Saturday March 24, 2018
Home Uncategorized Hindu communi...

Hindu community in Tuscaloosa are a close group kept together through cultural traditions

image source:

By Chandler Padgett

(Tuscaloosa is a town in Alabama state in USA. Located approximately 60 miles from Birmingham, it has a population of about 95,000.- NewsGram)

Nagaraj and his wife kneel before an altar in their apartment, chimes ringing in the air. Laden with colorful deity figurines and ornate art, the altar, or mandir, acts as a small temple for the Hegdes and a vital aspect of their religion, Hinduism.

Unlike the many churches that fill the Tuscaloosa landscape, the approximately 400 Indians (many of whom are Hindu) primarily worship at small mandirs in their own homes, as mass gathering is not emphasized.

“A mandir is a place where we can surrender our mind, it’s a small set-up, this home is an extension of the temple,” said Nagaraj Hegde, UA Vedic Society president and a Ph.D. student. “Even though the television waves are everywhere, we still need a TV set to capture it and play it back. We understand that divinity is everywhere, but these are concentrated forms where the deity is present.”

Before eating, his wife placed food on the mandir.

“We offer prayers, we worship them,” Hegde said. “We offer the food, whatever we eat, before, to the divine beings, pray to them please will you accept it, and we will take the remnants.”

In addition to domestic mandirs, there is a modest temple in Tuscaloosa and a larger one in Birmingham, which has a larger population of Hindus. People gather there every Sunday.

“Once in a week it’s good to meet each other,” said Parnab Das, a Ph.D. student at the University. “They give good, home-cooked vegetarian food. We do a small worship service, and we discuss things from our scriptures. We try to discuss not only religious things. We try to discuss social things going on in this world. Just try to inspire each other what we should and should not do in our life.”

Though a mere fraction of the population, Indians in Tuscaloosa are a close group kept together through cultural practice and traditions.

“We are very much closely bound,” said Vaishali Batra, president of the Indian Student Association of Tuscaloosa and Ph.D. student. “We do a lot of events together, a lot of social gatherings together. We always make it a point that we get together on Indian cultural festivals. We also meet the senior citizens and families, so we are very well-knit in Tuscaloosa.”

As is natural with intercultural interaction, Hindus in Tuscaloosa sometimes have to deal with misconceptions and misunderstandings from Americans and other non-Indians, such as the name Hindu itself. Most likely coined by Persians, Hindu merely referred to people living on the Sindhu River. The original name of the religion is Sanatana Dharma.

“Sanatana means eternal and Dharma means law or the way, so Sanatana Dharma means the eternal way or eternal law of being close to God,” Das said.

Even then, Das clarifies that Hinduism is more of a way or law of life than a religion.

Das and Nagaraj Hegde have faced some negative experiences during their time as students here as well.

“I was being asked by one of my lab mates that after death, if I go to hell because I am not a Christian, and it is being written in the Bible that if you are not a Christian you go to hell, what will I do?” Das said. “So I said, then I will go to hell, what else can I do? If God cannot see the deeds which I have done in my life, if God cannot see my love towards him, if God cannot see my dedication towards him, if still he asks me to go to hell because I am not a Christian, then I have to go to hell.”

Nagaraj Hegde shared a similar story.

“Once, four years ago, we were singing Indian kirtan on Manderson Landing, and within 5 minutes, someone said you can’t do it here,” Hegde said. “But it’s really improved a lot. Last year, every single Thursday in the summer, we have done it and nobody bothered us.”

The positive change in the past few years hints at some of the positive relationships Hindus have in the community. For example, Hegde’s Vedic Society seeks to educate Americans and other non-Indians about Hindu and Indian traditions and beliefs like yoga, meditation and universal harmony.

“I try my best to present the real knowledge without adding my own interpretations and present the knowledge as Krishna presented it,” Hegde said. “We try to bring about harmony in this world. We get Christians, we get Muslims, we get atheists, every type of person, and we don’t exclude against anybody.”

Some new international students struggle to become acclimated to Alabama and find their way around, especially since few have cars. Batra and ISAT seek to help with that.

“Our organization on campus is about uniting people and helping new students as well as the older students to settle down here or to help them with the basic things they need in the beginning or give them campus tours,” Batra said. “And this organization is about organizing Indian festivals so that students can have the feel of home when they are away from home.”

