Opening Vedic Temples to Everyone

Opening Vedic Temples to Everyone
        It has always been an issue of why Hindus in India often proclaim to be of a great and high philosophy, recognizing the spiritual nature of one and all regardless of background, yet cannot display such a philosophy in their own actions. How is it that Hindus complain of their decreasing numbers when they do not even welcome everyone to be a Hindu, or to enter their temples? This is especially outlined in the article below, which addresses how Indian Dalits are often treated with much bias to the point of not being allowed to enter Hindu temples in India.
        As for me, I have been treated the same way in various temples. However, I have visited so many temples across India that for every temple that did not allow me to enter, there were twenty others that did. Of those that did not, some changed their attitude when I presented a letter from Swami Dayananda Sarasvati stating that I was a dedicated follower of Sanatana Dharma and should be treated as such. Then at times, with his recommendation, I was let in and treated very nicely. In some temples, however, it doesn’t matter. You are still not getting in if your skin is the wrong color or you are of the wrong class.  

        Nonetheless, it disturbs me when other Hindus, whether they be of low caste, class, or of the wrong color (in my case just by being white-skinned) they are not allowed in the temple. When so many other religions, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc, are willing to open their doors to anyone, discriminating amongst those who can enter and those who cannot enter Hindu temples seems to me to be a sure prescription to a slow extinction of the Vedic culture. If anyone cannot enter the Hindus temples, or participate in the Vedic traditions with others, then why should they not join or convert to other religions or spiritual paths, thus continuing to decrease the numbers and support to the general Hindu society?

        If temples want to be sure that those who enter are sincere, then they may have papers that people in question can sign that say they are either appreciative of Hinduism or follow and respect the Hindu tenets. They do this successfully in places like Tirupati or Dwaraka, and those who will not sign such papers can then be asked to leave. Furthermore, it would be good if the acharyas and gurus would go out and greet the villagers and welcome them to participate in the rituals, traditions, festivals, and temple activities. Of course, I have already written about this in my book “Crimes Against India and the Need to Protects its Ancient Vedic Tradition,” along with other articles such as “Creating a Spiritual Revolution in India” and “Vedic Temples: Making Them More Effective,” and others.

        This is something that should be corrected, or the Hindus that remain may become the few who are left to manage their temples, which will be gradually taken away by government acquisition, lack of support from followers, or left to deteriorate because of neglect. And this may not take so many generations before this becomes increasingly evident, if it has not become so already.
        I am constantly surprised by how many Hindus feel that the Vedic tradition is an eternal path, so why worry? Why do anything? Is this their excuse to be apathetic? If it is, then they are doing a damn good job for finding the ways to do nothing at all. And in their eyes, anyone who does worry or tries to help protect the Vedic tradition in some way or other is simply illogical. This is not the prescription that Lord Krishna gave to Arjun in the Bhagavad-gita, who told him to stand up and fight.
        Anyone who knows me and hears how I speak about the Vedic culture often says that I had to be an Indian Hindu in a previous life. Nonetheless, when I write an article that raises my red flag about how Hindus should be more open or inclusive to those who would sincerely like to participate, and more determined to protect their own culture, I feel fortunate that many agree, but still amazed at how many feel there is no need to listen to me [after all, what do I know?], primarily because I’m white-skinned. However, the concerns I raise are still supported by others, as found, for example, in the article below.
        Let us all open the doors of temples to everyone so they can feel included and welcome to remain within the fold of followers of Vedic Dharma. Why should anyone feel they have to leave? This is the way we can increase our numbers, our influence, strength, and support. There is nothing bad in that. It is our duty to preserve, protect, promote, and help perpetuate the true Dharma for the benefit of everyone, including ourselves and future generations of our families.   

       Therefore, I must thank all those who have emailed me encouraging me in this issue. I must also agree with and thank such organizations like the RSS and VHP who give little if any regard toward one’s caste or class, and who work to bring back those Indians, many of which were Hindus, who had converted to Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, to participate in a more welcoming religion, and welcome them back to Hinduism or the Vedic traditions. I give my regards to the acharyas of the past, such as Sri Ramanujacharya and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and others who threw out the considerations of caste and recognized individuals by their love for Sanatana-dharma and the Vedic culture. I also give my regards to those of today, such as Kamal Kumar Swami and many other spiritual teachers who extend their hands of welcome to the simple villagers, dalits, or anyone to come and feel there is a place in the Hindu and Vedic fold for them participate and be a part of this Dharmic family. I feel respect and give my heartfelt thanks to those organizations such as the Swadhyaya Movement, the Hare Krishna Movement, Mother Amritanandamayi Ma, to Mother Karunamayi, and others who have also welcomed and accepted many devotees regardless of their background or what class they are coming from, and who also make temples wherein everyone can participate and be welcome with open arms to be a part of the Dharmic family if they are sincere. And I take much joy and pleasure to see all of these people come together and find happiness in their spiritual development by being allowed to participate in some aspect of this tradition. It is like the Kumbha Mela when differences in whoever is bathing in the Ganga are oblivious and have no meaning, but only the focus of purifying ourselves in sanctity of the Ganga is all that matters. This is what is possible and what we need to do in order to increase the means to protect, preserve, and promote the genuine understanding of the Vedic tradition.
        This to me proves that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and things are changing. But we need to bring this issue out in the open more and those who feel the same can work together to accelerate the changes that need to take place.  
        It is also no loss to allow others to participate in the Vedic traditions, including being allowed into the temples to participate in various ways. If Hinduism is said to be inclusive, then let us see it by example. This does not mean we enter the sanctums where the priests perform their rites, but they can certainly guide us in the rituals and sanctifications and puja to the Deity that many of those who follow Hinduism feel they want or need to do. What is the difficulty?  

