Student group works to establish Hindu prayer room in basement of Thompson Chapel

At the beginning of October, a room in Thompson Memorial Chapel was repurposed for use as a Hindu prayer room. The room was previously used by the Christian Fellowship. As a result, the Christian Fellowship now uses what was previously a room used by Muslim students.

The change was the result of a push from Aanya Kapur ’20. “At the beginning of the year, I was thinking it would be nice to have a space for Hindus to pray – any sort of space we could find. I went to speak to Chaplain Rick [Spalding] in the chaplain’s office and explained. He said he’d never been approached about it before … but said of course that’s possible,” Kapur said. While Kapur prepared a budget, Spalding helped find a space in Thompson Chapel.

“For some years I have hoped that a group of observantly Hindu students might coalesce on campus,” Spalding said. “The obvious place to look was the basement of Thompson Memorial Chapel, where there are a number of different spaces clustered around the Interfaith Common Room – so we began a series of consultations about the uses of those spaces – consultations that are still going on.”

There is not an official group for Hindu students on campus, so with Spalding’s help, Kapur sent out an email to students who had identified as Hindu on PeopleSoft, and asked if anyone would be interested in setting up the prayer room. On that project, she said, “I’m working with one freshman in particular, Shreyam Misra [’21], from New Delhi. The room is very bare at the moment, but has the basics needed for prayer.”

“If someone were to be setting up a temple, they would buy from India because it’s cheaper,” she said. But, because the shipping is expensive, Kapur is making do with basics found on Amazon. “My friends are going to India in the winter so [we’ll] buy the bulk of things by then.”

Because of this, the prayer room should be completely finished by Winter Study, but before that, Kapur hopes to continue to hold bi-weekly services for any interested College community members.

The space, though, does raise questions about how to accomodate the large number of student religious groups needing space in the chapel. “The resources of space are limited – at least until the College finally decides to start a long overdue renovation of the building! – but we were able to identify a room that would meet the Hindu students’ needs,” Spalding said.

Despite the space issues, Spalding characterizes the reaction of other communities that use the Thompson Chapel space as positive. “All of the other student groups that use spaces in the Chapel have been really glad to welcome a new student spiritual community into the wonderful mix of that space,” Spalding said.

“And the need to cooperate and collaborate on the use of the limited spaces will provide an ideal set of questions for a fresh round of inter-religious, inter-group conversation around the essential question: How can we live together, practice our various faiths and support  one another in our different traditions?”

Besides setting up the prayer room, Kapur, with the help of the chaplain’s office, helped organize a trip to the Hindu temple in Albany, N.Y. “We organized a trip to the Hindu temple in Albany for Diwali because that’s one of our main festivals throughout the year,” she said. “A group of us went in a van to the temple, had the service and dinner and then came back.”

Kapur hopes to see the Hindu community on campus grow in other ways from these initial steps, and also hopes to begin offering platforms for informal discussion. “We are all connected from our faith, but I’m from England,” she said, “so the way I practice Hinduism would be different from the way someone from India practices.”

Opening up discussion can help increase a sense of community and understanding between Hindu students on campus, but Kapur also stresses that events are open to all students. On their first trip, half of the students were non-Hindu.

“We really want people to come and use this space,” she said of the prayer room. “It doesn’t have to be for religious purposes. If someone wants to come see it, [they can] learn more about a different religion which is not widely recognized on campus.” The group’s future trips to the Hindu temple in Albany are similarly open to all students. “We hope to continue going to the Hindu temple for Holi and Navaratri,” two upcoming festivals, she said.

Though Kapur is unsure of whether the group will try to become an official club, she is grateful for the community that has been forged in such a short time. “Because there hasn’t been a group on campus, for me it’s been nice as a way to get to know people of the same faith and cultural background,” she said.

The Record contacted the Muslim Students Union for comment, but the group was  unable to comment before press time.