Sita: Nature in its Feminine Form - Hindu American Foundation
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Sita: Nature in its Feminine Form

By December 6, 2016 September 21st, 2020 No Comments

I would try to understand the personality of Sita in this paper, as she lived and conducted herself in the remote past, on her own terms, by her own rules. Sita appears in the Ramayana as the embodiment of nature: Sita is sprung from the earth and returns to the earth (most naturally, just like a plant) while a major part of her life is spent living the spontaneous life of the forest. The symbolism of nature (prakriti) is unmistakable. I examine each of three major events in the life of Sita below and postulate how it related her to prakriti (resembling forest in symbolism). In fact, these events of Sita’s life form the central core of the Ramayana. It is notable that the central story of the Ramayana begins with Sita’s eventful appearance from earth (birth) and ends with her unusual disappearance as absorbed by the earth, although, not narrated in that order. Her life is out of the ordinary and unparalleled in comparison to a normal woman. The spontaneous nature of Sita, can be understood as the natural expression of prakriti (the nature), symbolized by the forest and female spontaneity in classical Indian literature, especially the Ramayana. It is this aspect of Sita I explore here in this paper: Sita as an expression of unexpected and unparalleled energy (Shakti) of nature (prakriti). It is very important to understand this aspect of Sita, as a female representative of women undergoing the civilizing trends of culture, similar to the nature, benefitting humanity in the process.

As such the Ramayana symbolically represents two themes: First, the cultural struggles between male and female for supremacy, and second the affinity of women to nature (prakriti), especially as it exists in an unspoiled forest setting. The plant symbolism in Sita’s personality, and the longing of Sita for life in the forest is indicative of not just the paradisiacal view of life in the forest, but it represents the urge of primeval feminine energy (Shakti) to experience the free spirited life. During the prehistoric golden age women were the foragers and keepers of food and supposedly had a superior position (Child 1929). In part, feminine frustration in the Ramayana comes with the move away from nature (plant nature or forest in this instance), which not only meant building a civilization with farming as the mainstay of life, but also depriving women of their primary work (that of foraging for food in the forest) and connectivity to nature, who definitely had better rights and status in a forest based hunter-gatherer life and society. Men and women perceive nature differently: On the one hand women view nature/forest as ‘all giving’ and something to be nurtured, based on their experiences of life as the ‘life givers’ of sorts: they raised gardens (before the advent of large scale farming dominated by men) for the family table, they bear and raise children. On the other hand men view nature/forest as ‘wild’ and something to be controlled and tamed, based on their experiences of life as the ‘lifetamers/takers’ of sorts: They hunt, they bring home the meat, they go to war. Both of these aspects are represented forcefully in the characters of Sita and Rama. In this paper, I will explore these two aspects- that of the cultural struggles between the male and female, and the female affinity and longing for nature, and life in natural surroundings as opposed to their struggle to adjust with civilization, in other words the longing for women’s original status and life.

In fact, the Ramayana is a female oriented book although it may not appear as such at first glance. Sita is the lead female character of the Ramayana, but also depicts the struggles and trials of numerous other female characters. All the major events of the Ramayana are perpetrated by female characters: Mandhara, the female maid, incites Kaikeyi, which brings up the exile of Rama, the central theme of Ramayana. This inadvertently brings Sita into play, where Sita initiates the self-exile with Rama. From then on, it is the story of Sita. Her life in the Chitrakuta, Dandaka, Panchavati forests and finally the Ashoka forest (imprisoned by Ravana) are the major events of the Ramayana. The imprisonment of Sita and other drastic events are also brought about first by another female, by a sister of Ravana, the demoness Shurpanakha, who proposes to Rama and then Lakshmana for marriage.

