University of Nevada holds unique Hindu Baccalaureate Service

Unique, one of a kind baccalaureate service in the world, was held at University of Nevada-Reno (UNR) in USA on April 27 evening.

“Seventh Annual Hindu Baccalaureate Service of UNR (Dikshant Utsav)” blessed the graduating class in the traditional Hindu style, complete with applying tilak (religious mark) on the foreheads of graduates, participatory reading of Gayatri Mantra in Sanskrit, keynote address by a Swami, a Mormon choir, ringing bells, classical dance of India saluting teachers, lamps lighting and kirtan (sacred chant). In addition, it also included blessings by Christian (various denominations), Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Native American, Baha’i, etc., representatives who recited prayers in Arabic, Pali, Hebrew, Paiute, Spanish besides English. Nevada State Controller Kim R. Wallin offered advice to the graduates.

Organized by Universal Society of Hinduism (USOH) in collaboration with UNR Diverse Organization of South Asians, it started with lighting traditional lamp before the statue of goddess Saraswati, patron of learning and the arts, and included blessing of the upcoming graduates with wisdom from Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita—all ancient Hindu scriptures, by well-known Hindu monk Swami Prapannananda from California (USA).

USOH President and distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who opened the Service with a recitation of Gayatri Mantra (the most sacred mantra of Hinduism from oldest existing scripture Rig-Veda) in Sanskrit and audience repeated after him, said on the occasion that the purpose of this baccalaureate service was to root the graduating class in divine spiritual tradition so that they had a spiritually meaningful life in addition to material success.

Education in Hindu tradition had been deep rooted; Rajan Zed pointed out and added that after many important universities in ancient India, like Taxila, Nalanda, Sarnath, Amaravati, Banaras, Kanchi and Ujjain; great Indian universities also flourished in medieval period, like Odantapura (745 CE), Vikramasila (810 CE), Somapura (480 CE), Jagaddala (1090 CE).

Special certificates were issued to graduates with the parting advice “dharma chara” (practice righteousness). Prominent musician Thakur Chakrapani Singh of Traditional Association of Cultural Harmony offered musical blessing through Kachhapi Veena, accompanied by David Freeman on Tabla. Jim R. Eaglesmith chanted Ganesha bhajan in Sanskrit, in which audience also participated. Kuchipudi Kalakshetra students performed “Guru Vandanam” dance, offering salutations to the teachers; while Young Adults Choir of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints directed by Chelsea Warren presented a blessing number.

Toni de Salvo of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd lead the prayers response on hand bells throughout the event.

Besides Prapannananda, those who blessed the graduating class in their own traditions included Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church Presiding Priest Father Stephen R. Karcher, Muhammed A. Quddus of Northern Nevada Muslim Community, Deacon Rigoberto Ruano Mireles of Saint Thérèse Church of the Little Flower, International Community of Christ Bishop Gene Savoy Jr.North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation & Temple Beth Or rabbi Elizabeth W. Beyer, Matthew T. Fisher and Shelley L. Fisher of Reno Buddhist Center, First Congregational Church pastor Richard L. Smith, Native American teacher Christina Thomas and Baha’i Roya Galata.

Reciting a universal prayer lead by Daniel R. Sanchez, all these religious leaders raised their hands blessing the graduating students who stood in front of them and all other upcoming graduates in absentia.  Sumayya Beekun, President of UNR Muslim Students Association, also spoke.

City of Sparks issued a “Proclamation” few days back to mark the seventh anniversary of the Hindu Baccalaureate of UNR. US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and US Senator Dean Heller also sent certificates recognizing “7th Annual Hindu Baccalaureate Service”. Washoe County had issued a special Resolution to mark the significance of First Annual Hindu Baccalaureate Service of UNR.

Baccalaureate service basically means service where a sermon is delivered to the graduating class. In use since at least the eighth century, origins of the baccalaureate service point to an Oxford University statute of 1432, which required each bachelor to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of the academic exercise.

UNR, the flagship institution of the state established in 1874, which has over 18,000 students, is known for helping to create the world’s most accurate atomic clock, earthquake expertise, highly ranked MBA program, several Pulitzer Prize winners and for “study of the behavior of matter at extremely high temperatures and densities”.

About half-a-dozen Hollywood films were shot at UNR, which claims to be “one of the nation’s top public research universities” and is home to one of the largest earthquake-simulation labs. Marc A. Johnson is the President.

Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about one billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal. There are about three million Hindus in USA.


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