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Are converts accepted in Hinduism?

January 17, 2008

While I was growing up I heard from various sources that one couldn’t really convert to Hinduism. As someone who was not religious and also someone not interested in religious matters, I never delved deeply into this subject. If I had to think about it I would say that Hindus generally believe that a person could convert and become a Hindu, and converts would be surely be accepted as Hinduism is a tolerant religion…but some Hindus would have doubts as to whether a convert is a ‘true’ Hindu, as ‘true’ as someone who is born a Hindu.

These thoughts came to me as I read a news report which talked about converted Hindus who were being denied their right to enter the Sri Jagannath Temple. The converted Hindus in this instance were the ISKON monks. Priests of Sri Jagannath Temple demanded that they be banned from entering the temple.

In a memorandum to Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA), Sri Jagannath Sevayat Sammilanee (SJSS) said only ‘Hindus by birth’ should be allowed into the temple, one of the four important ‘dhams’ for Hindus in the country…citing two recent incidents in which the priests drove out nine Indonesian nationals from the temple, Mahasuar said they were Hindus on paper. But they were converts…

There have been other incidents in the past as well. An American woman who had converted to Hinduism and was married to an Indian was refused entry into the 11th century Lingaraj Temple some years ago. There was quite a scene because her husband insisted that she be let in. There was a board outside the temple which said no entry for non-Hindus but he insisted that his wife was a Hindu but the priests would have none of it.

I personally do not think anything is wrong even if a non-Hindu enters a temple, even if it is an “important” temple, but ofcourse my opinion doesn’t count. Each temple is managed by a group of people and they make the rules. I guess they are free to make the rules, but the problem is that these kind of rules harm the image of Hinduism. While not trying to convert people is fine, refusing to accept those who have willingly embraced our religion doesn’t seem right to me.

But is there any logic and/or truth behind this? Does Hinduism disallow converts? Does the reason why Hindus do not try to convert non-Hindus explain why converts are not accepted? (at least by some priests) It says on karma2grace.org:

The understanding for the reason why Hindus don’t try to convert is contained in the three major teachings of Hinduism: casteism, reincarnation, and karma. Each of these reinforce each other in the belief that all men are on a path—at varying distances from attaining release from samsara into moksha. So in a sense, Hinduism believes there is no need or fruitfulness to trying to convert someone.

In other words, those who are not born Hindus would (by being re-born) eventually become Hindus (provided they live right.) A cool idea for any religion, as it presumes that a Hindu (caste also comes into this as being just a Hindu isn’t enough) is at the top of re-incarnation heap. If one went by this, everyone is already on their way to become a Hindu, even those from outside the belief system…they just haven’t got there yet. And those who haven’t got there yet aren’t Hindus…they aren’t ready to be Hindus.

To die outside the belief system of Hinduism is not a threat or concern to Hindus, because they believe that these people will be born into this universe in another life in another form. Eventually, if a person lives right, they will ascend through the different forms of life to humanity and then to a high caste and then eventually reach moksha.

Karma is supposed to sort it all out.

But according to this site, converts are well accepted in Hinduism and this stuff is all nonsense (that converts are not true Hindus).

Swami Vivekananda said that conversion into Hinduism from other religions is normal, that it has and should take place time and time again…You’ve often heard that Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion, that Hinduism never convert others, that you have to be born a Hindu to be a Hindu, or be born a Hindu in India to be a Hindu. How ridiculous these notions are. We did a lot of research to find out who originated this kind of thinking. We made a note of every comment of this nature from many, many books and found that it was totally Christian propaganda…Whereas, all the authors of statements that Hindus do bring others into their faith were eminent Hindus.

This couldn’t be true because there are specific instances of Hindu priests not accepting converts. If converts are accepted, then why do some temple priests stop Hindu converts from entering certain temples?

Apparently, Swami Dayananda and Swami Shraddhananda were also for conversions. But despite messages from these eminent swamis, some temple priests continue to refuse to accept converts. Almost a hundred priests of the Sri Jagannath Temple went on a dharna last month demanding a ban on the entry of converted Hindus into the 12th century shrine. Yes, I do know about the different streams of thought in Hinduism, but where conversion is concerned I wish there was some sort of common ground. Conversion cannot be taken lightly, it’s everything to do with the survival of Hinduism.

If one has to answer the question, does Hinduism accept converts, I have to admit that I am still quite unclear. Not having read any scholarly work on the same I cannot answer the question with any certainty. But being a Hindu myself I instinctively know that Hinduism is far too generous a religion not to allow it.

(Photograph is by me and copyrighted)

Related Reading: Even India’s urban elite don’t want to go in for an inter-religious marriage.
Why people are religious
Destruction of Ram Setu will hurt religious sentiments
Are burqas catching on in India?
True faith in God can be confused with rituals
Is a dress code required in a temple or a church or any other place of worship?
Book countering the Hinduphobia of the west
What role do “Gurus” play in our life?

113 Comments leave one →
  1. Shaan permalink
    September 30, 2009 10:07 pm

    A good discussion. In Tamil nadu in almost all temples non-Hindus are allowed up to a certain point. For example you can see in the famous Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple foreigners taking photos of sculptures, temple tank etc. But they are not allowed into the place near the sanctum sanctorum where people worship, unless they give in writing that they believe in Hinduism and Hindu Gods. It is quite logical because Hindu temples have been time and again desecrated and destroyed in this country.

