The holiday season is well under way and signs of celebration are all around. While many Region residents will be getting into the Christmas spirit, not everyone will be decking the halls.
Because of Northwest Indiana’s diverse cultural mix, there are people of religions whose rituals and traditions differ from those in Christianity. One such religion is Hindu, who observe Gita Jayanti and Dhanu Sankranti in December.
According to prokerala.com, a Hindu news and entertainment portal, Gita Jayanti is the birthday of the Bhagavad Gita, “the most sacred, important Hindu script that influences numerous people.” This day is dedicated to Lord Krishna and falls on Shukla Ekadashi, or the eleventh day of the moon cycle, a day of fasting and prayers.
“The Bhagavad Gita is to Hindus as the Torah is to the Jewish people,” Schererville resident Priti Kumar said of Gita Jayanti, which falls on Dec. 8 this year. “At Gita Jayanti, the Bhagavad Gita is read at the Temple and explained to worshipers to familiarize people with the text. The Bhagavad Gita is read all year, but this time of year there is a special emphasis.”
In Northwest Indiana, Hindus observe Gita Jayanti at the Bharatiya Temple in Merrillville. Vasudevaji Sharma, priest of the Bharatiya Temple, explained that chanting all 18 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita takes almost three hours, and after the reading, participants worship the Lord Krishna.
“Some people worship at home, too, with some doing so quite elaborately,” Sharma said.
Padmini Makam is president of the Chinmaya Mission of Northwest Indiana, a Hindu school for spiritual studies next door to the Bharatiya Temple. The Chinmaya Mission has more than 300 locations worldwide and recently launched an app called “Gita 365” to spread its teachings.
“We are like a Christian or Jewish Sunday School for the children,” Makam explained. “We pray at the Temple, and we teach the meaning of the prayers, festivals, religion and spirituality at the Chinmaya Mission.”
Makam stressed the importance of Gita Jayanti.
“We celebrate the life that Lord Krishna gave us and the wisdom he gave us,” said Makam. “It is about the truth of life to Arjuna (the people) and throwing light on the truth.”
She noted that during Gita Jayanti, the focus is on spirituality, whereas the more well-known holiday of Diwali, which began in late October, is filled with “pomp and show.”
Dhanu Sankranti, which occurs Dec. 16 this year, is “an auspicious day as per Hindu mythology and occurs when the sun enters the Sagittarius sun sign,” according to Prokerala.com. The day is celebrated by worshiping the Sun God, with offerings of water and flowers just after sunrise to receive blessings.
Makam said prayer for any holiday having to do with the sun is conducted at sunrise.
“We face east, as you do the sun salutation in yoga,” she explained. “You get the most energy from the sun.”
Makam noted that Dhanu Sankranti is one of the more minor Sankranti holidays, which are all related to the sun. The most prominent one is Makar Sankranti, which will take place Jan. 15.
Dhanu Sankranti occurs when the sun changes its orbit. Sharma noted that it is a lot like other holidays at this time of the year, which revolve around the solstice.
“When the sun changes orbit, there’s an effect on us, as there is less light,” he said. “We worship during Dhanu Sankranti and eat sesame seeds and jaggery (brown cane sugar) to nourish the body.”