Hindu Students Association

People enjoy the festival of colors “Holi” at South Mall on a Sunday afternoon. The event involved around 6000 students and was organized by the the Hindu Students Association to celebrate the Indian holiday. 

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

The South Mall was soaked with dyes and water Sunday, as students partook in the Hindu Students Association’s tenth Holi event. 

The event was intended to celebrate cultural diversity and to parallel the Indian holiday, also known as the Festival of Colors or the “spring festival.”

“In India, this is a big deal,” HSA CEO and President Swati Verma said. “This is the beginning of the farming season.”

Verma said she hopes the event connects UT students with another culture and symbolically celebrates differences in color.

“We’re all the same,” Verma said. “We’re all people.”

Sneha Gurajala, co-chair of the Holi event, said the event helps celebrate Indian culture. She said HSA members worked the lines and handed out shirts to people who knew what Holi was, and all promotional material had information.

“We put a lot of emphasis on this not just being a color dance party,” Gurajala said.

The event, which ran from 1-4 p.m., involved approximately 6,000 students. To provide these students with the dyes and water balloons they threw at each other throughout the festival, HSA ordered ten 55-pound bags of dye and handed out more than 1,000 water balloons at intervals throughout the event. The event also drew on the musical talent of “DJ Chet.”

Melody Rodsuwan, a senior from Thailand, said Holi reminds her of Thailand’s water festival.

Cary Kuo, an electrical engineering freshman, said he went to the event because it served as a nice break from his heavy workload.

“I thought I’d take some time off from the life of a ‘double E,’” he said. “It seemed like a creative and cool event.”

Published on March 25, 2013 as "Students embrace Holi festival". 

Students and volunteers particpate in Diwali, the festival of lights, at the Main Mall on Tuesday night. The festival consists of many traditions and is held every year. 

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Students celebrated Diwali, a Hindu cultural and religious tradition, with prayer, music and candles at a festival on the Main Mall Tuesday sponsored by the Hindu Students Association.

Deepa Pokala, math and pre-med junior and Diwali co-chair, said Diwali is associated with Hindu mythology of Lord Rama, a reincarnation of a Hindu god. Pokala said the celebration is in honor of Lord Rama returning home after defeating a demon, Ravana, that captures his wife and is a symbol of good defeating evil. The Hindu Students Association is an organization open to all students that holds weekly discussions centered on Hindu culture and celebrates Hindu traditions, including Diwali, on campus.

The celebration is also referred to as row of lights, the festival of lights and Hindu New Year. Because of the focus on light, the festival included candle-making and fireworks, as well as traditional Indian pastries and dances.

“During this time families will go and visit each other,” Pokala said. “Some people focus on food. Some people really stress lighting up their homes with giyas which are candles.”

Students participated in a havan, a prayer surrounding a fire as a symbol of light and a spiritual connection to the gods, while Hindu hymns called bhajans were played.

Students could also participate in other Diwali traditions including rangoli, or colored flour made into designs and symbols, normally placed outside homes on the ground to publicly show the family is celebrating Diwali. Abhijit Sreerama, association member and math and pre-med junior offered kumkum, powder placed on the forehead as to center the mind for prayer.

“It has a cultural meaning as well as a spiritual meaning,” Sreerama said. “The forehead is the center of thought, and this is put on both men and women during this time, and when you pray, it centers your being.

Public health junior Navya Singirikonda helped students make toran, which is a cultural ornament that is placed across the top of a door with sheer cloth, fruits and leaves.

“There’s a lot of significance to the entrance of the home,” Singirikonda said. “It’s always decorated with fruits and leaves. The decoration welcomes anyone that’s coming to the house and usually in India, the doors are always open. [The toran] is always on there, but you decorate it more for festivals like Diwali and replace the leaves.”

Printed on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 as: Diwali lights up sky to celebrate tradition

Students participate in the Hindu festival Holi on South Mall Saturday afternoon by tossing rang, a colored powder, at others. The festival welcomes the beginning of spring and is celebrated around the world.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

Yellow, pink and blue powder flew across campus as students welcomed the arrival of spring and celebrated the Hindu festival Holi on Saturday.

