How do you prove what religion you were raised to someone you just met?

A Christian can wear a cross, although anyone could do this relatively easily.

A Muslim woman can wear a Hijab, but not all do.

A Jewish woman can shave her head and wear a long skirt, although only the orthodox do.

Muslim and Jewish men can show that they have been circumcised.

A Buddhist can abandon their possessions and wear the orange coloured robes of a monk, but not all do.

If you are Hindu, how do you prove that? Probably more importantly why should you have to prove your religious affiliation?

I have been pondering these questions for a while now, because I have encountered some Hindu temples in India (and also previously in Nepal) where you are forbidden to enter unless you are Hindu. Most recently I went to two such temples on the same day in North Kerala: Guruvayur Temple which is dedicated to Lord Krishna, and the Vadakkunathan Kshetram Temple in Thrissur.

I was raised Hindu, so I should be allowed to enter these temples without issue. Whilst I am not a religious person, I would never disrespect a religion even if I don’t agree with it as I have previously discussed here.

The Guruvayur Temple is a famous Krishna temple and has a clear dress code, where women must wear a saree.  It also clearly states that non-Hindus cannot enter. So to ensure I respected the rules of the temple I bought a saree and put it on for my trip to the temple.  I also carried with me my passport and OCI identification in preparation for being asked to “prove” I was Hindu.  It all felt kind of ironic to me considering on that same day my mother (who worships Lord Krishna) was starting a religious pilgrimage to Mathura (Lord Krishna’s birthplace).

The reason I took all the documentation with me was because of an experience I had in Varanasi.  I visited the Vishwanath Temple there a couple of months ago and was put through a 25 minute inquisition to “prove” my “hinduness”.  This included pulling out my passport and showing my rather Hindu name (Rakhee) which comes from a Hindu festival called Raksha Bhandan. I then had to name my parents, my grandparents and prove I knew how to speak some Hindi and Gujarati.  It was downright humiliating.  Just because I was born in another country, have an Australian accent and dress like a westerner doesn’t mean I am not Hindu. It means I have lived outside of India.

Clearly there is no distinctive feature that distinguishes a Hindu from a non-Hindu, so in this world of global migration and choice, how is one supposed to “prove” that they are Hindu?

I am happy to say I didn’t have to do any of this in Guruvayur.  Being in a saree, I blended into the crowd and entered the temple without issue.  Unfortunately others have not been so lucky. Another person entered the temple for a ceremony a few years ago but his entry was later objected to by the priests because his mother and wife are Christian, even though he himself is Hindu. The priests claimed he had “defiled” the temple and they had to “cleanse” it following his visit. So a Hindu is considered “unclean” but you can walk all over someone’s grave in the same country and it is considered entirely acceptable (such as the (Muslim) Taj Mahal).

At the Vadakkunathan Kshetram Temple I was questioned about whether I was Hindu, but after showing proof of my name I was allowed entry.

Both temples are beautiful, they have stunning carvings and paintings and demonstrate well how Hindus worship.  I find it sad that others who are not Hindu by birth, but who have an interest in the religion do not have the opportunity to see them.  It feels odd to me that a religion would want to close itself off unless it had something to hide from the world.  In my opinion the best opportunity to educate people on your beliefs and let them learn about them is to let them experience them.

Considering other religions, I cannot recall every being refused entry to a place of worship of another religion.  I have watched Sunday mass at St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. I have left a prayer at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I have prayed at the Kalachakra temple in Mcleod Ganj. I have reflected at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Everywhere I have been welcome, even though I do not “belong” to these faiths.

So why is it that Hindu’s choose to shut out others from experiencing the beauty of their beliefs?

I did some research and was not able to find a logical explanation of this. I would appreciate it if anyone wanted to explain the rationale by commenting here so that I can also learn.

In my research I did come across this article, which talks about a temple in Uthapuram where Dalits (previously known as the Untouchable caste) have now been “allowed” into their temple after a two decade ban.  They are Hindus, so if Hindus don’t allow Hindus into their own temple, then I suppose it may be asking too much for them to consider opening up their religion to others so that they can learn and appreciate what Hinduism is.

