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Critical Podium Dewanand


The Hindu Experience in North America. Immigration of Hindus to The United States

Sacrificer           unknown
Sacrifice code       wfor0258
Sacrifice date       25 march 2009

The Hindu Experience in North America

1. Immigration of Hindus to The United States

Prior to 1900 C.E., there were barely 700 Indians in the whole of
the United States. Even thereafter, 7000 Indians arrived. Most of
these were poor, illiterate farmers from the Doaba region
(Jallandhar, Ludhiana and Hoshiarpur districts of Indian Punjab) and
were predominantly Sikh Hindus. At that time, Americans were quite
ignorant of the religious vocations of Indians and equated the
term `Hindu' with `Indian.' Consequently, the Sikh framers from
India were also addressed as Hindus by their American neighours.

Since then, to present days, the immigration of Indians/Hindus has
continued with the volume being dependent on the vagrant US
Immigration laws. Large scale migration of Hindus to the United
States started only after the immigration rules were relaxed in the
mid 1960's. Since then, several thousand Indians have continued to
immigrate to the United States each year and currently there are an
estimated 1.5 million Indians of which at least 1 million can be
assumed to be Hindus. Hindu communities from Nepal, Bangladesh, Bali
(Indonesia) etc. are much smaller.

2. Some Important Characteristics of the American Hindu Community:

Unlike the Indians that came at the beginning of the century, most
modern immigrants are highly skilled and professionally qualified.
They are scientists, engineers, doctors, architects and so on.
Virtually none work as farmers, soldiers, artistes etc. So by and
large, they are professionally well placed and are well represented
in vocations like Medicine, Business Administration, Software
programming and Engineering. Indians as such have the second highest
median family incomes of all ethnic groups in the United States
(after Japanese).

Hindus came here primarily for worldly reasons. They left India in
search of better economic prospects and to do good in life even if
it involved hard and long hours of work. Naturally then, culture
will often take a back seat.

An overwhelming majority of Hindus are first generation American
i.e., they were born in India or other country from which they hail.
Second generation Indians are no doubt common, but third generation
Indians are not very common. In addition, an overwhelming majority
of Hindus/Indians are either young or middle aged.

Their composition does not truly reflect the composition in India.
For instance, Gujarati Hindus comprise 4% of the population in India
but could be 20% of all Hindus in the USA. Other over represented
groups are Telugu, Punjabis and Tamils. Under-represented groups are
Marathi, Hindi speaking and so on. For the last few years, Telugus
(originating from Andhra Pradesh) have been the most numerous Hindu
community in North America, augmented by the steady and heavy influx
of software engineers from this part (Andhra Pradesh) of India.

Hindus from countries other than India are very small in number and
tend to associate themselves with Indian Hindu cultural
associations. Countries in the neighbourhood of India share a lot of
cultural features with particular parts of India and this makes he
integration of Non-Indian Hindus from South Asia easier. Thus,
Bangladeshi Hindus readily assimililate with Indian Bengalis,
Nepalis get along with North and East Indian Hindus, Sri Lankan
Hindus associate with Tamil Hindus from India and so on.

American/Canadian Hindus keep in touch with their family members
left behind in India and make frequent trips to their home
countries. Hindus who acquire permanent residency of citizenship
here try to get their family members here, especially their parents
and siblings. Parents who come thus then play a significant role in
the continuation of Hindu traditions in their children's households.
Most Hindus also try to obtain information on the latest Indian
clothes, movies, songs etc.--all of which have a distinct
Indian/Hindu flavor.

Lastly, the Hindu community is currently marked by a continuous
influx of Hindus from their traditional homelands. So, the Hindu
community here is continuously fed with the culture brough afresh by
these new Hindu immigrants and are not in the danger of becoming an
isolated island in a see of Non-Hindu communities.

But most important, the Hindu community in North America is
sufficiently numerous (over 1 million) to ever become absorbed
completely by the dominate communities here. If a Hindu chooses to,
he could live in complete isolation from other communities, although
this would be quite difficult.

3. North Environment of American Hindus

Hindus form a very small minority in a predominantly white/caucasian
society that is highly secularized. Surrounded predominantly by a
people different from themselves, Hindus are very susceptible to
influences from the rest of the American society. It is difficult
for Hindus to influence the much larger Non-Hindu American society
in any meaningful manner. A natural result of this that to avoid
being isolated from other Americans, Hindus here adopt distinctly
American customs (like Thanksgiving) in addition to following their
own. Most traditions followed by Americans derive from their Judeo
Christian roots- for eg. the nationwide celebration of Christmas.
Hindus in the North America adopt the secular aspects of this
festival like putting up a Christmas tree in their homes, Santa
Claus gifts for children and so on.

In India, one does not have to be taught Hinduism--one is born in it
and acquires Hindu beliefs and learns Hindu cultural and traditional
practices naturally from people around him. In contrast, a conscious
effort has to be made by Hindus here to learn something about their
religion and culture.

American society is however becoming multi-ethnic with each passing
day and the percentage of the Caucasian majority is declining.
Consequently, Americans are determined to insure that they live in a
free society which respects diversity and does not insist on
conformance to particular social norms. Religion is considered a
very controversial topic for general discussion and normally, people
do not discuss religious matters with adherents of other religions
for the fear of offending them. Religion is moreover considered a
private matter in a very zealous manner and public places are not
used for any religious activity at all.

Canada and United States have political systems that are committed
to promoting equality amongst all sections of the society and whose
laws are extremely equitable. Freedom of speech is respected and at
the same time, statements offensive to any particular section of the
society are considered in extremely bad taste and a direct
invitation to legal action.

The American society is too young to have evolved hallowed
traditions that are peculiar to itself and which distinguish it from
other societies. The American culture is not well defined in the
sense that it is a `popular culture' that is extremely democratic
and hoi polloi. The American is society still in a state of flux due
to a large influx of immigrants from other countries every year.
Every 10th American is born outside the territory of the United

The American society is said to be the most prosperous society known
in Human history. It is marked with extreme mobility of people
within the United States. Americans perceive their country as `a
world leader and as a torch bearer for the values of equality,
liberty and democracy'.

All these factors make the American experience a very unique one for

4. Nature of Hinduism:

Hindus can claim to be the only major religious group besides the
Jews who have never changed their religion. From pre-historic times,
Hinduism in various forms has been the dominant faith of much of
South Asia. As a result of this, Hinduism has acquired a very ethnic
character. Really speaking, the fundamental tenets of Hinduism donot
require its followers to be Indian or even do things Indian. But in
actual practice, several thousand traditions and rituals and beliefs
associated with rivers, mountains, flora and fauna of India have
become a part and parcel of Hinduism.The whole Indian subcontinent
is dotted with sites regarded as holy by Hindus and several trees,
mountains, animals etc. found only within this region have deep
spiritual significance for Hindus.

