Bṛhat

Conversion to Hindu Dharma: Past Precedents, Present Challenges and Future Possibilities
Can one (particularly a non-Indian foreigner) convert to Hindu Dharma? How does caste feature in this (if at all)? What are the basic duties of a Hindu convert, who may not have any particular sampradāya affiliation?

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By Ghora Angirasa

Connect with our guest writer on Twitter.

And Kavita Krishna Meegama

Kavita has taught Indian Language and Culture at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute in Virginia for a decade and previously worked as Research Editor at Indic Today. She is a student of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati ji, of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, and has continued her Vedānta studies from the same paramparā. She enjoys writing and teaching Indic language, culture, and thought.

There is an ongoing quest, especially among those who practice yoga and meditation, to dwell deeper into the secrets of life and living. The more they tend to reach out sincerely the closer will they get towards vaidika dharma or sanātana dharma, Hinduism if you will. Once they stand on the threshold of this oldest continuous surviving tradition which is at once a philosophy, spirituality, religion, way of life and culture, they have reached home. Yet many among such seekers do not know how to navigate their way about such vastness, in awe of such freedom and grandeur they tend to lose interest and revert back to what they are comfortable with, or take solace in blaming Hindu dharma for being so complicated and illegible.

Those of us within the dharma enclosure too are unaware of the myriad labyrinthine paths that constitute the DNA of our vision. Hence we end up making light of who we are to those who want to opt in and tell them ‘sab chalta hai’. There are no rules we say, no fixed regulations, you are free to do what you want. In our eagerness to please and in our foolish gladness at someone accepting our way of being, we simply exhibit our ignorance to those who have more often than not studied and lived the Hindu way of life more than we have. Our psychology is not attuned to proselytizing, we are not taught that we are better than others, that we must change everyone to our way of thinking and being, we are not supremacists nor exclusivists. Ours is a universal all-encompassing acceptance. Hence when someone says they want to get in, we are naturally surprised! What is in and what is out? No such paradigm exists for us. There are no gated communities preventing your entry.

Those who want in obviously know more than we do in all our innocence. Where and how do ‘I’ fit they ask, and there we are stumped! While there are many instances of those following a certain guru, of having acquired dīkṣā in that particular sampradāya without any difficulty (Ex. ISKCON, Chinmaya, Arsha Vidya, Isha, Art of Living and so on) there is also a vast majority who would rather simply be Hindus without having to adhere to a particular sect.

How must they achieve this entry into the Hindu fold? And importantly, is this something that is discussed in our scriptures? If so, where? And what do the scriptures say on this matter? The good news is that anyone who wants to be inducted into Hindu Dharma is welcome to do so. As in any induction, the assumption is that the adherent wishes to practice certain customs that they prefer over those of their native religion and has śraddhā on certain core ideas that we might safely say constitutes being a Hindu. What are these essential non-negotiables that make a person a ‘Hindu’, let us explore the answers through Ghora Angirasa’s lens who has scoured and studied the scriptures to assist us with such queries:

Introduction

The question of “conversion” to Hinduism, or Hindu Dharma, is a long on-going conversation that has fascinated several generations – Hindus and non-Hindus, scholars and laity alike. The idea of a conversion to Hindu Dharma presents three particular issues, which we have to address, even as conversions to Hindu Dharma are ostensibly happening. Three questions are of particular interest and/or importance, as follows:

  1. Can a person, particularly one of non-Indian origin, convert to Hindu Dharma?
  2. What does conversion to Hindu Dharma mean in terms of belief and/or praxis
  3. Following conversion, is it essential for the new Hindu to be assigned a varṇa or jāti?

In particular, the last two issues are quite complex and we do not take it upon ourselves to offer any definitive answers to them in this brief article. Instead, we will see the relevant textual and historical precedents and provide practical directions as well as the scriptural basis and inspiration behind it. Our position on the aforementioned three issues is as follows:

  1. Yes, anyone may convert to Hindu Dharma, though it is less complicated where the person converts to a sampradāya proper.
  2. While Hindu Dharma contains within itself several, strongly creedal sampradāya-s, which have neatly defined fundamental beliefs, Hindu Dharma outside the contours of these sampradāya-s is only very weakly creedal (if at all). As a bare minimum, conversion should entail a belief in the reality of Hindu Gods and deities, belief in the basic moral tenets as well as praxis centered around at least one Hindu God or deity.
  3. There is no necessity to assign any varṇa or jāti to a convert except in cases where the convert is of Indian origin and Hindu ancestry and has preserved a memory of his former varṇa-jāti identity and opts for a re-initiation into that older identity.

