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Monday, March 4, 2024

HinduACTion’s “Ramayana Across Asia and Beyond” event: A confluence of diplomacy and cultural heritage

HinduACTion’s landmark event “Ramayana Across Asia and Beyond” held on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, saw a unique gathering of distinguished diplomats and U.S. lawmakers, underscoring the importance of cultural heritage in contemporary geopolitics. 

The event was attended by the Ambassadors of Thailand to the U.S. Tanee Sangrat and India’s Ambassador to the U.S. Taranjit Singh Sandhu, along with U.S. Congressmen Jim Baird (R-IN), Max Miller (R-OH), and Sri Thanedar (D-MI). Key embassy staff from Bangladesh and Guyana, as well as representatives from the offices of Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Congresswoman Sarah Jacobs (D-CA), and Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ) also marked their presence.

The focus of the conference was the integration of the Ramayana’s teachings in today’s governance and geopolitics. The esteemed members applauded HinduACTion for their foresight in highlighting the need for a deeper comprehension of the Indo-Pacific region’s civilizational qualities and values. This insight is instrumental for American policymakers to develop nuanced relationships with the 16 nations in the region.

In a poignant address, Thai Ambassador Sangrat spoke of the Ramayana’s eternal influence on Thai society and its philosophical significance. Similarly, the Indian Ambassador emphasized the Ramayana’s role in fostering morally sound geopolitical practices.

Indian Ambassador Sandhu stated, “Ramayana’s timeless wisdom transcends geographies, across the Indo-Pacific and beyond.”

Think tank members from Sri Lanka also contributed their perspectives on the necessity of reinforced Indian cooperation in the Indian Ocean, anchored in shared historical values and ideals.

Rep. Shri Thanedar grew up in a in a Hindu family in Karnataka, India learning about the Ramayana from his early childhood in schools. “This epic is more like part of life for me having grown up talking about it,” he said. “So I am pleased to see that the great culture of the Ramayana is now celebrated across the Asia Pacific in about 16 countries throughout the region.” Thanedar added that the message of the Ramayana is that “it teaches us to do the good acts; it’s good against evil and knowledge against ignorance.” He said much of his own moral compass and basic value systems come from Ramayana. “I think it’s important that we protect everyone’s right to pray to the God they wish to pray and that is what is important for our religious freedom. And we need to be able to practice our religion without any kind of phobia, any kind of hatred. Religion is about love. It should be about love. It should be about doing good deeds for others. And it is about taking care of your family, taking care of your neighborhood. And that’s what our religion teaches us.”

“We have a big Hindu constituency, a big Asian constituency writ large, and it’s something we care deeply about. And that’s why I’m here.” Rep. Miller noted that HinduACTion President Sreedhar Nair is a good friend of his and has taken him in and educated him on Hinduism and the Ramayana. “You’re never going to be a subject-matter expert in anything, and I know a lot of legislators think that they are. But, if most of them can realize that they’re humble and that they need to be educated, then you can champion those values to you constituents, and that is exactly what we’ve done in the 7th [Congressional District] and that’s exactly what Sreedhar has done for us, here in the 7th and for myself.”

Rep. Jim Baird said, “I just want to express how important I think the relationship is, that we maintain that attitude towards one another… the Hindu community is becoming a growing force in our country and there’s 2 and a half million in the U.S., many of whom are recent immigrants. And the American Hindu community has a special place in my district.”

Se Hoon Kim, who Emceed the event, described his own heritage and the connection of his clan in Korea to Princess Sureeratna of Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama.

Jay Kansara, one of the co-curators of the exhibition said, “Not many people in this Congress may have been aware of the cultural and geopolitical significance of this epic for so many nations around the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. The story of Ramayana transcends millennia, and its message of ethical governance, coalition building and respect for family values, are relevant now more than ever before.”

Utsav Chakrabarti, the other co-curator of the exhibit and executive director of HinduACTion said, “I strongly believe that America as a nation should engage our friends in the Indo-Pacific through a civilizational lens, and the Ramayana and the message it carries, provides us with such a lens. That is why the Ramayana has transcended boundaries of ethnicity, language, culture and religion in each of these nations and has found a place of respect and reverence in them. In fact, it is this civilizational message that has the power and the strength to unite us in our stand against the CCP and its machinations in the region.”

A cultural dance performance of the Ramayana beautifully complemented the backdrop of exhibition panels, illustrating the epic’s interpretation across various Indo-Pacific nations. A significant highlight was the participation of members from the Afghan Hazara community, who shared their experiences in safeguarding Buddhist and Hindu monuments in Afghanistan from the Taliban.

In a gesture of cultural appreciation, each dignitary was honored with a Tibetan shawl by HinduACTion, symbolizing the event’s spirit of unity and respect for diverse traditions.

(The article was published on Hindu-action.org, and has been reproduced here)

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