Unique Hindu Baccalaureate Service Revives Ancient Traditions at an American University

(Article received via e-mail from the organizers of the Hindu Baccalaureate Service.)

A unique one-of-a-kind in the world Hindu Baccalaureate Service was held at University of Nevada-Reno (UNR) on Saturday, April 11, 2009, where the graduating students touched the feet of a Swami (monk) to seek his blessings.

Attended by Nevada’s first lady Dawn Gibbons and Provost of UNR Marc Johnson, the Service at this top research university included a bhajan (devotional song) “Radhe Radhe Govinda” by famous performer Jim Eaglesmith and the graduating students chanted after him. Tilak (religious mark) was applied on students’ foreheads and they sought blessings from the burning flame, which was passed around.

Organized by acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed and Indian Student Organization (ISO) at state-supported UNR established in 1864, it started and ended with ‘Gayatri Mantra’ (the most sacred verse from Rig-Veda, oldest scripture of the world composed around 1,500 BCE) recited by Rajan Zed. Traditional lamp was lighted before the statue of goddess Saraswati, patron of learning and the arts. Laddoos, ceremonially prepared by senior Hare Krishna devotee Annabelle Younger, were distributed as prasad (blessed food) to the participants.

Swami Vedananda, a well-known Hindu monk from California, in his keynote address, blessed the upcoming graduates with wisdom from Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita – all ancient Hindu scriptures. Although a Hindu Baccalaureate, it also included Hebrew prayer from Torah, Buddhist prayer in Pali, prayer from Koran in Arabic, Native American blessing in Paiute, besides prayer blessings by Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, International Community of Christ, and Baha’i religious leaders.

A unique “benediction through the medium of dance” by renowned dancer Martina Young formed part of the Service. Special certificates were given to graduates on the occasion with the parting advice as – satyam vada (speak the truth), dharma chara (practice righteousness), matrudevo bhava (treat your mother with great respect), pitrudevo bhava (treat your father with great respect), etc.

US Senate majority leader Harry Reid, in a letter to the Service organizers, recognized the hard work of organizers…for making this Hindu and interfaith blessing of the graduating class a reality. William F. Dressel, President of the prestigious National Judicial College, sent a letter greeting graduates and others.

The purpose of this Baccalaureate Service is to root the graduating class in divine spiritual and cultural tradition so that they have a spiritually meaningful life in addition to material success, Rajan Zed stresses.

Besides Gibbons, Johnson, and Vedananda, the religious and other leaders who blessed the upcoming graduates with prayers and advice included: Roman Catholic priest Father John Legerski, Imam Abdul Rahim Barghouthi, Presbyterian pastor Bruce Taylor, Reno Police Chief Michael Poehlman, President of Nevada Clergy Association Bishop Gene Savoy Jr., Jewish Rabbi Elizabeth W. Beyer, UNR Vice President Steven D. Zink, Buddhist priest Phil Bryan, Bruce Birkerhoff of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Baha’i leader Roya Galata, and Paiute tribe elder Ralph Burns.

Patricia Idler, who attended the Service, described it as “incredible”, “amazing”, and “beautiful” and added, “The ceremony, message, good will, tolerance, hope and inspiration bestowed upon these candidates was simply amazing.” Vamsi Krishna Kamisetty and Sridhar Reddy Anumandla, president and vice president respectively of ISO, described it as “wonderful experience”.

There is a renewed interest in Baccalaureate services, which originated at Oxford University in 1432 when each bachelor was required to deliver a sermon in Latin. Very popular event in various universities including Columbia, Dartmouth, Tufts, Indiana, etc., it usually included traditional Christian worship service but now many hold interfaith services.

Education in Hindu tradition has been deep rooted, Rajan Zed says and adds that after many important universities in ancient India, like Taxila, Nalanda, Sarnath, Amaravati, Banaras, Kanchi and Ujjain; great Indian universities also flourished in medieval period, like Odantapura (745 AD), Vikramasila (810 AD), Somapura (480 AD), Jagaddala (1090 AD).

Researchers at UNR study the availability, movement and quality of water worldwide and its research spans issues relating to the environment, renewable energy resources, the life sciences and plasma physics. UNR lists “social responsibility” as its central value.

Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about one billion adherents and moksha (liberation) is its ultimate goal.