BOSTON–Mahesh Mehta, founder and the former president of World Hindu Council of America, known as VHPA by its Hindi acronym as VHPA, passed away peacefully in India on Dec. 14. He was 86.
Bostonian Abhaya Asthana, Chairman of the Advisory Board and past president of VHPA, said: “Mahesh Bhai’s life is a “Jyoti Punj”, a beacon that will continue to inspire and guide the Hindu Diaspora forever. People like him who dedicate every moment of their life in service of others truly construct world history.”
In late 1960s, when Hindus started to immigrate to the US in significant numbers very it was rare to find mandirs (temples) or community organizations. There was an acute need of institutions that provided religious and cultural education to children of the first-generation immigrant community. To fulfill this need, in 1970, Mr. Mehta founded VHPA and subsequently, served as the General Secretary and the President of the organization for several years, VHPA said in a statement.
VHPA under the leadership of Maheshbhai pioneered weekend Hindu schools (Balvihars) and Summer Youth Camps for the Hindu children growing up in US. This model of youth education has now been successfully adopted by almost all the Hindu organizations and temples. National, regional and local Hindu conferences brought together Hindu community to network and explore issues ranging from parenting to challenges faced by the small and geographically dispersed Hindu community in America. It also presented an avenue for early immigrants to explore opportunities offered by their newly adopted homeland.
VHPA statement said that Mr. Mehta, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) swayamsevak since his childhood, he spent several years as Sangh pracharak (full-time volunteer). He also served as the President of the Gujarat state for Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Inspired by the second Sarsanghchalak of RSS, Param Pujaniya Guru Golwalkarji, Maheshbhai dedicated his life to building the Hindu movement and Hindu identity in North America.
“He positioned Hindus as the leading contributors to the growth and development of their adopted country. His work in the USA has been foundational; and now it has grown into a tree of many branches. He was instrumental in establishing Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindu University of America, Hindu Students Council (HSC), Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC) India Quality Group, and Global Indians for Bharat Vikas (GIBV) among many others,” the statement said.
Under Mr. Mehta’s leadership, VHPA held several highly successful events. The first International Hindu conference in 1984 at Madison Square Garden, New York saw participation by 4,500 delegates. 10,000 delegates attended the Global Vision 2000 conference held in 1993 to commemorate centenary of Swami Vivekanand’s Chicago Address of 1893. Dharma Samsad (Parliament) in the USA was held in 1998 followed by a 10-day Dharma Prasaar Yaatra in ten major cities with participation of 15,000 people in 1999. In the United Nations Millennium Peace Summit in the year 2000, 108 eminent Hindu spiritual leaders (Sant-Mahatmas) and scholars from Bharat participated in spiritual discussions at the United Nations (UNO) followed by lecture tours across US and followed by Hindu Sangam program at Staten Island, NY, where the then Prime Minister of Bharat Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee was also present.
Hindu community internationally sought Mr. Mehta’s advice. He traveled across the world to help motivate and organize the Hindu community. He served as a Central Vice-President and a member of the Board of Trustees and Governing Council of Vishwa Hindu Parishad
“A strong proponent of Indian democracy, Maheshbhai was the cofounder of Indians For Democracy (IFD) that organized protests from USA during 1975-77 against the clamping of illegal and undemocratic Emergency in Bharat by the then Government of PM Indira Gandhi,” the statement said. “He was the founding member of the Friends of India Society International in 1976 and very successfully championed the cause of democracy in Bharat. Maheshbhai helped found Overseas Friends of BJP. Maheshbhai was a close confidante of Bharat’s Prime Minister Shree Narendrabhai Modi for many years.”
He was one of the organizers of the Madison Square Garden (NY) program in September 2014, attended by 20,000 members of Indian diaspora where the Prime Minister of Bharat Shri Narendra Modi was the chief guest. The President of India awarded him Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award in 2017 for his Community Services.
“Maheshbhai was the soul of VHPA. He was a great motivator, and exceptional organizer. He created a large number of volunteers to work for the VHPA. There are hundreds of workers in USA and many other countries who were inspired by Maheshbhai to serve the society at large and Hindu society in particular. His legacy will live through countless workers who were inspired by his leadership, his dedication and untiring efforts to serve the Hindu society,” the statement said. “Maheshbhai was a thinker and influential orator. He had a deep understanding of our Sanatan Dharma, its fundamentals, its glorious as well as dark periods of history. He was well aware of the potentials of future and the current state of Hindu society. A gifted writer, he penned a book titled, Hindu Philosophy in Action, In Search of Universal Well-being tracing the journey of VHPA. His message was not just for Hindus; it was for humanity at large.”
