Ram Katha Being Staged at Cincinnati Gardens

Hindus Welcome Holy Teacher Morari Bapu

By Karen Vance • Enquirer contributor • July 4, 2008

For 10 years on the third Sunday of the month, devotees at the Hindu Temple of Greater Cincinnati chanted "The Ramayana."
They prayed that the world's foremost authority on the epic poem - a holy scripture of Hinduism - would visit Cincinnati to share his teachings.

This weekend, their prayers are answered as more than 4,000 Hindus from around the world will converge on the city to hear Morari Bapu talk about The Ramayana.

The Ram Katha, which runs Saturday through July 13, is part revival and part concert, with poetry readings and lectures. It is aimed not at conversion and salvation, but at knowledge and understanding.

Bapu is one of Hinduism's leading spiritual and literary scholars, offering the Hindu perspective on this religious and cultural work. He ties in its parallels to Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other historical and cultural references.

"I've been listening to him for 22 years. His message of love, truth and compassion - that was something that speaks to everyone, and learning how to do that in my life was important to me," said U.K. Patel, who will host Bapu while he is in Cincinnati for the event.

"Even in 22 years, I still haven't learned completely how to practice love, truth and compassion in my life, but I keep trying," he said.

Ramayana (Rama's Journey), tells the story of a couple, Rama and Sita, believed by Hindus to be a human incarnation of the god Lord Vishnu and his wife the goddess Laxmi.

Their story communicates what it means to be an ideal son, husband or wife.

Rama marries Sita and then goes into the forest where he stays for 14 years facing monsters and various trials. Sita is captured by a demon king, and Rama embarks on a quest to rescue her.

"To read the Ramayan is like doing a prayer for Rama and learning lessons for how to live our lives," said Kailash Sharma, the senior priest at the Hindu Temple of Greater Cincinnati.

It's Bapu's unique ability to make the ancient work relevant to modern life that has Patel's sons, Anand and Amar, excited about the event.

"Morari Bapu is always adapting these lessons to the new world. Some of the traditions of Hinduism may seem outdated, but he adapts them to modern life," said Amar Patel, 21. "He can speak to us, and to our parents and grandparents."

For his brother Anand, Bapu provides a connection to his ancestors.

"I could listen to my parents and my grandparents speak about the Ramayan, and it would put me in a different place. From generation to generation, certain knowledge and way of life is passed on in this oral tradition," said Anand Patel, 22.

"It's a very symbolic story that teaches us about dharma (the righteous path)," he said. "The tradition of oral storytelling has such a central place in our culture."

This is Bapu's third visit to Ohio; he spoke in Columbus in 2001.

Amar Patel and Keyur Joshi, 23, of Colerain Township, attended the Ram Katha in India and met Bapu shortly before he announced the event in Cincinnati.

"His message of truth, love and compassion speaks to everyone, not just Hindus," Joshi said.

The Patel brothers and Joshi are among about 50 young adult volunteers who will join with 300 volunteers from the temple to coordinate the event.

"Even if I only understand a few things every day, it still connects us to our heritage and to valuable lessons. No matter what the language, we can fully enjoy the music and the poetry," he said.

Fostering that kind of enthusiasm in the younger generation is the foremost goal of the leaders of the Hindu Temple of Greater Cincinnati, said Jitendra Patel, 59 (no relation), past president of the temple.

Patel estimates the local Hindu community's 4,000 families are about 75 percent immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. The remaining 25 percent are first-generation Americans like the Patel brothers and Joshi.

"As Americans, our children have a lot of different choices that can lead them in different directions. To maintain our culture in them, in their hearts and in their actions, that is the biggest task we face," Jitendra Patel said.

"This is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and Hinduism is still surviving. We want to make sure we contribute to the next generation," he said.

The Ram Katha is the largest event the Cincinnati Hindu community has hosted.

"We learn from our parents and our parents learned from Rama. We learn from this writing to see how they solve their problems and implement practical solutions into our way of life," Jitendra Patel said

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