I was born a Hindu by virtue I guess of both my parents being Hindus. But I chose to be a Hindu through a personal journey orchestrated by my mother with inputs from my father too. I was unwavering in my faith for a long time, but the emergence of a new form of ‘hinduism’ in the past years has sometimes made me question my own religion and has needed me to dig deep in my past to renew my faith.
Being Hindu is again in the news with sparring going on on the use of Hindi and Hindu.’ leaving me a tad flummoxed. First of all I think someone should come forward, by someone I mean an eminent religious or spiritual personality and put an end to this Hindu business. Hindus are those who love in Hindustan, a name that find its roots in the river Indus. The religion we follow when we call ourselves ‘hindus’ should be, in my humble opinion, called Vedism from the Vedas the precepts of which are the tenets of our religion. Maybe that would solve issues.
Today I simply want to share why I embraced Hinduism with pride. I grew up in different parts of the planet and always in countries with a different faith: Muslim, Christian, Buddhist but never Hindu. Hence all my friends belonged to diverse religions. On the other hand, my mother who was not into ritualism, mutated into this uber ritual persona and celebrated every festival following all the rites to the T. Come Diwali, Holi, Janmashtami, Shivratri and all else our home was transformed and I was guided through every step of the ritual of the day. Yummy sweets and food was cooked and in her inimitable style which would have made Socrates proud, Mama never said anything but waited for the questions to come from me and answered them to the best of her ability, keeping in mind the age I was and always adding some stories and tales. The one thing I remember of all these celebrations was that everyone in the home participated, irrespective of their creed. At the end of each puja I was asked to touch the feet of everyone elder to me and seek blessings. That included the staff! So festivals were a happy time and the stories of each fascinating to a little girl.
But that is not what endeared me to my religion. What really made me want to be Hindu was how I perceived its relation to other faiths and for that I have to thank my wonderful parents. Whenever I asked them if I could: go to church with my Christian friends; fast on the first day of the Ramadan with my Muslim friends or partake of a sabbath meal with my Jewish friends, go to the Pagoda with my Buddhist friends the answer was always the same: yes as long as my presence was accepted by my friends and their families. Needless to say it was always a yes. Those were days before extremism had raised its ugly head. Hence to me, a religion that accepted all other religions and houses of God was the best I could get.
And that was not all, you could chose a God to pray to and you had so many to chose from. As a child I ‘chose’ Ganesh! And if I needed more proof, I remember how upset I was when my father cut my holiday in Mauritius because his spiritual leader who was in London wanted to give me a mantra. As a rebellious teenager I entered the sancto sanctorum of the Ramakrishna Mission in London with a frown on my face. Swami Gananandha sat me down and told me he knew that I did not want to be there and that I had come against my will. I looked sheepish but nodded my head, I guess I knew you did not lie in the house of God. But being who I am I told him that I would not chant the mantra. he smiled and told me that it was OK, I could forget about it, but he would still give it to me in case I ever needed it. I did forget about it for a long time, but at a time of extreme need it flashed through my mind and brought me the solace I needed. I chant it every day.
We have a small prayer corner in the house. There always has been a prayer corner in any house I have lived in, even if it was just a shelf in the cupboard. Anyone and everyone is welcome to pray there. The little alter has many idols but if you look carefully it also has a cross, a Virgin Mary and the name of Allah, all gifted to me by dear souls. Every Diwali we are joined by the pwhy volunteers that happen to be here and they too pray with us. In the picture you can see Alan, our beloved magician, who is from the UK and lives in New Zealand. I do not know who will be with us this year but the more the merrier!
That is what Hinduism is to me. A religion that encompasses all others and accepts them with love. And that is the faith I will always follow.