Suhag Shukla's BAPS Women's Conference Keynote Speech - Hindu American Foundation
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Suhag Shukla’s BAPS Women’s Conference Keynote Speech

By December 6, 2015 September 21st, 2020 No Comments
What an honor it is to be here today. Thank you Ami for your warm welcome and guidance, and to every sister who has worked tirelessly to bring this event to fruition.The collective positive energy that is so unique to shakti — the power of the feminine — is palpable here today. What’s also palpable and always inspiring is the collective shraddha that I experience any and every time I attend a BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha gathering. The most memorable was just a few years ago in Robbinsville, NJ, where pujya Swamishri showered all of us at the Hindu American Foundation with his āshirvād. To see the thousands of bhaktas who had come from near and far, gathered to greet him — to catch just a glimpse — allowed even me, someone not from within the Swaminārayan fold, to swept away in the rapture of living, breathing bhakti. My pranams to all of you for not only sharing, but spreading that spirit of pure devotion.

The topic I’m going to talk about is how we as women can resolve to change ourselves, our families, and our communities. My attempt at an answer is quite simple. But it’s not necessarily easy.

The year I graduated from high school, the book “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” was a bestseller. Amongst the short list of life lessons were gems like “share everything,” “play fair,” “don’t hit people,” “put things back where you found them,” and one of my favorites, “warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.” All good advice, at this age, this last one is probably more accurately warm cookies and cold milk are just plain good as opposed to “good for you.”

While all of these rules are ones that most of us intentionally or unintentionally live by, what about the bigger questions that each of us face as women juggling our multiple roles of daughter, sister, friend, wife, or mother? What rules can we live by in deciding whether to exercise after a long day at work or treat ourselves to a square of magas? Volunteer for a child’s field trip or take our mother to a doctor’s appointment? Stay late to get a project done for work or class or get home in time to nourish your family with a healthy meal of roti, dāl, bhāat, shāk? How about accepting the party invite, knowing your cousin or good friend has been left out? Or answering a question honestly even though the answer is not what the person asking will want to hear?

For these daily struggles or dharma sankatts, as we say in the Hindu tradition, kindergarten do’s and don’ts sometimes fall short. But luckily we’ve been blessed with literally encyclopedias worth of wisdom. The Vedas, the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Gita, Puranas, the Sikshāpatri. All of these volumes and volumes of wisdom and shikhāman on how to live in accordance with dharma are there to teach, guide and inspire us.

By intentionally and mindfully living in accordance with dharma, we change ourselves. If we change ourselves, we change the way in which we raise and interact with our family, which in turn changes them for the better. And if our family is changed for the better, we with our family can serve the community, and in turn change it for the better.

But what is dharma exactly? While it’s become ubiquitous enough to appear on American bumper stickers like, “Increase Dharma. Decrease Drama,” it remains difficult to fully grasp. Partially this is because there is no single English word that encapsulates the full and deep meaning of dharma. Then there’s the fact that even when used in Indian languages, it means different things to different people at different times and in different contexts.

Merriam-Webster’s tries to define dharma as first, “the principle of cosmic order,” and second, as “virtue, righteousness, and duty, especially social and caste duty in accord with the cosmic order.”

Huh? Cosmic order? Caste duty? First, why is it that most non-Hindus just can’t seem to define anything Hindu without mentioning caste or cows? But I digress. Second, what does cosmic order or caste duty have to do with saying thanks, but no thanks to the party invite? Or being gentle, yet honest with a friend who’s asked for frank advice?

The Hindu American Foundation, for which I am one of the co-founders and now serve as its Executive Director and Legal Counsel, has, through our own study and absorption, and with the guidance of spiritual leaders and scholar-practitioners explained dharma as: “…the mode of conduct for an individual that is most conducive to spiritual advancement.”

This explanation appears in our Hinduism 101 program and our Short Answers to Real Questions about Hinduism, where we also talk about the original name of our religion —Sanatana Dharma — which many translate as “Eternal Law,” encompassing the inherent laws of nature and the Divine. We also talk about vishesha dharma, or special duties defining an individual’s responsibilities within the nation, society, community, and family and all in accordance with our life stage. We also say dharma can be understood as the individualized application of discernment and action according to the sum of past of our karma, intelligence, aptitude, tendencies, physical characteristics, and community.

Then there’s sāmānya dharma or the general rules that govern all forms and functions. This includes our duty to strive towards and achieve contentment; forgiveness; self-restraint; non-stealing; purity; control of senses; discrimination between right and wrong; spiritual knowledge; truthfulness; and absence of anger. Given the popularity of yoga, many may recognize these values as the yamas and niyamas.

