University of Calgary

How Hindu traditions have gone global

UToday HomeApril 1, 2013

By Heath McCoy

Vasudha NarayananVasudha Narayanan, from the University of Florida, will speak on Tuesday, April 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Boris Roubakine Recital Hall.While globalization is often thought of us as a modern phenomenon, it’s actually a process that’s been going on for centuries – “two Millennia, if not more,” where Hinduism is concerned.

This will be the focus of Vasudha Narayanan’s April 2nd lecture at the University of Calgary. In particular, the Distinguished Professor of Religion from the University of Florida will be discussing the ways in which the performing arts and architecture have been instrumental in spreading Hindu traditions around the world. 

Narayanan’s evening talk – for the Department of Religious Studies’ annual Peter Craigie Memorial Lecture – will highlight just how far-reaching Hinduism is in today’s world, with examples ranging from Angkor Wat, the vast Hindu temple complex in Cambodia, to yoga, to the popularity of Bollywood in modern pop culture.

With origins in South Asia’s Indian subcontinent, Hinduism first began to migrate into Southeast Asia due to trade interests in the first Millennium. “Through architecture, storytelling and the performing arts, a large part of the Hindu culture became integrated into the Southeast Asian landscape,” says Narayanan.

This cultural migration took a new turn in the age of 19th century Colonialism when Hindus were taken to other parts of the world as indentured workers, bringing their traditions with them.

The 20th century has seen massive movement with many Hindus coming to places like North America and Australia seeking opportunities and, in some cases, political refuge.

“I am not arguing that there is a continuous tradition going on for 2,000 years,” stresses Narayanan. “There is no generic Hinduism. Hinduism is very diverse and every regional form of the tradition is distinct in its own way.

“For example, you’ll find many different kinds of Hindu temples in Toronto. North Indian temples and South Indian, those originating from the Caribbean or Sri Lankan traditions.”

Today Hindu traditions flourish via the music, storytelling and dance performances, both classical and those served up by the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai. Bollywood films and television programs have achieved global popularity.

“Hindu television movies and serials have a huge audience in India and they’re exported to many parts of the world,” says Narayanan. “The movies are not overtly religious… but they speak about Hindu culture and family values.”  

She adds: “With many second-generation Hindus growing up in North America, the children of immigrants, the lasting impression of their culture is through music and dance.”

To find out more about Narayanan’s lecture, see: From Cambodia to Canada: The Construction of Global Hindu Traditions.


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