For an American growing up in a Roman Catholic family, Hinduism seemed exotic, foreign and fanciful. I know, and understand the Catholic Church, its practices and beliefs. My misconceptions concerning Hinduism were two-fold. Firstly, I thought of the Hindu culture as foreign and fanciful. Because it was not a culture I was accustomed to, or knew in any tangible way, my ideas about the religion were such that it did not exist in the real world. It was fantastical, works of fiction that were meant for entertainment. As I got older, I understood on a more basic level that Hinduism was a religion, a set of beliefs practiced by a group of people, not a story. This leads to the second type of misconception I faced. These misconceptions came from me imposing my own beliefs and practices on another religion. I expected that because of the way that I worshipped and prayed and fellowshipped, others did as well.
First, let us look at my misconceptions of a fanciful and outrageous religion. I expected when I attended a Hindu service that I would see something out of a storybook. I imagined gold and candles and chanting and massive statues. In my head I pictured tapestries stretching the length and height of the walls of a monumental temple structure. I pictured priests muttering chants while sitting cross-legged on mounds of pillows and people lying prone on the ground while praying. As I said, this, in my extreme ignorance, was all that I expected in my head. The reality of the service was much different.
While I was expecting all of these larger than life spaces and people, I was faced instead with practicality. The dais was indeed large, but not ridiculously so. It was pretty but not outrageous. There were bright colors and flowers and even gold, but not an obscene amount and not at a scale that made it hokey. Instead, the worship area was aesthetically pleasing and enhanced the religious experience. It was ornate but not to the point of distraction. All of these observations jarred me from my ignorance and placed me firmly into the reality of religious awareness. Hinduism is not fantastical, fictional or impractical. While it does not adhere to the beliefs that I follow, that does not make it any less real to its followers or the global religious consciousness.
The second type of misconceptions I faced were those attempting to make Hinduism more like what I know. Because my understanding of religious practices came from what I know of a limited few Christian denominations, I transferred these practices to my understanding of Hinduism. For instance, I expected that attending worship services in a traditional temple would be as essential to the Hindu religion as it is to the Catholics or Baptists. I expected that everyone would worship like my church does, through music, prayer and teaching and there would be a distinguished day of worship. I expected that everyone would be dressed in what we teasingly refer to as “their Sunday best.” I also assumed that every religion, including Hinduism, would worship like mine does. Similarly I assumed that in every religion, worship of God(s) was an essential component just as it is in my church. Again, in my extreme ignorance, these were my expectations. And again, the reality is quite different.
Firstly, the Hindu Temple is not the only place of worship for Hindis. While the Temple is one place to worship, Hindis can also use in home shrines to achieve