Being a Hindu in America


Sep 6, NEW YORK (HPI) — Being a Hindu in America is not the same as in India.

With hundreds of millions of followers, and texts dating back thousands of years, Hinduism is one of the world's largest and most well-established religions. However, estimates put the number of Hindus in America at only about one to two million, making them a small minority in a predominantly Judeo-Christian country with nearly 300 million people.

The cultures in India and the US are so vastly different that practicing Hinduism in America sometimes doesn't resemble practicing Hinduism back home. That reality has created a challenge for Hindus here - and for their temples and cultural organizations - as they try to pass the faith on to a younger generation.

Temples in the United States act as a community hub, religious education centers and offer language classes and tutoring. "Those aren't elements commonly found at temples in India," said Dr. Uma Mysorekar, one of the trustees at the Ganesha temple in Queens. In India, she points out, they don't need to be because Hindus are surrounded by their religion.

"We just observed and followed and never questioned," she said. "If we don't do our part, we will lose these youngsters," Mysorekar said. "There was a lot of foundation we had to lay even to exist as Hindus among non-Hindus," she said. "Now it is for us to do the job within our own community."

It took coming to America for 13-year-old Samyuktha Shivraj to understand what it really meant to her to be Hindu. Since she and her family came here five years ago, they have been more observant about practicing their faith then they were in India. They go to their temple in Queens more often, she is a member of the youth club there, and there are more conversations about what the prayers she's reciting really are saying.

"When I say those prayers now, I actually know what it means," Shivraj said. "It's not just a mundane ritual routine that I'm doing."

"To be Hindu in America is much more an intentional choice than it is in India," says Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies and director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University. "Even if you're first generation, you have to decide if you perpetuate it or if you just kind of let it go."


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