The story the Ramayana depicts the struggles of women with both polygamy and monogamy. Women faced the greatest reshaping forces of the civilizing mission, both in polygamy and monogamy while adapting to the patriarchal society. Unlike polygamy, monogamy demands unquestionable loyalty of a woman to her husband, and at the same time it also demands unflinching loyalty of a man to his wife, which might lead to excessive jealousy between the partners. In the case of polygamy the jealousy is not between wives and husband, but between the co-wives. One can also find examples of the jealousy in polygamy in the other stories of women in the Ramayana: Rama’s father, Dasaratha, the polygamous husband, does not promise his wives loyalty, but wealth and comforts. In the case of Kaikeyi, his third wife, he promised three special boons, which Kaikeyi later used to catapult her son, Bharatha, to the position of king, replacing Rama, who was to be exiled, thus overturning the superior position of the first wife, Kausalya, as the queen mother. While the monogamous husband Rama promised Sita, only loyalty. The marriage of Rama and Sita differs from that of his father, because Rama is known as the devoted husband of Sita, thus following monogamy (ekapanivrata). While pativratya (loyalty of a wife to the husband) for women is an established quality of marriage (polygamy or monogamy), the Ramayana brings forward the ideal of ekapatnivrata for men as a cherished ideal. Rama represents this quality by conducting himself as ekapatnivrata (vow of monogamy) and holds on to his vow despite all the difficulties of his marriage to Sita.

Growing up with the Ramayana, all around me, I struggled to understand Sita. Living near Bhadrachalam, one of the major pilgrimage centers of Rama and Sita in Andhra Pradesh state in South India, I have attended numerous Ramanavami celebrations in Bhadrachalam and nearby towns. I have heard numerous retellings of the Ramayana story in the Ramanavami celebrations and from my parents, and grandparents. For me the Ramayana had always depicted burdens placed on women. While teaching history at S.D.M. Siddhartha Mahila Kalasala (1992-93), I directed a short play staged by my students, where the ending of the Ramayanastory in Lanka is reversed, and Sita refuses to perform the agnipravesa, and refuses to even go with Rama to Ayodhya. You might say that this epitomized my struggle to understand Sita’s depiction in the Ramayana. I later learned, I was not alone in this: the voices of dissent began as early as 7th Century C.E. including Dinnaga and Bhavabhuti, if not earlier, and became more frequent and fierce in the 21st century.

Apparently this trend continued with my generation of women in Andhra Pradesh as well concerning Sita resulting in the publication of a new version of Sita story in Andhra Jyothi, a popular Telugu weekly magazine during 2000, although abruptly stopped due to popular opposition. Such adaptations do exist and continue to be imagined, not only because, as the Ramayana is singularly unique bardic tale, which lends itself easily to alternate projections, but also the struggles of Sita, strike a chord with each generation of young men and women of India. An example of this empathy between Sita and young women is aptly depicted in the Bollywood film Lajja. In this film, actress Janaki (played by the Bollywod heroine Madhuri Dixit, explain the ‘play within a play’ more simply) who is acting as Sita on stage to project her own frustrations into the character of Sita of the Ramayana, which she was supposed to be playing on stage, much to the dismay of the audience and the director. Incidentally, all the female characters of the film Lajja are named after Sita and reflect an aspect of Sita (Santhoshi 2001). Telling the Sita story is so multi-dimensional that it requires not one, but many women to represent her. The real Sita of the Ramayana is depicted in myriad of ways in film and literature ranging from orthodox to non-Hindu to feminist to scholarly  interpretations, while modern critiques of Sita appear in every media ranging from print to television. Sita acquires a unique position among her posterity ever inspiring new imaginations.

In other words, the story of the Ramayana is flexible, yet unitary, but the personality of Sita is multi-dimensional, powerful and independent, projecting one’s views into her role would be possible, in only fragments. A complete story of Sita evokes frustration and deep sorrow at the injustices she faced and the courage with which she stood her ground. These new depictions and imaginings of Sita shows the efforts of each generation of young persons to own and understand Sita in their own way, even if only partially. Though the original creation of Valmiki, does not fail to intrigue and marvel endlessly; variations on the Sita tradition have become quite common and sometimes even fashionable in modern India.

However, in order to examine her life closely, Sita’s life can be roughly divided into three sections, as Sita before Rama, Sita with Rama, and Sita sans Rama. My examination of Sita in these three sections of her life below show, Sita as a strong, forgiving and nurturing woman. Although she is fiercely devoted to Rama, she is never a meek, or docile woman, although that came to be associated with her in certain retellings of the Ramayana.

Sita Before Rama

In mythologizing an idea of a person, the birth of a hero is often shrouded in mystery. It is also commonly noted in these heroic myths that the relationship of a hero towards his parents or family is troubled, and the hero is subjected to more envy, jealousy, and dilemma than others. All of these characteristics of the hero myth are true in the case of Sita, which inadvertently attribute primacy to Sita’s role in the Ramayana, although not apparent at the outset. As explained by Valmiki, in his preface to the Ramayana, the krauncavadha episode (Ramayana. 1. 2.14) truly sets the tone of the epic as that of the agony of the feminine due to no fault of her or her partner. Despite the amount of space given her role in the Ramayana Sita occupies a central place in the overall framework of the story.

