Greetings as we hope you had a joyous month of celebrations for Deepavali. As all of our chapters celebrate on campus, we share with you this month, featured articles about New York University, Stony Brook University and Rutgers University with their Melas. Written by Nikunj Trivedi, Sarath Velagaleti and Parija Sharedalal, they offer different perspectives on Deepavali through various student bodies. Also two more thoughtful articles by Ravi Jaishankar on Seva Yoga and it's importance in our daily lives and Asha Sohan on Hindu Rituals' Benefits and Significance.
As the year comes to a close, we hope all our students have had a great semester and offer also this month a Shloka on Lighting the Lamp. Enjoy reading and thank you all for your kind wishes.
The HSC Executive Board
Diwali Mela: Celebrations at Rutgers University HSC By: Sarath Velagaleti (President) and the Rutgers HSC chapter - November 3, 2010
The HSC chapter at Rutgers University hosted an event celebrating Diwali on November 3rd 2010. Deepavali, or Diwali, as many of us know, is the Hindu festival of lights. It accentuates the significance of light illuminating darkness, or Good winning over Evil, or knowledge eradicating ignorance. The literal meaning of Deepavali can be found by splitting up the word - 'Deep' means light, and 'vali' means row; so it sums to mean rows of lights. These rows of Deepas were lit by the villagers to guide Ram, Sita and Lakshman's return to Ayodhya (the kingdom of Ram). After Ram's return to Ayodhya, the entire village celebrated their return by lighting Deepas, fireworks, and burning down Ravana's Statue. Ravana, the king of Lanka (now called Sri Lanka), had abducted Sita during Ram and Sita's stay in the forest as per Kaikeyi's wish, who was one of Ram's father's wives. Hence, Ram along with Lakshman, Hanuman, and other devotees of Ram declared war against Ravana to save Sita. With the help of Hanuman's fellow monkey warriors Ram was able to cross the ocean to Lanka by building a stone bridge (which NASA has recently proven its existence across the Indian Ocean via satellite imagery). After many days of fighting the war king, Ravana was finally killed by Lord Ram. This happened to be towards the end of Ram's banishment in to the forest. Upon the arrival of Ram and Sita to Ayodhya, the whole kingdom has celebrated by lighting Deepas, singing and dancing, worshipping God, and last but not least eating various foods, especially sweets.
The HSC chapter at Rutgers has brought this type of festive atmosphere and enthusiasm to Rutgers University. They have also compiled a fantastic modern yet accurate movie about Ramayan and the significance of Diwali.
It is available for public to watch on YouTube by searching Rutgers HSC Diwali Mela 2010 or by using the link provided-
Along with the video, the Rutgers HSC chapter has also brought a festive cultural atmosphere into the vast student life at Rutgers University. The night started out with Rutgers HSC chapter's introduction of the significance of Diwali and proceeded on to various singing and dancing performances by individual student singers and dancers. Other South Asian student clubs performed during the jubilant night. Rutgers Natya team performed an amazing Bharathanatyam dance. In addition, the Rutgers Bhangra Team has entertained the crowd with fast paced bhangra steps. Other performances included Rutgers Swara team which has given beautiful Carnatic and Hindustani music performances and HSC's own cultural dances and music. Alongside all these performances, fine authentic Indian Food from BAPs Shayona Inc was served. In addition to these performances, meaningful words were given by myself and Ravi (past president of Rutgers HSC) about the significance of Diwali to the Hindu tradition, and to one's heart. We also performed a short aarati before eating our food.
This event turned out successful not only due to the exuberant performances, but also due to its great numbers of attendance. The attendee's consisted of not only young Indian students but also of many other students with various other backgrounds. Also, many parents and people from the general public showed great interest in attending as well as participating in some of the fun activities such as Henna tattoos and Diya or Deepa painting.
Over 35 Students at HSC NYU Perform Individual Diwali Poojas
By: Nikunj Trivedi - November 3, 2010
New York, NY. The room was decorated with beautiful lights. Pooja Kits and Prayer Pamphlets laid side by side along with white cloth for seating. Students poured in slowly but steadily. After a few minutes of chatting and socializing, it was time to sit down, forget the outside world and focus on the Supreme.
