Walking in the Footprints of Maharshi Dayanand

33RD ARYA MAHASAMMELAN (Annual Conference)

Hosted by Arya Samaj Greater Houston

Swami Dayanand

Swami Dayanand was a warrior on many fronts. He was a social reformer whose vision makes his reforms applicable and relevant even today. Vedic scholar, Acharya Suyasha Arya ji, declared that among all contemporary social reformers, “Swami Dayanand ji is unique because he tried to free Indians simultaneously from both religious and political enslavement”.

Arya Samaj globally is celebrating the 200th birthday of Swami Dayanand. February 12, 2023, marked the official kick start of the 200th birth anniversary commemoration of Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati and the 150th foundation year of Arya Samaj in New Delhi with an address from the Honorable Prime Minister of India, Shree Narendra Modi ji, to an audience of over twenty-five thousand.

The Vision - APSA

Witnessing this historic moment an invigorated Bhuvnesh Khosla ji, President of Arya Pratinidhi Sabha America (APSA), sought to bring the energy from Delhi, India, to Houston to kick start the official 200th Year celebrations in North America. The theme of the 33rd Arya MahaSammelan (AMS) was "Walking in the footprints of Maharshi Dayanand". The entire program was curated by Acharya Bramdeo Ji around this theme to highlight Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati's contributions which will continue to impact the lives of all worldwide.

The Challenge - ASGH

Bhuvnesh ji approached Arya Samaj Greater Houston (ASGH) to host the 33rd AMS. Sanjay Jain ji, Coordinator of the ASGH Management Committee, asked his team “Can we do it?” The committee unanimously responded, “We’ll do it”. The challenge was the lack of a footprint for staging a first in-person post Covid AMS, after three consecutive virtual ones. Fifteen committees were formed; some hundred volunteers rolled up their sleeves and set to work.

The 33rd Arya Mahasammelan

From July 27 through July 30, four hundred participants from twentythree states and four countries attended the AMS at ASGH. On Thursday, the inaugural evening, guests were warmly greeted by the Houston hosts in the beautifully decorated ASGH facility. After guests had a delicious dinner, Shri Girish Khosla ji gave a welcome address followed by a summary of the ASGH history and its success story by Sanjay Jain ji. The evening flowed with renderings of melodious bhajans, culminating in an orchestra performance of the Gayatri Mantra by children from Dayanand Arya Vedic Sanskriti School (DAVSS) and DAV Elementary & Montessori School, Greater Houston. Various Arya Samaj organizations from out of town were recognized and welcomed intermittently.

The next two days were of intense learning. The mornings started off with a Havan led by the ladies on Friday and the youth on Saturday. On Friday morning the “Om flag” was hoisted by the youth, accompanied by a rendering of the “OM Dhwaj (flag) Geet”. In his address Shri Manju Nath ji, Consulate General of India in Houston, described the contribution of Maharshi Swami Dayanand and acknowledged that Maharshi ji was not only a social reformer but also a great visionary of his times.

The Keynote address was delivered by Dr. Rajendra Vidyalankar ji who spoke eloquently about the Vaidic values and the principles of Arya Samaj noting their relevance in modern society. He emphasized Swami Dayanand ji’s teachings of promoting universal brotherhood, education, and the eradication of social evils. He set a spiritually uplifting tone for the proceedings over the next two days. Youth emcees Siddharth Ahuja and Vipaschit Nanda, alumni of DAVSS and Arya Yuva Mandal, further set a lively, vibrant tone to the entire program which moved seamlessly from one session to the next.

Parallel sessions were held concurrently for both youth and adults. The adult sessions consisted of a wide variety of topics such as “Walking in the Footprints of Maharshi Dayanand, Relevance of Dayanand’s Reforms, Guru versus Gurudom, Coping with Grief, Vedic Yog, Chaplaincy Program” to name a few. Youth delegates Kavya Tomar ji and Puneet Gupta ji, spoke very persuasively when propounding their views on para vidya, apara vidya and Kathopanishad.

Inspired by the legacy of Swami Dayanand eighteen speakers including five ladies, invigorated and stimulated the audience with discourses on different topics. Emphasis was laid on the application of Swami Dayanand’s principles in everyday life. Sessions were moderated by two co-session chairs: one provided a summary of the Hindi discourses in English to benefit those not fluent in Hindi.

Hearing key concepts in a consolidated form reinforced the salient points put forth by each speaker. In addition to lectures, attendees were given an opportunity to clarify their doubts in a Shanka Samadhan (Q & A) session with a panel of Aacharyas.

Evenings included performances, melodious bhajans by students of Dayanand Arya Vedic Montessori and Elementary School (DAVMES), Dayanand Arya Vedic Sanskriti School (DAVSS) and adult singers. There was a skit in Sanskrit enacted by four children from Atlanta. The Youth participants also had a fun-filled field trip on Saturday.

Siddhartha Ahuja led a youth team of five, which spent about fifteen hours a week for three months in preparation. Youth sessions were attended by fifty youth aged five to twenty years. One of the sessions that resonated with the youth was “The Importance of Mental Health”. Youth were encouraged to be supportive and present for each other. A psychiatrist, Dr Shuchi Khosla, held three sessions on bullying, tailored to elementary, middle, and high school levels. Youth were advised to not be bystanders to bullying.

