View Full Version : What do you think when a Westerner comes to your temple?
24 December 2009, 07:44 AM
I am a Westerner who is on the path of Sanatana Dharma. I have been attending a Hindu Mandir in the west for a while now. Before sharing my experiences I would be interested to know what born Hindus think when a Westerner comes to a Hindu temple. Does this change if they continue to come regularly?
24 December 2009, 12:30 PM
Namaskar Chris Ji,
In my humble opinion, if their intentions are good, they behave well and decently dressed, no one will say anything.
24 December 2009, 12:48 PM
Hello Chris: Welcome to these forums. I am a westerner, or at least I'm white. My name more or less reflects how I view myself, though. I have been to about 20 different temples in the west now, over about 30 years. In my opinion, this question's answer varies a bit from temple to temple. Once I was basically kicked out, and another time a guy yelled at me accusing me of being a Christian before disappearing into the crowd. Those were the worst experiences.
Besides the color thing, you're just a stranger. Often temples have a core group, and when anyone new comes, despite their color, they are sort of stared at or judged. I've seen this happen personally. Its not really a Hindu thing to walk up and shake hands in outward welcoming like you might get at a Christian church or some positive thinking seminar.
At my temple, I will introduce myself to any newcomers, but for a westerner, which must make it doubly odd for them because I'm white too.
There is also an unfamiliarity with worship. This applies to any stranger. Each temple has its style. For example, at the temple I go to most often, its south Indian style, and no one except the priest is allowed into the sanctum sanctorum (moolasthanam) . But the North Indians will walk right in there, especially if they can't read the English or Tamil signs written about it. So we deal with that. Conversely,a Tamilian might walk into a North Indian style temple and find a murthi of Lord Ganesha, and prostrate full out. That in itself would draw some stares.
The Hindu religions are vast and varied. Every single temple will have a slightly different variation, depending usually on where the core group of founders arrived from. We have Sri Lankan, Karnataka, Andhra, Fijian, Guyanese, Trinidadian, Utttar Pradesh, Punjabi, Gujurati, and mixtures of all of the above who founded these temples. The languages vary as well. Often English is not spoken much.
If you can provide me the name of the temple you are talking about, I may be of more use.
I hope you learn more here, and look forward to your questions.
24 December 2009, 02:04 PM
I admit it does look a little weird to see a Westerner in a Hindu temple. And I don't mean that in a negative way. It's just that in my entire life I think I might have seen two or three Westerners in any temple. So it's just out of the ordinary. I've never seen a Westerner not welcomed at a temple (granted I'm working with three data points here, so take that for what it's worth). Personally I think it would be great to have more Westerners come to Hindu temples and do puja with us. I've met a lot of Western Hindus, and strangely I always find them to be more knowledgable about Hinduism than us born Hindus. So I think that I have a lot to learn from these people.
24 December 2009, 02:40 PM
Please PM me to let me know which temple you attend so that your count gets to 5 when my wife and I are on one of our retirement pilgrimages around this continent. Maybe if I go twice with a haircut in between times and you're there you can cheat and count it to 7.
26 December 2009, 06:28 AM
Thank you for the replies. I think that what you say fits in with the experience that I have had. When I first went people seemed surprised and really did not seem to know how to treat me. The Mandir that I attend in England often has visits from school trips and other groups for educational purposes.
The first time I went I got a very polite but formal "welcome" from the priest. I think he said something like. One of the people later told me that when I first came he thought I was just coming as a one off visit as an outsider.
After I attended for a few times and joined in the ceremonies I think they realised that I was not just coming to see, and the priest said that he would explain anything to me. They also explained the ceremonies, and what I should do. I have had several people ask me whether my mother or father were Indian. As I have been attending for a while I think people have just got used to me and forget that I am a Westerner. I have had a couple of people try to speak to me in Hindi. There are also people I have got to know and we have a general chat before arti, etc.
After the initial confusion and puzzlement about why I was there I found it a very positive experience.
26 December 2009, 05:24 PM
Chris, I'm glad to hear you've had such a good experience in Hindu temples.
28 December 2009, 11:15 AM
I'm a Western Hindu, and I've never had a negative experience in a Hindu temple. Westerners are a pretty rare sight here in Malaysia anyway, so it would be doubly surprising to find a Westerner in Malaysia at a Hindu temple. Most of the races here have their own religions that they follow - Islam for the Malays, Buddhism/Chinese folk religion for the Chinese and Hinduism for the Indians. Generally, only Indians go to Hindu temples - it's very rare to see a non-Indian in a Hindu temple. I did see a Chinese girl in a Hindu temple in KL once, but she was interested in Hinduism which is why she was there. The few Chinese Hindus that you do see are usually married to Indians. Hinduism in Malaysia is generally an Indian thing, so much that a sign outside KL Central Station read "Wishing all Indians a Happy Deepavali". This sign offended me and I felt like writing to the people who put it up and informing them that there are non-Indian Hindus out there.
But no, I've never had a negative experience in a Hindu temple. In the one near my in-laws' house, one of the men explained who the Gods were the first time I came there to pray. Other people have translated the pujari's words for me since he only speaks Tamil and Hindi.
I'm interested to see how the people in New Zealand will react when they see me, a Western Hindu, come into their temple. Since my wife is Indian they may not say anything at all.
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