Hinduism is a unique journey to each of us Hindus, and so writing this article has been a rather challenging task. Not only is Hinduism the world’s most ancient religion, but Hindus also draw spiritual inspiration and learning from various sources, including the Ramayana, Bhagavad-Gita, and the Vedas. Hindu philosophy encompasses myriad schools of thought and includes even the philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism.
The sheer breadth of Hinduism prompted me to do this article in a Q&A style: I’ve asked four of our friendly Hindu seniors about their experiences in ACS, and chronicled their responses below. Abhinav Raman, Shreya Kittur, Sparsh Nagar and Sanjana Ayagari have had many unique experiences as Hindus before and within ACS, and I owe them a big thank-you for taking the time to share them with me. I asked them several questions of relevance to any prospective Hindu ACSian, who is curious about the religious environment in the school. Each of them responded with their own set of unique insights.
- Many Hindu families have their own practices, and some of these involve fasting or staying clear of certain kinds of foods at times. Are you able to find food in the SAC, based on your own dietary restrictions?” (Abhinav, Shreya, and Sanjana are vegetarians, while Sparsh does not eat beef)
Abhinav: Yes! Of course there are limited options being a vegetarian, but enough to satisfy my appetite in school! Having said that, my mother would at times pack food for me so I have never really depended on the SAC food.
Shreya: Yup food is readily available I would say! I would usually bring my own food cause of *health* reasons, but if you need lunch or whatever, the prata stall uncle (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Anglo-Chinese-School-I-PrataStall/181259581955821) makes vegetarian versions of almost everything if you ask (i.e. maggi goreng). Also, I think one of the stalls has vegetarian mee on Wednesdays, and there’s always snacks available, so not to worry if you’re vegetarian and hungry!
Sparsh: Yes, finding food was never a problem for me! But being someone who’s both non-vegetarian and likes experimenting with food, it’s generally easier for me. I think vegetarians have found it tough to find variety in school, to be honest. Almost all of us brought lunch boxes!
Sanjana: In general, it’s not exactly super easy to be a vegetarian in Singapore and the same applies to ACS. While there are options, choice is rather limited and I got pretty bored of the food. I mostly bought snacks, which isn’t very nutritious or healthy (hello panda!). It would be lovely if the school did something to increase the number of options for vegetarians but till that happens, I would recommend bringing your own food if possible!
- People are often curious about the school’s attitude towards commitments of religious importance. In general, has the school been accommodating to your needs as a Hindu?
Abhinav: The school has always been accommodating to my needs as a Hindu! I guess an example would be the CDP (Character Development Programme) trip where the school ensured that vegetarian food was arranged for me! Apart from that, if I did have an important religious function on a school day, the teachers have respected that and accepted it as a valid reason for my absence from school.
Shreya: The school has been accommodating I would say. I think as a whole everybody is quite open and accepting, teachers are really nice if you have religious stuff to attend at home, like if you can’t attend remedials/will come to school late because of festivals/pujas/religious commitments. So long as you provide proper excuse letters and let them know in advance, the school/teachers is/are very accommodating and will arrange with you accordingly!
Sparsh: Personally, I’ve never felt that there was a situation where such needs really had to be accommodated for. Of course, the school is always making sure that dietary restrictions and so on are taken care of when required, so I’d lean toward a yes! It’s important to understand that the schools identity is drawn deeply from its Methodist roots, and so you will definitely be exposed to the Christian ways! While none of us have ever found that a problem in any way, the school is always ready to hear you and your concerns out about anything at all.
Sanjana: I don’t think there is anything the school specially does to accommodate other religions but at the same time I never felt like there were any restrictions on me being a Hindu. So I think my needs were fulfilled, but that may have been more due to a lack of any particular needs rather than any accommodation.
- To any prospective student, the environment we live and study in is an important consideration. Have you found the school to be welcoming towards diversity in religious beliefs?
Abhinav: ACS is a Christian school and I would say that it is very welcoming of students of different religious backgrounds. It’s own belief systems are firmly Christian though, and we see this in the REW (religious emphasis week) programmes every year.
Shreya: I guess it is! I’ve never had any issues on this topic.
Sparsh: Absolutely! I think my answer to question 2 is on that line! More than the school itself, I found the people to be so. And in fact many times I’ve been able to have constructive discussions with my peers of different religions in a way that has been really enriching. The ability to discuss such things in an accepting environment is something I felt was really great to my intellectual (and to some extent) my spiritual development.
Sanjana: I think the school and the community is accepting. There is of course an overwhelming Christian influence and with Christians making up the vast majority, it may not be a place of diverse beliefs. I have found people with similar beliefs and the environment in ACS is open enough that I felt comfortable expressing and discussing my beliefs, especially those pertaining to religion. I think with religion comes certain issues that are independent yet largely influenced by religious views. One such example is the LGBT movement. I am a liberal who believes that how an individual chooses to lead their life is their choice and that all choices are completely legitimate. There are many who don’t agree with me and simply don’t accept the idea of homosexuality among other things. Despite these conflicting views, I have always felt comfortable discussing my opinions and raising these issues. We might have to agree to disagree in some cases but the environment is open enough to express your beliefs as long as you’re polite and diplomatic about it.