Conversion into a Particular Sampradāya

The Purāṇas began to recognize the possibility of foreigners entering into a particular sampradāya that revolves around a specific deity. The Śivamahāpurāṇa (10th Chapter of the Uttarabhāga of the Vāyavīyasaṃhitā) has Śiva describe the characteristics of his devotees as follows (filler words to be implied into the translation for easier comprehension are given in square brackets while additional explanations are given in parentheses):

mahātmanāmananyānāṃ mayi saṃnyastacetasām | aṣṭadhā lakṣaṇaṃ prāhurmama dharmādhikāriṇām ||66|| madbhaktajanavātsalyaṃ pūjāyāṃś cānumodanam | svayamabhyarcanaṃ caiva madarthe cāṃgaceṣṭitam ||67|| matkathāśravaṇe bhaktiḥ svaranetrāṃgavikriyāḥ | mamānusmaraṇaṃ nityaṃ yaśca māmupajīvati ||68|| evamaṣṭavidhaṃ cihnaṃ yasminmlecche ‘pi vartate | sa viprendro muniḥ śrīmānsa yatissa ca paṃḍitaḥ ||69||

Of the great souls, of those without [resort to] another [than Myself], of those with [their] minds given up to me, eight-fold qualifications are stated – of those with eligibility in my dharma (Śivadharma – The religion of Śiva) //66

Affection for my devotees, rejoicing in the pūjā (worship) [done by others], doing arcanā (ritual worship) himself, exertion of limbs in [acts for] my sake, devotion in listening to my stories, agitation (quivering) in the voice, eyes and limbs, remembrance of myself always and who depends on me [completely] – thus, in whoever, in a mleccha (foreigner) even, abides these eight-fold signs, he is [equal to] a lord of vipras (learned brāhmaṇas), a muni, a venerable yati (renunciant) and a paṇḍita (scholar).

The Gāruḍa-purāṇa has a remarkably similar passage about the characteristics of the ideal Vaiṣṇava.

iha nityakriyāḥ kuryuḥ snigdhā ye vaiṣṇavāstu te /
brahmākṣaraṃ na śṛṇvanvai tathā bhagavateritam // 219.5 //
praṇāmapūrvakaṃ bhaktyā yo vadedvaiṣṇavo hi saḥ /
tadbhaktajanavātsalyaṃ pūjayaṃś cānumodanam // 219.6 //
tatkathāśravaṇe prītir aśrunetrāṅgavikriyāḥ //
yena sarvātmanā viṣṇau bhaktyā bhāvo niveśitaḥ // 219.7 //
viprebhyaśca kṛtātmatvān mahābhāgavato hi saḥ /
viśvopakaraṇaṃ nityaṃ tadarthaṃ saṅgavarjanam /
svayamabhyarcanañcaiva yo viṣṇuñcopajīvati // 219.8 //
bhaktiraṣṭavidhā hyeṣā yasminmleccho ‘pi vartate /
sa viprendro muniḥ śrīmānsa yāti paramāṃ gatim // 219.9 //
“They who shall carry out the daily rites (or services), the loving [devotees of Viṣṇu] are the [true] Vaiṣṇava-s. He does not hear the Veda (or the praṇava) or Bhagavān’s utterances. Bowing down first, he who speaks with devotion is a vaiṣṇava. Affection for the devotees, rejoicing in the pūjā (worship) [done by others], happiness in listening to the stories [of Viṣṇu], tearful eyes (due to devotion), agitation in the limbs, by whom his entire self is, with devotion, placed in Viṣṇu through a vipra (could be reference to an initiating ācāryā), he is a great Bhāgavata. Renouncing worldly connections for the sake of serving always, doing arcana (ritual worship) himself is one who depends on Viṣṇu completely. There are eight types of devotion indeed; in whoever, in a mleccha even, these (eight) are, he (the devotee), he is [equal to] a lord of vipras (learned brāhmaṇas), a muni, a venerable one who attains the highest end.”