Birth and Early life  

The symbolism of nature (flora) is inherent and unmistakably present in every major event of the story of the life of Sita beginning with her birth as described in the Ramayana, as emanating from the earth from a furrow of the field. Janaka says, once, “as I was plowing the field, a girl sprang up behind my plow,” (Ramayana.1.65.15). The birth of Sita thus described as, “not born from a womb (ayonija),” by Janaka brings to mind a vision of spontaneous sprouting of plant life from earth in its most natural form, as in the wild. It is not necessary to plow and sow seeds for the plant life to emanate in the wild. It is the most natural and commonly occurring process of the wild. Therefore the birth of Sita indicates two themes, her closeness to the spontaneous life and her affinity to nature (prakriti), which flows spontaneously and sustains life without much effort.

Janaka stated in the Ramayana (Ramayana. 1. 65.15-20) that Sita is:

“A treasure and a pride for eye.
Once, as it chanced, I ploughed the ground,
When sudden, ‘neath the share was found
An infant springing from the earth, Named Sita from her secret birth.”

Sita also recounts the story of her birth and marriage to Anasuya, Atria’s wife that repeats the story described in this section once again (Ramayana. 2.110.30-110.50). Sita narrated her birth story more realistically. She notes that “while Janaka was tilling the circle of fields,” she said, “I broke through the earth”. Then she adds that King Janaka was sowing the grain by the fistful, “when he caught sight of me, my body all caked up with dirt and he was amazed”. While Janaka’s version glosses the story slightly by saying that he was tilling the land for the purpose of a yagna, Sita’s version in fact notes that he was actually farming, by adding that first he tilled that land, and then sowed the seeds when he found Sita. Sita’s birth is also natural she mentions that she had “dirt caked up on her body”.

Sita’s birth is sudden and spontaneous. Indeed this is a secret birth and never known to occur in the human world other than the plant world, and she is a treasure and pride. This in fact represents two factors here: one is the spontaneous birth, the second is the process of cultivation, an effort of civilization. Sita may have been born as naturally as nature springs forth its life, but she is found as an effort of civilization (the act of plowing is notable here as an effort of civilization), her upbringing is a part of the known cultural process, but not an unknown spontaneous wild growth as the nature (or plant life) intends in its most natural circumstances. Therefore at the outset of the story of Sita itself, the symbolism of women and nature is closely tied, while the civilizing efforts of the culture (cultivation) form the undercurrent of the story. The story as it unfolds continues with this free spirited nature, associated with Sita (women in general) and the difficulties she faces due to the controlling forces of civilization/modifications.

Sita’s adoptive mother, wife of Janaka, is only mentioned passingly, and any information about Sita’s childhood until her marriage is scanty in the Ramayana. No interactions of Sita and her adoptive mother Sunayana find place in the Ramayana. However, one of the incidents of the childhood of Sita in the Telugu folk Ramayana, explained by her father Janaka, as the reason for arranging the competition of lifting and stringing the Shiva’s bow connects her to her playful childhood and also provides evidence of her immense strength. Janaka says that, “Once while playing ball game with her friends, Sita lifted the bow very easily”. Janaka, her father, was surprised at her strength, since Siva’s bow had not been lifted by anyone in his knowledge. Therefore, her father, Janaka, decided that anyone who wishes to marry his daughter should be able lift that bow and string it, so that there would be equality between the groom and bride.

The Telugu folk Ramayana rightly understood the significance of the test of stringing Shiva’s bow as a test of strength.

Janaka described in great detail how none of the other heroes could ever lift the bow and the Ramayana also includes the manner in which the bow was brought to the court for svayamvara (bridegroom choice). It was placed in a steel box, on an eight – wheeled cart, 5000 strong persons were required to pull it (Ramayana. 1. 66.5). Rama lifted it right away and the bow broke while he tried to string it (Ramayana.1.66.16-17).

“This heavenly bow, exceeding bright, these youths shall see, O Anchorit.
Then if young Rama’s hand can string
The bow that baffled lord and king,
To him I give, as I have sworn, My Sita, not of woman born.”

