There are at present more than one billion Hindus in the world, mainly in India. But they are also present in many other countries. Hinduism is the most predominant religion in India (1,053,000,000) and Nepal (23,500,000). They are also in significant numbers in the United States of America (2,300,000), Canada (497,965), Cuba (23,927), Martinique (1317), Guadeloupe (2,300), Jamaica (1,836), Panama (9,726), Colombia (8,876), Trinidad (237,737), Guyana (190,966), Suriname (128,995), Brazil (9500), Argentina (4,030), the United Kingdom (832,000), Germany (100,000), Belgium (6,235), Austria (11,000), France (63,718), Spain (23,000), Portugal (7,396), Greece (6,000), Switzerland (28,708), the Netherlands (200,000), Norway (23,140), Denmark (5,468), Italy(108,950), Sweden (10,837), Lebanon (4,926), Egypt (1,000), Gulf States including Dubai (303,611), Qatar (358,800 ), Saudi Arabia (143,000), Ethiopia (4,000), Libya (6,037), Nigeria (20,000), Uganda (242,101), Zambia (16,068), Malawi (2,726), Botswana (3,353), Ghana (11,466), Zimbabwe (123,111), Mozambique (41,811), Rwanda (11,600), Seychelles (1,910), South Africa (550,000), Madagascar (19,449), Reunion (55,409), Mauritius (600,327), Tanzania (354,458), Kenya (60,000), Somalia (2,900), Yemen (157,000), Pakistan (3,626,000), Sri Lanka (2,671,000), Malaysia (1,949,850), Singapore (280,000), Hong Kong (41,000), Japan (30,000), Bhutan (185,700), Cambodia (41,988), Bangladesh (14,300,000), Myanmar (252,763), China (16,000), Russia (143,000 ), Vietnam (50,305), Congo (118,3530 )Thailand (65,000), Philippines (10,000), Indonesia including Bali (4,400,000), Brunei (131), Fiji (303,163), Australia (440,300), New Zealand (90,158), Slovakia (5,448), Ukraine (42,386), Uzbekistan (3,000), Kazakhstan (3,300), and Iran (20,000). In smaller numbers, they are spread in almost all countries of the world.88
It is believed that more than sixty million Hindus live outside India. Although Hinduism originated in India, it has spread now all over the world through mainly by the process of migration of Hindus to other countries, rather than by conversion of other religious people into Hinduism. The Angkor temples of Kampuchea (formerly Cambodia) gives evidence of Hinduism in the South East Asian countries around 12th century. This temple was built by king Suryavarman, obviously a Hindu name, suggesting that Hinduism was the main religion of the region in that period. The inhabitants of this region were vastly influenced by India since the 1st century or even earlier. They had very close contacts with India, and also adopted the Hindu religion. In more recent times, British who ruled India sent large number of Hindu laborers to many of their colonies like West Indies, Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, South Africa and many other counties to serve in the agriculture fields. After the end of the colonial rule, many Hindus also got opportunity to migrate from these countries to U.K. and other similar colonial countries as they obtained the visa facility. Surinam, in northeastern coast of South America, has 22 percent Hindu population, third largest in the Western Hemisphere; the first being Guyana, and second being Trinidad and Tobago. In some ways, Balinese Hinduism reflects a deeper philosophic understanding and a fuller incorporation into daily life than found in India. For example here cremation is not an occasion for sorrow, but rather a festive celebration of soul’s passing into a better world. Balinese Hindus perform regularly Trikal Sandhya, reciting the Gayatri Mantra at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. A third example is the Nyepi, the Day of Silence in which the island comes to a complete halt. Hindus stay indoor, praying and fasting. Animal sacrifice is common in Bali; believing that such sacrifice will give a better life to the animals afterwards, a path to liberation- Moksha! Indonesian government supports all religions; there are over ten thousand teachers of Hinduism, teaching through university level, perhaps more than in India. Indonesian Ambassador recently presented a 16-foot Saraswati statue to the US to signify the harmony amongst Muslim-the majority community in Indonesia-and Hindus in that country. The statue is installed in Washington DC, infront of Indonesian Embassy and about one block from Indian Embassy. In Bali temples there are no murtis; they identify Gods by different colors; red for Brahma, black for Vihnu, and white for Shiva. In Bali Hindus and Muslims get along very well; Muslims often play roles of different characters in the plays of Ramayana and Mahabharata. According to government rule in Indonesia, afer the marriage, both partners need to belong to the same religion. As such inter-religious marriages are rare. There is no rift amongst the castes too; the marriages between the castes are very well acceptable. Hindus wear traditional dress while visiting the temple; they wear shoes inside, removing them only while performing any ceremony. The Ramayana and Mahabharata are translated into Kawi language, as used in South India in ancient times for all scriptures. It is the language used for Agamas.