That this Paurāṇika testimony was not just hyperbole or lip service is clear from the example of the Heliodorus’ inscription at Besnagar, Madhya Pradesh, India. Heliodorus was an ambassador of the Indo-Greek King, Antialkidas Nikephoros who ruled from Takṣaśilā (Taxila). He became a Bhāgavata and, as a sign of his devotion, dedicated a pillar to Vāsudeva at Vidiśā (modern-day Besnagar). The original and translation of the Prākrit-language inscription on this pillar are reproduced from Indian Epigraphy (1998) by Richard Salomon. The letters in square brackets are readings for missing characters as suggested by Salomon.

[de]vadevasa v[ā][*sude]vasa garuḍadhvaje ayaṃ
This Garuda-pillar of Vāsudeva, the god of gods,
kārit[e] i[a?] heliodoreṇa bhāgavatena diyasa putrena ta[khkha]silākena
was constructed here by Heliodora [Heliodoros], the Bhāgavata, son of Diya [Dion], of Takshasila (Taxila), yonadūtena āgatena mahārājasa the Greek ambassador who came from the Great King amtalikitasa upa[ṃ]ta sakāsaṃ raño Amtalikita [Antialkidas] to King Kāsīput[r]asa bhāgabhadrasa trātārasa Kāsīputra [Kāśīputra] Bhagabhadra, the Saviour, vasena ca[tu]dasena rājena vadhamānasa prospering in (his) fourteenth regnal year.

Here, a person of Greek ethnic origin converted into the Bhāgavata system with a genuine theological conviction as can be seen from the epithet “Devadeva” applied to Vāsudeva (Kṛṣṇa).

In the mūlasūtra of the Niḥśvāsatattvasaṃhitā, which is one of the oldest Śaivatantra (and possibly oldest Siddhānta-Śaiva text), we have the following:

brāhmaṇo māyavāṃ yastu mlecchaścaiva tvamāyavān /
mlecchasyaiva tu dātavyaṃ na tu viprāya dāpayet //

“[Between] a Brāhmaṇa who is deceitful and a mleccha who is indeed without deceit, it is [befitting] of the mleccha for (the Śaiva initiation) to be given [to him] and to the vipra (i.e. the brāhmaṇa), it shall not be given.”

This universalist attitude towards inducting those of atypical, foreign backgrounds into the fold continued to shape the Śaiva tradition.

For instance, we have a verse from the Kiraṇa-Āgama, which was commented upon in tenth-century Kashmir which emphasizes that the mantras employed during an initiation effect their grace on even those living at the margins or peripheries of the social order:

yathāsthitena bhāvena mantrāḥ kurvanty anugraham /
yatas tato ‘ntyajasyāpi dīkṣā kiṃ tv atra mānasī //

“As per the emotional state (or mental disposition), the mantras (employed during initiation) do [the act of granting their] grace / Since [that is the case], therefore even to an antyaja (one existing at the margins of the social order), there is initiation but through the mind//”

Although this verse does not expressly mention foreigners, the term, “antyaja” can be read broadly to refer to not just those who live at the margins within Bhārata but also foreigners who were similarly born far removed from any traditional social order such as the varṇāśrama-dharma.

In the Uttara-Kāmika (the later portion of the Kāmika-Āgama used in a majority of Śiva temples in Tamil Nadu), after a lengthy description of the initiation that confers liberation (nirvāṇa-dīkṣā) on the initiate’s soul, we have the following concluding verses which affirm an eligibility for the nirvāṇa-dīkṣā:

ityevaṃ kathitā dīkṣā sarvapāpavimocanī |
catvāro brāhmaṇādyāścāpyanulomāśca ye matāḥ || 220 ||
nyāyajā gūḍhajātā vā dīkṣāyāmadhikāriṇaḥ |
antyajānāṃ na hotrī syāt kiṃ tu teṣāṃ tu cākṣuṣī || 222 ||

– 23rd Chapter of Uttara-Kāmika


“Thus has been told, the initiation that releases one from all sins. The four varṇa-s beginning with brāhmaṇa-s and anuloma-s (those with mixed varṇa heritage where the father is of a higher varṇa than the mother), those who have been born legitimately, those born secretly (i.e. illegitimately) are considered eligible [recipients] of initiation. For antyaja-s, the initiation should not be done as a fire-ritual but for them, it is by vision (the initiating guru initiates them by seeing them).”

