Hinduism is the largest religion in New Zealand other than Christianity, with almost 90,000 followers in 2013. Their numbers nearly tripled in the decade after 1996, mainly due to changes in immigration policy and political turmoil in Fiji, which led Fijian Indians to settle in New Zealand.
The settlement of Hindus in New Zealand dates back to the arrival of a handful of Lascars (Indian seamen) and sepoys (Indian soldiers) in the early 19th century. The first small communities from Gujarat and the Punjab arrived in the 1890s. Until the 1980s almost all Hindu migrants came from Gujarat. Later they arrived from all over India and from Sri Lanka, Malaysia and South Africa.
Ring a bell?
In 1836 the missionary William Colenso saw Māori women near Whāngārei using a broken bronze bell to boil potatoes. The inscription around the rim read ‘Muhayideen Baksh’s ship’s bell’ in very old Tamil script. This discovery has led to speculation that Tamil-speaking Hindus may have visited New Zealand hundreds of years ago. However, historians have said that the bell does not prove early Tamil contact with New Zealand.
What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is the name given to a wide variety of beliefs and practices that reflect the history of the many regional and local traditions of India. Many Hindus are vegetarians. Hindu rituals take place at home and in the temple. The Hindu festive calendar includes Holi (India’s spring harvest festival), Navratri (a nine-night celebration of the goddess Shakti) and Diwali (the festival of lights). Diwali has become part of the civic calendar in Auckland and Wellington, with town-hall celebrations open to the public and including Indian foods, dancing and music. There are many medical, legal and commercial professionals among the Hindu community.
Auckland Hindu temples
Communities from different parts of India have their own temples with their own traditions. In the 2010s Auckland had a Tamil temple, the New Zealand Thirumurugan Temple, in Ōtāhuhu, and the Swaminarayan temple in Avondale for followers of a 19th-century Indian saint. Other Auckland Hindu organisations included the Ramakrishna Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Sathya Sai Organisation, Art of Living Foundation, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Sewa International and Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation.
Dr Guna Magesan is an environmental scientist who moved to New Zealand from Tamil Nadu, India, in 1988. As the national coordinator of the Hindu Council of New Zealand, he organised an annual tree-planting programme for the Indian community, and youth festivals to build links between Indian and other New Zealanders. In 2007 Magesan told the World Hindu Conference in India that there are many similarities between Sanskrit, the classical language of India, and Māori. ‘There are at least 185 Sanskrit and other Indian language words similar to the Maori language. For example, “tama” means boy, “e tu” means stand and “mana” means pride or self respect.’ 1
Wellington and other temples
In the early 21st century Wellington was home to Bharat Bhavan, a mainly Gujarati temple and cultural complex in Kilbirnie, and the Kurinji Kumaran Temple in Newlands. There were also International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKON) centres in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and a temple and farm in Kumeu, West Auckland, for a community of Indians and converts to Hare Krishna.
The Hindu Council of New Zealand (HCNZ) was formed in the mid-1990s and is affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a global Hindu organisation. HCNZ has hosted annual New Zealand Hindu conferences since 2007. It has also established the Hindu Heritage Centre, Hindu Social Service Foundation, Hindu Elders Foundation and Hindu Youth New Zealand, and runs youth and family camps. In 2010 HCNZ launched Hindu Organisations, Temples and Associations (HOTA), a representative body for Hindu groups in New Zealand.
HCNZ has been involved in a number of media campaigns. In 2008 the Council protested against the representation of the Hindu religion in the film The love guru. In 2011 it set up Hindu Media Watch to analyse bias and stereotyping in the portrayal of Hindus in the New Zealand media.