Largest human gathering in history, Hindu festival highlights the religion's growth and influence

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

“You see one side poverty and one side rich,” she recalled. “You see the difference between that, and naturally you want to bridge the gap.”

She came to Utah from India 22 years ago with help from her brother who lived in Chicago. Half of her family still resides in India.

“Mostly, I wanted my children to come to a better educational system,” she said.

Attaining a high level of education is characteristic of Asian-American Hindus. According to a 2012 Pew Forum study, they are more educated than any other religious group in the U.S. Compared to the national average, Hindus are nearly three times more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree and nearly five times as likely to have at least some post-bachelor’s education.

Of Chivukula’s two sons, one earned a doctorate in pharmaceutics and one an MBA.

“We come with a drive to achieve,” Chivukula said. “To make life better than what we had is what drives us. Bombayites are like New Yorkers, always wanting to do something better, always rushing around.”

Chivukula has done well herself. In 2009, she won one of 10 Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education in Utah public schools.

As a whole, Asian-American Hindus not only attain more education, they also earn more money than any other religious group: 70 percent earn at least $75,000 per year. Only 28 percent of the general public reaches that threshold.

The affluence, high level of education and growing number of Hindus in America is largely a function of U.S. immigration policy, Professor Joshi said.

“After the Immigration Act of 1965 the immigration preferences were for health care professionals and folks in engineering fields.

“(Hindu immigrants) had capital. They built their own medical practices, engineering firms. Some went into academia. These are people who did well and then built temples and communities.”

Speaking of temples, there wasn’t one when Chivukula first arrived in Salt Lake. There wasn’t a priest, either, so Chivukula took on those duties.

“I volunteered to be the priestess. I used to do the rituals for everyone here who wanted it in Utah.”

After ten years, the Hindu community built a temple and Chivukula now fills more of an administrative role. In the two decades since she arrived, the community has grown to “between 3,000 and 5,000 people, up from 500 to 600 families,” and it includes not only Indian, but Nepali and Burmese immigrants as well.

While younger generations may have a different conception of what it means to be Hindu, Chivukula is still highly traditional.

“I wake up at four in the morning and say my prayers,” she said. “There are certain rituals I do everyday — chants from the Vedas and Upanishads. I have very strong feelings about our tradition and culture.”

Email: dward@deseretnews.com

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