Hundreds of scholars, dignitaries, Hindu families, students and the public converged on the university's campus to witness the release of the much anticipated and definitive 11-volume guide conceived, compiled and produced by the India Heritage Research Foundation and published by Mandala Publishing.
A Conference of Hindu Luminaries
The daylong conference featured some of most prominent Indian scholars, who discussed the significance of the encyclopedia and the richness and diversity of Indian culture that binds more than 1 billion people worldwide.
Among the speakers were Swami Chidanand Saraswati, president of Parmarth Niketan Ashram in India and founder of the India Heritage Research Foundation; Rajendra K. Pachauri, a Nobel Laureate honored for his contributions to global climate policy; and Anna Hazare, well known Indian social activist known as the Mahatma Gandhi of the 21st century.
Bringing Ancient Hindu Heritage to Life
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, president of Divine Shakti Foundation and managing editor of the encyclopedia, said the conference, like the encyclopedia, was aimed to deepen a conversation among cultures as part of India's quest for spiritual unity.
"The Indian cultural and spiritual traditions, encompassed within the religion known as 'Hinduism' offer some of the deepest and most universally applicable insights, truths and teachings. Unfortunately, these tend to be misunderstood in the West. The Encyclopedia of Hinduism brings together, in a format comprehensible and accessible to people of all cultures, all religions and all walks of life, the depth and breadth of this ancient yet timeless heritage," Saraswati said.
The Pivotal Role Played by University of South Carolina
The August 26 event was the launch of the international edition (English) of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism. The Dalai Lama launched the Indian edition in April 2010 in Rishikesh, India. The encyclopedia, also called the "Project of the third Millennium," began in 1987 under the leadership of Saraswatiji. The offices for the project were located at the University of South Carolina until 2003 when they transitioned to India for the final stages of the project.
Hal French, a USC distinguished professor emeritus of religious studies, has served as associate editor of the encyclopedia since its inception. "It has been an ambitious undertaking," French said. "The Encyclopedia of Hinduism is a milestone in research for this culture and religion, reflecting the very best in India and Western scholarship." French was among nearly 1,000 scholars from India, the United States and Europe who wrote, edited and compiled the encyclopedia, which provides the first standardized and objective presentation of the panorama that is Indian culture.
About the Hindu Encyclopedia
In one work, the encyclopedia encompasses more than 7,000 articles that span Indian history, civilization, language and philosophy; architecture, art, music and dance; medicine, sciences and social institutions; and religion, spirituality and the role of Hindu women. Additionally, more than 1,000 color illustrations and photographs bring the Hindu traditions and culture alive for readers.
Dr. Meera Narasimhan, a professor and chairman of neuropsychiatry and vice dean at USC School of Medicine, has led efforts organize the conference. "'The Encyclopedia of Hinduism,' a comprehensive compilation of the spiritual and cultural heritage of India, provides a rich tapestry of Hinduism in the global context, a great gift to mankind," Narasimhan said. "It is an honor for the University of South Carolina to have served as seat of higher learning for this monumental project. I am thrilled to be associated with the launch of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism both as an Indian American and a Gamecock."
CarolIndia: A Celebration of India in the United States
While the Encyclopedia of Hinduism is the culmination of one project, its launch is the beginning of another. At the conference, the University of South Carolina announced CarolIndia, a celebration of India through a series of fall and spring events.
Led by the College of Arts and Sciences' Walker Institute, CarolIndia aims at elevating campus and community understanding of India's growing importance as the world's largest democracy and a rising global economy. In addition to visiting scholars, the special "bhārata kā utsava" (celebration of India) will feature film festivals, lectures, concerts and exhibits.