Calgary Hindu Society marks 20 Years
October 29, 1994, Saturday, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: RELIGION; Pg. B12
LENGTH: 929 words
HEADLINE: Hindu society marks 20 years
BYLINE: DIPTI CHAKRAVORTY
Not long ago, Calgary faithful couldn't fill a hall
DIWALI -- FESTIVAL OF LIGHT -- Rituals and prayers at the Hindu Society of
Calgary Temple, 2225 -- 24 Ave. N.E., Nov. 3, beginning at 7 p.m. Everyone
HINDU SOCIETY OF CALGARY 20th ANNIVERSARY - Cultural show at the Jubilee
Auditorium, Nov. 5, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets at the door. Everyone
invited. More information: 274-0269.
The last 20 years have passed like a quick blur for Dr. Brij Sood, the first president of the Hindu Society of Calgary.
Now, as the Hindu Society celebrates this landmark anniversary, Sood is busy making preparations for Diwali -- the Festival of Light -- while reminiscing
about their achievements during the past 20 years.
He remembers when the city's entire Hindu community wouldn't fill a small
hall. That was the late 1960s.
Today, the total stands at about 10,000, and the community is thriving with
its own cultural centre and place of worship in the city's northeast.
But even when only a dozen Hindu families lived in Calgary, there were
thoughts of a society that would cater to the fledgling community's spiritual
and cultural needs.
Sood, a physician who came to Calgary in 1967 after completing his studies inEngland, says the idea of having a formal Hindu society germinated in 1969 afterthe death in Calgary of his sister-in-law.
The family found itself scrambling to find a knowledgeable person who could
perform the last rites following the Hindu tradition.
A friend, Gurdas Ram Bhandari, helped them out, says Sood. But he was not an ordained priest.
The experience was an eye-opener for both Sood and Bhandari. Their dream
quickly took shape but because of the low numbers, forming a viable organizationwas impossible, Sood says.
The real impetus started in 1972, when displaced Hindus from Uganda moved to Canada. Suddenly, 100 Hindu families made Calgary their home.
"We were meeting once a month in people's homes for Yajna (lighting of the
sacred fire) on Sundays," Sood says. "Many of them were buying homes and this
was like a house warming." An unofficial group, led by Bhandari and Sood's
father Faqir Chand Sood, took charge of officiating free religious ceremonies in1973-74. Both men have died.
The money donated by patrons for their services went into a trust account.
When the Hindu Society of Calgary was officially registered in 1974, there was
already $ 1,000 in the coffers, Sood says with pride.
"We have been growing ever since."
As the number of Hindus increased, it became more difficult to accommodate
everyone for prayers in private homes. The group arranged to meet at St.
Barnabas Parish Hall twice a month on Sundays.
"We celebrated our festivals after 2 p.m.," says Shrinath Dwivedi, current
president of the society, who has initiated many projects for the community
since he arrived in Calgary in 1978.
Dwivedi says the society helps anyone in need, regardless of the person's
country of origin, race or religion.
When a visiting student from India who had no family here died in a car
crash, the society covered the necessary expenses for the final rites. In
another instance, when a young father died suddenly, the society provided
financial support to the family for two years.
"Going on welfare is undesirable," Sood observes.
The organization's mandate also includes raising funds to assist victims of
earthquakes, tornados and other calamities.
By 1988, the members had moved significantly closer to their goal of having atemple with the purchase of city land for $ 200,000 in northeast Calgary.
"The funds (a total of $ 700,000) were raised primarily through voluntary
contribution," explains Dwivedi.
The Alberta government contributed $ 150,000 for building the cultural
With assistance from the federal government's job creation program,
construction began. In 1990, temple inauguration ceremonies were held.
The temple is open daily for worship and the Sunday school focuses on Indian history, philosophy and language.
"Our aim is to retain our religious and cultural heritage, to promote and
pass it to our children while providing exposure to mainstream Canadians," says Dwivedi.
"Our scripture teaches us that the entire universe is our family. We respect all religions and faith groups."
In keeping with that theory, guest speakers are invited to the temple to
discuss other religious paths such as Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Baha'i.
The Hindu Society welcomes everyone to the Diwali celebrations, popularly
known as the Festival of Light, on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the temple. Prayers
will be offered to Lord Ganesha, the God of knowledge and to Goddess Lakshmi,
the purveyor of wealth and prosperity explains Dwivedi.
On Diwali, Hindus decorate their homes with candles.
Dwivedi says "the light has a symbolic significance -- it represents
spiritual awakening, removing hatred, jealousies and promoting energy.
"We forget past rivalries and renew our friendship with people."
The celebrations wrap up Nov. 5 at the Jubilee Auditorium with a program of
music, dance and a slide show, highlighting the Calgary Hindu Society's 20-year history.
Tickets are available at the door, which opens at 6 p.m. For information,
For Sood, reaching this anniversary instills pride -- in his adopted country as well as in an ancient culture.
"We're not here as a separate identity," Sood says.
"We want to be a part of the mainstream society. We are Canadians first."
LOAD-DATE-MDC: October 30, 1994