BeLiFS Becoming Literate in Faith Setting

Faith Settings

Introduction to the Faith: Hinduism


Hinduism is often called a way of life as opposed to a religion. Many points support this statement; Hinduism has no founder, no date of origin and no set doctrines or one religious text unlike the Abrahamic religions which are based on the Bible, Torah and Qu’ran. Though there is no one definitive text Hinduism does have numerous sacred religious literatures across many languages – there are Sanskrit epics on Mahabaratham and Ramayanam and also Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu devotional literature too. This wealth of texts which display wide and ranging philosophical stances also makes defining the religion difficult. Therefore, the religion can be seen doctrinally as based on religious concepts such as reincarnation, dharma and karma which are staple beliefs for all its followers. Reincarnation is the belief of another life after this one in which consequences of our actions in this life has repercussions in the next; dharma is actions one is supposed to follow i.e. the path of righteousness and upholding the law; karma is most simply put “you reap what you sow”. These principles form the foundation of Hinduism.


In contrast to the formal aspects of the religion (the priests performing religious services in Temples) there is in fact a degree of freedom in Hinduism in the way that it is practised by its followers. For example, two important features that define a Hindu are optional: Temple worship and vegetarianism. This allows for many interpretations of what defines a Hindu and on how to live a life according to Hinduism. Therefore, under the big umbrella of Hinduism there are a plethora of sects that vary in terms of their practices and beliefs – though the main concepts of the religion (outlined above) are inherently the same. One such branch of Hinduism is called Saivaism. Saivites believe that Lord Siva is the ultimate deity and all other deities are avatars of Him. An avatar is an incarnation or manifestation of God, which explains how Hinduism is actually in fact a monotheistic religion and the different Gods and Goddesses are in fact manifestation of One God and in the case of Saivites: Lord Siva.


The Hindu Saiva Faith Community in the UK

Tamil migrants to the UK since the 1940’s did not have a communal space for prayer so with the second mass migration of the 1960’s the earliest Tamil Hindu organisation for spiritual purposes in Britain was set up as the ‘Hindu Association of Great Britain’ with a specific aim of preserving Saivaism (the Tamil strand of Hinduism) for the coming generations.


However, the aims of this organisation was met with little enthusiasm as the immigrants of the 60’s felt that their stay was not permanent and so that the development of community structures in the UK was unnecessary. It also shows that the immigrant community was more dispersed than in later migration which also didn’t help community cohesion.


This is in direct contrast to the gradual increase and interest in developing Temples that was felt a decade later in the 70’s. This can be explained as a direct result of a larger number of immigrants and more importantly a realisation that the outbreak of the civil war in Sri Lanka meant a longer stay in London was imminent.


The Hindu Saiva Faith Community in East London

Situated around 7 miles to the east of the City of London, East Ham is a culturally diverse area reflecting a blend of the traditional East End alongside new spaces created by migrant communities from all around the world. However, the most notable sector of the new community has its origins in Asian countries; in the 2001 census demographic 42% of the total population were described as being Asian (‘East Ham’, UK Polling Report). A significant part of this large Asian community is made up of Sri Lankan Tamils, whose presence in the area can be seen in the new spaces that are visible in the high street shops, the use of buildings as community schools and in the creation of places of worship either custom built or as transformations of existing building spaces like the London Sri Murugan Temple, which is the site for the present study.


The London Sri Murugan Temple’s journey began humbly in 1975 in a home in London. It then moved to community centres and halls across London. In 1983 the Temple moved from its temporary locations to a residential property at Church Road which was bought and transformed a year later into a Hindu Temple. The existing Temple was demolished and in its place, in 2005, the new London Sri Murugan Temple built in keeping with the architecture of Hindu Temples in India and Sri Lanka was consecrated.