Unlike Islam, Christianity or other religions, Hinduism did not
initially develop in a hostile environment nor did Hindus enter into
conflict with their neighbours, nor was it founded in a society of
adherents of a different religion by any particular founder. Rather,
it is an amalgam of the collective spiritual vision of thousands of
great men regarded as sages, saints and holy men. Their writings and
sayings comprise the vast religious corpus of Hindus. This corpus is
of a diverse nature--it has a distinct Indian character about it and
yet forms a broad spectrum of ethical, theological, metaphysical and
philosophical teachings. By default, the Vedas--the oldest writings
of Hindus, have acquired the status of the infallible word of God
although the later scriptures are more popular amongst Hindus.

Due to the catholic nature of Hindu beliefs, Hindus have never been
insistent on the adherence of a particular set of beliefs. As long
as certain minimum set of moral and social values were adhered to,
people were free to have their philosophical and theological
beliefs. Diversity in these matters was accepted as a fundamental
truth of human existence.In short, Hinduism itself is a broad
spectrum of beliefs, practices, traditions, rituals etc. that have
evolved in India.

Since Hinduism did not emerge as a response to a particular
situation but rather continuoulsy evolved, adapted, transformed and
formalized simultaneously over the ages in response to changing
conditions and due to inputs from hundreds of visionaries, it has a
more transcedental and universal view of things. Hindus therefore
prefer to call their religion `Sanatana Dharma' or the Eternal
Religion. Hindu sages commented on diverse subjects like philosophy,
ethics, cultural and social values and therefore, Hindus donot
ordinarily distinguish between religion and philosophy.

In its formative years, Hinduism did not suffer persecution from
adherents of other faiths and so failed to develop any kind
of `Martyr Cult', even when it faced terrible persecutions during
the Muslim rule in the medeival ages.

Hindus therefore, never went around converting others to their faith
with the sword and considered even Christianity and Islam as
variants of `Dharma'--the Universal Law of Truth despite the fact
that the semitic religions reject this notion of diversity and are
exclusivist doctrines. Even today, conversion of Non-Hindus to
Hinduism is rejected by most Hindus.

The diversity amongst Hindus in all matters was further enhanced by
the political fragmentation of South Asia till recent times as a
result of which, the Hinduism developed along different streams that
merged and separated from time to time. Several times in history and
especially in the last two centuries, Hindus have shown a tendency
towards syncretization of their different belief systems. Sectarian
loyalities have become weaker and a pan-Hindu identity is becoming
stronger with time. An extreme case is the espousal of Hindu
politico-cultural nationalism (called Hindutva) by some sections of
the Hindu society- especially the educated middle classes. These
trends have not left American Hindus unaffected, especially since
they have come from India in very recent times.

Still, some beliefs can be considered fairly widespead amongst
1. Belief that Vedas are revelation of God
2. Respect for cow and Brahmins
3. Belief in Karma theory and Rebirth (in addition to heaven and hell)
4. Belief in a soul that is different from the body
5. Belief that the world is full of joys and sorrows but there exists a blissful state called Moksha (salvation) that is attained after man is freed from the cycle of births and death.
6. Belief that certain purificatory ceremonies (Samskaras) should be performed at the important stages of life.
7. Belief in the sanctity of all creation and emphasis on Satya (truth), forgiveness, charity and other universal human virtues.
8. Belief in the division of Human society along the lines of caste and stage of life (Asrama)

The consciousness among Hindus that they are a religion distinct
from Islam, Christianity etc. was strengthened after Muslims and
Christians themselves designated Indians as followers of a religion--
`Hinduism' that was distinct from theirs. In modern times, most
Hindus now believe that they are followers of `Hinduism'
or `Sanatana Dharma' which they associate very deeply with `India'
or `Indian Culture.' Above all, they are proud of the fact that
Hinduism is the most ancient religion on earth and that Hindus have
been very tolerant of other faiths.

5. Cultural and Religious Institutions of North American Hindus

As the Hindus form a sizeable community in most large American
cities, they have constructed numerous temples all over North

5.1: Location and Architecture of Hindu Temples in North America:

Traditionally, river banks, lakes and mountains in India have been
regarded as hallowed spots fit for the construction of temples.
Besides, temples are constructed according to the dictates of
scriptural texts that describe temple architecture (shilpa agama
shastras). However, the small roadside temples which abound in India
do not conform to these guidelines, although they still have a
distinct Indian architectural appearance. In the United States, on
the other hand, most Hindu temples look completely `un-Hindu'
outwardly. Several Hindu temples here are converted residential
homes, churches and other secular buildings. For instance, the Hindu
temple in downtown Minneapolis is a converted church which the North
Indian Hindu community purchased a few years back. Another religious
institution in the Twin Cities area- the Geeta Ashram, resides in a
large house in a Northern Suburb of Minneapolis, while the third- a
Gurudwara (a Sikh Temple) is a converted `Burger King' restaurant.
The last is an interesting case--It is unthinkable in India to
conscecrate a temple in a building where beef was once served, since
the Cow is sacred to Hindus (as well as to Sikhs).

Several factors are responsible for the fact that Hindu temples here
are not constructed in one of the traditional Hindu temple
architectural traditions (Nagara, Dravidian, Bishnupura, Kashmiri
etc). First, local laws often require that the buildings in the area
must confirm to the local architectural traditions. For instance, a
temple in Norwalk (in California) had to adopt a Spanish mission
style of architecture before its congregation could obtain
permission to build. Second, most Hindu communities here are too
small and too diverse to be able to finance the construction of a
traditional Temple by craftsmen brought from India. Third,most
Hindus consciously want to assimilate with the dominant community of
their areea and having a `Hindoo' looking structure as place of
worship would make them stand out as aliens. However, as Indian
communities have grown sizeable in some parts of North America, they
have constructed massive beautiful temples with traditional
architecture. The most famous example is the `Balaji Temple' at
Pittsburg- the `Temple City' of North America. This temple is a
replica of the `Sri Venkatesvara' temple at Tirupati--complete with
the Gopurams, Dhwaja stambha (flag mast), shikharam etc. Unlike in
India, however, even these traditional temples have to conform to
the stringent construction laws like the fire code, electric code,
restrictions on the number of people who can assemble, mandatory
provisions for sufficient parking space etc. During festival
seasons, when a sudden rush of Hindu devotees is expected, the
temple authorities here have to make special arrangements for
parking. For instance, during the `Brahmotsavam' ceremony at Balaji
temple in November 1995, the temple authorities rented the parking
space of a High School nearby to accomodate the additional cars of
visitors. Shuttle bus service was also provided for devotees between
the school and the temple.

Hindus value tradition greatly, and pilgrim centers all over the
Indian subcontinent are dotted with ancient temples commemorating
some important moment in the Indian History. These are frequented by
pilgrims the year around. Sites like the confluence of rivers,
caves, river banks and forests etc. have also been considered
hallowed places for the construction of religious institutions. In
practice however, the Hindu laity normally throng the local temples
in the close vicinity of their homes. In course of time, even these
local temples have acquired great importance and have started
attracting Hindus from distant places as well.

