Between March 27th – 28th, 2012 the Hindu Forum of Europe held its Hindu Leaders Meeting in Radhadesh followed by a Networking Luncheon and a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels.
“Who is teaching the [Hindu] priests?,” “How do we [Hindus] get recognized in our country?”
These are some the questions raised during a two-day event hosted by the Hindu Forum of Europe (HFE) late last month. Some of the major issues faced by Hindus and Hindu groups in Europe include the need for visibility, the need for specialization in their own traditions, and the need for recognition in par to that of other major religions. Some of the issues that were discussed, but most were added to the list of work that the HFE has yet to do. However, it was clear from the event, that there is interest and eager participants in the cause.
After months and months of planning, finally the HFE two-day, jammed packed: Hindu Leaders Meeting, Networking Luncheon, and EU Parliament Conference event had come. The quiet community of ISKCON Radhadesh became a host to a group of colorful, witty and determined members - and members to be - of the HFE.
Arrivals for began the day before the meeting and were stayed in the Radhadesh guesthouse. The Hindu Leaders Meeting started late Tuesday morning (as expected) but eventually when everyone had arrived, the room was full of a diverse yet familiar group of Hindus; Swamis from Portugal, Italy, and the UK and leaders and businessmen of both long-standing and budding Hindu organizations from across Europe, ready to share and unite on a the common goal - of promoting Hinduism in Europe.
After opening prayers led by National Council of Hindu Temples UK Secretary General Dr. Raj Pundit Sharma, there was a get – to – know each other icebreaker, followed by two interactive discussions about the needs and situation of Hindu organizations in Europe led by Bharti Tailor (now HFE president) and Birkram Laubhalsingh (now HFE Vice President). The open discussion generated some interesting points about the standing and the future of the countries represented in the meeting. Officially there were ten countries represented, although in all fairness Pundit Madhu Shastri represented two. The following group work brought new perspectives as well as new relationships to bud within the group. The UK representation was the largest and therefore they were requested to team up with members from other countries, and share insights from their very successful situation there.
Amongst the familiar faces were ISKCON’s own Shaunaka Rishi das and Yadunandana Swami who spoke at the end of the topical discussion session about Hindu education in Europe. Everyone was impressed with the programs that were being offered: both the Bhaktivedanta College and the Oxford Center for Hindu Studies. One of the members of the meeting said it was “this was one of the best presentations I have seen in ten years.”
The later project particularly sparked an avid discussion, questioning why Hindus do not send their children to learn about their own traditions, and rather only to become “engineers and doctors?” There were no definitive answers, yet Shaunaka Rishi das suggested everyone to spread the word about the Oxford Center, the only of its kind in the world, that can be fitted into any Hindu’s study – not just theologians or religious studies majors. (Please visit www.ochs.org for more information about the Oxford Hindu Studies Center.)
Another exciting project that was presented was the “Save Ayurveda” Campaign, presented by Amarjeet Bhamra Ayurveda from the UK. Mr. Bhamra made a trip for this meeting specifically to present this issue of concern. The organization is asking the UK to not allow the Ayurveda to “be divorced from Veda” and created as a separate unit from Hindu traditions. As we speak the campaign is in need of support, as the future of use of Ayurvedic medicine doctors will no longer be legally allowed in the UK and possibly the rest of Europe. Mr. Bhamra is asking for support of this campaign, as it is against the Hindu religion to make such an integral aspect of Hindu culture become lost in lieu of the Pharmaceutical companies. (Please visit the website www.saveherbalmedicine.com for more information.)
That evening everyone enjoyed bhajans in the temple room in Radhadesh and took rest, for the next day was to be a busy one.
Hindu Forum of Belgium’s Networking Lunch
At noon the guests began to arrive at the Fine Arts Center, BOZAR in the center of Brussels, for the Networking Luncheon hosted by the Hindu Forum of Belgium (HFB). Alongside the speeches, there were entertainment, a MOSA (Museum of Sacred Art) display (Radhadesh’s own devotional art museum) and beautiful selection of Indian-Western dishes, catered by Radhadesh and Sri Krsna Caitanya from France. The master of ceremony was Visvambar Caitanya, the HFE secretary, who youthfulness added some light-heartedness and fun to the entire afternoon.
Hrdaya Caitanya, Radhadesh president who was representing the Belgium Council for Religious Leaders, of which is a member of, alongside the HFB President Manik Paul, made a convincing speeches about the necessity of Belgium to be recognized, encouraging the audience to work together toward this goal. This was followed by a speech from Katrina Von Schnurbein, the Advisor at the European Commission for the dialogue with religious communities and philosophical and non-confessional organizations, who spoke about the necessity of such organizations as the HFB to connect with the EU Commission. As Stein Villumstad, General Secretary for European Council for Religious Leaders, the last of the speakers at Lunch who spoke about the type of language differences that insiders of a religion speak and the need to have a foothold in the political arena to best express it from their point of view, congratulated the “successful events” of the HFB and HFE organizations.
A local Belgian group, “Chrysalide” performed an Indian-French fused mix of tabla, harmonium, and guitar ragas with French lyrics to the audience of over 120 guests. Just after Banishree Falisse, a devotional Khayal styled singing artist continued with rhythmic melodies for a captured audience. However, as the event was more than one hour behind schedule, many began to cue up for the awaiting lunch, and so half of the audience returned to their seats to eat their dainty laddhus while Banishree sang.
Everyone who attended the event was given the BBT’s “Hidden Glory of India” book as a gift when they left.
EU Parliament Conference: “Hindu Contributions to the European Project”
The European Union Parliament conference directly followed the lunch that evening. The EU Parliament is just a 10 min drive from the center of Brussels, where the Lunch was held. Most of the EU is still in construction, but this wing of the building is fully functional; its metallic futuristic styled architecture and mood rings toward the hopeful future of the EU.
The guests were personally escorted into the Parliament to the Henry Spaak room, where everyone was treated like members of the EU for the day: recliner chairs, ear-sets for clearer hearing of the speakers on desks, and drinks, all sponsored by Graham Watson, a UK Member of Parliament (MEP) who has interest in the HFE and it’s organization; as he is a member of the Indian Delegation for the EU.
There were many speakers, including some from the Hindu Leaders Meeting as well as the Networking Lunch, however the appearance and speech of MEP Watson toward a deeper connection between the EU and the Hindu faith community was proposed. Mahaprabhu das, HFE General Secretary and ISKCON Communications Europe Director also made a speech in the same direction, explain that the Hindu tradition is an accepting and non-confrontational one, that has no desire to make converts, but rather share the knowledge and wisdom that its scriptures have to offer. Other speakers included the founder of Sevashram Sanga in the UK, Nirliptananda Swami, who explored the role of Hindus in the European society, touching upon the roles of women.
When the conference had finished, everyone was ready and eager to return on the bus home to Radhadesh, after a long and exciting day.
Overall the two-day event was inspiring and promising towards the further development and participation of the Hindu communities in Europe with each other, a definite rarity amongst religious traditions, as it seems working with a stranger is easier than one’s own neighbor in the realm of religious beliefs. But the Hindus groups that have made an effort to join and contribute to the Hindu Forum of Europe are making such steps, and this work has and will continue to pay off.