Virtue? Righteousness? Law? Duty? Rules? Yamas? Niyamas? With all these different ways of defining and contextualizing dharma, how are we as Hindus supposed to navigate life if our map has no one clear road with clearly marked left and right turns at each intersection? What exactly are we supposed to do to uphold dharma or live dharmically? And more importantly, how? All of these questions and overwhelming number of possible twists and turns bring me to a visual tool.

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a stool. It can be made of anything — wood, rubber, metal. Imagine a color for it. Mine is red. Because each of us is unique, our stools will be unique — made as simple or as ornate as we’d like them to be. But the one thing it has in common is that it is a three legged stool, and each of these legs is very important. They represent what all of various concepts of dharma can be boiled down to — three essential, core values — ahimsa or non-harming, brahmachārya or self-control and moderation, and satya or truthfulness.

The Sanskrit root of dharma ‘dhri’ or “that without which nothing can stand” really breathes life into the analogy of dharma as a three-legged stool. If one leg is missing, or consistently shorter than the other two, it teeters. It loses balance. It cannot stand and we fall further away from dharma. Have you ever told a friend or sibling the truth about something you’ve been feeling, but you just let it out, straight from your gut, without any filters — oops, privileging satya over ahimsa and brahmacharya, and dharma loses. How many of us have lost complete track of time binge watching the latest sāsu-bahu Indian serial or the show 24, knowing full well that we are always finding excuses not to exercise, learn an art, or participate in satsang— lack of brahmachārya or moderation and not being honest with ourselves, harms not only us and our spiritual growth, but in turn our families and communities.

It sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? To uphold dharma, we should strive to be equally kind, equally measured, and equally truthful in our every thought, word, and action. But can these three core values really be it? Think about some of the others that are not ahimsa, brahmacharya, and satya. What we’ll find is that they are really just combinations and permutations of three basic values.

  • Kshamā or forgiveness is the highest order of ahimsa and brahmacharya
  • Asteya or non-stealing bring together satya and brahmacharya
  • Svachhatā or cleanliness and purity bring together all three

With much guidance of gurus and unexpected guides along the way, I finally found a way to better understand what dharma boils down to, at least in theory. I also have a renewed appreciation for the term, “practicing Hindu.” Because theory without practice is like bhakti without gnāna, or karma without bhakti, which basically can be pointless.

As women we play many roles. All of us here are daughters. Most are sisters, and are or will be wives. Many are mothers. We’re doctors, lawyers, accountants, pharmacists, engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, beauticians, caterers, amongst countless other professions and vocations. The point is that each of these roles presents an opportunity for us to selflessly, without attachment to any fruits, bring our best, and our best, is when every thought, word, or action is dharmic.

I am one of the cofounders of the Hindu American Foundation and now serve as its Executive Director. HAF is an advocacy organization for the Hindu American community. The Foundation educates the public about Hinduism, speaks out about issues affecting Hindus worldwide, and builds bridges with institutions and individuals whose work aligns with our objectives. HAF focuses on human and civil rights, public policy, media, academia, and interfaith relations. Through our advocacy efforts, HAF seeks to cultivate leaders and empower future generations of Hindu Americans.

Everyday I am thankful, as are my colleagues at HAF, that we have been able to find careers which allow us to serve society. Everyday I am thankful that we get the opportunity to test our faith and resolve to uphold not only our vishesha and sāmānya dharma, but do our little part for Sanātana Dharma itself. It’s no small task, and everyday we remain open to the possibility of learning something new or being reminded that old is gold. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I have learned at HAF is that even in advocacy, the Rule of the Stool is the most effective way to affect change. Thus, practicing ahimsa, brahmachārya, and satya are not just good for me personally, but they’ve been good professionally. I’ll cite a few examples.

Every year, the Hindu American Foundation hosts an annual advocacy day in which we take a delegation of Hindu Americans to Capitol Hill to meet with elected representatives to discuss what we believe are the major legislative priorities for Hindus locally and globally. The first year, one of the offices we met with asked, “So, are you Sunni or Shia Hindus?” Now granted, that was nearly a decade ago, and much progress has been made in the realm of religious literacy, but we were caught off guard and faced with a choice. Raise our brows, shake our heads, every inch of our body language saying, “What the…?” or demonstrate the art of diplomacy. We chose the latter…ahimsa, brahmachārya, and satya at play, all at once, when we gently said, “Oh sorry. We are the Hindu American Foundation, not the Muslim American Foundation,” and moved on as if nothing stupid just happened.