Yes, this was the preamble to a well-organized Diwali Pooja session at the Hindu Students Council Chapter at New York University. Diwali, the most popular Hindu Festival has been celebrated at NYU since the founding of the chapter in the late 90s. So, this year was no different. Over thirty five students performed a traditional Diwali Pooja, led by Krishna Venkataraman of the Omkar Foundation. Krishna-ji explained each step of the Pooja in a clear yet engaging manner as he led enthusiastic students through the hour and fifteen minute activity. First, as per Hindu tradition, Lord Ganesha was invoked and worshipped.
Following Krishna-ji's instructions, each student drank a sip of water in her palm as a symbolic purification. Each then bathed his individual deity with some water; offered a thread as symbolic clothing; applied traditional Tilak on the deity's forehead, lit an incense stick, offered flowers, rice, etc. The beautiful fragrance of incense sticks filled the entire room, enhancing the spiritual ambience. As Krishna-ji chanted various Mantras associated with Ganesh Pooja, students followed along attentively and some even recited the Mantras in full.
Following the Ganesh Pooja, Krishna-ji invoked Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth and prosperity) and instructed the students in the Lakshmi Pooja. As a concluding step, everyone chanted the Lakshmi Ashtotram (108 names of Lakshmi) in unison, filling the room with wonderful vibrations.
The Pooja ended with the singing of the popular Jaya Jagadish Hare Aarti. Each student offered Aarti to the central image of Goddess Lakshmi as others sang along.
Krishna-ji also demonstrated some basic Pranayama (breathing) techniques to help focus and manage stress in their daily lives. He urged students to practice these techniques daily to bring about subtle but powerful changes within them and to light the light of consciousness in them.
The evening came to a conclusion with the serving of delicious Prasad by the HSC board. The board then announced HSC's Diwali Dinner held on November 19th as a continuation of its Diwali celebrations on campus.
One Hundred Plus at Stony Brook University HSC Deepotsav Festivities By: Parija Sharedalal – November 1, 2010
Diwali is a festival that might just top every other festival in the Indian community. The night spells a new kind of magic and includes everything from decorating the house to new clothes, to sweets, pooja and playing with firecrackers - these activities become essential for every Hindu on this day. This year with Barak Obama becoming the first US president to celebrate Diwali in the White House, the Indian American community's commitment towards religious diversity and tradition is at its peak.
Amidst the grandiose national spirit of festivity for Diwali this year, Stony Brook University had its own share of celebrations on November 1st. The event started off at the Wang center where the students participated in pooja and bhajans. After this everyone got a little taste of the epic Ramayana and the history and meaning behind the festivities of Diwali. Next, the celebrations were moved to the Student Activity Center where the students and faculty alike enjoyed Diwali in a very Indian style. The event saw over a hundred guests who were treated to delicious Indian food complete with entertainment that included everything from singing of Bollywood songs by students to a classical Bharatanatyam performance by Kirti Parmar, a junior at Stony Brook. University students who rarely get a chance to represent and enjoy their Desi (Indian) roots in a school setting took the celebration as an opportunity to fully embody their cultural style by wearing Saris and Kurtas.
The best part of the night was that the celebration was not only graced by students with Desi heritage but by students from all different backgrounds, cultures and religions. The spirit of learning and cultural acceptance was present. "I'm glad that I'm able to be a part of such a community where we can celebrate Diwali on campus," said Kanchan Mordani, a senior and ex-president of HSC at Stony Brook University. "It provides a place for people to sing, dance, eat, and just chill with friends, but it also provides a medium for diverse people with like-minds to be able to connect and collaborate to create something bigger and better every year. I hope this tradition continues and becomes a permanent one."
