Archive for category January 2015

Arunagirinaathar’s Life and Contribution to The Tamil Bhakti Literature

By Kollengode S Venkataraman, Murrysville, PA

Acknowledgments: M. Meenakshisundaram of Tiruchy, India for going over the drafts and offering valuable suggestions. 

This article was written for the souvenir for Guha Ghosanam, a festival conducted in August, 2023 dedicated to Muruga-p-perumaan, at the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple, in Lahham, MD, a suburb of Washington DC.

In all faiths all over the world, admirers and devotees of great savants often add hagiographic embellishments to the lives of these sages, with some of these embellishments so fantastic that they confound rational minds. The admirers of Poet Arunagiri are no exception. His followers and devotees call him Arunagirinaathar (அருணகிரிநாதர், अरुनगिरिनादर), “nathar” a suffix added to his name out of their love and respect. This great Bhakti poet is known for his extraordinary poetical skills employing complex and varying rhythm patterns in his poems, his proficiency in Tamil and Sanskrit languages, and virtuosity in weaving into his poems the tenets of the Vedas, and stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata,  and Siva, Vishnu, and Skanda Puranas. When you come to know of these, you too will admire him, and understand why his devotees call him Arunagirinaathar. Another unique feature in his poems is his mastery in trying to reconcile the conflicts between the Shaivites and Vaishnavites of his time.  

Arunagirinaathar’s Time:  His prolific religious-spiritual-poetical work was in the 15th century. He was born in 1370 Current Era and died in 1450 at the age of 80. He was born in the Sengunta Kaikolar community in Tiruvannamalai, the temple town for Arunachaleshawara in Tamil Nadu. In his poems,  Arunagirinaathar refers to Prabhuda Devaraayan, the Vijayanagara king who ruled over the Tiravannamalai region in the 15th century, which confirms Arunagirinaathar’s time.  

Arunagarinaathar’s life and lifestyle:  In one of his poems starting with மனையவள் நகைக்க… … he describes his adult life, from which we can infer that he led a married life. From the structure and contents of his poems, there are strong reasons to believe that he lived close to temple dancers in the region. Living close to temple dancers — called Devadasis, a term not always used as a compliment — he saw in close quarters the lifestyles of the dancers living under the patronage of landlords and local kings. These dancers had to make many compromises in their lifestyles to live under such patronage.

In his poems the poet vividly describes the young dancers’ charm and beauty, the jewelry and clothes they wear, and the cosmetics and perfumes they use to enhance their beauty.

In over 1600 of his poems, Arunagirinaathar  candidly acknowledges his proclivity for excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. Recognizing this, he pleads for Muruga-p-peruman’s (literally, Lord Muruga’s) grace to wean himself away from this weakness.

In all societies throughout history, in people given to excessive indulgences of all types, we see radical transformations taking place quite abruptly. As if by a miracle, people voluntarily and without any struggle walk away from their lifestyle given to excesses. We hear about people among us making these kinds of abrupt U-turns in their lives — some of us even know them personally. When we ask them how they changed so suddenly, they struggle to explain the changes using logic. They attribute the abrupt changes for the better in their lives to Divine Intervention, or God’s Grace (இறைவன் அருள்).

Such a miraculous transformation happens to Arunagiri also, who was given to a profligate lifestyle. Recognizing this, he feels so despondent about his situation, as the popular story of his life goes, that he wanted to kill himself by jumping off a smaller Gopuram in the Arunachaleshwara Temple complex in Tiruvannamalai. As he was about to jump off the tower, he was miraculously stopped by Muruga-p-perumaan (Lord Muruga) Himself, telling him, “Your life is not to be wasted, and your mission is to save the lives of fallen people.” When Arunagiri pleaded how he can do it given his background, Muruga-p-perumaan (Lord Muruga) gives him the first phrases, முத்தைத்தரு பத்தித் திருநகை (Muththai-tharu-paththi-thirunagai) and disappears.

With the grace granted by Muruga-p-perumaan, Arunagirinaathar spontaneously composes his first song right there. You can listen to his first verse here:,

and listen to Sambandam Gurukkal rendering the song in pulsating and lilting rhythm.

This was a great transforming moment in Arunagirinaathar’s life. He effortlessly abandoned his reckless lifestyle, becoming a mendicant and an ardent devotee of Muruga-p-perumaan. He later traveled all over South India and Sri Lanka, visiting over 200 Siva and Murugan temples, and composed songs addressing their presiding deities. Over 1600 poems are available in an anthology called திருப்புகழ் (Tiru-p-pugazh), meaning Divine Praise, most of them addressed to Muruga-p-peruman.

Arunagirinaathar’s poems in Tirup-pugazh are known for their lilting and pulsating complex rhythm patterns, known in Indian prosody as Chandas (छन्दस् in Devanagari, and சந்தம் in Tamil), meaning poetical meter. His poems are usually four- or eight-line verses consisting of 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, or even 20 phrases in each line conforming to complex rhythm patterns. The poet keeps the same complex rhythm pattern in all the four or eight lines in each poem. This alone requires great linguistic skills purely in terms of prosody.

For example, his most popular poem muththai-tharu-paththi-thirunagai (முத்தைத்தரு பத்தித் திருநகை அத்திக்கிறை சத்திச் சரவண… …) follows the following rhythm pattern.:

tatta-tana  tatta-tana-tana  tatta-tana  tatta-tana-tana 

tatta-tana  tatta-tana-tana —  tana-taana

தத்த-தன தத்த-தனதன தத்த-தன தத்த-தனதன

         தத்த-தன தத்த தனதன –– தனதான

Many Tamils know the name Tiru-p-pugazh, or at least would have heard the name. Not many would have read the verses or grasped their meanings. The verses have complex tongue-twisting phrases mixed with Tamil and Sanskrit words, written following Tamil and Sanskrit sandhi rules. This is difficult to grasp, especially for today’s Tamils with a limited knowledge of the Tamil language and its vocabulary because of the neglect of the Tamil in the school curriculum.

What is remarkable about Arunagirinaathar is that his skills in using complex rhythm patterns are only the base frame of skeleton in his poems. Around this frame, the poet builds complex stories giving us sensuous poems dripping in Bhakti (devotion). To fully understand and appreciate Arunanagirinaathar’s poems, one needs a good grasp of Tamil and Sanskrit vocabulary and grammar to get their basic meanings; and also to know of Sanatana Dharma’s tenets in the Vedas, Puranas, Ashtanga Yoga… … as we discussed earlier.

So, without the help of commentaries from scholars, it will be very difficult to understand and admire the prosodic skills of Arunagirinaathar and his grasp of all facets of the Sanatana Dharma. Here is a two-line example, first in the original form with the words fitted to flow with the rhythm pattern, and then with the words split to get some idea of what the poet conveys:

Rhythm pattern:

தாத்தனத் தானதன தாத்தனத் தானதன

     தாத்தனத் தானதன …… தனதான

Original lyrics:

வாட்படச் சேனைபட வோட்டியொட் டாரையிறு  மாப்புடைத் தாளரசர் …… பெருவாழ்வும்

மாத்திரைப் போதிலிடு காட்டினிற் போமெனஇல் வாழ்க்கைவிட் டேறுமடி …… யவர்போலக்

With words split for getting the meaning:

வாட்படச் சேனைபட ஓட்டி ஒட்டாரை

        இறுமாப்புடைத்து ஆள் அரசர்… …  பெருவாழ்வும்

மாத்திரைப் போதில் இடு காட்டினிற்   

       போமென இல் வாழ்க்கைவிட்டு ஏறும்… … அடியவர்போல

In these poems Arunagirinaathar openly and candidly pours out his proclivity to excessive sensual gratifications. He pleads for Muruga-p-peruman’s grace to wean himself away from his weakness, and move him towards the sublime. In his verses, Arunagirinaathar uses first-person singular, indicating his own personal struggle. When we read these poems constructed in first-person singular, we often feel that Arunagirinaathar is describing our own personal struggle on these matters.

A Unique Feature of Arunagirinaathar’s Poems: The schism between the Saiva and Vaishnava schools of worship in the Tamil country through the centuries is well known and there is no need to gloss over this division. Given this atmosphere, Arunagirinaathar is unique in the Tamil Bhakti literature.

Muruga-p-peruman is the son of Siva and Parvathi; with Parvathi being Vishnu’s sister,  Murugan is also the nephew of Vishnu and Lakshmi.

