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Students gathered to pray for the annual HSC Puja. Credit: Akiff Premjee , Akiff Premjee

Sunday night, Bodek Lounge was briefly transformed into a Hindu temple.

The Hindu Student Council and Young Jains of America held their annual Saraswati Puja, benefitting the charity Better World Books.

“A prayer ceremony celebrating the goddess of knowledge and learning,” the Saraswati Puja is “very important for students here,” said College and Engineering sophomore Devika Mehta, one of the organizers. The Saraswati Puja is meant “to give you blessings for your studying endeavors for the year.” Saraswati is traditionallly revered as the water deity and represents the purity of knowledge and the sacred rivers of India.

The event’s importance to the Hindu religion was evident in the large turnout, with nearly 100 students arriving to sit cross-legged on cloths that had been spread across the floor.

While some had attended the puja annually, others were new to the experience.

“I’m not particularly religious, but I wanted to come see what it’s like and get involved,” Wharton and Engineering sophomore Aditi Verma said.

Winter coats and boots were left in a corner of the lounge as the attendees socialized in socks and rainbow-hued salwar kurtas out of respect for the sanctity of the ceremony. As prayers began, incense sticks were lit at a low table covered with flowers, a statue of Ganesha and a portrait of Saraswati. This arrangement, College and Wharton junior Chaitnya Jayanti explained, was “the mantle to which we pray for good luck.”

The prayer leader began by recounting some of the history and symbolism of Saraswati, including her swan, which represents the distinction between good and evil. He then recited prayers which the attendees repeated. Halfway through the ceremony, a basket of flowers was passed around, and each participant held one while reciting the pujas to bless them.

Some even put the flowers in their textbooks for added luck.

“I brought my biomaterials book,” Verma said. “I chose one of the harder classes.” The flowers were then returned to the altar as an offering to the goddess.

The prayer leader spoke both in Sanskrit and in English, advising attendees to be “constantly engaged in that mental reunion with God” and to understand “the abstract part of you who always was, always is, always will be.” His advice was notably applicable to students, as he added, “It is important that your mind is focused…[and] to know what we are doing.”

The focus on learning in the Saraswati Puja translated to a large number of donations in support of Better World Books, “a corporation that donates old textbooks to literacy programs around the world,” Mehta said.

Though a donation wasn’t necessary for entrance to the puja, the organizing groups hoped that most participants would bring their slightly used textbooks for the charity, Engineering junior Arushi Goel said.

And while Bodek Lounge’s transformation only lasted for a few hours, the participants seemed to be considering the prayer leader’s repeated question, “What is my purpose?” long after the prayer rugs had been rolled up.

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