Hindus have generally been keen to start religious activity as soon as they settle in the foreign countries. Tamil Hindus in particular have played a major role in the global spread of Hinduism. One key factor is that wherever the Tamils have gone, they have brought Hindu priests with them, from India and Sri Lanka. It is most creditable that most indentured Hindus, who were forcibly sent by the Britishers to Africa, West Indies, and other countries managed to keep alive their Hindu religion alive in most trying circumstances. Same also may be said of those who, after partion of India, were driven out of their homes, beaten and empty-handed, for the sake of their religion, instead of accepting the conversion.
The first large batch of Sikh farmers migrated to U.S.A. in the 18th century when job opportunity was offered. Small trickles of Hindus migrated thereafter, but main influx of Hindus to USA occurred after 1960s as the migration rules softened. A joint session of the United States Congress was opened with a prayer in Sanskrit , in September 2000, to honor the visit of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Another Hindu prayer was read in the United States Senate on July 12, 2007, by Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain from Nevada. President Barack Obama lit a ceremonial Diwali lamp at the White House to symbolize victory of light over darkness. A Hindu Military Chaplaincy was launched in May 2011; Army Captain Pratima Dharm became the first Hindu to serve as a U.S. military chaplain. In US, which has become a second home to many Hindus, the first generation often become more occupied with stabilizing themselves with economic security. For succeeding generations, they confidently branch out in varied careers, including even politics, integrating more fully into the mainstream.
A religious study in American higher study is a massive project. G.T.U. (Graduate Theological Union), Berkeley is the only inter-religious Consortium forum in America, offering Certficate, M.A., and Ph.D.courses in Hinduism. Hindu Dharma is not just a philosophy; it is a mltidimensional source of art, architecture, music, dance, drama, poetry, psychology, medicine, astronomy, grammar, mathematics and science of consciousness.
As of February 2017, 92,323 exiled Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in the USA since 2008. Hinduism is the major religion of Bhutanese who are resettled in the US.
In many countries of Europe, apart from UK and also US, there are now not only conventional Hindu temples, but also big Retreats, Ashrams etc. managed often by local white Hindu swamis, priests and monks, and performing very methodically worship and meditation practices, as ordained by Hindu scriptures. After the colonial rule, most of these countries have opened their doors for their past colonial subjects and granted them citizenship, and given them good facilities to estabilish themselves not only financially but also helped them to erect temples and worship centers for their spiritual needs. They also have now very cordial relations with India politically.
For long, Hinduim has been labelled as a faith laden with superstition, idolatory, anti-quaqted values, outdated customs, caste-abuse and umpteen false Gods by vested interests and even our own misguided Hindus! Such negative portrayals have even found their way in text books in some Western countries. Some Hindus have even succumbed to such false accusations and ridicule, and hidden their true identity. Hindusim has now entered 21st century with fervent force as recent generations have rediscovered its treasures and relvance to their times. Hindu Temples are coming up by thousands around the world. Communities are celebrating their festivals and parading their Deities in the streets of Paris, Berlin, Toranto, Sydney and many other cities with in grand style without worrying about that others might think them odd or “pagan”. Hinduism is going digital bolstering its strength. Hindus of all dominations are also banding together to protect, preserve, and promote their diverse spiritual heritage.