It can be noted that this strength later helps her to undertake numerous challenges of her later life, such as following Rama into the forest under self-exile; live through the imprisonment of Ravana; pass through the ordeal of fire; and wish for another forest exile, and as a result raise her children independently on her own in the forest.

Sita is as powerful and strong as the man she married, not a meek woman, although this image came to be associated with her. At the outset of the story these two events, Sita’s birth and marriage, the Ramayana establishes that Sita is spontaneous like nature as well as strong and independent woman. Therefore, Sita before joining Rama is an embodiment of nature, with its strength and natural abilities. Another point that needs to be noted here is the image of her adoptive mother, Sunayana. Although noted in name, her presence is only fleeting. Her role in the life of Sita is at the most absent. Therefore at the outset, the Ramayana sets this as a heroic tale of Sita, with Rama trying to match up to her in strength. With her decision to accompany Rama into exile Sita spent the prime of her life (16 years – 30 years) in the forest. Sita and Rama extended the brahmacarya asrama of life for 14 years, while postponing the grihasta asrama for later.

I will now consider her life with Rama after her marriage.

Sita with Rama

Her life with Rama spans fifteen years after her marriage, out of which fourteen years are spent in forest exile, while close to a year is spent in Ayodhya before she was sent on her second exile alone. These are the most crucial years in the life of Sita, and a test of her strength.

As soon as Sita learns of Rama’s exile in Ayodhya, she argues her case to follow him into the forest, as his lawful wedded wife. In her speech she stresses two reasons that will make her at home in the forest: her love for Rama, and the abundance and idyllic nature of forest. While her love for Rama is obvious, her views of forest are only from her positivist understanding and indicate a feminine affinity with forest. Sita sees only the beauty and giving nature of forest: as seen in her speech below, the forest is all-giving, nourishing and all-embracing (Ramayana. 2.24.15)

Sita said that,

“the earth will yield me roots, these will I eat, and woodland fruits, And as with thee I wander there, I will not bring thee grief or care.
I long, when thou, wise lord, art nigh, all fearless, with delighted eye.
To gaze upon the rocky hill, the lake, the fountain, and the hill;
To sport with thee, my limbs to cool, in some pure lily-covered pool,
While the white swan’s and mallard’s wings, are splashing in the water-springs.”

Her affinity with nature is clear. Her insistence about following Rama into the forest does not just seem as an urge of dutiful wife, but someone longing for a life in a forest filled with fruit bearing trees, lakes, and fountains, where she can splash the water and enjoy looking at the flowers and birds while sporting with Rama. However, this only shows her feminine urge to be part of the nature, despite the fact that she does not know the danger of the forest. Sita has not understood the change of life style that comes with living in the forest. Sita also does know about the challenging ascetic life style until the bark clothing is brought for her by Kaikeyi, seeing which Sita bursts into tears. She had no experience with these clothes and Rama had to help her in putting them on (Ramayana.2.33.10-15).

“Si­ta, in her silks arrayed,
Threw glances, trembling and afraid,
On the bark coat she had to wear,
Like a shy doe that eyes the snare.
Ashamed and weeping for distress
From the queen’s hand she took the dress.
The fair one, by her husband’s side
Who matched heaven’s minstrel monarch, cried:
‘How bind they on their woodland dress,
Those hermits of the wilderness?’
There stood the pride of Janaka’s race
Perplexed, with sad appealing face.
One coat the lady’s fingers grasped,
One round her neck she feebly clasped,
But failed again, again, confused
By the wild garb she ne’er had used.
Then quickly hastening Rama, pride
Of all who cherish virtue, tied
The rough bark mantle on her, o’er
The silken raiment that she wore.”

Although not aware of the hard life of the forest, Sita’s readiness to undertake exile, give up wealth, comforts, and even silk clothing in order to proceed to the forest exemplify her readiness and liking for the forest and its natural spontaneous life. As Shakti, she longed to live as one with nature.

Nature of the Forest and Desires Misfired

Three of the most important events infringing on the personal privacy of Sita happen in the forest and are central to the narration of Ramayana. These were, first, Sita being dragged by off by Viradha (Ramayana.3.2.5-3.3.20), and second, the proposal of Shurpanakha, first to Rama and then to Lakshmana for marriage (Ramayana.316.2017.20). The third, and last is Sita’s own desire to obtain the “golden deer” (Ramayana.3.40.25-43-25).

