How a visit to a temple magically turned one twelve-year-old’s embarrassment for Hinduism into an outspoken pride in her faith
BY DEVINA DEVAGHARAN
IT IS NOT EASY BEING A HINDU, especially when you are twelve and you live in Texas. Even more difficult is being a Hindu and being home-schooled. Worse than that is when you’re the only Hindu among all your home-schooled friends, who are devout Christians. Imagine this: Out of the hundreds of Christian kids with fair skin, I stick out like a sore thumb thanks to being the only Hindu girl with dark chocolate skin. People say: “Being different is awesome!” Well not in my case! I’ve been embarrassed to be a Hindu. There, I said it, and I admit it. I always thought that my friends would laugh at me if I told them I was born a Hindu. As a home-schooler surrounded by Christian friends, I was uneasy and ungrateful towards Hinduism. I was the kid that didn’t belong.
I constantly struggle being a Hindu kid growing up in America. I’m more of a follower, and not a leader. Some of my Hindu friends are like that as well. My parents, who were raised in Malaysia, had it easy. My mother has told me many times that when I was younger, around 4 or 5 years old, I constantly wished that I had fairer skin, blond hair, blue eyes and an American name to blend in with my friends.
Hinduism has always been confusing to me. Too many Gods, too many arms, too many weapons, too many festivals and too many names. How’s a twelve-year-old going to understand all of this? How can I even begin to explain it to my friends? Imagine explaining about Lord Ganesha. I’d be embarrassed to tell them that I pray to an elephant that sometimes has many heads and rides on a special rat! I can imagine the stares and laughter that would accompany that statement. As much as I hate to say it, I have to admit that it was odd praying to an animal that represents God. Why do we pray to animals? Is it true that Ganesha travels on a rat? Can the rat really carry such a huge and obese Ganesha? Why are Hindu Gods always walking around with weapons? Some do look pretty scary. My friends are devout Christians and sometimes they quote the Bible or add a fact about Christianity in their conversations with me. I am constantly amazed at how much they know about their religion. I wished that I could talk about my religion fluently and confidently, but I honestly knew very little about Hinduism.
I had so many questions and very few answers. My parents did their best, but I wished I could get the answers straight from the teachers or masters themselves. I did not want to listen to the watered-down version. I needed real answers. Like when you want to learn to play the piano, you would seek out a renowned piano teacher. It is the same way with other subjects and master teachers. Why do Hindus wear a bindi? If it is the third eye, why is there no vision? What is vibhuti? Why on our forehead? Why can’t you wear shoes into the temple? Why do Lord Siva, Ganesha and Muruga have so many forms and names? Why can’t there be just one for each? As a kid, I have a hard time memorizing history and science vocabulary, imagine adding to that the Hindu Gods’ many, many, many names and forms?
Well, my trip to Kauai this past year answered a lot of my questions and has brought me so much closer to my birth religion that now I am actually proud of being a Hindu. I know the answers now, and there is a ton of logic that accompanies the answers to each of my questions.
This trip was my family’s third visit to Kauai. My parents came here when they were newlyweds in 1999 and brought me here in 2006. I hardly remember anything from that trip except that all the swamis had long beards—fascinating to me as a five-year-old. The 2013 trip was not like any vacation my family and I have had before. I shuddered when my parents told me that all our awake time would be spent at the temple! Pray on vacation? Who does that? Gone were my plans to zip-line! My parents made it clear that whatever zip-lining to be done would be to the temple and back. My expectations for this trip fortunately changed from bad to great the minute we walked into the temple that Wednesday morning. From the way the people in Kauai live, to the atmosphere at the temple, everything was so different from back home. In Texas, all day long everybody says, “What’s next on my list?” In Kauai, everybody says, “I’m going to the beach.” In Texas, even on free days, we aren’t really free and there’s always something to do or somewhere to go to. The vibrations and energy at the Kadavul Temple are so different from the temple that I visit in Texas. The vibrations at the temple are positive, and I felt very calm and peaceful. The monks here spent a lot of time with us and took us around the temple grounds. There were so many things that I learned about Hinduism when I was here that would otherwise have taken me a lifetime to understand.
I’m glad I got to spend a whole week at the temple just to focus on my religion. I was beginning to understand Hinduism. I learned so much that I felt like a completely new kid. The way I thought about Hinduism changed, and the way I felt about Hinduism changed as a result. I now understand the true forms of all of our Gods and the many mystical animals that accompany them. Besides learning Hinduism in Kauai, I received a well-needed course on how to eat healthy and exercise physically and mentally. I also ate greens that I never knew existed! They tasted pretty good, too! So many wonderful people and experiences happened that inspired changes in me. So many sensational feelings blended together and created the greatest time of my life. I always looked on the outside of things, and never on the inside. For me, the temple was the eraser and Texas was the pencil. In Texas I messed up so much, from not learning Hinduism properly, to not praying to God at all, and being ungrateful to Hinduism. When I arrived at the temple—or in this case, the eraser—it was able to erase all the negativity and mistakes I had made before.
An unforgettable visit: Kadavul temple with Nandi, Siva’s bull, outside
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When I returned home to Texas, I started from scratch, picking up the pieces and putting them together correctly. This time, I could feel being a Hindu inside of me. The Kadavul Hindu Temple in Kauai and all of the swamis and the people that I met during my stay have really changed my perception towards Hinduism. This year my New Year’s resolution is to crack out of my shell and start climbing the mountain. That means that I’m going to stop being ungrateful and shy about being a Hindu. I am proud and confident of my heritage, culture and religion. Climbing up the mountain will be a challenge, but I have to start from the bottom and work my way up to the top! I’m practicing more Hinduism now, and the Ten-Minute Spiritual Workout by Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami is exactly what I needed. Meeting him was a truly special part of this trip. I am grateful to Paramacharya Sadasivanatha Palaniswami for gifting me The History of Hindu India which will be my main social studies book for this year. I also appreciate the beautiful pair of rudraksha earrings that I wear proudly. I appreciate Sannyasin Saravananathaswami spending all of his time with us while on tour.
Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to share my experiences with all of the Hindu youth out there who are struggling with the same issues that I have experienced. I am grateful for the Kadavul temple and look forward to the Iraivan temple and am blessed that I am able to watch it grow. I enjoyed meeting the cows and what an exciting experience it was trying to feed them. I loved spending time with all of the Hindu ladies helping at the temple’s gift shop.
I feel a change in myself, and I know I will continue to grow in Hinduism and be a great Hindu. I am so grateful that my parents worked hard to make this trip materialize. I arrived in Kauai with many questions and trepidations about my birth religion, but it was the right time in my life. Lord Siva was waiting for us. I know this journey has only just begun, but I am excited and looking forward to the many explorations ahead. I am counting the days until I return to the Kadavul temple. Most importantly, I’m proud to be a Hindu, and I hope you are too!
Devina and her parents have darshan with Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami
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DEVINA DEVAGHARAN , 12, lives in Euless, Texas, with her parents Devagharan Nair and Kumari Nallakumar. She is home schooled and enjoys chess, playing the piano, drawing and writing.