Together with the followers of Buddhism (360 million), Jainism (10 million), and Sikhism (23 million), which may be considered as the companion faiths and which share very considerably the religious philosophy with Hinduism, the total number swells to a staggering 1.5 billion world-wide for this whole group of religions—almost a quarter of the total population of the world. According to Gallop poll, Hindus appear to be the most God-believing nation with only 0.24 non-believers
Hindus are generally known to be tolerant and non-violent people; undoubtedly there are exceptions too. India has been home to people from all almost every religion, philosophy, and cultural heritage who have lived together harmoniously for thousands of years, creating a vibrant tapestry of more than 2000 ethnic groups. It has more than 1650 languages as mother tongue of different groups; most of them have their own script. India has 22 languages recognized by the constitution; both Hindi and English accorded as official languages. There is no doubt that the ancient philosophies of the Hindu culture are now regarded with great respect and enthusiasm. Yoga is taught in many universities and other teaching institutes in India and abroad, especially in the United States. Modern medical faculties all over the world have acknowledged and recognized the concept of the Ayurveda, the ancient health science of India. The ecological conduct of the Hindu philosophy has become a world issue. Reverence for life and vegetarianism are hailed with respect. Meditation is a household word in the United States and many other countries. But above all else, it is the recognition of the root concept of the Vedic teaching that all beings, human and others, are the children of one Supreme Divine, whatever our faith. Underlying this ancient philosophy of India is the vital ethical principle of non-violence—ahimsa. In tomorrow’s world, this principal doctrine of equality of all creation may well become an important ‘torch bearer’. Legislative Assembly of the State of NJ (US) formally declared June 15 as the official Hindu Heritage Day. On June 24, 2013, California State Sente passed unanimously the resolution to name October as California Hindu Awareness and Appreciation Month.
Hindus have performed generally very well in most countries where they have settled. They have earned a high reputation for attaining a good academic education, maintaining a superior family system, a low crime rate, and big economic progress. Even so along with many positive aspects, there are also few negative aspects, not always visible, of Hindu diaspora viz. poverty, alcoholism, depression-suicide, etc.. Hindus need to remain alert to such situations.
Even though Hindus everywhere have done quite well economically and in all other spheres, most young -Hindus especially living outside India unfortunately have very little knowledge about Hinduism. In the pursuit of their career building, this vital need has been neglected, with obvious long term adverse effects on family and younger generation. First the parents must learn and understand the Religion and its spiritual teachings; we are all but part of one divine family of God vasudhaiva kutumbkum. Only material success rooted for our own selfish purposes brings but short lived happiness of fleeting pleasures. But material achievements ingrained with spiritual principles of making others hap.y in the name of God brings more lasting happiness-joy of life. Then the parents should also groom their children with similar guidance. It is only through the spiritual teachings of religion that one attains the highest level of culture-how we conduct our behavior in family and society. In this regard, the Swaminaryan Sanstha has given special attention to groom youth into religion. In 2013, BAPS organized Youth Convention in Atlantia, Georgia, which was attended by 8000 plus participants from all over US and beyond. Said Sringeri Shankaracharya, “It is the duty of every Hindu parent to inform and educate their children about our religion and culture from a tender age. They may be told stories from Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagaavtam etc.” Those living outside India, have even greater responsibility in this regard, because the children will have no access to it in their text books.
Occsionally even in very progressive countries like USA, there are incidents manifesting racial hatred and other indignities. For Hindus, it is advisable to handle these unpleasant situations with more tact and patience as per our traditional spiritual heritage, and not become violent or very vocal in our demonstrations. We may find more refined methods. For example HAF and other organizatuions are now seriously fighting for restoring truthful accounts of Hinduism in the text books, avoiding all derogatory remarks and biased descriptions.
There is a phenomenon known as “empty nest syndrome”-a sense of emptiness and boredom after the children leave home to pursue their own carrier life. It is suggested that at that age of vanaprastha-a special term used in Hindu scriptures for the retired persons-one should get more involved in religious and social activities, reading, writing, and teaching others about religion. Instead running after mundane activities, parties etc only make us more sick and vulnerable.