It isn’t only politicians who provide these opportunities which test our ability to practice dharma in action. The media and market is filled with all sorts of testers. In our early years, we would be alerted by members of the community that some company or another was selling Ganesha Pale Ale, a Kali toilet seat, or Krishna flip flops. With writers on our team who could wield the pen like a hefty sword, we’d rattle off a critical statement and immediately go to the press. The press release would get picked up, HAF got its fifteen minutes of fame, and well, the company continued to sell whatever it was selling because it had never been engaged directly. When the media would go to the company and ask why it wasn’t going to even consider pulling the offensive product off the shelves, the spokesperson would usually say, “Well, they never asked.” Lesson learned.

From then on, we have developed a methodology, with ahimsa, brahmacharya, and satya in mind, though the order may vary. First, approach a representative cross-section of the Hindu community to see whether a commercial use might be considered offensive by mainstream Hindus. Then, write a letter and call the offending company to make a request, backed with facts as to why a particular use is inaccurate, inappropriate, or offensive. Then go public — maybe. Has every company we have approached yielded to our request? No, but the ones that have, have done so graciously and probably learned a thing or two, not only about Hinduism, but Hindus. And we, at the end of the day, have not sacrificed dharma to protect Dharma.

See? It’s that simple.

To be fair, though, the examples that I have just cited are, in many ways, skewed in favor of my argument — interacting with mere acquaintances, or even strangers with equal measures of kindness, composure, and truth is often times far easier than keeping these three legs of the stool steady in our interactions with those closest to us, and perhaps most difficult, with ourselves. While boiling down to the basics may simplify the approach to dharma, it doesn’t make it any easier. But practice makes perfect and our religion is not a one-day-a-week affair, but a way of life that requires our intention, our practice, in each and every moment, in each and every breath.

So how do we as women resolve to change others, our families, and our community? The good news is that we already are by the sheer blessing of having been born as women. Shakti is quiet yet strong; loving yet tenacious; graceful yet fierce; creative yet made to get the job done. We are idealized as compassion, selflessness, and seva incarnate. With these inherent qualities — stri-gunas — we are well placed on a path to not only do good, but to be better.

How do we change our community? By changing ourselves. Start small and work your way to bigger.

  • Pick up that piece of litter or trash you walk by, thereby helping keep your community clean.
  • Carpool when going places to work with others to keep Mother Earth healthier
  • Waste less time shopping or watching TV, so that you have more time for seva

How do we change our families? By changing ourselves.

  • Say, “Hā momiji,” when your mother-in-law asks you to do something that you don’t really feel like doing, but wouldn’t be harmed if you obliged.
  • Strike up a conversation rather than scolding your child when they come home with a bad grade.
  • Perhaps the hardest, and one I am trying to work at very hard. Don’t let your husband push your buttons. De-escalate an argument by smiling and saying, “Jai Swaminarayan”

How do we change ourselves? By recognizing, first, that the only that that stands in our way is us. Be present. Don’t waste time regretting the past or stressing about the future. This doesn’t mean that we don’t set goals or learn from our mistakes.

Ask yourself, is my thought, word, or action equally kind, equally composed, and equally truthful. If so, we are existing in accordance with Dharma and effecting change at every level for the better.

In other words, it’s that simple, though not easy. But we’ve got this.

Explore ancient wisdom and modern perspectives in Hinduism.

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10/30/22Sanatana Dharma in the Movies

Hinduism is often referred to as Sanatana Dharma (the ‘eternal way’), indicating the religion’s emphasis on eternal truths that are applicable to all of humanity. Thus, it makes sense that a medley of mainstream movies could convey Hindu ideals that resonate strongly with audiences, while not actually talking directly about anything understood by the public as Hindu.

In Groundhog Day, for example, when cynical TV weatherman Phil Collins discovers he is trapped in a time loop, living the same day over and over, only to be released after transforming his character from an egocentric narcissist to a thoughtful and kindhearted philanthropist, it’s hard not to be reminded of the Hindu notion of samsara, a cycle of reincarnation from which a soul attains liberation by realizing its divine nature after lifetimes of spiritual practice. 

Or in The Matrix when Neo chooses the red pill of knowledge over the blue pill of ignorance, and is subsequently unplugged from an illusory world and cast into the truth of reality, the film seems to be conveying a foundational Vedic teaching: that we must transcend our own ignorance — a product of maya, literally meaning “illusion” in Sanskrit — to uncover our true nature. Hindu concepts appear to be further exhibited in Neo’s relationship with Morpheus, which starkly reflects that of a disciple and guru, as the latter reveals to the former the knowledge he needs in order to understand this “true nature.” As Neo’s faith in Morpheus’ words develops, so does his capacity to see past the illusion of the matrix, garnering him the ability to manipulate the laws of this false reality, similar to the Jedi and yogis described earlier.

What do the Matrix, Avatar, Groundhog Day, and Star Wars have to do with Hinduism?

