Sunday April 25th, 2010. Piscataway, New Jersey. The Rutgers chapter of the Hindu Students Council (HSC) organized its first
Hinduism Seminar at the Busch Campus Center. The seminar’s goal was to teach students about some of the basic philosophical andcultural ideas found in Hinduism.
Swapnil Patel, the chapter’s Vice President and one of the seminar organizers, commented: "This seminar helped me better understand Hinduism and how it’s not just another religion but it is also full of spiritual teachings to improve our way of life."
On a rainy Sunday, over 30 students and community members gathered at The Cove for the six hour seminar. Anshu Trikha, the chapter President, started the seminar by giving a brief overview about the chapter and the seminar. Thereafter, Dr. Ved Chaudhary, president of Educators’ Society for the Heritage of India (ESHI) and Assistant Commissioner for finance and budget in the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection, highlighted some of the basic beliefs and ideas about Hinduism in his presentation “What is Hinduism?” Dr. Chaudhary stressed that Hindus don’t worship false idols. Rather, its multitude “Gods and Goddesses” are iconic and symbolic representations of the One Cosmic Reality.
In fact, Hindu sages declared: “Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti” (The Wise speak of that One Truth in many ways). Next, Dr. V.
Swaminathan, a disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, gave a talk on “The Bhagwad Gita’s Message to the Youth”. According to him, the Gita prescribes various methods of attaining victory and success in our personal lives. The means are just as important as the goals themselves. One can only control his/her actions and not the results. Therefore, to be truly victorious and successful, one must let go of the attachment to the results and take the results as a “Prasadam” or “grace” of the Lord in the grand scheme of things since one doesn’t control the results anyways. One must not judge herself based on what others think, but rather on how much effort she has put into the task.
Following a tea and snack break, the participants gathered for a presentation on “Hinduism and Women”, by Dr. MG Prasad, author of several books related to Hinduism and the founder of Taranga, an organization promoting arts and culture of India through dance, drama and publications in USA. Dr. Prasad shared insights on what the scriptures and various other sources say on women and clarified certain misconceptions of the way Hinduism depicts women. He shared an exhaustive list of famous Hindu women from the Vedic times to today, including Gargi, Ahalyabai, Sita, Draupadi, Keladi Chennamma, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Jijabai and many others. He maintained that Hinduism has a highly developed and dedicated philosophy on the Devi, the female Goddess. Hinduism depicts divinity as both male and female and many Hindus worship the divine pairs of Shiva-Parvati, Vishnu-Lakshmi, Sita-Ram, Radha-Krishna, etc. Acknowledging certain issues when it came to Hindu women, Dr. Prasad also clarified that every society has these problems and Hindu are not unique.
After the presentation, the seminar switched gears and all the students divided into three teams (the Mauryas, the Guptas and the Cholas)
to compete in an interactive and semi-automated “Hinduism Trivia” game, complete with buzzers and a game host. Nikunj Trivedi, member of HSC Board of Trustees and a Rutgers alumnus, led the students through two rounds of questions on categories such as Symbolism, Epics, Hinduism in the West, Famous Hindus, Festivals, Rishis and Saints, Hinduism and Science and others. After the final trivia question on Temples, Harshavardhan Vellanki, the former General Secretary of HSC and a Boston University alumnus, announced the Mauryas as the winners.
The evening came to a close with a breathing and meditation session led by Krishna Venkataraman, a volunteer with the Omkar Foundation. Mr. Venkataraman touched upon the concept of “witness consciousness” as a goal of meditation. According to him, the goal of meditation is to relax the thoughts of the mind in order to realize the witness consciousness, just as a person sitting in a movie theatre watches the movie but is not affected by it. Taking even 15 minutes a day to do these breathing exercises and meditation can tremendously improve students’ hectic life and often conflicting priorities. It will also help students stay away from substance abuse related to alcohol, smoking and drugs.
The seminar ended with a short chanting of the Shanti (peace) mantra “Aum Sahana Vavatu…” and an announcement of board members for the new academic year. The chapter looks forward to many such events in the future and to get more community members involved.
Dhruti Mehta, a sophomore student at Rutgers and a seminar attended was glad that HSC was putting on such events. "I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot playing Jeopardy. I liked seeing the students get really involved playing Jeopardy”, she remarked. “It was interesting to listen to different speakers' takes on Hinduism. I learned more in-depth about Bhagavad-Gita and what you could do to find true happiness in life."
Note on Pictures:
1. Participants listen to Dr. Swaminathan’s talk on “Bhagwad Gita’s Message to Youth”
2. Dr. Ved Chaudhary’s talk on “What is Hinduism?”
3. Board Members of Rutgers HSC Chapter