Hindus and Indians have formed a community in Tuscaloosa that maintains cultural and religious ties while simultaneously interacting with and befriending others across the city.

“Initially it was hard, it was very hard, but once I started the Vedic Society meetings then I made such wonderful friends, such nice people I could never imagine, I feel at home,” Hegde said. “I have many nice friends. There are nice people everywhere. You just have to go and find them. You think ‘oh this is bible belt they will be close-minded,’ but that’s not a fact.”


Next Story

All You Need to Know About the Sport of Jallikattu

Jallikattu is certainly a dangerous sports, which poses a risk of life for the participants

banned bull taming sport of Tamil Nadu
Jallikattu sport of Tamil Nadu. Wikimedia

By Ruchika Verma

  • Jallikattu is a traditional Tamil sport
  • The sport involves bulls and humans, the latter trying to control the former
  • The sport was banned in 2014, which created lots of controversies

Jallikattu or Sallikkattu, also known as ‘eru thazhuvuthal’ and ‘manju virattu’ traditionally, was in news last year, around this time due to the ban imposed on it by the Supreme Court. The ban was much hyped and gathered a plethora of media’s attention.

Jallikattu ban was much hyped. Wikimedia Commons
Jallikattu ban was much hyped. Wikimedia Commons

Jallikattu ban has also garnered lots of political attention due to the involvement of Tamil Nadu and Central governments. The issue is much hyped due to the political context involved in it too.

What exactly is Jallikattu? 

Jallikattu is a traditional sport and spectacle in which bulls of the Pulikulam or Kangayam breeds are released into a crowd of people, and multiple human participants attempt to control the bulls while they try to escape.

Jallikattu is seen as animal cruelty by many activists. Flickr
Jallikattu is seen as animal cruelty by many activists. Flickr

Jallikattu is practised in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations. The districts, Madurai, Thanjavur, and Salem are the most famous for conducting Jallikattu. The game dates back to Tamil classical period, which went back to 400 BC. Ancient Tamil Sangam literature described the practice as ‘Yeru thazhuvuthal’ which literally means “bull embracing.” With time the sport has become synonymous with valour and bravery.

Also Read: Tamil Nadu legalises Jallikattu with a New Law

What happens in Jallikattu and how?

The bulls participating in the game are all lined up behind a narrow gate and released one by one into the arena. The participants have to either control the bull by holding its hump or clutch away from a flag attached to the horns. Owners of the bulls often announce prizes for the man who gets the hold of their bull.

The objective of the game is not to kill or overpower the bull, but to hold onto their hump for a certain amount of time or distance.

The participants are only allowed to hold onto the hump of the Bull.
The participants are only allowed to hold onto the hump of the Bull.

There are three variants to the game. First, when the bulls are released from an enclosed area. Second, when the bull is directly released into the open ground. And third, when the bull is tied to a rope as the only restriction, and a team of 7-9 members has to untie the prize from the bull’s horns in 30 minutes of the time period.

The gate through which bulls enter the arena is called Vadi Vasai. The bulls charge at the men standing most near to the gate. One of the rules also says that a participant is only allowed to hold bull’s hump and no other body part. The other rules vary from region to region.

Also Read: Animal rights organisations challenge new law on Jallikattu

Jallikattu Ban and Controversy

Jallikattu is certainly a dangerous sport, which poses a risk of life for the participants.

In 2014, The Supreme Court banned the sport, endorsing the activists’ concerns according to which, Jallikattu is not only cruelty towards the animal, but also poses a threat to humans. According to the data provided, between 2010 and 2014, 17 people were killed and approximately 1000 were injured during Jallikatu.

The Jallikattu ban was protests by many Tamilians.
The Jallikattu ban was protested by many Tamilians.

However, the ban invited a lot of protests. Many Tamil communities called this ban a violation of their culture and tradition.

In 2017, many lawyers plead to remove the ban which was rejected by the court. After requests and arguments of Tamil communities, central government reversed the ban, however, after Supreme Court struck the order down, the ban was imposed again. However, the government of Tamil Nadu sanctioned the sport and brought it back into the practice.