The Hindu diaspora is adding a new element to Europe’s unprecedented religious diversity, with temples now open in several countries, according to Hinduism Today (January/March).
Still, Hindu temples on the European mainland resemble mandirs in North America 30 years ago: while beautiful, purpose-built edifices with traditional architecture are now being built across the continent, most European temples remain located in cellars or converted industrial halls and warehouses. While no statistics are provided, the magazine reports that the largest Hindu population in Continental Europe is now found in France, where 300,000-400,000 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka have reportedly settled.
Netherlands may come in second, with some 200,000 Hindus, half of them from Suriname (South America), a former Dutch colony where they had originally been imported as laborers. In Italy, there are more than 100,000 Hindus today. Professor Martin Baumann (University of Lucerne, Switzerland), estimates the Hindu population in Germany at some 100,000, with nearly half of them being Sri Lankan Tamils and three-quarters of them German citizens.
What is most striking is the diversity of the Hindu population in Europe: beside Hindus from India and Sri Lanka, there are organized communities of Hindus from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mauritius, Bali (Indonesia), and even Gujarati communities from Mozambique (a former Portuguese colony) in Portugal. In the Czech Republic, in contrast with other European countries, a majority of Hindus are said to be native people who have embraced Hinduism, with only a tiny percentage of immigrants, according to the article. Beside those who arrived in Europe as refugees, many immigrants planned to stay in Europe for a limited time before returning home, but finally settled there.
Like other immigrant religious groups, Hindus in Europe are facing typical challenges of integration and changes coming with second and subsequent generations. At least one temple in Germany has started to host interfaith marriages. In the Netherlands, where the level of education among Hindus is high, most Hindu families have at least one “interracial marriage.” While Hindus are free to worship in all European countries, legal recognition has been introduced in several countries; the Italian Hindu Union enjoys full legal recognition since February 2013, with Hindu marriages recognized by law and Hindu employees granted Diwali as a paid holiday.
In several cases, achieving such status requires some level of organization across individual Hindu groups in pressing for such rights.
(Hinduism Today, 107 Kaholalele Road, Kapaa, HI 96746-9304 – http://www.hindu.org).