By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
Houston, Texas (CNN) – In many ways, 29-year-old Rishi Bhutada is a traditional Hindu, not so different from his Indian-born parents.
An officer at his dad’s pipefitting company, Texas-born Bhutada had an arranged marriage in India three years ago and then brought his wife back to his hometown, where they recently welcomed a son.
Bhutada is a strict vegetarian and avoids alcohol, as do many observant Hindus.
Complete coverage: Defining America
And the dashboard of his Toyota Prius is adorned with a small metal statue of Ganesh, an elephant-headed Hindu god known as the remover of obstacles. Bhutada prays to it each morning before leaving his driveway.
And yet Bhutada is a different kind of Hindu than his mom and dad.
His parents were part of a major wave of Indians who arrived in the U.S. in the 1960s and ’70s and focused their religious lives on building a community of believers and temples around Houston, which was then a Hindu wilderness.
Bhutada, by contrast, wants his religion to step out from that now-well-established Hindu hive to engage the broader culture.
Surprising origins of "Don't Mess with Texas"
Driving to lunch recently at a strip mall Indian buffet, he spoke of trying to forge a distinctly American Hindu identity that’s more tightly woven into the national fabric.
“The immigrant generation is focused on India, on the home country,” he said, noting that the TV in his parents’ house is often turned to a Hindi-language channel beamed in from the subcontinent. “I’m focused on the United States, which is my home country.”
That helps explain why a national group he’s involved with, the Hindu American Foundation, recently launched a Take Back Yoga campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the practice’s Hindu roots and values among non-Hindus.
And it's why Bhutada testified at the Capitol in Austin last year against a statewide school curriculum that calls Hinduism a polytheistic religion, a characterization many Hindus reject.
And it's why one area temple has begun placing copies of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, in thousands of Texas hotel rooms, right next to the Gideon Bible.
The developments speak to a new, publicly assertive stance that’s shared by many first-generation American Hindus across Houston, home to one of the country’s largest and fastest growing Indian enclaves, and by many young Hindus across the nation.
“Our parents had to build everything from scratch to make a united Hindu community in this country,” said Tejas N. Dave, 17, a high school junior who volunteers with a project bringing yoga to unprivileged Americans.
“Now we’re trying to reintegrate it back into society,” he said, “to make people realize that Hinduism is a religion and a way of life and a philosophy that’s not too different from what a lot of others believe. We’re all trying to make a better society.”
Some young Hindus are envious of the attention that American Muslims and Mormons have received in recent years – even if not all of the attention has been positive – and are trying to raise Hinduism’s national profile.
The impulse is not about winning converts. Hinduism, the world’s third-largest religion, doesn’t proselytize.
Rather, many young Hindus say, it’s about making their faith less exotic to others while making it more meaningful to their own modern American lives.
When their parents arrived from India a few decades ago, it was hard enough just being Hindu.
The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which overhauled the U.S. immigration system by eliminating biases toward European immigrants, among other things, opened American doors to millions of Asian immigrants, including Indians.
Those first arrivals struggled to recreate ethnic and religious networks from back home. When Bhutada’s father, Ramesh Bhutada, arrived in the U.S. in 1968, Houston played host to a single Hindu temple, which had opened earlier that year.
It was a stark change from India, where Hindus can stop into seemingly ubiquitous temples every day for brief visits, helping explain why so many Indians say “Hinduism is a way of life.”
There were more prosaic struggles, too. Many Hindus believe that vegetarianism denotes religious purity and a commitment to nonviolence, but they struggled to maintain that tradition in what was then a very meat-centric American diet.
“There was not even anything like a vegetable burger in those days,” Ramesh Bhutada said.
In those early years, new Hindu arrivals turned their homes into makeshift temples, holding religious education classes for their American-born children.
“There would be kids’ activities in one bedroom and adults in another,” said Dhruval Amin, 28, a Houston-based project manager at an international consulting firm, recalling childhood visits to such homes.
Today, Amin worships at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a sprawling, snow-white temple carved from Italian marble and Turkish limestone that sits on 22 manicured acres in Stafford, just south of Houston.
Opened in 2004, the temple is a proud symbol of the local Hindu community’s growth and prosperity, though it’s a story that’s hardly confined to Houston.
The U.S. Census does not track the number of Hindu Americans; the Census doesn’t ask about religion, period. But data from the 2010 Census show that Texas’ Asian Indian population nearly doubled in size in the past decade, to around 250,000.