- Although our friendships usually transcend our religious backgrounds, a prospective Hindu student would no doubt wonder whether they would find more Hindus within the school. Is there a Hindu community within ACS?
Abhinav: Yes! We have had many gatherings for several Hindu festivals such as Holi and dandiya.
Shreya: Most of the students taking Hindi or Tamil are Hindu! We have had quite a strong presence I would say, 19 Hindi kids and all! We go for dandiya, holi etc. which are technically cultural events but yup if you’re a Hindu you’ll definitely find other Hindus in school somewhere.
Sparsh: A vibrant one. Our batch at least, had a huge number of Hindus. And it was always interesting because you had more friends to celebrate holi or diwali with! In fact, holi celebrations have almost become a tradition for our batch!
Sanjana: The relatively large number of Indians ensures a Hindu community, and there is always someone who understands what you’re going on about when it comes to the many hindu festivals or pujas we have!
- ACS is a Christian institution and we observe daily devotions and weekly Chapel sessions. To someone unfamiliar with the culture, it may seem daunting. How have you found the influence of Christian culture in the school?
Abhinav: I think the Christian culture in the school has opened my eyes to how different people have different religious beliefs. Yes, my Hindu beliefs do differ from the beliefs of Christians, but what the Christian culture has taught me is that it is necessary to accept the diversity, so I would say it has just made me aware of different sets of beliefs present in our school community.
Shreya: Chapel, devotions and PC lessons are always really insightful. Even if you aren’t a Christian, you can still learn from them!
Sparsh: It’s helped me find new ways to connect to the spiritual side of things. For example, as Hindus, we generally prefer praying only in front of a murti (statue) or at the temple! But my experience here has taught me that you don’t always need a special spot or location to speak to God. Apart from this, I found that chapel sessions sometimes got me thinking about the grander scheme of things, and in doing so piqued my curiosity about some things, which led me to explore and learn more about Hinduism.
Sanjana: It has definitely given me a greater understanding of Christianity and the mindset of Christian people. Taking part in some of the Christian routines such as devotions and chapels has also helped me develop this understanding. Most importantly, it has taught me that religious harmony and coexistence is actually very simple. All it requires is understanding the other party and accepting that an individual’s beliefs are his own.
- Our outlook on life is often influenced by our spiritual beliefs. Christianity and Hinduism are seldom found in the same category, but people wonder whether Christianity and Hinduism really are all that different. Do you find more similarities or differences between Christianity and Hinduism?
Abhinav: Christianity and Hinduism are in essence two different sets of beliefs, and I think they differ in more ways than they are similar.
Shreya: There are obvious differences between both religions (monotheistic vs. polytheistic, religious practices and whatnot) but at their core, both preach goodness and love for those around you! I think whatever religion you come from ultimately you are taught to be kind, thoughtful and caring so I would say that Christianity and Hinduism are similar at their very core.
Sparsh: Tough one haha. At the very fundamental level, I feel like all religions are more similar than different. But those similarities manifest themselves very differently. So while I think that Hinduism and Christianity are different, they aren’t poles apart. In fact, you’d be amazed at how similar they are in some ways.
Sanjana: They are similar in the sense that they both offer a moral compass and guide to followers and both religions are rooted in the idea of purity and goodness. The theory may be similar but I feel the practice is very different. Hinduism offers an entire way of life more than emphasising on a belief while Christianity counts on faith as its central dogma. I feel that Christianity sets a clear structure for life but Hinduism merely suggests a framework and leaves it up to the individual to choose what they adopt and what they don’t. This is just my understanding though!
- With our little interview at an end, what advice would you like to give students who are considering ACS?
Abhinav: For the new Hindu students coming in: don’t be worried about coming from a different religious background because the friendships that you forge in ACS will and should be strong, regardless of our religious backgrounds. People in ACS are very accepting, friendly and open-minded!
Shreya: Prospective students! Don’t worry about religion when coming to ACS! Everybody I’ve met has been really accepting and open. Friendships are based on much more than our religious backgrounds anyway. I think there’s a degree of sensitivity and mutual respect in everyone at AC. The environment is really great so even if you aren’t Christian or something that isn’t anything to worry about! Just make friends and really treasure your time in AC! (:
Sparsh: Keep an open mind and an open heart! There’s lots to learn 🙂
Sanjana: I think religion is an integral part of life but it’s also something that is highly private. So my advice would be to make your choice but that there is no harm in being informed about different beliefs. Religion is about faith so follow that which you truly believe.
I hope that this has given you some idea of what to expect of life as a Hindu ACSian! ACS is at its core a Christian institution, but is warm and welcoming towards people of different backgrounds. It’s a place in which you will forge strong friendships regardless of religion, and where you will find people to talk to if there’s anything that you need.
If there is anything that you would feel more comfortable clarifying personally, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Arjun Dhar, Sanjana, Shreya and Abhinav are from the graduating batch of 2014.