The Vedic Woman: Who Was She and Why We Need Her Back - Hindu American Foundation
Shakti Initiative

The Vedic Woman: Who Was She and Why We Need Her Back

By December 6, 2015 December 6th, 2019 No Comments

To stay abreast of the ins and outs of the Hindu world, I subscribe to a news service called Hindu Press International or HPI. HPI sends out daily digests of stories from India and around the world about Hindus and Hinduism. Most days, I quickly scan the short blurbs which cover a variety of stories — from detailed holiday celebrations in Mauritius to violations of Hindu human rights in Kashmir; discoveries of ancient ruins in Cambodia to the inauguration of a new temple in some remote corner of the world. Indeed, many of these stories are enlightening, but a particular story last year brought a huge smile to my face and a moment of connection to the shakti that manifests through every woman around the globe.

Here’s an excerpt:

“A group of women activists, belonging to Maharashtra’s BJP Mahila Morcha, created history on Wednesday by storming into the sanctum sanctorum and performing puja at the famous Mahalakshmi temple at Kolhapur in western Maharashtra, where only men are allowed to enter the “garbha-griha” … as many as 20 activists, led by State BJP Mahila Morcha chief Neeta Kelkar, took the temple authorities by surprise by entering into the sanctum sanctorum of the Mahalakshmi temple …

The women activists not only ignored the persistent efforts by the priests and police personnel present to prevent them from entering the ‘garbha-griha’, where the temple management has over the years steadfastly disallowed the entry of women, but they also dressed the presiding deity with a new saree and performed puja.”

Perhaps there were more diplomatic, less political ways of gaining access to the heart of the temple, a space which in the past was not closed off to women. But shakti takes form in unpredictable ways. Since Vedic times, the Hindu tradition has personified shakti, or the Divine power by which all is created or changed, as feminine, hence the central role of Goddess or Devi in our understanding and worship of the Divine.

Shakti is quiet yet strong, loving yet tenacious, graceful yet fierce, creative yet capable of unmatched rage. Hindu society, however, a primarily patriarchal society, has always elevated only the softer virtues of shakti in defining the “ideal woman.” But at the deepest levels of our collective conscience, I believe that we all know that it is the compassion and benevolence inherent in the feminine that compels woman to exercise restraint in displaying the enormity of her fierce strength all at once and only when needed.

Indeed love, compassion, nurturing, selfless service, grace, deference — so much a part of the essence of womanhood — have served as the unbreakable threads which hold together healthy families and societies. But where has the privileging of only our softer side left the fabric of not only womankind, but mankind? Has it opened us up to a vulnerability that is harmful? We cannot deny that in the past century, many women world over have made remarkable progress in the secular — ie. educational and economic realm, but about the socio-religious realm? Can we deny that in India and even here in our communities, many of our sisters are not free to feel they are not a burden on their family, not free to think independently, not free to marry based on a meeting of minds, not free to leave abusive relationships, not free to pursue creative passions, not free to participate in certain prayers or sacraments, not free to just be?

In order to know where we are today, we must know where we’ve been. Our scriptures, while they offer ample Hindu “his-story,” also give pearls of “her-story.” Vedic times hosted the exemplar of Hindu femininity: women who were both Sadhyavadhu, or those who take up the responsibilities of family life, and Brahmavādini, or those who dedicate their lives to the study of the Vedas and Self-Realization. There were also those who forsake convention and chose only the austerities of the latter. The Vedas are also replete with hymns extolling the spiritual sameness or equal standing of male and female deities while highlighting their differences in nature. Many themes center around courtship and marriage, while others focus on philosophical and educational engagement. Thus, the timeless role of male and female, whether divine or mortal, is supposed to be one of setting aside innate differences and coming together for social and spiritual fulfillment — two halves of a whole or two wheels of a cart, pulling their weight in their own respective ways to move the cart forward.

Equal not opposite. Equal but different. Equal, complementary, and supplementary. Within this framework, the traditional social role for woman was the revered caretaker of the home, provider of selfless love and emotional support, nourisher, moral pillar, and keeper of the home altar and familial religious observances. Somewhere along the way, though, sadhyavadhu took over, burying brahmavādini deep into the annals of Vedic history. We’ve also seen that with the delusion caused by power, greed, envy, and other vices, as well as increasing Westernization, respect and appreciation for stay-at-home mothers and wives went from overflowing to ebbed.

Over the past few millennia, and like women in other cultures, we’ve been falsely judged as weak, simple-minded, dependent, attached, irrational, unworthy, or impure and relegated to roles that reflect these negative stereotypes. As a result, many of our foremothers’ lives and choices were shaped not by inspiration, but expectations. And to be fair, many of these expectations were imposed on them by other women. The unique travesty for Hindu women, however, is that many of the socio-religious practices and attitudes that have quelled womens’ destinies for something greater, something higher are in direct opposition to what the Vedic woman stood for — that is the essential Hindu teachings of our inherent divinity, our equal potential for Self-Realization, and the mandate that we live life according to dharma.