I don’t profess to be a practising Hindu, but I do respect religion and I learn a lot from all the religions in the world that I come across in my travels, and have found them always welcoming. It makes me sad that Hinduism doesn’t show the same respect and opportunity to others.

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29 thoughts on “Guruvayur and Thrissur: How do you prove you are Hindu?

  • February 21, 2016 at 12:16 pm
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    I have a query. My sister is a Christian and about to get married to a Hindu at the Guruvayoor temple. The Hindu guy’s father has been forcing her to enter Guruvayur for the chain ceremony. What is the procedure for this? Does my sister have to convert ?Also will all the Christians who enter the temple with her have to convert as well before entering? We are really unaware of these procedures.

    Reply
    • February 23, 2016 at 5:35 am
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      Sorry, I have no idea about the answer’s to your questions. Perhaps someone else who reads your comment here will.

      Reply
  • January 8, 2014 at 9:27 am
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    Well i’m toooo late, 🙂 .
    These temples(some of these suffered very much in the past,either under the Portug. Or Muslim rule or less under British) are phobic & are actually protecting themselves(much justifiable to an extent).
    Let’s see about the Tirupati temple(since it was persecuted recently & is richest hindu shrine) . The late(thank god) ex-CM of Andhra,Y S Rajasekhar Reddy, was a staunch anti hindu crypto christian. He appointed Non(& anti)hindus as temple authorities(like Sreesailam & many others). He tried to sell 5 out of 7 sacred hills of Lord Venkateswara to missionaries & made a christian as principal of TTD school & college. It would’ve been OK if these people were secular(like US constitution or many Europeans,not the church or the Pope),but they were anti hindu. He demolished 1000 pillar temple. This he did at THE hindu stronghold(& richest till Padmanabhaswamy). The rule that non-hindus should sign a form “I’ve faith in the presiding deity. I won’t desecrate the temple or speak ill of hinduism”was done when his son did something wrong. Even the Ladu contract was allegedly given to a christian foundation. The Ladus used to be tasty ,but now we find bolts,screws,plastic in there stale ladus. Most of its revenue was sent to Church & TTD fell into debts under him. Hope things changed after his death : ) . Many illegal missionary were caught there.
    Right now India isn’t a secular country. Ours is a nation of Strong anti hinduism & Severe backlashes from Hindu majority (Much credit goes to fake named Gandhi family & our Italian queen). To know about the secularism(Indian context), you need to look at Kashmir, north-east & Politics of vote-bank, Divide & Rule.
    Many Temples(only)are in the clutches of the government.
    Well I’m against the rules of the temples you mention, but I support rules of TTD(Tirupati), which is very secular, open for all hindus and others who are secular & do sign,since only we accept that all paths lead to Rome :).

    Reply
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  • February 22, 2012 at 6:36 am
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    Nice article, but I feel it may convey the wrong message to people who don’t know anything about Hinduism. There are thousands of temples in India which allow entry of non-Hindus and only a few temples enforce these strict rules. Over and over, you mention Hinduism has these strict rules but its only the few temples that really have. Although, it may seem illogical to follow these rules at these times, I believe the priests of these temples feel not to break these customs that has been followed for hundreds of years. Also, temples like Puri Jagannath temples allow non-Hindus to visit temples in their other centers except the Puri temple. In another sense, you can imagine these things like immigration. Some people can visit some countires while others cannot. You don’t go and ask the immigration authorities why you cannot visit a certain country, do you?

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    • February 22, 2012 at 9:59 pm
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      Thanks for your thoughts, I agree not all Hindu temples exclude non-hindus. Many do allow non-Hindus in and perhaps I did not make this clear in the post. However I am not sure visiting a temple is the same as a country, its more like being allowed into parts of a country but another without any explanation.

      Reply
  • January 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm
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    Sorry for this long comment but here it goes…

    The restrictive thing is because of dietary habits(beef consumption). Non indians are automatically considered to be beef eaters and hence kept out of the temple. Every once in a while you come across a non-ethnic indian who experiences the restriction and posts his/her protests on the internet.

