The White Hindu has moved

The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Saturday, December 26, 2009

His Family

We spent Christmas with my boyfriend's family. This was the first time I was meeting his extended family. I was a little nervous about the topic of religion coming up because they are very Catholic. I am so interested in religion and people's beliefs, that the subject often comes up around me without me intending it to. I promised I would work harder to keep my mouth shut about it and I assured my boyfriend that there would be no reason for anyone to even think to question the religion of a white girl at a Christmas party.

He isn't all that concerned about it. He has told his immediate family that I'm not Christian and they seem to be okay with it and he says he does not care what the others think. I worry about it more.

My last serious boyfriend was someone who did not ever want to get married and was very serious about never having children. Yet, when one of his aunts found out about me, she was extremely concerned that she was going to have Hindu nieces and nephews. She was someone I liked a lot and it pained me that when we left that day she said she would pray for me.

It's one thing in the abstract to say that you're okay with your child dating someone of another religion, but what happens when they realize how serious we are about each other? What happens when they find out that we would have a Hindu wedding and raise Hindu children? I'm distressed that this will cause issues down the line.

This boyfriend is the only one I've had who has ever been okay with my eastern culture. I told him how the others had been confused by the times when there were culture clashes and they could not seem to understand that even though I'm American and white, I grew up with different values and ideas than they did. My boyfriend asked if they would have the same issues if they were actually dating an Indian girl. I've wondered that myself. Perhaps they would never choose to date an Indian girl. Perhaps it just surprises them too much to find that culture in me, where they do not expect it.

My boyfriend is very supportive and has been researching Hinduism. He has said he is fine raising our children Hindu, as long as when they get to an age when they can reason for themselves, that he be able to explain his beliefs to them as well and that I be okay with them choosing their own path in life. I've agreed to that, with the understanding that I'll give them a good strong foundation of religion first. He thinks it's awesome that I speak some Hindi and he's been learning some himself.

Christmas did go just fine. No one noticed that I didn't cross myself during the prayer before eating and no one ever thought to ask about my religious background. I enjoyed his family very much.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why can't I enjoy the holidays?

I know that Christmas time is about love and community and people sharing the happiness of family and gifts, etc. It shouldn't bother me so much that the Christmas references are EVERYWHERE. My Jewish friend seems to have an easier time just letting it be. If people tell her "Merry Christmas," she'll say it back.

I hate to be obnoxious. As mentioned before, I'm always afraid of offending people or having people not like me.

Christmas seems to be getting stronger again. It waned for a while in the 80s when political correctness was more in vogue. Now, I think people have gone back to being stubborn about doing whatever they want to do no matter who it offends. But hey, that means I can do the same. I will be stubborn about being not-Christian and I don't care who that offends.

I know pc stuff gets out of hand, but there is some value in remembering that not everyone you meet shares your religion or your beliefs. I hate the people who assume that I'm Christian.

I'm getting email forwards about the true meaning of CHRIST-mas and how it isn't "happy holidays." I'm getting friends on facebook who have joined a group called "I don't care if it offends you, I'm saying 'Merry Christmas.'"

What really irks me about this is that if it's okay for there to be Christmas trees everywhere and Christmas references everywhere, it gives support to the idea that this is a Christian nation.

It isn't. It's a nation founded on the principles of religious freedom and that's why most of the original settlers arrived here. They left the places in Europe where everyone expected you to be their particular brand of Christian and you could be in danger for not being that.

What happened to the land of freedom? Why do I have to keep my mouth shut as Christians preach to me about the "true meaning of Christmas"?

This is the time of year when I most want to stick out and make a stand for not being Christian.

For everyone who is Christian, enjoy your holiday. Just please stop assuming that everyone else you meet is also celebrating it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Typically, as I've said before, Hinduism doesn't have conversion. However, the temple that I'm interested in going to states in a FAQs section of their website that they believe that anyone who practices Hinduism is a Hindu and they have no problem with that (see below for the quotes from the temple). They also make the excellent point that at some point, even if proselytizing never happened, conversion must have because of the high numbers of Hindus in other south east Asian countries.

