“According to an analysis issued last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, there are about 1 billion Hindus in the world. Of those, 94 percent are in India, and 99 percent in the larger South Asia region. The analysis, based on data from 2010, the latest available, estimated the population of Hindus in the United States at 1.79 million. Most are of Indian descent.” – Deepti Hajela
When Uma Mysorekar looks at the members of the new Congress, the Indian immigrant and practicing Hindu can see that, for the first time, there’s someone who shares her ethnicity and someone who shares her faith.
To her surprise, they are two different people.
Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is the first practicing Hindu elected to Congress. Rep. Ami Bera of California, also a Democrat, is the third Indian American to serve in the House.
Gabbard, however, isn’t from India, where Hinduism originated and to which the vast majority of its adherents have ethnic ties.
Bera is a Unitarian. His two Indian American predecessors in Congress, Dalip Singh Saund and Bobby Jindal, also were not practicing Hindus. The late Saund, a California Democrat elected in 1956, was Sikh. Jindal, a Republican elected to the House in 2004 who is now Louisiana’s governor, is Catholic.
Gabbard’s presence in Congress creates an interesting moment for Hindus in the United States, a chance to celebrate a barrier broken but also a topic of discussion as they ponder how closely religion and nationality are entwined, or whether they even should be.
Mysorekar is glad to see a practicing Hindu in the country’s halls of political power, no matter the nationality.
Gabbard “is a Hindu representative. It doesn’t matter where she came from,” said Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, a temple in the New York borough of Queens that is one of the country’s oldest.
As a non-Indian Hindu, Gabbard is most definitely an outlier.
According to an analysis issued last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, there are about 1 billion Hindus in the world. Of those, 94 percent are in India, and 99 percent in the larger South Asia region. The analysis, based on data from 2010, the latest available, estimated the population of Hindus in the United States at 1.79 million. Most are of Indian descent.
Hinduism encompasses a range of beliefs and practices, and there is no formal conversion practice. That acceptance of plurality in the faith — that Hindus come in many forms — would make it “hypocritical” for Indian Hindus to look askance at Gabbard for not sharing their ethnicity, said Smita Kothuri, 38, of McLean.
“How can I hold it against her? I’d be untrue to my religion if I held it against her,” Kothuri said.
Other Indian Hindus agreed.
“I don’t think it makes a difference that she’s not Indian,” said Kinjal Dave, 17, a high school senior in Hillsborough, N.J. “I think it’s the faith that matters.”
The press secretary for Gabbard, a 31-year-old Iraq war veteran, declined a request to interview her for this article but sent along a statement that Gabbard had made upon being sworn into office, for which she used a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu religious text.
“I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad Gita because its teachings have inspired me to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country,” she said.
Gabbard has said that she was introduced to Hinduism through her mother and embraced it fully as a teenager. She also is the first member of Congress to be born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa.
The reception from Indians and the Indian media to her electoral victory has been largely positive, although there has been at least one mistaken media report referring to Gabbard as an Indian American. (She and all her siblings have Indian first names.)
Having any Hindu representation in Congress breaks barriers in a country where, despite religious freedom being enshrined in the Constitution, elected officials overwhelmingly come from Christian backgrounds.
It can be an inspiration to other Hindus who are interested in public office, that their faith and most voters’ unfamiliarity with it will not prove insurmountable. “I think it instills confidence to say there’s been a Hindu there,” said Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation in Washington.
It’s also an opportunity to introduce Hinduism as a faith to people who may have seen it as solely the purview of those who have a connection to India.
Dharmasetu Das knows all about that. The 55-year-old white man, whose original first name was David and who was born in Massachusetts to a military family, has been practicing Hinduism for decades. Now, he lives in San Diego and performs weddings and other ceremonies as a Hindu pandit, or priest.
Das was a teenager when he came across some books on the Hindu faith, and “I felt like this was it,” he said.
He hasn’t come across too many other non-Indian Hindus like himself over the years and is happy to know that there is now one in such a high-profile place as Congress.
“Just opening people’s eyes,” Das said, “it’s a great thing.” – The Washington Post, 17 January 2013
» Deepti Hajela is an American journalist who has been a newswoman for the Associated Press since 1996. She works in the New York bureau of the AP, covering a wide range of stories in the metropolitan region.
Diwali at the White House 2012
Famous converts to Hinduism
- George Harrison converted from Christianity to Hinduism.
- Julia Roberts converted from Christianity to Hinduism.
- Chantal Boulanger – French anthropologist who wrote widely on Tamil culture.