Hosted by the Hindu Students Association, hundrends of students participated in Holi on the Main Mall through the traditional throwing of colorful powders. Holi, or the Festival of Colors, is a festival observing the beginning of spring and is celebrated by Hindus across the world.

Public health sophomore Navya Singirikonda said this commemoration is in honor of the god Krishna and his desire to be like everybody else.

“As a child, he went to his mother and continuously asked her why he was darker than the other kids,” Singirikonda said. “His mother then took color powder and covered all the kids so they would ultimately look the same.”

The idea of welcoming spring, unity and joy are the central themes of Holi, Singirikonda said.

Holi included participants throwing rang, or colored powder, at each other while music spun by DJ Anish played in the background.

Between each round, participants were given water balloons to throw at each other.

“While it is a religiously motivated event, it is celebrated culturally throughout the region,” Singirikonda said.

Suwetha Amsavelu, Plan II and biology senior said seeing so many different students participate was truly remarkable.

“In the end Holi is a religious event, so it is a true testament to how open the UT community really is when you see people of all backgrounds come and check out this event,” Amsavelu said.

Amsavelu said she started participating in Holi more upon arriving at UT than in her hometown.

“It is a social gathering and really a fun time,” Amsavelu said. “It is just a good opportunity to be with friends and other students.”

Jaimin Patel, HSA president and biochemistry senior, said this year’s festival had the largest attendance ever with approximately 3,000 participants.

Patel said the festival was also covered by Longhorn Network which brought a new level of excitement to the event.

“When everyone comes to Holi, there are various races and skin colors, but by the time they leave, you cannot tell the difference because everyone is covered in color,” Patel said.

Asian Cultures and Languages senior Vishaal Sapuram plays traditional Indian music Saturday at The Mi

Photo Credit: Lingnan Chen | Daily Texan Staff

Traditional dance performances and classical Indian music illustrate the deeper meaning and history of yoga beyond the West’s idea that the activity is simply an exercise.

The Milan, a classical Indian arts showcase, took place on Saturday night in the Student Activities Center. Put on by the Hindu Students Association, the show was a culmination of the group’s efforts to educate students about Hindu culture during Hinduism Awareness Week.

Biochemistry junior and HSA co-chairman Karthik Bande said the primary focus of Hinduism Awareness Week and the Milan showcase was to show students there are several forms of yoga, which originated from Hinduism.

“The yoga classes many people go to today represent only one aspect of all the yogas described in Hinduism. They only practice Hatha, the physical kind of yoga. There’s also yoga of the mind and yoga of the spirit,” he said.

Bande said he hopes that Milan will help students recognize the Hindi values in the type of yoga most people are familiar with.

“If you go to a yoga session, they don’t explain how it ties into Hinduism or pay proper respect to it,” Bande said. “In putting on this event, we’re trying to bring awareness to that aspect.”

Bande said the event featured music and dance performances to show that yoga can be visually displayed in ways other than stretches and poses.

“You can practice yoga by singing or dancing, and that’s what the purpose of this event was,” Bande said.

Sirisha Pokala, HSA co-chairman and nutrition sophomore, said she shared Bande’s sentiments about yoga and the importance of educating people about it. Pokala said the HSA chose to focus on yoga because it has become so popular recently.

“We figured a lot of people would be interested in the events we coordinated for ‘Awareness Week’ since yoga’s something everyone really likes and would like to know more about,” she said.

Pokala said HSA organizes several other events throughout the year that have large turnouts but are not as openly educational about Hindu values.

“It’s really nice to have a week like this where people can actually learn about Hinduism and what it stands for,” she said.

Vishaal Sapuram, Asian cultures and languages senior, performed in the arts showcase, where he played classical Indian music on a traditional stringed instrument called a chitravina. Sapuram has been widely acclaimed for his musical talents and has had television performances in Malaysia and India.

In performing in the Milan showcase, Sapuram said he hoped to be a good representative of Hindu culture and said he felt the event was significant because of the perspective it provided to students.

“It’s important for people to see traditional values and what is meaningful to a lot of people in a different part of the world,” Sapuram said.

Printed on Monday, February 20, 2012 as: 'Hindu Awareness Week' reveals yoga's original values

Members of the Hindu Student Association hope the next time people hear the word “yoga,” they will think of its relation to Hinduism rather than its contemporary status as a relaxing, pose-making workout.