    At the same time in temples like Puri and other places where you can find the priests being very influential, you can see that they do all sort of illogical things. Hinduism does not expressly prevent any non-Hindu from entering the temples because there was no religion other than Hinduism in this country when the Hindu shastras were written (Buddhism, jainism are not counted as separate religions by Hindu texts). But it does prescribe acts of cleansing if the temple is desecrated. Desecration includes death, birth and other things that are considered to be resulting in uncleanliness but does not include the entry of non-Hindus. Orthodox priests may have done it because they may have interpreted the entry of non-Hindus as the entry of something unclean.

    Many liberal Hindus may want to allow non-Hindus inside Hindu temples, but the main question is why we should allow a person who does not believe in a particular religion inside the religion’s shrine?
    When the purpose of visiting a temple is to pray, why should a person who is not going to pray be allowed inside? Moreover they don’t understand the other implications. Hindu temples have so much riches in the form of gold, diamond, statues, etc. Allowing anybody who is not a devotee is only going to increase the risk of acts of theft, robbery and deliberate desecration.

    At the same time I believe that if a person does say that he believes in Hindu Gods, he should be allowed inside. We hear several arguments against the traditions of some temples like Sabarimala Ayyappa temple where women of a certain age group are not allowed. Some argue that it is against equality. But they don’t understand that this tradition of the temple had been in place ever since the temple’s inception and there are even temples in India where men are not allowed on certain days. For example in a small cave temple in my town, men are not allowed on any day.

    Hinduism is a religion that is flexible and does not has set structure like Christianity and Islam. So it is difficult to defend many of Hinduism’s traditions even if they are good. Most of the superstition that was being propagated in the name of tradition has already been removed by law. If we deny good traditions in the name of being liberal we may be easily swamped by other religions. See this Hindu temple battling against the imposition of a Christian type congregation structure in the US – http://www.becketfund.org/index.php/case/87.html?PHPSESSID=773c338cf10b4201fbbac70a018fc368

  2. a.g. permalink
    May 4, 2010 5:37 am

    I am an extremely spiritual person taking philosophies from various religion. However cannot see myself following any organized religion. I find beauty in many religions including hinduism. I even read books on hinduism. My bf who grew up as a Hindu does not take hinduism seriously and only acts interested when his parents are around.

  3. August 10, 2010 3:59 pm

    There was 18 major attacks on the Jagannath Temple, mainly by the muslim rulers of Bengal and 20 times the deity was taken out of the temple. Twice the brahma was taken out of the deity. The deity was burnt once by Kala Pahada. It was the British government which prohibited non-hindus from entering the temple. Neither the concept of conversion nor re-conversion exist in Hinduism.

    • iqbal ahmed permalink
      June 4, 2013 1:24 am

      mei hindu religion ko acept karna chahta ho muhjay kia karna ho ga what we will be doo tell me m

  4. bindu permalink
    December 6, 2011 3:37 am

    Dear Readers: First of all there is no word Hindu or hinduism. The word is Sanatan Dharma. The word Dharma itself does not mean religion. Dharma has many meanings one is Constitutional Nature. Water’s dharma is fludity etc. So so the constitutional nature of a living entity is to love and By connecting and loving The supreme lord One can love all. Since we are talking about atma Dharma and Atma does not have any cast creed color gender this Dharma is for all. What to speek of humans it is for every living entity plants includede. ther is no other Tattva other than the Lord himself in that sense who are we trying to convert a perishable evr changing body. Atma remians unchanged. So in conclusion any one can practice sanatan Dharma.

  5. kritika permalink
    March 21, 2012 6:45 pm

    I want to say something IMPORTANT about this topic. I hope you read this.

    A LOT OF PRESENT HINDUS ARE ACTUALLY PEOPLE WHO CONVERTED FROM BUDDHISM by the guy who established the maths (I can’t remember the name right now=- Shankaracharya ji?)

    So conversions ARE possible. The only problem is caste. But caste was NEVER meant to genetic- it was decided by your profession in the present life. So, accordingly, people will be given their castes. There shouldn’t be any problem.

    The main reason we do not have many converts is because the gurus who are awesome do not encourage it. They teach practicing of the religion and being a good hindu, rather than being a hindu in name. But I have known 3 people who converted to the sanatana dharma. :)

    Of course other people have probably already mentioned this fact.
    Great blog!

  6. Prabhat Chauhan permalink
    September 13, 2012 10:27 am

    Yes People can convert to Hinduism which is Santan Dharma…I want to tell the Temples in Kerela which don’t allow Non Indians to enter in to Temple is basically managed by Govt..which is controlled Christians and Communists…they don’t want westeners to have Influence of Santan Dharma..Anyway this politics happen only in 2 0r 2 temple…but there are hundreds of ancient temples where anyone can enter…& with the Time these temples will change their rule also we are presurising them

  7. Krishna kumar Tiwari permalink
    May 29, 2013 2:17 am

    There is no need to visit such temples where humen entry is not allowed on the basis of other concepts. God is every where and 99% hindus accepts converted brothers and sisters.
    Few temples still having this ponga Pandits which are responsible for conversion of hindus in other faiths. Dont mind it and continue with sanatana dharma. leave these ponga pandits and such temples. So many gurges are in sanatana dharma who never visited any of temple and they are working in many countries for sanatana dharma with many followers and sants of other countries which are not hindu by birth. Eskon is real hindu organization.
    Krishna Kumar Tiwari.

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