In contrast, the temples of the young Hindu community are
extremely `rootless' since the North America has not been a Hindu
country. However, the Hindus here have made a conscious effort to
replicate the environment of their temple back in India. Thus, the
ISCKON temple at Alachua, Florida is located in a farm which
produces several agricultural crops and rears milch cows. The temple
is devoted to Lord Krishna- who was a cowherd himself and whose
followers are predominantly vegetarians. Sometimes North American
Hindus have made conscious attempts to constuct replicas of Indian
Temples here at sites which mirror the location of the parent temple
in India. For an example, the Balaji temple in India is constructed
on the Tirumala hills while, at Pittsburg, the South Indian Hindu
community brought an entire hill to construct the replica of the
Tirupati temple. Pittsburg also has the confluence of two rivers
like several major pilgrim centers in India. Hence, the Hindu
community found the idea of construction of a temple at
this `hallowed' location irresistible. The site of most temples
however, is dictated by the practical needs of Hindus and economic
factors. This is clearly seen in the case temples in the Twin Cities
area. The Geeta Ashrama- the first temple in the area was
constructed in a Northern suburb of the Twin Cities because the
property was available for a lower price than in the downtown area.
However, as the Indian community grew larger here, the purchase of
an old, disused church in the down town area and converted it into
the Hindu temple of Minneapolis. The latter has now cannibalized the
former i.e., most Hindus now prefer going to the downtown Temple
because of the more convenient location. The Hindus who still prefer
to go the Geeta Ashram, prefer to do so because of the `more
authentic Indian' character of the place as compared to the `Hindu
Mandir'(a converted chruch) in down-town Minneapolis that has pews
and other paraphrenalia of an American Church.

An important Hindu ritual- `the Yajna' (Fire Sacrifice) involves the
use of Fire Altar. Consequently, some temples are built outside the
city limits in order that their religious ceremonies donot violate
the `fire code' of the area.

5.2: Role of Temples in Festivals:

Festivals are a very communal and
social affair in India. They are marked by large scale decoration of
temples and other public places and homes. People throng religious
discourses, religious processions, communal ceremonies and large
scale socio-cultural functions. The festival is `in the air.' Few
Hindus festivals like Diwali, Vijayadashmi (Dussahra), Ramavami,
Krishna-Janmashtmi and Shivaratri (especially the first two) have a
pan Indian character. Most other festivals have a regional character
and Hindus are often ignorant about festivals not celebrated in
their region. For instance, North Indian Hindus are quite ignorant
about `Ganesh Chaturthi' (celebrated in Maharasthra, Karnataka and
parts of Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan etc.), while a lot of South Indian
Hindus are ignorant of Holi--a major festival of North India.
Nepalese Hindus celebrate `Bhai-Puja', a festival not celebrated by
Indian Hindus. In Indonesia, Balinese Hindus celebrate the Hindu New
Year a day before `Gudi Padwa' (the new year of Maharashtrian
Hindus). The last is a national holiday in Indonesia.

In North America, public display of festivals is almost absent. Some
notable exceptions are:
a. The Hindu community of Houston (Texas), takes out a grand
procession every year on Janmashtmi. In 1994, about 10000 Hindus
participated in the procession (Source: News India Times).
b. The Sikh community of Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) takes
out a procession every year on Baisakhi. The procession is lead by 5
sword wielding Sikhs (`Panj Pyaras').

Besides the fact that the Indian communities in most parts of North
America are too sparse, public celebration of festivals here is also
hindered due to the fact that Hindu festival days are not holidays
in North America. Some local laws also come in the way of large
scale celebration of festivals by Hindus. For instance, Minnesota
state laws do not permit bursting of fire-crackers (except on the
American Independence Day by notified officials) and so Hindus
cannot celebrate Diwali here in the traditional manner by bursting
fire-crackers. In contrast, West Virginia laws do permit lighting up
of fireworks and so Hindus there use non-explosive fire-crackers on

In such a scenario, temples play a pivotal role in the celebration
of Hindu festivals, more so than in India. Most temples organize a
cultural cum religious programs around the major religious Hindu
festivals like Diwali and Janmashtmi. Unlike in India, these
programs are not held on the specific day of the festival but any
convenient weekend close to the actual day. This is due to the fact
that unlike in India, Hindu festivals are not holidays in North
America. The programs comprise of a medley of traditional Indian
dances, vocal recitals, instrumental performances and the like. A
prime attraction to these programs is without doubt the `Indian
Cuisine' that is served during the function. Several Hindus,
especially recently arrived students from India consider this the
most important motivation for attending these programs. There is
often a `Donation' for attending these programs (while in India, it
is free of cost). I had a chance to attend the Diwali function of
the Geeta Ashram of the Twin Cities area in 1998. An interesting
item on the itinerary given in their brochure is the `Halloween
Contest"--this shows a conscious attempt on the part of Hindu
communities here to adapt themselves to the American culture. The
Halloween contest was included probably because the program was held
just a few days before Halloween.

An important point to note is that if a particular Hindu community
dominates the area, the program organized by the temple tends to be
biased towards the cultural practices of that particular Hindu
ethnic community. For instance, the Diwali celebrations in the
Central Florida has a distinct Gujarati flavor. Often, cultural
difference between various Hindu ethnic groups creates some discord,
leading to more than one Festival program in the same city. For
instance, in 1994, Atlanta witnessed atleast 2 publicly organized
programs for Diwali-one organized by the North Indian community, and
the other by the Gujarati Hindu community.

In these functions, Hindus get an opportunity to wear their
expensive Indian clothes and jewellery, and also socialise with
other members of the Indian community.

5.3 Role of Hindu temples in preservation of Indian Culture:

The anscestors of all Christians and Muslims converted from their old
pagan faiths to embrace Christianity and Islam. In contrast, most
Hindus in world have been Hindus since pre-historic times.
Consequently, the cultural traditions and practices have got
intervined with religious beliefs to a greater extent in Hinduism
than in any other religion. Hindus themselves equate their religion
with the cultural traditions they follow and so do the outsiders. We
can safely say that most culture in India has religious connotations
and that the secular aspects of Indian culture are not a very
important component of Indian or Hindu culture.

Naturally then, Hindu temples in North America predominantly seek to
preserve Indian cultural values, rather than promote Hindu
philosophy and scriptural teachings. The Geeta Ashram in the Twin
Cities area conducts classes in Hindi for children of Indian
Immigrants. The Malibu Hindu temple in Southern California has a
basement where Bharatanatyam (an Indian dance closely associated
with temples of Tamil Nadu) performances are conducted. The
Pittsburg temple actually originated from dance classes taught by a
lady teacher of the city. Hindu temples often rent out their halls
and other areas for Indian cultural programs. For instance, the
Geeta Ashram rented out their hall to the Bengali Hindu community of
the Twin Cities area for their cultural program on October 24, 1998.