10/29/22Hinduism and American Thought

Hindu Americans and the Vedanta philosophy have significantly influenced notable intellectuals such as Henry  David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, J.D. Salinger, Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley, Huston Smith, and Joseph Campbell just to name a few. Some feel that it started back In 1812, when Thomas Jefferson recommended to John Adams the writings of Joseph Priestley, a Unitarian minister who had published works that compared Christianity to other religions — Hinduism in particular — Adam’s interest was piqued.

Going through Priestley’s writings, Adams became riveted by Hindu thought, as he launched into a five-year exploration of Eastern philosophy. As his knowledge of Hinduism and ancient Indian civilization grew, so did his respect for it. This legacy took shape in the 1830s as Transcendentalism, a philosophical, social, and literary movement that emphasized the spiritual goodness inherent in all people despite the corruption imposed on an individual by society and its institutions. Espousing that divinity pervades all of nature and humanity, Transcendentalists believed divine experience existed in the everyday, and held progressive views on women’s rights, abolition, and education. At the heart of this movement were three of America’s most influential authors: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau.

How Hinduism Influenced Some of Americans Greatest Thinkers

10/27/22The Hindu Diaspora in Afghanistan

Before becoming an Islamic state, Afghanistan was once home to a medley of religious practices, the oldest being Hinduism. A long time ago, much of Afghanistan was part of an ancient kingdom known as Gandhara, which also covered parts of northern Pakistan.Today, many of Afghanistan’s province names, though slightly altered, are clearly Sanskrit in origin, hinting at the region’s ancient past. To cite a few examples, Balkh comes from the Sanskrit Bhalika, Nangarhar from Nagarahara, and Kabul from Kubha. Though Gandhara’s earliest mention can be found in the Vedas, it is better known for its connections to the Hindu epics the Mahabharata and Ramayana. There is also the historic Asamai temple in Kabul located on a hill named after the Hindu Goddess of hope, Asha. The temple has survived numerous conflicts and attacks but it still stands. The temple is a remnant from Hindu Shahi Kings, who ruled from the Kabul Valley as far back as 850 CE. However, Hindus are indigenous but endangered minorities in Afghanistan, numbering approximately 700 out of a community that recently included over 8,000 members. Many have left for new homes, include in New York which is home to a large Afghani Hindu population.

5 Things to Know about Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan 

Hinduism Beyond India: Afghanistan

10/26/22Dogs and Diwali

According to the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey, 70% of U.S. households (90.5 million homes) owned a pet as of 2022, with 69 million U.S. households having a pet dog. Recognized for their loyalty, service, companionship, and the special relationship they have with humans, Hinduism’s reverence for dogs is expansive, as they are worshiped in festivals and appreciated in connection to a number of Hindu gods and stories. Observed in Nepal, Bhutan, and the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal, Kukar Tihar (the 2nd day of Tihar) honors dogs as messengers that help guide spirits of the deceased across the River of Death. In the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira, his brothers, and the queen Draupadi renounced their kingdom to ascend to the heavens. However, Yudhisthira was the only one that survived along with a dog that had joined them. Yudhisthira refused to go to heaven without the dog, who turned out to be Yamaraj, the God of Death. Sarama, the “female dog of the gods,” was famously asked by Indra to retrieve a herd of cows that were stolen. When the thieves were caught, they tried to bribe Sarama but she refused and now represents those who do not wish to possess but instead find what has been lost. The symbolic import of dogs is further driven in connection with Dattatreya, as he is commonly depicted with four of them to represent the Vedas, the Yugas, the stages of sound, and the inner forces of a human being (will, faculty, hope, and desire).

Dogs and Diwali? 5 Things to Know about Hinduism and hu(man)’s Best Friend

10/25/22Black Panther

In 2018, the long-running Marvel comic series Black Panther, was brought to the big screen. A more prominent scene is when M’baku, a character vying for the throne of the fictional country of Wakanda, challenges T’Challa/Black Panther, and yells, “Glory to Hanuman.” However, despite dharma as an unsaid aspect of the characters’ interactions, Black Panther relies slightly more on Hindu symbolism than philosophy. But the significance of Hanuman as a transcendent deity cannot be overlooked, especially at a time when dialogues about global migration, the right to worship, and access to natural resources are becoming more overtly racialized. The film provides more than just an entertainment escape: it reimagines a world in which the current racial and theological paradigms are challenged forcefully. With the film expected to have at least several sequels, there will be more opportunities to reference Hinduism and Hindu iconography.

Why Black Panther’s References to Hinduism are Significant in Hollywood


One of the most celebrated Hindu festivals, Diwali (dee-VAH-lee) or Deepavali (dee-PAH-va-lee) commemorates the victory of good over evil during the course of five days. The word refers to rows of diyas — or clay lamps — which are put all around homes and places of worship. The light from these lamps symbolizes the illumination within all of us, which can overcome ignorance, represented by darkness. Devotees gather in local temples, homes, or community centers, to spend time with loved ones, make positive goals, and appreciate life.

