief) of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) Dr. Mohan Bhagwat from India, and a concluding speech by India’s Vice President Venkaiah Naidu on September 9, and other speeches by a galaxy of speakers at various sessions during the intervening period effectively laid stress on its theme – Sumantrite Suvikrante – think collectively and achieve valiantly. The congress commemorated the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekanand’s historic speech at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893.
With about 2,500 delegates and another 250 distinguished speakers from about 60 countries participating, the congress was held at Westin Hotel in Lombard, a suburb of Chicago. The venue wore a festive look, with hustle and bustle of men and women, who came from far and near. The inaugural session began with the blowing of conch by Swami Vigyananand and lighting of traditional oil lamps by the invited dignitaries among whom were Dr. Bhagwat; Prof. S.P. Kothari, chairperson of organizing committee; Ashwin Adhin, Vice President of Republic of Suriname; Acharya Lokesh Muni, Founder of Ahimsa Vishwa Bharti; and Ashok Chowgule, Working President (External) of Vishva Hindu Parishad; on the dais. Chandrika Tandon, chairperson of Tandon Capital Associates, recited Ekatmata Mantra. An imposing larger-than-life-size statue of Swami Vivekananda was unveiled as the backdrop of the podium.
To a rousing standing ovation by the gathering, Dr. Bhagwat, who delivered his keynote address, said that the organizers had appropriately chosen the theme for the congress because the time had come for all Hindus to collectively think and act. He said: “India is no longer a slave country. We are not a weak society. We all have to rise and follow our ancient wisdom. Our Hindu values emphasize welfare of every individual, the collective community called society, the nature and even the environment. When we rise, the nation also rises. These are universal values. Therefore, the duty of Hindus is to impart these universal values to the world. Money is not everything; even a rickshaw driver knows; but we have forgotten to practice it. We have forgotten these values. Though the Hindu society has meritorious people, they have forgotten to work together. Coming together is not among the Hindu people. If a lion moves alone, a pack of dogs can overpower it. Every one of us wants to dominate, though we have oneness in our hearts. We have capacity to work together. Our thoughts are not modern. Over-idealism is good. I am pro-future. We are ancient and also pro-modern. Without harming others, we must protect ourselves.”
Dr. Bhagwat said that earning more money was not bad, but one should learn to help others. “Don’t conquer but complement others. Therefore, we have to learn to work together with discipline. Diversity is the product of unity. Hindus prosper only when their diversity ends in unity. Individually we all should work hard, but collectively we must progress together. Every act of life must be surcharged with spirituality. Whenever your mind is disturbed you will do wrong things. Acquire strength, but use it in unity. You have to control your ego, but if you have absence of ego you will be defeated. So controlled ego is needed. No one can win single handedly, but together we will win. When working in a team, adjust your speed with others; take everyone along with you and work methodically together, and progress will be yours,” he concluded.
While Dr. Abhaya Asthana, president of VHPA and coordinator of the congress, made introductory remarks, Dr. S.P. Kothari, chairperson of Organizing Committee, welcomed the gathering. The others, who spoke on the occasion included, Anupam Kher, a national award-winning actor; Ashok Chowgule, Ashwin Adhin, Raju Reddy, Vice-Chair of Organizing Committee; Dr. Shamkant Sheth, host of the congress.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, the Geeta Press of Gorakhpur, the Chinmaya Mission and ISKCON were honored with mementos. Messages from India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Param Pawan 14th Dalai Lama, and Mahant Swami, Head of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, were read out.