It has been perhaps one of the greatest challenges for Hindus living outside of India to integrate and adapt themselves to different cultures, while at the same time retaining their own identity of religion and tradition. Hindus cannot afford to throw away their long-cherished heritage, but some useful changes may be needed periodically. Even so for Hindus living outside India (and even those living in India), it is important to realize that we may not blindly adopt all the Western customs and habits. Human evolution is a saga of such endeavors, where the good and worthy is accepted and the harmful and unworthy is dropped. For eample, having sex before marriage, and living together otside the wedlock are rather harmful and retrograde in the long run. Such things may be explained clearly to youth in good time, rather than remaing silent and permissive to copy the West without good reason
Only fifty years ago, the Hindu swamis and gurus lived a very austere and simple life. They lived in ordinary cottages, ate the simplest food, traveled in lower class, and did not enjoy any luxuries of the modern world. All this has changed considerably. The sanyasin who has pronounced renunciation now would consider this vow as a vow of mental rather than physical abnegation. This change, however, may not necessarily be regarded as a serious shortcoming. It may be accepted more as a sign of the changing times, although a sense of propriety is essential. Undoubtedly swamis, sadhus and sanyasins do play very important role in Hindu society. Many personally guide the lives of hundreds of families; others run institutes that provide social service. Even those who live reclusive lives in the mountains, by their deep meditations, send spiritual vibrations for the good of mankind. Priests, who conduct the rituals and ceremonies in the temples and homes of the devotees, are not always well trained and professional in their behavior. As there is no code for their curriculum etc., the variations abound. A judicious supervision and guidance in this regard may be called for. In recent times, there has been a perceptible change in the conduct of spiritual teachings and ceremonies. Swami Vivekananda declared boldly that the ritual and worship ceremonies may not be in the sole hands of brahmins and heredity priests; anyone with aptitude and proper training may do so with impunity. In US all church ministers need to undergo full course in university or some recognized institute; similar arrangement is being worked out for the priests in Hindu temples also. Hindu priests and teachers may also learn about other reigions so that they can properly reply and explain about Hindu religion, when in reference. The continuing shortage of man power in this field only enhances the need for such professional approach.
Hindus are much more family-oriented than most other religious communities. Starting and maintaining a family is considered a religious duty, which is well defined in the Grahastha Ashram. Sacrifice is the bedrock of good living. Hindus basically endorse the family lifestyle in preference to an individualistic one. Sharing and caring are virtues of greatest importance in Hindu society. Children are often given the highest attention in their formative years. The need for the children to learn the basic discipline of the traditional Hindu family, however, cannot be overemphasized. Most youngsters do well in education and conduct. Parents may teach best by example.
Elders have enjoyed very respectful position in Hindu society for millennia. The Vedic teachings “Treat your mother as God, and treat your father as God” gave high status and dignity to the elderly. Even though the parents don’t generally live with children now, they often arrange to live near to each other. In olden times, the elders occasionally had undue dominance over the youth, especially the daughter-in-law of the family. In some urban places, the tables have turned, and it is the elderly who are pushed to the wall and have become targets of humiliation and abuse by the young. Undoubtedly, a harmonious balance is needed for healthy survival of the family and society.
Women have enjoyed a twisted status in Hindu society. In the Aryan patriarchal society, at the beginning, women were pushed down along with the lower castes to remain ineligible to learn the Vedas. This was later rectified, and they were given equal standing in all Hindu rituals. The prevalence of the dowry system, in direct or indirect manner, still continues in certain areas, occasionally with dire consequences. The plight of widows in many places remains pathetic and shameful. The women in Hindu society are, of late, becoming very vibrant and awakened of their rightful position. Although traditionally Hindu women are not encouraged to work outside their homes, the modern setup has changed that option considerably. Typically Hindu women in the past gave lot more attention to make homes places of serenity and joy, while men folks worked outside. While more and more women are now working to supplement the home income as well as to fulfill their own dreams, men have not yet taken to domestic chores enough as yet. Many Hindu women taking jobs however is not just for economic compulsion only, but for luxuries born out of desire. If they do not have expensive car or handbag, they can not live without it. To become a real mother or wife is very difficult and challenging in modern times!