5.4 The Priests and Rituals of Temples:

The Immigrations Rules of the United States govt. have a special
category of visas for allowing religious communities here to invite
religious preachers and priests into the country. These
preachers/priests stay in the United States for a fixed period of
time during which they are not allowed to engage in any profession
other than the one they came here for. Resourceful Hindu communities
have taken advantage of these laws to import priests from India for
conducting the rituals at prominent Hindu temples. These priests are
drawn from the traditional priestly class from India and so are able
to perform their tasks in an orthodox fashion, without
any `adulteration.' During the Brahmotsavam ceremony at the Balaji
Temple at Pittsburg in November 1995, I was amazed to see that the
priests conducting the complicated ritual had all their priestly
marks--shaved heads except for the tuft of hair (shikha), priestly
attire, ash marks on their foreheads and elsewhere. The priests even
asked me my `Nakshatra' (which I did not know) and my `gotra.'
(lineage). In 1997, about 21 `Strotriyas' (Brahmins who can recite
the Vedas with the proper accents from memory) came to the United
States at the invitation of the Hindu community for performing the
Maharudra yagna- An elaborate ritual. They even participated in
the `Indian Independence Day' parade in New York. I also had the
opportunity to witness a Hindu wedding ceremony in the Shiva-Vishnu
temple at Cleveland on August 8, 1998. The entire ceremony was
conducted by a Gujarati priest who worked for the temple. The
ceremony was identical to the one conducted in India these days.

Many Hindu communities however cannot afford to import priests from
India. In such cases, one of the Hindus belonging to the laity
officiates as the priest. An example is the Hindu Mandir in dowtown

The temples in North America are unable to perform the traditional
rituals with the same frequency due to lack of manpower and
financial resources. This leads to `pragmatic ritualism' which
involves shortening of ceremonies, use of substitutes for
ingredients of the ritual, and more prolific use of Indian
vernaculars and English rather than Sanskrit for the ceremony. The
last is a necessity also because second generation Hindus normally
do not understand the vernaculars of India. Temples here also have
to make frequent use of mailing lists, pamphlets etc. to advertise
their activities.

5.5 Deities of North American Hindu temples- Eclectism or

Indian Hindus are the only sizeable Hindu community in North America
(except the Hare Krishnas, who have a network of ISCKON temples).
Consequently, Hindus of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Malaysian,
Sri Lankan, Guyanese, Surinamese and even Indonesian origin use
Indian Hindu temples for the fulfillment of their religious and
cultural needs. For instance, a Nepalese couple got married at the
Geeta Ashram with traditional Hindu rites in October 98'. Thus,
Hindu temples can lead to the formation of a pan-Hindu identity.

New York however, has a large concentration of Hindu immigrants from
the Carribean Islands and Guyana and Surinam. The culture of these
Hindus is, on one hand, fossilized to some extent since they left
India more than a century back, and on the other hand is influenced
by their Creole neighbours back in their adopted homelands.
Consequently, while these Hindus do interact with Hindus from India,
their culture and religious practices are sufficiently different
from modern Hindu immigrants from India. This might be the reason
for the existence of a Hindu temple constructed by Guyanese and
Surinamese Hindus in New York.

Different regions of India show a preference for different `gods' of
Hinduism. Thus, the worship of Shakti prevails in Bengal, Ganesha in
Maharasthra, Krishna in Gujarat and so on. In North America, no one
ethnic Hindu community prevails in most cities and so the Hindu
temples have a very `eclectic' character. Thus, the Hindu temple at
the outskirts of Cleveland is a `Shiva-Vishnu temple'. The
Shiva/Vishnu temple in Livermore (east of San Francisco) has both a
Shikhar (characteristic of the Nagara style of temple architecture
prevalant in North India) and Gopuram (characteristic of the South
Indian Dravidian style). The `Hindu Unity Temple' in Dallas in Texas
has icons of about a dozen deities worshipped by Hindus belonging to
different sects and regions. The Malibu Hindu temple in fact has
attracted North Indian Hindus by installing new images that appeal
to the. This broadening of its appeal was partly inspired by the
need to pay the mortgage.

A natural outcome of the sparsity if Hindu community in North
America is that there are hardly any temples here devoted to the
worship of deities that have a very local character in India. For
instance, there is no Hindu temple devoted to the worship of
Khandoba, Mhashala deva (deities worshipped in parts of
Maharasthra), Dattatreya (worshipped in Western India) and so on.

It must be pointed out, however that eclecticism in the construction
of temples is an increasing phenomenon in India too. The
famous `Mukti Dham' temple of Nashik contains icons of all the major
deities and saints of the Hindu tradition. The temple is, in fact,
eclipsing other ancient temples like ancient Tryambakeshwara Shiva
temple in the region. The Birla Temple in New Delhi and the Vishnu-
Venkatesvara temple (in South Delhi) are some other examples.

Sometimes, the management of these eclectic Hindu temples often gets
divided along ethnic lines. For instance, for long, the Hindus from
Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka struggled to gain dominance
in the management committee of the Balaji Temple at Pittsburg.

Often however, a particular Hindu ethnic community attains a
sizeable enough presence in a region to be able to construct a
temple reflecting their preferences of the deity, architecture,
sectarian allegiance and so on. For instance, New Jersey has a very
strong Gujarati Hindu community that has constructed a Swaminarayan
Temple (Swaminarayans are a typically Gujarati Vaisnava Hindu sect
and follow the teachings of their teacher called Swami Sahajanand,
who lived barely two centuries ago).

Hinduism is still perceived as an `exotic' religion by most
Americans due to their Judeo- Christian background. Americans fail

to comprehend the apparent diversity of forms in Hinduism. Some
stereotypical depictions of Hindu deities (like in `Indiana Jones
and the Temple of Doom') have further reinforced such impressions in
the minds of Americans. Hindus are themselves often not well
informed to know the significance of their varied religious
practices due to the `easy going' attitude of most Hindus.
Consequently, in the North American context, Hindus tend to avoid
all those aspects of temple worship that might prove controversial
or might invite derisive or mocking reactions from the dominant
communities here. The Hindu pantheon includes the `fearsome' looking
goddess Bhadrakali, who is normally depicted wearing a garland of
skulls, carrying a bowl of blood in one hand and weilding a sword in
the other. The image of such a deity would invite negative reactions
from predominantly Christian Americans and this might be the reason
why there are hardly any temples devoted to Bhadrakali and
other `grotesque' (to borrow the term used by some `Orientalists')
deities like Bhairon, Chandi etc. in North America. This fact has
been colorfully stated by some scholars of Indian culture and
Hinduism in the United States- "There is no American Visa for Kali."

The Semitic God is an elderly male figure whereas Hindus worship
Divinity in male, female and anthromorphic forms. In India, temples
of female and anthromorphic deities abound but they are
comparatively rare in North America. Thus, there are hardly temples
dedicated to Hanuman ("Monkey God"), Narasimha ("Man Lion") or even
various forms of Shakti like Durga, Vaishno Devi that are worshipped
by millions of Indians. In summary, North American Hindus prefer to
install icons of `Human looking' male deities devoid of
their `exotic' characteristics like `multiple arms', `multiple
heads' and so on.

6. Other Religious Institutions of Hindus:

In addition to Temples, Hindus in India have other religious
institutions like Monastries, Hermitages, Religious schools and
Universities, Yoga Institutes and other institutions centred around
a Guru (a religious teacher). Such institutions have started comming
up in North America as well.

