Author: Hindu American.
COVID19 has dramatically impacted the way we live. For the current millennial generation it will forever be their 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. All the things we have taken for granted- struck with a vicious blow in the form of a reality check.
The way we shop, the way we gather as a community all tremendously affected by COVID19. What about the way we say hello? As a born and raised Hindu-American in the US; growing up in the 1980s, all the gatherings that I attended within the Hindu community each and everyone greeted one another with the divine gesture of “Namaste”. It wasn’t just reserved for worship at a Hindu Temple, but also for when Hindu households socially interacted and greeted with each other.
This greeting holds an immense amount of depth. As Hindus we know that Namaste means holding our hands together and bowing to the divinity in you and you bowing to the divinity in me. Additionally, the scientific aspect holds an equal amount of depth. The joining of both hands requires touching the tips of all the fingers together. As a result the pressure points in the eyes, ears, and mind are activated in turn helping us to remember that person for a long time.
Over the years, as Yoga exploded globally and eventually inserted within daily life in the West, the word “Namaste” became relatively close to a house hold term, except a huge travesty occurred in this process- leaving out the organic truth; Hinduism is “Namaste’s” birth parents. Now, as we dive further in the COVID19 pandemic, “Namaste” is being prescribed as the solution for how humans should greet one another, especially in the United States. Last month, President Trump met with Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and both praised the greeting of Namaste.
Is this a small victory for Hindu Americans? Or, a silent molestation in the form of the removal of the ancestral Hindu origin that is attached to the word “Namaste”?
A Seat at the Popular Table
To many non-Hindus, “Namaste” is just word. Maybe they heard it in an Indian restaurant or in a Yoga class? However, to the 3.2 million Hindu-Americans it is more than a word. So then a series of questions started rippling through my mind. Is this a justification for Hindu-Americans to finally have a seat at the “Popular Table”? I define “Popular Table” as the mainstream promoting and defending the Abrahamic faiths in their coverage and vilifying Hinduism as oppressive, superstitious or pagan. It is a somber reality as Hindu-Americans we have accepted the darkness surrounding Hinduphobia. Various originations like the New York Times, Vice News, and the Wendy Donigers of the world only amplify Hinduphobia; for they are the mainstream.
But wait, shouldn’t we be happy that the mainstream is embracing “Namaste”? Just like we internally cheered when Diwali was recognized by the last two presidential administrations or when Hinduism for a split second is mentioned in a positive context by the mainstream. Finally, we made it! We say to ourselves. Throwing scraps or bones to a slumdog I suppose. We are no longer in the minor leagues; we are in the big leagues now, some might say; even if it means that we will accept the mainstream to shred or strip Hinduism from “Namaste”.
The Tiger Devouring the Deer
This removal or divorce of Hinduism from “Namaste” is a clear cut example of Rajiv Malholtra’s analogy of the Tiger and Deer “Dharmic Digestion” example.
By assuming the mantle of the originators and bearers of universal truths – both sacred and secular – the West has often embarked on and justified programs, missions and schemes to bring the rest of mankind around to its own worldview. I use the metaphors of “tiger” and “deer” to illustrate the process of what I call the “digestion” of one culture by another, carried out under the guise of a desire to assimilate, reduce differences and assert sameness. The key point being made is that the digested culture disappears. This digestion is analogous to the food consumed by a host, in that what is useful gets reformulated into the host’s body, while that which doesn’t quite fit the host’s structure is eliminated as waste.
Just as the tiger, a predator, would, the West, a dominant and aggressive culture dismembers the weaker one – the deer – into parts from which it picks and chooses pieces that it wants to appropriate; the appropriated elements get mapped onto the language and social structures of the dominant civilization’s own history and paradigms, leaving little if any trace of the links to the source tradition. The civilization that was thus “mined” and consumed gets depleted of its cultural and social capital, because the appropriated elements are then shown to be disconnected from and even in conflict with the source civilization. Finally, the vanquished prey – the deer – enters the proverbial museum as yet another dead creature (i.e. a dead culture), ceasing to pose a threat to the dominant one.
The questions continued, what other Hindu origin rooted “words” have we essentially substituted or stripped to earn this seat at the “popular table”? Is this “unpacking” of the word “Namaste” similar to the beginning of Joe Biden’s campaign when he embarked on a nationwide apology tour of his over-affectionate behavior? Similarly, is this a nationwide mainstream-led tour of “Namaste” being unbranded without its Hindu roots? Additionally, why do we have to justify our Hindu or Sanskrit words under an Abrahamic lens? Why are we allowing the mainstream to strip the Hindu identity from “Namaste” just as they did with Yoga and Hinduism? As the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) pursued the “Taking Back Yoga” initiative it was revealed that Yoga institutions boldly stated, “We can’t use Yoga and Hinduism in the same sentence, it’s just too loaded.” Similarly, virtually every article and coverage of implementing “Namaste” by the mainstream as the new post COVID19 greeting conveniently leaves out the Hindu bonded origin to the word. Is it too “loaded” to have Namaste and Hindu used in the same sentence just as Amen and Christ are?
