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HomeNewsArchivesFaith Matters: Hinduism in the U.S.V.I.

Faith Matters: Hinduism in the U.S.V.I.

Faith Matters is an occasional feature designed to provide insight into different faiths and generate discussion about the role played by faith in the territory. Coverage of a particular faith is not an indication of advocacy for that faith.

Though more than a billion people practice Hindiusm worldwide, the tenets of the Eastern religion are little known in the West, even on St. Thomas, one of the few islands in the Caribbean with a well-established East Indian population and dedicated community temple.

Hinduism is the third most practiced religion in the world after Christianity and Islam The following information comes from Kabir Motiani, a local member of the Radha Soami sect, as well as another member who chose to remain anonymous. Together they spoke about the East Indian population in the community and the faith’s beliefs, holidays, worship, and local temple.

Motiani began by explaining the demographics of the East Indian community, which is interwoven with religious practices on St. Thomas.

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“The major denomination of Hinduism on island is Sindhi, a community that originated in Sindh, Pakistan, and relocated to India when England divided India and Pakistan," he said. "The vast majority of individuals in the community speak Hindhi and Sindhi. There are also Sikhs and Guajarati’s.”

Hinduism is a polytheistic religion – a religion that worships many gods. The underlying belief is that there is one god that appears on Earth in different forms. Most believe in a Supreme Spirit understood as Brahman that came to Earth in different times of need in different forms.

Unlike other religions, Hinduism does not have an official clergy.

“It is common for a family to worship a specific god, or a community to pray to a particular deity. Most homes have their own temples comprised of images of various gods like Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu and Krishna. Incense and candles are also used to ‘protect the spiritual air,’” Motiani said.

“The most significant celebration we have is Diwali, which is our New Year. It involves a day of prayer followed by a celebration where friends and family gather, usually at one of the hotels or the India Association Cultural Center. A major component of the celebration involves dance routines performed by the youth."

Motiani said he hasn’t been on island for Diwali in years and thus hadn’t been to the local celebration recently, but guessed more than 200 members of the Indian community attend.

Other communal celebrations include Holi, which is the Celebration of Color. He guessed about 100 attend that.

With respect to coming of age practices, “the only one that comes to mind is the Thread Ceremony for boys,” Motiani says, “This ceremony marks a transition towards maturity and responsibility.”

Diwali is celebrated in the home, work, and community, and involves a day of prayer followed by a celebration where friends and family gather. Homes are lit with candles, string lights and clay pots with oil and wicks to signify the good over evil within an individual.

The Thread ceremony, a jayna, is similar to a Jewish bar mitzvah, in which the boy assumes the role of a man in the community. A Hindu must have his jayna before he gets married.

Motiani said dietary restrictions vary sect, but all Hindus abstain from eating beef. Some modern day gurus advocate a life of vegetarianism.

"My parents," Motani said, along with many other individuals in the community "are Radha Soami, a sect in which followers vow to not eat any meat (no fish or eggs) or consume alcohol. On St. Thomas, many people sacrifice certain days of the week to seek blessings from their guru. We do not eat beef because the cow is considered sacred. In the olden days, when there were no hospitals, a lot of mothers died in child birth and the cow’s milk was the only thing that sustained them. Meditation is also a very strict aspect of this sect.”

According to the 2000 census there were more than 400 Hindus in the U.S. Virgin Islands, four percent of the population. In 2003 the India Association built the India Cultural Center, located in Frenchman’s Bay, which serves as place for the 600 members.

The Center contains one large room dedicated to prayer. ‘Satsungs,’ the equivalent of going to church on Sunday, can be held weekly.

Ways to partake in Hindu practices on your own can include lighting candles during Diwali, listening to Bhangra music, or practicing meditation or yoga.

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