Students in the “Teachings of World Religions” class visited the Hindu Temple Society of Mississippi in Brandon earlier in October, for the 9 day festival called Navratri (meaning nine nights). The local swami explained, “The festival is in honor of the goddess Durga, who is believed to be incarnated in different forms over the nine nights. Each day she is expected to kill off certain types of evil.”
The religious aspect of the festival raised the question for evangelical students about how far one goes in “participant observation”. Would you eat fruit that was originally offered to a god or goddess? (Note Paul’s complicated answer in Romans 14). The Belhaven group was graciously offered deep fried fruit, cream of wheat, sodas and fruit. In line with the non-precise time reckoning of the Eastern hemisphere, the main meal was still not underway when we finally left around 9:30 at night.
Many students were surprised to hear that there is a Hindu temple in central Mississippi. There is obviously a large clientele who rely on the temple, as we noticed there were hundreds of people at the Navratri festival. The temple society is used to hosting students. “We have guests all the time from local schools, including Millsaps and St Andrews,” explained the swami. I’m sure the Belhaven students appreciate that some members of the local Indian community explained a bit about the festival, their experience as emigrants, and their understanding of Hinduism.