In fact, Hinduism was first brought to the United States by great
personalities like Swami Vivekanand, who preached the message of
Vedanta to the American audience. In his short stay here, he
established several `Vedanta Societies' in different parts of the
United States, most of which are defunct. In Providence (Rhode
Island), an engraved stone slab marks the site where Swami
Vivekanand delivered his lectures to an audience comprising of
students and Professors of the Brown University. The members of the
Vedanta Society (housed in small old converted church at the spot)
meet regularly to discuss the Vedanta Philosophy.

Branches of Theosophical Society were also established a century
back by General Olcott and Madame Blavatsky and only a few of them
are still functional. The Sri Aurobindo Asrama of Pondicherry
(India) has opened a branch in Artesia (Calirfornia). Followers of
Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Rama, Swami Sivananda and Paramahamsa
Yogananda have also established centers for disseminating the
teachers of these masters.

Swami Sivanand Satguru, himself a Caucasian American, has
established a monastry and a Shaiva Siddhanta temple in picturesque
surroundings at Mt. Iravan in Hawai. Most of the monks here are
Americans but they adhere rigidly to the tenets of the Saiva
Siddhanta sect of Hinduism. The order is doing great service in
disseminating the tenets of Hindus in general by using modern means
of information technology like the Internet. `Hinduism Today', a
colorful magazine with well written articles published by the
Monastry is the only true Hindu publication that has a Global Hindu
perspective.The monks have also articulated the Hindu view of modern
issues like euthanasia, abortion and vegetarianism.

Several Hindu Universities have been established in the United
States recently. The Vedic University at San Diego (California) is
pioneering the teaching of Hindi and Hinduism on IBM and Macintosh
computers. The International Vedic University at Orlando and another
started by David Frawley (`Vamadeva Shastri') conduct courses in
Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine), Hindu astrology, Yoga and
Sanskrit scriptures. The former has well structured 2 year (or
longer) programs designed to train students to officiate as priests
in Hindu temples. In addition, there are several institutions all
over North America that conduct classes on Yoga and specialized
forms of meditation like `Transcedental Meditation.' An example is
the `Transcedental Meditation' institute at Gainesville, Florida.
The technique of `Transcedental Meditation' was first preached by
Maharshi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960's and his followers are quite
influential even today. They have even opened up a University in
Iowa. The University has a website and offers courses like `MBA',
which however, is taught with a `Vedic perspective.' A look at the
library of the University reveals the existence of books related to
virtually every branch of Vedic literature.

A notable feature of all these institutes (with the exception of the
Saiva Siddhanta monastry at Mt. Iravan) is that they do not stress
the Hindu character of their teachings and do not attempt to convert
Non-Hindus to Hinduism. On the other hand, the website of the Saiva
Siddhanta monastry even describes a procedure whereby Non-Hindus
could convert to Hinduism.

The Hare Krishnas have a string of schools across North American
where education is imparted to pupils according the `Vedic
Principles.' In recent years, the sect and the institutions as such
have been mired with controversies like sexual abuse of children.
While approximately 20000 students were enrolled in the Hare Krishna
school in the heyday of this sect, today not more than 2000 (or
possibly fewer) remain. A notable example is the school in Alachua,

7. Hindu Cultural Organizations:

As stated earlier, there is a very thin dividing line between Hindu
religion and Indian culture and this is reflected in the close
association between the cultural and relgious organizations of
Hindus in the United States.
"The Holy Vedas (the Divine Hindu revelation) cannot save the man
who is devoid of virtue or piety. Upon his death, the entire
learning of such a person abandons him, as birdlings leave their
nest when they come of age. Only the good and bad deeds accompany a
man to his next life." Manusmrti

8. Transmission of Hindu Traditions in Hindu families in North America

8.1: Introduction:

Hinduism, as has been practiced by Hindus historically, is a myriad
of customs and traditions peculiar to their own caste and region.
Hindus who have arrived recently from India are comfortable with the
multiplicity and diversity of our religious tradition and follow a
variety of Hindu customs and ceremonies. A cursory look at any
Indian newspaper line the `India Abroad' or the `News India Times'
will reveal reports on the performance of several Hindu rituals and
ceremonies belonging to the different streams of Hinduism and
conducted by different ethnic groups of Hindus.

As the Hindu communities here have grown in size and have become
well established, they have started organizing authentic and
complicated Hindu rituals like the Rudrabhisheka, Brahmotsavan with
increasing frequency. Hindu immigrants from the Caribbean too have
started organizing their own Hindu ritual ceremonies. Several Hindus
actually make a conscious attempt to conduct the `Samskara' in their
due time and in an authentic manner. For instance, my cousin
brother, who resides in New Jersey and cannot speak or write Hindi
or any Indian vernacular because he was born and brought up in this
country, took pains to conduct the `Mundan' ceremony of his son. He
called over his parents and a traditional priests to insure that the
ceremony is conducted in a traditional Hindu manner.

A study conducted on Hinduism in the United States shows how "
Hindus in the United States deal with the increased demands on the
time and loss of family priests and other religious specialists
available in the Indian context. Temple and temple priests have
assumed increased importance, with temples often offering language
and music classes. Hindu immigrants have found ways to continue the
obligatory ritual performances. Daily rituals can be shortened on
weekdays, lengthened on weekends; they can be combined, with both
morning and evening rituals performed in the evenings. Rituals can
be temporarily suspended, perhaps by students in dormitories, and
resumed on return to the parental home. Ritual responsibility can be
delegated to only one member of the family, perhaps an elderly
mother, who performs religious observances on behalf of the entire
family. Families can postpone all rituals to weekends, or they can
rotate the observance of holiday rituals among a number of families,
simplifying observances for any one family. Because the sacred fire
altar cannot be used in many settings, incense or candles can be
substituted. Hindus must make places in their American-designed
homes for puja rooms or shrines, converting kitchen, closets, or
studies into worship centers."

8.2: A North Indian Hindu Wedding in the United States

In August 1998, I had a chance to attend a wedding in the Punjabi
Hindu community in Cleveland. It was amazing to note that the
wedding conformed to all the contemporary trends in the wedding in
the Punjabi community in India. The families of the bride as well as
the groom had emigrated to India within the last decade and have not
got Americanized yet.

Two days before the wedding, there was a Mehndi ceremony. An Indian
lady from Cleveland applied Henna patterns to the hands and the feet
of the lady guests and the bride in a typical Indian manner. That
evening, the engagement ceremony was conducted at home upon the
arrival of the bridegroom and his family. This particular ceremony
was conducted by a Kannada Hindu priest who was specially brought
over from the local `Shiva-Vishnu' Hindu temple. Although the priest
was from South India, he conducted the entire ritual in the
traditional North Indian manner in deference to the wishes of the
bridegroom's family. Such a thing is rare in India, where priests
normally would be unaware of the Hindu customs of other regions. In
the United States however, they need to be conversant with all the
regional variations of Hindu customs so that they can better serve
the diverse Hindu community here.

