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One morning Manju Pillai woke up and knew she’d buy a church that day. She talked with a real estate agent who thought the plan was unrealistic, but found the church three days later. Now it’s the Grace Light Hindu Temple on Hicks Lane.[i] Ms. Pillai got the keys on Lord Krishna’s birthday in 2008. She’s one of what she estimates are 300 Indian Hindus in the area ranging from Willows to Redding, working as professionals and business owners. They gather at the temple for celebration of Hindu festivals, meditation, and chanting kirtan—the women in colorful embroidered saris and suits. Good works are also part of the community: The youth group helps organize volunteer efforts like donating blood. The temple Facebook page announces events, which are open to anyone. She will lead a sacred sites of India trip in March, also open.

Although the Indian community is small, the influence of Hinduism is pervasive. Yoga is the most popular offshoot of Hinduism in our area. Yoga teacher Tom Hess views the most important Hindu texts as Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita. Followers of Indian gurus such as Amma, the hugging saint[ii], or Sai Baba, worship together. (I sat next to a Sai Baba devotee on a plane in India. When I admired his emerald ring, he told me his guru had manifested it from the either.) Sirisha Mahankali explains that Amma Satsang at the temple includes “Bhajans (devotional songs mostly in Indian languages), short meditation, and chants in Sanskrit.” She adds that, “Sanatana dharma, the eternal truth (commonly referred to as Hinduism) is a way of life not just involving ritualistic worship of deities. Worship helps purify the mind and helps a person realize Self which is the ultimate goal of life.” Kirtan–chanting Sanskrit prayers, is led by Chico musicians like Zena Juhasz, John-Michael Sun and Rex Stromness. Zena explains, “Kirtan is a type of yoga, called bhakti yoga, in which participants show their devotion to the gods by chanting the names of the gods.”[iii]

Curious about whether the younger generation is following Hindu traditions, I interviewed a group of first generation Indians in our area, four young boys and three teen girls. I asked about traditions they wanted to keep and those changed by living in the US. I was surprised that there was nothing they wanted to change except dowry payments from the bride’s family.

They value speaking multiple languages, including Hindi and their northern India regional language—Bengali or Gujarati. They value Hinduism, the fun festival celebration of deities like Devali, and the morning and evening prayers in the shrine room in their homes where they light incense and an oil candle to pray.

They like the group sharing and concern, in contrast to US individualism and isolation. People take more time with family and friends rather than working all the time. This group cohesion also means everyone knows what’s going on and they don’t forget if someone messes up. Family members don’t knock on bedroom doors before coming in, they borrow and share things like clothing or cell phones, and parents don’t give allowances or ground their kids, they just share. It’s “ours,” not “mine.” One of the girls was wearing her aunt’s sandals, another her grandmother’s earrings. It’s not like the US culture where everyone wants their own space, their own things, their own earnings, and their privacy, yet there’s more freedom in India, they said. Sirisha Mahankali comments, “The concept of I and mine is certainly less prevalent in India but should not be restricted to family and friends alone. It’s seen in a global sense according to Vedas, the ancient Hindu scriptures.”

All the young people but one plan to have arranged marriages because they believe it’s more than a relationship between spouses; it’s an arrangement between families. (See local matrimonial ads[iv]) They said love marriages are based on lust and can be selfish. All their parents had arranged marriages that turned out well: “My parents are love birds,” said Bhavika, 18. They believe parents are more supportive when they have a say in selecting a spouse. The exception was Andrew, 12. He plans to pick his own wife so he won’t be stuck in a bad marriage for life with someone he doesn’t respect. It’s more free in the US he says.

Having a degree is now the biggest draw for a prospective spouse. Families carefully investigate prospects. Caste is still a factor; Bhavika said she’ll marry only in a specific sub-caste. They expect to have a big multi-day wedding because it’s the biggest day of your life. People talk about your wedding for generations–people still comment on a grandmother’s wedding.

I thought that they might want to date and go to school dances like proms, but they are not allowed to date until maybe their last two years in college in preparation for marriage in their early 20s. They’re OK with that, believing studying comes first. Chandni, 17, does want to go to her senior prom with her sister and girlfriend and her parents agreed this time, after saying no in her junior year. She wouldn’t be surprised if her father came by to check on them, as their parents are much stricter than other parents. A boy and a girl are not supposed to be alone together. At something like a temple gathering, a boy might walk by a girl and make eye contact to say hello, but not speak to her, so as not to offend her parents. He might also text to say hello. The teen girls crop Facebook photos to make sure there’s no boy in the background their parents might worry about.

When I interviewed a group of four guys in their teens and 20s, they also said they wanted to continue Indian traditions, including living at home till marriage. Their tone was different than the girls in that they focused on their parents being more lenient than in India, but parents are often less protective of sons. They said they knew friends who were dating although it was kept a secret from parents. Krishan, 16, noted that Indian kids are more respectful to their parents, not talking back like some of his Anglo friends.

To contrast urban life here with rural life on the Indian subcontinent, read an interview with an illiterate girl on my blog.[v] How fortunate that we can learn from different cultures right here without going on a trip to India. But if you’d like to learn more first hand, travel with Manju in March.

 


[ii] Ammachi, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, or Amma Satsang is held at the temple on Fridays.

[iii] To be on her email list: zenaj6@gmail.com.

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