Hindu Holidays & Dharmic Days Calendar 

Diwali Toolkit


On this day, because Diwali is a time for dana (charitable giving) and seva (selfless service), Hindus traditionally perform a deep cleaning of their homes and surroundings, as cleanliness is believed to invoke the presence and blessings of Goddess Lakshmi who, as mentioned earlier, is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Many will also make rangoli or kolum (colored patterns of flowers, powder, rice, or sand made on the floor), which are also said to invite auspiciousness. Observers thus begin Diwali by cultivating a spirit of generosity, doing things like giving money to charities, feeding the hungry, and endeavoring to help those in need.

5 Things to Know About Diwali

10/22/22The Hindu Diaspora in Bali

The spread of Hinduism to Southeast Asia established powerful Hindu kingdoms in the region, most notably the Khmer Empire that encompassed modern Cambodia and Thailand, and influential kingdoms in the Indonesia archipelago. Though Buddhism and Hinduism co-existed in the region for several centuries, Buddhism (and Islam in Indonesia) eventually replaced Hinduism as a primary religion. Today, there are approximately five million Hindus in Indonesia, primarily in Bali. As Bali is roughly 90 percent Hindu, this makes it a religious enclave in a country that contains the world’s largest Muslim population. There are also roughly 60,000 Cham Hindus in Vietnam, and smaller numbers in Thailand. Hinduism in Fiji, Malaysia, and Singapore is a much more recent phenomenon, with Hindus arriving in the 19th and early 20th centuries as indentured laborers. Today, Hindus are prominent in politics and business in all three countries, though they continue to experience discrimination as religious minorities.

Hinduism Beyond India: Bali

Hinduism Around the World

10/21/22Smithsonian/American History Exhibit - American Indian experience

In 2014, the first Smithsonian exhibition chronicling the experiences of Indian Americans, many of whom are Hindus,  in the US was unveiled at their National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. This exhibit was one of the largest ever produced by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, occupying 5,000 square feet and reaching millions of visitors. The message behind “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” aimed to dispel stereotypes and myths that have followed Indian immigrants since they first arrived in the U.S. in 1790. The exhibit explored the heritage, daily experiences, and the many diverse contributions that immigrants and Indian Americans have made to the United States. The exhibition at the Museum of Natural History includes historical and contemporary images and artifacts, including those that document histories of discrimination and resistance, convey daily experiences, and symbolize achievements across the professions. Music and visual artworks provide commentary on the Indian American experience and form an important component of the exhibition. In 2017, this exhibit went on the road, traveling from city to city so that all could see the impact of Indians on American culture.

All About Hindu Heritage Month

10/20/22Swami Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda was a Hindu monk and yogi who came to the United States in 1920 and lived here for the last 32 years of his life. He is considered to be the first major Hindu Guru to settle in the United States. When Swami Yogananda arrived in the US, he made his first speech, made to the International Congress of Religious Liberals, on “The Science of Religion,” and was enthusiastically received. It was soon after that he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (also known as Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) of India) and introduced millions of Americans to the ancient science and philosophy of meditation and Kriya yoga (path of attainment). In 1927, he was invited to the White House by President Calvin Coolidge, making Swami Yogananda the first prominent Indian and Hindu to be hosted in the White House.

Hinduism: Short Answers to Real Questions

Countless Americans Have Been Influenced by Swami Viveknanda


For those of us who are Hindu, we have noticed that some of the biggest Hollywood films produced in the last several decades have mirrored many of Hinduism's most fundamental philosophical ideas. One example is Avatar, a film named for the Sanskrit word avatāra (‘descent’), in which the protagonist, Jake Sully, enters and explores an alien world called Pandora by inhabiting the body of an indigenous 10-foot, blue-skinned being, an idea taken from Hinduism’s depictions of the various avatars of the blue god Vishnu, who are said to descend into our world for upholding dharma. Instead of aligning with the interests of the humans, who merely want to mine Pandora for the valuable mineral unobtanium, Sully fights alongside the alien humanoids native to the world, called Na’vi, who live in harmony with nature, believe all life is sacred, and that all life is connected by a divine force — teachings synonymous with Hinduism. Thus, similar to the avatars of Vishnu, Sully defends and preserves a spiritual culture by defeating those who would destroy it for materialistic pursuit. While this film doesn’t indicate in any direct way that they have anything to do with Hinduism, it’s clear they are communicating Hindu ideas that everyone relates to and understands on a profound level.

What do the Matrix, Avatar, Groundhog Day, and Star Wars have to do with Hinduism?