        Hari OM,
        Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)



  Published: 24 Jan 2010

         A recent report of a study conducted across 1,655 villages in the Indian state of Gujarat, representing 98,000 Dalits, revealed the shocking fact that 97 per cent of them feel that they are unwelcome at Hindu temples, religious gatherings and public discourses on scripture. Researchers did not find a single village that was free from the practice of untouchability. (“No temple entry for Dalits in Gujarat,” Times of India, December 7, 2009). Such exclusion is neither infrequent nor limited to Gujarat. The BBC News (“Fury over south India temple ban,” October 15, 2009) reported an incident of stone throwing to protest Dalits entering a temple near Vedaranyam in the state of Tamil Nadu.

        Last month the High Court of Chennai issued an order, against the wishes of temple trustees, that a temple procession pass through a Dalit community in the Villipuram District. Dalit (oppressed) is the name preferred by those who have been relegated to the lowest rungs of the caste ladder and regarded as untouchable by members of upper castes. Dalits constitute around 20 per cent of the Indian population.

        Although the exclusion of Dalits from places of Hindu worship ought to be a matter of deep concern and distress, there is hardly a ripple of protest in the sea of Hindu complacency. Shutting the doors of Hindu temples to Dalits stands in bewildering contrast to the anxiety in other religious traditions about dwindling numbers and the expenditure of considerable resources to attract the faithful. It should not surprise that those debarred from Hindu sanctums enter, in significant numbers, the open and inviting doors of others. Those in India and outside who are vociferous opponents of religious conversion must understand and acknowledge the Dalit experience of the Hindu tradition as oppressive and negating their dignity and self-worth.

        Conversion is a challenge for Hindus to consider the relationship between religious practice and systemic oppression. Exclusion from temples is only one manifestation of such oppression. It troubles deeply also that, with notable exceptions, the principal voices of protest over exclusion are not those of Hindu leaders. In the case of anti-Dalit violence in the town of Vedaranyam, referred to above, the protests were led by supporters of the Communist Party of India–Marxist. In other cases, secular-minded human rights activists are at the forefront of the agitation on behalf of the Dalits. Earlier this year, Navin Pillay, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned caste as negating the human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination and called for a UN convention to outlaw discrimination based on caste.

        The response of silence from Hindus may be interpreted as support for barring Dalits from places of worship. Even more importantly, indifference gives validation to the wrong impression that the Hindu tradition has no theological ground or core for challenging the human inequality that is at the root of the Dalit ostracisation and oppression. The assumptions of human inequality that explain the continuing persistence of untouchability need an urgent, vigorous and unambiguous theological repudiation originating from the non-negotiable heart of the Hindu tradition. Although Hinduism is admittedly diverse, its major traditions are unanimous in affirming the equal existence of God in every being. “God,” the Bhagavadgita proclaims, “lives in the heart of all beings.” This core theological teaching must become the basis for the assertion of the equal dignity and worth of every human being and the motivation for challenging and transforming the oppressive structures of caste that, in reality, deny and violate the luminous presence of God in all.

        Although every unjust expression of caste needs to be denounced, the shutting of temple doors to people pleading for the opportunity to worship challenges, in a special way, the meaning and legitimacy of Hinduism as a religious tradition. For this reason, Hindus must commit themselves with tireless determination to the work of welcoming Dalits into every Hindu place of worship. Such work must be seen as fundamental to Hindu identity and the meaning of belonging to the community of Hindus. While we must commend and support Hindu leaders and movements working already for the wellbeing of Dalits and their equality and dignity, we must recognize also that many Hindu leaders may not be at the forefront of such a religiously inspired movement. They are the beneficiaries of the privileges of caste and immune to the pain of those who live at the margins. All Hindus who understand the contradiction between teachings centerd on God’s embodiment in every human being and the exclusion of people from places of worship must embrace this cause.

        Hindus settled outside of India who enjoy the privileges of living in free societies and the protection of the law against unequal and unjust treatment, have special obligations in this matter. They need to lift their voices in protest against practices in the name of Hinduism that denigrate human beings. They must ensure that Hindu leaders, and especially those who travel often to the West and who are the recipients of their donations and reverence, hear their voices. They must make clear the unacceptability of religious discrimination and demand that leaders renounce silence and indifference and become active advocates for change. Every Hindu leader must be challenged to take a stand in this matter. The Constitution of India specifies: “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth.” Constitutional and legal measures, as necessary as these are, have not and will not eliminate all forms of discrimination based on caste inequality.

        Legal measures can never cause the joyous embrace of all that follows from awakening to God’s presence in each heart. Religious vision and wisdom can be the source of such transformed relationships. Hinduism needs an unequivocal theological proclamation that complements constitutional law by repudiating caste injustice and that commits Hindus to the equal worth of all human beings. Opening the doors of all Hindu temples to Dalits is an important step, an urgent religious matter and an opportunity for the Hindu tradition, in our time, to define itself. Let this be our collective Hindu resolution in 2010.

Prof Anantanand Rambachan
Professor and Chair
Religion Department
Saint Olaf College



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