In a remarkable gesture of inclusion and diversity, William A. Cole, Mayor of Montana’s largest city Billings and an Evangelical Christian, plans to read ancient Hindu mantras in Sanskrit to start the day of Billings City Council on June 14.
This reportedly historic first Hindu invocation of Billings City Council since its founding in 1882, is proposed to include “Gayatri Mantra”, considered the most sacred mantra of Hinduism, from world’s oldest extant scripture Rig-Veda. The prayer starts and ends with “Om”, the mystical syllable containing the universe, which in Hinduism is used to introduce and conclude religious work.
The proposed prayer; requested and furnished by distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who has read invocations in United States Senate and US House of Representatives; includes hymn from ancient Brahadaranyakopanishad— “Asato ma sad gamaya, Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, Mrityor mamrtam gamaya”—which will then be interpreted as “Lead us from the unreal to the Real. Lead us from darkness to Light. Lead us from death to immortality.”
It also includes a verse from another ancient Hindu scripture Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord), which urges: Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind.
All the Sanskrit mantras in the invocation would be followed by English interpretations. Sanskrit is considered a sacred language in Hinduism and root language of Indo-European languages.
“…inclusivity, tolerance, and respect for all religious faiths are important principles that should be reflected by government leaders and across all sectors of our city, state, and nation”, Cole wrote to Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, and who initially approached Cole for a Hindu invocation at the City Council.
Zed commended Cole for his pluralistic approach as a city leader, seemingly aimed at harmonious co-existence of different faith traditions in the community.
In Billings City Council, Mayor and council members rotate on giving the invocation and Cole’s turn falls on June 14. His last turn was reportedly on January 11.
Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about 1.2 billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal. There are about three million Hindus in USA.