Professionally, Mr. Mehta was a well-known research scientist in the field of membrane technology. He held two doctorate degrees and a law degree.
“VHPA shares in grief of Raginibahen, Maheshbhai’s wife who was the silent force behind Maheshbhai’s success. May Ishwar grant the departed Aatma eternal peace and the family strength to pass through this difficult time. AUM Shanti,” the statement said.
This is how some VHPA leaders reacted to the death of Mr. Mehta:
Ajay Shah, President of VHPA:
“Ma. Maheshbhai was a generational leader. He pioneered the Hindu movement in America. While his contributions to the international Hindu community are numerous, his true strength was his vision for the Hindu movement in America that was deeply rooted in the ancient Hindu philosophy. His most significant contribution was not the organizations, programs and projects that he inspired, which are numerous and everlasting, but the personal connections he made and the people he motivated to work for the Hindu cause. His work will live on, because just like the banyan tree, where roots grow to be strong connected ecosystem, the leaders and organizations he inspired will continue to strengthen the dharma in perpetuity.”
Saumitra Gokhle, Global Coordinator of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) said:
“The passing away of Adarniya Dr. Mahesh bhai Mehta is a great loss to the Hindu movement not only in America, but worldwide. He was a pioneering leader with a vision for a better world through the work of Hindu sangathan. He did that through VHPA and numerous other organizations and initiatives he undertook. His clarity of thought, courage, conviction, and above all, optimism until his last breath was truly extraordinary. In personal interactions he always mentioned how he was guided by Pujaniya Golwalkar Guruji himself. He was ever willing to share his knowledge and precious insights. Every meeting with him was a learning experience. His genuine warmth and care inspired scores of karyakartas to get involved and serve Dharma. He became their mentor for life. All such karyakartas have lost a beloved fatherly figure in their life. The karmayogi served Dharma all his life and left the body on Mokshada ekadashi. The veteran of the global Hindu movement has left behind a legacy and started his eternal journey. My vinamra shraddhanjali to Adarniya Mahesh bhai and his inspiring life. Om shanti.”
Dr. Ved Nanda, President, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), North America and Chairman, Board of Trustees, Hindu University of America said:
“No words can express my grief. I lost my dear friend, my comrade-in-arms, my soul mate, but who is still watching over us and inspiring us.”
Praying sadgati for the departed atman Swami Vigyananda, Jt. General Secretary, Vishwa Hindu Parishad remembering the contributions of Maheshbhai said:
“Maheshbhai’s life was dedicated to laying the foundation of the Hindu movement, the Hindu identity in USA and in positioning Hindus as a leading contributor in the growth and development of their esteemed adopted country. He also served as a Central Vice-President and a member of the Board of Trustees and Governing Council of Vishva Hindu Parishad. He was also one of the recipients of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman from the President of the Republic of Bharat. In his Nidhan Maa Bhaarati has lost an achiever and devoted Pravasi son! Vishva Hindu Parishad expresses its deepest condolences at this sad Nidhan and prays to Almighty to grant a pride of place to the Punyaatmaa in the Nitya Dhaam! “Na hi kalyaanakruta kaschit durgatim tat gachchhati!” “Jeevabhutah Sanaatanah” (G.15.7). Om Shantih Shantih Shantih!”
Gaurang Vaishnav, Advisory Board Member of VHPA and Executive Vice President of Global Indians for Bharat Vikas) who worked with Maheshbhai for 48 years said,
“Maheshbhai was a Yogi without ochre robes. He lived for dharma and for Hindu society. He was a compassionate man; he was rational, but not a rationalist. He was deeply spiritual. He was extremely well read and a teambuilder par excellence. It is hard to find a person with all the qualities that Maheshbhai possessed.” It can be rightly said that Dr. Mahesh Mehta was the father of Hindu Movement in USA. With Maheshbhai’s exit from this world, an epoch has ended.”
Dr. Manohar Shinde, President, Board of Trustees Dharma Civilization Foundation said:
“I first meet Maheshji in mid- 1969, when we both had just arrived from Bharath to US & since then he remained one of the most influential presences in my life; it is hard to express so many feelings in words. I cherish multiple inspiring memories of him.”
