Interview with Mr. Sinniah Sivagnanasuntharam, former secretary of the sri-lankan Hindu community „Berlin Hindu Mahasabai e.V“
How many Hindus are currently living in Berlin and where are they coming from?
We estimate that about 6000 Hindus are living in Berlin. They derive from a range of countries: India and Sri Lanka are the most prominent ones but there are also some coming from Afghanistan. But one should not forget German converts.
What were the reasons for the migration?
I can only speak for the Tamil-speaking Hindu community: Most of us came as asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka to Germany in the late 1970s and mid 1980s. As you know, at that point of time, a brutal civil war stroke Sri Lanka and especially the Hindu community had to face immense political violence and utter acts of discrimination. So, the reason why we came here is simple: We were looking for live in peace and not being persecuted because we are Hindus.
What kind of effects has had the process of migration on your religious life?
Well, there was no temple or other particular place that was made for Hindu worship here in Germany, because Hindus had had simply no tradition in Central Europe. As other religions, Hinduism mainly came to Germany by immigrants. And this very circumstance had a direct effect on our religious life since we had to develop our own religious infrastructure here. I only remember that there was a strong spiritual need among us asylum-seekers in the first time after we had settled down in Germany.
|Even though we had no own temple-buildings at that point of time, we worshipped our gods. In my opinion the term “temple” has three meanings: first the outer world that surrounds us is a temple, second we can find the temple in our homes and domestic shrines and third it is our body that I count as the inner temple.|
However, in the first years after arrival – especially in the early 1980s – many of us attended churches as places for worship and to sate our spiritual needs. For Hindus, churches are equal places of worship. But after this very beginning here in Berlin, there was a second phase, mainly between 1986 and 1992. In this period we often celebrated our fests and rites at our homes. This situation deeply changed when we opened our temple rooms in a cellar at Urbanstrasse, Kreuzberg, in 1992. That was our first own temple here in Berlin.
Will there be any changes in this actual situation?
Yes, we are currently planning to build a new temple in Berlin Neukölln at Blaschkoallee. As our present temple, it will be dedicated to Lord Murugan, who is one of the most popular deities among Tamil Hindus. Apart from this, there is currently a large temple under construction. The Sri Ganesha Hindu Tempel is constructed at Hasenheide, Berlin. This one will be dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed well-known deity. It will be the second biggest in Europe, only being topped by the Hindu temple in Birmingham, England.
Which kind of rituals are you practicing in your temples? Is it for Hindus only?
No, the temple is a place for all people. We warmly welcome anyone, who likes to worship. Our temple is a meeting place of the three worlds of physical, astral and of light and sound.
Are Hindus in Germany accepted by authorities and the public?
We are glad that the authorities and the public widely accept and support our religious life and our construction plans. I only want to give you one example: Since the Hindu temple in Hamm (Nordrhein-Westfalen) was opened, the yearly procession has been attended by worshippers and interested public alike. Perhaps, it has something to do with the fact that all our rituals have a value for the whole society. Just imagine the effect of burning herbs for cleaning the atmosphere as well as the astral inner bodies and the souls. Another fact is that when we celebrate our festivities and rituals no alcohol or any kind of meat, fish or eggs is allowed. We are expected to be strictly vegetarian and do not harm anybody if we have to improve our quality of life.
How are the Hindus in Germany structured? Exist there any umbrella-organisation that unites all Hindus?
In opposite to other religious groups that came here by migration, Hindus do not have any kind of national organisation in Germany yet. There is no organisation our council that offers an amalgamation of the many religious groups, which represent all Hindus. We are mostly organised on a local level but have contact to other communities on a regular base
And how is the local community structured?
The Tamil-speaking community in Berlin is led by two priests, the servants of god. The priests mostly come from Brahmin families. As well-trained and ordained priests, they are able to perform the rituals. Presently there are two priests from Tamilnadu, India. They are here on two years agreement with working permit. Besides that, there is an organising committee, which I belong to. We maintain the temple and organise the gatherings and festivities.
Are your community participate in intercultural or interreligious meetings?
Yes, our community regularly takes part in inter-religious meetings on a local base. These meetings take place in an ecumenical church in Kreuzberg. Many groups of other religions occasionally visit our temple.
There are ongoing debates on religious education in schools. Exist there something like instructions on Hinduism for Hindu pupils in German schools?
No, there exists no curriculum in German schools for Hindu pupils. But if there will be something like this in future, I suggest that we have to adapt the traditional Hindu teachings, which originally were set in the agricultural environment of South Asia, for our times. That means in other words, that we need to adjust Hindu beliefs and rites on the technological age we are living in. It has to be more rational and well in accordance to new sciences. I’m quite optimistic that we get our course.
What is your vision on Hinduism in Germany in the year 2020?
It is always hard to make a prognosis, but I think Hinduism will become a vital part of religious pluralism in Germany. There will be Hindus in Germany in 2020 and after. However, there might be changes happening: the second and third generation that follows the first-generation migrants will be more German-speaking. I truly hope that they will not deny their roots, but they will be German-speaking, perhaps even in religious life. But that’s alright, because it is not the language that is important in Hindu belief and rituals but the practical dimension of religion. I guess we will find a Hinduism here that is more like that one that can be found in today’s California; a Hinduism that shows that there is no contradiction between modern age and religion. But more important it shows that Hinduism definitely is a religion for the 21st century. Many Hindu ideals, believes and techniques as yoga meditation, vegetarianism, monogamy and family life are finding a way through the life of many even in this country. Hinduism is a way of life which encourages integration of minds and souls – and there will be a need for it in future as there is one today.
Ulf Plessentin interviewed Mr. Sivagnanasuntharam in April 2008.
Pictures from http://mayurapathy-murugan-berlin.com/