The San Diego Indian American Society was founded on January 14, 1984 by Professor M. C. “Madhu” Madhavan with the support of Mrs. and Mr. Arjun Waney, Mrs. and Dr. Maneck Wadia, Mrs. and Mr. Harry Singh Jr and others with the objectives of:

(a) establishing Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Scholarship to recognize Gandhiji’s contribution to the humankind and to benefit San Diego area high school graduates;

(b) undertaking projects to serve people in India and San Diego;

(c) recognizing meritorious service to the society by an individual in any field in the United States and in India;

(d) furthering the relations between India and the United States. The Society was granted tax-exempt status under section 501 (c) (3) of the IRS code.

Summary of its activities since inception

SDIAS has awarded so far over $500,000 in scholarship, organizes cultural events and quarterly symposia, recognizes outstanding individuals for their monumental contribution to humankind with Chakra award and has supported educational and health projects in India.

Its activities include:

  1. Annual Mahatma Gandhi memorial lecture, inaugurated by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1984, is delivered every year by a very distinguished person and 33 rd memorial lecture was delivered by Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asia, U.S. State Department.
  2. Over the years, about 500 outstanding area high school graduates were honored with Mahatma Gandhi scholarship awards and 66 talented area high school graduates from families with no college education with Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) scholarships for four years. These students write an essay on Non-violence and its impact on the society. Besides, they also receive U.S. Congressional and California State Legislative certificates. These scholarships of about $50,000 commitment in recent years are entirely supported by people of India origin. 34 th Annual Mahatma Gandhi memorial lecture and awards ceremony will be held in June 2017.
  3. Festival of Lights- Diwali Celebrations in Balboa Park in association with Mingei International Museum, San Diego Museum of Art and India Related Associations, a City- wide event held every year in October, has become one of the unique cultural events in San Diego attracting about 10,000 people. Besides the exhibition of large lamps of ancient designs, 3 to 8 feet tall, representing various regions and faiths and rainbow of dances from various states in India, culminating in 1008 light procession, Festival of Dolls – Navaratri celebrations is also held. Indian delicacies add additional dimension to Indian cultural experience. We will be celebrating 10 th Annual Festival of Lights this year on October 14th.
  4. Fourteenth Annual Unity in Diversity – Festival of Dances will be held on March 26, 2017 in Poway Center for Performing Arts. Besides show casing different dance styles of India we also include dances from other countries. This attracts about 700 people.
  5. Distinguished people for their monumental contribution to humankind are recognized occasionally with CHAKRA AWARD. Yogananda Paramahansa was the first person so honored in 1991 and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen was the ninth person in 2006. Others are late Congressman Dalip Singh Saund (first person of Asian descent in US Congress), Dr. Amar Bose (pioneer of sound system), John Kapoor (distinguished entrepreneur), Arjun Waney (Raja of Rag Trade), Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar, Maestro Zubin Mehta and late Harry Singh Sr (Pioneer farmer and tomato king in US).
  6. SDIAS has supported about 30 projects in areas of education and health to benefit people in Orissa, Punjab, Gujarat, Tamilnadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
  7. Quarterly symposium are generally held in January, April, July and October of every year.

Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Lectures 

Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of Salk vaccine and founder of Salk Institute, inaugurated San Diego Indian American Society on October 2, 1984 and delivered the first Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Lecture in San Diego County Auditorium with Ambassador Peter Sinai in the chair. Ten outstanding high school graduates of San Diego area high schools irrespective of national origin, chosen by the selection committee chaired by Captain Carr of US Navy from nominations received from San Diego area high schools, were recognized as Mahatma Gandhi scholars. Certificates and cash awards were distributed to them.

One of the requirements for Gandhi scholar award is writing an essay on non-violence as a policy tool to deal with global and societal problems.

Mahatma Gandhi memorial lectures have been organized by San Diego Indian American Society continuously without any interruption and the Thirty Fourth Annual Mahatma Gandhi memorial lecture will be held in June 2017.

These lectures provide an opportunity to evaluate Gandhiji’s contribution to humankind and remind ourselves of our responsibility to contribute to harmonious development of our society.