    The thing is that hinduism does not extend beyond the borders of the indian sub-continent. The old guys recognized something primeval about the non-indian world which made it incompatible with vedic religions.

    You see, an ethnic element has attached itself to hinduism and hence, only ethnic indians are considered hindus. Non-ethnic indians claiming to be hindus are considered as “tourists”.

    First I must write about hinduism to make some things more clear.

    The hindus(the majority indians) that we call hindus are not exactly hindus. They are actually practitioners of “vedas”. You can call these indian hindus as “vedantis” for understanding benefit.

    The MAIN umbrella here is “hinduism”. Within this umbrella comes four major religions: 1) vedantis 2) buddhists 3) sikhs and 4) jains

    So what is hinduism or how can we define it?
    Well, all hinduism does is maintain a “status quo” of a free thinking, liberal indians not bound by ethnicity, language or religion in a world that has structured itself around nation states in which every nation clams uniqueness based on ethnicity, color, language or religion.

    Hinduism is an umbrella of ever changing religions. i.e., it is dynamic or it keeps changing. Christianity and islam on the other hand are “dogmas”; it is rigid. That is the main difference. One is a religion and the other is a dogma.

    India just happens to have the largest collection of Hindus in the world. Hindus are unique in not demanding one god like Christians and Muslims(the comparison is being made for understanding purposes, not to score brownie points). The hindus are unique in having developed dozens of unique languages based on sanskrit. They are unique in their philosophy and worldview which is alien to most people in the world in many ways. In many ways India’s unique characteristics revolve around being Hindu.

    With the pressure of the new world, it is Hindus who have most to lose by not accepting dogmatic practices and consolidating diversity. It is Hindus who have most to lose by the breakdown of the nation state structure of the world. The Chinese have a nation which the define by “Han”. Islam has a nation. Christendom is a nation. Hindus are not an ethnic group. Hinduism never set out to create a nation.

    Is there any room for debate about hindu’s nationhood? It’s either that or bust. “Bust” may not be all that bad. Karnataka formed the basis of a very powerful empire in the past. I am sure India can be split into several small and powerful nations. That is where everyone agrees, except hindus. Hindus do not want to agree because hindus see their ability to move from the Himayalays to Kanyakumari and from east to west as a fundamental right of being hindu. This is not a good enough excuse to be a nation for everyone. But it is for hindus.

    A hindu is a person who worships the land, from the mountains of the north to the seas in the south. He can worship any god he likes, but he has to worship the land to be India. And if he does not worship the land he will be persecuted. I will persecute him personally if no one else does.

    Reply
    • January 3, 2012 at 9:51 am
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      Thanks for your considered comment. I am a little confused by it though.

      You say Hinduism does not extend beyond India’s borders. I know of many communities that practise hinduism (for example Bali has a large Hindu community) not to mention the many Indian’s who move overseas and continue to practise their religion.

      I understand your discussion on Hinduism being a changing religion, new deities are developed to deal with changes in society, but I think the practises that I discuss here show how “free thinking” is actually constrained when practising the religion. It is this that makes me feel very sad.

      If a Hindu has to worship India as a land, then where does that leave the millions of Indians (and Hindus) who have migrated around the world for centuries? I am not sure I agree with your argument here. Similarly why must a person be persecuted? Isn’t this a rigid belief, that contradicts the concept of Hinduism as a changing force.

      Once again, thanks for your comments I have found them and this discussion interesting.

      Reply
      • January 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm
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        I know of many communities that practise hinduism
        You are talking about an india that existed in pre-islamic world period when the spread of information and philosophy was encouraged as a goodwill gesture to connect with the non-indian world. However, after the islamic invasion and after the british raj, hindus pretty much abandoned those gestures and kept to themselves.

        There were a few who tried in the 1900’s. The last major resurgence happened in the 70’s when mixing indian philosophy with the western world gave rise to the (in)famous hippie culture and the current dysfunctional ISKCON cult. It is unconsciously accepted that indian philosophy is incompatible with the west.