The wedding day was preceded by the usual customary celebrations
like the Ladies' Sangeet' and the Chuda ceremony. The latter was
presided over by a lady priest who conducts Hindu rituals free of
cost with an altruistic motive. The ceremony is conducted by the
maternal Uncle of the bride and since he could not come from India
for the wedding, I was asked to assume his role since I was the
closest male relative to the Uncle who was present. The Priestess
conducted the ceremony with the help of some simplified prayer
manuals which contained verses from the Vedas along with the
translations. Unlike in India, where the priests do not usually
explain the meaning of the various steps in the rituals, the
priestess explained the meaning of all the verses she recited during
the ceremony and explained to us the significance of the whole
ritual in a very succinct manner. Even for elderly Hindus who were
attending their first ever wedding in the United States, this was
the first time when the meaning of these rituals was being explained
to them. The ritual manual was a publication of the Arya Samaj
organization based at Washington D.C. and contained numerous
vernacular hymns, which all of us recited and sang, following the
priestess. As far as the ingredients of the ritual were concerned
(the red thread, the ivory bangles etc.), they were identical to the
ones used in India and were procured from Indians living in the
United States.

That evening, there was a `Cocktail Party' as Punjabi Hindus have in
India. Although most Punjabi Hindus are meat eaters, in deference to
the religious custom, the food at these events was all vegetarian.

The bride was helped to adorn herself with the traditional wedding
jewellery and the Lahanga dress by my spouse (who is the bride's
cousin sister). The Wedding itself was conducted in an afternoon at
the local `Shiva Vishnu Temple' by a Gujarati priest. Thus, we see
that the same temple sent a North Indian Arya Samaj Priestess, a
Kannada priest and a Gujarati priest. A notable difference was the
time of the ceremony. In India, Punjabi Hindus conduct their wedding
rituals at night while this wedding was conducted around noon,
partly because the local laws would not allow the assembly of such a
large group of people during night and partly because several guests
were Americans. All the close relatives of the bride ad the
bridegroom were dressed in traditional Indian attires, probably more
traditional than what people normally wear in India! Immediately
after the wedding, the guests proceeded to a local Party Hall that
had been booked well in advance. The feast hall was in start
contrast to the ones we have in Indian weddings. In India, only the
bride and the groom are seated in a stage in the presence of all but
here, in consonance with the American custom, the entire families of
the bride and the bridegroom also sat in full view of the guests.
The wedding ended with dances done to Indian music (the American
guests also participated) and the ceremonies of Gauna etc. that
follow the wedding were omitted.

8.3: Celebration of Karvachauth:

In this festival, North Indian ladies fast the whole day and pray
for the long life of their husband. At night, they look at the full
moon through a sieve, touch their husband's feet, perform some other
ceremonies and recite a standard prayer in Hindi for the welfare of
their spouse. Thereafter, the husband offers water and some sweets
to his wife and requests her to break the fast. Last year, the
festival fell on October 8, 1998 and my spouse got together with 8
other North Indian Hindu ladies in the town to keep the fast. All,
but my wife have full time jobs, yet they all kept the fast and took
just a sip of water prior to the sun-rise that day. They all dressed
up in gold embroidered red colored traditional Indian dresses
(symbol of their marital status) and we all proceeded a busy street
in the towntown to get a good view of the moon. As we all parked our
cars and our wives, decked in traditional Indian clothes, started
performing the strange looking rituals, passers by stopped to get a
good look at the ceremony, probably assuming that we were some
cultists. Among the 9 Hindu women, 2 were born and brought up in the
United States and the remaining 7 had come to this country within
the last 5 years. All the women read the traditional prayer from a
written text in front of them with the difference that the two
Indian ladies who were born in the country, recited from the text
that had been written in the English (Roman) script, although the
language was Hindi. I did not expect a lot of wives to actually
touch their husband's feet (as this act is considered demeaning to
the dignity of women by some) but curiously all the women adhered to
the custom. As per the tradition, the ceremony was followed by a
hearty Indian meal cooked by all the Indians (in the case of our
family, I cooked on behalf of my wife).

8.4: Diwali 1998

Diwali is the Festival of India. It is nicknamed the `Festival of
Lights' and people light up their houses on this day, like the
Americans do around Christmas. In short, it would not be an
exaggeration to say that Diwali is the Christmas of India. Several
days prior to Diwali, streets and public places are decorated. The
festival mood is in the air, and the festival day itself is a
National Holiday. In contrast, there is no holiday on the Diwali day
in North America and there are no public celebrations. Consequently,
Indians take advantage of the occasion to organize their annual
cultural and religious programs, as discussed in the previous
chapter. Besides, this, Diwali largely remains a private
celebration. Hindu families that know each other organize dinner
parties on and around the Diwali day. They visit each other's homes
with gifts, as in India and decorate their homes with lamps,
religious icons and other culturo-religious symbols like
the `Rangoli'. This year, we attended two dinners around Diwali
organized by two Punjabi Hindu families in our area. Some North
Indian Hindus traditionally consider it auspicious to gamble on the
Diwali night, and accordingly, both the parties ended with a short
round of gambling. The guests were all dressed in the traditional
attire and the hosts had taken care to serve traditional Indian
feasts, as is the custom in India. However, a particular thing done
by one of the hosts shocked some of us--he served beef chops. Beef
is taboo for Hindus and consumption of beef during a festival is
inconceivable in India. On the contrary, beef forms a major part of
the American diet. I noticed that nobody objected to the serving of
beef by the host and 50% of the guests also ate it. Interestingly,
all the Indians who were born and brought up in the United States,
avoided it. Besides, Indian guests who actually live in India and
were visiting the United States for a short trip on business or to
see their children settled here, also avoided eating the beef chops.
Over the dinner, there was a lively discussion over Hinduism and
most guests stated that they considered the liberalism in Hinduism
as a very strong positive feature of our religion. Detached from the
Indian context, they tended to equate Hinduism to its more universal
ethical values of love, compassion and charity. The guests who were
holidaying in the United States seemed to have more rigid views and
they tried to emphasize the need for Hindus to consolidate, quite in
tune with the current socio-political trends in India.

9. Practice of Hinduism by Graduate Hindu students

Hindu students constitute a special category of Hindus in North
America. While most Graduate Hindu students have arrived recently
from India to pursue graduate level education, undergraduate Hindu
students, by and large, are children of first generation immigrants
from India. Graduate Indian students study here under great
financial constraints and work very hard to keep up their grades,
because eventually most of them have to find jobs in the United
States. All this leaves hardly any time for them to indulge in
religious activities. Practice of religion for most Hindu students
is restricted to bowing in front of the icons of Hindu deities that
they have brought from India, and recitation of some prayers once in
a while. However, they do celebrate privately the major Hindu
festivals like Diwali and Vijayadashmi, when they conduct dinners
and call over their friends. Often, a formal religious ceremony is
also a part of the get together, and popular vernacular prayers are
sung in a group. For instance, in 1997, my room-mate, who is a
Maharashtrian Brahmin, organized a prayer ceremony on `Ganesh
Chaturthi' and I helped him in the preparation of the tradition
Maharashtrian meal of `Pohe' and `Shira'. He arranged the icons on
an aesthetic manner and we decorated our Apartment with flowers and
called over 6 Hindu students for the ceremony. On Janmashtmi, we
went to the local Hare Krishna temple. Around Vijayadashmi, we had
another get together without any religious ceremony while on Diwali,
the dinner included a short prayer ceremony as well. In the last few
years, Hindu students in the University campuses have started coming
together to form local chapters of the `Hindu Students Councils'.
These councils are particularly active in the Universities of
Michigan, Massachusetts, Georgia and California. Both first as well
as second generation Hindu students (Graduate as well as
undergraduate) students participate in the meetings of the councils.
These councils often invite speakers to talk on topics pertaining to
Hinduism and also act in tandem with the other organizations of
the `Hindutva Parivar' (see the next chapter). Most of these
chapters of Hindu Students councils have their own websites. Hindu
students actively participate in the Diwali and the Navaratri
functions organized annually by the Indian community. The prime
motivation for them is the delicious Indian food that is served
during in these functions. In consideration of the fact the Graduate
Indian students have a limited spending budget, the organizers often
exempt them from paying for any admission passes.