A unique program by ventriloquist Santosh Kumar ji was of special interest to all the youth. Prior to each meal the “bhojan” mantra (mealtime prayer) was recited. Nine-year old Prisha Singh recited the mantra and its meaning in Hindi in bhajan form at the closing session on Sunday. The listener felt grateful for the meal as well as the children who reminded us to thank “anna daataa, Ishvar,” God-the Giver of food. Bhuvnesh ji observed that “The parallel youth program was one of the best executed programs, designed and executed by youth themselves”.

Mahasammelan - Gala Night

Saturday evening consisted of two dance performances. The first dance was performed by a group of grade 1 girls from DAVMES. Lyrics were mantras from the Vedas and Upanishads, and Sanskrit shlokas. Miss Aruna, Grade 1 teacher at DAVMES, added that girls had a forceful presence during the program thanks to Swami Dayanand ji who was the first in the modern era to emphasize on the importance of educating girls and women and recognize the mother as the first Guru in our life. A Guru is someone who removes the darkness of ignorance by applying the ointment of knowledge.

The second dance was titled Aaryodaya, choreographed by Rupa Aranke ji. The dancers moved gracefully to a genre of music (bhajans, dohas and verses from the Upanishads) not traditionally found in classical dance. Aaryodaya depicted the Rise of the Aryans, noble people, at two separate points in history; first at the Creation of the human species and second at a critical juncture in history when the spirit of Indians was being crushed by both an oppressive British rule and a strong Indian orthodoxy. The audio-visual team provided spectacular background imagery connecting both performances to life and added an ethereal dimension to the dances. It was an audiovisual feast.

A striking feature was the passing of the OM flag to Arya Samajs in New York who will be hosting the 2024 International Arya MahaSammelan, similar to the passing of the baton in Olympic and other international games.

Next followed a sumptuous dinner around beautifully decorated tables. Guests marveled at the décor and appreciated the grace with which they were served. Mahesh Shah ji of Dawat Catering was ever present, always smiling even at the end of a hard day. On being asked about the secret behind his smile, he touched his heart and said he felt blessed in serving people good food. He then uttered “Atithi devo bhava”. Atithi is ‘one who comes unannounced.’ However, this phrase is generally understood as ‘an invited guest should be treated as a venerable person.’ The Food and Catering team worked seamlessly with Mahesh ji in that same spirit and each meal became a relished culinary experience.

Mahasammelan - Volunteers

Saroj Kumar, Team Leader for the Food and Catering Committee thanked all the volunteers for their exemplary attitude. She added, “It was an honor to serve food every day.” Her team came in at 6am and stayed until 11pm for four consecutive days serving breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon tea, and dinner. Volunteers from all the committees performed tasks in the spirit of “seva” (selfless service)”. Surrounded by smiling volunteers, guests experienced a serenely happy atmosphere during the entirety of the MahaSammelan.

Payal Talwar ji, an interior designer, supervised all the decorations spending over a hundred hours. Jasbir ji of the Havan/Satsang Committee stated, “Havan is the most essential part of life. I have felt this with my soul. I am very happy and content with this activity”.

Upon speaking to volunteers from different committees there emerged a pattern, a prevailing sentiment of selfless service. Volunteers embraced the task as a duty, an act of honor, and served with humility. The smiling faces revealed ‘the pleasure of being able to serve.’

Mahasammelan - Guest Comments

Anu Malhotra ji stated, “The Arya MahaSammelan gave us life enhancing knowledge and filled us with pure vibrant energy. My best learning came from Vinay Arya ji’s talk regarding how one can live more than a hundred years as explained in our Vedas. Living a life that positively impacts others will give you a feeling that you have lived a thousand years. My best memory was the Warm Welcome we all received from the Houston Team. I felt their divine love deeply in my heart”.

A lady from the Washington Arya Samaj remarked that she noticed the camaraderie amongst the Houston volunteers. She noted that each one was willing to step in and help wherever a need was perceived.

Another lady from Irving, Dallas, said that “The vibe in this Arya Samaj is so good. The environment is lively and happy”.

Manish Kumar ji, from Ohio said that being a yoga instructor he usually didn’t have much to eat every day. At ASGH he enjoyed the food so much that he couldn’t decide which day’s meal was better than the other.

Bhuvnesh ji, said that “The best teams are in Houston. Houston has raised the bar so high that a lot of hard work must be put in to make the New York AMS in 2024 successful”.

Bhuvnesh ji, said that “The best teams are in Houston. Houston has raised the bar so high that a lot of hard work must be put in to make the New York AMS in 2024 successful”.

The 33 rd Mahasammelan - Takeaways by Kapil Mehta ji

Walking in the footprints of Swami Dayanand ji and Vedic Principles, we need to:

  • Develop the concept of education for holistic development at a personal level as well as for the benefit of society.
  • Understand and practice the social reforms based on Vedic principles to benefit not only the individual but also the community, society, and the country.
  • Recognize the power of self-awareness and introspection as essential tools for personal growth and healing.
  • Embrace the practice of mindfulness to cultivate inner peace, reduce stress, and improve overall mental health.
  • Create space for positive change and growth by letting go of past traumas and negative thought patterns.
  • Collectively resolve to implement the ideas and learnings gained during the conference into practical actions.
  • Promote Vedic principles and contribute positively to society.
  • Uphold the noble ideals of Arya Samaj in daily life and embrace humanity as one global family.
  • Work towards realizing the dream of “Krinvanto Vishvam Aryam”, Make the world Noble.”

By Ranjana Vadhva