10/18/22Swami Prabhupada

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement, was founded in 1966 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a highly respected Vaishnava  (devotion to the god Vishnu and his incarnations avatars) scholar and monk. At the age of 70, Swami Prabhupada traveled from India to New York City to bring the Bhakti tradition, or Krishna Consciousness, to the west. In the 11 years before his passing in 1977, Srila Prabhupada translated, with elaborate commentaries, 60 volumes of Vaishnava literature; established more than 100 temples on six continents; and initiated 5,000 disciples. Today, his writings are studied in universities around the globe and are translated into nearly 100 languages. To date, ISKCON has over 400 temples,  dozens of rural communities and eco-sustainable projects, and nearly 100 vegetarian restaurants world-wide with 56 of them in the US. 

Statement Against Caste Based Discrimination: ISKCON

Who was that Hare Krishna at the start of “Get Back”?

10/17/22The Hindu Diaspora in Africa

Hinduism came in waves to Africa, with Southern Africa getting Hindu workers during the early years of British colonization, while East and West Africa experienced Hindu migration during the 20th century. Hinduism’s roughly 0.2% presence in Africa is seen as so inconsequential, most data organizations don’t even bother explicitly mentioning it in their census reports. But Hinduism is Ghana's fastest growing religion and one in which there are steady populations in both Northern and Southern African states. Durban is now home to most of South Africa’s 1.3 million Indians, making it, according to some sources, the largest Indian city outside of India, and thus a most powerful hub of Hindu practice. In the US, there are both communities of African Hindus who have migrated, as well as Black Hindus, who according to the 2019 Pew Survey, make up 2% of the Hindu population in the US.

Hinduism Beyond Africa

Hinduism Around the World

10/16/22Star Wars

George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, drew much of the inspiration for this major cultural phenomenon from the teachings of his mentor who was a lifelong student of Vedanta. In these films, many aspects of Hinduism are interwoven with the story. Some include Hanuman (Chewbaca and Ewoks), Shakti (force,energy), Yodha (Yoda), Brahman (infinite being). Besides the many philosophical parallels that can be highlighted between Star Wars and Hinduism, Star Wars also exhibits similarities in story structure and character roles to one of India’s famous epics, the Ramayana. Never seen the movie? Now might be the time to see how universally relatable Hindu thought can truly be.

What do the Matrix, Avatar, Groundhog Day, and Star Wars have to do with Hinduism?


The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge), translation to the knowledge of life. Ayurveda is considered to be the oldest healing science, originating in 1000 BCE. Based on the five elements that comprise the universe (space, air, fire, water, and earth), they combine and permutate to create three health principles  that govern the functioning and interplay of a person’s body, mind, and consciousness. These energies are referred to as doshas in Sanskrit. Ayurveda can be used in conjunction with Western medicine and Ayurvedic schools have gained approval as educational institutions in several states.

5 Things to Know About Ayurveda

In Hinduism, What is the Relationship Between Spirituality and Health?


While it’s synonymous to meditation, and seen simply as a doorway to tranquility for yogic practitioners, the true meaning of Om is deeply embedded in Hindu philosophy.

The word Om is defined by Hindu scripture as being the original vibration of the universe, which all other vibrations are able to manifest. Within Hinduism, the meaning and connotations of Om is perceived in a variety of ways. Though heard and often written as “om,” due to the way it sounds when it is repeatedly chanted, the sacred syllable is originally and more accurately spelled as “aum.” Broken down, the three letters of A – U – M represent a number of sacred trinities such as different conditions of consciousness (waking state, dreaming state, and deep sleep state), the deities in charge of the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe ( Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva), aspects of time (past, present, and future), among many others. 

5 Things to Know About Om

Religious Symbols

10/28/22Dr. Anandibai Joshi

Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi is credited with being the first woman from India to study medicine in the United States. Born in Bombay in 1865, she was married at the age of ten to an older man who had been her teacher. Dr. Joshi had a child at the age of 13, but the child died when only 10 days old. She believed that with better medical care, the child would have lived, and she frequently cited this as motivation for her desire to attend medical school. Her husband encouraged her in her academic pursuits and in 1883, Joshee joined the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, now known as the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. She graduated in 1886 with her degree in medicine; her M.D. thesis focused on Hindu obstetrics. Unfortunately,  Dr. Joshi was only able to practice medicine for a few months before passing away from tuberculosis.

Science in Hinduism

10/13/22The Hindu Diaspora in Guyana

Hinduism is the religion of almost 25% of Guyana’s population, making it the country with the highest percentage of Hindus in the Western Hemisphere. But from British professional recruiting agents targeting rural and uneducated Indians, to the aggressiveness of Christian proselytization of Hindus with a promise of a better life, Hinduism has been in a steady decline for many decades with many escaping to the United States for better opportunities and to practice their religion freely. Today, over 80% of Guyanese Americans live in the Northeastern United States with heavy concentrations in New Jersey and in New York, where a “Little Guyana”  helps these immigrants stay connected to their Guyanese roots.

