Shri Surya Narayan Mandir, Inc. of Jamaica, Queens recently concluded their 19th annual Summer Spiritual Youth Camp. The camp ran for eight days. It started with orientation on July 15th and ended with a graduation ceremony on July 22nd. This year’s camp was a resounding success with an upwards of 100 Hindu youth in attendance. Guided by Pt. Ram Hardowar, the Spiritual Leader of SSNM, these youths were able to explore and immerse themselves in the fundamental principles of Sanatan Dharma and experienced the grandeur of their Sanskriti (culture).
The theme of this year’s camp was “Bollywood’s Impact on Hindu Youth”. A survey was administered to all of the campers age eight and above, examining their attitudes toward the traditions and values found in Bollywood movies, and their own degree of affinity toward Indian films. 51% of the campers agreed that they would rather watch a Bollywood film than an American film. 81% agreed that Indian movies were becoming more westernized. Some of them found it sad that Bollywood movies were losing their traditional Indian values, and showing less of Indian culture, as movies that were more “traditional” in nature were more enjoyable to them. Others did not care that Bollywood is becoming more westernized, because they do not depend upon Indian movies to learn the values and traditions of their culture — they rely on their parents and mandirs for that.
Based on this information and further discussions, a skit was created and performed on the last day of camp. The skit examined the strong role Indian films play in our culture in terms of being both a source of entertainment and a way of propagating traditional values. However, too often, Indian films contain “empty entertainment” and very little content that can be deemed “Indian” at all — and yet, we still continue to encourage our children and watch Indian films solely based on the fact that they are “a part of our culture”.
Abiding by a pledge made at the orientation to abstain from non-vegetarian food, TV and all electronic devices for the entire week, even after they leave the camp premises, the campers began their day at 8am with Sandhya, prayers and havan followed by a nourishing breakfast. Afterwards, they participated in various sessions focused on the many aspects of Hinduism and Indian culture presented by the mandir’s priests and senior campers. Topics ranged from religious lectures such as The Fundamentals of Dharma, The Sixteen Steps of Puja, Sanskaras, and Shastras to cultural lectures including Time and Creation, Indian Architecture, and Ayurvedic Medicine. During the religious lectures, the campers were able to delve deep into the meaning and purpose of Hindu rituals that they perform. To ensure that each of them had a solid knowledge of the lecture content, interactive lessons were arranged. They were given the chance to perform their own puja and set up an altar. For the cultural lectures, campers were invited to actively participate in an ayurvedic home remedies lesson as well as perfect their knowledge of time and creation through various visual aids. In order to accommodate each child’s learning ability, campers age eight and under were separated into the Junior Camp group, where they learned simplified versions of both the religious and cultural lectures.
Certainly all this learning caused these campers to work up an appetite! But before they could break for lunch, campers perfected Surya Namaskar and engaged in stimulating yoga asanas and learned the intricacies of yoga and its basis in our Dharma from SSNM’s Guruma and resident yoga teacher Radha Hardowar. During the afternoon lecture sessions, guest speakers such as a doctor, firefighters, marines, a corrections officer, pharmacists, and Hindu scholars were invited to speak about their careers and interests.
The campers truly enjoyed these sessions as it gave them a chance to get their questions answered from experts in their fields of interests. They were also given the chance to explore their talents in different workshops with classes in Drama, Improv Comedy, Dance, Music, Arts & Crafts, and Construction (Woodworking and Electrical). Each of them was allowed to pick the group that he/she felt the most connected to and was allowed to indulge in these activities for two hours of each day. The drama group practiced a skit about the influence of Bollywood while the improv comedy group prepared a scenario that incorporated Hindu values in the modern day Guyanese family life. The dancers perfected their “Thug Le” choreography while the music class practiced “Nadiya Na Piye Kabhi Apna Jal”. Our youngest campers worked on arts and crafts projects, learned basic prayers, and prepared a short Krishna-Leela dance. Finally, the construction crew crafted Chowkis and learned to install recessed lighting and smoke detectors, among other things.
Saturday’s activities were a bit different. The campers were able to exhibit their Hindu pride as they marched around the block chanting, “Sanatan Dharm ki jai!”. The campers held a cultural show for their parents where they were given the opportunity to display what they learned during the week. The campers donned their uniforms for the last time on Sunday morning for The Camp 2012 Graduation Ceremony. There was a bittersweet feeling hanging in the air as they were both sad to leave their friends but excited to share their newly found knowledge with others. The campers and parents alike had positive reviews about Youth Camp. With great enthusiasm, the camp directors have already started planning for the most spectacular 20th Annual Camp next year!
Parents & Campers chanting “Sanatan Dharma ki Jai!” on Jamaica Ave