Now, for the first time, Indians represent the largest Asian community in the state. Many were drawn by lucrative jobs in Texas’s booming oil, technology and medical sectors.
“A lot of the doctors in small metro markets across Texas are first- or second-generation Indians,” said Ray Perryman, who heads an economic research firm in Waco, Texas. “And the top two or three students in every high school tend to be from some part of Asia.”
Similar trends have emerged in other parts of the country. Nationally, Indian growth has surged by 60% in the past 10 years, according to the Census, with 2.8 million Asian Indians living in the U.S. today.
Indians now represent the country’s second-largest Asian group, after the Chinese.
They’re also among the nation’s most successful ethnic groups, with 71% of Asian Indians earning bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared with 28% of all Americans, according to data from the U.S. Census’s 2009 American Community Survey.
The survey reported that Asian Indians have median household incomes of more than $90,000, compared with $50,000 for all Americans.
Not everyone from that community is Hindu. India’s Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Jain minorities are also represented in the United States.
At a recent yoga class at Houston’s India House, a community center, the instructor was Hindu, and most participants were Indian, but half were Catholic, Methodist or another kind of Christian.
When the instructor, Sarika Phalak, leads open and closing prayers that reference God, she invites participants to speak the name of their own deity. Many say “Jesus.”
Still, Hindu growth around Houston has exploded in recent years, with 19 temples now scattered across the sprawling metropolitan area, most built just in the past decade.
Temple-based Hindu youth camps long ago replaced home-based classes. And several national Hindu organizations now call Houston home.
The city’s Hindu onslaught put Charu Krishna Thammavaram, 28, in closer touch with her religion when she relocated from Lafayette, Louisiana, three years ago.
“I feel like a born-again Hindu now,” said Thammavaram, who works for an India-focused humanitarian group called Ekal Vidyalaya, which is headquartered in Houston.
In Louisiana, the lone “nearby” temple was an hour’s drive from Thammavaram’s home. Here, she had her choice of temples and settled on a Hare Krishna temple after shopping around, just as many Americans of other faiths do.
For many young Hindus, tweaking their religious heritage to make it more relevant has become an important project.
“My parents were just immersed in Hinduism, starting every day with prayer and accepting it without question,” said Kavita Pallod, a native Houstonian and first-generation American who recently graduated college. “But I don’t start my days with prayer. And Hinduism is something I’ve questioned and debated with friends.”
Yet Pallod, 23, has spent a good deal of time thinking about how to apply her faith to her life. “I believe that karma is the principal that guides the universe,” she said, referring to the Hindu concept of cosmic justice. “It’s one of the reasons I joined Teach for America.”
Pallod, who’s training for the teaching program this summer, was speaking at Star Pipe Products, the pipefitting distributor where Rishi Bhutada works and that his father, Ramesh, founded in 1982.
Situated at the end of a bland industrial drive on the city’s west end, the company doubles as a meeting place for local Hindus.
Among its warren of warehouse and offices spaces is a community center where a mural of Swami Vivekananda, a famous 19th-century spiritual leader who introduced the faith to the United States, fills the back wall.
But like the younger Bhutada, Pallod is intent on taking her religion outside officially Hindu spaces. As the president of the Hindus Student Association at the University of Texas at Austin until her graduation in May, she focused on introducing Hinduism to non-Hindu students.
Last spring, her group went all out to get non-Hindus to participate in Holi, a Hindu festival that involves throwing colored powder and water – often at other people – in a playful, rainbow-like spectacle.
“We wanted them to actually experience it themselves as opposed to just sitting there passively,” Pallod said of the event. “We wanted to teach that the colors are all about eliminating differences by making everyone look the same.”
The festival drew about 2,000 people, with many enthusiastically throwing colored powder at one another in the shadow the state Capitol. It was the kind of scene that Indian immigrant parents could have never imagined.
Take back yoga? There is nothing to take back! Yoga was invented in the 1960s in America.
You don't even have the American part of yoga's history right: http://www.hlfinc.org/LECTURE%20NOTES.pdf
um you're an idiot. India created Yoga thousands and thousands of years ago. Immigrants brought that concept over here in America.
I'm not surprised that you posted as Anon. You don't want people to know who you are because you are SO ignorant.
You do realize that Anon is indeed right. Yoga was invented in the 60's. The only thing that it has in common with India is sitting cross legged.
