Hinduism Bids to Win Back Sceptical Youth
Sunday Times (Johannesburg)
October 3, 2004
Sashni Pather, Johannesburg
COMMUNITY leaders are fighting to revive Hindu custom
and tradition to preserve a culture they fear is dying among the youth.
Their efforts come as the younger generation begins to
question the relevance and meaning of Hindu rituals.
The decline in Hindu culture is blamed on the rising
influence of western culture, apartheid's education legacy - which neglected
Hindu teachings - and a more sceptical youth.
"Owing to apartheid, children were subjected to
Christian national education and, as a result, children and many adults became
ashamed of their cultural roots and religious heritage," said Ram Maharaj,
president of the Hindu Dharma Sabha of South Africa.
"Given the impact of Eurocentric education and and the
imposition of western values, a large number of the youth and adults started
aping western culture and discarded their rich eastern values."
Durban architect Prinola Pillay, 25, said: "We just
follow our parents and do as we are told. But I don't think our parents fully
understand why a certain ritual is done or why a period is considered
She said children were more fluent at reciting Bible
stories than Hindu tales.
"Since the advent of democracy, children have been
taught to read and write in Tamil, Hindi and Gujarati, but they are not taught
about their culture, and that's where the problem lies."
Kavina Ramjee, a committee member of the Hindu Students'
Society at Wits University, said there were bigger turnouts for social
functions than for religious gatherings.
"If you organise something social, the turnout is great,
but for a religious function the turnout just drops," said Ramjee.
A past president of the society, Keval Harie, 21, said
previously cultural practices were allowed to thrive in tight-knit
"But now, post-apartheid, especially with young people,
you find they're becoming a lot more cosmopolitan. It's not just about keeping
in touch with Indian or African culture but more about global consumerist
culture," said Harie.
"People want to wear western clothes and the latest
fashion labels and eat McDonalds. All of this detracts from traditional
practices in the home and results in cultural devaluation. There is
large-scale apathy among the youth, who are far more interested in social
functions. Prayer festivals just don't draw the crowds."
The chairman of the Johannesburg Yuvuk Mandil, Vishal
Nana, 29, said that while it was important to be exposed to other cultures, it
was just as important for Hindus to maintain their own heritage.
"I've been with the Mandil for seven years and it's been
a battle to get new members. There always seem to be better things to do, like
clubbing or the movies. The youth seem to find any excuse not to pray. With a
lot of our religious functions, we join other organisations, just to get
numbers," said Nana.
"I've found that students from Lenasia are more in touch
with what's happening than their counterparts in, say, Sandton. Parents are
also to blame and are not stressing the importance of retaining their culture
to their children. They need to play a bigger role."
Suren Moodley, 28, a human resources manager in
Johannesburg, said the youth of today were more questioning.
"We're living in an information age and do things that
make sense. In a different era, maybe those things made sense," said Moodley.
"Take the ritual of sprinkling a mixture of water and
turmeric over yourself after returing from a funeral that is commonly done
today. In India many, many decades ago, people bathed in water and turmeric
because of its antiseptic properties. But we still do this, even though the
person didn't die of anything contagious. Everything has just become
He added that educated youth even questioned their
"But people don't seem to have the answers themselves."
The president of the Hindu Culture League, Mervin
Naicker, said: "The younger generation find that if they ask their peers or
elders, they are told that the rituals are done out of custom, and they don't
really have an understanding."
Naicker used the example of Kathri, which is viewed as a
"bad luck period" for Hindus in South Africa.
"In India, Kathri is a climatic condition exclusive to
that country. During that period, the hottest days of the year, Indians are
advised not to exert themselves and stay out of the sun.
"However, over time, the interpretation of this among SA
Hindus is that nothing should be done during this time. It's considered bad
luck to get married, buy a new car or even open a business. Refusal to do
anything during this time is based more on fear than understanding."
Poobie Pillay of the Gandhi's Hill Reunion Committee in
Tongaat said classes would be held in October to try to inspire interest in
the fine art of eastern cuisine and sweetmeat-making.
"Certain dishes and sweetmeats are fast disappearing, as
many people don't know how to prepare them. People don't prepare the old
dishes any more, and we want to get the younger generation involved."
Gurukal Muthuiyer Radhakrishna of the Umgeni Road Temple
said religious leaders and clergy had to simplify Hinduism for younger people.
"They need to uncomplicate it and make the youth
understand that there is much to gain through religion. They also need to be
involved in the prayers, and that way you attract more of the youth. The
younger generation are showing an interest. They just need the guidance," he