Distinguished peace activists, artists, scientists, diplomats, academicians and elected officials have delivered these lectures to packed audience from different walks of life. Silver jubilee event was unique in that two of Gandhiji’s grandsons, Dr. Raj Mohan Gandhi (son of Devadas Gandhi) and Arun Gandhi (son of Manilal Gandhi) appeared for the first time on the same stage to talk about their grandfather in a manner no one else could have done. It was indeed a day to remember and a sight to see.

Others who delivered the Mahatma Gandhi memorial lectures are: Dr. John Sommerville, recipient of Gandhi Peace Medal and author of ‘No First Strike Initiative’; Bharat Ratna Maestro Pundit Ravi Shankar, world re-known scientists Roger Revelle, Herbert York, V. Ramanathan, Inder Verma and V.S. Ramachandran; Management guru C. K. Prahalad, Reputed academicians Dr. William Brody, Dr.Pradeep Khosla and Dr.Mary Anne Foxe; Assistant Secretaries of State, US State Department, Robert Blake, Nisha Desai Biswal and Jeffery Davidow; Indian Ambassadors Abid Hussain, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Naresh Chandra, Meera Shankar, Nirupama Rao, Kishen Rana, Kanwal Sibal, T.P. Sreenivasan, Nirupam Sen and Sushil Dubey; United States Congressmen Bob Filner, Jim Bates, Duncan Hunter and Ami Bera.

Indian Ambassadors to US T.N. Kaul, Kewal Singh, K.R. Narayanan and Lalit Mansingh; and Indian Ambassadors to United Nations Krishnan, Prabhakar Menon and Ronen Sen and almost all Indian consul generals at San Francisco have participated in other programs more than once.

Mahatma Gandhi Scholarship

The main purpose of establishing this scholarship is to provide an opportunity for high school students in San Diego County to learn about Gandhiji’s humane philosophy and inherent spirituality in seeking truth and his non-violent approach to conflict resolution and peace building which helped India achieve its independence from Britain. It will be a vehicle to provide opportunity for people of India origin to contribute to Mahatma Gandhi Trust Fund that will be used to award scholarships to high school seniors to further their education.

Each high school in San Diego County is invited, using the Mahatma Gandhi Scholarship application, to nominate two outstanding seniors for the awards. One of the major criteria for the award is writing an essay to evaluate non-violence concept as a policy tool to further harmonious development of humankind. These applications are reviewed and evaluated by a committee of people drawn from different walks of life. These scholars now receive cash awards of between $1,000 and $2,000 and United States Congressional certificate naming them as Gandhi scholars issued by United States Congressmen and woman of San Diego County. These are presented in the annual Mahatma Gandhi memorial lecture and awards ceremony.

To date, about 500 outstanding students have been recognized for their scholastic achievement, their participation in community development projects and their knowledge about non-violence irrespective of their national origin. Nearly one fifth of these scholars is of India origin. When they walk to receive their awards one may be reminded of United Nations.

This event is coordinated by Ramesh Rao, M.C. Madhavan, Ray Patel and others

Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Scholarship

This program originated in San Diego and is now nationwide. These scholarships are mainly intended to provide opportunities for accomplished high school students from families with no college education. We began recognizing and supporting these students beginning 2005, thanks to Dr. P.K. Patel’s initiative. These recipients receive scholarship for a period of four years ranging between $4,000 and $8,000.

For the first ten years, San Diego County Office of Education AVID committee recommended students hoping to major in STEM areas for our interviews. It was an experience that we could not forget. Beginning 2015, San Diego Foundation recommends students to consider for awards.

To date, we have supported about 70 students under this program and it the most rewarding. We are trying to encourage people of India origin to consider supporting at least one such student after their siblings complete their collegiate education. It is our goal to support 10 such students in the near future.

This scholarship is coordinated by Hema Lall, Sabodh Garg, P.K. Patel and others.

The Chakra Award

It is an award given to an individual or a group by the Society for channeling one's energy to achieve distinction in the chosen field of endeavor and to contribute to the betterment of humankind in general, India and United States in particular. 

The first Chakra Award saluted the pioneers of India Origin posthumously, honoring Paramahansa Yogananda, Congressman Dalip Singh Saund and Harry Singh of San Diego. Ambassador Prabhakar Menon was the Chief Guest. Brother Ramananda accepted the honor on behalf of Self-Realization Fellowship; Mrs. Dalip Singh Saund for her husband and Harry Singh Jr for his father.