Hinduism beyond India: Guyana

Hinduism Around the World

10/12/22Karwa Chauth

Karwa Chauth or Karva Chauth (kuhr-vah-CHOATH) is a North Indian holiday in which wives fast for the longevity and health of their husbands, however, many unmarried women celebrate in hopes of meeting their ideal life partner. Typically, wives spend the day preparing gifts to exchange, and fasting until the moon is visible. It is believed that its light symbolizes love and blessings of a happy life. While there are varying legends behind this holiday’s traditions and meaning, the message of honoring the relationships women form with their family and community prevails.

Karwa Chauth

Hindu Holidays & Dharmic Days Calendar

10/11/22Hinduism and Music

As sound vibration can affect the most subtle element of creation, it is interpreted in Hindu scriptures that spiritual sound vibrations can affect the atman (soul) in a particularly potent way. Such spiritual sound vibrations are said to have the ability to awaken our original spiritual consciousness and help us remember that we are beyond the ambivalence of life, and actually originate from the Divine. As such, the main goal of many types of Hindu musical expression is to help stir us out of our spiritual slumber by evoking feelings of love and connection that help us to better perceive the presence of the Divine within all. Some of the more popular examples of musical expressions within Hinduism include shlokas (verse, or poem), mantras (sacred syllables repeated in prayer), kirtans (congregational singing of mantras), and bhajans (devotional songs). You can find musical spiritual expressions through the US in temples,  Mandirs, and community centers.

The Power of Music According to Hinduism

What is Kirtan?


Yoga is considered Hinduism’s gift to humanity. At its broadest, yoga, from the root word “yuj” in Sanskrit, means to unite. Most Hindu texts discuss yoga as a practice to control the senses and ultimately, the mind. The most famous is the Bhagavad Gita (dating back to 6th-3rd Century BCE), in which Krishna speaks of four types of yoga – bhakti, or devotion; jnana, or knowledge; karma, or action; and dhyana, or concentration (often referred to as raja yoga, though not all sources agree on the term) – as paths to achieve moksha (enlightenment), the ultimate goal according to Hindu understanding. According to a 2016 study,  in the United States there are an estimated 36.7 million people currently practicing yoga in the United States.


The Hindu Roots of Yoga

10/9/22Swami Vivekananda

According to Vedic cosmology, 108 is the basis of creation, representing the universe and all our existence. As the soul is encased in two types of bodies: the physical body (made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and the subtle body (composed of intelligence, mind and ego), Swami Viveknanda is often attributed with bringing Hindu teachings and practices — such as yoga and transcendental meditation — to Western audiences. In 1893, he was officially introduced to the United States at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, where in his speech he called for religious tolerance and described Hinduism as “a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” The day that Swami Vivekananda delivered his speech at the Parliament of Religions is now known as ‘World Brotherhood Day.’ And his birthday, known as Swami Vivekananda Jayanti, is honored on January 12th each year. On this day he is commemorated and recognized for his contributions as a modern Hindu monk and respected guru of the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism. In 1900, Swami Viveknanda founded the Vedanta Society in California and to date there are 36 Vedanta Society Centers in the United States.

Swami Vivekananda Influenced Countless Americans

Hindu Holidays & Dharmic Days Calendar


According to Vedic cosmology, 108 is the basis of creation, representing the universe and all our existence. As the soul is encased in two types of bodies: the physical body (made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and the subtle body (composed of intelligence, mind and ego), 108 plays a significant role in keeping these two bodies healthily connected. Hindus believe the body holds seven chakras, or pools of energy, which begin at the bottom of the spine and go all the way down to the top of the head and it is believed there are 108 energy lines that converge to form the heart chakra. Ayurveda says there are 108 hidden spots in the body called marma points, where various tissues like muscles, veins, and ligaments meet. These are vital points of life force, and when they are out of balance, energy cannot properly flow throughout the body. Sun salutations, yogic asanas that honor the sun god Surya, are generally completed in nine rounds of 12 postures, totaling 108. Mantra meditation is usually chanted on a set of 108 beads.   In Hinduism there are 108 Upanishads, the sacred texts of wisdom from ancient sages. Additionally, in the Sanskrit alphabet, there are 54 letters. Each letter has a feminine, or Shakti, and masculine, or Shiva, quality. 54 multiplied by 2 equals 108. Ultimately, breathwork, chanting, studying scripture, and asana’s help harmonize one’s energy with the energy of the supreme spiritual source. These processes become especially effective when they are performed in connection with the number 108. Hindu scriptures strive to remind people of this divine commonality by continuously highlighting the innumerable threads connecting everything in existence. One of these threads is the number 108.

