MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism in Reno, Nevada, delivered the opening prayer Thursday at the Martinsburg City Council meeting.
This was the first time in living memory that a non-Christian opening prayer was offered at a City Council meeting. Traditionally, the opening prayer is offered by local Protestant or Catholic clergy.
Zed, who described himself as a Hindu statesman in a news release, recited passages from ancient Hindu scriptures in Sanskrit and then translated the prayers into English.
“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selflessness, one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind,” was one of the prayers Zed read. It was from Bhagavad-Gita, one of the Hindu holy books.
He also opened and closed the prayers with Om. Om is “the mystical syllable containing the universe, which in Hinduism is used to introduce and conclude religious work,” according to the news release that had been distributed earlier by Zed.
He closed with “shanti, shanti, shanti – peace, peace, peace be unto all.”
According to Martinsburg Mayor George Karos, Zed requested to give the opening prayer at the meeting.
“He called the City Recorder (Gena Long) and said he was passing through and asked if he could give the opening prayer,” Karos said in an earlier interview. “She called Mark Baldwin (city manager) and he called me and I said, ‘Schedule him.’ I see no harm in it.”
According to officials, there were some calls protesting Zed’s appearance, and there were some calls commending the city for allowing him to offer the prayer.
No one protested Zed’s appearance Thursday during the council meeting.
Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world with an estimated 1 billion adherents. There are about 3 million Hindu adherents in the United States.
– Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128.