But on many an occasion, women throughout Hindu history have demonstrated their ability to stand up to the status quo, to right wrongs, or to simply lead the way, and have done so with elegance and humility. These courageous women have spanned the ages, from as far back as the time of the Vedas to, well, last year.

Of the 407 sages to whom the eternal Truths were revealed in the Rg Veda, 28 were women — the great Gārgi being one of them. She is credited for having brought out the answer to the most profound questions of Vedanta — the nature of Brahman and the origins of the Universe. During a public debate with Sage Yajnavalkya as chronicled in the Brhadāranyaka Upanishad and in a court filled with male philosophers, Gargi fired question after question at the great sage, stumping a man who had never before been stumped. At one point Yajnavalkya even warned Gargi that her head would fall off if she continued, so she humbly stepped aside, in the hopes that others would continue where she was leading the sage. Others piped in, but failed to elicit the answer she was clearly aiming for, so she spoke up one last time. It was her final two questions that led the great Sage to definitively articulate the nature, or lack thereof, of the unmanifested, unknowable, formless Brahman.

In the Middle Ages there was Mirābai, who fought the conventions of royal life and against what was considered “appropriate” behavior for women of the time. A prolific bhakti poet-saint, Mirabai was the first of religious freedom advocates. She rebelled against her in-laws by continuing to worship Lord Krishna, the deity of her childhood, rather than being forced to pray to the deity of her new family. Later, she would escape several attempts on her life by her in-laws because they did not approve of her very public practice of religion. Imagine a princess singing and dancing with abandon, and that too amongst other Krishna devotees, including commoners. She rebelled against societal norms and tradition to pursue her life’s one focus — selfless surrender to God.

Others have graced the pages of more recent history like Jhānsi ki Rāni. Lakshmi Bāi, her given name, had humble beginnings. The daughter of a priest, she was trained in the art of warfare as a result of her father’s influence with the royal court and perhaps too because of his open-mindedness. At the tender age of 14, she was married to the King of Jhansi, but was quickly recognized for her inborn leadership skills. Long acknowledged as a key player in one of the earliest battles in India for Independence from the British in 1857, she died a fearless warrior on the battlefield, sword in one hand, reins in the other, fighting for the freedom of her kingdom and her people.

And today we have amazing women like Mā Yoga Shakti, the adopted guru of my husband’s family and a person with whom I have had the honor of spending time. They, amongst others, in following a higher calling, has entered the traditionally male-dominated world of Hindu ascetics. is an embodiment of maternal and wisdom-filled love to all those who approach her. But unlike many other monks who are part of a larger sampradaya (tradition) or guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student lineage), she has tread a path of her own — inspiring, educating, and counseling thousands of souls along the way in a distinctly feminine way.

At the risk of being accused of judging the relevance of these remarkable women through a western feminist lens (after all I was born and raised in America and despite all my best efforts to balance East and West) I see their tenacity, not so much as a quest for equality, but a quest for freedom — the freedom to question, the freedom to think, the freedom to worship, the freedom to experience — which I believe is the amruta or nectar of our tradition.

On their journeys, they’ve also toppled many of the assumptions about women imposed upon us by both men and women or sanctioned through religion — that we’re incapable, we’re weak, or we’re impure.

There are so many others, who while their acts were significant, their reach went only as far as those who personally knew them. My paternal grandmother who lived with us from even before I was born, was to me the epitome of Shakti in all Her forms. Widowed at the young age of 35 with five young children, she defied the village women who quickly arrived upon my grandfather’s death to tell her what she could and couldn’t do. She only knew what she should and had to do.

She was no stranger to tragedy: she had lost her own mother at the tender age of two. Her grade school education abruptly ended when she was married to my grandfather after his first wife, her cousin, died. Grounded in her faith and understanding of the Gita, which she read almost every day of her adult life, she never once asked, “Why me?” and only resolutely fulfilled her dharma. She not only saw that her children survived, she saw that they flourished. Selling jewelry to survive and managing what little finances they had like a seasoned CFO, she prioritized the education her children and the inculcation of the highest of Hindu values. My father and his brothers, studied hard and worked hard and earned scholarships to study in a America, and the rest as they say is Hindu American history.

There have also been men who have broken barriers for women. Right in my own family, we had the example of my paternal grandfather. A Gandhian and freedom fighter, he was committed to educating both his sons and daughters, in spite of very limited means. He sent my aunt and mother from their small town of Jhalod to the big city of Baroda to MS University to pursue their college education. Later when my aunt was accepted at Penn State to pursue her graduate studies, he sent her against the gossiping whispers and finger-pointing naysayers in town. My aunt became the first girl to go to America from Panchmahal district in Gujarat in the pursuit of graduate studies.

