I realised a few months ago that most Hindu temples do not allow non-Hindus to enter the temple premises. A few years ago, I would not have stopped to think about this issue. Today, it takes on an entirely different dimension. Maybe because it appeals to my sense of justice, or maybe because I have scores of non-Hindu friends who would like to learn about Hinduism. During my conversations with Ana on Hindu mythology and culture sometime in mid-May, I emphasised over and over again, the absence of an organised church in Hinduism. I told her that Hinduism was an all-accepting, all-inclusive religion. I told her that there was no conversion ceremony, no proof required that you were, indeed, a Hindu. But today, I find myself unable to defend that thesis any longer. Thanks to the behaviour of temple authorities in India. Why is a white American denied entry into the temple even if she is the wife of a Hindu? How does one prove that one believes in all that Hinduism has to offer? A more pertinent question would be this. Why does anyone not ask me whether I am a devout Hindu? Does my having brown skin guarantee my belief in the religion? For the first time in 24 years, I find myself wondering if Hinduism is indeed as inclusive as it claims to be.
I may be ranting, but let me give you an example to make my point clearer. I believe in God, but not in the insane and illogical separation of the castes that some of my co-religionists like to label as shaastra (religious edict). I believe in the power of the almighty to give me the strength to overcome problems but not in going to a temple on a specified day of the week to prove my faith in Him. I frankly think that rituals and rites make religion more difficult to practise for the common man and that we would all be better off without them. Does that make me a heretic? If it does, then why am I never asked to prove my faith in the religion before I enter the temple premises? Does my brown skin and typical “Brahmin looks” (Don’t ask me what that is; I have no idea) guarantee my religion? Why do temple authorities insist on getting a certificate from random official if I want to take a white foreigner into the temple? What if the said foreigner is not related to me but still is a Hindu? How exactly does one prove one is a Hindu? Are we going to hold a exam to determine his/her religion? If so, I can guarantee most brown-skinned “Hindus” would fail the test. I find this attitude appalling. Just who is a temple official, appointed to ensure maintenance of the temple premises, to determine my religion? What gives him/her the authority to pronounce a judgement on my religious beliefs? To be brutally honest, it is none of his business. He doesn’t have the right to say whether person X or Y is a Hindu or not.
To go back to the basics, no Hindu religious text worth its salt prescribes the rituals that must be carried out to become a “good Hindu”. In other words, there is no such thing as a good Hindu. I spent 14 years of my life in a Hindu religious school and I retained only this. In verse 66 of the 18th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord says,
“Sarva Dharmaan Parityajya maamekam sharanam vraja,
aham tvaa sarvaa paapebhyaha mokshayishyaami maa shuchaha.”
Translated, this means,
“Relinquishing all ideas of righteousness, surrender unto Me,
I will deliver you from all sinful reactions, do not despair.”
(Taken from http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-18-62.html)
If a person decides to surrender unto that God almighty and decides to visit a temple for whatever reason, who is a random officer to deny him/her that right? Why do we assume we know what God wants and needs? If he is really omnipotent and omniscient, is he not capable of deciding who is a true believer and who is a mere tourist? We are not the custodians of Hinduism. Nor are the temple authorities. It is time they stopped throwing their weight around and harassing people who really want to learn something from visiting a temple. It is true that I find myself unable to defend my thesis that Hinduism is all-embracing when faced with such behaviour. But, I stand by my thesis. After all, we only believe what we choose to believe.