Not all Western Hindus are white Hindus

… and not all Hindus from non-Hindu cultures are Western Hindus

Picture of Ricky Williams,  running back for the Baltimore Ravens and Western Hindu

Ricky Williams, running back for the Baltimore Ravens and Western Hindu

On average three or four times a week someone follows a link in my article “Some famous Western Hindus” to the Wikipedia entry for Ricky Williams. Ricky is an  an American football running back, playing for the Baltimore Ravens. Though three or four clicks does not sound like much, it is higher than the clicks on most other minor links in old articles.  I can’t help wondering how many of those clicks are from other non-white Western Hindus, or non-white Westerners looking into the rich heritage of Hinduism and wondering if it is open to them.

Ricky Williams is far from the only non-white Western Hindu. A while ago I received an email from the author of “The Accidental Hindu” blog. She is a black Western Hindu from the West Indies, and I can highly recommend her blog. Another Western Hindu blog, the Yatra is run by a Latino Hindu in the USA.

I imagine that non-white Westerners embracing Hinduism have the same worries about being accepted that any non-Desi has when first visiting a temple. On top of that must be the insecurity that comes from not always being accepted by everyone in the majority population.  I hope that everyone who does embrace Hinduism has the same warm welcome that I did. They certainly should do because the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, or “the world is one family”.  God is in everyone, all contain the spark of God’s soul.

There is an apocryphal story that I heard somewhere :

A college was holding a course about diversity, respect, and stereotypes. The tutor posed this question to a class, to try and make them think about their underlying assumptions about race and gender “can you conceive  of God as a young black woman?”.

A Christian student said that it was very difficult, he naturally thought of God as a father figure. A Jew and a Muslim thought the same. Even a blak atheist said that though he didn’t believe in God, the image that came to mind was an old white man in the sky.

Then the tutor turned to a Hindu woman and asked “can you picture God as a black woman?” She answered “That’s no problem, as Hindus we often think of God as a black woman – Kali, a white man – Shiva, or even a blue man (Krishna) ….”

Though its just supposed to be a funny story, I think that it does underlie the Hindu appreciation of the universality of the divine.

Not all Hindus from non-Hindu cultures are Western Hindus

Swami Ghanananda Swaraswati

Swami Ghanananda Swaraswati

There are also Hindus who are not from traditional Hindu societies outside the West. In  Accra, in Ghana there is an unusual Hindu temple. Established in 1975 by Swami Ghanananda Swaraswati, almost all the attendees are of Native Ghanan descent. From a BBC article, the temple Manager says:

We don’t ask anyone to convert to Hinduism. Those who seek the truth enquire about the Hindu monastery. We write articles in newspapers before we observe big Hindu festivals like Navaratri or Dipawali.

I have previously found an article on a Chinese convert to Hinduism, though I can not find it at present. The person in question translated Sanskrit texts to Chinese.  I will update the article if I find it. There is a you-tube video of Chinese converts chanting mantras though.

In summary, there are many converts to Hinduism that are not white Hindus. Hinduism believes that all the world is a family and welcomes all. If you are a convert to Hinduism, whatever your nationality and colour. I am sure you will be welcomed. Why not blog about it to show the path to others.


Picture of Ricky Williams is from Wikipedia and is in the public domain. The picture of  Swami Ghanananda Swaraswati is a low resolution rendition from the BBC site, and considered fair use.

54 responses to “Not all Western Hindus are white Hindus

  1. Brilliant. Lovely post. I had heard of Swami Ghanananda but actually had not heard of Ricky Williams (sorry, don’t follow US football) and will go have a look into his bio and background. All very interesting. I love to hear of the great diversity of those who embrace Hinduism. Thanks for doing all this research!

    • Thank you.
      I don’t follow US football either, I found Ricky Williams in the Wikipedia list of converts to Hinduism.
      I am sure that my findings are the tip of the iceberg. There are a number of articles that I remember seeing that I cannot find again. There’s the Chinese scholar that I mentioned and somewhere there is a story of a Mexican woman who has a very different experience visiting Hindu temples to most non-Indian converts … she writes about how everyone think she is Indian and asks her what part of India she comes from. She has to explain that though she looks Indian she was brought up in a culture with no connection. If I find these articles I update this blog entry with them.
      Aum

  2. Good point! I have to remember that. Although I am white, I have to recognize that the contrast is between those whose background is Hindu and those who came to Hinduism on a search for meaning. I love the story! Gods (or Goddesses) can even be blue! 🙂

  3. among africans and their descendents following hinduism, the pious swami from Accra, Ghana desrves leadership role hands down. Not that he demands any admiration. His ashram and temple started some 30 yrs ago has been providing religious and spititual needs for some 3000 Ghananian hindus, all of them of african descent. Good to know that western blacks are favoring hinduism as well. A very humbling experience for us brown hindus that inspite of all the hurdles they face, both whites and blacks embrace this dharmic path..