One day, while Rama, Sita and Lakshmana were going in the forest Viradha happened to pass by and noticed them. Without hesitation he attacked Rama and Lakshmana and took Sita by the arm and rode off while telling Rama and Lakshmana that she will be his wife, while advising them to run away to save their life. However, Rama and Lakshmana pursue him and rescue her immediately. Next appears Shurpanakha, who desires the good company of Rama in marriage, while he refuses, she tries to persuade Lakshmana to join her in marriage. In order to escape Shurpanakha’s forceful seduction, Lakshmana mutilates her. Next is the desire of Sita, that of obtaining the “golden deer,” which turns out to be Marica and leads to Sita’s capture and imprisonment by Ravana.

All the three events described in the forest above represent the unfulfilled desires of the forest dwellers, Viradha, Shurpanakha and Sita. This is in conformity with the nature of the forest, where one can desire, anything that is likeable, spontaneously. In this instance all these three desires are impossible and result in loss for the three forest dwellers. Viradha, Shurpanakha and Sita are examples of impulsivity in forest where it seems natural to express one’s desires. Sita’s desire to obtain “golden deer,” again shows this natural will of forest, free for all — a simple attraction to a pretty object, for no particular reason or gain. She implores Rama to chase the animal, and then forces Lakshmana to go on this chase, due to her concern for her husband Rama’s safety. She is forceful and it is difficult to refuse her.

Although Sita is imprisoned by Ravana, it is only on her terms, and she remained true to her vow while following Rama into exile that Sita stayed in the Ashoka forest, but did not enter the palace of Ravana or enjoy herself with the fine facilities of Lanka, but lamented and repented at length. She could not be forced into following anyone’s orders. While her life in Lanka is the most difficult part of her life, she has never lost her courage, or never submitted to any one’s requests barring Rama. After the war she goes through the ordeal of fire (agnipariksha) at Rama’s request to prove her chastity and emerges as a pure and strong woman. It was not in Sita’s nature to shy away from any challenge, even fire.

The fourteen years of the life Sita lived in the forest with Rama (excepting the number of days that she lived in Lanka) show her adamant nature, and will power to face any difficult circumstances. Her affinity to nature (prakriti) as personified Shakti is again expressed, in the way she felt completely at home in the forest. It also establishes that the life of the forest may have been hard, but the tests of civilization, that of the fire ordeal were more onerous, than her life in the forest. She remembers her life in the forest as that of spontaneous and paradisiacal. This makes her wish for the life of forest again within a year of leaving the forest while she was pregnant, and comfortable as queen in Ayodhya later (which Rama uses cleverly to trick her to abandon her in the forest).

Sita Sans Rama

In the last part of Sita’s life where Sita is again separated from Rama, by deceit while pregnant. Sita accompanies Rama and Lakshmana and faces the challenges of forest knowing during the first exile. However, in this second exile, during the last stage of her life, she is the master of her own life. She takes her decisions and faces the consequences of her own decisions. Sita emerges as a strong individual from her life during this second exile. This second exile shows the true nature of Sita as the most courageous and strong willed woman. This is the reason this part of the story had attracted numerous renditions and modifications of feminist scholars.

The Second Exile: Life in Forest

This part of Sita’s life has drawn attention from poets and scholars equally. Sita emerges as the stronger person, while Rama in this last episode seems to be the meek person. Due to a rumor that Rama had heard from one of his spies, Rama without telling her sends Sita into the forest (Ramayana. Uttarakhandam. LIV:1719-20). Lakshmana was ordered by Rama to take her to the other side of the Ganga near the ashrama of Valmiki being careful to bar his brother from questioning his decision. Lakshmana does not inform Sita of the decision of Rama until she was left on the other bank of the Ganga (Ramayana. Uttarakandam. LVI-LVII:1723-26).

The reason given by Rama thus sending her off was the pretext that Sita had expressed her desire to visit the forest as a craving during her pregnancy (Uttarakhandam.LII:1717). This shows two important aspects. First that Rama could not and did not wish to confront Sita and discuss with her the information from the spy or his consequent decision. Second, it is surprising that Rama decided to send her into the forest (to trick her into thinking of it as temporary visit), rather than her own home in Mithila. It is hard to understand what prompted Rama to take this decision. It seems gross negligence on the part of Rama, in regard to Sita and his children to be born. Did Rama somehow assume her liking for the forest, and guess that she would do well with her children in the forest? However, this last part of her life in the forest raising her children alone, again establishes the natural affinity of women with nature. Telugu women’s stories understood this aspect well.

