Courtesy of Lasya Sreepada

On March 4, around 30 students and community members gathered beneath Bingham Hall in celebration of Maha Shivaratri, an annual Hindu holiday.

Maha Shivaratri celebrates Shiva, one of the main deities of the Hindu religion, who represents destruction, particularly destroying evil in the world. According to the Yale Hindu Students Organization, it commemorates the wedding night between Shiva and Parvati, where Shiva performed the “Anandatandava,” a dance of bliss, to represent the cyclical nature of the universe.

“Maha Shivaratri is something that I’ve grown up observing; it was a special day when my family would come together, chant and reflect,” said Lasya Sreepada ’19, president of the Hindu Students Organization. “For me personally it was a time to meditate with family and friends about what you’d want to change about yourself and how to be a better person.”

The Hindu Students Organization began their evening celebration with a puja and ended with a communal dinner. Malini Wimmer ’22, the group’s religious affairs chair, explained that a puja is a religious prayer service involving mantras, prayers and offerings such as fruit to a deity.

To its members, the Hindu Students Organization provides a space to celebrate shared values.

“To me, the Hindu Student Organization community represents a caring group of individuals who come together to celebrate the spark we all have within us, regardless of our origin or the doctrine we follow,” said Daniel Bacheschi ’21, the group’s co-publicity chair.

Previously known as the Hindu Student Council, the Hindu Students Organization announced that it was changing its name to promote its inclusive mission on Feb. 28. In a statement on its Facebook page, the group explained that the term “council” had a more exclusive connotation than the group would prefer.

Sreepada, the president, told event attendees that she hoped the name change would help foster a larger and more vibrant Hindu community of students.

Wimmer, the religious affairs chair, noted that the name change came after over a year of consideration, noting that the organization wants “everyone to feel included, accepted and at peace.”

Sreepada added that the Hindu Student Organization’s events and prayers are open to anyone in the wider Yale community, regardless of their religious affiliations or beliefs. The Hindu Student Organization has recently worked to strengthen its partnership with the interfaith council, a cross-religious group on campus. Wimmer said that HSO members attended a Shabbat dinner at Slifka and hosted members of the Jewish community at the HSO’s Saraswati puja, a prayer for the goddess of learning.

“Despite not being entirely Hindu, the HSO community accepted me with open arms and without judgement, and I have learned much about the Hindu faith in all of its plurality,” Bacheschi said.

Allegra Wiprud FES ’20, an attendee of the Maha Shivaratri celebration, told the News that she believed that the undergraduates were doing a great job taking the lead and making the Hindu community a welcome and sacred space.

Upcoming events and celebrations from the Hindu Students Organization include “Dharmic Discussions,” featuring talks from various professors in the Hindu Prayer Room beneath Bingham Hall, and Holi, a celebration involving hundreds of pounds of colored powder that will occur in the spring.

Helena Lyng-Olsen | helena.lyng-olsen@yale.edu