By Jyoti Aggarwal and Dr. Steve Dawson
On Thursday, April 26, a group of students, faculty, and staff celebrated the Hindu religious ceremony known as a hawan at the Pavillion.
Often referred to as a fire ceremony, a hawan is a ritual in which offerings are sacrificed by casting them into a consecrated fire.
While individual hawan can take different forms, most hawan begin with ritual purification (washing of hands), kindling and consecrating the fire, invoking one or more gods, and making offerings.
Prayers and mantras are chanted throughout. At the end, prasad (food that has been blessed by the gods) is shared together.
Hawan are offered for a variety of intentions and occasions, and purify and transform both participants and the environment. The intention of this hawan was to purify the campus environment and promote world peace.
The hawan was organized by Garam Masala, an interfaith and intercultural community blending different perspectives of those who come together to explore shared interests in Indian cultures and religions. Sharmaji, the pandit (or priest) from Shantiniketan Temple outside of Roanoke, performed the hawan. Sharmaji comes from a long line of priests in his family history.
Joan Machus, an administrative assistant to the associate provost and dean said,“I really enjoyed participating in the ceremony with everyone and learning about the religion.”
She further added, “I thought it was a lovely experience and the priest explained what each item represented. I enjoyed the singing at the end of the ceremony and how each of us prayed as a group together.”
Annette Stadtherr said,“This was a very moving experience. I have attended a Diwali pooja in the past but this is my first time to attend Hawan and it was very calming and spiritual for me. It was spiritual as well as pleasing to the senses with the colorful sights, smells, sounds and tastes. The prayers throughout the ritual or ceremony made me feel peaceful. I enjoyed, too, that the priest explained things as he proceeded, making it also very educational for us first timers.”
Dr. Katie Glaeser, an active member of Hindu club and electronic resources librarian at University of Lynchburg said, “I thought that the ceremony was lovely. It was a beautiful day, and I appreciated how the priest took the time to explain the significance of the various elements of the ceremony. He helped us to feel welcome and engaged in the event.”
Nidhi Aggarwal, graduate assistant for graduate housing said,“It was mesmerizing to see our university of Lynchburg family folks join together to take part in the ancient, traditional and spiritual hawan ceremony. I hope that it will bring positivity, growth, and success to everyone.”
Nathan Albert, chaplain for the University said,“I appreciated this diverse group of students, faculty, and staff taking time out of their day to participate in the Hawan ceremony. Not only was it an experience that brought people together, but it also was an opportunity to deepen one’s understanding of Hindu traditions and spiritual practices.”
Anyone interested in joining Garam Masala can email the group’s faculty advisor, Stephen Dawson, at email@example.com.