Arunagirinaathar uses this puranic fact quite brilliantly and unabashedly in many poems. He would describe  Muruga-p-perumaan as the son of Siva; and in the next breath and in the next line, as the nephew of Vishnu. Here is an example:

“O the Crimson-Colored (செய்யோய், a descriptive name for Muruga-p-peruman), the son of the One Who Wears Snakes as Garlands (reference to Shiva), and the nephew of the One Who Sleeps on the Bed of a Snake (reference to Vishnu), please grant me Your Grace.”

There are hundreds of references like this in his poems in which the poet refers to Lakshmi, Parvathi, Rama, Krishna, Arjuna, Ravana, Hanuman, Ganesha, and weaves episodes in the Ramayana and Mahabharata and the puranas into his poems. Why he did this in the 15th century is an interesting question for all of us to ponder over and see its relevance in the 21st century, here in the US.

How Arunagirinaathar’s poems were unearthed is a fascinating story. Arunagirinaathar’s contribution to Tamil literature in general, and Tamil Bhakti literature in particular, will be incomplete without the contributions of these great men:

V. T. Subramania Pillai (1846 – 1909): Till the late part of 19th century, Arunagirinaathar’s poems were not known to most people in Tamil Nadu. They were on palm leaves in homes of people in and around Tiruvannamalai and the Kaveri Delta area.

One Shri V. T. Subramania Pillai, a District Munsiiff and Judicial Officer under the British, in 1871 went to resolve a dispute at the Chidambaram Temple; the Temple’s Deekshitars quoted several verses from old Tamil bhakti poetry to make their claims. One such poem the Deekshitars quoted was from a verse of Arunagirinaathar. Fascinated by this verse, Subramania Pillai, a devotee of Muruga-p-peruman, wanted to know more about the person who wrote the poem, and he came to know of Arunagirinaathar. This started Subramania Pillai’s search for Arunagirinaathar’s poetry. He came to know of the sage’s six poems in a book by the great scholar Arumuga Naavalar (1822-1879), who lived in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

Arumuga Naavalar’s contribution to preserving Saivism among the educated Tamils in Sri Lanka is considerable during the Portuguese and Dutch colonial occupation of Sri Lanka. 

Starting with the six poems found in Arumuga Naavalar’s book, Shri Pillai went about his mission in his search for Arunagirinaathar’s works, said to be over 16,000 poems. He ended up collecting from various sources over 3,000 verses on palm leaves. He spent considerable time in sorting out his palm leaf collections, removing duplicates (which confirmed to him the authenticity of Arunagirinaathar’s works) and reconciling the same poems with different similar sounding words here and there. He and his sons Chengalvaraya Pillai and Shanmugam Pillai spent considerable amount of their time and personal resources in bringing out Arunagirinaathar’s poems in three volumes in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The Tamil literary World owes a great deal to V. T. Subramania Pillai and his two sons for bringing out Arunagirinaathar’s works for the outside world.

Kripananda Variar Swami (1906-1993): We owe a great deal to Kripananda Variar for painstakingly writing in six volumes detailed commentaries the Tiru-p-pugazh songs,  giving word-by-word meaning and explaining the references to all the stories in the songs. This monu-mental work is necessary for anyone wanting to understand the nuanced meanings of the Tiru-p-pugazh verses in the context of Tamil Bhakti literature. Variar Swamy gave countless upanyasams and discourses on Tiru-p-pugazh all over the world. Incidentally, Variar Swamy was the inspiration for the Murugan Temple in Lanham, MD.

A. S Raghavan Sept 4, 1928-May 17, 2013), a government official in New Delhi, was so deeply impressed with Tiru-p-pugazh that he started a bhajan group in New Delhi. This grew over the years with people who learned from him the songs starting local chapters of Tiru-p-pugazh bhajans wherever they settled, including in the US. His group called Tiru-p-pugazh Anbargal (Friends of Tiruppugazh) set up branches in many parts of India and even outside. Details here:

For people with a decent grasp of the Tamil language and the basic tenets of the Sanatana Dharma, a very good source for Tiru-p-Pugazh songs and their general meanings is the website developed by Shri Gopala Sundaram at  Gopala Sundaram’s website catalogs Arunagirinaathar’s Tiru-p-pugazh songs alphabetically, and also in terms of the temples on which the poems were composed.

You can listen, enjoy, and admire Arunagirinaathar’s complex rhythm patterns in Shri Pondicherry Sambandam Gurukkal’s excellent recordings of Tiru-p-pugazh songs here:

Shri Sambandam Gurukkal brings out the life in Arunagirinaathar’s verses with his grasp of Tamil Bhakti literary tradition and musical training. 

Arunagirinaathar’s complex meters, Sanskrit and Tamil phrases, and descriptive names for deities in his poems are impossible to poetically translate into English or other European languages; and perhaps even into South Indian languages.

Fred Clothey, who was born to missionary parents in the Tamil country in the early 20th century, is the Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He spent over 15 years in India, and also worked in Malaysia and Singapore. Clothey introduced Arunagirinaathar to English-speaking readers in his scholarly book Quiescence and Passion (now out of print), focusing on Kandar-Anubhuti and Kandar-Alankaaram. On the difficulty of translating Arunagirinaathar Clothey says:

 “[My work] is a classic example of the kind of project into which fools rush where angels fear to tread. Neither my English nor Tamil qualifies me to translate poetically a Tamil poet who remains defiantly untranslatable… … [I got introduced to Arunagiri] in  1965 and sampled the poet’s unusual style. I have since come to know even better why none have dared to attempt a translation [of Arunagirinaathar] save in the most prosaic of ways.”

Tamil scholars in the 19th and 20th century who brought this great poet’ work to public attention are: The Tamil poet Pamban Swamigal (1848 -1929); The scholar-writer  Vannasarapam Dhandapani Swamigal (1839 – 1898); A.S.Subramanian known as Thiru-p-pugazh Tha-tha; and Ki. Vaa. Jagannathan (1906-1988).

Arunagirinaathar left his mortal remains when he was 80 years in Tiruvannamalai.  Every year in July the Murugan Temple in  Viralimalai, (situated 18 miles southwest of Trichy in Tamil Nadu) organizes a music festival honoring Arunagirinaathar.  

Arunagirinaathar life story is so captivating that the Tamil film industry made a full-length feature film Arunagirinaathar with the famous playback singer T.M. Soundararajan as the poet Arunagirinaathar. And the Government of India released a postage stamp (INR 50 denomination) in Arunagirinaathar’s honor. Arunagirinaathar’s other works:

•          கந்தர் அனுபூதி  Kanthar Anubhuthi – 51 verses, each four lines, with four phrases/line.

•          கந்தர் அலங்காரம் Kanthar Alangaaram – 107 verses each four lines, with five phrases line

•          கந்தர் அந்தாதி  Kandar Anthaathi – 100 verses, each four lines, with five phrases/line.

•          திருவகுப்பு  Thiru Vaguppu

•          வேல்விருத்தம்   Vel Virutham – 10 verses each four lines, with twelve phrases/line.

•          மயில் விருத்தம் Mayil Virutham – 11 verses each four lines with twelve phrases/line.

•          சேவல் விருத்தம், Seval Viruttam and –11 verses each four lines with twelve phrases/line.

Arunagirinaathar’s expansive, enigmatic, and in-scrutable idea of Godhead, we can see in the last verse in Kandhar Anubhuthi:

உருவாய் அருவாய், உளதாய் இலதாய்

மருவாய் மலராய், மணியாய் ஒளியாய்க்

கருவாய் உயிராய்க், கதியாய் விதியாய்க்

குருவாய் வருவாய், அருள்வாய் குகனே.

Fred Clothey translated the above terse verse into English, capturing the great poet’s cryptic style in his English translation as well:

Formed, Formless; Being, Non-Being;

Flower, Fragrance; Jewel, Radiation;

Embryo, Life; Goal, Way;

Come Guha, [as my] Guru

[and] Grant  [me] your Grace.

Arunagirinaathar’s devotees organize festivals for him periodically at the Tiruvannamalai temple and Murugan temples in India, and in Hindu Temples in Mauritius, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Australia, and North America.

After this discursive discussion, it may be appropriate to end this write-up by quoting a  great terse phrase in Arunagirinaathar’s Kandar-Anubhuti, in which the poet recalls the advice Muruga-p-peruman gave him:

         சும்மா இரு, சொல் அற,

literally meaning “Be Still, and Speak Not,” or better still, “Keep Quiet and Chatter not.” 

It is worth noting that both Thaayumaanava Swamy (1705-1744) and Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) adopted these phrases in their philosophical/spiritual works. And that is a delightful way to end this write up on the One-of-a-Kind Great Tamil Bhakti poet, Arunagirinaathar.


