Concord’s Hindu community hosts Puran
Dham Nepal of Manchester takes a movie during the ceremony Thursday at the Heights Community Center.
(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
Bhagiratha Maihali of Concord prays during the Hindu event Srimad Bhagavata Maha Purana, a ceremony for global peace, emotional well-being, brotherhood and spiritual enlightenment held at the Heights Community Center on Thursday, July 10, 2014.
(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
A conflagration of orange daylillies is blooming in the Heights Community Center courtyard, but the air is filled instead with the fragrance of incense.
From the windows of the auditorium in Concord, a man’s monotone voice chants holy Sanskrit legends. This is Srimad Bhagavata Maha Purana, a week of devotion and community organized by the new Hindu Faith Trust of NH.
The people inside, a few dozen Hindu men and women from New Hampshire and as far away as Pennsylvania, pray for peace around the world, enlightenment in their own hearts and brotherhood in their community.
From 9 a.m. until the evening, every day until Wednesday, people will gather in the auditorium to pray, chant, dance and sing, and receive blessings and surrender their lives to their god.
Organizers from the Hindu Faith Trust said they expect people from across New England to attend over the weekend.
Purana isn’t like Christmas – it doesn’t come on the same day every year, and some communities may organize a Purana multiple times a year. Other communities, like Concord, haven’t held Purana in several years. The organizers believe this is the first Purana in the state.
Though it has been organized mainly by Hindus from Bhutan, the event is designed to bring New Hampshire’s Hindu community – from India, Nepal and elsewhere – together to worship and bond.
Less than 1 percent of the population in New Hampshire is Hindu, according to a study released in April, but that population is growing and seeking to build places to gather for traditional services and festivals.
A group in Nashua opened a Hindu temple in 2008. It quickly outgrew its first location, and moved to a new building last year. Another group has been trying to create a temple in Salem.
The Purana organizers began planning the event after being approached by elderly Bhutanese refugees. About 2,000 refugees have been resettled here by the U.S. State Department from camps in Nepal after being evicted by the government of Bhutan in the 1990s.
While children go to school and quickly pick up American habits, and their parents are preoccupied with finding work and navigating their new culture, older refugees have had trouble assimilating in their new community. They miss being able to pray and give daily offerings at temples for their gods and goddesses. Few are able to drive, and the nearest temple is an hour away.
“Often they are so isolated in their rooms. People from all over will come and they can connect,” said organizer Rohit Subedi. “They will hear about life and when they compare, they will say, ‘He’s facing the same challenges I am and he’s doing well. I should also do well.’ That comparison will help a lot.”
The group also hopes the elders will be able to connect with their grandchildren’s generation by teaching them the traditions of their faith.
The group called a guru from Pennsylvania, a charismatic man well known to the city’s Hindus who were refugees from Bhutan. His preaching was well known to inspire people to live their lives properly, said the event’s organizers.
Last night, he read from the Bhagvad Gita, a holy Sanskrit text, and translated it to Nepali for the audience, adding interpretations of what the text tells people today about how to live a good life.
Most Hindus believe in one God, though he may be worshiped in different forms, the minor gods and goddesses with their individual attributes, names and traditions.
The faith is also based on the concept of reincarnation, and teaches that a soul can be freed from the cycle of rebirth into the material world after hearing, chanting and understanding the sacred verses of Purana.
“It is good to see the younger generation, who are not fully educated about their religion, to see some of those gaps filled,” said Narad Gautam of Concord, who attended with his teenage son, Bhola.
Gautam has attended Purana in the past, but said he learns something new every time.
“I come back because the God is watching, and this is the proper way of living, doing your part as a Hindu. This is not something you can get sick of hearing it. Every time you get the opportunity, you want to go listen to it, to interact with the community.”
For Bhola, that community extends beyond fellow Hindus. He was happy to answer questions from parents and children leaving day camps at the community center, eager to share his heritage with them and explain what he could about the event.
Monday, starting at 4:30, will be a night specifically for women. Tuesday, again starting at 4:30 p.m., will be a program for teens and youth.
Anyone can attend to listen to the traditional music and watch the dancing that interrupts the chanting and preaching throughout the day, said Bhagirath Khatiwada, one of the organizers of the Hindu Faith Trust.
“Above all, we feel that our culture that we come with, it does not belong just solely with us anymore,” he said. “It has become a part of a greater New Hampshire, and we would like to let the host community know, this is not only for us. It is a culture we have added to the diversity that was here.”
Visitors may find themselves swept up in the activity around them.
Hard to refuse
Yesterday afternoon, piles of fruit and flowers were given before a statue of the god to be blessed. Then the men in trim white and beige suits and women in saris every color of the rainbow formed four lines along the length of the room.
Priests walked around with cups of the blessed fruit and spooned coconut milk into people’s hands.
Local photographer Becky Field has been documenting the lives of New Hampshire immigrants, and was shooting the ritual when the priest handed her a banana.
“I tried to refuse it,” she said, “but they said, ‘Oh no, this is a gift from God.’ Really, how are you going to refuse that?”
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)