10. Visits by Hindu Monks and Gurus

Like in Christianity, religious preachers have played a great role
in propagation and preservation of Hindu values and culture. In
fact, several Hindu families owe allegiance to a particular
religious preacher called their `Guru' or to a particular lineage of
teachers. The Hindu laity seek the company of these Gurus for
spiritual guidance and also their counsel on many temporal matters
like arranging the wedding of their children, or to seek
encouragement from them in times of distress or for organizing
religious ceremonies at home. In fact, Hindu texts maintain that the
ultimate Truth is parapsychic in nature and so an initiation into
the spiritual journey by a qualified spiritual master, the Guru, is
essential for anyone who is serious about obtaining salvation. The
Guru is supposed to have actual spiritual experience and through
this experience, he is able to guide his disciples and other
votaries in the path of salvation. Service to Monks and Brahmins is,
in itself considered meritorious. As religion that values tradition
a lot, Hinduism also lays great emphasis on adherence to a living
tradition that stretches back continuously to a hoary antiquity. The
monks and gurus are living exponents of these ancient traditions and
association with them is considered as good as adherence to these
traditions by the ordinary, lay Hindus. In recent years, we see an
increasing number of Hindus sponsoring the visits the visits of
Hindu monks and teachers from India. A notable example is that of
Swami Chinmayananda- the `St. Paul' of Hinduism, who was invited by
Hindus several times to the United States. In fact, the Swami
expired in this country during one of his visits to California. His
mortal remains were flown to India where they were cremated
subsequently. The wealthy Swaminarayana Community also sponsors
frequent trips of their community's spiritual leader- Swami Pramukh
Maharaj. The Swami lectures on the values taught by Hindu Dharma
during his frequent trips to the United States. Members of the Geeta
Ashram (located near Minneapolis, in the Bay area and near Chicago)
also sponsor the trips of 99 year old monk who heads the community.
A few years back, the head of the Pejawar Math of Udipi visited the
United States. Visits of Hindu teachers are always marked by
discourses, sermons and organization of ritual ceremonies. The
members of the Jain sect are not so fortunate in being able to have
their spiritual masters among them since Jainism considers
international travel a sin. Three years ago, 2 Jain nuns did visit
the United States from India, but were excommunicated by the Jain
community immediately upon their return to India. The mainstream
Hindu monks too regarded travel over the seas as a source
of `pollution', but these rigid customs have been discarded and an
increasing number of Hindu Gurus have graced the United States with
their visits in the last few decades.

11. The role of family elders in the propagation of Hinduism in their families

As mentioned in earlier, Hindus settled in the United States attempt
to sponsor the permanent residency of their parents once they
themselves become green card holders or citizens of the United
States. These newly arrived parents then play a crucial role in the
preservation and the propagation of Hindu values in the household.
While young couple are away on work, Grandparents, who have arrived
from India, inculcate Hindu values in their grandchildren and
narrate stories from the Indian epics, much in the fashion of the
role played by Grandparents in India. The importance of Grandparents
in the transmission of Hindu values in Hindu households is all the
more important in the United States than in India since the
surrounding environment here is alien or non-Hindu. Hindu families
are traditionally very closely knit and unlike in the United States,
cousins and uncles and aunts are considered close relatives.
Consequently, elderly Hindus settled in the United States often feel
obliged to guide their nephews and nieces in the tradition,
especially if their parents are back in India. For instance, my own
parents are in India but my Father has two sisters and two brothers
in India. On every major festivals, my Uncles and Aunts call us and
instruct us on how to perform the ceremony associated with that
festival. On the Karvachauth festival this year (which was the first
for my spouse since we married in February 1998), both of my
paternal Aunts in this country sent gifts to my spouse as per the
Hindu custom and also called her up that day to describe the customs
that she ought to follow for my well being. In turn, they ask us to
call our younger cousin brothers and sisters on the festivals, thus
acknowledging the hierarchy in our family and insuring that the
traditions are maintained.

12. Problems faced by the Hindu parents in North America

A study has beautifully summarised this issue- "Growing in a
predominantly Christian context and knowing little about the
conflict and diversity that have characterized the history of
Christianity, the children of Hindu immigrants look for a single
unified tradition and a standard text or texts. The majority
religion seems so monolithic and transparently simple that second
generation Hindus want to be presented with one easy set of beliefs,
analogous to Christianity and Islam (or so they think). To achieve
this, the immigrants tend to emphasize beliefs only, not socio-
religious practices, not the caste system, the village society, nor
gendered practices or the daily interactions with fellow citizens of
other religions. Instant, they present to their children a static
religious system floating through time, an ideal system unresponsive
to changing economic, political and social forces. Of course, such a
religion does not exist, although many other believers view their
religion in the same way. Thus, at a time when scholars are
recognizing the constructed nature of Hinduism, as well as the
distortion in and inaccuracy involved in treating it as an organized
whole, Hindus themselves are constructing it or deconstructing it in
ways that simplify and unify it. The many origins and levels of
Hinduism, its decentralization. the complexity of its many teachings
and practices--all this is too much for the parents or teachers
located in a non-Hindu country to convey adequately, or indeed to
practice in the ways they they practiced it at home."
Hindu parents are adopting several ingenious means to inculcate
Hindu values in their children here. Analogies familiar to children
are often used. For instance, the Hindu deity `Hanuman' is often
compared to `Superman'. Local communities often sponsor the
screening of Indian movies with religious themes in theaters.
Parents take their children frequently to India and visit pilgrim
centers with them so that the children get a first hand experience
of Hinduism.