1.         Clothey, Fred, Quiescence and Passion, Publishers: Austin & Winfield, San Francisco, 1996, 177 pp. (now out of print, but available in a few bookstores and on-line book outlets.)


3.         Kripananda Variar, Tiru-p-pugazh Virivurai, in six volumes, Publishers: Vaanathi Pathippagar,    T.Nagar, Chennai, 1985 onwards.





About the author:  Kollengode S. Venkataraman, lives in the Pittsburgh metro area since mid1980s, and is the editor and publisher of a 28-year-old independent quarterly magazine, The Pittsburgh Patrika, ( 

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Obituary: Vinod B Doshi, Beloved Husband, Cherished Father & Grandfather, Distinguished Engineer and Founding Member of the Hindu-Jain Temple (1936 to December 11, 2022)

By the Family of Vinod Doshi

Vinod B. Doshi, age 86, our father, passed away peacefully on Sunday, December 11, 2022, surrounded by his loving family. He was 86. He was born in Calcutta, India, on October 8, 1936 the older of two children to the late Shri Babulal and Smt. Chabalben Doshi.

He and his late wife and our mother Indu were married for 52 years and the proud parents of three children and six grandchildren: Anita Doshi Carleton (son-in-law Dennis, grandchildren Neil and Kellen); Salil Vinod Doshi (daughter-in-law Bijal, grandchildren Shay and Reveen); and Nisha Doshi Westerman (son-in-law David, grandchildren Pria and Cole).

He graduated from the most prestigious engineering college in India, the Indian Institute of Technology, and he enjoyed a rewarding career at Westinghouse and Siemens designing power generation systems and was an inventor on many patents. He was passionate about the Indian community in Pittsburgh and was instrumental in its growth, serving as a founding member of the Hindu-Jain Temple.

He was the president of the Jain Society of Pittsburgh, co-convener of the JAINA Convention in Pittsburgh, active in JAINA (Federation of Jain Associations in North America), and instrumental in establishing the Gujarati Samaj in Pittsburgh.

He enjoyed travel all across the globe with his wife, children, and friends over the years. He loved passionately cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates.

A traditional Jain Funeral Service was held for our father on Sunday, December 18 at the Beinhauer Funeral Home in Dormont, PA. Pandit Suresh Chandra Joshi from the Hindu-Jain Temple guided our family with the Jain cremation rites. After the funeral service, a Celebration of Life Luncheon was held at the Hindu-Jain Temple Hall.


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Obituary: Vijaya Rao, An Affable Early Indian Immigrant and Silent Volunteer at the S.V.Temple (1942 to February 19, 2023)

Vijaya B Rao, a long-time resident in our area, wife of the late Raja B Rao, of Penn Hills, PA passed away peacefully on Sunday February 19, 2023 with her loving family by her side. She lived in Penn Hills for decades before moving into hospice care towards the end.

Vijaya came to this country in 1967 along with her husband Raja Rao, who was teaching statistics at the University of Pittsburgh, and young son. She and her husband were able to create a lively life for themselves and their two children. They always kept their faith and roots to India very close to their heart.

In 1976 when the concept of a Venkataswara temple was first mooted by their friends, Vijaya and Raja Rao were quite excited to join the cause. The temple became a community they immersed themselves in. It became for them a home away from their home in India. She and her husband were long time members of the temple where they spent countless hours as devotees and volunteers. They took keen interest in the music and dance programs organized at the temple in those early years.

Vijaya also enjoyed spending time with her family and friends. She was well known among her friends as an excellent cook and a reliable friend. She also enjoyed playing with her dog grandchildren, Cody, Ellie, Lucy & Coco.

At the request of Vijaya, her family conducted a private funeral and cremation ceremony following Hindu traditions at the Beinhauer Funeral Home on West Liberty Ave, Dormont.

Left to cherish Vijaya’s memory are her son Harish Rao, his wife Swati of Dallas, Texas; her daughter SriDevi Rao James and her husband Mark James of Oakdale, Pennsylvania; and her grandsons Anish and Anjay Rao and her granddaughter Taylor James as well as several nieces and nephews here and in India. After the death of her husband Raja B Rao in 2001, she lived independently with the continuous support of her daughter Sridevi, who is in the nursing profession.

A special thanks to the Celebration Villas and Bridges Hospice as well as her close friends who provided excellent care and her favorite Indian dishes. — By a friend of Vijaya Rao


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Montessori Pre-School in Monroeville Helps Children to Naturally Acquire Learning Skills

By Sandra Durkin, Mars, PA

Editor’s Note: Ms. Sandra Durkin is a 28-year veteran consultant in early childhood education. Her background has been in psychology (LaRoche University) and American Montessori Society’s Early Childhood Teaching (Carlow University). With Pennsylvania Teaching Certification and active participation in several leadership programs, Sandra owned and ran the state-licensed Garden Montessori School in Cranberry Township from 1999-2020 with 65 children, offering extended care, enrichment camps, Spanish, and summer camps.

Keystone Montessori School in Plum Boro has been offering multi-age Montessori programs in the Monroeville area for over fifteen years, serving children from ages twenty months through kindergarten. Three age groupings in the school enable each child to stay with the same teacher, with the academic year running from September through May, and half-day camps continuing through the summer. The school is located at 3245 Old Frankstown Road, Plum, close to Business 22 and the PA Turnpike.

Owner-Administrator Linda Franke has designed the Montessori program with adequate resources at her school to meet the needs of the children, as well as the needs of families. Her lifelong work and commitment to Montessori education is summed up by her favorite quote: “Teach children to learn to do it by themselves.”

When children begin this unique experience at twenty months, they are eager for independence, and the PROCESS of learning gets instilled in a natural learning environment. They seek more challenges, observing and learning from older children.

Keystone classrooms offer several carefully selected hands-on activities for each child to build a foundation for concrete learning. Dr. Montessori’s famous quote “The hand is the teacher of the mind” is an all-encompassing summary of the core of the philosophy at Linda’s school. Montessori believed that the most important period of learning occurs from birth to age six through the “Absorbent Mind,” what people often refer to as children being like “sponges.”

The environment at the Keystone School utilizes activities in practical life, sensorial experiences, language, phonics, math, and geography, with certified Montessori teachers designing the enticing activities, increasing in difficulty with each step. The children actively engage in worldwide cultural experiences through participation of multicultural families of the children in the school.

Children progress individually at their own pace, based on their natural instincts, and skills they develop and master in the class room. The older children can teach, lead, and serve as role models, which increases their self-esteem and confidence.

The Keystone Montessori School offers Peace Education and conflict resolution in its curriculum, incorporating the “Peace Rose” and daily practice of the virtues of good behavior. The children demonstrate their understanding polite interactions with their peers in the class.
Feel free to contact Linda Franke at Keystone Montessori School for more information and enrollment opportunities at:

The Keystone Montessori School
3245 Old Frankstown Rd., Plum, PA Landline: 724-733-1015


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Obituary: Manjula Germanwala, A Dedicated Volunteer, an Optimist with Passion for Books (1945 to December 17, 2022)

By Shambhavi Desai, Bridgeville, PA

Manjula V. Germanwala, a resident of Pittsburgh for over fifty years and a well-known name in the community, died on December 17, 2022, with her loving husband, Vasant, at her side. Manju-ben, as many of us called her, was born on January 29, 1945 in Worli, Mumbai to Savita and Mulchand Kansara in an affluent family. Youngest among all her siblings, she was bold, intelligent, caring, spiritual and gracious inside out. She did her schooling and started her college education in Mumbai. Manju-ben was engaged to Vasant Germanwala in 1963 and they were married in 1967 after coming to the US. They were married for 55 years.

While raising her family here, Manju-ben, with full support from her husband, graduated from Point Park College with a degree in microbiology. Her passion for reading and books led her to work at B. Dalton Booksellers at the Parkway Center Mall for eighteen years, where she became the manager of the store. Later, she worked as an administrative assistant at the Greentree Medical Associates for seven years before retiring in 2006.

Manju-ben was active in several organizations: a devout member of the Hindu Jain Temple and the Chinmaya Mission Pittsburgh, a volunteer at the Alliance for Humanitarian Initiatives, Nonviolence, and Spiritual Advancement (AHINSA), and at the Sai Family of Pittsburgh.

An exemplary leader, community activist, and a committed  volunteer, she (with her husband Vasant) gave time for over forty years to several organizations including Meals on Wheels (, delivering meals to senior citizens, who often live alone. She was also at the Kiwanis Club of Pittsburgh, and Beginning with Books, an organization of experts dedicated to nurture literacy among pre-school children, running workshops on early literacy topics to parents, teachers, and caregivers.

