Swami Ghanananda: An Ethnic African Who Built Africa’s First Hindu Monastery

Swami Ghanananda Saraswati believed that it was his responsibility to remind people of their commitments on this planet

Hinduism
Inside the Africa's Hindu Monastery in Ghana. Wikimedia Commons

By- Khushi Bisht

Hinduism, also known as Santana Dharma (Eternal Religion), is believed to be the world’s oldest religion. After Islam and Christianity, it has the third-largest number of adherents in the world, and it is predominantly practiced in Southeast Asia.

Despite its roots in India, Hinduism has spread to several countries worldwide.  After India, Nepal has the world’s largest Hindu population, followed by Ghana and Mauritius, two nations that also have the largest Hindu population in Africa.

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Hinduism has a long history in Africa, dating back to British colonization. Indians who moved to Africa during British rule initiated the religion in the continent. With the British settlement of African countries in the late 19th century, Hinduism spread across the African continent.

While the religion has spread across Africa, the bulk of its adherents are of Indian descent. Hindusim is the fastest-growing faith in Ghana, a West African republic. It is practiced by  2,50,000 people in Ghana and around 2 million people in Africa as a whole.

Hinduism
Hare Krishnas. Wikimedia Commons

Hinduism in Western Africa delves into the history and beliefs of two Hindu sects in Ghana, the Hindu Monastery of Africa (Shaivism) and the ISKCON (Vaishnavism) also known as the “Hare Krishna Movement”.

Swami Ghanananda Saraswati (born Guide Kwesi Essel) established the Hindu Monastery of Africa and is regarded as the “First African Hindu Monk.” Born in a native yet modest African family in Senya Beraku in the Central Region of Ghana, he was a follower of Swami Krishnananda Saraswati, who promulgated Hindu Dharma in Africa. Swami Ghanananda Saraswati had been on a quest for universal truth since he was a teenager. He looked for guidance in several holy texts but was unsuccessful.

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He discovered that Hinduism is a simple faith that unveiled the universal truth.

When all his efforts were in vain, he read Hindu texts to find the truth. He learned that Hinduism is a way of life and set out on a new quest that led him to Rishikesh in northern India, in the Himalayan foothills. He resided at Swami Sivananda Ashram with a spiritual leader, where he also happened to met Swami Krishnananda Saraswati and became his follower ever since. He discovered that Hinduism is a simple faith that unveiled the universal truth. It was his Guru (Master) in Rishikesh who encouraged him to establish a monastery in Accra (Capital of Ghana).

When he returned to Ghana, he discovered that there was no Hindu temple. In 1975, he established the first African Hindu Monastery in Odorkor, Ghana’s Greater Accra Region. The monastery was open to people of all religions. He clarified that his intention was not to indoctrinate people to the Hindu religion, but rather to assist those in search of the universal truth. People of various faiths come to the monastery to find peace.

Hinduism
Africa Hindu Monastery in Ghana. Wikimedia Commons

It was challenging to be a Hindu in West Africa. He did face resistance from residents who were concerned about Hinduism’s influence and growth in Ghana, but the number of truth-seekers to the monastery continued to rise. He has established five temples in Ghana since 1975.

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The Hindu Monastery of Africa is synonymous with Hinduism’s austere practice. It places a strong emphasis on the reverence of Shiva, one of Hinduism’s two principal Gods. For morning and evening prayer rites, devotees congregate in the monastery. Following prayers, they make Bhoga offerings (Holy Offerings). There’s also a photo of Jesus Christ among the Hindu gods’ idols, because of their belief in inter-faith harmony.

Devotees adhere strictly to religious practices and perform ceremonies in the Hindu custom. They represent the Hindu principles of ahimsa (nonviolence) which implies that one should not hurt any living organism. The devotees abstain from eating meat due to the community’s greater emphasis on asceticism.

Swami Ghanananda Saraswati believed that it was his responsibility to remind people of their commitments on this planet. He always told that Hinduism should be seen more than merely going to the temple and doing such rites, but rather as a way of life.