There is a magazine called Hinduism Today and they also publish several interesting books on what Hinduism is and similar topics. They believe in a conversion ritual, according to one of the books, which involves having a priest perform the baby naming ceremony on you and you pick an Indian name. You then insist that everyone, such as your family and coworkers, call you by your Indian name.

I have not done this. It seems rather pretentious and obnoxious to me and, honestly, I already worry that I'm skirting that line. I really don't want my family rolling their eyes behind my back and saying, "Who does she think she is? Does she think she can be Indian by changing her name?"

I think that is what my mother fears when she tells me that I'm going to offend Indians. So far no one has been offended (that they've told me, anyway, although who wants to have that conversation face to face with someone?), though several have been stunned.

But do I actually want to be Indian and if so, why?

Last night we watched a movie about privileged white kids who imitate black culture. It made me wonder if my issue is more universal than I had thought. Is this a problem with a lot of white America? An epidemic in white youth? Do we just not have any culture of our own or are we dissatisfied with the culture we do have?

I want to look Indian, to pass for Indian, just to avoid the feeling that people think I'm putting on an act. (Some friends say I worry way too much what other people think). This is one of the reasons I'm learning to speak Hindi. I somehow feel as though it will give me legitimacy.

I discussed this recently with a good friend of mine I grew up with, and she certainly saw my upbringing as being Hindu. It's hard for my mother and other people to understand that I'm not romanticizing the religion or the culture. I know its downsides and my eyes are open to its faults, but I have an affection for it despite those things and no matter what, the beliefs are my beliefs and there is no religion in the world that better expresses these things that I believe.

The Following is Quoted from the website of the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, MD:

1. Who is a Hindu?

Summary Answer:
If a person has at least one Hindu parent or has chosen to adopt Hindu principles, and celebrates Hindu festivals, one may be considered a Hindu.

Detailed Answer:
There are many views in this regard.

One way of looking at it would suggest that a Hindu would observe at least some Hindu traditions as being part of a community. For example:

1. in lifecycle events like marriage ceremonies, death ceremonies etc;
2. in annual and seasonal festivals like Navraatri (or Dusherra), Diwaali (or Deepaavali), Krishna Janmaasthami, etc;
3. general community practices, like temple worship, etc.

Some higher levels of criteria may include such characteristics as having worthwhile objectives (Purushaartha) in life (see question 6, principle iii), believing in rebirth and evolution of the soul, and working towards ultimate realization.

From a strict traditional sense, to be a Hindu, one must either accept the Vedas & Vedaangas and/or Aagama & Tantra.

2. Is it necessary to go to a temple or practice anything in any special way to be a Hindu? Can one stop being a Hindu?

Summary Answer:
As long as one is praying at home, it is not necessary to go to a temple to remain a Hindu. One never stops being a Hindu.

While prayer at home is good, prayer at a temple is much better, because the temple is a specially consecrated place, and the idols are specially consecrated idols. The atmosphere and spiritual ambiance in a temple are more powerful and effective. Just as we do watch video pictures at home but, even so, go out occasionally to a theatre to see a film, we can pray daily at home, but need to visit a temple as often as we can.

Detailed Answer:
While there is no one single practice required for a Hindu, a Hindu would be expected to follow at least one of the many Hindu practices. Since temple worship is only one such practice, others may be substituted. And one never stops being a Hindu unless one chooses to relinquish Hinduism by actively converting to a non-Hindu faith.

However, there is a special importance for temple worship in modern living, particularly outside India. Since the temple is a consecrated place, the effectiveness of any practice in the temple is likely to be more powerful. The energy of this consecration is described often by temple visitors as a feeling of peace, bliss, happiness, etc. This, combined with the opportunity to interact with Hindu culture (which may not be available in ones neighborhood), becomes a double incentive for Hindus outside India to visit a temple regularly.

3. What is the position of conversion in Hinduism?

Summary Answer:
There is no traditional Hindu practice to convert others. However, historically Hinduism has spread to Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia and Indonesia in earlier centuries. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that Hinduism does not actively seek to convert others, but there is room for anyone who wishes to become a Hindu.