The second annual Chakra Award was a salute to Indian Entrepreneurs. Dr. Amar Bose, Chairman, Bose Corporation and Professor at M.I.T, Arjun Waney, Chairman, Beeba’s Creations, Dr. John Kapoor, Chairman, E.J. Financial Enterprises were the recipients of the awards.  Lalit Thapar, Chairman, Thapar Group was the chief guest, and Ambassador Sati Lambah was the guest of honor. 

The Third Annual Chakra Award saluted Maestros Bharat Ratna Pundit Ravi Shankar and Zubin Mehta. Dr. Jonas Salk was the chief guest and Francoise Gilot–Salk was the guest of honor. 

On October 5, 2006, Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen was honored with the Chakra Award. Dr. Irwin Jacobs, Chairman, Qualcomm presented the award. Congressman Bob Filner, San Diego City Council President Scott Peters and Dr. Sanjay Jha felicitated Dr. Sen.

The Chakra, 10 inches in diameter, is a replica of Konarak Wheel and was made of pure silver with gold overlay.

Sharing Indian Culture

One of the major objectives of San Diego Indian American Society is to share Indian culture and values with our brothers and sisters of San Diego. Towards this end, San Diego Indian American Society organizes three events every year: Unity in Diversity: Festival of Dances in March, Festival of Lights: Diwali Celebrations in October and Festival of Dolls: Navratri Celebrations in October.

Unity in Diversity was inaugurated by Ambassador Lalit Mansingh in 2004 and was co- sponsored with San Diego County Office of Education emphasizing Indian languages and cultures. A brochure was produced to help San Diego area elementary school teachers in teaching about India. It was held in Joan Kroc Theater for Arts. Full house of 650 people necessitated closing the doors to prevent more people coming in. Variety program coordinated by Madhavan, Amy Kumar, Hamid Daudani, Neelu Bhardwaj and others were so successful that it gave impetus to continue into the future.

Since 2005, Poway Center for Performing Arts is the new venue for the event. It is an enjoying afternoon of exquisite Indian classical, modern and folk dances and dramas in many Indian languages performed by people from different states in India. In the last five years, we have added modern, classical and folk dances and percussion instruments from other countries in Asia, Europe and South America. Fourteenth Annual Unity in Diversity: Festival of Dances will be held on March 26, 2017.

We honor a distinguished person as Chief Guest in this event.

Ram Seshan is the director of the Fourteenth Annual Unity in Diversity: Festival of World Dances to be held on March 26, 2017 and is assisted by M.C. Madhavan, Jonathan Bosco and directors of various performing groups. Generally, over 100 artists participate in the event.

Festival of Lights: Diwali Celebrations, organized in association with Mingei International Museum, San Diego Museum of Art and other India related associations, was inaugurated in 2008 and is held in Balboa Park. It has become a city wide event attended by about 10,000 San Diegans of all hues. Tenth Annual event will be held on October 14, 2017.

Inaugural Festival of Lights: Diwali celebrations was organized within a short period due in large part to the support received from Mingei International Museum and 1008 small brass lamps loaned by Stephen Huily a well known art critic from Newyork and beautifully, artistically arranged by Ava Bhavsar with assistance from Manjula Jain. Indian music and dance formed part of the event. Nearly 1,000 people attended the event, highest at that time for an event of this nature.

In subsequent years, we use lamps designed and made in India. Festival of Lights attempts to present in large strokes the lamps used in different traditions, faiths and regions of India. It is in the fascinating variety of lamps that we see the art of the creative craftsmanship from the past to the present. Here we present fourteen different types of lamps, recreated from ancient designs, varying in sizes from 3 feet to 8 feet.

An enthralling Rainbow Dances from different states in India in at least 14 different regional languages and a delightful music intermingled with modern dances are performed on Organ Pavilion stage, culminating in 1008 light procession of 64 exquisitely sari clad women from different states in India.

We honor a chief guest every year and Revered Mrinalini Mata, President of Self Realization Fellowship was the chief guest in our Ninth Annual Festival Lights held on October 15th , 2016.

Delectable and mouthwatering Indian delicacies available during the festival will add to Indian experience to the attendees.