And during Navratri, the Festival of the Mother Goddess, I cannot forget the example of my own mother. Even though higher education was prioritized, she grew up in a way in which it was expected that a child respectfully and dutifully follow certain religious traditions, and yes, taboos, without questioning why. As rebellious American-born Hindu teenager, this formula was not going to work. For a few years, in fact, I’m sure my parents thought that “Why” and “How come” were the only words in my and my sister’s vocabulary. But instead of discouraging our questions or predicting all calamity of our ill-fated, non-believing futures, my mother set upon her own quest to finding out why. If she didn’t have the answers, she would get them for us. So began our balavihar days at Chinmaya Mission. Today, my mom, now a grandmother of four, is not shy or self-conscious about revisiting many of the traditions and rituals of her youth to find out why we do things the way we do, contemplating on the answers, and absorbing only that which is in accordance with her Self-Awareness. As a result, I can say confidently that she, my sister, and I are now devout Hindus not because we have to be, but because we want to be.

It is all of these trailblazing women and men — their curiosity, their bravery, their fortitude, their bhakti, their shraddha — that inspire my work at the Hindu American Foundation. The Hindu American Foundation is a national advocacy organization seeking to provide a voice to the Hindu American community. I am one of HAF’s co-founders and nearly ten years ago, little did I know I was entering male-dominated territory, albeit new territory for our community — that is the world of Hindu American advocacy. During HAF’s early days, I was the sole woman amongst five men — one of those being my husband, which sometimes presented its own challenges. But all of them were open to my opinions, respectful of my instinct, supportive of my leadership, surprised by my strength, and sometimes awed by my ability to multi-task — presenting draft bylaws for the newly forming HAF while at the same time preparing palak paneer and paratha for the Board meeting.

From volunteer, I shifted to serving as HAF’s full-time Executive Director and Legal Counsel nearly five years ago. Today, half of both staff and our Executive Council are female, so as the saying goes, “We’ve come a long way, baby.” Yet every so often, my colleague and dear friend Sheetal Shah, HAF’s Senior Director and force behind our Take Back Yoga campaign, roll our eyes when we get letters or emails to Mister Suhag Shukla or Mister Sheetal Shah — this too after this campaign to shed light on yoga’s Hindu roots made it onto the New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, and NPR. It could well be an innocent mistake — after all, the two of us do have kind of androgynous names. But once in awhile our most agitated suspicions are confirmed when we bump into an uncle or auntie at an HAF program who says, “Oh I had no idea you were a woman. I just assumed by your forceful work that you were a…” The fact is that at HAF, we are women and men working side by side for the greater good of Sanatana Dharma. We are striving to utilize and maximize our different strengths to create an environment in which Hinduism can truly be understood so that all of our children can hold their heads high as Hindu Americans. HAF has taken a Hindu voice to the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Congress, to hundreds of news media outlets and all across America generating awareness and educating Americans on what Hinduism truly is.

The most rewarding aspect of my work at the Hindu American Foundation has been the opportunity to stand up for religious freedom — whether for Hindu Americans or other Hindus around the world. HAF has provided a platform from which to take a Hindu voice to courts across the nation. We’ve offered a Hindu perspective on issues such as the constitutionality of a taxpayer funded Christian license plate, a city council allowing only Jews and Christians, but not pagans or Hindus, to offer prayer at public meetings, or a state prison denying a Hindu inmate vegetarian food. I’ve had the chance to challenge Christian leaders and members of our government on spiritual, familial, and societal violence caused when missionaries distribute desperately needed humanitarian aid in villages throughout India — be it medical care for a sick spouse, education for a young daughter, or food to feed their impoverished family — only if the recipient converts. The conversations are often tough, but I have definitely used to my advantage, what I believe are uniquely feminine skills of delivering a hard punch with a kid glove.

HAF has allowed me to give voice to our Hindu sisters around the world, especially in Pakistan, Malaysia, and Bangladesh, who suffer unimaginable horrors simply because of the fact that they are Hindu and female. In Pakistan’s Sindh province, 20-25 Hindu girls are kidnapped a month and forcibly converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men. If they are not married off to complete and often times, far older strangers, they are beaten, maimed, raped, gang-raped, sold off, or thrown into prostitution. Some of you may have heard of such a case involving a young Hindu girl named Rinkle Kumari. Unlike most Hindu kidnapping cases, hers actually went as far up as Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Despite the heartbreaking pleas by both Rinkle and her parents, the Court forced her to return to her kidnapper cum husband.

As women, our roles as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers, allow us to experience a more empathetic compassion for Rinkle, her mother, and the far too many others. That is why it is critical for women like us, who are fortunate to be living freely in this thriving democracy and who have the benefit of knowing about the many fierce Hindu warrioresses before us and amongst us, to stand up and speak out for those who can’t.

Will Neeta Kelkar and her 19 sakhis, who barged into the Mahalakshmi temple over a year ago, or the countless women around the world who are compelled to let their full-form shakti arise from time to time, make the kind of history other great women have before them? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, I am inspired to continue marching forward while drawing strength from our Vedic past. And I will always be inspired by the many ordinary and extraordinary women who have brought about change, bucking many a man-made traditions, one graceful step at a time.

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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.

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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

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