  4. My classmates Mother is of Chinese origin.She was adopted by her parents in Singapore.It seems its common in Singapore to find Chinese Hindu women who were either adopted by or married to Hindus.

  5. Hi,

    I stumbled across your blog and it has made great reading. I am an Indian and from a Hindu background. I too blog on various matters including spirituality at http://nirvana73.blogspot.com/

    Would be great if you can have a look and leave your comment

    Regards

    Nirvana

  6. its a bit different topic , but i wanted ask u if its allowed in uk/great britain/england for hindus to have hindu cremation(burning the body on pyre of wood) or antim sanskar ? i read somewhere thats illegal in uk/great britain/england coz it causes air pollution.{but Bar-B-Q is legal}
    please reply & forgive my mistakes in english

    • Namashkar,
      This is something which the law is not clear on. The right to a Hindu burial in the UK was won in principle by Davender Ghai. However the case ruled that air quality and planning issues would still have to be met. The local Authority said:

      “However, the judgment goes on to state that the difficulties which may be thrown up by planning and public health legislation, should an application be submitted, have not been considered as part of this judgment.
      “Furthermore, the method of burning associated with funeral pyres is not covered by any regulations which currently only apply to cremators powered by gas or electricity which are designed to maintain environmental standards, in particular air quality.
      “Following the judgment, all local authorities will await further guidance from the Ministry of Justice as regards any proposed regulations or legislation which may control the proposed manner of cremation to ensure environmental standards and public health are protected.”

      In other words it is allowed in principle but there are not currently regulations allowing it to happen in practice. I expect that this is going to change ant that regulations will be put in place, probably quite sensible ones like cremations having to be a certain distance from houses and so on. At the moment though, as you say it is not allowed because the only regulations on cremation relate to gas or electric furnaces, so it is not allowed.

  7. it doesn’t cause much pollution(compared to number of times people in west do Bar-B-Q, campfire etc) cremation places in India are usually away from residence areas. they r usually near a river,creek,sea , or lake{ any water-body}. its sad that UK doesn’t allow Hindu traditional cremation.
    i guess UK needs more rabid Hindus(like their Muslim counterparts in UK) who could take up this issue seriously n aggressively so that the government take cares of the issue. Hope that u will not censor this view

  8. If air pollution is an issue then havan/homam agni(fire) kunda should also not be allowed in residential areas of UK . ANY THING RELATED TO AGNI CAUSES POLLUTION. BUT AGNI is important god who takes our offerings to the deity to which its intended(i may be wrong here). & UK laws need to respect that.

  9. Electric crematoriums are used all over India and I am sure they are available in UK and should be accepted by Hindus

  10. Westerns are more concentratd on lord with forms, that s first stage of Hinduism, the old Vaishnav , Shaiv etc nw we can see among you. I belong to a Vaishnav family by birth/caste. Bt we go all temples irrespective shaiva or vaishnav.
    Coz the lord can be seen in any form. If u see hm as Sadashiv u become shaiva and as vishnu , you become vaishnav.
    Really we cant imagine him. He doesnt have forms, he is indefinite and infinite. You have to Go by Upanishads,GITA its inner meanings etc to understand Real Hinduism.
    These Shaiv, Vaishnav, Smarta are for inculcating bhakti , similarly idol worship too.
    With regards

  11. But if you like to follow Bhakti Marga, then Lord himself would take you to the ultimate truth , ie hmself.
    Gita, says in wotever form a person sees his god, if with true devotion , he’ll lead him in such form.
    So u have to devote urself and your Karma to such Lord, siva, vishnu or any form in which you see him. Thats why hindus say no problem even if one preaches lord n form of jesus.
    Or if u devote to a dog truely he’ll bless u as a dog.
    But before or for getting such true bhakti we have to get control over mind , ‘Indriyas’ . So that we can devote ourselves completely to him.
    And hatha yoga , pranayam etc are mediums for that.
    I have seen krsna as my lord, he leads me.
    So you should concentrate on making your Mind, Indriyas too devotd to Sri Parameshwar Mahadev. To get true devotion or Shradha on him.
    And Gita is a guide to spirituality for all hindus irrespective whether ur path.:-)
    it’l lead u to Mahadev .