The `Amar Chitra Katha' is a popular comic series in India that is
based on the historical and religious traditions of India. Several
Indian parents are known to buy several volumes of this comic series
for their children. They also purchase video cassettes of Ramayana
and Mahabharata--two multi-episode TV serials based on religious
Hindu epics, that were telecast throughout India a few years back.
"Wherever women are honored and worshipped, the gods reside there. And where women are not honored, all the efforts of men fail to bear fruit"


13. Neo Hindus- Hindu Converts in recent times

The Western world has been graced by the visit of several Hindu
Yogis par excellence. A cursory look at the `Eastern Philosophy'
or `Mysticism' section of any large bookstore in the United States
will reveal several books by Hindu monks like Paramahamsa Yogananda,
Sivananda, Mahesh Yogi. Surprisingly, these books are often not
classed under the `Hinduism' or `Eastern Religion' section of the
same bookstores. The reason is that Hindu preachers in the West
rarely tried to convert their disciples to Hinduism, in tune with
the fact that Hindus do not convert others to their religion. Thus,
the Western disciples of Maharshi Mahesh Yogi are not called Hindus
but rather state that they practice the Transcedental Meditation
(TM) techniques taught by Mahesh Yogi and so on. The single largest
group of Hindu converts amongst Westerns is comprised by the Hare
Krishnas or members of "International Society of Krishna

The Hare Krishnas are a very visible group in virtually all
countries in the world due to their distinct Vaisnava robes, music,
chanting and singing that they exhibit in the streets. The Hare
Krishnas are followers of Gaudia Vaisnavism- a school of devotional
Hinduism, as brought to the United States by an Indian Vaisnava monk
Srila Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta. The Hare Krishnas utilize all modern
means of spreading their beliefs- printing books, internet
resources, distribution of pamphlets and so on. The extensive
publishing apparatus of this sect is now said to be the largest
producer of the Hindu texts like Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Purana
in the whole world. An illustrated English translation of the Hindu
Epic Mahabharata is also under preparation. The Hare Krishnas have
also established semi-monastic live-in communities all over the
world. Members of these communities spend their time in the Vaisnava
devotional practices like kirtana, bhajan, japa and so on. ISCKON
actively propagates the cause of vegetarianism and is spending large
sums of money in the reconstruction of Vaisnavite centers of worship
in India that were descecrated during the Islamic rule (like
Navadvipa in engal, Vrindaban in Europe). These activities have
lately earned the movement a new respectability among Indian Hindus
who had, in the past, shunned this movement for being a `Western
Hippie' movement. It is estimated that currently 50% Hare Krishnas
in the United States are of Indian Hindu origin. The Hare Krishnas
have recently undergone great persecution in Iran, Georgia and
Armenia (in Caucasus) and in Russia where they have been accused of
betraying the indigenous relgious traditions. Russia has refused to
grant state recognition to Hinduism in general and to Hare Krishnas
in particular and members of this Russian ISCKON community have been
beaten up in the streets (photos have been published in ISCKON
publications). Curiously, some Hare Krishnas regard themselves as
non-Hindus and even cite the words of Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta in
this regard. On the other hand, several Hindus regard Hare Krishnas
to be too dogmatic and sectarian Vaisnavas and accuse them of
ignoring the other streams of Hindu religious beliefs.

Mata Nirmala Devi- the proponent of `Sahaja Yoga' technique has also
acquired international following, especially in Thailand and Russia.
I saw several posters with her photographs pasted on street walls in
Bangkok during my visit to the city in 1996.

Despite a lack of efforts by Hindus to convert Non-Hindus to their
religion, a few Westerners have adopted Hinduism on their own,
either through reading of Hindu scriptures, or under the influence
of Hindu monks who periodically visit the United States. A notable
example is the Pop Singer `Mick Jagger' who converted to Hinduism on
the island of Bali in Indonesia a few years back. Several Hollywood
personalities have renounced traditional Christianity in favor of a
misture of Tantric-Buddhist-Hindu beliefs, for e.g. Steven Segal. In
this regard, Tibetan Buddhism has been much more successful than
Hinduism because Buddhist monks have successfully projected
spritiual practices of Hindu-Buddhist origin like Meditation as
Buddhist teachings.

Another notale example is of David Frawley, who converted to
Hinduism after studying its texts and was even awarded the
prestigious title of `Vedacarya' by Hindu scholars of India. David
Frawley has since changed his name to Vamadeva Shastri and has
written a number of scholarly books on Hindu scriptures. He also
runs a college in New Mexico (U.S.A.) that imparts teaching on
Ayurveda, Jyotisha and other Hindu sciences.

Several Westerners indeed continue to exhibit interest in Hindu
religion and philosophy as is evident from their querries posted on
the guestbooks of websites like www.hindunet.org; www.hvk.org and so

14. Spread of Hindu beliefs in the World:

Although Hindus do not seek to convert others to their relgion,
several Hindu beliefs are spreading rapidly all over the world. The
adherents of these beliefs do not necessarily recognize their Hindu
(or Buddhist) origin. Some of these beliefs are

1. Respect all life, vegetarianism

2. Belief in rebirth and reincarnation

3. Doctrine of Karma

4. Meditation

The Bhagavad Gita, a Holy text of Hindus, is the second most widely
translated scripture in the world- next only to the Bible.
Hindus oppose the conversion of Non-Hindus to their faith for a
vareity of reasons. Some state that it is against Hindu traditions
and point to the fact that Hindus do not have a well defined
conversion ceremony. Several orthodox Hindus maintain that one can
only be born as a Hindu and a Non- Hindu therefore, cannot convert
to Hinduism. Liberal Hindus, on the other hand, opine that
conversion has only lead to ill-will amongst different communities
in the past and so rather than converting non-Hindus to Hinduism, we
should spread our ideas amongst them. However, an increasing number
of Hindus are now agreeing to the concept of converting Non-Hindus
to their faith.

15. Post Script

The Hindu tradition is very diverse and rich, yet, due to the
pressures of a material life, Hindus often do not have the time or
the inclination to understand their diversified faith. In addition,
recent centuries have seen a very close encounter of Hinduism with
Christianity and Islam, two religions whose texts are smaller and
standardized, and whose basic tenets are very well defined.
Consequently, the Hindus have felt an increasing need to study and
practice a single, short scriptural text and this function seems to
have been fulfilled by the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita has commanded a
great reverence from the Hindu masses for at least the last 15
centuries and is traditionally held to represent a condensed and
simplified form of the vast cannon of Hindus. In the last two
centuries, its importance has risen further, superseding even that
of Upanisads, and it is soon acquiring the status of THE scripture
of Hinduism. The Geeta Ashram of the United States is a
manifestation of this phenomenon.

The circumstances which have contributed to the elevation of the
Gita are even more relevant in the North America because here, the
Hindu community is swarmed on all sides by a non-Hindu culture and
tradition. The eclectic attitude of Hindus forbids them to reject
the culture of their new environment, and yet their desire for self
preservation as a religious community requires that they depend on a
Hindu scripture that is not too ethnic or sectarian in nature. The
Gita fulfills this requirement. Although based in India, its
teachings are hardly India specific and are rather quite Universal
and broad. They do not preach any dogma or any law (in the legal
sense, as the Shariat of Islam does). Consequently, the adoption of
the Gita as THE scripture by Hindus within India as well as outside
India is but natural, and in this sense, organizations like the Gita
Ashram are doing a great service to the preservation and practice of
Hinduism in modern times.

"May Mother Earth, which is populated with people who speak different languages, and those who have varying religious rites according to their local traditions, pour for me (and others) treasures (temporal and spiritual) in a 1000 streams As an imperishable cow that milks continuously."
Atharvaveda 12.1.45


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