Yoga (Sanskrit, Pāli: योग yóga) is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India, whose goal is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility.
Yoga came to the attention of an educated western public in the mid 19th century along with other topics of Hindu philosophy. The first Hindu teacher to actively advocate and disseminate aspects of Yoga to a western audience was Swami Vivekananda, who toured Europe and the United States in the 1890s.
In the West, the term "yoga" is today typically associated with Hatha Yoga and its asanas (postures) or as a form of exercise. In the 1960s, western interest in Hindu spirituality reached its peak, giving rise to a great number of Neo-Hindu schools specifically advocated to a western public. Among the teachers of Hatha yoga who were active in the west in this period were B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Swami Vishnu-devananda, and Swami Satchidananda. A second "yoga boom" followed in the 1980s, as Dean Ornish, a follower of Swami Satchidananda, connected yoga to heart health, legitimizing yoga as a purely physical system of health exercises outside of counter culture or esotericism circles, and unconnected to a religious denomination.
They won't have to Americanize once they have all of our jobs
it's nothing wrong with your frustration.......if you are out buying a car and a dealer from your next town is offering the same car for 60 % less, what would you do......you would definitely not mind to drive out there to close the deal.....it's the company you were working for that is looking to cut the costs, keep the profit ratio leveled, requiring to hand some pink slips....
So get off your a's, stop whining, and train to do something else. Free Enterprise, (ra, ra, ra), is great, but only if they don't do it to me.
Are you bitter because the Indian immigrants work harder, willingly work longer hours, and have more advanced education?
if you say AN H1B, I am not surprised you lost high paying job that you had with that kinda grammar!!
H1B's are paid the same rate as any other american worker. As a matter of fact I know some H1Bs who demand way more than American Citizens for the same job. It's not cheap labor either, I wonder if it is talent and skill set :)
Welcome to the "American" capitalism
If any religion can be Americanized, why not Hinduism? How is it different from Christianity, Jewism or any other mainstream religions? Appreciate the coverage though...
Jewism? I think you mean Judaism.
As a black dude, I have been studying Hinduism and I think it's a great religion. As long as I'm accepted when I go to the temple I can't complain. I can't say that I'm always accepted by Indians but no more discrimination against me than what Caucasians provide.
As a Jew, I love Hindus. Hindus taught me how to appreciate my culture. They are so proud and usually very open minded at the same time, very accepting of other cultures. Jews have learned to be very embarrassed because of all the oppression they received. While traveling in India I saw how Hindus could enjoy their religion openly and I wanted the same for my people. If you want to become American, fine, just don't become embarrassed about what you were.
After reading some of these posts, I see many Muslims try to pick Hinduism apart. Every group of people has there weaknesses and has made their mistakes. The point is... what are you doing know. And from what I can see, Hindus are doing great! Why are Muslims obsessed with competing with other groups?
My Karma ran over your Dogma !
The new Hindu God in Texas is the God Bubba.
I'm tired of people bellowing about God, faith, religion, spiritualism, and the likes. People need to start having believing in themselves more and quit looking to divination to give them what they already have.
No one qiestions your right to believe as you want – but truly, your seem so full of rage that I suspect you need something to balance your life. Maybe religion isn't for you, but surely, given your obvious struggle with the concept of live and let live, you can comprehend how some benefit from a search or relationship with "something" or "someone" greater than themselves. I hope you find what you may not even know yet that you are searching for. Oh, and by the way, if discussion of "religion disturbs you so much, maybe it would be best to stay away from blog sites that discuss religion – its your choice of course. Peace my friend.
I miss the days back when religion was often times a non-discussion and people didn't try to throw it down everyones throats. Belive what you want and what you will, just don't throw powder on me and don't tell me the rapture is coming.
Lovely temple. Great Article. The American Dream should be within reach of EVERYONE!
Hadji has a second thumb.
Thanks for the compliment Jeanine. All I can say you are open minded and tolerant to other faith I wish there are other people like you.
Except Extremists, be is Muslim, Hindu or Christians :)
Except Extremists, be it Muslim, Hindu or Christians :)
the only part of hinduism i like is Shivratri, drink 5-6 cups of bhang will have u stoned out your mind...i wonder if smoking marijuana (Shiv prasad) as a form of meditation falls under freedom of religion...