  12. Namaste Tandava and all blog readers,

    I have encountered a few people who have said that “mlecchas” cannot be Hindu, and that they are untouchables. This saddened me deeply. Does this mean that I cannot embrace Sanatana Dharma and Maa Kali? I try to lead a Sattvic lifestyle, I don’t eat meat, and I try to know and understand the culture as best I can. I had no say in where I was born. Would Maa really fault me and ignore me because I was born in the west? I do love Her very much.

    Pranams,

    Shakta

  13. @ Shakata. If thus goes hindu teaching that Brahman is everywhere without a beginning or end without a form or gender, how can this god be confined to one race or geographical area. The caste sysyem is preferably a varna stratification based on individuals after birth accomplishments. Valmiki was a savage hunter in his younger days. With his own self realization and good ddeds he later became the revered sage who penned Ramayana. You are not a mlechha, an individual who refuses to adopt the doctrines like dharma is a mleccha regardless of his parents faith or location of birth. Himalayan academy monks are respected by monks in India and Indonesia. Their being caucasian is irrelevent. Nanaste.

  14. Check the foolishness in your statements.
    ‘MAA’ , means mother would she make any difference in herown kids? How could u thnk that? It is thoughts like this, that are Mlecha nt , u. Get rid of such thoughts, believe n Maa and see mother everywhere. Mlecca are bad people , adharmis nt any caste or any race. You are more hindu than many n India. Maa will never see any discriminatn in her kids. If you thnk of her making discriminatn , your devotn will be affectd . So dnt thnk such thngs.
    Im frm a brahmin family and i dnt see any difference among u , me or any so calld ‘lower caste’.
    We all are born sudras, every needs to become brahman through karma. There s no shortcut or by ‘birth system.

  15. I love football, and so this makes the Ravens even more wonderful.

    Lastnight with Giants @ Cowboys made me turn the tv off.:P

    But, this whole blog hits upon something so truly goodly! My gg Grandmother was Cherokee and a slave here in Kentucky…only a slave because only slaves could remain in Ky when the soldiers came to take the natives on the trail of tears. My GGG Grandfather did everything to keep his family here, even converted to xtianity and renamed himself “Christmas”. But nothing worked, they were being removed. My GG grandmother was “sold” for cattle to her father in order to save her life. The kind Irish family who saved her, raised her…and she fell in love with one of their sons. So here I sit…blue eyes, redish blonde hair …and a follower of SD.

    I think the more blogs such as this which speak of these wonderful diversities…when the package does not line up with modern day ideals…all of this helps change that stereotyping all the more<3

  16. They were mixed religious and eventually all converted to the predominant religion here and became baptists. It was my hearing of this story, thousands of times….by my own grandmother. Seeing the pictures of Squetha and hearing of the conversion. This is how I begin to seek the Truth and this led me to here.

    • Oh! Great, i had been thinking all Irish people were Catholics. We have lots of Catholics here in Kerala too. Many of my friends are.
      Anyway nice to meet you.
      I am a Vaishnava but great devotee of Lord Siva because my house is near traditional, world famous Shiva temple in VAIKOM.
      OM NAMAH SIVAYA

  17. Nice point! Yes, I don’t know where the “all Western/non-Indian Hindus are White Hindus” stereotype came from – perhaps in some areas they are more visible, simply?
    But in ISKCON it is very much visible that non-Whites, and non-Indian Westerners are active congregation members and believers. 🙂
    And not just. That’s particularly notable in temple locations with a higher concentration of different ethnicities, such as Queens, New York, where many of the temples (of ISKCON and also different Hindu groups) are within a mainly Caribbean-American community – many people of all different races (and mixtures of races) residing there are dedicated Hindus and temple attendees. Quite spectacular to be part of the community!
    In Africa HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami Krishnapada, the first African American spiritual leader in ISKCON, practically built the movement and there are thousands of dedicated devotees all over Africa. 🙂 He did much to give recognition and appreciation for the faith and its teachings even amongst non-Hindu leaders and scholars there as well. Many of those devotees – both who remained in Africa and immigrated abroad – are amongst the movement’s most vibrant and enthusiastic leaders! I have heard wonderful stories of how the movement is thriving in Southeast Asia as well.
    Hindus of all nationalities, races, ethnicities, colours, and distinctions are thriving everywhere. 🙂 It is really nice to see.

    • And on the note about Chinese Hindus, yes the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publishes a wide variety of literature in Chinese 🙂 In fact my first year college roommate – who is not herself of any faith but is very interested in religion – got herself a copy of Sri Isopanisad (Sri Isha Upanishad) in Chinese!

      • Have you read T. A. H.’s wonderful article on the African American ISKCON devotee Jadhavacarya Das?

        The first black Hindu I saw in person was an ISKCON member from Scotland, who had come with a group of devotees to hold a festival, with plays, bhajans, and prashad. It was a fun event!