Sanjay Mehta, Past-General Secretary, and Member, Advisory Board, VHPA said:
“On the day Mahatma Gandhi left the Deha (mortal body), someone asked Acharya Vinoba Bhave (Gandhiji’s shishya) about his feelings. Often stable, Vinobaji had wet eyes and he said, “When Bapu was present in mortal form, I had to make an effort, take an appointment to see him. Now it has become easy, I close my eyes and Bapu is present right here.” Today, I have the same feelings and I’m sure many others do too.”
Ramesh Shah, CEO of Ekal Abhiyan stated:
“Respected Maheshbhai was a pioneer in volunteerism in the USA for Hindu Causes. He traveled to establish relationships with like-minded people to establish VHPA. The best tribute we can give to work for Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah with our cultural Heritage.”
Gokul Kunnath, President of United States Hindu Alliance (USHA) said:
“Maheshbhai’s pioneering work has created a better Hindu society globally, especially in North America. His departure is an irreplaceable loss to the world. As one of the founding members of the United States Hindu Alliance, he was a great source of inspiration for all USHA volunteers. We will miss him dearly.”
Nikunj Trivedi, Chairman of Hindu Students Council (HSC) and the President of Coalition of Hindus in North America (CoHNA) issued the following statement on behalf of HSC:
“I express my deepest condolences to the family of Shri Mahesh Mehta ji. Mahesh uncle, as he was known to many of us, was one of the biggest forces behind HSC’s birth and growth and a true inspiration to Hindu youth from all walks of life. His warm personality, calm demeanor and sage advice on many issues were appreciated by many of us and propelled us to work towards the preservation and protection of Hindu heritage. We miss his presence but know that he will live on via the values and energy he instilled in all of us. Om Shanti.”
Kanchan Banerjee, President, Global Indians for Bharat Vikas (GIBV) said:
“Mahesh is a name of Bhagwan Shiva. Mahesh Mehta had many of the Shiva qualities. He was a renaissance man for spreading Hindu Dharma and Culture globally, making thousands of people aware of the social and political responsibilities as Hindus – both for their karmabhoomi as well as their dharmabhoomi Bharat. He has inspired many Hindu/Indian leaders worldwide, especially in the US. His departure to the other world has left a vacuum for many as guru, guide, mentor, and a great leader. But his inspiration and vision will be working through many for years to come.”
Jyotish Parekh, past-President of VHPA said:
“Hindus in America and around the world lost a great Visionary, maglnetic leader, fighter, organizer, and mentor to many. Personally, I will cherish many years of working shoulder to shoulder with him in many small and big programs and projects for over 4 decades. Like Arjun I thought for years that he was a friend. But he was really Krishna.”
Dr. Bhishma Agnihotri, International President, Friends of India Society International (FISI) and Former Indian Ambassador-at-Large said:
“Maheshbhai is not with us physically, but he will stay with us all the time in spirit. I met Mahesh ji when I first arrived in the US. At the time he was the General Secretary of VHP, and we were working for the causes dear to all of us under his leadership. On request, he came to our Hindu Conference ’80 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where his presence was inspiring to all. When HSS commenced work in ’89, as the first Sangh Chalak, I worked closely with Mahesh ji. We became close associates and dedicated co-workers for the cause of Hinduism. Mahesh ji’ leaving us will create a big gap as he was always a source of guidance. May we have strength and commitment to carry on our common mission.”
Rahul C. Sharma, President & Editor-in-Chief of World Hindu News said:
“I first met Dr. Mahesh Mehta in 2008 Atlanta, VHPA Governing Council Meeting, I heard his speech and views and was touched by his passion for Hindu Human Rights and the vital role of Hindu Americans towards Global Hindu empowerment. He welcomed me with a smile, heard my views and provided suitable time for me to speak and appreciated. Senior or junior, he always replied to communications and never had any ego. All Hindus, irrespective of geographical region, will greatly miss this legendary and father of American Hindu movement.”
World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) is an organization of Hindus in the USA. Founded in 1970, it has chapters across the country. VHPA runs educational programs for Hindu children and youth in addition to community service (Seva) activities like Support-A-Child supporting 3000 children, and initiatives such as Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC), Hindu Priests Conference, Hindu Womens’ Network, and American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) and Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective (HinduPACT).