        I understand your discussion on Hinduism being a changing religion, new deities are developed to deal with changes in society, but I think the practises that I discuss here show how “free thinking” is actually constrained when practising the religion. It is this that makes me feel very sad.
        Your confusing ritualistic hinduism with philosophical hinduism. Either way, that is how they have chose to live their lives. Who are we to protest? What matters is that kannadigas and telugus do not feel threatened by tamils or marathis etc etc. There is something in hinduism which is able to maintain normalcy across this land of various ethnic and sub-ethnic groups. Where in the world have you come across a country where dozens of languages are not endangered and are spoken on a regular basis? What about you? Where you able to keep a pure indian identify in australia without gradually consolidating in its society? Do you speak gujarati with your family? Most people of indian origin will have to shed away their ethnic identify in lieu of a western identify in the western world. That sort of consolidation is not seen in india. If it did happen, there would be hostility among the different groups.

        Isn’t this a rigid belief, that contradicts the concept of Hinduism as a changing force.
        You did not understand me correctly when I said that there was a primeval trait in the western world that made it incompatible with hinduism. When you leave india, you become a part of the non-indian world. i.e., you become a non-hindu.

        Hinduism is dynamic as long as it stays dynamic. Once it becomes rigid, it becomes difficult to become dynamic once again. That is the significant reason behind the hostilities between christians/muslims and hindus. The former is significantly uncompilable with india.

        India is not a nation.The concept of “nation state” is artificially created. You need to understand the difference between india and the nations of the modern world.

        If you go back even 500 years you find that there was no such thing as “passport”, “visa” and border control. “National language”, “National song”, “National bird”, “National animal” ” national game” are artificially defined parameters to set apart one nation state from another. These were non existent 500 years ago. People moved from one “country” or kingdom to another relatively freely as refugees, migrants or conquerors.

        The concept of nation state was set up to prevent armed conquest. The UN (and the earlier League of nations) were created to ensure this and the UNSC created to enforce it.

        As a side swipe the creation of “nation states” also restricted migration. In addition the artificially created concept of nation state. An additional side effect of the creation of nation state was the ability to prevent certain alien political ideologies and forces from taking root by enforcement of the rules of the nation state. The US enforced democracy. NoKo enforces communism. Pakistan and Saudi enforce Sunni Islam.

        So once you define a nation state you are giving that state the tools to develop its own identity that sets it apart from everyone else. This is good for maintaining some religions and political systems. It is good for attempting to prevent conquest. It is good for preventing migration even as refugees.

        There are therefore two Indias:

        One is the ancient idea of India that was a land east of the Indus and south of the himalayas with no fixed border and free migration for wealth, refuge or profit. It had no fixed ideology and no fixed “protected” language. It had no fixed emperor or political system. It had no fixed and protected religion. Unlike other nations defined on ethnicity, language or religion, India was a land that did not restrict anyone on those lines. This is a concept that most people in the world cannot understand. Only the US comes close – but even the US trips and falls over language.

        The second is India the nation state which happens to be east of the Indus and south of the Himalayas. But this India has fixed borders. It has no ideology to protect. It had no ideology in the past. It has no single language to protect. No single language was ever protected in the past.

        Hinduism is not a protected religion in India the nation state. It was not protected in ancient India
        Sanskrit is not a protected language in India the nation state. It was not protected in ancient india

        Again, all india does is maintain the “status quo”. And there is a price for maintaining this status quo. The two are primarily dependent.

        Reply
    • April 11, 2013 at 3:54 am
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      @Anil,

      No you are wrong. India is a nation in its own right. Its a Hindu nation
      with Hindu identity. Its national language is Sanskrit.

      Much of what you say is rubbish.

      Reply
    • January 23, 2014 at 11:10 am
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      After reading only few lines of your comment I would like to bring your attention to the fact that hindus in kerala eat beef, so please tell me why they are also not denied entry

      Reply
  • January 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm
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    Aren’t “ghelani” people supposed to be muslims?

    Reply
      • January 2, 2012 at 10:10 pm
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        Oops! My mistake.

        It seems that Ghelani people belong to the merchant(vaishya) caste. Some have adopted islam and have kept their caste name which is creating confusion.

