Monday, February 07, 2011
ALABAMA, USA : You would think Julia Roberts would not be the icon conjured up in you rmind when envisioning humanity's oldest living religion. And yet the star of Eat, Pray, Love, about a woman's spiritual journey through India and other places, became just that when she revealed that she, her husband and their three children were Hindu.
Not since George Harrison introduced the world to Indian mysticism in the 1960s has the 6,000-year-old faith experienced such headlines. Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, J.D Salinger, pop star Katy Perry and NFL running back Rickie Williams all practiced some form of Hinduism. Britney Spears had her 4-month-old son blessed in a Hindu temple.
It was Gandhi who transformed the Hindu ideal of ahimsa, nonviolence toward all living beings, into a political and social movement that later inspired Martin Luther King Jr.Hinduism has a rich, though rather low-key, American history, but that's starting to change thanks to such high-profile devotees as Julia Roberts.
'Popular stars talking about Hinduism only helps,' said Vandna Kashyap, a Hindu mother of three in Anniston. 'Many people are interested in movie stars and their beliefs. They can identify more with what American movie stars describe about the religion and its practice than from a foreigner.'
Growing up in an area dominated by Christianity, Vandna Kashyap's 17-year-old daughter, Nisha, got used to the questions: Do you believe in heaven? Do you go to church? As a child, being Hindu made Nisha feel 'weird.' But now the Donoho High School senior has learned to embrace what once made her different.
'Soon I realized that I am unique,' she said. 'I have a background and a story, a religion so different from those around me. I think it's fun when people ask me about my culture and religion. I feel like I have something special to share.'
Today, the many facets of Hinduism have achieved a pop-culture cachet. It's nothing to see a housewife practicing yoga on a Wii, to buy icons of Shivaa the at Pier 1 or a T-shirt from Target emblazoned with the 'Om' symbol.
While 76 percent of Americans continue to identify as Christian, the more than 2.2 million Hindu Americans -- a fraction of the nearly 1 billion on Earth -- are making their presence known, though largely under the religious radar.
'From the practical -- yoga, meditation, vegetarianism -- to the more esoteric -- belief in karma and reincarnation ... core concepts of Hinduism are not only being embraced by Americans, but are slowly being assimilated into the American collective consciousnessjust as Judeo-Christian values were a generationbefore,' said Suhag Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation.