Venu Mallesara, whose Annapoorna represented 15 Hindu organizations and three temples in the region, commends volunteerism.

Q&A: Organizer helps 'Annapoorna' represent growing Hindu presence in Sacramento

Published: Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 - 7:07 am

The growing number of Hindu temples, organizations and meditation centers in the Sacramento region reflects the area's fastest-growing ethnic group: Asian Indians.

They've more than doubled, from 17,000 in 2000 to 36,000 in 2010, according the U.S. census. Another 6,000 say they're part Indian. Most are Hindus, practitioners of a 10,000-year-old belief system.

On Sept. 15, about 500 people came to the Shree Laxmi Narayan Mandir Temple at 7495 Elder Creek Road for a Hindu sangam, or confluence.

Venu Mallesara was co-organizer of the Annapoorna event, with participation from 15 Hindu organizations and three temples.

"What we're trying to do is bring people under our umbrella to do good work and promote universal peace," said Mallesara.

Mallesara was born in Bangalore, in the Indian Silicon Valley, and moved to Sacramento in 2006 to become an IT consultant for Hewlett Packard in Roseville.

What don't most Americans understand about Hinduism?

Hinduism's a way of life, a philosophy rather than a religion. Science, literature and economics are all part of the "dharma," or Hindu way of life. Dharma's the law that governs all our actions. There are no commandments, no founder.

We have some ancient scriptures – Vedas and Upaneshads – that are our guidelines from God, passed from one guru, or spiritual teacher, to another. Hinduism isn't polytheistic. We do have 10 avatars or reincarnations of God, also known as Vishnu, Narayana or Hari.

What shapes the Hindu philosophy?

A mantra, "Asato Ma Sad Gamaya," reflects our evolution from untruth to truth, darkness (ignorance) to light (knowledge), death to immortality. Are we improving as a human? Have we been of any use to anyone today? Can we be of any use to someone other than ourselves? This is the base line of Hinduism shaping our philosophy of life. Everything else just builds upon that.

Are Hindus vegetarians?

Many Hindus believe in not killing another living soul, but not all Hindus are vegetarians; there is no hard and fast rule.

Hinduism seems to be on the rise. What's going on here?

The more than 10,000 Hindus in the area include immigrants from India, Fiji, the West Indies, Nepal and Bhutan. Meanywhile, many Americans have taken up Hinduism, including Julia Roberts. Hinduisim can vary from person to person. Raja, Jnana, Bhakti, Karma yoga are some of the various classifications.

How can Americans incorporate Hinduisim into their daily lives?

Hinduism grants absolute and complete freedom of belief and worship. It conceives the whole world as a single family, accepts all forms of beliefs and dismisses labels of distinct religions, which would imply a division of identity.

Every individual is unique and has his or her own way of expressing their divinity. While some might practice Hinduism through daily prayer or a visit to the temple, others practice by reflecting on life and its purpose (meditation).

Some Hindu gurus, or spiritual guides, suggest japa (repetition of mantra), some suggest focus (be it on breathing or something else) and some suggest selfless service (seva) to humanity. It's up to each individual how to bring out the best in each of us.

How does Hinduism regulate human behavior?

It's up to each individual how they want to live their lives. The key question is, what is the ultimate impact and consequences of your actions? We believe in karma – if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness. If we sow evil, we will reap evil. Every action has a consequence.

The totality of our actions and their reactions in this and previous lives all determine our future. The physical body dies, but the soul lives on and moves on to another physical body until it attains salvation in heaven, or vaikunta, and will no longer be reborn in this materialistic world.

Actions performed consciously are weighted more heavily than those done unconsciously. A small child may not know right or wrong, but an adult will.

Why did you create Annapoorna?

One who worships the divinity of nourishment, Anna, is assured food throughout his or her life. For five years, our volunteers have worked with local charities to serve the needy. We have provided food for the children in Children's Receiving Home on Hindu New Year, or Ugadi, in the spring. During Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights in November, we go to Loaves & Fishes, cook vegetarian food from scratch. Last year we served more than 500 people. We've also held blood drives and and helped other organizations launch their own service programs.

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