I was embarrassed to be learning about my own religion in a classroom, shouldn’t I already know? I was nineteen when I began to look for a deeper and academic understanding of my own faith and it was the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS) Continuing Education courses that afforded me the opportunity to pursue my interest. These courses were open to anyone who wanted to learn. Tutors gave new insights into Hindu Identity, the Vedas, Upanishads and the Mahabharata which inspired me.
Later, I went on to study Medicine, but still had a persistent interest from the stimulating experiences the Oxford tutors gave me. Driven by this early experience, I studied for a Masters degree at Oxford University as an OCHS student, and discovered why this Centre is so important to the study of Hinduism.
The OCHS is dedicated to preserving and promoting India’s cultural and intellectual heritage through a programme of world class education, publishing, and research. It is recognised globally as a leading independent and non-sectarian academy for the study of Hindu culture, society, philosophies, and language. It publishes with Oxford University Press and Routledge and hosts international conferences that attract the world’s best scholars of Hinduism.
The OCHS, as the major provider of teaching in Hinduism at Oxford University follows a scholarly, objective approach to Hindu studies. OCHS Director, Shaunaka Rishi Das, refers to the Centre as allowing “critical analysis in a sympathetic environment”. This truly encompasses what OCHS achieves; a unique centre where Hindu thought is promoted yet taught and analysed amongst the highest academic standards in the world.
The Centre is rooted in the heart of Oxford’s dreaming spires, but its reach extends far beyond this historic city. Widening access to Hindu thought involves a “cradle to pyre” approach, which sees education as a lifelong mission. The OCHS regularly provides speakers who give a Hindu perspective on global events in the media and runs a range of adult-education courses online at ced.ochs.org.uk. The teachings offered to students are complementary to teachings in temples, but remain independent from focusing on any one sect’s beliefs.
Another important OCHS outreach is the Bhumi Project – facilitating a worldwide Hindu response to the environmental issues facing our planet. This project had its international launches at Windsor Castle and the White House and is backed by the UN Development Programme.
It is the Oxford-OCHS combination that has allowed these projects and many more to take root and succeed – however, success has not been an easy feat. This is evident in the financial constraints the centre works with. Today the small dedicated OCHS team continues its impressive objective to provide the best resources and facilities to scholars, students, and the wider Hindu community in the UK and internationally on a surprisingly small budget.
Even more surprising is that the OCHS operates independently of government and University budgets and is entirely funded by public subscription. Mr Rishi Das says “we are still as poor as temple mice and fret about scant resources. Yet nothing gives me more satisfaction than seeing the smiling faces of students we serve”. Friends of the centre, many of whom have imbibed the OCHS ethos through Continuing Education courses, have taken it upon themselves to help the Centre reach financial maturity. These friends groups in places like Birmingham, London, and Leicester hold regular events based on their very strong sense of appreciation and commitment to the centre and its purpose as an articulate, coherent Hindu voice.
One of the main goals of the Centre and its supporters is to find a new home for the OCHS. A result of its success has been to outgrow its current space, and a new, permanent home is required for which a fund-raising campaign is underway.
This voice has been heard increasingly by well-known individuals such as Amitabh Bachchan who hosted by the OCHS on his visit to Oxford stated 'I was very surprised that we have a centre like this in Oxford that goes into the study of Hindu philosophy. I am overwhelmed that there are people here in England that have taken it upon themselves academically to go into the subject and prepare students that will go back to their own countries and be able to educate others in the deeper meanings of this philosophy. To have such an institute in England is absolutely fantastic.' Sir Mark Tully, renowned BBC correspondent in India, also stated how “the OCHS is the only Centre of its kind in the world. We benefit from the highest standards of academic excellence and provide all of Oxford University's teaching in Hinduism.” Even the corporate bodies of Barclays, Deloitte, and Ernst and Young have increasingly requested the OCHS to conduct lectures and seminars based on Indian sources.
The OCHS provides an academic basis for Hindu studies, which in my own personal experience has allowed an environment of stimulating, scholarly rigour in a field that I am intensely interested in. I will never forget this education. It continues to shape my thinking, beliefs and appreciation of Hinduism. I am totally in debt for this gift of knowledge. Hindus, whichever sect, are able to unite in their support for OCHS, which can provide a voice of coherency, scholarship, and knowledge.
For more information on the OCHS and its activities, please visit www.ochs.org.uk