Divorces are not favored by Hindu society, but they are becoming more common than before. More and more women are now working. Their contribution to the economic structure of the family has increased significantly. Although the divorce is not sanctioned in the Hindu religion, many suggest changes while keeping in view the dynamic nature of Hindu theology. Swami B. V. Tripurari said, “If a husband abuses his wife and this cannot be resolved, she should not remain with him. Any woman who finds herself in such a situation should get out of it for her spiritual and material well-being.” 89
Sex has never been considered a sin in Hindu philosophy. The open expression of sexuality in some of the temples and the detailed descriptions in the scriptures, especially the Kama Sutra, is an indication that sex is accepted as a natural activity of human beings. Sex outside wedlock, however, is not sanctioned in Hindu society. There are some cultural differences also; for example dating is not traditionally allowed, even married couples do not hug or kiss in open public, and in mixed company women often remain in the background and do not participate in conversations and arguments along with men. Some changes are of course happening, but these may be done with discretion and wisdom. Respect and pride for one’s own culture is a necessary ingredient for good and happy life. Hindu society generally has a tolerant attitude toward sex. It largely leaves the choice of birth control and many other sexual decisions to the individual and family. It does not extend any condemnation or code of harsh punishment in matters related to a person’s sexual behavior. Hindus recognize that life starts at the time of conception, but they generally have a tolerant attitude toward abortion. This may have been a result of their progressive attitude of adjustment, according to the present situations and needs of society.
Suicide is not sanctioned in Hinduism. An individual is expected to complete his mission of fulfilling all his karmas in its natural course. In case of a terminal condition of life, a voluntary fast (vrat) until death is sometimes accepted as a spiritual option, especially amongst the Jains.
The present time seems to be a period of transition for Hindu society. Undoubtedly, the rituals are an essential part of Hinduism. They have an important role to play, creating an eternal bonding with religion and culture. Their contribution, however, needs to be modified to suit the modern age of science and technology. Lengthy rituals performed without any understanding may be better molded to make them precise and purposeful. In America, at present, the Hindu priest usually explains the meaning and significance behind each step of the ritual associated with most wedding and death ceremonies. A judicious combination of ancient Sanskrit as a traditional culture, along with the regional language, Hindi, or English as a practical language, may be a prime requirement in years to come.
The ravages of the caste system have not yet completely disappeared. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Dayanand Saraswati started the crusade against the caste system. Mahatma Gandhi spent his lifetime in services of the low castes, calling them Harijan—the people of God. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1893–1956) waged a war against this evil, which also gave birth to a vertical division of Hindu society. Even though he was directly involved in writing the new Constitution for free India in 1950, he soon became frustrated by the slow pace of change. The changes in the laws alone do not bring about the changes in the hearts and attitudes of the people. The real solution lies not in blaming, quarrelling, and bringing down those who are in the superior position but, as Swami Vivekanananda said, “..in uplifting the downtrodden.” Swaminarain Sanstha in Gujarat has been doing a yeomen service by advocating and welcoming the lower castes into the temples without any discrimination. Similarly Acharya Pranvanada Maharaj (1896-1941) also started the crusade to end untouchability in Bengal, and to unite the so called backward Hindus with the mainstream Hindus. He organized hard working monks’ organization Bharat Sevaahram Sangha. He also re-converted many Christians and Muslims back into Hinduism by performing religious Havan ceremonies. Siddaganga Math is among the foremost Lingayat (lower caste) maths in Karnatka. Its previous head Sri Sri Shivakumara Swami (1907-2019) was a giant figure in the nurturing of youth of the community; he steered a revolution in the education of poor students. In current period Ekal Vidyalay Foundation has been doing a yeomn service to Hindu society. Over 100,000 schools have been created catering to over 2,800,000 students; mostly in tribal areas.
Hindus are generally very particular regarding adherence to their religion; even so conversions do occur. There is of late a ‘subtle’ conversion program, which is called “friendship conversion” going on in many countries, including India, where Hindus are gently targeted. One needs to be vigilant. A related issue is interfaith love marriages with similar motives. Parents are urged to discus with their adult children these issues to maintain their Hindu heritage in the face of growing pressure of conversion lest they are caught unaware.
