Like many religious immigrant children, Janhavi Gosavi says she inherited her religion from her parents without ever putting in the work to claim it as her own.
She writes about how she practises Hinduism and playing catch up when it comes to learning about the ancient religion.
This is part of Re:’s Belief Week. From young people who are celibate, to New Zealand’s first Wicca church, we take a look at what belief, religion and spirituality mean today. Check out the rest of the stories here.
In my wooden bookshelf at home, underneath my teen romance shelf, my parents have their spirituality shelf.
Deepak Chopra features heavily, alongside notable titles like The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and Jesus Lived In India.
Tucked in there are three dusty copies of the Bhagavad Gita that I have never touched. The Gita is one of Hinduism’s main religious texts and details a part of the epic Mahabharat.
I have called myself a Hindu my entire life without having read any religious scriptures.
Like many religious immigrant children, I inherited my religion from my parents without ever putting in the work to claim it as my own.
The way I practise Hinduism can be divided into two categories: the external and the internal.
Externally, practising Hinduism looks like wearing sarees, participating in elaborate poojas (venerations), and being hand-fed mithai (sweets) on auspicious days.
Diwali, Navratri and Holi are all festivals that are celebrated on large scales around the world, enjoyed by Hindus and non-Hindus alike.
On a daily basis, practising Hinduism looks like me abstaining from eating beef and pork, and reciting an evening prayer with my family in front of our devghar (at-home temple).
Beyond that, I adhere to customary practices that are informed by a Hindu worldview.
These behaviours aren’t innately religious, and can rather be thought of as Hindu tikanga.
Hindu tikanga looks like leaving your shoes at the door, not wasting food, and touching the feet of elders to seek their ashirvaad (blessings).
My favourite practice to teach non-Hindus about is how I never move anything with my feet, particularly books and other objects made of paper.
Paper is representative of the written word, which by extension is representative of education and knowledge.
When your parents moved halfway across the world so you could access better education, moving that scrap of paper on the floor with your feet just feels so wrong.
Hinduism’s public celebrations and practices are incredibly meaningful to me, but they do not always make me think of God.
Being raised in Aotearoa, the belief that religion is a private affair is deeply indoctrinated in me.
I only speak to God when I’m alone with my thoughts - a conversation too intimate to be observed by anyone else.
As a child, my prayers came from a place of petty fear: may my parents not find out my little white lies, may the coin I have accidentally swallowed not kill me and may the TV not be broken for good.
God was a safety net.
As a teenager, I prayed for gain: may I get an excellence on my history assignment, may I score the lead role in the school musical and may my ball dress fit me right.
When I felt selfish for being needy, I’d tack on “world peace” to the end of my list of requests.
God was a vending machine, and if I shook him hard enough, a blessing was bound to fall into my lap.
In the past few years, my priorities have shifted.
Prayer now means being thankful for the small wins and the days that pass without hardship.
I ask for boring stuff, like the prolonged health and safety of my loved ones, and it feels good.
I don’t leave my fate solely in the hands of God, but I do confide in him. God is a long distance friend who’s really good at listening.
As a Hindu, conceptualising the capital G.O.D. as a single, all powerful male deity never sat right with me. Hinduism is incredibly polytheistic.
We like to joke that in our religion, there are as many gods and goddesses as there are Hindus, with an estimated 33 million deities in total.
Gods such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shankar, Ganpati, Krisha, Durga, Lakshmi, and Sarasvati, are venerated across India.
But every state, city, and village in India has its own set of deities they specifically worship.
Individual Hindus also have their divine favourites - seven-year-old me was partial to Hanuman, a monkey god who could lift an entire mountain with a finger.
The fluidity and multiplicity with which Hinduism conceives God has led me to picture God without gender or physical form.
My ma always speaks of God as an energy force, a source of light.
It makes me look up at the sky a lot. An expansive sea of possibilities floats above my head and the great blue beyond is the closest reference point I have to God.
I’ve realised my relationship with Hinduism and my relationship with God are two different things. God and I are good. Hinduism and I could be better.
My favourite aspect of Hinduism is also my biggest gripe with the religion: it's not homogeneously practised nor strictly regulated.
There is no rule book, no definitive way to be Hindu.
I asked several of my Hindu friends what Hinduism meant to them.
Morality, open-mindedness, selflessness, and generosity were the values that came to mind.
A few of them expressed that they were now agnostic, but still partook in religious functions and were curious about investigating Hinduism further.
Many had only engaged with scripture through television adaptations, and did not feel overly confident in their religious identities.
If you asked me what Hindus believe, I would tell you that we believe in karma, reincarnation, and that all living things have souls and should be treated with respect.
But I could not have robust theological arguments with you, nor could I recite religious stories with ease. There are gaps in my knowledge I’m determined to fill.
Trying to play catch up with an ancient religion that's been around for thousands of years won’t be easy.
The road ahead is long, and I’m not sure what I’ll find. But dusting off my copy of the Gita seems like a good place to begin.
Janhavi Gosavi hails from Mumbai, India and was raised in Wellington. She has a BA in History, Cultural Anthropology, and Theatre from Victoria University of Wellington. She is currently the editor of Salient Magazine.
Only 29.6 percent of New Zealanders identified with no religion in the 2001 census.
“It’s not about not getting sex. It’s about not wanting sex, like at all right now.”
Once seen as protectors, Sāmoa’s spirit women, Teine Sā, were considered powerful female deities.