When Anand Venkatachalam ’08 first came to Wesleyan from Indonesia, there was no doubt in his mind that he would continue attending Hindu temple every Saturday.

“Before I came here, Hindu traditions were a part of my life that I just did, and everyone else did too,” Venkatachalam said.

Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion, encompasses diverse beliefs, including ideas of karma, ethics and reincarnation. During his early months at the University, Venkatachalam remained individually involved in his native religion and traditions, while searching for some sort of Hinduism group on campus.

Unfortunately, no such club existed—that is, until now. The first meeting of Athma, Wesleyan Hindu Awareness Community, will be held today.

Athma plans to hold many traditional Hindu festivals for Hindus and non-Hindus alike. They will also hold weekly Satsang meetings—literally meetings of consciousness—on Fridays. During the meetings, attendees will begin with meditation and chanting of ‘om,’ followed by a discussion on wide-ranging topics that will vary from week to week.

“There are definitely some parts of Hinduism, especially extremist Hinduism, that are a bit controversial,” Venkatachalam said. “But we hope to bring out all those tensions. Hopefully it will be a common place where everyone will feel comfortable to talk things over and share beliefs.”

While Athma came together somewhat spontaneously this fall, Venkatachalam has been tossing the idea around for quite a long time. During his first year at the University, he even put together a small meet-and-greet, to see who might be interested in forming a Hindu-related club. He got a great deal of support from University faculty, but that was about it.

“There ended up being more professors and deans at the meeting than students,” Venkatachalam said. “Only about three or four students showed up.”

Venkatachalam was disappointed with the result, and decided to postpone the creation of the group, hoping the idea might gain a stronger following in subsequent years. Now, during his final year at the University, Venkatachalam will finally see the group take form.

Venkatachalam is slightly nervous, but also has high hopes. “There’s a sense that with regards to starting a Hinduism group on campus, there is a little bit of inertia,” he said. “It is a religion that has been continuously evolving for so long that it is difficult to know how to keep the essence of it and also keep it current.”

While Hinduism is a large part of Venkatachalam’s life, he realizes that some students are not necessarily warm towards the idea of organized religion.

“It wasn’t until I came to Wesleyan—where everything is in a sense put into question—that I started to question [the traditions] more,” said Venkatachalam. “I think that there is a certain sense in which it is a little not cool to be religious in our generation.”

Kumar Sarkar ’09, who was involved in founding the group, agrees that the idea of forming a Hindu group is exciting but also somewhat nerve-wracking. He wonders how it will appear to other students who do not know much about Hinduism.

“There is sort of a general association between being religious and being conservative,” Sarkar said. “But in my mind, at least the two things are really separate.”

He explained that the group is not even entirely about religion itself.

“[In Bangladesh], where I am from, religion is part of the general culture, even if you don’t believe in it,” Sarkar said. “It’s not really about spirituality, it’s more social.”

Both Venkatachalam and Sarkar are excited about the coming weeks, when they will finally see the group put into action.

“We don’t really know who is going to show up or what type of group people will want this to be,” said Sarkar. “But we are very open to suggestions.”

No matter how it turns out, Venkatachalam and Sarkar are proud to be involved in creating Wesleyan’s first-ever Hindu club.

“If only five people show up,” said Venkatachalam, “at least that’s a start.”

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