This year's Diwali function was one of the biggest we've had here at Stony. It left students aiming to do even better next year! Hopefully, due to the scale of the event, we will be able to secure even more funding by the university next year to spread knowledge and awareness about Hinduism and Hindu Festivals, and also to have fun! "The Deepotsav was amazing, good food, dance and performance but I can't wait till next year," said Sonal Nadchickadhara, Stony Brook's HSC Seva Coordinator. The night ended with an exhilarating open dance floor and a live music from a DJ.
By: Ravindra Jaishankar
I am prompted to write about Seva in a deeper way because of a recent discussion that was taking place during a Rutgers HSC general meeting. I am very fortunate to work close to Rutgers and still be able to attend HSC meetings, and participate in meaningful discussions. During the last week of November 2010, Rutgers HSC took up the topic of Seva to discuss as a philosophical principle of Hinduism. Many interesting ideas were shared within the group who attended the meeting and it was a fruitful discussion.
After the meeting ended I thought more about Seva, and I came to realize that it could be just as much a way of life and practice as Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Bhakti Yoga. I thought of Seva Yoga as a specific practice… an extension of the idea of Karma Yoga. Swami Chinmayananda extended the idea of the traditional Yajna (Vedic Fire Ritual) to include what he called "Jnana Yajna", which he named the pravachans (spiritual talks) he gave. Swami Tadatmananda took the symbolism of light in Diwali and interpreted the light of knowledge to mean light of love within one's heart. These are "stretches", in a way, but not against the teachings and principles of Hinduism on a whole. They revitalize and give new significance to Hindu teachings. I think that such "extensions" (or reinterpretations) are useful and necessary – because they keep Hinduism in pace with the world's changing lifestyle and development. (The beauty of Hinduism is that it's one of most ancient religions in the world, and yet it is the most "refreshed".)
Seva Yoga, then, is a similar restructuring and reinterpretation of a traditional idea. Everyone knows Seva to mean selfless service, and according to Karma Yoga, we should act without desire for the fruit of our actions – thereby taking our 'self' out of the action. My idea is this – if we can do everything in our lives as a service to all, as a service to the world, as a service to ourselves, then our actions becomes immediately purified. In this way we can take the self out of the service, and our actions become thoroughly pure. Not only do they follow Dharma and increase goodness and love in the world, they are also done without any inner expectations or conditions – which is the meaning of acting without attachment (Just as Karma Yoga teaches us to act without attachment to the result). This process is purifying because the inner negativity that is the source of the attachment, the source of all the desperate grasping and clinging is brought out and purified. Therefore, this idea of Seva Yoga is an extension of Karma Yoga, and I believe it is in line with the teachings of Hinduism and spirituality in general.
How would all our actions be service? How can washing the dishes, commuting to work, dealing with difficult people, and loving our friends, family, children, be service? Well, in the most general sense, if we are true to our spiritual selves, and if we act lovingly to all and everything around us, we lift people's hearts and spirits. The goodness is infectious; it flows out of us and engenders love in others – slowly, the people around us start to touch more people and it spreads, slowly but surely. Indirectly, just by existing, we have a profound impact on our surroundings. Imagine if our breath can be filled with love, if we can breathe out acceptance, joy, forgiveness, calm – imagine the immense impact it will have on our surroundings and on others. In this sense, just having a spiritual outlook, is Seva – it brings light, and peace into people's hearts. Next, if we act through a perspective of Seva, we focus on others' needs, and not our own – usually our selfish desires get in the way of what's right and what is good in the present moment. If we take ourselves out of the equation, and give everything around us a real look, we become more in touch with the reality of what is going on. And with this expanded perspective, we are able to decide better how to help and how to provide for others. So by lifting the focus off ourselves, we see others for who they really are. Lastly, if we can implement this attitude, our actions themselves will hold a certain divine power – they will be much more effective, maybe not out-rightly, but definitely subtly. And all this can only be done if we can tap into ourselves and fish out those attachments, and all the negativity we carry, all the hurt that is stored within our hearts. Otherwise the attachment will continue to exist, and we'll never be able to do Seva Yoga.
