This is the first summer Hindu audiences were treated to two ‘Ramayana in the Park.’ The Shri Surya Narayan Mandir Courtyard, at 92-17 172nd Street, Jamaica hosted one and the other venue was Arya Spiritual ground at 104-20 133rd Street, Richmond Hill, the birthplace of this event.
According to an American Community survey, Guyanese make up the 5th largest immigrant group in New York, of which a large percent are Hindus. So the event attracted several hundreds of devotees daily from Guyana, with a sprinkling of Trinidadians. The Hindu Pandits’ Parishad, which represent mandirs and pandits along with The Federation of Hindu Mandirs (USA), Inc. were involved in making the events successful.
‘Ramayana in the Park’ is a reminder for Hindus to invoke God in their lives because this period is the ‘age of downfall’ also known as Kali Yuga. Hindus are reminded to maintain and strengthen their Hindu Dharma, remain steadfast in their culture and live their life according to the codes of conduct in the Sri Ramacaritamanasa.
The announcement of two ‘Ramayana’ at the same time was disconcerting for some believers who saw it as a rift between two rival Hindu groups. Early this year the feuding between the groups caused the cancellation of the Phagwah parade. But soon the anxiety dissipated and the events proved to be a blessing. People had a choice to go to both events or listen to their favorite pandit. According to Naidoo R. Veerapen, General Secretary of The Federation of Hindu Mandirs (USA), Inc. “Thousands of people around the world viewed the Sri Surya Narayan Mandir’s, pravachand (discourses) online.
Secondly, more pandits got the opportunity to showcase their talents at the pravachans to a larger number of devotees. Usually only one religious leader reads and analyze one chapter of the sacred book each night. Lastly, the financial proceeds from the two events would be used for charitable work in the community and worldwide.
The smell of sweet incense was everywhere as devotees entered the place of worship. Altars were beautifully decorated to please the Gods. The Kirtan groups filled the air with music as Pujas were performed for the Gods and the sounds of bells and conches pervade the streets of Jamaica and Richmond Hill. People forgot their worldly problems as they listened to the devotional prayers conducted by the pandits. The second part of the service the Viasji(teacher) was escorted to a beautiful carved singhasan (throne) to read from the ‘Sri Ramacaritamanasa.’ At the closing ceremony the ‘book’ was placed on the head of a pious female for Parikramah where she circled the holy ground and devotees were allowed to touch and place flowers on the sacred book which would be returned to its original resting place or to the owner. The rituals are spectacular and each part has a profound meaning.
The Ramayana is about Prince Rama, the avatar of Lord Vishnu the sustainer of life and one of the Hindu trinity. This epic story has themes of love, conflict, mistreatment of women, deception, gratitude, sacrifices for family, and much more.
Prince Rama was about to be coronate when a strife setting personal assistant to his step-mother Queen Kaikeyi insisted she must request the prince’s father King Dasharatha of Koshada, to banish him for 14 years from the kingdom and make her son ruler. The Prince willingly made the sacrifice but his subjects were so distressed the kingdom went into gloom. He left with his wife and one of his step- brothers who was assigned to protect him. The Prince’s duty in banishment was to rid the world of evil, wickedness, and corruption when he came into contact with such people.
The story is rooted in the reality of life and shows how the Lord dealt adversity, and misfortunes. Humankind can strife to live the same way because we each have a spark of divinity within us. There would be encounters with troublemakers and our natural instinct would be to fight back. But the Lord didn’t. Instead he treated his step-mother with love and kindness at all times. Problems should be viewed as a teaching situation to make us develop strength of character. Most setbacks are a setup for a bigger comeback and looking at life this way would relieve us of some stress.
Sure, Queen Kaikeyi wished she could have retrieved her words because it caused her to lose the King’s love and caused his demise shortly after his son’s left the palace. She was young and beautiful and his favorite Queen but her heart was covered in soot. Strife, greed, and anger are the downfalls of humankind.
Earthly desire is also a major teaching in the scripture and there are many expositions on this subject in the Ramayana. Even Prince Rama’s consort Sita, fell for the glittering deer she saw running in the fields. Not realizing it was bait she sent her husband to hunt it and while he was gone she sent his brother to look for him. It was at this moment the demon Ravana, of Lanka a rich and powerful ruler who loved beautiful women pounced on Sita. He pretended to be a sadhu (holy man) to lure her out of the protective line and then abducted her. Be mindful of the glitter our senses are attracted to because after the outer layers are revealed the contents might not be what one expects. After a very long time Sita was found and the demon was killed by Prince Rama. They returned to their royal court after they fulfilled their duty.
Both events concluded with the organizers, donors, and community activists receiving awards of recognition for their service, and also for progress in keeping Hinduism alive. Among the awardees is Ramesh Kalicharran, of Kali Travels. A religious and community activist the travel agent of Bharat Yatra (tours) to India was awarded a plaque for spearheading the formation of Hindu Pandits’ Parishad several decades ago after he and a priest encountered a problem during a visit to a New York City hospital to pray for a Hindu patient.
All Hindus should care and enjoy these functions because they are invaluable teaching and reinforcement of spiritual living which can propel us to make changes in our-self and enjoy a happy life. Attendees should appreciate the work of our religious leaders, who spend much time in preparation and study to put these events together, by giving their full attention during pujas or katha and not be distracted.
For those who were saturated by the Word it will inspire and improve their life depending on their willingness to put practice into action. Hindu scriptures are treasure-laden with wisdom and free for all to use. No one should wait for religious functions to find out what’s inside but should make time in their busy schedule to connect with God.