The Evolution of the Hindu Heritage Summer Camp Tradition (Originally broadcast in August of 2021)

Summer is not yet over for campers attending the Hindu Heritage Summer Camp in Rochester, New York. This week we take a closer look at the origin story of one of the first overnight camps serving Hindu American youth. With roots in a 1960s Ashram in the Poconos, this unique camp has offered three generations of Hindu Americans an immersive experience learning, practicing, and exploring Hindu rituals and traditions.

“It’s not like there’s just one path that I’m in for the rest of my life.”
2021 was Radhika Amin’s last summer attending the Hindu Heritage Summer Camp in upstate New York. Each year the camp attracts 200 eight to 15-year-olds to attend two-week sessions at the rural campus on the outskirts of Rochester. Amin, now a 20-year-old college student, served as the camp director for the first session. She describes the typical day and the not-so-typical lessons that include learning about Vedic philosophy, chanting in Sanskrit, and participating in religious rituals. Amin credits the two-week immersion experience at one of the nation’s oldest and longest-running Hindu overnight camps with shaping her spiritual identity and broadening her understanding of the different expressions of Hinduism.

“I Stepped on an Escalator and I Had to Follow it…the Spiritual Journey of Devi Parvati”
Raised in a Jewish home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Devi Parvati breaks all kinds of stereotypes. Today the mystic who identifies as a practitioner of all traditions describes how her life changed when she attended a retreat at an Ashram in the Poconos in 1968 and her journey to becoming a Swami. Devi Parvati shares her family’s reaction to her career as a teacher to live full-time on a communal Ashram under the supervision of Swami Lakshmi Devi and how the needs of new Indian immigrant families drew her to another calling: establishing a permanent Hindu summer camp for children.

“It’s More than Fun Games…Traditions, Culture and Control”
Summer camps are not just about fun and games according to Dr. Shana Sippy, assistant professor of religion at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. They are, more broadly speaking, immersive and unique experiences that quickly create an ethos and culture that allow for the transmission of tradition, morality, and beliefs. In this conversation, she offers some history and context on the Hindu camping movement. She underscores the role that different institutions play from local Temples to transnational ideological movements with political agendas and interests in shaping a younger generation. Next year, New York University Press will be publishing her book, Diasporic Desires: Making Hindus and the Cultivation of Longing which details Sippy’s research on the powerful role Hindu camps and weekend schools have in transmitting identity, and their impact on the broader culture.

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