Her husband Vasant lovingly recalls, “She would always try her best to keep a positive attitude even in the most adverse situations.” Manju-ben’s passion was music. I vividly remember her singing with great zeal, not only bhajans but also an old Hindi movie classic, Afsana Likh Rahi Hun…, as the senior most contestant at Tarana, a music event organized jointly by the Gujarati Samaj of Greater Pittsburgh and the Maharashtra Mandal of Pittsburgh in 2007.

Manjuben is survived by her husband, Vasant Germanwala; her older son, Samir, daughter-in-law, Gana, and their children, Arya and Alec; and her younger son, Anand, daughter-in-law, Arpita, and their children Atasi and Anika. Her Hindu cremation was at the Beinhauer Funeral Home on Wednesday, December 21, 2022, with Pandit Sureshchandra Joshi  helping her family with the cremation rites. Her friends will always remember Manju-ben as the selfless person that she truly was, for all the volunteer work she did for the community and her infectious smile with a twinkle in her eye.  


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My First Chinese HotPot Dinner

By Premlata Venkataraman

European formal dinners follow dress codes and a system of what course follows which one and the array of silverware to eat the dishes.

Presentation, visual appeal of the meal, and the ambience, not to speak of the company we share the meals with, are as important as the variety and taste of the dishes served.

In the Middle East a shared plate fosters clan unity and cohesion. In the Sikh Gurudwara communal eating during the langar meal is an important part of their worship. Japanese platters are as decorative as they are appetizing, complementing colors and shapes with the taste of the dishes. Dramatic hibachi-made food conveys all the essence of a drama, with the chef posing as a Samurai warrior cutting meats and vegetables following strict protocols for the sizes and shapes, while showing off his dexterity with the ultra-sharp knife and forks.

In traditional wedding dinners in South India, even today there is an elaborate scheme for placing the different items on banana leaves. Each item — like salt, achars, banana chips, pappads, curries, dal items, raithas, and payasams (kheers), and cooked rice — in the sadhya (banquet) has a specific spot on the banana leaf layout. And you can start eating only when everybody’s banana leaf is served with all the items. Further, each item in the banquet, like sambaar, moru-koottan (similar to the North Indian kadi) rasam, and paayasams come in a specific sequence. Today’s buffet-style Indian wedding dinners with people filling their 10” dia plates with all items in one go and in one heap would be considered uncouth and barbarian.

In Chinese banquets, groups of people sit around a circular table ordering 10 to 20 items placed on a slowly rotating carousel in the middle. People take their seats following a strict hierarchy. As the items in large plates come to you on the slowly rotating carousel, using chopsticks, you pick whatever you like onto your eating bowl/plate.

The Chinese HotPot, whose history goes back over one thousand years, is another setup for sharing a meal in homes and in restaurants. The HotPot indulges and encourages the inner chef in you to mix and match and make your own very light broth, with your own combination of sauces and toppings. You thus create an aromatic, flavorful, spicy, and steaming hot mix in a large vessel kept right in front of you on the dinner table.

Then you add your choices of meats, vegetables, and noodles into the steaming hot broth and cook them till it is done. Everybody at the dinner table then helps themselves with the broth and the items they cooked into a smaller bowl and eat them slowly. Pre-made appetizers are served first.

I had heard of this cuisine from many but had not sampled it myself. We were in New York City during the Chinese New Year this January. We went to Chinatown for the festivities and completed it with a HotPot lunch on a cold winter day.

The menu card looked complicated with a wide array of meats, vegetables, noodles, and appetizers to choose from. First we decided on the most important item — the broth we would use to cook our chosen items. With a lot of help from our grandkids, who have already had the HotPot meals and loved them, we made our selections. We chose Sriracha-flavored broths with minced ginger and garlic and soy sauces. Then we were lead to a buffet with an array of toppings and sauces to mix and match to add to our broth. Some I recognized like Hoisin sauce and Sriracha but encountered some that I had not heard of. I made a selection of it on a plate and seated myself ready for the meal.

The waitress arrived with platters and platters of the items our family had chosen to add to the broth. So many vegetables, greens, meat slices, appetizers like tiny egg rolls, wontons, not to mention a variety of noodles.

Soon she turned on the induction heaters installed in the middle of the table with a range of options — simmer, low and medium heat, and boil at a typical HotPot dinner table — and placed large mixing bowls in the heater. She poured the steaming broths from kettles into the mixing bowls. We then added the vegetables and other items into the hot steaming broth and let them simmer and cook right in front of our eyes — we were our own cooks, sort of.

We were given small individual bowls to ladle out the steaming broth and cooked veggies into our bowls; after adding it with our thick sauce mix and toppings, the resulting uniquely concocted one-of-a-kind dish was ready to quell our appetite. Since it was flavorful and piping hot, it was a treat for our senses and so satisfying for a cold day outside. And it surely opened up our sinuses.

Right at the Pittsburgh Airport for All Your Special Events

The waiter replenished the light broth as we emptied and we ate the vegetables and drank the light broth (much like the traditional south Indian rasam) to our hearts’ content. But much like eating the Vietnamese Pho, the HotPot meal filled us up with mostly water and vegetables. It was wholesome and satisfying.

Verily, this way of serving food is amazing in our times. A low-cal meal with healthy ingredients and minimum fat, at the same time flavorful, tasty, and spicy and satisfying to our palate. It is a rare combination.

Most big cities in North America have several HotPot restaurants Pittsburgh too has a few HotPot restaurants for you to explore, around the city and in Oakland.

If you are adventurous, you can easily setup your own HotPot dinner table for 4 to 6 people in your homes: the tabletop portable induction heater shown here is under $100, and a few other simple vessels and bowls. You can select all the Indian, Thai, and Italian spices and herbs you want to create your own one-of-a-kind broth create with your own array of green vegetables, roots, tofu, mushrooms, vadis, and noodles and meats (if you want)… And enjoy your HotPot dinner with your friends, with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer.


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Be Like A Sun!

Juginder Luthra, Weirton, W








Illuminate whatever you touch
Be a giver, receivers misery too much

Your light free for all, seek nothing back
Recipients circle spin, keep coming back

Give life to others, unaffected by them
They use or misuse not for you to judge

Others may take you for granted
Keep glowing even if feel unwanted

You were born to shine, stay detached
Spend days giving, no strings attached

Be not proud of your bright rays
One who made you gave limited days

So my daughter and my son
Stay bright and giving like a sun

Be a sun


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Boom-Bust Cycles Are Typical in the US Economy  

Kollengode S Venkataraman

For all the gloss the IT industry uses to describe itself, the response of its American CEOs during the system-wide layoffs were trite and very unoriginal. Unlike their muscular CEO brethren in the steel and auto industry, whose decline several decades ago wiped out hundreds thousands of muscular blue-collar jobs, these IT CEOs were contrite and apologetic. Using copycat vapid phrases for not assessing the situation correctly, they took personal responsibility for the layoffs.

It was ironic that these IT industry giants, as they themselves claimed, had all the software tools for gathering the needed data to predict the future under different scenarios to advise their clients for making business decisions and improving productivity, of course, using their expensive consulting services. This reminded me of a colloquial Tamil proverb,

meaning, “The teacher’s son is an idiot and the doctor’s son is sick.” Or more to the present context,

meaning, “The teacher himself is dumb and the doctor himself is sick.”

Many companies offered expanded severance packages to their laid off employees to lessen the pain. Often, these companies also employ large number of TVCs [temps, vendors, and contractors] working on their campuses. But these TVCs are not covered for the severance package since they are not in the companies’ payroll.

Here are contrite, unoriginal e-mails from the CEOs of IT giants, as if they copied from each other explaining the layoffs to those who they fired:

Sundar Pitchai CEO of Alphabet, which owns Google:


I have some difficult news to share. We’ve decided to reduce our workforce by approximately 12,000 roles. We’ve already sent a separate email to employees in the US who are affected… …

This will mean saying goodbye to some incredibly talented people we worked hard to hire and have loved working with. I’m deeply sorry for that. The fact that these changes will impact the lives of Googlers weighs heavily on me, and I take full responsibility for the decisions that led us here.

Over the past two years we’ve seen periods of dramatic growth. To match and fuel that growth, we hired for a different economic reality than the one we face today.

… … To fully capture it, we’ll need to make tough choices… … While this transition won’t be easy, we’re going to support employees as they look for their next opportunity.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft:

… … We’re living through times of significant change, and as I meet with customers and partners, a few things are clear. First, as we saw customers accelerate their digital spend during the pandemic…  [now they want] digital spend to do more with less. We’re also seeing … parts of the world are in a recession and other parts are anticipating one…  [and] the next major wave of computing is being born with advances in AI…

This is the context in which we as a company must strive to deliver results…[requiring] us to take actions grounded in three priorities.

