Washington: The prestigious Duke University in the US has hired its first Hindu chaplain, who will provide guidance to the Hindu students and represent the varsity at its faith council.

Usha Rajagopalan began her part-time role at Duke on August 1.

Rajagopalan is fluent in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam and comes to Duke with degrees from Annamalai University and the University of Maryland.

She has been leading Hindu worship services in the Triangle area and received the 2009 Kathryn Wallace Award in Community Service from the Triangle Community Foundation, a university statement said.

"Hinduism, or Sanathana Dharma, is not a religion but a practice, a way of life," Rajagopalan said.

"Deepening understanding of their inner world as they pursue their academic goals allows Hindu students at Duke to receive a holistic education and to practice their Dharma or way of life," she said.

Welcoming the appointment, the Duke Chapel Dean Samuel Wells said he welcomes Rajagopalan's perspective in campus conversations among different faiths.

"I am proud to be part of a campus culture that builds up diverse faiths by bringing them into healthy dialogue and common enterprises with one another," Wells said.

"This is a flowering of our university's longstanding aspiration to 'eruditio et religio' -- academic learning and embodied faith," Wells said.

Founded in 1998, the Hindu Student Association at Duke organises scripture studies, Hindu festivals and Hinduism Awareness Week.