We feel very proud that Hindu Society of Alberta has completed fifty years. There were many ups and downs on the way and the beautiful temple in the Hindu Cultural Centre we see today is the result of dedicated services and monetary help of many people.
The seed of the Society was laid down on 1 November 1967 at the auspicious day of Deepawali in the basement of Dr. Ram Krishan Gupta. There were 31 people present on that day and each person gave one dollar and became the member of the Society. The constitution was written which was only one page long. For next seven years there were five members of the committee and the highest office was of the secretary.
Mr. Gajanan Pundit was the law student at the University of Alberta. With his efforts the Society became a part of the Student’s Union. At this point Mr. Pundit had following conversation:
“Why do you want to incorporate Hindu Society of Alberta? Is it because you intend to convert all of us to Hinduism?”
Mr. Pundit replied:
“Hinduism being the most ancient religion on the earth, the concept of conversion did not exist at all.”
For many years the University of Alberta campus was the center of all the activities of the Society. The contributions of Dr. Ram Krishan Gupta, Mr. Gajanan Pundit, Mr. K.C. Joshee, Mr. Baldev Raj Abbi and Mr. Sherman are commendable.
Occasionally Mr. Pundit use to do Pooja in the basement of Dr. Gupta on the weekends. These prayer meetings were attended by 25-30 people and may be 8-10 dollars were given as the offerings. After a while this was shifted to the India Center on 82nd Ave. Here Mr. Sharma used to read Gita and Ramayan.
The Society was showing Indian movies in one of the University Theater. Money earned from these was helping to organize other events. Yoga sessions were conducted at the University room. The Society also started teaching Hindi language. Mr. Sharma and Mrs. Pundit took this responsibility. Usually 15-20 students were attending the class and the Alberta Government was giving $15.00 per student. The account of this money was kept totally separate.
The Society organized exhibitions, bazaars, and cultural programs. Famous artists were invited from India to give their performances. Some names are—Sitar player Ravishankar, dancers Gopi Krishan, Padmini and Ragini. With the efforts of Mr. Asgar Ali the Society was able to get chartered summer flights to India. This Society was the first and only one to get it.
Hindu Society of Alberta was registered under the Society Act of Alberta on 20 July 1972. The signatories for the document were Mr. Uday Bagwe, Mrs. Sunita Kumar, Mr. M.G. Murdeshwar, Mr. M.P. Khandekar, and Mr. S. Chakrabarty. For the first time Deepawali dinner was organized this year. The entrance fee for this event was only $2.00 and 116 people attended the celebration. Also a building Committee was formed under the leadership of Mr. Murdeshwar, which did not last too long.
Soon after a new constitution was written for the Society under which it was divided into two parts – Cultural Center and Program. Together there were 14 members who elected the president. Dr. Gupta became the head of Center Committee and was in this position till the Center was finished. Program Committee only lasted till 1976 when Mr. Sushil Kaliya came to Edmonton and took all the responsibility of the religious activities.
Other than above mentioned activities, the credit of providing cultural education to the children goes to the Society as well. Music and dance teachers were invited from India to give lessons. Also many swamis were invited to give talk on religious subjects.
Mr. B.B. Prasad worked hard to get land for the Hindu Cultural Centre. The Board was also successful in getting financial support from the Government of Alberta. The Society got $10,000, $148,000, and $100,000 in the same order. But the Government wanted to the Society to match same amount. To raise these funds K.C. Joshee introduced the idea of casino, bingo, raffles etc. These gave good amount of money to the Society. Life membership was another way to get monetary help for the Society. Life membership was $500.00 per person.
17 August 1976 Hon. Horst Schmidt laid the foundation stone and the ground was sanctified by Nihshreyasanandji from South Africa. Mr. Satish Rao and Mr. Lok Sharma got the blue prints ready. The construction of the Center began in 1979. Mr. Kaliya performed the Panch Devta Pran Pratishtha on 21 May 1983. Finally the temple doors were opened for the public on 15 September 1984.
In 1990 Pundit Shiv Shankar Dwivedi was hired as the main priest. It was felt that the temple is not big enough so in 1991 the temple was extended. The statues of the deities were moved to the other side of the extended hall; old half basement was converted into full basement and the kitchen was moved to the basement.
Edmonton has grown a lot within past fifty years and so is the Indian population. At present there are six temples and several religious groups. The Hindu Society of Alberta being the oldest still has its deep roots in the community. It continues to organize regular Pooja on Sunday. All the important festivals are celebrated in the Hindu Cultural Centre, which are well attended. Many societies use the facility to celebrate their special days. The Society strives to bring the diverse and vibrant cultures together in the Edmonton Region. It participates in the interfaith programs in the community and welcomes visits by student groups from grade schools and universities. The Hindu Society of Alberta’s broad vision sees youth, seniors, new comers, and diverse cultures coming together for religious, social, educational and cultural activities at the Hindu cultural Centre and in Edmonton Region.
**Mrs. Hansa Thaleshwar, Mr. Desh Mittra and Meera Mittra contacted several people who were involved from the beginning in this Society and tried to get as much asinformation as possible. Thanks to their effort and time for this noble work.