EDITOR, The Tribune.
The Bahamas is considered a Caribbean country, although it is really located in the Atlantic Ocean. The Caribbean is a religious and cultural melting pot, according to sociologists from the United States.
The Bahamas is no different. Often classified as a Christian nation, many Bahamian churchgoers would probably be surprised at Hinduism’s subtle encroachment into our country, at least from the standpoint of one of the world’s oldest religion’s idiosyncrasies being unwittingly adopted by many Bahamians. A swami from Calcutta told a Westerner that Hinduism is “at once a theology, a philosophy, a social system, and a way of life.”
Of the world’s 1.2 billion Hindus, 1,093,780,000 live in India. In fact, 95 percent of the world’s Hindu population resides in India. In addition to India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, US, Malaysia, United Kingdom and Myanmar round off the top ten nations with the highest number of Hindus in 2020, according to the Pew Research.
With a pantheon of 330 million gods -- with Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva being the most prominent -- Hinduism is unabashedly polytheistic. The four largest denominations within Hinduism are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.
Bahamians aspiring to become successful Fortune 500 executives probably heard the names Depaak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Oprah Winfrey, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman mentioned by motivational speakers. They were all influenced by Indian religious thought.
During the COVID lockdowns, a PE teacher was instructing my daughter and her classmates via zoom on the proper method of yoga. I was shocked. I had no idea that this was allowed by the Ministry of Education.
Yoga was first introduced to the US at the beginning of the twentieth century by Vivekananda, a disciple of Ramakrishna. Vivekananda founded the Vedanta Society of New York City, which was the first official Hindu centre in the US.
Today, many Bahamians consider yoga to be a harmless exercise, devoid of any religious attachments. I have even seen yoga openly discussed in one of the major dailies by Bahamian female fitness coaches.
Bahamians are copycats. They are simply following in the footsteps of Americans. It was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who popularised Hinduism and its attendant transcendental meditation in the US. Maharishi became an iconic celebrity to the American hippie generation in the 1960s, thanks to his most famous students, The Beatles. At his ashram in Rishikesh, India, The Beatles would spend weeks there in 1968 studying transcendental meditation. Dabbling in Hinduism, The Beatles would promote the use of Norwegian Wood, a British pseudonym for marijuana. One informed American evangelical credited The Beatles, along with Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, for exporting Hinduism to the West.
Granted, most secular Bahamians would listen to American rap and R&B music before the rock and roll of The Beatles. Yet many Bahamians are unaware of The Beatles’ massive influence on the late Michael Jackson, who was undoubtedly the most popular US pop star in The Bahamas, especially during the turbulent eighties.
The Hindu god Shiva is also known as the lord of the dance (aka Nataraja) and rhythm -- elements which appealed to many young American hippies who devoured rock music.
The lewd gesticulations often seen in the dances performed at Junkanoo carnival events in New Providence are not unlike those performed by Shiva devotees. Interestingly, Shiva is also considered to be “passionate, violent and even licentious.” These are common characteristics witnessed at carnival events in Trinidad and Tobago.
Today, thousands of Bahamians, particularly those within Rastafari, smoke ganja, ignorant of its religious ties to Hinduism. There continues to be a push for the decriminalisation of medicinal marijuana. If green lighted by the Bahamian government, recreational marijuana legislation will inevitably follow.
Another Hindu idiosyncrasy among an increasing number of Bahamians is cremation. Admittedly, the high cost of traditional Christian burials is the main motivating factor in many Bahamians opting to utilise the Hindu method of disposing of the dead. Still, whatever one’s views are pertaining to cremation, it is not a practice rooted in the Christian worldview that our forebears adopted. Growing up many Bahamians were members of burial societies, which assisted in defraying the costs of funerals. I cannot recall ever hearing of cremations back then, which is an indictment on today’s generation of Bahamians.
And finally, one other Hindu concept that Bahamians have unwittingly adopted is the use of the word “karma” while gloating over the demise of a rival. The word is usually accompanied by the B-word that unforgiving Bahamians would often use while salivating in the news of an enemy encountering significant trouble.
Even the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation, as incredible as it may sound, has a few Bahamian adherents. I recently spoke to a young Bahamian lady who thought that both Jesus and John the Baptist were reincarnated. In all things considered, the encroachment of Hinduism into Bahamian culture is more proof of the glaring biblical illiteracy of the average Bahamian.
March 23, 2023.