First, we will align our cost structure with our revenue … result[ing] in the reduction of our overall workforce by 10,000 jobs through the end of 2023. This represents less than 5 percent of our total employee base… … We know this is a challenging time for each person impacted. The senior leadership team and I are committed  that we go through this process in the most thoughtful and transparent way possible.

… [W]e will treat our people with dignity and respect, and act transparently. These decisions are difficult, but necessary. They are especially difficult because they impact people and people’s lives – our colleagues and friends… U.S.-benefit-eligible employees, will receive a variety of benefits, including above-market severance pay, continuing healthcare coverage for six months, continued vesting of stock awards for six months, career transition services…

Zuckerberg, FaceBook:

Today I’m sharing some of the most difficult changes we’ve made in Meta’s history. I’ve decided to reduce the size of our team by about 13% and let more than 11,000 of our talented employees go. We are also taking a number of additional steps to become a leaner and more efficient company by cutting discretionary spending and extending our hiring freeze through Q1.

I want to take accountability for these decisions and for how we got here. I know this is tough for everyone, and I’m especially sorry to those impacted… the start of Covid, the world rapidly moved online and the surge of e-commerce led to outsized revenue growth. Many people predicted this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic ended. I did too, so I made the decision to significantly increase our investments. Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected. … [and] our revenue [was] much lower than I’d expected. I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that.

Elon Musk, Twitter:

Elon Musk’s Twitter cut 50% of the company’s workforce, including its contractors. He tweeted his sympathies: “Folks at Twitter past and present are strong and resilient. They will always find a way no matter how difficult the moment. I realize many are angry with me. I own the responsibility for why everyone is in this situation: I grew the company size too quickly. I apologize for that.”

Niraj Shah, Wayfair:

Last August, furniture retailer Wayfair said it would let go of 900 people, or about 5% of its workforce. In a published letter, CEO Niraj Shah wrote: “Over the past few years, we’ve grown Wayfair significantly to keep pace with the e-commerce growth in the home category. We were seeing the tailwinds of the pandemic accelerate the adoption of e-commerce shopping, and I personally pushed hard to hire a strong team to support that growth. This year, that growth has not materialized as we had anticipated. Our team is too large for the environment we are now in, and unfortunately we need to adjust… I take responsibility for the impact this decision will have on the nearly 900 Wayfairians who will be told today they are no longer a part of building our company’s future.”

Are these systemic layoffs anything new for American businesses? No. These are familiar for those who lived through earlier gut-wrenching transitions in our own times caused by self-inflicted wounds. During the 1970s when the steel industry died in the US, tens of thousands lost their jobs, causing a deep decline of many towns and cities (like Pittsburgh) in the Rust Belt.

Later, the American auto industry declined seriously only to reinvent itself copying the Japanese, after ridiculing the same Japanese compact fuel-efficient cars. The closing down of the full-fledged automobile plants in rural American towns turned them into graveyards.

The S&L bailout followed, and when the real estate bubble burst, many ended up owning huge mortgages on homes that lost their market values. In the wake of the Y2K, tens of thousands of Indian IT temp workers all across the US were dumped on the streets. The bubble burst was the next with huge job losses. Then in the Wall Street melt down in 2008 job losses were in the millions across the board in the US.

Even NASA was not spared in the boom-bust cycle. Hundreds of thousands of people were employed in the 1960s directly by NASA and indirectly by subcontractors making components needed for the moon mission. After the Moon landing when an American Stars & Stripes was planted on the Moon, NASA had to shrink and tens of thousands of employees were let go. Again, when the US Congress stopped the space shuttle program in 2011, NASA laid off thousands of skilled engineers and technicians.

The latest IT layoffs are only following this pattern of what American businesses go through: incubation and euphoria on new businesses and technologies with speculators jumping into the fray ushering in explosive growths of a whole new industry. Innovators become icons, only to see their innovative and avant garde businesses becoming one more “mature” and “regular” corporation needing run-of-the-mill managers, bean counters, and lawyers, HR & PR folks to manage the layoffs.

This boom-bust cycle has been common in the US since the early days of its industrialization in railroad, banking, gold and copper mining in the Western States, and drilling for oil and natural gas. In this template, the American Dream is fulfilled for those who succeed, and the American Nightmare unfolds for those who struggle to barely survive, with many succumbing along the way. History is replete with these stories in many books for those who care to know.

Every society has its own culture, irrespective of the constitutional and legal framework in which it operates. If the society is large enough in land mass (as the US is), or complex enough (as India is), it also has subcultures within the big umbrella.

How many Indian IT companies spend their time and resources educating their employees on their business, and the cultural backdrops of their clients in different countries to which they depute their employees?

And how many Indian IT companies manage their risks by diversifying their market segments in Central & South America, Africa, the Persian Gulf countries, Southeast & East Asia? And in the huge Indian domestic market in the small and medium industries and retailers in second and third tier cities? These market segments will NOT give them 20 to 30 percent annual growths. But they will certainly help them to spread the risk to mange the economic downturns and wean them away from over-dependence on the industrialized West, as seems to be the case now.

And how many university-educated Indian IT professionals care to study the industrial and cultural history of different countries in their career expeditions all across the globe? After all, these tech-savvy youngsters have access to all kinds of information literally on their fingertips when they sit in front of their PCs with internet connections.


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The IT Layoffs Hit Indians Hard, But Was Inevitable, Even Predictable

Kollengode S Venkataraman

The IT sector in the US saw explosive growth in the last two decades. Flagship IT companies — Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Meta, and others — employed Indian “techies” in large numbers, most on the H-1B visa. A look at the H-1B visa numbers summarized in the tables and plots in this article reveals how extensively Indians have flooded the IT jobs all across the US.

Simultaneously, people in the know have been warning that the IT sector globally is ready for a major correction and upgrade through Artificial Intelligence (AI).  The self-learning AI, they said, will eliminate repetitive low-skill jobs across all sectors, including in IT, the jobs that can be done by software and computer-aided machines. In addition, in the history of the US economy, boom-bust cycles have been a common theme.

So, if we put all these together, as you will see below, the on-going large-scale layoffs in the IT sector was something that was waiting to happen. And when it did indeed happen starting from July 2022, it was inevitable that Indians were the most affected. One is tempted to say, Indians were walking — worse still, sleep-walking — into this maelstrom.     

The IT industry described itself using fancy adjectives to embellish  its attributespathbreaking, revolutionizing, life-altering, 21-st century phenom,  futuristic, mind blowing, dizzying… Soon a lifestyle evolved around this phenom: casual dress, company-paid fancy food platters, laundromats and gyms at workplaces. Even 3-week paid vacation days was not unheard of. Workplaces and office parks became campuses.

With IT jobs aplenty and not enough employees to hire from within the US, companies went on a hiring spree bringing workers from overseas, even raiding other companies, for employees. A 2018 story in the Seattle Times reported that foreign-born IT workers in the Seattle area accounted  40% of the total of 143,000 employees. In the San Jose area in California, over 70% of IT workers are foreign-born.

In India, IT workers have been enjoying ever increasing salaries and benefits, with weekend haunts to Goa, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mauritius becoming the norm.

To meet this demand, universities started offering majors and minors in Data Analytics, Managing Information Technology, e-Commerce, Web Applications, Data Mining…  They organized events bringing together graduating IT students and hiring managers/venture capitalists for link ups. IT students with exotic ideas and venture capitalists flush with cash were hovering around each other, as in mixer dancing, to create the next trailblazing startup.

With startups and new IPOs and their acquisition by the industry Big Boys, these were heady days, and the ambience dizzy for the 20-somethings!! Even through the Covid pandemic, the IT sector saw a boom because of the growth of e-commerce. With people working from home, business in home-office furniture and gadgets saw a spurt while sales in undergarments saw a decline. 

For ambitious students — and their parents — in India, their career choices were cutout for them: degrees and trade certificates in computer-related fields, followed by a 3-semester master’s program in India — better still, in US universities — that would lead to prized IT jobs. Graduating students walked into Google, Microsoft, FaceBook, Amazon and other lesser-known companies in the US with exotic names, all on the temporary H-1B visas. They wanted jobs in the Bay Area, Seattle, LA, or New York City, Boston. Austin, Atlanta, the DC area… … Jobs in Little Rock, Ark or Birmingham, Ala were punishments.

