First Taylorsville City Council meeting of 2019 opens with a Hindu prayerJan 30, 2019 10:29AM ● By Carl Fauver
Visiting Hindu spiritual leader Swami Sandeepananda Giri teaches members of the Taylorsville City Council, “Namaste,” the universally recognized salutation of his faith. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
More than 20 years after his untimely death, country music legend John Denver has a new fan — a Hindu spiritual leader who traveled nearly halfway around the earth to offer the first Taylorsville City Council moment of reverence of 2019.
“I love the mountains — all monks love mountains — we worship mountains,” Swami Sandeepananda Giri, 51, said prior to the Jan. 9 council meeting. “Last night, I had tears as I watched a John Denver interview on television. His song (‘Rocky Mountain High’) is all about love of the mountains.”
So, it is probably safe to assume Giri is enjoying his view of the Wasatch Front during this second visit to Utah. And just as he did last time, in 2015, Giri is staying at the home of Taylorsville Planning Commission member Lynette Wendel.
“I met Giri when he came to speak at the Parliament of World’s Religions at the Salt Palace Convention Center in 2015,” Wendel said. “They were looking for Utah families to host visitors, and it was purely by coincidence he ended up at our home.”
Wendel and Giri were among some 10,000 attendees at that conference, which they say addresses “mutual understanding of religions in a world where it is very necessary.”
“More than 100 faiths — and 100 countries — are typically represented at the parliament,” Wendel added. “Guest speakers address many critical topics, such as poverty, environmental sustainability and other current issues. The parliament was like the Olympics for world peace. I had to attend. It was a life-changing experience.”
So too, it would seem, was meeting Giri.
“My 2015 visit was my second Parliament of World Religions (Melbourne 2009) and my first visit to Utah,” Giri added. “I like it here and am glad to be back.”
Giri and Wendel renewed their acquaintance last fall in Toronto, Canada, at the most recent religions parliament.
Giri hails from one of India’s southernmost cities, Trivandrum, in the state of Kerala.
The United States Census Bureau reports India is the second-most populated country in the world, while the United States is third (both behind China).
But lest we ever think Wasatch Front traffic jams are unbearable, other population comparisons between the U.S. and India are staggering. For starters, Giri’s home state of Kerala has 2,200 people per square mile — yet is only India’s 13th-most densely populated state. The No. 1 most densely populated state in America, New Jersey, has just over half that population density, at 1,210 people per square mile.
Unmarried, and with no children, Giri is staying eight weeks with the Wendel family in Taylorsville, through February.
“I am attending six-hour English classes each day (through the Granite School District continuing education program), visiting the library regularly and learning all about the [UTA] bus system,” he said.
Lynette added, her visiting friend is also “earning his keep” at her home.
“He is an incredible cook,” she said. “Just a week after he arrived, Giri spent seven hours preparing food for a dinner party. We just make sure we have food in the house and he does his magic.”
“I love spices,” Giri said. “And I can make any dish.”
At each city council meeting, the mayor — or a council member — is tasked with making arrangements for the moment of reverence. In 2018 alone, these included prayers, patriotic readings and even a musical number. For the first meeting of 2019, the council’s Diversity Committee liaison, Curt Cochran, had that responsibility.
“Lynette knows of my involvement on the committee and told me Swami Giri was going to be visiting,” Cochran said. “I thought it would be wonderful to have him offer a reverence. We don’t see the Hindu faith represented a lot here in Utah, so I was glad to see it.”
In an effort to continue the theme of diversity, Cochran said he already invited a Vietnamese spiritual group to preside over the city council moment of reverence; the next time it is his turn to arrange it.
For the record, the most recent estimates indicate Christianity is the world’s leading religion with 31.5 percent claiming that as their faith. Islam ranks No. 2 (23.2 percent), followed by Hindu (15 percent) and Buddhism (7 percent).
“This area is very nice — quiet and calm,” Giri said, moments before offering his city council prayer. “I love the mountains, which in my religion have souls and character.”
When he finally gets around to packing for his return to India, it’s anyone’s guess how many John Denver CDs will be in the suitcase.