Comparably, I started thinking about what other “words” that we as Hindus accepted the stripping and diminishing of its Hindu roots. Then, as I was aimlessly watching past clips of the Democratic candidates speeches, I came across a clip that Joe Biden confused the country of Guyana with Ghana. Guyana is the only English speaking country in South America and is considered part of the Caribbean. There is a prominent and established Hindu population in the West Indies region including Guyana. Often times many of these Hindu Caribbeans are unnoticed. Various scholarly discussions about Hinduism does not credit nor mention the amazing and historic journey that millions of East Indians embarked on under the British rule during the indentureship period in the Caribbean. East Indians brought with them, the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, and thousands of years of Vedic traditions and Hindu rituals passed down from ancestors when they settled in the Caribbean. Before Swami Vivekananda’s epic speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act into law allowing East Indians migrating in large waves to the United States; East Indians had already traveled, landed, settled and brought Hinduism to the Western Hemisphere in the Caribbean. They should be honored.
However, fast forward almost two centuries later the Hindu community in the Caribbean and North America is hanging on by a thread due to aggressive evangelical conversions and Hinduphobia. The effects of colonialism by the British in Guyana, Trinidad, and other parts of the Caribbean have left a lasting consequence. For example, Caribbean Hindus do celebrate Ram Leela, Diwali, Navratri and many other Hindu holidays. However, they have embraced the Abrahmic holidays of Christmas, Easter, and Ash Wednesday which such passion and flare it often times sweeps away the Hindu Holidays.
A Parting Gift from the British to Hindu Caribbeans
While we examine the detachment with Namaste from Hinduism, a parallel argument can be made when using an Abrahamic word to replace a Hindu based word. This leads to the word “Church” being used to represent a Hindu Temple or Mandir by Hindu Caribbeans. Why do so many Hindu Caribbeans use the word “Church” when referring to a Hindu Temple or Mandir? So many times, even the most devout and sincere Hindu Caribbeans refer to a Hindu Temple or Mandir as “Church”. One can argue this was a departing gift from Colonial Britain. The British imposed trickery and their form of conversion against Hindus in the Caribbean. Only the Christian East Indians could get the best job opportunities. Consequently, this meant converting, attending Church, and removing their ancestral Hindu “good name.” Additionally, it meant departing from Hinduism or modifying their Hindu customs under the Abrahamic lens. Winston Churchill stated and affirmed his hatred of Hinduism and East Indians as “a beastly people with a beastly religion.” This mention of the word Church when used by Hindu Caribbeans is overlooked and rarely discussed among Hindu Caribbeans. It has been accepted as a rite of passage and a commonly practiced word among Hindu Caribbeans. We can deduce that this is long time practice of the word “Church” is the tip of the spear regarding Hindu Caribbeans deliberately forgetting their ancestral Hindu roots. While the word “Church” used (in that context) to describe a Hindu Caribbean attending a Mandir or Temple maybe a micro variable in the argument of aggressive evangelical conversion in the Caribbean, it should be viewed as a small drop in the ocean causing a violent tsunami in the form of stripping the Hindu identity among Hindu Caribbeans.
Now after almost 182 years after Indenturship has ended, Hindu Caribbeans both in the West Indies and those who emigrated to North America still refer to Hindu Temples or Mandirs as “Church”. Is this to conform or impress the Abrahamic faiths? Is it to fit in with their non-Hindu friends or impress their White Christian friends or work colleagues? Is it to gain more followings on social media?
“I am a civilized Hindu. I don’t eat with my hands or speak with an accent like “those” Hindus from India. I speak English only. I only wear a bindi at religious occasions like when I attend Church. I am a practicing Hindu but we Hindus in the West Indies call it Church, it sounds better.”
But why? A Hindu Temple or Mandir is NOT a Church!! [See Merriam-Websters: Church is a building for public and especially Christian worship, Mandir is a Hindu Temple]
The internet searches for Namaste and exposure to the word has accelerated in the last few months. However, the mainstream coverage is leaving out the Hindu origin associated with the word. It’s merely a word right? Yes it is, but it is a word that holds a deep, profound, sacred, scientific and spiritual meaning. So why as Hindu’s are we settling for the stripping and diminishing of its ancient, divine, and holy value?
It appears that the Hindu Community is silently applauding and appreciating this Western mainstream embracement of “Namaste”, but with this new found embracement and recognition comes at the expense of intentionally leaving out its Hindu origin. Modern intellectual Kshatriya’s and Hindu Scholars should slow this express train down a bit. Shouldn’t the Hindu scholars and modern intellectual Kshatriya’s who have access to large amounts of followers, resources, and the platform to address this issue hold accountable the mainstream when they use the word “Namaste” by associating it with its rightful birth parents of Hinduism?
In the same fashion the exclusive and socialite Hindu Caribbeans should hold other Hindu Caribbeans in the community accountable for using the word “Church” when referencing to a Mandir or Hindu Temple.
Various Yoga Institutions continue to conveniently remove Hinduism from Yoga. That battle is most likely lost, but a new battle is on the horizon. These “words” from our Hindu culture are being targeted, abducted and stripped from its natural habitat. We should not let the mainstream remove Hinduism from “Namaste”. As this privileged millennial generation becomes even more dependent on gadgets, devices, machines, and cyber technology we need to remind them of the roots of these invaluable and precious “words” that the Vedas have passed down through Sanatana Dharma. “The Vedas are by far the largest and most sophisticated literature that we possessed from the ancient world” Dr. David Frawley.
Little things done daily with divine devotion and conviction are among the core values of Sanatana Dharma. The detachment of these “words” from its sacred Hindu origin serves as a reminder of the Anti-Hindu climate created and being driven by the mainstream. Will Namaste become a “dead creature”?
The author is a Hindu-American living in the USA. (View More)
“The darker side of Britain’s most iconic wartime hero”. The Independent.