September always feels like the beginning of a new year, even more so than January 1st. Although we mark that day with resolutions and retail sales, it’s still just the middle of winter with a long wait for spring. But in September, the weather starts to change and so do we. We anticipate (sometimes with a bit of anxiety) new academic opportunities and meeting new people. We can also feel disoriented. Both new and returning students will learn, in some areas, that the old rules no longer apply. Yet, they will also be affirmed that previous lessons are the foundation for new learning.
When I began seminary many Septembers ago, a recent graduate said to me, “In the midst of all you will encounter here, remember two things. Be and do. Be and do.” Over the years it has become an expanded mantra to me: “In being all I am created to be, I can do all I am called to do.” Whether you profess to be a person of faith or not, you are on this planet for a reason. Seeking meaning and purpose is a human instinct. Is your purpose merely self serving, or connected to something greater than yourself?
Emory students are well known for their commitment to service and volunteerism. In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are planning service trips for fall, winter and spring breaks. We are writing checks and sending donations for relief. In addition to this important work, this September, I am encouraging another type of reaching out within the Emory campus. What would it look like if moved a few steps beyond our regular circle of friends? When did you last take time to learn about someone with whom you have little in common? We were created to be in community. Humans thrive on connection. One of Emory’s core values is to be a collaborative community that works for positive change. It’s how we were created to be. What will YOU do to embody that vision and value?
Rev. Bridgette Young Ross
Dean of the Chapel and Spiritual Life
Weddings across different religions share certain ceremonies despite their sometimes dramatic ideological differences. While that may seem surprising at first, upon researching the history of different wedding traditions, there are many more similarities in their spiritual significance than one might realize. I decided to research the wedding ceremonies of Christianity and Hinduism, two religions that on the surface do not seem to have a lot in common at all, and what I found surprised me.
Kanyadaan and Giving Away of the Bride: In both Hinduism and Christianity the bride is given away to the groom as a sign of good faith and as a way for the family to show their support of the union. Just as a father walks his daughter down the aisle in a Christian wedding, in a Hindu wedding, the father (or maybe both parents of the bride) place their hands between their daughter and son-in-law to symbolize the “giving away of the bride”.
Mangal Sutra/Sindoor and Exchanging of the Rings: In both traditions the bride and groom trade physical objects meant to represent emotional and spiritual connections. For Christianity the bride and groom exchange rings, chosen due to their cyclical shape representing the infinite bond the two share. There is also a scriptural reference to the ring shape because God chose a rainbow, whose complete form is a ring, as a sign of his covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:12-16). In the Hindu tradition the groom gives the bride a gold necklace with small beads and places vermillion on her forehead to signify his eternal commitment to her and the new color and dimension in her life respectively.
Red and White Dresses: The whiteness of the bride’s wedding dress in the Christian faith represents the bride’s purity and innocence in her life and her reverence to God. It also references a passage from Revelation 19:7-8 where Christ clothes his bride, the church, in his own righteousness as a garment of “fine linen, bright and clean.” Although in Hinduism the bride wears much brighter colors, usually red, it is meant to represent the same innocence and purity. The only difference here is that the red also adds an element of passion and romance.
As someone who grew up watching shows like Say Yes to the Dress on TLC, it was always difficult for me to reconcile the reality of my Hindu tradition with the Christian environment I lived in. However, after doing this research and outlining the characteristics of the ceremonies I realized that although cultures can be different on the surface, their motivations are intrinsically very human and share similar beliefs.
Ganesh Chaturthi, or Vinayaka Chaturthi, is a Hindu festival celebrating the birthday of the god, Ganesh. Ganesh is believed by followers to be the elephant-headed son of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction. This year, Ganesh Chaturthi will be observed on September 17th, when Hindus worldwide will celebrate by worshipping Lord Ganesha. Specifically, many participate in creating elaborate, life-size clay models of the elephant-headed god a few months prior to the festival. These clay models of Ganesha are then involved in prayer rituals during the celebration, as they are believed to embody the deity himself. On the eleventh day of the festival, the clay models are carried through the streets and dropped into a river to send Ganesh back to his home in the mountains of Kailash. This act is done to rid devotees of bad omens. Other aspects of the celebration involve preparing feasts and decorating the home. Hindus often pray to Ganesha at the beginning of an activity, as he is believed to be the remover of obstacles. For example, followers pray to Ganesha at the start of their prayer, in the mornings, and at the start of the school year. Wishing everyone a happy Ganesh Chaturthi this week!
– Snehaja Yadlapati
Shubh Krishna Janmashtami (Happy Janmashtami)! Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Gokulashtami, is the celebration of the birth of Krishna. Krishna is the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and is also known as Murali, Govinda, Gopala, and one hundred other names. Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated on the eighth day of the sixth month of the Hindu calendar. This year, that day will be Saturday, September 5. Hindus all across the world (and especially in India) celebrate Krishna Janmashtami by visiting temples and performing a wide range of rituals that vary depending on the region. In addition, many Hindus also fast on Krishna Janmashtami until midnight, when it is believed that Krishna was born. Two rituals unique to Krishna Janmashtami are Rasa lila and Dahi Handi. Rasa lila is a dance that depicts life of Krishna and is performed primarily in the cities of Mathura and Vrindavan, and in parts of the state of Manipur (in India). Dahi Handi is a ritual in which teams of men create human towers and pyramids in order to break a high-hanging pot of dahi (yogurt). The Dahi Handi ritual is performed across India, but is primarily performed in the state of Maharashtra and its capital city of Bombay. In the state of Tamil Nadu, floors are decorated with kolams, patterns made with rice batter, and footprints are drawn from the thresholds of houses to the temple. Shubh Krishna Janmashtami!