- Claudia Ciesla – German model, actress, and singer embraced Hinduism and believes in Karma.
- Job Charnock – British trade agent who has been controversially described as the founder of Calcutta.
- Ilan Chester – Venezuelan singer, keyboardist, arranger and composer.
- Alice Coltrane (raised Baptist but became a follower of Satya Sai Baba) – American jazz pianist, organist, harpist, and composer.
- Michael Cremo – American creationist, author, and editor.
- Bhagavan Das (born Kermit Michael Riggs) – Western Yogi and former born again Christian.
- Roy Eugene Davis – American Kriya Yoga teacher.
- Krishna Dharma – British author and convert to Gaudiya Vaishnavism under ISKCON.
- David Frawley – author on Hinduism, Yoga and Ayurveda.
- Elizabeth Gilbert – author of Eat Pray Love.
- George Harrison – popular English musician, best known as a member of The Beatles who died chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra in the company of monks from ISKCON. He is also known for donating Bhaktivedanta Manor, a Hindu temple to the Hare Krishna community in Britain.
- Lawrence Raghavendra – Tamil & Telugu choreographer, film actor, director, composer and philanthropist.
- Christopher Isherwood – Anglo-American novelist.
- Jomol – Malayali actress.
- Lizy (actress) – (born Aliyamma Malayalam of Elizabeth adopted the name Lakshmi) Malayalam Actress.
- Swami Kriyananda (born J. Donald Walters) – direct disciple of the yogi Paramahansa Yogananda.
- Timothy Leary – Harvard professor and American writer and psychologist.
- Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami – one of the eleven senior Americans selected to become an initiating guru in ISKCON.
- Savitri Devi Mukherji (born Maximiani Portas) – French woman who became enamoured with Hinduism and Nazism, trying to synthesise Hinduism with Nazi philosophy and racial ideology.
- Sister Nivedita (born Margaret Elizabeth Noble) – Anglo-Irish social worker, author, and teacher.
- Leelawathy Ramanathan – Australia-born Hindu writer and activist. Converted upon marrying Ponnambalam Ramanathan.
- John Levy – British philosopher who translated books on Advaita Vedanta.
- Annie (actress) – (born Annie Jobbie adopted the name Chitra) Malayalam Actress.
- Joseph Ritson – English antiquarian and traveller.
- Julia Roberts – American Actress.
- Han Snel – Dutch painter of Bali.
- Satyananda Stokes – Famous English farmer in Himachal Pradesh.
- Bhakti Tirtha Swami (born John E. Favors) – American Hindu leader and disciple of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
- Romapada Swami – Preacher of ISKCON.
- Kenneth R. Valpey – Gaudiya Vaishnava Theologian who studied at Oxford University, St. Cross College.
- Shaunaka Rishi Das (born Timothy Kiernan) – Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.
- Nayantara (born Diana Mariam Kurian) – South Indian Actress, model.
- Harilal Gandhi — converted to Islam, adopted the name “Abdullah Gandhi”, but later reverted to Hinduism.
- Bukka I – King of Vijayanagara empire who converted to Islam, then reverted to Hinduism. The early life of Bukka as well as his brother Hakka (also known as Harihara I) are relatively unknown and most accounts of their early life are based on theories.
- Mahboob Ali – King of Vijayanagara empire who converted to Islam, then reverted to Hinduism. The early life of Bukka as well as his brother Hakka (also known as Harihara I) are relatively unknown and most accounts of their early life are based on theories.
- Nargis – noted Bollywood actress, politician, and social worker. Mother of actor Sanjay Dutt she converted to Hinduism and took the name of Nirmala Dutt on her marriage to actor Sunil Dutt.
- Annapurna Devi (born Roshanara Khan) – surbahar (bass sitar) player and music teacher in the North Indian classical tradition. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage.
- Harilal Mohandas Gandhi – son of Mahatma Gandhi. Upon converting to Islam he adopted the name Abdullah Gandhi, but later again reverted to Hinduism.
- Asha Gawli – (born Ayesha) Wife of Arun Gawli, notorious gangster turned politician from Mumbai, India. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage.
- Harihara I – King of Vijayanagara Empire who converted to Islam, then reconverted.
- Aashish Khan (born Ustad Aashish Khan Debsharma) – Indian musician.
- Hassan Palakkode – Malayali writer on Islam.
- Netaji Palkar – Maratha noble and commander-in-chief of the army of Shivaji, 19 June 1676.
