chapter  24
12 Pages

Hinduism in the Diaspora

WithZavos John

In the introduction to his exploration of Hinduism in a British context (1987), Richard Burghart begins with an anecdote about the Maharaja of Jaipur, Madho Singh. When the Maharaja travelled to London in 1902, he recounts, he carried with him a range of indigenous products and undertook a range of ritual acts so that he could maintain some semblance of ritual purity, even though for a Hindu of his status the journey across the kalipani, the black waters, away from the Hindu universe of mother India, was a dangerously polluting act. The anecdote is designed to demonstrate the implicit problems associated with the idea of Hinduism on the move. It also points up the intensification of these problems in the modern world. Madho Singh was required to travel as he had been summoned to attend the coronation of his Imperial ruler, Edward VII. Although not exactly typical, the compulsions of this journey represent the realignment of global power structures in the nineteenth century, which invoked not just Madho Singh but many hundreds of thousands of Indians to travel across the network of the British Empire for various reasons associated with the political economy of colonialism. The anecdote, then, helps to bring into focus a question of some relevance to the theme of this chapter. How does a religion which is subject to such ritual constraints, such fastidious observance of purity and pollution regulation related to travel, reconcile itself to the compromises, adaptations and innovations of rapid, forced and/or mass migration in the modern world?