That these textual prescriptions and directives are not entirely theoretical, but can be given life to in the form of actual initiation, is clear from the fact that persons of non-Indian origin have been initiated into specific Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava sampradāya-s in even recent times.

For example, around 2013, an American couple, after some serious spiritual introspection, received initiation into the śrauta-śaiva-siddhānta tradition based in Andhra Pradesh.
In another example, in 2001, an American woman was formally initiated into the śaiva-siddhānta tradition based in Tamil Nadu. On the Vaiṣṇava front, we can also find an example of a Westerner being initiated into the śrī-vaiṣṇava in 2013.

Therefore, it is quite evident that a foreigner may convert to Hindu Dharma and the procedure for conversion is particularly clear with respect to specific sampradāya-s.

Conversion into a “Generic” Hinduism – Textual Precedent

Now, that leaves us with the question as to whether it is possible for a foreigner to convert into a less-defined Hinduism that falls outside well-defined sampradāya spaces. And that is intertwined with the 2nd issue that we highlighted at the beginning of this article: What does conversion to Hindu Dharma mean in terms of belief and/or praxis? Surely, if an outsider can convert into what we may call a “generic” or non-denominational Hinduism, then it must be possible to identify beliefs or practices which become binding on a convert to this non-denominational Hinduism.

In this regard, we can see an interesting passage from the Mahābhārata in Śānti-parvan, where the god Indra, in his discourse to the king Māndhātṛ, an ancestor of Śrī Rāma, delineates the religious obligations of seventeen groups/tribes collectively described as “dasyu-s”.

māndhātovāca|| yavanāḥ kirātā gāndhārāścīnāḥ śabarabarbarāḥ | śakāstuṣārāḥ kaṅkāśca pahlavāścāndhramadrakāḥ ||13|| oḍrāḥ pulindā ramaṭhāḥ kācā mlecchāśca sarvaśaḥ | brahmakṣatraprasūtāśca vaiśyāḥ śūdrāśca mānavāḥ ||14|| kathaṃ dharmaṃ careyuste sarve viṣayavāsinaḥ | madvidhaiśca kathaṃ sthāpyāḥ sarve te dasyujīvinaḥ ||15|| etadicchāmyahaṃ śrotuṃ bhagavaṃstadbravīhi me | tvaṃ bandhubhūto hyasmākaṃ kṣatriyāṇāṃ sureśvara ||16||

“Māndhātṛ said: Yavana-s, Kirāta-s, Gāndhāra-s, Cīna-s, Śabara-s, Barbara-s, Śaka-s, Tuṣāra-s, Kaṅka-s, Pahlava-s, Āndhra-s, Madraka-s, Oḍra-s, Pulinda-s, Ramaṭha-s, Kāca-s, Mleccha-s and all, those born from the Brahma (i.e. brāhmaṇa-s) and the Kṣatra (i.e. kṣatriya-s) as well as the vaiśya-s and śūdra-s.

How shall all [these groups/tribes], abiding in my territory, adhere to dharma? How, by those like myself, shall all those subsisting as dasyu-s be established [in dharma]?

I desire to hear this; tell me oh Bhagavān! You are the kinsman of us kṣatriya-s, oh Lord of the Gods!”

A non-exhaustive commentary on the identity of some of these tribes follow: The term, “Yavana” is used to refer to Ionians/Greek and, in later times, Arabs. “Kirāṭa” is used to denote northeastern tribes. “Cīna” will refer to the Chinese and possibly extends to related groups such as the Japanese and Korean peoples. “Barbara” and “Śaka” refer to Indo-Scythian ethnic groups while “Tuṣāra ” likely refers to Tocharians in Northwestern China. ‘Śabara” and “Pulinda” are generally understood to refer to Austro-asiatic tribal peoples spanning across Madhya Pradesh and Odisha (such as the Sora/Munda tribes). “Pahlava” refers to Iranic enthnic groups.