        • Thanks for the kind words, Tandava.

          And your story reminds me of the first time I ever met a black Scotsman — no idea of his religion, it was just a shock to hear a Scots accent from a black man. Hailing from the West Indies & the USA, seeing blacks with Scots accents was just not something I’d thought of. Silly in retrospect, obviusly, but that’s kind of the way the mind works, isn’t it? You take your experiences and pigeonhole people, not always meanly or with any malice or even consciously, and when someone wanders by you, just going about the business of being themselves in life, they can shock you out of complacent thinking. And that’s a very good thing.

          • I know exactly what you mean. I remember being surprised when I heard a White Jamaican speaking with a Jamaican accent on a current affairs program. Of course I realised how silly it was to be surprised and thought “well what did you expect them to speak like?”.

            • Lol. I don’t know whether any of you heard it. Recently a TANGLISH song was releasd,(tamil-english).

        • Jadhacarya Prabhu? A familiar devotee 🙂 and a very wonderful soul. Thanks for sharing the article!

        • Jadhvacarya Prabhu? A familiar devotee and a very wonderful soul. Thanks for sharing the article!

  18. I’m a black Hindu!
    I grew up in Guyana, South America, which has avery diverse population, including a high proportion of Hindus. My parents were atheist, but I was always drawn to religion; my best friend was foerm a Hindu family and I became fascinated at an early age.
    In 195, aged 21, I travelled overland to India and stayed at the Ashram of Ramana Maharshi for 18 months. That place, at the feet of the holy mountian Arunachala, has become my spiritual home since then. I go as often as I can, and one day I hope to retire there. My path is Vedanta Advaita, as taught by Ramana Maharshi
    My blog is http://www.sonsofgods.blogspot.com. It is focussed on the Mahabharata — I have been re-writing that magnificent tale for the last 30 years, at first as a hobby, and now I hope to publish it as an ebook.

  19. Pingback: Another blog by a Western Hindu – Sons of Gods: The Mahabharata | Western Hindu

  20. i am from the state assam from india and i never heard anything about non hindus who became hindus. the amazing fact is that even non asians are hindus like the whites, blacks etc. i really appreciate the fact people respect and practise our religion. best of luck for all those who bcame hindus and enjoy your spiritual path. and do write articles about it for the hindus to appreciate their own religion as make them feel that they are not concentrared on a single country. and as i m assam , do go to the temple of the goddess kamakhya in guwahati and get the flavour of tantric hinduism of assam. best regards from kangkana

  21. Do you know that there are ethnic africans(50-60000) living in india? They were brought by arabic slave traders some 400 years ago. Most of them follow islam but there are two particular tribes in karnataka which follow hinduism.

    [Tandava: Inline video changed to link]

    This is a song from this particular tribe. They have mixed with the local population; half indian-african. I don’t speak their language but I can understand some words. They are singing about rain and asking it to be benevolent and how the arrival of rain will reset everything back to normal(good).

  22. Hi I am a hindu from south africa of indian ancestory and I really appreciate all of your articles.I am 18 years old .I would love to hear more about your experiences as a hindu…

  23. I would love to correspond with the author of this article .as a young saivite hindu of 18 years I feel inspired by your work.please email me if possible thanks

  24. My husband and I are wanting to convert to Hinduism, but we need to know what is required of us. Any help would greatly appreciated. Namaste!

  25. Hi Dawn,

    http://www.himalayanacademy.com/monastery

    I am assuming you are American therefore i recommend in US. However if you are someplace other than US do let me know.
    thanks,

    Rishi

  26. Thank you for this blog. Good, overall, but I think it might be a little misleading to say that Ricky is Hindu…his Wikipedia page says he identifies as Christian, with influences from Eastern religions. However, this was also written a few years ago, so I recognize that his position may have changed.

  27. For a beautiful American Tantrik Kula that follows the Kashmiri Shaivite teachings in Northern California, see: http://www.sacredspaceyogasanctuary.com
    It is a multi-cultural Kula in Berkeley with European-Americans, Latino-Americans and African-Americans. It is a very high teaching of Trika Shaivism focused on the Shaktipat transmission from our revered Guru: Swami Kecaranatha.

  28. Lambodara Das

    I am a Black / African American Hindu since 1971 and have been guided by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami and A.C. Turiyasangitananda Swamini as well as others along the path. I have often been met with curiosity and amusement by born Hindus, on rare occasions I have experienced hostile receptions when attending temple functions, but for to most part born Hindus have encouraged and educated me for that I am thankful for such kindness has helped me hold on the ways of the Sanatan Dharma.

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