Each Sunday evening as I enter Georgetown University’s Jewish prayer room, Makóm, for weekly Āratī, herbal incense and the soft hum of the harmonium greet me. After I grab a comfortable pillow and find a spot, I close my eyes and begin meditating with the rest of my Hindu community, feeling at home at last.
Though I have only been at Georgetown for eight months, I have discovered the value of my faith and found community within Hindu spaces on campus.
Before I came to the Hilltop, I had never been a part of an extensive cultural or faith-based organization like the Hindu Students Association. At my high school, tucked away past the acres of Iowa corn fields, I was the only Hindu and Indian student. The nonexistent Hindu community at school discouraged me from embracing my faith; I was so lonely and ashamed of my cultural identity that I became reluctant to perform morning prayer at home or speak my parents’ mother tongue, Telugu, anywhere. School was a constant struggle; students cringed when they saw my rice-based lunches and teachers botched the pronunciation of my name. Still, though I sought to blend in with my classmates, I yearned to know what it was like to truly be Hindu. I wanted to discover the place where I could connect with my religious heritage.
At Georgetown, I have found many spaces in my extracurriculars where I feel that I belong. But in the hopes of learning more about my culture and religion, I attended the first Hindu prayer during new student orientation. The room was overflowing with students, families and staff, and I nervously found a spot and opened the prayer book and panicked, wishing I had learned more hymns as a child when my mother urged me to.
After the event, I had never felt more intimidated and betrayed before in my life. The young and dedicated students knew all these complex prayers by heart, making me wonder if I could even call myself Hindu. Remembering my difficult years in grade school, I felt that my entire hometown community had failed in molding me into a “proper” Hindu.
After expressing my concern to my mom, she urged me to give the Hindu community another chance, especially since the next Āratī would truly be the first one of the school semester. Although I was scared, I attended the next Āratī, determined to uncover more about my faith. This prayer service was much different, as Georgetown’s Hindu chaplain, Brahmachari Sharan, led us through each piece, teaching us the pronunciation and meaning of all of the songs. He explained that being Hindu is not about subscribing to a specific diet, daily prayer routine or even God. In fact, while Hinduism is often misconceived to be a polytheistic religion, it can be described as a Godless philosophy. He continued to explain that being Hindu was a way of life that strives to help others and act according to our own Dharma, or morals.
The knowledge that Brahmachari revealed to us reassured me that over the past 18 years, I was just “as Hindu” as I was in that moment, regardless of whether I knew the hymns or could speak Telugu. Even during school, while I concealed my religious heritage, my actions and unpracticed beliefs still tied me to the global Hindu community. Through embracing Hinduism on campus, I found an outlet to release stress, explored cultural music by playing classical violin at religious events, and made countless friends. As an entity, the Hindu Students Association invite and welcome everyone to attend our Āratīs to gain a new experience of meditation, reflection and being part of this Hoya family.
Hinduism is a piece of my identity and an aspect that I cannot successfully escape from without feeling incomplete. I am so thankful that I pursued my religion on campus, because rather than being afraid and cutting ties with my roots, I have realized that watering them has allowed me to grow into something greater and stronger than ever before.
Vidya Mullangi is a Freshman in the College. Interfaith Insights is a series of Viewpoints written by students of different faiths.