I have amended “Kahva” to “Kaṅka”, following Ganguli as I have not been able to identify “Kahva” as an ethnonym anywhere. Finally, “mleccha” could refer to groups far west of Iran or we could maximally interpret it as a “catch-all” reference to any non-Indian ethnic group not expressly included in the other ethnic groups named in the list. Now, we shall see Indra’s reply.

indra uvāca|| mātāpitrorhi kartavyā śuśrūṣā sarvadasyubhiḥ | ācāryaguruśuśrūṣā tathaivāśramavāsinām ||17|| bhūmipālānāṃ ca śuśrūṣā kartavyā sarvadasyubhiḥ | vedadharmakriyāścaiva teṣāṃ dharmo vidhīyate ||18|| pitṛyajñāstathā kūpāḥ prapāśca śayanāni ca | dānāni ca yathākālaṃ dvijeṣu dadyureva te ||19|| ahiṃsā satyamakrodho vṛttidāyānupālanam | bharaṇaṃ putradārāṇāṃ śaucamadroha eva ca ||20|| dakṣiṇā sarvayajñānāṃ dātavyā bhūtimicchatā | pākayajñā mahārhāśca kartavyāḥ sarvadasyubhiḥ ||21|| etānyevamprakārāṇi vihitāni purānagha | sarvalokasya karmāṇi kartavyānīha pārthiva ||22||

“Indra said: To their mothers and fathers, service should be rendered by all the dasyu-s; as well as service to their ācārya-s and guru-s and residents of hermitages.

To the protector of the land (i.e. King), services should be rendered by all the dasyu-s. The dharma (in the sense of duties) and rituals [ordained] in the Veda are provided for as their (the dasyu-s’) dharma.

Sacrifices to ancestors, wells, tanks and beds [for the needy], charitable and timely gifts for the dvijas they should give. Non-injury, truth, freedom from anger, supporting kinsmen by maintaining them, supporting one’s wife and children, purity and freedom from treacherous conduct; the dakṣiṇā (ritual fees) at all sacrifices should be given by one (the dasyu/foreigner) seeking prosperity. pākayajña-s (simple vedic sacrifices) should be performed grandly by all dasyu-s.

These modes [of conduct] were laid [for the dasyu-s] in olden times, oh sinless one! The acts laid down for all peoples ought to be done here [in the case of the dāsyu-s] oh lord of the earth (i.e. King).”

From the above, we can set out the following characteristics of the dharma as prescribed for this diverse host of tribes, many of which are non-Indian in origin.

  • Basic obligations towards parents, the King, religious teachers, ascetics, elders and kinsmen;
  • Wider social obligations by contributing towards wells, water tanks and other comforts for people in distress;
  • General virtues such as abstention from injury and truthfulness;
  • Ancestor worship;
  • Religious obligation to pay ritual fees to priests who perform sacrifices for them; and
  • Participating in simple, domestic sacrifices for the Gods (pākayajña-s).

This seems to be a fairly comprehensive prescription that at once imposes a wide range of socio-moral obligations as well as a clear and easy-to-follow religious praxis, without mandating any complex theology or doctrine.

In particular, we find that one of the components of the prescribed praxis for the seventeen “foreigner groups” above i.e. ancestor-worship is also referred to in the Vāyu-purāṇa in the context of “mlecchas”. The text, after enumerating seven different categories of pitṛ-s (ancestral deities) (the seven consist of the: 1. yogin-s, 2. devas (Gods) themselves, 3. The enemies of the devas i.e. the asuras and 4 to 7: the 4 varṇa-s), goes on to state that the ancestral deities are worshipped even by the devas and even by the mlecchas.

devāstvetānyajante vai sarveṣveteṣvavasthitāḥ |
āśramāstu yajantyetāṃścatvārastu yathākramam ||82||
varṇāścāpi yajantyetāṃścatvārastu yathāvidhi |
tathā saṃkarajātāśca mlecchāścaiva yajanti vai ||83||

“The deva-s worship these [pitṛ-s]; they (the devas/gods) are situated in these pitṛ-s/ancestors. The four āśrama-s (the celibate, the householder, the forest-recluse and the renunciant) worship them in due order. The four varṇa-s worship them as per the appropriate injunctions. Likewise, those of mixed heritage and the mlecchas too worship [the pitṛ-s].

