Gurus and Immigrants: How Hinduism Came to America - Essay Prowess

Gurus and Immigrants: How Hinduism Came to America


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Gurus and Immigrants: How Hinduism Came to America


The Immigration fuelled the America’s Hindu population to a tune of estimated 2.23 million in 2014, which was about 85.8 percent increase from the year 2007 (Times of India, 2015). This according to Religious Landscape Study places the Hinduism religion as the fourth largest religion considering figures from wide-ranging studies of religions in the United States (Times of India, 2015). So how did Hinduism came to America?

The history of Hinduism in America is old dating back to the nineteenth with the attendance of number spokespersons at the legislative house of the region in Chicago. Swami Vivekananda, who was a follower of Ramakrishna, possessed oratory ability and vibrant personality that earned him nationwide popularity. After parliament, he managed to set up Vedanta Society, which prides itself as the first Hindu group in America (Beckerlegge, 2006). This set ground for the formation of other groups with approximately 50 groups being formed in years that followed. Currently, nearly every America Hindu group is a representation of either older groups formed by the Renaissance or slightly newer groupings, which came to being later. Some of the widely recognized clusters include International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Integral Yoga Institute as well as the Divine Light Mission (Bird & Reimer, 1982). However, Hindu’s emigration to America did not have a great impact until the 1960’s. The growth of the modern Hinduism in America can be attributed to rising in study of comparative religions in education institutions, cross-fertilization between Americans sailors to the Indian sub continent and the increase in a the total population of gurus (religious teachers) who migrated from India, settling in the US (Pechilis, 2004).

Hindus are majorly located in India, making up to 80 percent of the population in their place of origin. Few of the Indians had emigrated to the United States prior to 1960 with estimates showing there were less than 15,000 people who had migrated from the Indian subcontinent to the United States. However, in years that followed new streams of Hindu religious life started flocking to the country. The term guru, which means religious teacher, started gaining prominence in all spheres. The years leading to 1970 saw many gurus emigrating from India to America with almost all of them getting a chance to attract a following (Versluis, 2014). While some came and left quickly, there are some who settled in the new country’s landscape and their influence is still there up to date.
Among the earliest arrivers was the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who was a learner getting teachings from Shankar, and who turn out to be the guru of the Beatles founding a worldwide mediation society for students in the year 1965. He is known for popularizing a meditation discipline, which he called Transcendental meditation, which he emphasized, was not Hindu but scientific and universal. This movement is still in existence today and is described as secular and not specifically Hindu Form (Iwamura, 2010).

Another guru who came to America in the 1960s and who was very different from Yogi was Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada who came under instructions from his instructor in India to take with him the message of Krishna. His story is incredible just from arriving almost without a penny in New York where chanted “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” in Tomkins Square Park. It took him just a few months to manage to open storefront temple on Second Avenue making history as the first Krishna place of worship for the global Society for Krishna Consciousness (Tweed & Prothero, 1999). Unlike the previous groups focusing on meditation, this was characteristically bhakti elegance of Hinduism which underscored the sacred love and worship of Lord Krishna.
Many other gurus continued to arrive between 1960s and 1970s. Swami Satchidananda is one of the leaders who shaped the Hinduism spiritual trend in America. He was situated at Woodstock in 1969 where he gave talks and later taught Yoga in rural Virginia, which had become headquarters of Yoga internationals. Swami Rama is well remembered for his demonstration of charitable fleshly control of Yoga at the research branch of the Menninger Foundation and also for starting the Himalayan institute in Honesdale, which was intentioned to get together East and Wests in practicing of All-inclusive well-being and yoga (Tweed & Prothero, 1999).

The spread of Hinduism in America was also contributed by the America-born seekers in the 1970s became gurus. Examples include Richard Alpert who was psychology professor at Harvard University who eventually ended up a teacher, basing his teaching on both Hindu and Buddhist dharma is his articulation of training of service in an association known as Seva or “Service.” Joyce green, who was a homemaker from the Jewish community, is another one who not only developed to a student but also a staunch devotee of Christ, Swami Nityananda and Neem Karoli Baba and her teaching was directed towards service and particular towards victims of AIDS (In Gleig & In Williamson, 2013).

All these development have led to the Hinduism continuing to increase in America day by day. The presence of many temples in the country is a prove of this with over 450 Hindu temples spread all over the country. The earliest informal temples were erected from 1906 by Vedanta society. The earliest traditional Hindu temple is Shiva Murugan Temple, Concord CA, which came to being in 1957 and which, is one of the few temples run by public in form of elected members. Other prominent temples include Malibu Hindu temple, which was erected in 1981 in Calabasas, owned and managed by the Hindu Temple Society of Southern California.


The history of Hinduism in the United States dates back to the late 19th century but it is not until 1960’s that these religious groups started getting roots in America. The 1960’s saw many gurus (teachers) settling in America which fueled the spread of Hinduism. Various gurus made a landmark contribution to the spread of Hinduism. The American-born seekers like Richard Alpert and Joyce green further contributed to the spread of Hinduism by becoming gurus. Other factors that have contributed to spread of Hinduism over time includes rise in study of comparative religions in education institutions, cross-fertilization between Americans sailors to India. Currently the Hinduism is well established in America with hundreds of temples spread across the country.


Beckerlegge, G. (2006). Swami Vivekananda’s legacy of service: a study of the Ramakrishna math and mission. Oxford University Press.
Bird, F., & Reimer, B. (1982). Participation rates in new religious and para-religious movements. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1-14
In Gleig, A., & In Williamson, L. (2013). Homegrown gurus: From Hinduism in America to American Hinduism.
Iwamura, J. (2010). Virtual orientalism: Asian religions and American popular culture. Oxford University Press.
Kurien, P. (2015). 9 Hinduism in the United States. Hinduism in the Modern World, 143.
Pechilis, K. (2004). The graceful guru: Hindu female gurus in India and the United States. New York: Oxford university press.
Times of India (2015). Fueled by immigration, Hinduism becomes fourth-largest faith in US. Retrieved from on 18th April, 2016
Tweed, T. A., & Prothero, S. R. (1999). Asian religions in America: A documentary history. Oxford University Press, USA.
Versluis, A. (2014). American gurus: From American transcendentalism to new age religion.