American Hindu Students
Keep the Faith
Hindu students at U.S. colleges place more emphasis on Hinduism's values than on its rituals.Hinduism Today with permission.
Youth regularly join together to learn about Hinduism and perform its rituals Only a small red dot on Mira's forehead gave away her Hindu beliefs. Inside her one-bedroom apartment at Indiana University, however, the walls were splashed with vibrantly colored pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. An incense stick spilled a thin line of jasmine-scented smoke into the music student's kitchen. Mira thinks it is somewhat difficult for her to be religious in college. "More people are into the social aspect of Indian culture," said Mira. Yet she has held onto the spiritual side of her heritage. Looking at the picture of Ganesha, Mira stated her simple ritual: "I think and I pray every day."
Among the approximately 100,000 Hindu university students in the United States, Mira is one of the many trying to keep true to their faith. On campuses in isolated and predominantly Christian towns, who or what is there to provide the courage, enthusiasm, or energy to keep their Hindu spirituality alive? Churches, mosques and synagogues are usually close to a college campus, but Hindu temples are harder to come by. Fortunately, there are ways for students to explore and enhance their knowledge of their Hindu heritage.
Kanchan Banerjee, one of the original founders and currently the national coordinator for the Hindu Students Council, says his group--an international student and youth forum promoting understanding of Hindu culture and heritage--has grown to 56 college chapters and five high school chapters across the United States and Canada. Thirteen other countries also maintain HSC chapters.
"We don't teach any specific sect, and always include various gurus and teachings from different areas of India," Banerjee said. A constitution sets the basic rules for the chapters, but chapters are more or less independent. Besides holding religious festival celebrations, they have study groups that meet weekly or twice a month.
"What we as a national body do is give ideas to our chapters lots of how-to stuff, books, etc." Banerjee added that HSC maintains a list of a few hundred speakers and is constantly networking with temples to provide local chapters with event sources.