Prayer leader

Rajan Zed

Photo By David Robert

The Nevada State Assembly opened its session with a Hindu prayer for the first time on March 19. It was led by Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain and director of public affairs of the Hindu Temple of Northern Nevada. RN&R spoke with him before the session. He’ll also give the blessing at the Nevada State Senate session on May 7 in Carson City, another first. In April, he’ll teach Hinduism classes at Truckee Meadows Community College. Of his fellow Indians living in the area, he says, “You don’t see us, but we are here.”

Is there a physical Hindu temple here?

No, we don’t have a temple here. We have what’s called the Hindu Temple of Northern Nevada, and we are raising funds to build a temple. The closest temples are in Yuba City, Sacramento and Livermore.

How long have you been in Reno?

Since 1997.

Did you come here from India?

I came from California. I like it here. We have over 500 families here in Northern Nevada. We speak different languages. In India, we have 18 different languages in our Constitution. They are not dialects—they have different scripts. … Most are here. So in order to communicate, we speak to each other in English. The Indians here, most are from Gujarat, Punjab, Andhra /Pradesh.

What about you?

Himachal Pradesh. … So, we have the India Association of Northern Nevada. It takes care of the affairs of East Indians. Then the Hindu Temple; it raises money for the temple. I’m on the board of directors for both groups. The Hindu Temple, we have prayers about once a month [at various people’s homes]. … They post notices at the Indian grocery stores, so even the non-Indians, sometimes they show up.

And they’re welcome?

Yes. Hindus, we don’t proselytize. … The only condition you have is you take off your shoes before you go into the temple or house.

You’re giving a blessing or prayer at the state assembly. How did that come about?

I work as a chaplain in area hospitals in Northern Nevada. So I attend the meetings also of all the other chaplains. The other chaplains are basically pastors. So we are very friendly with each other. I am also active with the interfaith association here. Over Thanksgiving, we had it in the Methodist Church with all the representatives of different religions. It’s very interesting to go there—Catholics, Mormons, Jews. It is very good. The pastor coordinator for the legislature, he also comes, too. So we talked. I said, “So you have prayers from different denominations sometimes—Presbyterians, others. So, can I try?” He said, “Of course.” And he scheduled me. … This is the first time they’re having Hindu prayer in the history of Nevada legislature. … They’re sending a man from Washington D.C., with “Voice of America” to cover it. And national newspapers in India have covered it.

What does this mean to you?

It’s good. It means we’ve come a long way. I congratulate ourselves and Nevada also for offering us this chance. It’s good. This is very accepting, you know, we feel welcome that way.

Do you think Reno is relatively accepting to Hindus?

I think there’s a mystery about eastern religions, and people want to unlock the mystery. … I don’t see much discrimination. But discrimination is the nature of human beings. We will discriminate when we get the opportunity. Everywhere in the world there is discrimination. … But, overall, I don’t feel much discrimination because people want to learn about us.