Keeping the faith

Heather Scarlett

In recent years, the representation for Hindu students on campus was virtually null and void. But because of a retired professor of geography, that’s been changing.

From left: Sunita Verma, Vanita Seth, Vinay Bhardwaj and Renu Singh sing traditional songs during the first part of the Gita Phaat. The group also reads verses from the Bhagwad Gita, the Hindu holy book, and has a discussion. ABBY FISHER | DAILY KENT STAT

Credit: John Proppe

Women with the red dot of marriage on their foreheads and students carrying the Bhagwad Gita are not usually seen around campus. The Hindu religion is not highly advertised, and its members are not as well connected in the way that members of more visible religions are.

Surinder Bhardwaj is working to change that and give Hindus at Kent State a way to connect with each other.

“Hinduism (at Kent State) is not decreasing religion in the sense of numbers (it is just not advertised),” said Bhardwaj, an Ohio certified Hindu priest and a professor emeritus.

“I’m a member of the Campus Ministers Organization and the purpose is to service the spiritual needs of Kent State students,” Bhardwaj said. “I serve the community as a Hindu priest.

“This is only my second year and before that, there was no representation (for Hindu students),” he said. “I’m just one part of the organization, (and) I act as a volunteer.”

In his position as a campus minister, Bhardwaj tries to present himself as a resource of help and information to Hindu students at Kent State because there is not a temple of Hindu worship within the Kent area to give them a sense of centrality.

“I especially help them if they wish to get married,” he said.


Bhardwaj works with students at Kent State mainly in two ways. First, by extending an invitation to students who wish to attend sessions of the Bhagwad Gita, the Hindu holy book, which are on occasion held at his home.

Niti Duggal is one of those students. Duggal, a masters student from India, is currently working on her third degree in the specialization of geographic information systems.

“I wanted to find out about other Indian organizations or families,” Duggal said.

Bhardwaj suggested that she come to his home for the Gita Phaat, the name for the study sessions of the Bhagwad Gita, she said.

During the Gita Phaat the group sits on the floor and removes their shoes, Duggal said.

“We then read extracts from the book, and then after we’ve read it, we discuss the verses in the book.”

They try to see how they can “imbibe the meaning” of the verses into our everyday lives, she said.

“It basically helps us be a better person,” Duggal said.

“(The) Hindu religion is quite different and not like regular church,” Bhardwaj said. “It is not a congregational service; it is more of an individual worship, and sessions move from home to home because we don’t have a temple. Most of the Hindu homes have a small area of worship in their homes.”

Duggal said the main problem is that Hindus don’t have a temple in the area.

There is a large number of Hindus on campus, but she said they don’t have a “platform to meet at and frequent.”

Duggal said the students are definitely aware of Bhardwaj, but it is up to them if they want to attend the sessions.

“I make the best use of Dr. Bhardwaj and his wife’s Gita sessions,” she said.

Jyotsna Duvvuri, a graduate student in computer science, is also one of the attendees of Bhardwaj’s Bhagwad Gita sessions.

“We felt like we were home again,” Duvvuri said of attending the sessions.

It had been nearly three years since she had read the Gita book prior to attending the Bhagwad Gita, she said.

“I don’t think Indian students have much representation,” Duvvuri said. “More people should organize because everybody is away from home.”

“There is no great push to make it known because Hinduism is a very personal, individual affair,” Bhardwaj said. “The result is that there is no drive to make it a part of large society.”

Not many students attend the sessions, but those who do are usually contacted through personal connections, he said, and there was a time when it had a large number of attendees.

“(Now) the group is small, but many are welcome,” Bhardwaj said.

The Rev. Lauren Odell-Scott, vice president of the Campus Ministers Organization, suggested Bhardwaj be the Hindu representative in the organization, Bhardwaj said.

“Because we are a public university we can’t restrict various religious expressions,” Odell-Scott said. “The university is an open forum for religious expressions.”

The organization is trying to look outside the usual representatives who could be invited to attend the organization, she said.

Bhardwaj said the hope of joining the campus organization was that Hindu students might want to organize themselves in some sort of fashion, but he does not feel they really want to. The reason is most are graduate students and don’t have the time because of their own research.

“Even in a name sense it is only the second year that our name has been official on the Kent State list of religious groups,” he said.

Hindus don’t usually want to be grouped together, so steps to represent them are initially in the first stages, he said.

The public expression of Hinduism is limited either through dress or symbols such as the marriage dot that women wear on their foreheads, he said.

A second way that Bhardwaj is trying to connect with and represent Hindus on campus is through a group called the Hindu Universal Friendship Society.

“Very few people are aware of it,” he said.

Duggal said the HUFS has not been active lately, but that it would make a very nice platform for Hindu students.

She said students will be willing to be involved if they had something to bring them together, such as the HUFS.

Duvvuri said the HUFS would help to involve not just Hindus, but other students as well.

Anyone can follow some of the basic principles of Hindu teachings, such as ahimsa, meaning non-violence, or shanti, meaning peace.

“You don’t have to convert,” Duvvuri said.

Contact religion reporter Heather Scarlett at [email protected].