- Sarmad – 17th century mystical poet and sufi saint, arrived from Persia to India, beheaded for assumed heresy by the Mughal emperor, Aurungzebe. Sarmad renounced Judaism, briefly converting to Islam and then Hinduism. He later denounced all religions and rejected belief in god.
- Anwar Shaikh – British author.
- Ifa Sudewi – Chief judge for the 2002 Bali bombing trials.
- Khushboo Sundar – Tamil movie actress. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage.
- Haridas Thakura – Prominent Vaishnavite saint, instrumental in the early appearance and spread of Hare Krishna movement.
- Zubeida – Hindi film actress, on whose life story the film Zubeidaa was based. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage.
- Nalini Patel (born Nayyara Mirza) – Miss India finalist of 1967, was the first Muslim to participate in the pageant. She converted to Hinduism after marriage. She is settled in the USA.
- Sonam (born Bakhtawar Murad) – Wife of Bollywood director Rajiv Rai. She converted to Hinduism upon marriage. She is the niece of character actor Raza Murad and granddaughter of veteran character actor Murad.
- Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert) – syncretist, and follower of the Hindu deity Hanuman. Professor of psychology at Harvard University.
- Tamal Krishna Goswami (born Thomas G. Herzig) – governing body commissioner of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Other Dharmic religions
- Mihirakula – Huna ruler.
- Rajasinghe I – Sri Lankan king who conquered Kandy.
- Rishabhadatta – Satrap viceroy.
- Rudradaman I – Satrap ruler and conqueror of the Satavahanas.
- Vasudeva I – Kushan king and numismatist.
- Mahendravarman I – Pallava King and patron of the arts.
- Vishnuvardhana – King of Hoysala empire and prominent temple-builder.
- Tirunavukkarasar – Saivite saint and one of the most prominent of the sixty-three Nayanars.
From other faiths and religions
- Charairongba – Manipuri ruler.
- Heliodorus – Greek minister to King Bhagabhadra.
- Pamheiba – Manipuri King.
- Suhungmung – Ahom kingdom ruler who extended Assam up to the Kamarupa Kingdom.
- Supangmung – Ahom kingdom ruler who recaptured Guwahati. Converted to Vaishnavism after a killing to make amends.
- Susenghphaa – Ahom king, during his rule the Ahom-Mughal conflicts began.
From non-religious backgrounds
- Annie Besant (former atheist) – Theosophist, orator and feminist.
- John Dobson (former atheist who became a believer in Vedanta) – astronomer and telescope designer.
- Sita Ram Goel (former atheist) – Indian commentator, writer and Hindu activist.
From undetermined former religion
- Russell Brand-Actor, ex-husband of Katy Perry and British comedian.
- Agehananda Bharati (born Leopold Fischer) – academic Sanskritist, a prolific author about religious subjects, and a Hindu monk in the Dasanami Sannyasi order.
- Alain Daniélou (convert to Shaivism) – French historian, intellectual, musicologist, and Indologist.
- Ambarish Das (born Alfred Ford) – American businessman, great-grandson of Henry Ford, and a follower of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (the founder of ISKCON).
- Urmila Devi Dasi (born Edith E. Best) – female ISKCON educator.
- Geoffrey Giuliano – American biographer.
- Nina Hagen (follower of Haidakhan Babaji) – German singer.
- Aaron Joy (devotee of Adi Da and Ramakrishna) – American music critic, author, historian.
- Joe Don Looney (follower of Swami Muktananda) – football player.
- J. Mascis – Lead vocalist, guitarist, and drummer for Dinosaur Jr.
- John McLaughlin (became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy) – jazz fusion guitar player.
- Lex Hixon (syncretist and disciple of Swami Nikhilananda) – poet, philosopher, spiritual practitioner and teacher.
- Mathias Rust – German daredevil pilot.
- J. D. Salinger – American author best known for The Catcher in the Rye but later abandoned Hinduism.
- Kelli Williams – American actress who played Lindsay Dole Donnell on the ABC legal drama The Practice.
- Ricky Williams – Miami Dolphins football player.
- Crispian Mills – English rock singer named Krishna Kantha Dasa. He wrote a foreword to a book by Bhaktivinoda Thakur titled Sri Siksastaka.
- Jeffrey Armstrong – Canadian Author, Speaker, Poet.
- Savitri Khanolkar – Designer of India’s highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra.
» Source Wikepedia.
Alain Danielou, indologist and author of the famous reference book Hindu Polytheism, sitting on the ghat at Kashi during sunrise. Alain’s brother Fr. Jean Danielou was a Jesuit scholar and cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.
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