Discrimination at the Temple Gate


Nov 29, BHUBANESHWAR, ORISSA (SUN) — Over the last few weeks, there have been an unusual number of incidences reported of non-Hindus being denied entry into Hindu temples. These unfortunate events have taken place at the Sree Krishna temple in Guruvayur, at the Sri Jagannath Temple in Puri, and at the Lingaraj temple in Orissa.

Since the first time Srila Prabhupada's followers visited the Holy Dhama at Puri in the late 1960's, Western-bodied devotees have been turned away despite their full-fledged practice of Vaisnavism. Srila Prabhupada was not in favor of this discrimination, which he described as being simply the bodily conception.

Following the spate of discriminatory events that have made the news, it was recently reported that the Jagannath Temple is now re-considering the entrance policy. Decision makers in the matter are preparing to assemble at the Muktimandap of Shri Jagannath Temple for a serious discussion of this centuries-old tradition.

We can expect a very heated debate on whether or not officials will finally allow Hindus, Buddhists and Jains of foreign origin into the temples, and particularly the 12th Century Shri Jagannath Temple.

Puri Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati will chair the meeting along with the Gajapati Maharaja of Puri, Sevayats (servitors), temple administration and Government representatives. The meeting is slated to occur before year's end.

The activities of Shankaracharya, who has been traveling outside of the state, is seen as significant because he is now heading to Muktimandap, the primary decision-making body of the temple. Their verdict will almost certainly be accepted by other Hindu temples and places of worship, which have also denied access to non-Hindus.

Hindu organizations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Students Council have been increasing pressure on officials, as they call for relaxation of the tradition and new policies that allow Hindus, Buddhists and Jains of non-Indian origin to enter the Jagannath Temple and other temple sites.

Pressure also mounted last week when Thailand's Crown Princess Sirindhorn was denied entry to Sri Jagannath Temple because she is a foreigner and a Buddhist. While Indian Buddhists are typically allowed inside temple because many Hindus acknowledge Buddha to be a reincarnation of Vishnu, that rule doesn't apply to Buddhists of foreign origin. The Princess was on a three-day tour of the Orissan region as an ambassador for the U.N. World Food Program. When she was denied access to the temple last Sunday, she instead viewed the temple building from a nearby rooftop in Puri. The coastal strip of Orissa has long shared trade and cultural ties with Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, making this a particularly embarrassing political moment for both sides. .

Political status has apparently never eased the way at Sri Jagannath Temple. Even the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was born Hindu, was denied entry into Sri Jagannath temple while she was in power, simply because she married a Parsi who followed the ancient Zorastrian faith.

'Purification' at Guruvayur

In Guruvayur recently, a huge fray ensued when a non-Hindu was caught attending the Sree Krishna temple over a period of four days. The 35 year old, who was mentally retarded, was recognized by another devotee who hailed from the same village.

This unfortunate soul was handed over to the Guruvayur police. As dictated by temple custom, all the poojas that were performed during the four days this individual attended the temple had to be redone. Punyaham was performed at the temple pond, and all the pujaris, temple attendants and administrators took bath in the pond.

Hindu Students Council Weighs-in

The Hindu Students Council is an international forum for college students and young professionals interested in learning about Hindu heritage and culture. With 81 chapters in North America and other chapters around the world, HSC is the largest Hindu youth movement outside of India, with more than 130,000 regular participants in Council activities. The HSC just published the following proclamation, in which they call for an end to the discriminatory practices going on at Hindu temples and a return to the true practices of Sanatana Dharma:

    "The Hindu Students Council is deeply saddened by the denial of entry to a devout American Hindu into the sacred Lingaraj temple in Orissa, India. Several newspapers have reported that the temple custodians have been accused of denying entry to Pamela K. Fleig, who is married to an Indian Hindu, even though she has embraced Hinduism. The custodians allege that no "foreigner" or "Christian" is allowed entry into the temple. This is a myopic view of the issue. Some ancient temples in India may restrict entry into their sanctum sanctorum ("Garba Griha") to non-Hindus because of possible desecration of the consecrated images ("Murthis") by religious fundamentalists and due to crass activities that include photography, vandalism, obscene behavior or insensitivity to the religious sentiments of the Hindu worshippers at the temple. This reasoning however does not justify the denial of entry to a practicing Hindu just because she is of a different race. By her own admission, Pamela Fleig became a Hindu at the Arya Samaj in the sacred city of Varanasi in June 2005 with full Vedic rituals. Then she got married to Anil Kumar Yadav of Uttar Pradesh on August 3, 2005 as per to Hindu Marriage act at the court of the Additional District Magistrate and Marriage officer in Varanasi. This event should be proof enough of the fact that Pamela Fleig is a Hindu by her own volition and should be reason enough to accept her in the warm embrace of the growing global Hindu population. As Swami Vivekananda stated, self-declaration remains the basic way to enter the Hindu faith.