Alarmed at the American IT industry’s appetite for hiring people from overseas (which also helped the industry to keep salaries low), the federal government capped the number of IT-related overseas hires at 65,000 per year for people with bachelor’s degrees, and 20,000 per year for people with US-earned master’s degrees under the H-1B visa regime. Indians started flooding this employment market, gobbling up around 75% of the 85,000 H-1B visas for 2020 and 2021. A look at the plots and tables on these pages tells how Indians have been overwhelming the H-1B visa system — and how Indians eventually got trapped into H-1B net.

With Indians applying for the H-1B visas in numbers far, far exceeding the allotted cap, the US consular offices in India resorted to a lottery system to pick applicants for H-1B visas. In this milieu, everybody was taking advantage of everybody else, and not everything was kosher or Shudh, or halal both from the employers’ and the employees’s end.

As experts predicted, starting in late 2022, American IT companies have used the post-Pandemic global recession and laid off over 200,000 tech employees so far. Not many of these jobs will come back because these companies have been readying themselves to launch AI platforms for many routine IT tasks. It was therefore inevitable, and also entirely predictable that Indians on H-1B visas are the largest number laid off.

The Big Picture to contextualize the problem: Even though the IT industry is critical to the American economy, as Forbes magazine (December 18, 2022), reported, the tech sector is a small part of the US workforce, accounting for only 2% of the 150 million workers. 

Including Immigration

Besides, the recent layoffs of tens of thousands of IT employees from the Big Boys in the industry — FaceBook, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, among others — are between 5 to 10 percent of their workforce, small in relative terms.

Also, while the tech sector layoffs are getting wide media coverage here (and wider coverage in the Indian media), the overall unemployment rate in the US is still as low as it has ever been in the last several decades. Many sectors are having difficulty in recruiting workers.

Indian IT companies such as TCS, Infosys, Wipro too laid off employees since they heavily depend on their US and EU clients. With Indian IT campuses located in urban hubs in India, their IT employees coming from the anglicized urban middle class, the Indian media were quick to highlight the woes of the laid off Indians both in the US and in India.

Vulnerable middle managers: In this milieu, middle level managers became vulnerable targets for layoffs because of the flattening of the organizational pyramid and replacement by youngsters at much lower salaries. Younger workers became formidable competitors since the management saw them as one way to reduce their operating costs.

Including Immigration

Most Indians come to the US on the H-1B visa with the idea of becoming permanent residents here. But a major roadblock for Indians to becoming permanent residents has been the long waiting time, simply because so many of them are on the line for their green cards. Because of the large numbers of applicants from countries like India, the Philippines, China, and Mexico, they have to wait up to 15 years, or even longer.

Many Indians in the US on H-1B visa for 10 to15 years are in their mid to late 30s, living their American dream — with their homes in the suburbs with mortgage commitments, SUVs and annual vacations. Many have teenage school-going children. For these people, getting laid off midstream in life is a nightmare. They have only sixty days to get another job in an environment when tens of thousands of laid-off IT workers are looking for jobs, failing which they have to leave the US. These people are overwhelmed with a host of problems needing quick decisions, with the deportation sword hanging over their head. Piyush Seth and Lisa Ventresca, Pittsburgh-based immigration attorneys, are familiar with challenges these people face.

In recent years, many young Indians came to the US to pursue 3-semester courses in IT-related subjects in universities. They got IT jobs in the US upon graduation. Now, when these Indians on H-1B visas in their late 20s are laid off, their decision to return to India may appear less complicated because they are single or married with only young pre-school children. But their problems are of a different kind: many of these men and women in India took personal education loans for over $70,000 (around INR 6,000,000), and others,0 were funded by their parents. These loans are relatively easy to clear if their earnings are in US dollars, but a huge burden to repay if their earnings are in Indian rupees. With the Indian job market itself flooded with recently laid off local IT workers, if these people on the H-1B visa return to India, getting commensurately high-paying jobs in the Indian IT sector will be hard.

This recent IT layoffs in the US (and in India) have landed many Indians on the H-1B visa in a complex situation with social, cultural, financial, professional, and career- and family-related challenges, all hitting them at the same time, without any easy solution. But this was inevitable since Indians overwhelmed the H-1B visa regime.

However, Seth, the immigration attorney with 25 years experience, citing a Computer World article in February 2023, says, “Regardless of the layoffs in big companies, qualified IT jobs are still in demand with over 100,000 jobs remaining unfilled throughout the technology sector.”   


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Juginder and Dolly Luthra: Reviving Weirton’s Festival of Nations

By Nandini Mandal  e-mail:

Note:  Nandini Mandal, the artistic director of Nandanik Dance Academy, recently spoke to Juginder and Dolly Luthra of Weirton, WV, on their participation in reviving Weirton’s Festival of Nations, last held in 1944.  She met the Luthras at CMU.

Nandini Mandal (right) with Dolly Luthra (left) with Juginder Luthra (centre).

Their story started as a Bollywood-style romance. From the forced migration during India’s painful Partition in 1947, to fifty years later, reviving a defunct Festival of Nations in Weirton, WV, through organizing an Indian Cultural Day there. And their story still continues.

He was born in Multan, in Pakistan now. His family, like other millions, was uprooted during the 1947 Partition and settled down in Panipat, in today’s Haryana, India. Seventh child in the family, he joined the medical school in Amritsar in 1961, obeying his father’s decision.

Three years later, a lovely young lady joined the same medical school in dentistry. Originally from Bombay, she moved to Chandigarh as her father was part of Le Corbusier’s architectural team that built Chandigarh. At the college social, they were part of the play together, with the lovely woman getting the best actress prize.  He, Juginder, was in his third year, and she, Dolly, was in her first. And the rest was their destiny together.

The Luthras with their three daughters, circa 1975.

Juginder and Dolly were married in 1968, and they moved to the U.K. in 1974 with their first daughter Namita.  Juginder Luthra, an ophthalmologist, got his advance diploma in UK. Soon after, their twin baby girls, Rohini and Rashmi, arrived. The Luthras eventually wanted to reach the US shores.

With America still recovering from the Vietnam War, there was a dearth of qualified and experienced doctors in many cities, including Weirton, WV. One of his friends already in Weirton asked him to come to Weirton to practice medicine. In 1975, the Luthras arrived at Weirton with their three daughters.

While Dolly stayed home for eight years to raise their daughters before starting her dentistry practice, Juginder worked as a house physician at the Weirton Medical Center. Weirton was now their home away from home. Juginder recalls, “Our neighbors embraced us, giving us car rides, taught us driving in our very early days as immigrants.”

… … The Luthras with their three daughters over two decades later.

To find out how this Punjab da puttar (son of Punjab) became intertwined with the heart and soul of Weirton decades later, we need to understand Weirton’s history built around steel. The economy of Weirton (population 30,000 at its peak) was driven by the steel mill with 13,000 employees at its peak.

In 1909, Ernest T. Weir established a Tin Plate Mill near Holliday’s Cove, a farming village, calling it Weirton, an unincorporated company town. With the expanding mill and an influx of European immigrants, Weirton was incorporated in 1947 by merging several neighboring communities around the mill.

As is the case with all steel towns in the US, Russian, Polish, Greek, Slavic, Italian, Finnish, Hungarian, Welsh, Dutch, Spanish immigrants, and native African-Americans flocked to Weirton in the early 20th century. The interactions among the disparate immigrant groups were not always smooth. A large number of immigrants living in close proximity in a small, isolated town without a strong common American identity was a cause for concern for leaders of the community.

So, in 1934 Weirton’s civic and business leaders conceived a Festival of Nations to foster a sense of fellowship and social and cultural interactions among the ethnic groups. They wanted to showcase the diverse culture in a noncompetitive atmosphere. They succeeded in their mission, and until 1939, the Festival of Nations continued in this spirit with ten nationality groups’ participation in the thousands.

Then World War II started in 1939, ending in 1945. The returning victorious soldiers and the people at large were forged with a common American identity. With this, the rationale for the Festival of Nations too ended, the last one was in 1944.

Good times roared for decades. But with steel’s decline in the 70s, Weirton was devastated like other US towns built around steel.  Today Weirton’s population is only 19,000, with only 1000 in steel! Weirton is a now a bedroom community to people working in Robinson Township and the Airport areas.

With their friends in the Sargam music group.

Flash forward to 2006. The Luthras, now well-established in Weirton, and both ardent art lovers and patrons, decided to showcase India’s dance and musical extravaganza to the people of Weirton. They dipped into the Indian talents in Pittsburgh with artistes trained in India’s rich musical and dance traditions. Sponsored by the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center, the Luthras organized the event with Nandanik Dance Academy, Nidrita and Asish Sinha, and Sushanta Banerjee performing in an hour-long program. It was a hit with the audience.