5 Things to know about 108

Here's How the Number 108 Binds Us to the Universe

10/7/22The Hindu Diaspora in Trinidad/Tobago

A decade after slavery was abolished in 1834, the British government began importing indentured labor from India to work on their estates in other countries such as Trinidad and Tobago.  From 1845 to 1917, the ships would continue to arrive, carrying over 140,000 Indians to the island, facilitating Trinidad's population growth from Indian laborers. Today, there are roughly 240,000 declared Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago, comprising about 18% of the island’s population. There are a total of about 300 temples on the island, welcoming all who wish to enter and where many beloved Hindu festivals take place. But for some, the migration journey doesn’t end as New York and Florida have seen the development of large Indo-Caribbean communities.

Hinduism beyond India: Trinidad and Tobago


From ancient tribes to present-day devotees, tattoos have held a special place in Hinduism for centuries. In the Indian states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, the Ramnaami community invoked Rama’s protection with tattoos of the name “Rama” in Sanskrit on every inch of their skin, including the tongue and inside the lips.The Mahabharata tells the story of the Pandavas that were exiled to the Kutch district of Gujarat. Today, their descendants - members of the Ribari tribe - live as their ancestors did, with women covered in tattoos that symbolize their people’s strong spirit for survival. Some Hindus consider tattoos as protective emblems,such as tattoos of Hanuman are often used to relieve physical or mental pain. People will often get tattoos of other deities to invoke their blessings. Mehndi, a plant-based temporary tattoo, is commonly done at weddings and religious ceremonies as a form of celebration of love and spirituality. While tattoos have been in Hindu communities for centuries, tattoos as symbols of honor, devotion, and even fashion are incredibly popular today. Hindus and non Hindus alike adorn themselves with Hindu emblems and tattoos that reflect Hindu teachings.

Guidelines for Commercial Use of Hindu Images


Navaratri (nuhv-uh-RA-three) is a nine night celebration of the feminine divine that occurs four times a year — the spring and fall celebrations being amongst the more widely celebrated. Some traditions honor the nine manifestations of Goddess Durga, while others celebrate the three goddesses (Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati) with three days dedicated to each. This is a time to recognize the role in which the loving, compassionate, and gentle — yet sometimes powerful and fierce — feminine energy plays in our lives.

Nine Things to Know About Navaratri

Hindu Holidays & Dharmic Days Calendar


Dussehra (duh-sheh-RAH) or Vijayadashmi (vi-juhyuh-dushuh-mee) celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over the ten-headed demon King Ravana. This also marks the end of Ramalila — a brief retelling of the Ramayana and the story of Rama, Sita, and Lakshman in the form of dramatic reading or dance. It also signifies the end of negativity and evil within us (vices, biases, prejudices) for a fresh new beginning. Dussehra often coincides with the end of Navratri and Duga Puja, and celebrations can last ten days, with huge figures of Ravana set ablaze as a reminder that good always prevails over evil.

Hindu Holidays & Dharmic Days Calendar

Hinduism 101 & Women

10/3/22Ahimsa + Cow sanctuaries

Many Hindus hold reverence for the cow as a representation of mother earth, fertility, and Hindu values of selfless service, strength, dignity, and non-harming. Though not all Hindus are vegetarian, for this reason many traditionally abstain from eating beef. This is often linked with the concept of ahimsa (non-violence), which can be applied to diet choices and our interactions with the environment, and potentially determine our next birth, according to the doctrine of karma. This is part of the reason that some Hindus may choose a vegetarian lifestyle as an expression of ahimsa as well as explains the growing number of cow protection projects that are led by individuals who have felt compelled to put their Hindu values into practice. The US is home to several cow protection projects and sanctuaries

Dairy Is Traditionally Sattvic Food, but the Way We Treat Cows Today Can Be Tamasic

Cultured Meat and Animal-Free Dairy Upends the Plant-Based Food Discussion

10/1/2022First Hindu temple in US

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 facilitated the journey of many Indian immigrants to the United States. In this new land, many created home shrines and community temples to practice and hold pujas (services). As Hindu American populations grew in metropolitan and rural areas, so did the need to find a permanent temple site for worship. In 1906, the Vedanta Society built the Old Temple in San Francisco, California but as this was not considered a formal temple, many don’t credit this with being the first. Others believe it is the Shiva Murugan Temple built in 1957 in Concord, California, whereas others believe it is the Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devanstanam in New York that should be considered the first. Today, there are nearly 1,000 temples in the United States . Regardless of where you live, you have the right to practice your faith.

A Guide To Temple Safety and Security

5 Things to Know About Visiting a Hindu Temple