    Sanatan Hindu Dharma has always been a global religion for ages. While there is no history of Hindu conversions by violence or financial inducements, the Hindu religion has always accepted and assimilated anyone into its fold who has voluntarily accepted the Vedic philosophy and lifestyle. The Vratyastoma ceremony ("vow pronouncement"), dating back to the Tandya Brahmana of the Rig Veda, has been performed for millennia to welcome "outsiders" into the Hindu fold. Devala Smriti, another Hindu scripture, has clear rules for the simple purification of Hindus forcibly converted to other faiths, or of people from other faiths who wish to adopt the Hindu faith.

    Historians and archaeologists have recorded the assimilation of millions of invaders into Hindu society over the past 2300 years. Hindu society has invariably converted and absorbed innumerable Macedonian Greeks, Bactrian Greeks, Scythians (Sakas), Huns and Kushans who came to pillage India but were instead won over by the Vedic way of life. In 302 BCE, Helen, the daughter of the Greek general Seleucus Nicator, also embraced the Hindu religion after marrying Emperor Chandragupta in a Vedic marriage. The 2100-year old Heliodorus column in Besnagar (Madhya Pradesh) has Sanskrit inscriptions that commemorate the conversion in 113 BCE of a Greek envoy, Heliodorus who adopted the Vedic religion and the Hindu name 'Vasudeva' in the court of King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra of Vidisha. Furthermore, there are records of the invading Scythian kings who embraced Vedic Hinduism, adopted Sanskrit and took Hindu names like Satyasimha, Rudrasena etc while their Scythian armies merged with the Hindu population.

    History shows that Hindu society has always been broadminded and pragmatic. During the 14th century, in southern India, the Vijayanagara kingdom's sage Vidyaranya re-converted the warriors Harihara and Bukka after their forcible conversion to Islam. In 16th century Bengal, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's egalitarian teachings attracted many former Muslims like Haridas into adopting Hinduism. In the 17th century, Chattrapati Shivaji, the harbinger of the Hindu resurgence after centuries of tyrannical foreign rule, reconverted Balaji Nimbalkar to Hinduism after the latter's Muslim conversion and gave his daughter's hand in marriage to Nimbalkar, thus showing that a convert to Hinduism was of equal status as any other Hindu. This openness in welcoming tens of thousands of non-Hindus into Hindu dharm by Shuddhi ceremonies has been demonstrated for over a century by the Arya Samaj, the Masurashram (in Mumbai) and two ashrams in Tamil Nadu -Madurai Aadheenam and Kundrakuddi Aadheenam.

    Over the past 150 years, as a direct result of Hindu scriptures, Swamis and Yogis coming to the West, and of many Westerners journeying to India, millions of non-Hindus have become Hindu including Sister Nivedita (the disciple of Swami Vivekananda) and Mother Mira Alfassa (the spiritual successor of Maharishi Aurobindo, in Pondicherry). The world has witnessed an explosive growth in the Americas, Europe, Australia and Africa of the Hindu followers of Swami Vivekananda (Ramakrishna Mission), Swami Chinamayananda (Chinmaya Mission), Satguru Shivaya Subramuniyaswami (Hinduism Today and Himalayan Academy), Shrila Prabhupada (ISKCON), Swami Satchidananda (Yogaville), Yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar, Satya Sai Baba, Shri Shri Ravi Shankar (Art of Living) and Mata Amritanandamayi ('Ammachi'). Even the Pandits of Varanasi have recognized this global Hindu resurgence and have anointed Vamadeva Shastri (Dr. David Frawley), a disciple of Ramana Maharishi, as the world's first Western-born 'Vedacharya'.

    Today, there are 80 million Hindus who live outside India's borders, constituting nearly 10% of the global Hindu population. Millions of these non-Indian Hindus are 'seekers' and devotees who have embraced the Vedic faith after years of learning the Vedic scriptures, practicing Yoga, worshipping the Hindu way (Bhakti, Pooja, Havan, Bhajan) and undergoing a formal name change (Namakaran) under the supervision of a Vedic Pandit (priest). These Western-born Hindus follow a pure Sattvik lifestyle shunning alcohol, tobacco, meat, illicit sex and gambling - vices that are ironically becoming increasing fashionable amongst Hindus in India. Tens of thousands of Indian Muslims and Indian Christians offer worship at Hindu temples like Sabarimala, Mathura, Tirupati and Vaishnodevi. The custodians of these temples are progressive enough to open their arms and welcome all devotees, irrespective of their creed or color. Yet the custodians of the Lingaraj temple persist in making a big issue over the entry of Pamela Fleig and the color of a person's skin as proof of their Hindu-ness.

    The Hindu Students Council believes that a simple certificate of conversion, provided by the Arya Samaj or any other Hindu organization, should suffice as proof of Pamela Fleig's Hindu faith and should be accepted by the temple custodians to allow her entry into the temple. HSC also appeals to all Hin du Acharyas, Hindu religious organizations, the Government of India and the Chief Minister of Orissa to take proactive steps to welcome Hindus of all races and nationalities into all the sacred temples of India, the birth-place of our magnificent Sanatan Hindu Dharma."


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