LIVINGSTON, NJ — A Livingston resident and Hindu clergy members recently collaborated to form an organization called Hindu Community of Greater Livingston (HCGL) in an effort to help Livingston Hindu youth explore their identities, learn about ancient spirituality and connect with other young Hindus in the Livingston area.

Livingston and neighboring municipalities have thriving Hindu populations that celebrate their heritage and religious events individually, in small groups and collectively at temples. Until recently, however, HCGL co-founder Falguni Pandya said the Hindu community has “not had a formal platform to connect people of Hindu faith.”

“Our youth and their families were largely left on their own to find resources to further their knowledge and faith,” said Pandya, who observed that Hindu senior citizens are eager to find other seniors to pray and speak with, and parents of young children want to find children for their kids to celebrate Hindu holidays with as well. “HCGL is a humble effort to provide a platform where people can connect with each other to share ancient knowledge and celebrate religious festivals.”

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Pandya, who co-founded the organization with Hindu clergy members Lavanya Bhamidipati, Trupti Mhatre, Nalit Patel and Neeta Juvekar, noted that many volunteers and participants have already joined their ranks and attended the first of many future HCGL events.

According to Pandya, Hinduism is believed to be more-than 7,000-year-old religion “with an ancient knowledge base that has sustained throughout many civilizational changes in the world.” 

With an estimated 1.2 billion members, Hinduism is also the world's third-largest religion and features many lunar calendar-based, colorful and festive celebrations.

Pandya noted that many significant discoveries and creations come from Hinduism including the concept of zero, the decimal system, trigonometry, the value of pi, metallurgy, astronomy, atomic science, plastic surgery, environment al preservation, Ayurveda as a healing science, yoga and meditation.  

An especially important lesson that the HCGL wants to impart on local Hindu youth is the core Hindu ideas of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam,” or “world is one family” and learning to “erase boundaries,” Pandya said.

The HCGL, which plans to hold three-to-four events per year, held its first event on March 11 celebrating Maha Shivaratri, or the awakening of Lord Shiva, a god of regeneration, yoga and meditation. The event drew a large audience on Zoom and included meditation, prayers, dance performances and an offering to the god.

Livingston-based yoga instructor Swati Pandey led an independent event, where she and her group explained the meaning of Surya Namaskar, also known as Sun Salutation, which is a yoga practice combining 12 postures.

“A bunch of yoga enthusiasts decided to offer Surya Namaskar to Adi Yogi (Shiva) as a mark of their gratitude for the knowledge of Yoga that is available through Adi Yogi,” said Pandey.

In celebration of Maha Shivaratri this year, 39 participants planned to offer 1,008 Surya Namaskars through a relay where each individual passes on his or her “light” to the next person in line with one-to-108 Surya Namsakars each. 

This initiative was inspired by the teachings of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and embodies the practice of “tapah swadhyaya ishwara pranidhanani kriya yogah.” According to Pandey, the discipline of yoga pairs with self-awareness and “keeping the practice reverential as an offering.”

Tapas refers to discipline and effort, and Swadhyaya is being aware and practicing while honoring the body,” she added. Ishwara Pranidhana means to keep the practice as an offering.

Over a 20-day relay period, the 39 participants completed 2,362 Surya Namaskar.

The next HCGL event, the second in a series of weekly online workshops for local youth, will focus on leadership lessons from Ramayana characters on Friday, April 16 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.  

“Hindu youths will discuss the revered epic story of Ramayana, which chronicles the life of Lord Rama, who came to the earth to restore values and peace,” said Pandya. "According to astro-archeology, his birth can be traced back to 7,100 years ago.”

The youth workshops are being managed by young leaders Krishna Bhatt, who is serving as program director, and Shreya Panda, who serves as director for younger children.

The first workshop on April 9, which focused on the “stories and glories of Ramayana,” was hosted by local students Arya Agarwal, Shlok Baijal, Hailey Bhatt (technical in charge), Amrutha Bhamidipati, Madhav Toshniwal, Vittal Krishnamurti and Adwaith Pillai. 

“Students explained how lessons from the epic relate to our daily life,” said Pandya. “They discussed the value of being a good family member, being a loving and truthful human being, always doing the right thing no matter how difficult it may be as well as resisting peer pressure and following one's own better judgment.”

The final youth workshop will be held on Friday, April 23, and a family celebration featuring prayers and children’s performances will follow on Sunday, April 25. Both events will be held via Zoom from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

To sign up for an upcoming event or workshop, CLICK HERE or contact HinduCommunity108@gmail.com for more information.

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