A Eulogy to a Friend’s Father: Dr. Alagappa Alagappan

imageIn late October, Dr. Alagappa Alagappan, the father of my friend Meena Alagappan, passed away. This man represented all that is good on this planet and the need for a humane, loving, ecumenical and humanitarian world. Unfortunately, I never got to know Dr. Alagappan on a personal level. I do know his daughter Meena, however, as a friend and a humanitarian human being, like her father. I know him through Meena and her morality, ethics and her commitment to all life.

Alagappan was born in India. According to Mr. Alagappan, a Hindu, a medium told him that the Deity Lord Ganesha wanted him to go to a city beginning with the letter N, to see temples established throughout North America. He wanted Mr. Alagappan to arrange for the building of these Hindu temples. At first Dr. Alagappan said ” I’m a Grihasta, how can I be involved in building temples?” A Grihasta, under The Ashrram system in Hinduism, is the period in life fro age 24-48 when the person is a householder enjoying family life, carrying our one’s duties to family and society and being gainfully employed. The male is supposed to shoulder the responsibilities of the other three ashrams: Brahamachaya (student life), Vanaprastha (retired life) and Sannyasa (renounced life).

Dr. Alagappan was able to emigrate to the United States, an made his way to the city beginning with the letter N: New York City. Under immigration laws  changed in 1965, that there was no longer a quota system under which immigrants who were skilled and from certain areas in Europe were allowed into this nation. The old immigration laws discriminated against people from India, and other parts of the world. In immigrating to this nation, he encountered not only a nation of all religious faiths, but also innate prejudice which exists in many parts of our nation.

The first temple he built where he lived in Flushing, Queens was vandalized repeatedly. The mostly white ethnics objected to what they considered a foreign religion. He designed a circular logo which displays the Islamic Crescent, the Jewish Star of David and the Christian Cross. This shows the fundamental unity at the core of all religions. At the top of the logo is the symbol for Om, which is considered the primal sound of the universe in Hinduism. Dr. Alagappan founded the Hindu Temple Society of North Amercia in 1970. He enlisted 150 artisans from India. The sculptures, when completed, were blessed by Indian priests in a ceremony that involved bathing them in milk, honey and sandalwood paste. He also assisted in building temples in India. Today, there are over 700 temples in the United States.

During his most distinguished life, Dr. Alagappan was admired by many in both the United States, India and elsewhere. This is a quote from one of his admirers: “I had the fortune of accompanying Dr. Alagappan during his darshan at Jambukeswaram.A man of principle, devotion especially to Mahaperiyaval. Let him rest in the Lotus feet of His Holiness.” Dr. Alagappan, in his inspiring life, was also an attorney, worked as a reporter for the newspaper, The Hindu, as a correspondent for the BBC, and worked for The United Nations.

Although Dr. Alagappan is no longer among the living, his spirit is here through his children. Daughter Meena Alagappan is the Executive Director of Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers ( HEART). She is an attorney. She has committed her life to protecting animals, and to providing humane education to students. As director of HEART, a New York, Portland, Indianapolis, and Chicago-based public charity, Meena guides the humane education programs through free instructional services for students K-12. The primary goal of HEART is to promote compassion and respect for animals (human and nonhuman) and the environment by educating youth and teachers. The broad scope of HEART addresses the interconnections between animal rights, human rights, and care for the environment. “Our approach is to encourage young people to think about their responsibility to the earth and each other, and to think more about global consequences.” Meena and her three brothers give continued life to what their father Dr. Alagappa Alagappan believed in. Memories will keep him alive. Rest in Peace Alagappa Alagappan. ka matalab hindi me janiye.

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