The key focus of the sixth annual Hinduism Awareness Week, hosted by the Hindu Students Association, aims to clear up common misconceptions about Hinduism through yoga with interactive activities for students throughout the week. Yoga-themed activities were the center of Awareness Week on Tuesday Wednesday, with Tuesday’s activity featuring a guest speaker from the Austin-based temple, Radha Madhav Dham. The speaker talked about yoga in Hinduism and answered general questions related to the religion for attendees.

“It educated students to a deeper level about yoga,” said nutrition sophomore Sirisha Pokala, the organization’s co-chair of Hindu Awareness Week.

“Most people just know about yoga as a path of fitness and meditation, but there’s much more to that, and Hinduism Awareness Week really delves into this topic,”

Wednesday’s featured event was a free yoga lesson with instructor Ayesha Venkatrao-Holcombe, who taught various poses in addition to speaking about yoga’s purpose in Hinduism, said biochemistry junior Karthik Bande, chair for Hinduism Awareness Week.

Bande said today’s event will feature games in the West Mall focusing on some general misconceptions of Hinduism and some history behind some Hindu traditions.

“Non-Hindu students will be able to learn how Hinduism may apply in their lives and how they may be practicing some aspects of it without even realizing it,” said biology senior and spokesman for the Hindu Students Association, Lakshay Jain. “Awareness week also brings to light the universality of Hinduism, and the fact that one does not necessarily have to subscribe to one set of gods or beliefs to be able to take away something from Hinduism.”

The final activity of the week will showcase Milan, a classical arts performance that will feature a variety of traditional dance and music by student performers on Saturday.

“We host a week of awareness to educate the UT community about Hinduism in the hopes of allowing a better understanding and appreciation of Hinduism, in addition to hopefully cultivating new cross-cultural dialogue that would not have been possible before the week,” Jain said.

Printed on Friday, February 17, 2012 as: Hindu students host events to raise cultural awareness

A cloud of colored dust rose over the South Mall as more than 1,000 people celebrated the ancient Hindu festival of Holi by throwing neon powder and water balloons at each other. Contemporary Indian music boomed while students covered in “rang,” the vibrantly colored powders, danced Saturday at the 19th annual event hosted by the Hindu Students Association. Also called the “Festival of Colors,” Holi marks the beginning of spring and celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the unification of different people, regardless of how they look. “It’s something completely different and people can just let loose,” said business sophomore Chris Lanier. The festival celebrates a Hindu myth in which the demon Hiranyakashipu was angry that his son Prahlada worshipped Lord Vishnu instead of himself. As punishment, his demon sister Holika carried Prahlada into a blazing fire, but Vishnu intervened, saving Prahlada. Holika suffered the fire instead. Undeclared freshman Reihaneh Hajibeigi said the event is more cultural than religious. “No one is here for the religious learning about the holiday,” Hajibeigi said. “It’s a big color party.” Hindus in India celebrate the victory of good over evil and the destruction of Holika by lighting bonfires the night before the Festival of Colors. “The event has a religious significance, but even if someone doesn’t come from that background, they can participate,” said Shashank Maruvada, 2008 graduate and officer of the national Hindu Students Association. In another story, the young Lord Krishna complained to his mother about the difference in color between his dark skin and his consort Radha’s pale skin, so his mother colored Radha to make her resemble Krishna. “If you extend that, it becomes what we had yesterday,” said Anand Jayanti, event co-chair and a pre-med and Plan II senior. “They come together, and they forget their differences — that’s the purpose of the coloring.” Jayanti said the rang used for the event was a high-quality organic compound. ”In the old days, since they didn’t have synthetic means of production, they’d use these herbs in the raw, and they’d basically use some natural colors to make them stained,” he said. It is not uncommon for people to take one or two weeks off from work for the extended celebration of the most popular holiday, said Apurva Batra, mechanical engineering senior and Hindu Students Association officer. “At the end of the day, we are all the same,” said Saagar Grover, accounting senior and Hindu Students Association financial director. “It is more about bringing people together than dividing them.”

Candles lit up the walkway and the steps leading to the Tower as a priest performed traditional prayers Thursday on the Main Mall, and students celebrated an occasion that represents the triumph of righteousness over evil.