I lived in India for 20 years, and havent ever been subjected to drink or consume drugs. Not saying it doesnt happen .. but no was does it happen in a large scale.. a microscopic scale would also be saying a lot.
First know what's Shivratri and then start talking about it, let's not venture into topics that are beyond your mind. You don't know beyond ball games with beer?
Hindus and Indians have failed to modernize. Their life is still controlled by ancient and mediveal rituals a rotten cast sytem and religious restrictions. Hindus are the only sizable community in the modern world who still believe that being born a specific caste gives a man superior (or inferior) capabilities and superior (or inferior) rights. Most of the American Hindus also believe in the inequality perpetuated by the catse system. Proof can be easily seen in the matrimonial ads placed by the parents for the children's arranged marriages in any Indian-American magzine like "India Abroad". It is ironic that they complain of discrimination when they themselves discriminate against any one who has darker skin or "supposedly" lower caste. Most have failed to learn that "all men are created equal".
You DO realize that every thing you just said could have applied equally to a Southern White Catholic American about 30 years ago, and may well still ?
are you suggesting christians aren't bigoted and don't discriminate on the basis of color, race or gender? and oh, the bible is full of hate and spite. read up a bit.
the caste system, which is horrible, is a part of Indian tradition, not Hinduism. As an American born Hindu, I was taught to practice my religion, and know almost nothing about my caste. My relatives in India have all married outside of our caste. Of course, many traditional families practice it, but how different is it from social structures in America? How often do the wealthiest Americans pick their spouse from the poorest demographics? Whether you call it caste or not, the problem exists everywhere.
@PK - Yeah,PaKistan is a very modern version of India, with its various sects always at each others' throats. Praise Allah for such a miracle!
Another day, another article explaining how we are different.
My girlfriend lived 2 blocks from this beautiful temple when it was being built. The talk among Houston was about the evil Raghead Temple that was being built in Houston. If Hindu's want to Americanize their faith the first step is to start hating everyone who disagrees with them. The second step is to claim moral superiority via membership in a political party. The third step is to rewrite the history of their adopted country to suit their politics. The forth step is to hate science and fear education.
Hinduism is not about disregarding science, its about its acceptance. Its the only religion that accepts science. In fact if u see hindu mythology, every little story and advice given in it, is actually an indirect reference to the scientific truth. And if u see Hinduism within it has so many subcastes and subreligions in a way, and its all about acceptance of everyone. Some fools try to show their own religion as better than others, but thats just a minority. Its not hating one another but accepting everyone. This might seem completely irrelevant but just wanted to say. And literacy and education are the base of hinduism, it doesn't act against education and sciences. Christianity might oppose science at some times and for westernes christianity is what religion means to them, so they assume that all religions are opposed to science. But eastern religions are not so and infact they promote science and education.
"hate science and fear education"? Dude ru nuts? Indian ethnic group are the most educated group in US. Almost 80-90% of in science, technology and medicine. open some books..Obama keeps saying, but you guys never listen to stuff other than welfare money.. start reading :)
@Scorpio and Presy You are misunderstanding Christopher's point. He is saying that IF Hindus want to Americanize, well, this is what more established American religions are like. (Not all are like this, of course, but this country's "righteous right" definitely is.)
you guys missed the point – Christopher is making fun of/insulting America
scorpio - are you humor and sarcasm impaired? christopher was being sarcastic towards a certain type of american. he wasn't dissing hindus or indians.
hahaha.. Chris your funny<3
"In Texas, young Hindus want to Americanize ancient faith"
Well, they're Indians.
In Texas that's a start.
Another hypocritical cult. They pray to their "gods" for blessings, then treat the "untouchables" in their caste society like crap. They use and treat them like slaves. Disgusting.
Thats old news mate, now there are no untouchables. If you actually notice, its the so called untouchables who run India in several states. So Hinduism doesn't actually preach these social wrong doings. Its their followers of the recent past (like 500 odd years back) who did all these sorts of nonsenses. Hinduism is all about love, peace, unity and loyalty to God and fellowmen. Thats what christianity is about and so is Islam. But its the people in the middle who have ruined everything. Now hinduism is seen as discriminating, christianity as trying to dismiss every religion and trying to convert everyone, without knowing to live in harmony and islam as terrorists. Its all misconceptions, if you want to know of a religion, read about its very base, not what some foolish followers created in the middle. Every religion has good people and bad people. We all know how the bible was meddled with by so many people over the years according to their benefits and now its just a bunch of nonsense. So can we call christianity as foolish? well many people do, but thats not true either. You can't dismiss a religion or completely follow it without using ur head. There are so many good things that a religion can teach, take only the good, leave the bad. If a person is not capable of doing it, then he or she is not fit to live anyway.