Detailed Answer:
There is no conversion ceremony prescribed in the ancient tradition, although some modern leaders have invented some. Since anybody can claim to be a Hindu by adopting the principles and practices, there is no prescription in the sacred texts to proselytize others into the faith. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that Hinduism does not actively seek to convert others, but there is room for anyone who wishes to become a Hindu. An observation made by some scholars suggests that by a proper study of Hinduism, a Hindu would become a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian, a Jew a better Jew, and anyone a better human being.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Going to Temple

I've attempted temple visits before and I've found it very difficult. I had no experience going to temples growing up, so as much as I've researched about rituals and behavior at temples, I still don't feel all that comfortable. Being so clearly non-Indian also makes me stand out, so I feel self-conscious about not quite knowing what I'm doing.

I would stop going and just do rituals and such at home, but part of the joy of being a part of a religion is having the community. Also, when I have children I want to be able to raise them fully Hindu and so I feel that I have to get it all figured out before then (still got a number of years, though).

A while back I was visiting home and I went with my mother's Indian friend to the temple. She took me around and showed me what to do. I felt a sense of panic come over me that no matter how hard I tried or how long I did this, I was never going to fit in here and never going to get it right. I was afraid her friend thought this was a game to me. No matter what I do, I am not Indian and I never will be. I came home feeling very sad.

I explained this feeling to my mother. She is not all that happy about this development in my spiritual path. She and my dad raised me with Indian philosophy, but with western social traditions. My parents do not believe in the rituals of Hinduism and they do not feel comfortable labeling themselves as Hindu (even though they follow Advaita, which is a less-ritualized branch of Hinduism). I've told my mother before that whether she wants to call herself that or not, she is a Hindu. She goes to the temple every week to study Sanskrit. She reads the Upanishads and the Gita and tries to put into practice what they say. But the point is, this particular day mom said to me, "Why don't you just be Catholic?"

I was momentarily stunned. She was suggesting that I solve the problem of wanting to fit in in a place where I don't fully know the rituals by going to another place that I've never been where I don't fully know the rituals. Sometimes I think that my mother forgets that I do not have the same experiences, background, and knowledge that she has. She was raised Catholic. I have been inside a Catholic church three times in all my life and only one of those times was for a service. Before I was born, my mother rejected the Catholic church. Or so I thought.

I said, "Aren't you sort-of against the Catholic church?"
"I never said that," she replied.

Again, stunned. I felt as though I had slipped into a parallel universe, as our memories or my childhood were so utterly different.

I hope that I can ease my way into being comfortable going to temples. As I said before, I hope that starting with a university group will be a stepping stone on that path. I think a lot of the first generation Americans with Indian parents are in a similar position to me. We're all missing a few of the links that people who grew up in India got just from being there.

More later on what Advaita is and my plans for how I will raise my own children. Also more later on why having this label is so important to me.

Monday, December 14, 2009


There was no Aarti on Sunday. Somehow I suspected this would be the case. Must be Murphy's Law or some similar law that I would manage to pick a week when they are not having it. I've been meaning to go for about two months now and it finally lined up well for me. Turns out they stopped doing it because the semester is winding up. Right. College group, so that makes sense.

But I found it and it will start up again next semester. The Interfaith chapel has its own Hindu prayer room and everything. I look forward to trying it after winter break.

Tonight my boyfriend and I cooked apple jalebi. We found the recipe on Utube, done by a delightful woman named Manjula. She demonstrates a number of Indian dishes. The jalebi is apple rings that are battered, deep-fried, and dipped in syrup. So yummy.

I'm realizing that every part of my life is touched by my interest in Indian things. I cook Indian food, wear Indian clothes, I'm learning to speak Hindi, I do a classical Indian dance called Bharatnatyam. All that is completely aside from the religion (except the dance, it is a religious dance).

For some reason I have never felt connected to a culture before and I've fallen so deeply in love with Indian culture. As I've said, my roots are western European. Yet I have never felt connected or drawn to it. I've felt devoid of culture until about six years ago when I realized that my beliefs were in fact Hindu and dove head first into the path I'm on now.

