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Hindu rituals that can’t be practiced in America

burning wicks and flower petals

Anyone who moves to America will realize they have to make changes to their lifestyle.

These adjustments to lifestyle include Hindu rituals. There are many lifestyles and cultural changes that those refugees and other newcomer groups have to make. Among them, not being able to practice all rituals and ceremonies from their home country can upset many people.

I am only going to focus on the rituals of Bhutanese refugee groups because I don’t have cultural knowledge of other refugee groups. However, I am sure this issue is not unique for Bhutanese refugee group only.

As an interpreter, I get an opportunity to talk with many older resettled refugees. I like to build a network with them and like to spend time with them during my leisure hours. They also like sharing their stories, and if I continue to listen they will generally conclude their stories with their issues in America.

A majority of elderly Bhutanese refugees are more religious, and most practice Hindu rituals.

They also tend to literally interpret Hindu doctrines. From my personal observation and experience of talking with them, older people tend to have strong feelings about the caste system, and reincarnation.  I also found that many of them believed in ghost, spirits, and the principle of Karma. This strongly held believes are ingrained into the fabric of their version of Hinduism and Nepalese culture.

In order to maintain a set of beliefs that I mentioned, many rituals and ceremonies must be performed. However, some of the rituals contradicts with American laws and regulations. For example, we cannot cremate bodies in river banks because it directly violates the environmental laws in the United States. On the other hand, cremating body in the river banks is so crucial for many Hindus. They believe that the burned remnants of the dead must be disposed in the river in order for that person’s soul to re-incarnate. As a result, many elderly people feel stress about their afterlife because they think (or know) that their children won’t be able to properly perform those rituals.

There are other Hindu rituals that are not totally illegal in America, but is hard to perform.

Many newly arrived refugees live in a tiny apartment. If you ever lived in an apartment, you clearly know that every apartment complex have their own safety regulations. Many newly arrived refugees aren’t aware of those regulations. For example, people perform daily pooja (daily prayers) burning diya (similar to candles) and incense sticks. This ritual is very important for many Nepalese Hindus to maintain their spirituality. However, from the perspective of the apartment manager, their tenants are violating apartment regulations, or at least performing risky behavior by lighting diya.

Thus, many people complain about not being able to perform their daily pooja and correlate that with the decreasing health, financial situation, or whatever. Some people have even been fined for ignoring the warnings from their apartment office. However, for those refugees who lives in their own house, this is no longer an issue.

There are many other social practices such as caste system which cannot be practiced in America.

However, it’s a social issue more than a ritual, and is very complicated. It is another part of having to balance new and old identities in the USA.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.