According to the Telugu folk stories, Sita did not give birth to twins. Sita gave birth to only Lava. One day while she went to the lake to fetch water leaving Lava in the ashrama, she noted how monkeys carried their young on their bodies, wherever they went. This reminded Sita that she had left her son alone in the ashrama. She immediately returned to the ashrama, and following the example of monkeys, she carried her son on her back, and went on her daily chores as usual. While Valmiki in the meanwhile returned to the ashrama had noticed the missing child, and an empty swing. As Valmiki understood that this might devastate her (for so great is her motherly instinct and loss) he created another child who looked and acted the same as Lava, out of the kusha grass (hence the name Kusha), instantly. However, he noted that Sita returned with the child, told her the whole fiasco of creating another child for her. However, Sita was more than happy to have another child and adopted this child of grass, named as Kusha, and raised him as her own son. Nurturing is Sita’s second nature.

Sita lived and behaved as part of the nature around her. This is clear from the way she learned to carry her child by seeing the monkeys. She wished to be sent to the forest while pregnant, but not to her mother as is usually the case. She is born from earth like grass, and her son Kusha, is fashioned by Valmiki from the grass. The aspects of nature and forest life are part of Sita’s existence in Ramayana.  This part of Sita’s life shows her strong character and her willingness to face life without losing confidence. Sita does not bow to challenges and tribulations, while continuing to nurture and remain calm under all circumstances.

End of Life

The end of life for Sita is as natural as her birth. Sita had done what a courageous woman would do when faced with the same question twice. She had lived her life, raised her children perfectly by herself. So in the end when Rama asked her to perform another fire ordeal to prove her chastity, Sita found no reason to obey him, while proving her chastity in a different way, by entering the earth, not fire. She refused to answer or argue, but chose to disappear forever wounding the pride of Rama. She only said, “If I am truthful and pure, please absorb me Madhav” (Ramayana.Uttarakandam. Section CX: 1910). The Earth did absorb her.

Sita went back to the same place from which she was born. Although Rama remained an ekapatnivrata, it was of no consequence to Sita and remains a shallow claim. Ramayana represents the struggle of women to maintain their fair share in creating the culture- in fact it is the last struggle and ushers in gradual rise of society.

Sita is the last woman to bear testimony to this transitory struggle. Sita’s life is extraordinarily eventful. She had taken decisions that no woman would ever be able to take, and faced unforeseen consequences through her perseverance and courage. And remember that Sita only sleeps,Like a seed in the soil awaiting rejuvenation in the warmth of springtime.

To Reprise:

Sita is born by herself, lived her life in her own way, a very individualistic life.

She grew up as a happy and energetic child, and her lifting the Shiva’s bow in child’s play is indicative of her strength, independence as well as fearless nature. After marriage to Rama, Sita wishes to follow Rama into the forest, which again indicates her independent and adamant nature. Her stay in Ashoka forest as a prisoner of Ravana, again indicate only her individuality and independent nature. No one can coerce Sita into doing anything that she does not want. Upon her return to Ayodhya, while pregnant, she may be happy, but still craves the independence and carefree life of the forest. Only to be left in the forest by deception, by Lakshmana, on the orders of Rama, since Rama knows that Sita cannot be coerced into doing anything she is not willing to do. Sita is found again by Rama, after meeting the twins, Lava and Kusha. At Rama’s request for another agnipravesa(ordeal of fire) to prove her pativratya again, she disappears into the Earth, a symbol of her strength and independent thinking again. This event again shows the independence and quick decision of Sita.

Sita continues to intrigue and inspire scholars as well as young men and women. Sita outnumbers Rama completely in the number of productions on her (literary and other media) each year. This extraordinary attention to Sita is in itself an indication of the success of Sita as a prime feminine representation of India. Even though numerous caricatures of Sita are produced, Valmiki’s Sita endures as the strongest and best portrayal of a oman.

Sita showed that she can remain steadfast and be successful amidst difficulties. As noted in several of the recreated Ramayana stories, Sita may live a ‘happily ever after life,’ she may refuse to take any fire ordeals and decide her own fate, or she may live in a female utopia. It is clear that Sita remains true to her nature and offers an ideal of non-compromise. Who knows what she may do in the imaginations of future interpreters. She may even fly into space (although she might cry while putting on the space suit), but she will definitely undertake the challenge and may likely complete it successfully.

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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