In the end, the principle is the same – we act without attachment. This means that our well being does not depend on anyone else, or anything else. It means our being is already well – we are fine just the way we are – which is one of the highest spiritual teachings of Hinduism. If we do not depend on others fulfilling our expectations, if we do not depend on ourselves to measure up to a condition we place on ourselves or that has been placed on us, we live much more freely of suffering. To do Seva Yoga means to love, because the inherent nature of love is unconditional presence and unconditional acceptance. All love does is accept and assist; without pushing or forcing, it gently guides. Isn't that the nature of Seva? When we truly give of ourselves without looking for a result, we are in a state of love. We are here to help, but not to push. We are here. Fully here. This state is essentially non-attachment, and it transcends the ego.
If you're interested in the principles of love and its relation to acting without attachment, I encourage you to read anything by John Welwood – his combining of psychological teachings with Eastern spirituality is one of the most compelling things I've ever read. He's been a wonderfully deep influence on my spiritual life. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hinduism: A Key to Rising Above And Beyond
By: Asha Sohan
On the first day of Fall Semester 2010, Rutgers' Chemistry Professor Vascillian introduced the three "D's" to his students: "If you want anything in life, you need the Desire, the Determination, and the Discipline to achieve it." Understanding hindu rituals such as havans and poojas can help us acquire this discipline to rise to a higher level.
Havans and poojas involve Yajamaanas (the worshippers) offering fuel in the form of fruit tree wood, ghee (clarified butter), saamagri (mixture of medicinal herbs) and cooked grains to a fire as they chant mantras. The fire represents the wisdom that pervades the earth (bhoor), sky (bhuwah) and heaven (swah) of the universe and our inner universe. Our head is our heavenly region because our mind is like the sun influenced by the moon as our intellect, and centers the system of five stars, our senses (to hear, see, smell, taste and feel). Our sky is from the head to the navel where all the vital gases in the organ systems are present to survive. Because creation happens on earth, our earth is from the navel down where there is the potential of creating offspring. The rituals are organized to allow the Yajamaans realize that before they set out to achieve anything, they must first realize the connection between the subtle realities: God or a creating source or energy (mentioned in mantras), oneself and the universe. Just like how it is important to know how to operate a car and understand the roads to reach a destination, it is important to be aware of the connection between the realities to achieve any goal.
The second step is acknowledging desires, when the fruit tree wood is gracefully offered into the fire with open hands. The wood is supposed to be as long as the Yajamaan's eight fingers that it rests on before being offered. This represents the Yajamaan's eight desires: "long life, vitality, offspring or luster, perception, fame, economic security, brilliance of knowledge and freedom from bondage," (Arya Satsang Pradeep).
The third step is offering one's entire personality into the fuel to achieve these eight desires. Ghee is an essence of milk, which is a nourishing food representing the thoughts as the essence of the mind. Saamagri represents fertility and the qualities that consists of the Yajamaan. The key to success is to purify one's senses, thoughts and actions . . . to think and act with true love for the self and for the environment that is affected, because only goodness will come from a positive and loving mind and there would be no feeling of fear, shame or doubt when an action is performed. The Yajamaana realizes the interconnection of his mind, emotion and action that whatever he thinks, he will then see, speak, feel and act.
Hindu rituals also benefit the environment. When ghee is burnt, it produces a gas called formaldehyde in addition to other curative gases that help nullify the impurities in the atmosphere. This process is another solution to prevent humanity suffering from disease. However, the chemistry of this is only successful when the fruit tree wood is fully immersed in ghee and using any other type of wood, such as pitch pine, would increase carbon dioxide production.
The burning of saamagri and cooked grains produce medicinal gases as well. The cooked grains represents the token of one's wealth as nutrition. As the Yajamaanas become aware that they disorganize the physics of the universe to survive, they express their love for the universe give back to the universe with their nutritional token.
Hindu rituals are a beautiful way of expressing love and appreciation to the self, God, and the universe. By performing everything with grace, the Yajamaana realizes the grace that he and the universe was created with. In such a loving state, one is disciplined to achieve. The essence of the rituals does not stop when the ritual is over because the realization is meant to be practiced in one's everyday life.