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      • June 24, 2015 at 9:05 pm
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        Just out of curiosity. Can a non-muslim enter any mosque in India? It appears more attention is being placed on temples when the mosques never let a non muslim enter.

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        • June 25, 2015 at 3:27 am
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          I can’t speak for all mosques, but I’ve certainly entered mosque complexes without issue but am restricted due to gender not race

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  • December 8, 2011 at 11:55 pm
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    Ur welcome. But the exact reason why the ‘tantri’ , chief priest n charge of temple and some Temple authority officials are objecting.
    The ‘yogakshema sabha’ an organisation of keralite brahmins, (the priest class) and 99.99% of Hindus , i am very certain are in support of entry for all. But only these 5 or 6 individuals object!!
    For wot benefits ?
    As a religious , orthodox hindu , I feel that they are against our religion and feel extremely offended by such acts.

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    • June 24, 2015 at 9:07 pm
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      i agree that we can enter any church in India. What about mosques??

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  • December 8, 2011 at 8:59 pm
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    AGAIN THESE PRIESTS ARE JUST FAKING , BECAUSE THERE IS NO FORMAL PROCESS OF CONVERSION TO HINDUISM.
    UNLIKE , CHRISTIANS WHO HAVE CHRISTENING, MUSLIMS ZUNNATH, hindu scriptures dnt refer to such ways , coz of its pluralistic identity and completely allows a person to chose hisown path being a hindu.

    Reply
    • December 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm
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      Thanks for your thoughts and insights. It is very interesting to me to understand more about where these “rules” may be coming from.

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  • December 8, 2011 at 8:54 pm
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    I don’t know about Istanbul Masjid ,but WOMEN ARE PROHIBITED FROM ENTERING MASJIDS, GENERALLY. Even muslim women can’t enter masjid.
    And for the welcoming of ABRAHAMIC RELIGION, THEY DO ALWAYS ASPIRE OF HAVING MORE BELIEVERS. While we HINDUS Welcome those who are interestd, we don’t woo anyone to join us and neither we propogate or convert other people.
    For concluding , i support ur view of accepting all who are interested. Caste discrimination must be stopped .
    Singer Yesudas was more Hindu than many of those who even enter Guruvayoor after taking alcohol. Yet he wasnt allowd. Its a sad fact .
    But Hinduism, is a liberal dharma , and cannot compared, with any religion. Its Dharma,. Is quiet different frm religion.

    Reply
  • December 8, 2011 at 8:43 pm
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    This is just a political play , nothing to do with hinduism , rituals or keralites. We have been asking permission for Famous singer Yesudas , very long but the government and other who run temple , having some vestd interest are objecting. Firstly governance of temple should be given to hindus .
    Instead of gov playing politics and looting temple wealth.
    Are you Indian origin? If yes your parents will surely knw all these.
    2nd ly , Budhist, jains are acceptd in Guruvayoor.
    And the said person whose wife christian etc was Srilankan President Rajpaxa. Its just some political stunt.

    Reply
  • December 6, 2011 at 7:43 pm
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    Restricting entry is a kind of elitism. It has no religious or ritualistic sanction. Guruvayoor and Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum are more fussy on these matters as they attract large number of visitors. Vadakkunathan temple is not so well known, but it is a beautiful shrine. The rituals followed in Kerala temples are unique and have an elegance and solemnity which gives a different experience. Because of language barrier (Malayalam is considered to be a tongue twister) only some tourist spots (Kumarakom, backwaters, Munnar) are known.

    Non-hindus would not be allowed in Kerala temples at least in the medium term. However, Tirupati allows non hindus subject to giving some written declaration.
    I have seen foreigners in Madura in the Meenakshi temple (a worth visiting temple).

    Reply
  • December 5, 2011 at 12:53 pm
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    I agree totally. It sounds so silly to have to carry your passport and other identification to prove your faith. Surely God would be above these man made rules?

    Hopefully one day such rules will be history..

    Reply
    • June 24, 2015 at 9:09 pm
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      Wish all religions practice free entry for everyone. We then have a secular India. Only a handful mosques permit entry and few temples that restrict entry.

      Reply

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