Therefore, the texts that we have reviewed show that it is possible for non-Indian Hindus to partake in what we can call “Non-Denominational” or “Generic” Hinduism with the elements listed above as the features of a basic praxis. We can perhaps summarize, even more concisely, the six elements for convenience of discussion under the following three overarching heads:

  1. Participation in sacrifices for Gods and ancestors and support for priests
  2. Basic moral virtues such as non-injury, truthfulness and freedom from anger; and
  3. Performance of obligations to parents, king, elders, religious teachers, kinsmen and the needy.
We see, in Indra’s prescription, the conspicuous absence of any doctrinal beliefs as requirements for dasyu-s/mleccha-s, including any belief in reincarnation, Īśvara (a single supreme creator) or apauruṣeyatva (the uncreated nature of the Veda).

However, from Indra’s statement that the dharma and rites laid down in the Veda are also applicable for the dasyu-s (vedadharmakriyāścaiva teṣāṃ dharmo vidhīyate). This can be read to imply that the dasyu-s should at least recognize the sacred authority of the Veda-s in question since the duties (and the sacrifices for the Gods and ancestors) prescribed for them somehow stem from the Veda. It is also arguable that every recommendation for a particular practice carries with it an implicit belief in the sacredness and validity of the same as nobody will carry out a ritual without any belief in its sacredness, even though the precise theological and metaphysical contents of the belief may vary.

However, we do obtain an answer to the 2nd question – conversion to the Hindu Dharma comes with a belief in the Hindu Gods (this includes ancestors) and certain foundational moral values and obligations, and a practical expression of devotion to the Gods and ancestors by means of rituals and putting into practice the said moral values by performing the said obligations.

The account of Indra’s discourse also provides an answer to the third question. There is no need to assign varṇa or jāti to a convert to the Hindu Dharma. It is possible for a convert to remain in his or her own ethnic identity prior to the conversion while making certain new practices and attendant beliefs an integral part of his life.

Conclusion

This article only briefly discusses the issue of converting to Hindu Dharma in the context of certain texts. If anything, it is the starting point for a deeper reflection and conversation.

While being mindful of our texts, we can also be respectful of the growing needs of a silent majority who want to join the Hindu fold. For example, the sacrifices to the Gods and ancestors mentioned in Indra’s discourse are hardly practiced even among traditionalist Hindus. Therefore, we must be able to adapt to today’s context. Over the last millennium, it is the temple that has become the focal point of Hindu activity, and here is where we must pay attention, especially outside of India.

In Singapore, one may, not infrequently, observe those of non-Indian origin (particularly those of Chinese origin) at Hindu temples, who participate in the modern version of kāmya arcana (worship), where the worshipper submits his and others’ names and respective nakṣatra (birth-asterism) details to the arcaka (temple priest), who will recite the names and nakṣatra-s and seek the deity’s blessings for the intended beneficiaries.

These very individuals will also contribute monetarily to the arcaka-s and the temple and will also participate in other ritual services hosted by the temple. It may be said that they are fulfilling the obligation to participate in rituals for the Gods and heartily pay the dakṣiṇā (fees) to the priests acting for them, as was stated by Indra in his discourse to Māndhātṛ

The forms of the obligations have clearly changed over the course of time but the substance remains intact. However, it must be noted that many of the non-Indian visitors to the temple, though sincere and active, are not Hindus on paper and they are not required to be Hindus officially.

In Eugene, OR (USA), there are two shrines one for Dakṣiṇāmūrti and other for Devi with Umā Maheṣvara. Those who conduct abhiṣeka, perform the daily morning seva and rituals for the deities are all non-Indian vaidika-s. From the chanting of appropriate śloka-s and mantra-s to the alankaraṇa, ending with the offering of naivedyam and puṣpānjali three times a day at sandhyākālam, all of this is done with śraddhā by the devotees of this small town in the Pacific NorthWest. That they have been able to continue this worship for close to fifteen years without fail is commendable indeed. arcaka-s from the Dakṣiṇāmūrti shrine in Saylorsburg, PA (USA) visit the temple regularly, and have also conducted the Kumbhabhishekam to purify the premises of any doṣas that might have been committed inadvertently. There is a roster in place to undertake pūja on a daily basis for which there are many enthusiastic signators. We will soon look into how Guru Pūrnima was celebrated this year in this small college town which is also the hipster food capital of the Western Hemisphere, to appreciate how non-Indian Hindus are faring as practitioners outside of Bhārat.