The Hindu Students Association sponsored the celebration in recognition of Diwali, or the Indian festival of lights. The event’s theme, “Welcome to Ayodhya,” is an expression and exploration of Hindu religious and cultural heritage, referring to the myth of Lord Rama and his victory over the demon Ravana.

“Diwali is the most auspicious occasion for Hindus,” said Apurva Batra, a mechanical engineering senior and core officer of HSA. “It is quite appropriate to say that holiday spirit during Diwali is analogous to that of Christmas.”

Diwali is a festival that is celebrated in Hindu households around the world with family gatherings that include candles, lanterns, fireworks and prayer to strengthen ties within families and with God. Gifts and sweets are also exchanged, and many Hindu families choose to clean their homes and buy new items for themselves at this time because Diwali also signifies the beginning of a new year in the Hindu calendar.

At the festival, a priest performed a religious ceremony called a “havan” around a fire in front of dozens of students and explained the significance of important Hindu scriptures. Each student was given a bag of rice and a candle, as an offering to the goddess Lakshmi.

“Fire is a symbol of knowledge and light, so we wanted everyone to have their own candle to give an offering,” said Kajal Mehta, a Plan II senior and co-chair for HSA Diwali. “Diwali is a joyous time to celebrate life and renewal.”

The festival delivers hope for a peaceful and prosperous new year. Candles, oil lanterns and fireworks illustrate the defeat of darkness.

“In diverse settings, it’s important to understand where we all come from and gain an appreciation for different cultures,” Batra said. “Since Hindus represent an appreciable fraction of the student body at UT, I feel that it is our goal as Hindus to educate others about our beliefs and festivities.”

A carnival included booths where students explained the myths of Diwali and passed out candy and other treats. Fireworks marked the end of the celebration.

“Usually, there is an offer to the Hindu goddess of fortune, Lakshmi, for good fortune for the coming year,” said Joel Brereton, associate professor of religious studies. “Often, there will be regional variations depending on dominant traditions in certain areas over another.”

Hindu families traditionally light diyas, small candles around their homes. Statues of Ravana are also constructed and burned throughout India with fireworks.

“Especially in a time of globalization, it’s important to understand other cultures and see how similar we all are,” Mehta said.

To celebrate the festival of Navratri, the Hindu Students Association invited everyone to join in a traditional form of stick dancing called Dandiya Raas.

Each dancer held two long sticks they hit together in time with the music. Every five beats, the dancers changed partners.

“You hit your sticks together while dancing and move down the line,” said astronomy and Plan II senior Aditi Raye Allen. “It’s great fun. I’ve come every year [since being at UT]. It’s amazing.”

Navratri means “nine days” in Sanskrit. The festival, which celebrates women’s contributions to society, commemorates a nine-day battle between the goddess Shakti and a buffalo demon. More than 600 students confirmed their attendance on the Facebook page for the event, which took place Friday.

“It’s amazing our culture takes nine days to stop everything and recognize women,” said association president Kavita Pallod. “We put women up and raise them up. We take the time to honor and respect women.”

The first three days celebrate the goddesses Durga, Kali and Amba. Days four through six honor Lakshmi for peace, wealth and bliss, while the final days honor Saraswati, the goddess of art and knowledge.

“We’re dancing to honor the different forms of the Goddess Shakti,” said Soniya Chaudhay, spokeswoman for the associaton. “So we can embody not just material, but spiritual wealth, knowledge and power.”

French and education senior Stephani Clayton attended the event for the second time and participated in Dandiya Raas.

“It takes a little bit of practice to really get comfortable with it,” Clayton said.

Dandiya Raas was not the only type of traditional dance at the festival. The night began with a performance of Garba, a circle dance around an earthenware lamp and three small statues of goddesses.

Tables set up at the festival displayed information about the common misconception that Hinduism has hundreds of gods.

“It’s one god and it just takes different forms,” Pallod said. “Feminine and masculine parts exist in god. The universal message is honoring the women in your life.”

Their next event, Diwali, will be held Nov. 4 on the Main Mall at 7 p.m.

The Hindu Students Association holds recurring meetings on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. in Garrison Hall 1.126.