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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Hindu 'missionaries' head overseas
Artisan working on Ayodhya temple
The VHP has pushed to build a controversial temple in Ayodhya
By Rahul Bedi in Delhi

Nearly 600 years after the first Christian missionaries landed in India, Brahmin priests are being readied at a seminary near Delhi to take their religion worldwide.

Religious organisations aligned with India's Hindu nationalist-led government, committed to preserving Hinduism in its purest and most traditional form, said the priests would try and dilute the influence of Christianity on expatriate Hindus.

It is not only Hinduism the priests are taught, but also other religions to enable them to counter Christian arguments

Shashi Sham Singh
This upsurge in Hindu nationalism has, say observers, coincided with a series of well-organised attacks on churches, missionaries and other Christian organisations - reportedly by Hindu extremist organisations - across India.

The extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) - which opposes the church's proselytising activities - has recently established a branch at Durban in South Africa to defend "the rights of Hindus against conversion".

Spreading the word

Equipped with geometrical-shaped urns, water from the Ganges river - considered holy by millions of Hindus - and a variety of incense, three Brahmin graduates from the Hindu Heritage Parishthan at Modipuram, 70 km from Delhi, left recently for the United States, Singapore and Mauritius.

Their missionary work amongst overseas Hindus will last at least a decade.

Christian rally in Bombay
India's Christians have recently come under attack
"Well versed in ancient scriptures, these priests are expected to spread the virtues of Hinduism and perform rituals for the Indian diaspora," said Shashi Sham Singh, head of the seminary where Brahmin priests are put through their religious paces.

All entrants to the Modipuram seminary are required to be proficient in Sanskrit and have a working knowledge of English.

During nine months of training, at the end of which they are awarded a diploma, they study ancient texts, learn to perform complicated Hindu rituals like marriages, child-naming ceremonies and death rites.

They also recite lengthy and complicated Sanskrit prayers by rote.

"It is not only Hinduism the priests are taught, but also other religions to enable them to counter Christian arguments," Mr Singh said.

Overseas demand

Over the years Hindu religious organisations and temple trusts like the Temple Society in North America and the South Indian Religious Society in Singapore have "imported" Brahmin priests from India.

The Hindu Temple Society said the proliferation of Hindu temples overseas has proved to be a godsend for Indian priests eager to move to richer pastures.

Little India, Jackson Heights, New York
Targeting Indians settled abroad
And although overseas Hindu religious organisations play a major role in importing priests, many manage to secure appointments through networking skills and personal contacts.

At the end of it all, it is worth the trouble as priestly duties can have material benefits too.

A name-giving ceremony, for instance, costs the patron $31 in Singapore.

The sacred thread ceremony, essential for all traditional Brahmins costs $101 and a marriage ceremony, $251.

Charges for all rituals and ceremonies double when conducted at home.

Some temples allow their priests to freelance but take a percentage of the income earned.

The younger priests have reportedly become more outgoing, convinced their earning capacity overseas is tremendous, especially for those with an appealing ecclesiastical manner.

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12 Jun 00 | South Asia
Indian Christians demand protection
30 Sep 99 | South Asia
India under fire over Christian rights
06 Dec 98 | South Asia
Ayodhya anniversary passes peacefully
05 Nov 99 | South Asia
Analysis: Christians in India
02 Apr 99 | India Elections
BJP - riding the wave of Hindu nationalism
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