For twenty years, the only religious group for Hindu students at Cornell has operated out of a small storage closet.
This Saturday, the Hindu Student Council cel to permanent, larger real estate.
Located in the lobby off the Central Avenue entrance of Anabel Taylor Hall, the space will be used for “anyone to come in any time for prayer, meditation and reflection,” according to Anuush Vejalla ’20, Hindu Student Council member.
For years, HSC has struggled with negotiating for space for their weekly services, programs and religious holiday celebrations due to scheduling and space limitations. Events for holidays like Diwali are often not held on the exact day of the holiday, council president Smita Bhoopatiraju ’21 told The Sun. HSC board members hope that the new space will make practicing Hinduism more accessible for all.
“Everyone in the community is very diverse. We obviously can’t provide services for every tradition across Hinduism. This is a space for anyone to come in and pray however they want at time is convenient to them,” Bhoopatiraju said.
The grand opening for the space, held on Oct. 19, featured speeches by dean of students Vijay Pendakur and associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs Renee Alexander, and included the “Griha Pravesh Puja,” a housewarming prayer ritual.
The HSC first approached Cornell United Religious Works two years ago to request a designated space, according to former HSC president Kimaya Raje ’20.
After many meetings and working through a change in CURW leadership, HSC was granted the space, which formerly served as a meditation room for Protestant prayer, according to Raje.
“It seemed that [the Protestant students] were more than willing to share,” she said.
According to Bhoopatiraju, although HSC holds large events like Holi and Diwali, the Council is still relatively unknown. “There is a large Hindu population here that often gets ignored because we don’t have a prominent presence as an organized religion here, ” Bhoopatiraju said.
“This [space] will really cement us in terms of legitimizing us and making sure that we’re heard,” Raje said.
“We’re ecstatic to have The Hindu community feel at home in Anabel Taylor where they can help educate Cornell on one of the world’s most largest and most vibrant faiths,” Chaplain Yasin Ahmed, Cornell’s Muslim chaplain, wrote in an email to the Sun.
“As we work in making Cornell more inclusive it’s nice to see faiths with less financial resources be given special focus and institutional support,” Ahmed continued.
Srishti Belwariar ’20 said the space will allow her to share her culture and “introduce a lot of my friends to the community,” she said.
As a member of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry, Marta Faulkner ’20, came to the opening event to support her friends. “As a Christian on campus, there’s lots of resources and places for me to go and worship. For my Hindu friends to not have a space where that was available was just not fair,” she told The Sun.
Board members hope to acquire a larger space in the future and will also continue to work towards establishing a Hindu Chaplain, according to Raje.
“Students themselves have to advocate for all this,” Raje told The Sun. “We’re students first, and it’s a lot of impetus that’s put on us just to enrich the Cornell community.”
Bhoopatiraju said that there was a “lot of pushing” required, but that the group is satisfied with the end result.
“If Cornell is any person, any study, that not only means making this school accessible to come to…[it means] you want students to thrive while they’re here, and some of the thriving comes from supporting students in all aspects, including through religious life,” Raje said.
Vejalla told the Sun that he looks forward to adding statues and making the space feel more like a temple.
“People can come to celebrate and feel like they’re at home for a second,” he said.