I sort-of blame my mother for that. Her mother was from Ireland, a very rich and interesting culture. But I received none of it. My mom was a bit of an older mother and her mother was really an older mother, so my grandmother was so old when I was a kid that I didn't really get to know her. I've seen some of my cousins get very attached to and involved with being Irish. I wonder if this is a common problem in America, which is such a young country and does not have very much in the way of cultural tradition. A little bit, certainly, but apparently not enough for some of us.

You should try the apples jalebi. Seriously.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Aarthi on Sunday

I have recently moved to a new state and I'm trying to get myself established in the religious community. It's a slow process to try to find a temple to attend or events within the Indian community. You sort-of have to be already tapped in. There's a temple some thirty miles away that I'm interested in, but I haven't yet gotten up the courage to go and check it out.

It takes a lot of nerve and a focus outside myself to show up someplace where I not only know no one, but will be the only non-Indian and what I do and say will be closely observed, if only for the novelty of it. I frequently find myself to be an object of curiosity and I'll explain more about that in later posts.

A less frightening way to start is the university Hindu students associations. There was one at the graduate school I went to and it was very helpful for having small services weekly and for getting me connected to other Indian events. I participated in Holi (the spring festival) with them and went on temple visits with them.

Now I am not in school, but I came across a website for the Hindu students association for a major university in the area. It said that they have a regular Aarthi (fire service) each Sunday. I don't know if this is still true, because the website hasn't been updated in more than a year.

So this Sunday I'm going to head over there and see if anything is going on. Hopefully this will be the first step toward connecting with a community. Practicing a religion all alone is not as satisfying as with a group.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Hinduism, like Judaism, is a religion that is also an ethnicity. Conversion is almost unheard of. If you are of Indian decent, you might be any religion; but if you are Hindu, you are almost certainly Indian or from a country very nearby. It is much more than a religion—it is a culture and a way of seeing the world. It is also as varied as the hundreds of sects of Christianity.

One of the reasons conversion is so rare in Hinduism is the belief in reincarnation. Part of that philosophy is that one cannot be born into the “wrong” place. Whatever circumstances we encounter were part of what we were meant to encounter in order for our soul to grow. So if one were meant to be Hindu, one would be born Hindu.

On the other hand, perhaps the struggle that a particular person is born to deal with is the divide between culture and religion; the sense that she was meant to practice a religion that was not handed to her by her ancestors.

Let me tell you a little about me. I am American and I am white. My ancestors are European. However, I can make the argument that I was born Hindu.

In the 1970s my parents began practicing Indian philosophy. I was born in the 80s and all my life I listened to Sanskrit prayers and my bedtime stories came from the Mahabharata. As a child I started reading the Gita and the Upanishads, and as a teenager I was initiated into mantra-based meditation. When I was four, the family cat died. My parents told me that he would be reincarnated and if he had been a very good cat, perhaps he would have a human embodiment. Those are just a few examples of how Indian philosophy permeated my early years.

Despite being taught these things, I had no Indian culture or the ritual that goes along with these beliefs. My parents took me to a Unitarian Universalist church and they still considered themselves to be Christian.

The Hindus believe that there are many paths to the same truth, so my parents were following the Christian path toward the same truth as the Hindus. However, they still told me that of the many paths, each person would find one that would call to them more than the others. Supposedly the religion of your birth is the one that will be the right path for you. I think I'm an example of how that is not always true. Then again, what religion is the religion of my birth?

Once I moved out of my parents’ house, I discovered more about the various religions of the world. I learned about Christianity and I learned about Islam and I learned about Buddhism, but my beliefs were still firmly rooted in Vedic philosophy.

I got in touch with the Indian community and fell in love at once. It was like coming home. The ritual, the language, the dance, the culture, it all made sense to me. I realized that I did not have to forge a path of uniqueness, as my parents had, by pulling the philosophy out of Hinduism and keeping the rituals of Christianity. From then on I called myself a Hindu and began to study how to more fully engage in my chosen path.

This blog will explore the issues that this choice has raised for me. I will talk about my experiences trying to become part of the Indian community , how my family has reacted to this, and address the concerns that I have romanticized a religion that doesn’t belong to me. Along the way, I hope I can clear up some of the common misconceptions about Hinduism, including the one that says a white girl cannot be a Hindu.