Hindu have now a big potential to become a major “Soft Power”, by creating its influence in the world regarding its many non-military achievements like Ayurveda, spirituality, yoga, pluralism, majestic Hindu temples, world of peace, harmony, and co-existence. Soft Power has been defined as the ability to influence the behavior of others through appeal and attraction rather than coercion, through persuation and spreading cultural values, spiritual wisdom, etc. India has been regarded as “Vishwaguru”-universal teacher in the past.
Hinduism has always been a dynamic religion, absorbing changes and modification as the situations and circumstances demand. Any violence and hatred by a religious organization or individuals however is unbecoming. Some take the position that protecting religion and God is an ordained duty; this responsibility may be best performed by the dully assigned personnel.They may also remember what Swami Vivekananda recalled in similar circumstances, when he heard the divine voice of Mother saying, “Do you protect me? Or do I protect you?”90
Despite several hurdles, Hindus outside India have maintained a very close connection with their religion and culture. They have built an enormous number of temples, some of which are most gorgeous and elegant. At home, most Hindus carry on their daily routines in a more traditional manner. They also observe many Hindu festivals and customs fairly well, although with some modifications as suitable.
Hindus are now present in most countries of the world. Occasionally, they are also treated unfairly in foreign countries. In some places, there is racial prejudice; in schools it may be because of the usual bullying habit of some children, or there may be unnecessary damaging comments about the Hindu religion or culture in text books. Hindus may need to address these issues on various planes, both at individual as well as community levels. Most importantly, Hindus must themselves know and appreciate the positive and glorious aspects of their own religion, and also bring about the same awareness in their children. The strength and importance of such awareness may not be underestimated.
Marriages in Hindu society are often still “arranged”, although with some modifications. The would-be bride and bridegroom usually meet and discuss their options and plans for the future more freely than before. Westerners often wonder how “arranged marriages” work and succeed. But the fact is that these “arranged marriages” often succeed more than the so-called “love marriages” without any parental council! In Hindu society, it is said, “To separate the marriage is to displease God.”
Rituals still do form an important, rather indispensable part of the Hindu religion. However there is no pressure on how to perform the same; in some places these are performed in a symbolic manner, and in others these may be very prolonged and laborious. Rituals are performed in Sanskrit language, but they are also explained in the local or English language, especially in foreign countries.
Women in Hindu society are becoming more and more free and liberated. Even so the old habits of male dominance are not completely gone. Husbands still do not extend an equal helping hand in home chores, child care etc. even when their wives are very busy and have fulfilling careers. Divorces are not yet common in Hindu society, but are no longer regarded as a disgrace on women. Although Hindu religion and culture stress on saving the marriage to the utmost as a matter of spiritual duty, and the consideration of children remains uppermost in the minds of parents, divorce by no means is totally ruled out. It is now accepted in a more positive manner; even the religious leaders seem to give tactical support by remaining silent on the issue.
Caste system is nearly becoming extinct. The new problem now is about the quarrel over who should get the benefit of the “special advantages for the low caste”. Many compete to be included in the category so that they may take those fat doles! Hindus are generally known to be tolerant and non-violent people; undoubtedly there are exceptions too. India has been home to people from all almost every religion, philosophy, and cultural heritage who have lived together harmoniously for thousands of years, creating a vibrant tapestry of more than 2000 ethnic groups. There is no doubt that the ancient philosophies of the Hindu culture are now regarded with great respect and enthusiasm. But above all else, it is the recognition of the root concept of the Vedic teaching that all beings, human and others, are the children of one Supreme Divine, whatever our faith. Underlying this ancient philosophy of India is the vital ethical principle of non-violence—ahimsa. In tomorrow’s world, this principal doctrine of equality of all creation may well become an important Torch bearer.
Swami Vivekananda declared boldly that the ritual and worship ceremonies may not be in the sole hands of heredity priests; anyone with aptitude and proper training may do so. Elders have enjoyed very respectful position in Hindu society for millennia. The Vedic teachings “Treat your mother as God, and treat your father as God” gave high status and dignity to the elderly.
The women in Hindu society are, of late, becoming very vibrant and awakened of their rightful position.
Hindus have rather soft attitude toward sex. It largely leaves the choice of birth control and many other sexual decisions to the individual and family. It does not extend any condemnation or code of harsh punishment in matters related to a person’s sexual behavior.