Meanwhile devotees all over North America, be they Indian or not, have access to more than 1450 Hindu temples across the continent which are open to everyone (Global Hindu Temples Directory, 2015). The magnificent Kauai Adheenam comes to mind instantly, situated on the island of Hawaii. Since many Indians themselves do not know of their janma nakṣatra or gotrā, the pūjāris are quite lenient and simply ask for a name and sometimes an ‘English’ birthday to convey their prayers to their iṣṭa devatā. Thus, in practice there is no restriction on anyone wanting to enter the Hindu universe, they are free to come to temples, participate in all activities, festivities and rituals, many marry Indian Hindus and there is no resistance or insistence on the part of Hindus for the spouse to ‘convert’ either.

So while the detractors will point a finger and say – what about caste? (which is what they say to anything connected to Hindus anyway!) We can safely answer that ‘caste’ does not matter and if it does then this matter is easily resolved. If there are sufficient numbers in a particular group of Hindus sharing a certain background, they may form a ‘caste’ or ‘community’ of their own. At any rate, the status quo approach is where individuals are free to carve out their own spaces in the vast peripheries of Hindudom, provided they respect the ‘traditional’ core that has preserved the traditions. There is also a duty on converts to be sincere and earn the trust of the traditional practitioners and negotiate, on an individual basis, a more deeply entrenched role and better access in traditional spaces. While we may deem active participation in rituals as sufficient proof of someone’s religious conviction, it would be important for an individual to signal his or her commitment to Hindu Dharma by formalizing the conversion at an official level.

In this context, it would be prudent to note that Indra’s discourse to Māndhātṛ is in response to the latter’s question as to how he should exercise his royal authority over the dasyu-s who are subjects in his dominion and how he should establish them in the dharma. How is this relevant to the issue of formal, official conversion?

With the end of Hindu monarchies, the absence of a Hindu state and the generally decentralized organization of Hindus across India and the world, it becomes the duty of Hindu communities and temples to encourage worthy non-Hindus (whether of indian origin or otherwise) to complete their conversion at the official level so that they become full members of the Hindu communities or institutions (i.e. temples, etc) they associate with on a frequent basis.

This of course requires a separate conversation on the role of Hindu temples and other community institutions, how they have fared in India and beyond as propagators of Hindu Dharma and the direction they ought to take moving forward.

Summing up this discussion apart from what the scriptures say on what constitues a Hindu vaidika belief system, in today’s globalized world what we observe is the stark difference between the powerful predatory evangelizing forces of Christianity and Islam versus the pagans. Being pagan (a much reclaimed word currently) would automatically align us with all the natives of the world. Native Americans, Australians, Africans, Europeans, Asians, all of us share something in common – in that we are not proselytizers, in that we do not believe that those who follow a different path or god/s are headed for jahannam/ hell. We do not believe in a single male god sitting in jannat/ heaven. And our end goal in life is not to be sheep at the feet of a chosen son or the pleasures of female virgins a la a chosen prophet.

Our respect and love for nature, for mother earth, automatically connects us and makes us ecological warriors. Our reverence for elders and respect for customs and traditions makes us a celebratory joyous people. We do not restrict our beliefs only to what we can see nor to plain rationality. We are not bound by time and space in our imaginations. We believe in the magic of the beyond as much as the beauty of our existence. We have more in common with the modern young men and women of today than do the Abrahamics for whom sin and repentance is the essential aspect of life and living.

Given all this, we only need to extend an encouraging hand to all those eagerly looking in from the other side to let the crossing of the bridge to happen seamlessly.

culture

The Problem of Culture Transmission

Tradition is the bedrock on which civilization stands and culture flourishes. And tradition is that which continues. But how exactly does it continue? How is

quest for harmony
culture

Quest for Harmony

In our introductory essay, Pankaj Saxena tells us what the cultural imperative is, and the redemption it provides.

the sacred everywhere
poetry

The Sacred Everywhere

The sacred in life, nature and the cosmos is made by that invisible, all-pervading consciousness, which defines this land we call Bhārata.

charaka

Reclaiming Medical Ethics

The medical ethics was an important feature of the Āyurvedic curriculum, duly emphasized by ancient practitioners. Caraka’s Oath can be regarded as the summation of