Non-Desi Hindu: What I Look Like to Others

Our friend Andrea noticed an interesting thread on Reddit a while back and pointed it out to me. It’s a group for American born Desis (people of south Asian heritage) and they are discussing how they feel about non-Desi Hindus (or other Indian religions).

I’ve said before, I feel like my experience most closely mirrors the experiences of American born Desis. I relate to them. I think they and I are working out similar issues and questions. Though my home life wasn’t an Indian culture, it was still markedly different from the typical American culture around me. There was some genuine culture shock in going to college and being involved suddenly in a world that wasn’t as patriarchal, religious, or Victorian as I was used to.

The thread on Reddit is mostly pretty positive, with people willing to acknowledge that there can be genuine Hindus (or Sikhs, etc.) who are not of Indian heritage. However, several also call out a very particular stereotype:

“On the other hand, I go to college in a somewhat hippy area, and some people think Hinduism is just a religion where you can wear tattoos of Ganesha and Om on your body and smoke pot all day, while not trying to understand the other aspects like self-control or discipline.”

Suddenly I see through someone else’s eyes. I realize that when many white people say they are Hindu, they are taking only the surface level of it. What they’ve heard about its peace/love/and brotherhood message. This is a person who loves getting high, tells others to “chill out, man” and does yoga for exercise. They tattoo Gods onto themselves without ever thinking about whether its appropriate for an image of the God to be present while you’re having sex or using the bathroom.

It reminds me of a movie I watched last night. It’s called Rachel Getting Married. I had heard good things about it when it came out and it has Anne Hathaway in it, one of my favorite actresses. I enjoyed the movie, though it’s a little sad. About drug addiction. But one thing that really stuck out to me was that the main character’s sister, Rachel, is getting married in a very Indian theme.

When Kim, the main character, first gets home we see Rachel trying on her white bridal sari and there are people hanging colorful torans around the house. Naturally I assume she’s marrying an Indian. But nope. Her finacee is Black and they seem to just be in a very multi-culti crowd. They enjoy different cultures and have friends from around the world. There aren’t any Indians, though. It is never mentioned. No one ever says a word about everyone wearing Indian clothes and decorating in a very Indian theme. The only Indian person is a seven year old girl we see running around the wedding, but her name isn’t given and we don’t know how she is related. (You know what else was weird? The bridesmaids wore saris, but they only covered less than half their blouse. It was strangely immodest).

I think I now see what people have been saying: that there are non-Indian people who are enamored of Indian culture and take the pretty things from it and mix them with all the pretty things they like from all over the world and every different culture they like.

I guess I can understand why some people would roll their eyes when I say that I’m Hindu. They’d think I go to a yoga class or two. I must smoke pot and focus on personal pleasure, thinking that’s Hindu.

How could I ever explain?

I have no tattoos, I’ve never smoked anything, I’ve never done any drugs that weren’t prescription antibiotics (and even then I’m pretty reluctant). I believe in spiritual discipline and that the good of all is more important than my happiness.

When people look at me, though, many assume I know only the very surface level of Hinduism.

That is my message here: don’t judge on appearances. You never know the depth of someone else’s spiritual life. A saint can be hidden in the guise of a madman. You can’t tell from looking at me how deeply and how long Hinduism has been part of my life. You can’t know from looking at a yoga teacher with a Ganesha tattoo on her ankle how dedicated she is to her spiritual practice.

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Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book two verses 31-34
About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Guest

    There is no desi or non-desi hindu,, there is only Dharma ,, anyone can follow it.
    There was story of englishmen,, i would like to mention here

    The only Vedic temple renovated by an Englishman
    The British ruled India for hundreds of years, and built many churches and cathedrals. But in the 1880s, a Shiva temple in Agar Malwa, Madhya Pradesh, was rebuilt by Lt Col Martin — the only temple ever made by an Englishman in India.

    Col Martin was in the Afghan wars. He used to regularly write to his wife, informing her of conditions there. It was a long war, and gradually the colonel’s letters stopped. Mrs Martin, who then lived in the cantonment of Agar Malwa, was besides herself with grief, fearing the worst.

    She would spend time riding for hours to calm herself. One day she rode her horse, past the temple of Baijnath Mahadev. It was in a decrepit state. It was the time of arti, and the sound of conches and the chanting of mantras compelled her to stop. She went inside to see the worship of Lord Shiva taking place. The priests saw the grief on her face and asked her what was wrong. Mrs Martin narrated her sad story. The Brahmins told her that Lord Shiva listens to sincere prayers of all devotees and saves them from difficult situations. She was advised by one of the priests to start chanting the mantra: “Om Namah Shivaya” for 11 days. The Englishwoman prayed to Lord Shiva for the colonel’s safe return, promising she would rebuild the temple if he came home safe from the war. On the 10th day, a messenger arrived from Afghanistan with a letter from her husband. It read, “I was regularly sending you letters from the battlefield but then suddenly the Pathans surrounded us. I thought there was no way of escape. Suddenly I saw an Indian yogi with long hair, wearing a tiger skin carrying a trident. He had an awe-inspiring personality and he started wielding his weapon against the Afghans who ran away from the field in fright. With his grace what was certain death our bad times turned into victory. Then the great yogi told me that I should not worry and that he had come to rescue me because he was very pleased with my wife’s prayers.”

    Tears of joy and gratitude welled up in Mrs Martin’s eyes as she read the letter. Her heart was overwhelmed. She fell at the feet of Lord Shiva’s idol and sobbed. After a few weeks Lt Col Martin returned and his wife told him her story. The couple became devotees of Lord Shiva. In 1883, they donated Rs 15,000 to renovate the temple. This information is engraved on a slab kept in the Baijnath Mahadev Temple.

    The Martins sailed for England with the firm resolution that they would make a Shiva temple at their home and pray to him till the end of life. And they did.

    Source Link:

    • fg

      this probably is a fake story but i also this story in a newspAPer

    • TruthSeeker

      It looks a good story, let us hope it is true. Although i don’t believe in such miracles.

      Hinduism does not promote such miracles, we should focus on living a Dharmic life and our inner strength to solve our problems rather than wait for some miracles to happen by chanting ‘xyz’ mantra.

  • george washington

    you care too much about what others say Amba, Dont be so sensitive.we learned and ‘those who matter’ have embraced you with all our hearts and souls longtime ago. Just ignore those losers and be a proud hindu who you really are. Cheers. A guy says Krishna is black and tries to mislead you, tell me what more additional proof do you need?.

  • Lynn Swayze Wilson

    “That is my message here: don’t judge on appearances. You never know the depth of someone else’s spiritual life.”

    That’s a good reminder. Thanks!


    Guess what? Now, I have to find a pot smoking Hippy gori to follow her on her blog and get the proper religious advice from her because you don’t do any of that LOL.

    The question is Do you see your self as an ABCD or some what slightly different, and I think you have become very verse on the Indian culture and behaviour. :)

    Oh, BTW I watched that film from half way on the same day as I was reading your article and I found it by flicking the channels and what is the chances of that happening. I started watching from the point where Ann Hathaway is fighting with her mother and end up getting slapped by her and slapping her back in return. What a pile of Sh*t.

    • Ambaa

      Yeah, the movie was…weird. Disturbing. And the ending didn’t feel very satisfying either.

      • Andrea

        It felt like a documentary on the upper class, carefree white girl, feminist, Whole Foods culture.

        Oh dear, I’m judging again.