Hinduism Awareness Week at University of Texas

Hinduism Awareness Week (HAW) is one of the newest events hosted by the University of Texas at Austin’s chapter of the Hindu Students Association. The reason for the founding of this event was to expel many of the negative stereotypes and misconceptions associated with Hinduism within the general public, such as the idol worship or polytheism. In recent years, HAW has evolved to focus on a theme that ties together all the events of the week into one collective message. This year, the theme was classical Hindu performing arts.

The week kicked off on Tuesday, February 18 with a kickoff meeting. This event was a meeting that was, like all of the events of the week, free and open to the public. The meeting was simply titled “Hinduism 101”, which as suggested, provided an introduction to Hinduism aimed at attendees of different religious backgrounds. On Wednesday, we hosted an interfaith religions panel with fellow students from Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, and Bahai backgrounds. These students served on a ninety-minute panel that answered questions from students ranging from topics like the afterlife to premarital sex. Students were not only able to take away more knowledge about their own faith, but also learned about the views of their peers. The later portion of the week, starting with Thursday, became focused more on the theme of the week. On Thursday, we hosted a local dance teacher, Divya Shankar Aunty to come to campus to teach students about Indian classical dance.HAW-Week2

Priya Gupta performing a Kathak piece. Photo Credit: Natasha Handa

The hour-long lecture included a ten-minute presentation about the origins of Hindu dance and the Natya Veda, as well as a fifty-minute interactive session. At this point guests were encouraged to get up and follow the dance moves of the instructor as she explained what the gestures, or mudras, meant and how they pertained to different Hindu stories. Our most wide reaching event was on Friday. This event was our West Mall Rally. UT’s branch typically has West Mall rallies the day before an event as a publicity effort, but this event was different; it was truly an education effort. HSA members spent four hours tabling in one of the most trafficked areas on campus giving away free food and prizes to people who were willing to stop for about five minutes and play a trivia game focused on questions answered throughout the week. Finally, the largest event of the week was a classical performing arts show on Saturday night, known as Milan. Milan showcases the talents of UT students while also, exposing the public to less conventional methods of expressing faith. This year, we had three carnatic singing pieces and three classical dance pieces split by an intermission, where free samosas and mango lassi were served. The second half of the show consisted of a variety of classical dance styles including Odissi, Kathak, and Kuchipudi. The show was fairly well attended with an audience of around 120 people. Overall, the event impacted close to 700 students on campus, hopefully eliminating any false impressions they had of Hindus. HAW-Week-1-

Arjun Adapalli singing a carnatic piece. Photo Credit: Natasha Handa