Addressing the concluding session of the congress on September 9, Venkaiah Naidu invoked the message of Vedanta philosophy of Swami Vivekananda and said: “Swamiji has brought me to this congress as Vice President of India. I am retired from politics, but not tired of public life. Swamiji’s message is timeless and eternal; it is universal. With his message, he brought the world together for peace,” he added. “The story of Ramayana continues to be popular and inspires the world. That is why India is known as Viswa Guru. India had taught the world tolerance, universal acceptance of all religions, and India practices it. That is why India is revered. India’s philosophy is described as Prakruti, Vikruti, and Sanskruti – unity in diversity. India’s Sanskruti is not personal. ‘Share and Care’ is our philosophy. India’s vision is very broad – India considers the whole world is a family – Vasudaika Kutumbakam. World is the manifestation of the divine – God. We chase away birds from fields to allow grains to mature, but we feed birds with the matured grains at our homes. We feed snakes with milk, we worship trees, animals, and we believe in living with the nature. We promote our mother-tongue, tolerance and truth. Truth is one, but we express it in different ways. We believe in unity in diversity. We accept every religion is a reality. We respect every religion and we bind them together. If you are religious, Swami Vivekananda says, love everyone and do charity.”, Mr. Naidu said.
Stating that India is built on spirituality and respect for women, Mr. Naidu said that as the Vice President, he had visited 56 universities and attended 32 convocations. He had presented awards to graduates earning gold medals. Over 65 percent of the gold medalists were women. India was called motherland and not fatherland. All the rivers in India were named after women. Indians called their languages as mother-tongues. That was Hindu culture, he added.
Referring to the World Hindu Congress, he said that congress meant a platform and not India’s Congress Party. Mahatma Gandhi wanted his followers to disband the Congress Party and go back to villages. The Father of the Nation believed that “Rama Rajya is not complete without Grama Rajya,” which was the only way to connect urban India with rural India.
For better expression of his ideas and drive his points, he occasionally spoke in his mother-tongue, the idiomatic Telugu language, besides the national language, Hindi, Sanskrit, and English.
Mr. Naidu said that Swami Vivekananda’s timeless message of tolerance, charity, gender equality and protection of nature was relevant even today. “Ideal behavior is more important than ideology. That is the spirit of Hinduism. The theme of this conference aptly reflected peaceful coexistence of all people. No sustainable development is possible without peace. India is known as Punyabhoomi – sacred land of generosity, purity and spirituality. What is patriotism and what is nationalism? We are one country and one nation, we are all one. India is one nation from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Notwithstanding liberalization and globalization, do your duty and become strong. Patriotism is to serve the people of your country; live for the values we cherish. True nationalism is in the preservation of India’s culture and heritage, and guard Hinduism against distortions. The Hindu culture is to respect one’s mother, one’s motherland one’s guru. ‘Google’ can never replace a guru,” he quipped.
Mr. Naidu called on all Indians living abroad not to forget their mother-tongue and motherland. “Be good citizens of the country you live in, but don’t forget your heritage and culture, as heritage, culture and language go together,” he concluded.
During the three days of deliberations, seven forums – Hindu Economic Forum with the theme of Making Society Prosperous; Hindu Educational Conference with the theme of Quality Education for All; Hindu Women Conference with the theme of Highest Respect for Women; Hindu Organizational Conference with the theme of Sanghe Sakti Kaliyuge; Hindu Youth Conference with the theme of Rise, Organize, Lead, Emerge; Hindu Media Conference with the theme of Truth is Supreme; and Hindu Political Conference with the theme of Responsible Democracy for All – held about 50 sessions. The learned panelists, speakers, coordinators and chairs shared their views, experiences, and made suggestions for creating a better Hindu identity, sustainable eternal dharma practices, protection of nature, fair and frank dissemination of information, meaningful education without historic distortions, justice for all, equality of genders, governance on fair democratic principles, and universal unity for peace and prosperity of the mankind.
The organizers announced that the third World Hindu Congress would be held in Bangkok, Thailand, from November 4 to November 6, 2022. Its theme would be “Victory of dharma, not adharma.”
The second World Hindu Congress in Chicago, which was the successor of the first World Hindu Congress that held in New Delhi in November 2014, ended with the playing of national anthems of Bharat and the USA.
– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Lakshmana Rao, a Freelance Journalist in Chicago.
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