Impressed by the event, Weirton Mayor William Miller, surprised the Luthras by declaring November 18, 2006 “India Heritage Day” in Weirton. The Luthras, now members of the Board of Directors for the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center, added a new dimension to Weirton’s cultural landscape.

Then came the Weirton’s centennial in 2009. In a meeting participated by Weirton’s civic and business leaders and community organizers, old-timers wanted to revive the Festival of Nations. Juginder says, “Many of us, including those who have lived here for a long time, had never heard of it before. When they heard about the festival from old-timers, everyone asked me, Why don’t we create something like you did on India?'”

Dolly Luthra emceeing the Festival of Nations program.

Weirton’s glorious legacy, now seen through faded photographs and recalled by elders helped in its revival in 2009. The Luthras were active for three years — they were the chair and co-chair of the organizing committee — trying to reconnect to Weirton’s past with help from countless citizens of Weirton.

The Festival of Nations was re-started in 2009 with a parade, all singing We are the World at the Municipal Building, with artistes from Weirton and its extended neighborhood including Pittsburgh participating

Every year, attendance improved, starting from mere 400 to over 1600 people this year with twenty-one ethnic groups participating. Indians, Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese are the new entrants. People come back to participate in the parade, buy artifacts from display tables, and taste the featured multiethnic food. The Luthras made sure the gala started with an invocatory piece by Dell Fryer, or Chief White Panther, a Delaware Native American chief.

Now having acquired a building for the museum with a grant of $30,000 from the J.C. Williams foundation, the Luthras and their fellow townsmen are pleased that they were able to revive the Festival of Nations. While recognizing that the festival had seen better days in the past, they hope that it will grow in the years ahead.

Dolly Luthra says, “When my father, a PWD (Public Works Department) engineer, was part of the team that built Chandigarh in India, little did I know that decades later, I will be involved in trying to rebuild another city not physically, but culturally, far away from India. That is very satisfying to me.”

L ro R: Dennis Jones, President, Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center; Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia; and Dolly and Juginder Luthra.

The Luthras are also path breakers in other ways. They are the founding members of Triveni, a cultural organization with Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani members to share the common ethos of the Indian subcontinent. Under the Triveni banner, in 2010 the Luthras were instrumental in showcasing the creativity of visual artists among Indians in the Pittsburgh Metro area under one roof in Monroeville to display their works.

Soft-spoken and warm, the Luthra’s dedication to Weirton that has seen better days is admirable. The Luthras went forward with the limited resources they had.

Along the way, in their efforts to rebuild the Weirton’s glorious legacy, they have befriended a diverse cross section of people in the community. Weiron too, has embraced them even tighter than before.


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Retirement Communities and Senior Centers for Indian Immigrants to the USA

Balwant N. Dixit PhD Phone: (412) 963-8023

(I respectfully dedicate this paper to the Late Dr. Ashok Sapre of Murrieta, California for his pioneering efforts in promoting ideas to help Indian immigrant seniors to the North America. His numerous contributions have led the path for all of us to follow. Dr. Sapre passed away on September 14, 2021)

Note: The most of the information mentioned in this article about the Indian Retirement Communities and senior centers is obtained from respective websites. Most often website information is given for promotional purposes and emphasizes most desirable aspects. The graphics are also not realistic since they are most often generated from computer graphics. It is very difficult to get the real information except when a person visits an establishment and spends time and gathers information from the residents and managers. Such visits are rare. One example is a brief report made by the late Dr. Ashok Sapre on ShantiNiketan.  

Indian immigration to the USA: I arrived in the USA from India in 1962 on a one year International Fellowship in Pharmacology.  At that time there were only about 4000 persons of Indian origin in the USA. Although Indian immigrants entered the USA as early as1920 significant immigration is of very recent origin because of the legislative barriers due to the laws such as the 1917 Immigration Act preventing any immigration from India. As of 2019 there were about 2.7 million Indian immigrants in the USA.  This increase was principally due to the passage by US Congress of the 1965 Immigration & Nationality Act removing national-origin quotas and basing immigration on having the economically desirable skills. This was the reason that from 1980 to 2019 the Indian immigrant population in the USA increased almost 13 fold, reflecting in the fact that most of the current Indian Immigrants (about 2,500,000) are comparatively a young ranging 35 to 70 yrs. in age. Then there is a significant income disparity between the early immigrants and the later arrivals. However, no reliable quantitative data are available. This highly skewed population in age and in income has important consequences as related to retirement readiness. In the USA population of 330 million, about 54 million are over 65 and retired (16.3%) and verifiable data on what USA Senior citizens want as far as their retirement is concerned are easily available, while in the Indian 65+ seniors estimated at about 200,000 (7.4%) it is very difficult to ascertain what Indian seniors want, since verifiable data are unavailable.

The Retirement Communities in the USA.

There are an estimated 80,000 Retirement Communities of various types, operated by organizations (for profit, non-profit, religious, self-managed etc.) serving 25 + million USA senior citizens, mostly complying with the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. As far as I know, several hundred Indian immigrants have moved into the age based American Independent retirement communities such as the Sun City Center in Florida, Age based Independent retirement Community in Marietta, California, Traditions of America near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in a few other states.

Earlier efforts made to build “For Indians Only” Retirement Community in the USA.

In 2007, a workshop by the National Indo-American Association for Senior Citizens (NIAASC) was organized in New York and the following items were discussed. Where to spend golden years” for those who immigrated to USA in early 60s. Since the Joint family system was no longer a viable option for those in the USA and it may not be feasible for most NRIs to move back to India OR to stay with their children in the USA, a plan was announced to develop a retirement community near Atlantic City, (NJ), for the seniors of Indian origin, slated to open in 2008. For various reasons the venue was changed to Florida.  A suitable site was selected in the Taveres County near Orlando and plans were finalized to construct a facility called ShantiNiketan.  The ground breaking ceremony took place on June 17, 2009 at the hands of Iggy Ignatius, the originator & CEO.

Current, age based (55+ or 60+), independent Retirement Communities for Indian Immigrants, in the USA.

(i) Ownership:        

Name of the Community, type of housing & Contact detailsLocation (State)Type of the facilityAmenities  Present status and remarks
ShantiNiketan (Houses, Condos and townhouses). Contact: (352) 508.7060  Florida  Age based Independent living. No provision for long term care. Nursing care facility under considerationDining Hall/Theater. Daily chef prepared three vegetarian meals. Each residential unit with its own kitchen. Prayer room, Library/Computer room, club house with a gymDevelopment in several phases. Over 150 units sold out. Some of the houses/condos owned by seasonal occupants  
Serenity Reserve (85 Houses). Contact: (407) 212-0123 (JAGK7518@GMAIL.COM)  FloridaAge based Independent living. No provision for long term care.Club house, pool, central kitchen, banquet hall, outdoor lounge, fitness center, yoga and meditation room, library, movie theaterSold out. Opportunities for resale exist
Anand Vihar (Houses & Townhouses (Costs from $179,000 to $329,000)FloridaAge based Independent living. No provision for long term care.A recreation center, a swimming pool. A dining hall with flexible meal options, a fitness center, a movie/media room, tennis and pickle ball courts, a prayer & meditation room and a gazebo for relaxingSold out. Some of the houses/condos owned by seasonal occupants. Opportunities for resale exist             
Nalanda Estates (83 homes. Cost: $305,990 to $525,990. Contact:FloridaAge based Independent living. No provision for long term care.Club house, banquet hall, Commercial kitchen, fitness center, prayer room, walking trails, theater, zen gardenSold out. Opportunities for resale exist
Verandah (51 Townhomes, 75 Condos and several houses, Handicapped accessible (Costs from $390,000, with monthly charges, $4,637-$6,028. Contact: (312) 952-1802. (  Illinois (Chicago)A CCRC with a 100 bed hospital on the campusDining room,  library, Beauty salon, Restaurant-style dining. Indian and American LifestylesSold out

(ii)  Rental Apartments

Priya Living: Various locations in California with completely furnished rental apartments for senior citizens, with unique shared spaces and Innovative programming.  Contact: 408 – 310 – 5112. ( Monthly rent: $2,395-$3,100

Name of the CommunityLocationType of the facilityAmenities
CITY CENTER.  Fremont, CA.94538.Independent living. No provision for long term care  Outdoor recreation spaces, an indoor community kitchen, a pool and cabana.  Open Courtyard   All amenities not available at every campus.
WARM SPRINGSFremont, CA.  Located in the Bay Area   
CIVIC CENTERSanta Clara, CA. Silicon valley

