Hindu students seek sanctuary
In a statement released last week, Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, asked the University for a permanent prayer room for Hindu students on campus.
Zed's press release called on the University to respond to the "presence of a substantial number of Hindu students," and provide a "designated prayer-meditation hall for rituals, quiet reflection, festivals and spiritual exercise."
The University "needs to recognize the intersection of spirituality and education, which is important in Hinduism," according to Zed. He further asked all American and Canadian universities to respond to the needs of their "considerable Hindu student bodies" and offer prayer spaces.
In an interview with the Justice, Sharada Sanduga '14, president of Namaskar-a group established to promote Hindu, Jain and Sikh culture and spiritual heritage-said that she was comforted that "outside members of the Hindu community are invested in the community here at Brandeis."
Vaishali Gupta, the newly hired Hindu chaplain, wrote in an email to the Justice that she agrees with Zed in that it is "important to meet the spiritual needs of the Hindu students on campus."
Currently, Hindu services are held in the Harlan Chapel, which was originally built for Protestant services. Weekly services are held at 7 p.m. on Thursdays, according to Gupta.
When asked why the Harlan Chapel in particular was chosen, Rev. Walter Cuenin, coordinator of the Interfaith Chaplaincy, said in an interview with the Justice that after consulting with Protestant Chaplain Matt Carriker, the Chaplaincy chose the Protestant Chapel "because it is very plain" and that this made it "a more neutral space" as opposed to the Bethlehem or Berlin Chapels (which were built for Catholic and Jewish services respectively). Gupta also stated that the chapel is an adequate space and "can definitely be used for Hindu prayers."
Sanduga stated that she believes the chapel to be an adequate space, both due to the lack of iconography and because it gives Hindu students "the opportunity and space for services."
Cuenin also told the Justice that a permanent prayer space for Hindu students is a work in progress. "Space on this campus is difficult," he explained. Gupta stated that if she sees a large number of students gather to pray and meditate, she will "communicate that with the college.
"It would be ideal to have a separate space," Sanduga told the Justice, "but it is great that steps are being taken toward that direction."
Four months ago, a chaplain and prayer space were not a reality," she added. "For that, I am grateful."
In the past few years, the Chaplaincy has moved to expand the services it offers to Hindu students. Last semester, the Chaplaincy welcomed Gupta onto the staff to serve as the University's first Hindu Chaplain since the Chaplaincy's founding in 1955, according to a Nov. 5 article in the Justice. Gupta works part time at the University and Wellesley College.
Previously, the position of imam, a Muslim cleric, was a part-time job like Gupta's; after several years, according to Cuenin, the position was made a permanent part of the Chaplaincy. Cuenin also told the Justice that the Muslim suite at Brandeis had previously served another purpose, but had been renovated as a result of student demand.
While the University does not ask for information on each student's religious affiliation, according to Cuenin, Sanduga said that she estimates there to be 250 members of the Hindu community at Brandeis, with five to 10 interested in weekly services.
When asked about the needs of the Hindu community, Sanduga told the Justice that while there was "extended discussion in the University to get where we are now," she believes the community's needs are being met in a "thorough and timely fashion."
The Universal Society of Hinduism is an organization dedicated to bringing "people and organizations of all faiths, background and beliefs together to create understanding" and building "bridges between different beliefs and backgrounds," according to its website. The society is headquartered in Reno, Nev.
Zed was the driving force behind the creation of the society, according to its website. It states that his vision was to bring people together, represent Hindus across the world, and use Hindu tenants to "create a better world and leave a better world for the future generations."