The Hindu evolution in Holland: From a fringe group to a thriving community



By Gaurav Sharma

The winds of globalisation have sprinkled Hindus in various parts of the world. One such place sheltering the burgeoning Hindu population is the Netherlands. Housing a sizeable proportion of immigrants from India, Sri Lanka and South America, Netherlands is home to about 150,000-200,000 Hindus.

The present scenario is drastically different from the 1960’s when barely ten Indian families, who were presumably representing the Hindu denomination, lived in the Dutch nation. The number gradually started to pick up pace in the 1970’s, when a major chunk of the Indians started immigrating from the South American nation of Surinam.

The Surinam Indians were essentially bonded labourers who had emigrated to the Dutch colony in the late 19th Century. With Surinam eventually gaining independence in 1975, many Indians started looking for better avenues, in light of the uncertainty facing the coastal Atlantic state.

Majority of these Indian emigrants, practised Hinduism and belonged to what are now the modern-day states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh. With their subsequent immigration to the Netherlands, the Hindu population in the country also started growing by leaps and bounds. Eventually, the Hindu diaspora in the Netherlands grew almost tenfold, from close to 35,000 in the 1980’s to more than 150,000 in the 2000’s.

Now, more than 50,000 Hindus live in Hague alone. Other major cities such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam also comprise a significant portion of the total Hindu population living in the Netherlands.

Although still considered a minority religion in the Netherlands, Hinduism is much better organized here, than in other western countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.

There are five Hindu schools funded by the Hindu community in the country, which are deemed as national schools. The schools, despite teaching Hindi, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and celebrating the Hindu festivals, follow the same curriculum as other schools.

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The Hindus have also established their own Human Rights group called ‘Agni’, in order to address the grievances of the community and to highlight the atrocities that are sometimes encountered by them.

Besides hosting their own radio program, the Hindu community also broadcasts its own 30 minute weekly program, ‘Ohm’, on the national television.

They also have their own charity called ‘Seva Netverk’, to help people around the world. The projects majorly revolve around setting up of schools in dilapidated villages and rescuing girls from the vicious circle of prostitution.

The Hindu population in the Netherlands does not pledge allegiance to any one school of Hindu thought. They are not staunch adherents of one particular path, but rather comprise of diverse groups of religious practitioners.

While some practice the mainstream Hindu tradition, and some follow the Arya Samaj movement, others are captivated by the new age movements of Hare Krishna and Transcendental Meditation. There are also a bunch of people practising Hinduism with a mixture of other theosophical beliefs.

The festivals of Holi and Diwali are celebrated with much gusto and elan by the Hindus, whilst also actively engaging people from all backgrounds and belief systems. The fantastic display of water and colours have captivated the minds of Dutch people so much, that public events celebrating such festivals are now held in major cities such as The Hague and Rotterdam.

In spite of being besieged by an eclectically dense population of around 16 million people, the relatively sparse Hindu community has managed to carve out a niche for the unique culture of India.

The Indian diaspora in Netherlands has kept the fabric of Hinduism thriving and throbbing by holding onto their identity, despite the challenges of secularism, religious conversion and anglicized education system.