Over 300 people help in organizing the event and it is coordinated by M.C. Madhavan, Hamid Daudani, Manish Parikh, Neelu Bhardwaj, Ram Seshan, Jas Grewal, Jonathan Bosco, Martha Ehringer and many others.

Festival of Dolls: Navarathri Celebrations is our latest effort in 2015 to share one aspect of Indian culture where faith and art are interwoven to realize divine feminine energy. This divine feminine energy which necessarily resides within all of us, regardless of whether we are male or female, represents creative aspects within the universe such as life, renewal, harmony, healing, receptivity, openness, nurturing, divine love, understanding, compassion, insight, intuition, wisdom, forgiveness etc. The harmonious balance between the “male” and “female” creative energies within each of us helps to be complete and normal beings.

The simple philosophy of the Festival of Dolls (Navarathri) is that all beings should introspectively live their lives with inner awareness, continually evolving in their spiritual quest. This evolutionary concept is portrayed in Navarathri through ascending nine steps, on which different stages of evolution are displayed in the form of dolls.

Besides the traditional way of presenting the dolls to celebrate Navarathri in India for nine days in September/October with music and dance, we have expanded to include dolls from other cultures such as China, Japan, Mexico and others in this exhibition held in Mingei International Museum in October.

Dolls varying in sizes from few inches to 30 inches tall and numbering over few hundreds are exhibited in a beautiful artistic way in Mingei auditorium and the space is adorned with Indian motif designs. Indian classical music and dances performed by very talented artists add to the spiritual significance of the event.

This exhibition is coordinated by Latha Sundar, Deepa Prahalad and Martha Ehringer of Mingei Museum with support from Nangavalli and Ahila Ramasubramaniam, Lakshmi Mullaguru and countless number of others.

Symposia and Lectures 

To improve understanding of India among San Diegans, the Society has organized over 85 symposia and lectures on variety of subjects such as Indian economic and political conditions, Investment Opportunities in India, Indian Thought in World Perspective, Continuing Relevance of India’s Vision, India’s Contribution to Science and Mathematics, India’s Role in World Affairs, Indian American Entrepreneurs in Internet Era, Indian Painting: Binney Collection, Non-violence: A Way to Combat Terrorism, India-US Nuclear Agreement and Beyond, India- Pakistan Relations, Women Indian American Entrepreneurs, India – US Economic Relations, Diabetes among South Asians, Managing Children’s Health and a host of other topics.

In the 1990s, these were arranged in cooperation mainly with San Diego State University Asian Studies Department during the fall and spring semesters. After 2001, these were mainly held in Qualcomm Q auditorium sometimes in association with San Diego World Affairs Council, UCSD and other India related organizations.

After some lapse of time, we have now restarted the series in 2015 hoping to arrange in quarterly intervals.

People who participated in the lecture and symposium programs include: Ambassadors K.R. Narayanan, Ronen Sen, Lakhan Mehrotra, Kishen Rana, Meera Shankar and Sati Lambah, Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, Dr. V. Ramanathan, Dr. Ramesh Rao, Dr. Ramesh Jain, Dr. M.C. Madhavan, Dr. Suhas Patil, Vinod Dham, Latha Krishnan, Talat Hassan, Dr. Derrick Cartwright, Dr. Dipak Gupta, Dr. Stanley Wolpert, Dr. Vali Nasr, Dr. Suresh Subramani, Dr. Inder Verma, Ambassadors B.S. Prakash and Sushil Dubey, Bina Murarka, Nimmi Ranganathan, Dr. Anita Raj, Gayatri Sellakumar, Dr. Alka Kanaya, Dr. Sundar Mudaliar and Glen Callahan.

Projects in India 

San Diego Indian American Society has so far funded 26 projects mainly in the areas of education and health transferring about $175,000 to Indian institutions that received our support.

Some of these projects are: Eye Hospital in Orissa, Thapar Engineering College in Patiala, Renovation of a high school in Gujarat, Kalinga Health, Education and Research Foundation in Orissa, Adivasi development project in Gujarat, Orphanage and school project in Tamilnadu, Cancer care project in Tamilnadu, Secondary School reconstruction project in Orissa, Medical and Education Trust in Dabhel, Gujarat, Elementary School expansion project in Andhra Pradesh and Science lab in Bihar and scholarship projects and community development programs in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Tamilnadu.