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Growing local Hindu Society looks for its own space

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Editor’s note: People of Faith is question-and-answer feature running nearly every month and highlighting various leaders and personalities in the local faith community.

Sometimes when the Hindu Society of Southern Indiana gathers on select Sundays for its time of prayer at locales such as Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus, the venue is crowded enough that plenty of people have to sit on the floor.

While the 15-year-old group is grateful for that and other spaces, the association boasting 500-plus patrons is poised to find its own home sometime soon. That’s according to Raj Subramanian, communications director for the local Hindus.

“We have come a long way,” Subramanian said, referring to membership growth. “We are ready for a place. We just have to make sure it’s the right one.

“Several times, we’ve come close. But it just didn’t work out for us.”

On the immediate horizon awaits local Hindus’ biggest and most visible celebration of Ganesh 2014, unfolding Sept. 1 to 7 at The Commons, 300 Washington St. The event, open to all regardless of beliefs, features prayer, food, music and dancing. More than 800 people attended at various times last year.

Hindus believe that the deity Lord Ganesh bestows his presence on Earth for all his devotees during this festival. Ganesh is widely worshipped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture or at the outset of travel.

Q: How will a home for the Hindus boost the local association?

A permanent place will help us make our activities more regular. We’ve seen some of our attendance at activities go up and down because we have to change venues and so many other things. It’s not always been easy.

Q: Besides Ganesh, how do you help non-Hindus understand your faith?

We usually do a lecture series on Hinduism — meaning happiness for all beings — in the fall. I know sometimes that people will have questions or get confused if, for example, they see a colleague who is Hindu eat meat. I think the series often has been eye-opening for some people.

And I believe that, in Hinduism, there are more commonalities with other religions than there are differences. Hinduism chiefly is based on tolerance and coexisting with others.

Q: How do you explain Hinduism to others?

I will quote (Columbus Hindu leader) Mandar Deo, who compares Hinduism to a banana. In his words, “Traditions and rituals of Hinduism are like the peel of the banana. But you should not throw away the banana and eat the peel.” You cannot forget the core message.

We have so many different gods — Vishnu, Shiva and others. That belief, though, is not the core. Part of Hinduism believes that all religions are true as long as one within that religion feels the pain

of others.

Q: What does Hinduism do for you personally?

It definitely brings out the compassion in me. There are so many painful things happening in this world, like hearing the news today of the airliner that was shot down (over Russia). It makes me willing to put myself in a victim’s shoes to try to understand what they might be going through. It allows me to make a change within my immediate circle.

For me, Hinduism allows me to use my learning and improve myself.

Q: How does your pragmatic background as an engineer influence how you accept the mystical or the miraculous in Hinduism?

As a child, I simply believed the (supernatural) stories my grandparents told me. Today, my belief just is.

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