BY EMMA RUBIN '20
Every Wednesday, the Eliot House for Religious and Spiritual Life hosts an Interfaith Lunch at which students can learn about different religions and their respective traditions. On Oct. 26, participants had a chance to learn about Hindu fall holidays while indulging in potato leek soup, French bread, garden salad and various cookies. “This provides the first door to learning more about [different religions],” Alison Branistky ’18 said.
The space where the lunches are held was decorated with art from various parts of the globe. Two intricately patterned tapestries lined the wall while another decoration simply read “Gather, Rejoice, Pray.”
“Hindus celebrate way too many holidays,” Manju Sharma, the Hindu advisor for Mount Holyoke, jokingly told those present at the lunch. She introduced Mahima Poreddy ’18 and Manisha Malik ’18 who led a slide show presentation about the seasonal Hindu holidays. They first briefly explained Navaratri, a holiday that occurs Oct. 1- 10. The 10 day festival celebrates the Hindu goddess Durga. The primary emphasis of the presentation was placed on Diwali, which fell 20 days after the end of Navaratri, on Oct. 30.
Diwali is known as the “Festival of the Lights” and is celebrated by Buddhists, Sikhs and Jainists as well as Hindus. Huge displays of fireworks, lit candles and lamps characterize the festival. “It’s all to celebrate the triumph of good versus evil,” Poreddy explained.
For Hindus, the celebration recalls a story in which Lord Rama, a figure of Hindu scriptures, and his family return from a 14 year exile and dethrone Ravana, an evil ruler. Even with this myth as the focus of the holiday, the significance and meaning of Diwali vary from family to family.
Poreddy enjoyed sharing the customs of her own religion, as well as her own personal practices and traditions, with those interested. “I feel like Interfaith is super welcoming,” Poreddy said. She had only attended two Interfaith Lunches before, but still recognizes the relevance of them. “It’s important to understand how we all have an influence on each other,” she said, “not only when it comes to religion.”
Sharma also values the concept of interfaith lunches and the ideology behind them. She took part in an interfaith youth corps training in Chicago over the summer and continues to support multi-religious events at Mount Holyoke. “I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to be able to go to all of these events and educate myself about [Hinduism] and its traditions and what is important to [its followers].” She also noted the importance of these opportunities to learn about other religions, “I think that kind of understanding will take us much further than having a closed door relationship.”
With regards to the personal effects of these lunches, Alicia Crew ’18 said, “I think it makes me a more compassionate and empathetic person.” She, like Sharma and Poreddy, saw the value of this program on a larger scale. “Religious literacy just in general is important because so much of the ignorance and fear in the world comes from lack of understanding,” Crew said. “There’s so much we can do together to make a difference in the world.”