I am a Hindu, and I’ve been brought up as a Hindu. Hindus and myself, we believe in multiple gods, but the important thing to remember is these gods are a way of accessing the self. We believe that there is a god in everything, in all people, animals, plants. One way of seeing the divinity and goodness in others is through understanding the divinity and goodness in oneself. All the deities are only there for each person to find one they feel they can connect with and access themselves. Serving that deity is to connect with the higher force we’re all part of, it’s not subjugating yourself to a god. A lot of religions are about subjugating yourself to a higher power, but here’s it about realising it’s inside you, and the deity is a vessel to accessing that.
As a family, we didn’t regularly go to the temple, but we’d always have images around the house, and we tried to follow the religious ceremonies. And to be honest, Hinduism still doesn’t make full sense to me. But my mum passed away two years ago, and I think the values and beliefs of Hinduism have given me great comfort and understanding. Things like karma, and beliefs that all of the people you meet in this life or that you have a close connection with, you have had a connection with in your previous life. That her energy is still here, and that I’ll meet her again, that she’ll be reborn again, and may even enter this life again in another form.
The reason that we have multiple gods, is so each person can find a nice or funny connection with a god and have a kind of personal relation with them. For me it’s Ganesh. I like the mess-up and the mixture. And the values that Ganesh stands for, good luck and prosperity. I like the story that my parents told me about how he came into existence. His mother, a goddess, was bathing, and as a little boy he was told to keep guard by the door so nobody could come in. His father Shiva was meditating in the mountains for a long long time, and when he came down, Ganesh didn’t recognise him. Ganesh told Shiva that he couldn’t come in, and – this is a bit violent – then Shiva chops Ganesh’s head off. Mother comes out and sees what’s going on, is very upset, and takes the head of an elephant to make the boy whole again.
There are lots of myths like this in Hinduism: they verge on the barbaric, there is always the animalistic part of it, there’s various genders… These kind of stories, and I heard a lot of them in growing up, they’re really important because they show the messiness in life. It’s all a mixture: good and bad, men and women, animals…but it’s all meshed together. I think that is quite a strong message in Hinduism. It helps you make sense of the world we live in: things are messy, people have different kinds of relationships, things don’t always work out, and it’s okay to be different, and imperfect. The stories are almost silly and brutal but there are lots of little things you can take from it when you reflect on them. It helps to accept my own choices, like being engaged to someone who is not Hindu.
My dad is very religious, my mum less so, which again is a very interesting dynamic that also taught me it’s okay to be a bit different. And I’m not like praying to Ganesh everyday or anything like that but it’s about the values that you carry with you, like karma. We don’t believe in heaven or hell, we believe that you live your heaven and hell now, based on your previous life’s deeds, and also this life’s deeds. So it’s a constant reminder, a mirror, and the people you meet are a mirror, to do good things. And you get the results of that in this life or in the next. It’s those kinds of values that guide me more now. But you could also get those values from Buddhism, or from paganism, and that’s also the beauty of Hinduism.
I’ve had quite a few struggles with my dad. His religious beliefs are framed from his cultural background: born in India in 1943, as a male. It’s become a lot less because he’s moved to the West, but certainly at the beginning, he had quite conservative views of what a woman should be doing, when and to whom they should be getting married to… These things were a constant battle, and separating out the religion from the culture is also something that my mum struggled with. She maybe rejected the religion because she found it difficult to be an educated strong woman as a Hindu. But I think that’s more of a reflection of the difficulty she had with my dad, and his interpretation of religion. You get that in a lot of religions, like conservative Islam or Catholicism. And Hinduism is not perfect, it’s had horrible rituals like the widow burning herself when her husband died. But I would say maybe they are cultural practices. I think that that’s written in any of our scriptures, those are perversions. But the basic values of karma, acceptance and accessibility I like a lot. If you recognise that there’s god in all of us, you’re not going to treat people badly.
I don’t know what people associate with Hinduism. They probably think of yoga. But yoga in the West is a bit of a bastardised version of really what yoga is. But I do do yoga. And maybe incense, and cow vigilante. But then I like cows, so I would say, leave cows alone and leave all animals alone! I do wonder with so much Islamophobia… I have Muslim friends who don’t want to say they’re Muslim anymore, and I would find that really horrible. I tell people that I’m Hindu, and I don’t know what they think, not much probably, but if there was a stigma attached to it, that would be not nice.