Retirement Communities in the planning stages

Name of the Community & type of housingLocationType of the facilityAmenitiesPresent status and remarks
Athashri (Contact: Costs:  $460,000 – $740,000            Hayward, CA.Independent living, with 150+ condominiums  + three single family homes (1-3 BR)  A kitchen + living space of 700-1800 sq. ft. Swimming pool, wellness centerOriginal developers: Pristine Homes, CA + Paranjape Schemes, Pune, India. Future plans uncertain due to problems with  financing       
Vishram Kuteer An active 55+adult community with houses. Prices: $123,000 – $215,000. Contact: (281) 337-5133    Rosenberg TXIndependent livingLocated on 23 Acres with two lakes, a recreation facility, a common vegetable garden, a meditation area, and a small Hindu TempleUncertain future
Apna Ghar. 7228 Blanco Drive, Irving, Texas 75039.  Contact: +1 (817) 891-7770Texas (Dallas)Independent living communityYoga classes, Health seminars,  Movie Theater next door, Relaxing room  with playing cards, domino, Carrom Game, Large outdoor Patio with pool and Waterfall. Three vegetarian meals,Proposed
Anand Vihar. Contact: Anand Patel, Pangea Realty Group, 1211 Tech Blvd. #150, Tampa, FL 33619Georgia (Atlanta)A high-rise luxury condo community for Indian seniors with a potential for an assisted living facilityA covered parking garage, indoor and outdoor pools, meeting spaces and a dining hall.Proposed

Nursing Care Facilities for Indian Immigrants

The “Indian Nursing Home” Program started by Dr. Mukund Thakar, a pioneer in providing nursing care services to Indian Seniors living in the USA located in (i) Kings Harbor Multicare Center (NY) (ii) Arista Care Centers (NJ) and at (iii) Smaller facilities at several other locations.

Care is provided by Indian doctors, Indian nurses and Indian therapists speaking Hindi, Punjabi and Gujarathi, with Indian vegetarian food, Indian Prayer service, a Hindu temple, Traditional Indian festivals, Indian television shows and Indian music.

The following statement by Dr. Mukund Thakar is worth mentioning here and I hope some Maharashtrian physicians and health care workers follow Dr. Thakar’s steps. “Taking care of the elderly has been my passion since I began my career as a medical professional and now I have the honor of catering to their needs 24 hours a day. I had a vision of establishing an Indian nursing home program to accommodate the Indian elderly. The Indian nursing home program was developed in 2005 by creating an environment where the Indian elderly would feel comfortable in their living arrangement and where their medical and personal needs are met to ensure their well-being and happiness.

My staff and I have been providing exceptional quality care to our Indian senior citizens from all over the country. The accurate formula of medical care enriched with the Indian culture has revolutionized the way our senior citizens are cared for in nursing homes. With multiple programs operating successfully in New Jersey and New York, I would personally like to invite you to take a tour of this unique program that brings comfort, culture, and care together under one roof.” Contact: (

Some observations, some questions and some freewheeling thoughts

(1)  “For Indians only” retirement communities currently provide housing for around 1500 seniors out of an estimated 150,000 to 20,000 Indian seniors in the USA

(2)  Almost all “For Indians” retirement communities have no provision for much needed assisted living /nursing care. Exception being Veranda in Chicago and a stand-alone Mukund Thakkar’s Arista care in NJ and New York

(3) Currently relatively very few “For Indian only” retirement communities are functional in the USA. What are the reasons? Is it the lack of interest or the lack of demand or the lack of capital or the lack of reliable market research?

(4) Why so few Indian Immigrants want to move into a retirement community for Indians?

(5) What factors determine where Indian seniors want to retire?

(6) Many Indian seniors prefer to move near their siblings, but not with them. Why?

(7) No reliable data to indicate the thinking of Indian seniors as what they want

(8) No representative business organization that can provide reliable data on Indian Seniors on retirement issues is present as it is there for the American Retirement Communities

(9) Let Indian seniors join a senior care community (such as a CCRC) that can provide all the necessary care from A to Z. Needs lot of financial recourses. There are 2000 such communities in the USA

(10) Go by yourself and take care of yourselves the best way you can with whatever resources you can muster and with whatever help you can get.

(11) Let us negotiate with our grown up children in what way we can help them in advancing their life objectives such as the education of their children (e. g. by         contribution to the 529 college savings plans), improving their house etc. and in return request them to accommodate us and our limited needs. This is already happening on a ver limited scale. It may be necessary to modify their existing house. Reestablish JOINT FAMILY structure with a modern twist!

(12) Let the seniors join any age defined Independent American Retirement Community, and sign up for a Continuing Care at Home Program (CCHP) or call any of the Home Care agencies, such as Home Instead, to receive the care one needs at home.

(13) Almost every city in the USA has several Indian Restaurant. Arrange a “Meals on Wheel” type of meal delivery program (e.g. 5 days/week) to seniors by subscription.

Senior Citizen Centers

A Senior Citizen Center (SCC) is a relatively recent origin in the USA and it is in the very early stages as far as Indian Seniors in the USA are concerned. SCC is a type of community center where older adults can congregate to fulfill many of their social, physical, emotional, and intellectual needs.  In the USA, many towns have senior centers that are usually locally funded, though some may receive state and federal money.  An estimated 11,000 such centers serving about 1 million seniors are functional in the USA.   Usual activities at a typical Senior Center: Health & Wellness Programs, Personal growth and learning, Computer classes, Woodworking and other hobbies such as Knitting, Painting, Photography, Ceramics etc., Driver’s safety program,          Nutrition & Culinary classes, Advice on retirement investments & financial planning and income taxes

Senior Citizen Centers for Indians in the USA: Relatively few, mostly located in large cities such as the New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco etc. “India Home” is one such Senior Centers, opened in 2014 serving the (60+) South Asian Seniors in the New York City.  It serves the South Asians-one of the fastest growing and most overlooked groups of elderly in New York City.

In the Pittsburgh area currently there are two Indian Senior Centers that are very effectively providing very valuable services to the India seniors.

(1) United Seniors Association of Pittsburgh (USAP) is a service organization of senior citizens. Currently it does not have its own facility but functions very effectively as a virtual senior center. It was founded in 2017 by the seniors and for the seniors. USAP is registered as a non-profit, charitable, tax-exempt organization under the State Laws of Pennsylvania. Its goal is to promote healthy aging not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually, through education and physical participation. Anyone above age 50 is welcome to join USAP irrespective of race, religion, or nationality. Contact: (412) 908-1711. (

(2) Dhru & Gul Bhagwanani Pittsburgh Indian Senior Center (DGBP ISC): 3955 Monroeville Blvd. Monroeville, Pa 15146 with an entrance from Business 22, 3946 Wm Penn Hwy. Monroeville, Pa 15146. Total area of 4500 sq. ft. to be opened in mid-2022: It consists of an office, exercise Room, a small prayer room (temple), a social hall, a dining hall, a nap room or a resting room (emergency use), a full service commercial kitchen and a meeting room/ social hall with the capacity of 100 and designated parking for the handicapped. All facilities will be compliant with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The entrance and access will be located at the street level. It is being funded from a trust left by a physician & her husband, and donations received from patrons. The center is planned to have senior friendly & modern high-tech amenities as well as safety & security. The attendees will not need to pay any fees or charges for the facility, food & all the activities & programs offered.


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Aksharaabhyasam in Pittsburgh on Vijayadasami Day During the Sharada Navaratri in Fall 2021

By K S Venkataraman

During Vijayadasami (the 10th and the concluding day of the Sharada Navaratri in Fall, which was in October 2021 this year), the Pittsburgh Chinmaya Mission organized the traditional akshara-abhyasam ceremony, initiating the 4 to 6-year-olds to their long journey — 20 or more years — in studies, learning and education.

Pandit Shri Dharmateja Nagalingam at the Pittsburgh Chinmaya Mission helping parents with the Akshraabhyasam ceremony

In the picture above, Pandit Shri Dharmateja Nagalingam at the Mission is helping parents with children sitting on their laps to write Om Ganeshaaya namah, Om Vaagdevyai namah or Om Namasshivaya or Om Narayanaya namah on slates using chalk pieces while reciting Sanskrit hymns.


At the Mookambika Temple: The priest is writing Om on the tongue of a child with her father’s gold ring.

Typical Aksharabhyasam ceremony at the famous Mookambika Temple where the presiding Devi is worshipped as Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parashakti.

This famous temple is situated close to Mangaluru in Karnataka, India. Here parents or family elders initiate their kids to writing on rice paddy spread on brass plates using turmeric root as pencils. A detailed article here: — END


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