How is it different from the aparthied racism in America, against dark skinned folks and new immigrants. Yet, a lot of americans call this land a Christian nation.
Yup, because you cant understand their religion, it makes it an evil cult...tell me 30 years ago, christian discriminated BLACK christian...are you a cult?
presy this is for you to read: http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_dalit-youth-stoned-to-death-in-aurangabad-village_1234036
lol..u are right..but i think there is more to it than u think..and I think that's the whole point of this article..with higher indian population in America, increase awareness.
Pakis abound on this site with pseudo-american sounding names! Bigoted morons the se pakis are!
I love that!
PS #1. – I'm not a Hindu Indian. I'm an agnostic American.
PS #2. – My Mom has one of those Ganesh statues! She even sleeps with it, which makes me very uncomfortable! (j/k)
PS #3. – I too believe in karma. And I wish more people believed in it as well - because then maybe they're realize the futility of injustice, as no good can ever come from that which was wrought from evil. Real talk.
Great article @ Mr. Gilgoff!
Mr. Simpson please get out of my store and ...Come Again
Apu has a JOB..Do you have one ?
Apu doesnt have a job, he OWNs a Business.
The only Hindu I ever knew believed everything was an illusion and he didn't drink alcohol just smoked opium and hashish
honestly i don't think hinduism can survive in america. no polytheistic religion can. monotheistic religions are ridiculous enough–i mean, on the face of it, hinduism isn't any weirder than islam, etc–but the whole millions of gods thing doesn't really work when brought into modern-day society. think about it... most people have a hard enough time believing that ONE god can exist, but millions...?!
If Scientology can survive in America, anything can.
Mc, that is idiotic.
Hinduism is not a polythestic religion. Go read some books, will you?
Can Hindus Americanize their faith?
If not, Obama will just have us change our laws, ways, and customs to suit them.
...and he will if it can get him reelected in 2012.
This is a great article, Dan! Thanks for making it easy to read, too.
I'd say more but I'm on my way out. Have a nice day! =)
i wouldnt know much about all this except to say once my former roommate who was of Indian origin took me along to his Sister's wedding and the FOOD was unbelievable.... i ate and farted til the cows came home.
The food is unbelievable.
Just be glad you don't live with us Inyans. I eat chicken curry on the weekdays, and well, my home smells like the fart of a dog who just ate his own poop. Yeah.... it's BAD, dude! :-).
I live in the Midwest, and the Hindu temple I go to has been around for a long time. I am one of only a few white people that attend. I do not push my beliefs on anyone, and do not disrespect other people's religion. This is what works for me. If it doesn't work for you, then stick to the faith that does work for you. It is kind of silly that people get so upset over other people's beliefs because they are different.
the food proberbly cleared the stink u've been carrying since u'ver small.thank vishnu for it.
and let the frothing on the mouths of racists begin !!!
Yup! Us "racists" here are all about the caste system . . .
"The Indian caste system is a system of social stratification and social restriction in India in which communities are defined by thousands of endogamous hereditary groups called Jatis.
The Jatis were hypothetically and formally grouped by the Brahminical texts under the four well known categories (the varnas): viz Brahmins (scholars, teachers, fire priests), Vaishyas (agriculturists, cattle raisers, traders, bankers), Kshatriyas (kings, warriors, law enforcers, administrators), Shudras (artisans, craftsmen, service providers). Certain people like foreigners, nomads, forest tribes and the chandalas (who dealt with disposal of the dead) were excluded altogether and treated as untouchables. Although generally identified with Hinduism, the caste system was also observed among followers of other religions in the Indian subcontinent, including some groups of Muslims and Christians,[Full citation needed] most likely due to inherited cultural traits. Theoretically, all foreigners are considered to be casteless and hence outcast   meaning that orthodox upper caste families would not touch or invite them to their homes."
Yup . . . now there's a system that's far superior to straight up racism . . . no mere "son of Ham" thing goin' on here . . . just pure power-based upeard mobility exclusion due to one's family's sociological position . . . huge difference between that and the concept of power-based upeard mobility exclusion due to the color of one's skin . . . Yeah . . . sure . . .
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.