Hindu Society Today The Dynamic Patterns in Motion

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 (974,000,000) and Nepal (23,000,000). They are also in significant numbers in the United States of America (2,400,000), Canada (685,000), Cuba (24,000), Martinique and Guadeloupe (50,000), Jamaica (31,000), Panama (10,000), Colombia (9,000), Trinidad (402,000), Guyana (318,000), Suriname (144,000), French Guyana (2,900), Brazil (3,000), Argentina (5,000), the United Kingdom (966,000), Germany (98,000), Belgium (7,600), Austria (9,600), France (65,800), Spain (23,000), Portugal (56,000), Greece (6,000), Switzerland (30,000), the Netherlands (175,000), Norway (25,000), Denmark (6,000), Sweden (11,000), Lebanon (10,000), Egypt (1,000), Gulf States including Dubai (3,877,000), Ethiopia (4,000), Libya (10,000), Nigeria (20,000), Uganda (254,000), Zambia (39,000), Malawi (30,000), Botswana (7,000), Ghana (12,000), Zimbabwe (13,000), Mozambique (43,000),  Rwanda (11,600), Seychelles (4,000), South Africa (805,000),  Madagascar (20,700), Reunion (177,000), Mauritius (640,000),  Tanzania (389,000), Kenya (386,000), Somalia (2,900), Yemen (157,000), Pakistan (3,500,000), Sri Lanka (3,100,000), Malaysia (1,737,000), Singapore (203,000), Hong Kong  (41,000), Japan (8,000), Bhutan (167,000), Cambodia (40,000),  Bangladesh (15,800,000), Myanmar (2,336,000), China (16,000), Vietnam (5,500), Thailand (68,000), Philippines  (47,000), Indonesia including Bali (5,200,000), Brunei (6,000), Fiji (293,000), Australia (158,000), New Zealand (75,000), Slovakia (5,400), Ukraine (46,000), Uzbekistan (3,000), Kazakhstan (3,300), and Iran (15,000) (adapted from Hinduism Today, Oct-Dec 2011).  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. The first large batch of Sikh farmers migrated to U.S.A. in the 18th century when similar 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. Human evolution is a saga of such endeavors, where the good and worthy is accepted and the harmful and unworthy is dropped.

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. Even so 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. The continuing shortage of man power in this field only enhances the need for such professional approach.