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Tamil Hindus taking their gods to the street; public procession organised by the Sri Murugan tempel in July 2002, Hamm, Germany

A New Voice in European Hinduism.
Rooting Tamil Traditions from Sri Lanka

A panel to be held at the 3rd Congress of the
European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR),
8.-10. May 2003, Bergen (Norway)

Coordinators: Knut A. Jacobsen (University of Bergen)

Scope and aim
Studies of the presence of Hinduism in Europe have been dominated by the situation in England. British scholars have focused on the Gujaratis or Punjabis and the religious organizations dominated by them. These groups do not hold a dominant position in the Hinduism of other European countries, however. In these countries refugees and migrants from Sri Lanka, eight tenth of them Hindus; are generally the largest group. The Tamil Hindus, however, are hardly mentioned in the literature and research originating in England or USA on the Hindu diaspora. The papers of this panel will present this neglected dimension in the study of European Hinduism.


Panelists and Papers:

- Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger (Aarhus University, Denmark)
  Shakti in Denmark - a focal point for many Tamils in Diaspora

Lalitha Sripalan, dressed in red, performs puja at her temple in Brande, Denmark. Picture: M Q. Fibiger In Denmark we have two consecrated Hindu temples: one dedicated to Vinayakar or the elephant-headed Ganesha and the other to the goddess Abirami, where an autodidact laywoman, Lalitha Sripalan works as priest, shakti-medium and consequently as healer. This makes her well known among Tamils in Diaspora in general, who consult her either by phone, mail or by visiting the temple.
This paper will describe the history of Lalitha Sripalan, showing how the Diaspora situation has given her options, that she presumably would not have accomplished had she been in Sri Lanka. The paper will discuss her local but also international role among Tamils, and by using her as an example it will show how the Tamil Hindu tradition has adapted to the Danish environment. As a crucial example I will use shakti and its manifestations through Lalitha Sripalan following the red-letter days in the Danish calendar to a certain extent, however taking a cyclical understanding of time into account.

- Knut A. Jacobsen (University of Bergen, Norway)
  Establishing Ritual Space in the Hindu Diaspora in Norway

This paper analyzes the plurality of origins and the multiple meanings of space in the Hindu diaspor in Norway. Since the large majority of the Hindus in diaspora have been Indians, their diaspora has, obviously, to a large degree defined the Hindu diaspora. The majority of Hindus in many European countries, however, are Tamils from Sri Lanka. In Norway 0,25% of the total population are Hindus of South Asian descent and around 75 % of those are Tamil Hindus from Sri Lanka. The Hindus in Norway do not constitute one ethnic group nor do the Indian and Sri Lankan Hindus belong to the same diaspora. The civil war in Sri Lanka and the struggle there for a Tamil homeland separate the diaspora of the Sri Lankan Tamils from the diaspora of the Indian Hindus. By focusing on the multiple meanings of space in the Hindu diaspora, this paper challenges several common assumptions about Hinduism in diaspora.

- Martin Baumann (Universities of Lucerne and Hannover, Switzerland and Germany)
  Organising Hindu temples in the European diaspora, divergent models

Some 200,000 Hindus from Sri Lanka have come during the last two decades to Europe. Having settled down, numerous temples were erected in the 1990s, both to preserve Hindu Tamil traditions and to venerate the beloved gods and goddesses. The paper looks at the organisational patterns to run a temple and to collect the financies to maintain it. Divergent models are in use, based on established structures known from South Asia. Having outlined the main structures the paper will analyse issues of membership and structural modernisation..

- Brigitte Luchesi (University of Bremen, Germany)
  Hindu sacred architecture in Germany: The new Kamadchi Ampal Temple in Hamm-Uentrop

The Sri Kamakshi tempel in Hamm-Uentrop in Dec. 2002. Picture by M. Baumann Since the 1980s, refugees from Sri Lanka have been living in Germany, a high percentage of them being Hindu Tamils. As public religious institutions for Hindus were virtually non-existent when the first of them arrived they had to create possibilities to practice their faith if they wanted to step outside their private homes. During the last ten years they have set up a number of prayer halls and temples in converted basements, industrial buildings and the like and have organised the collective celebration of festivals.
Both activities reveal their wish to be seen in the public domain and occupy an adequate place in the religious pluralism of Germany. One of the most important events in this process was the construction of the impressive new temple for the goddess Kamadchi in Hamm-Uentrop (Westphalia) and its inauguration in 2002. It is the first place of worship in Germany planned and erected as a Hindu Temple right from the very beginning. Temple architects and craftsmen from South India were involved in the building process seeing to it that certain traditional rules of Hindu sacred architecture were paid attention to.
The paper will show how the Kamadchi Temple, more than any other of the Tamil temples in Germany and probably in continental Europe, presents itself in its inner and outward design as a distinct Hindu place of worship. Special attention will be given to the way the temple is designed as the residence of a goddess and, moreover, as a manifestation of this goddess as the Great Goddess.

See for further information about the congress and the EASR .

last changes: 28.02.2003