On March 13 and 14, Hindu chaplain and statesman Rajan Zed will open Utah’s congressional sessions with Hindu prayer in the House and Senate, respectively. Both original Sanskrit and English translations of the prayer will be recited. The Sanskrit language is one of the world’s most ancient and is considered sacred among Hindus.
Included in the prayer will be recitations of the oldest prevailing scripture in the world, the Rig Veda, along with the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads. The prayer will be opened and closed with the mantra “Om,” the Hindu symbol for ultimate reality.
Rajan Zed is expected to recite a passage from the Brahadaranyakopanishad, translated as “Lead us from the unreal to the real, Lead us from darkness to light, and Lead us from death to immortality.” Zed hopes to impress the Hindu precept of compassion upon Utah’s House and Senate, and to ask its members to be mindful of the welfare of others.
This will not be the first time Rajan Zed will have given opening invocation for government bodies. On July 12th, 2007, Zed gave the historic first Hindu prayer in the United States Senate in Washington, D.C. Zed was protested on this occasion by three demonstrators, one of whom stated, “We are Christians and patriots.” The three protestors were arrested for disrupting Congress and charged with misdemeanors. The American Family Association encouraged the protest of a non-monastic religious prayer in the Senate.
In 2015, another protest was led in Idaho’s Congress by three Idaho senators who refused to sit on the floor during the prayer. Sheryl Nuxoll stated, “Hindu is a false faith with false gods,” and that she and the other two senators were “setting an example of what we, Idaho, believe.”
Aside from these two incidents, Zed has had little blowback and has given prayers across the country, many of which were historic state firsts. In 2008, Zed was invited by then president of European Parliament, Hans Gert Pottering, to a meeting promoting interfaith dialogue in Brussels. Zed is on Newsweek and the Washington Post’s “On Faith” panel and has been awarded numerous awards for promotion of interfaith dialogue.
Hinduism is the world’s oldest living religion. Approximately 3 million Hindus currently live in the U.S., and the group makes up a little less than 1% of Utah’s population. Adherents like Rajan Zed promote selflessness, non-violence, moksha (liberation) from samsara (rebirth), and the belief in a life after death.
Kaleigh Stock is an English literature major at Weber State University and an intern at CATALYST magazine.