Concerning baptism, people of Indian descent have been obliged to officially perform this Christian rite at church, but they have further associated it with Hindu rites and practices performed privately at home, to bring auspiciousness to their child’s life. The Hindu ceremony corresponding to this consists in the shaving of the child’s hair, to rid him of his potential bad luck in the future. Parents also chose the first letter of the child's second name according to Hindu astrology to give him or her an auspicious name.

Marriage, a crucial institution of Hindu life, is also officially performed at church, but is similarly surrounded with numerous Hindu conceptions an4 auspicious practices such as the choice of the date and the hour of the marriage according to Hindu astrology. The valorization of the girl's virginity (another strong Indian value) is expressed by wearing a white diadem on her forehead. Among other features that maintain Indian patterns, there is the official encounter of the two families contracting a marriage at the girl's parent's house; the ostentation of a big and prestigious marriage; the fact that the future husband must already possess a house before daring to propose the marriage, etc.

Concerning funerals, they are publicly catholic, performed at the church and at the cemetery, but they are systematically preceded and followed by Hindu rites in the private space of the home. Hindu attitudes can for instance be found in the touching of the feet of the dead to recognize him as superior and to ask his/her protection, in the discrete throwing of some coins, some flowers and sometime some rice in the hole of the grave before its closing, in the ritual washing of hands and feet with saffron-water and, of course, in the Hindu fast and purifying self-sacrifice following the relative's death.

About the ancestor cult, what can appear from outside as a renouncing to the tradition is in reality experienced by people of Tamil descent as a contextually marked behavior. The rite, performed during the official Christian day for the dead in the host society (November lst), falls into two parts: one is public, at the cemetery, and uses the symbols of the Christian religion, such as the flowers and the candies placed on the grave; the other is private and only for the family members, at home, and uses camphor in a Hindu ceremony. In this, the father acts as a priest and recites prayers in the names of all the members of the family who have been purified by a fast of almost one week. At the ceremony's close, foods preferred by the husband and wife's ancestors is placed on different leaves, and is offered to the spirits (in the

empty living room, scrupulously cleaned and purified for this event) before being consumed by the family.

These examples show that the explicit practice of Christian customs never excluded the underlying maintenance of Hindu beliefs. These beliefs have been - and still are - learned implicitly during the first socialization within the family. Contrary to the Christian religion, whose apprenticeship occurs officially during the second socialization in this society, there is no explicit teaching of Hinduism. Hindu patterns of behavior are integrated, without any questioning, and are simply taken for granted. Despite the absence of contacts for more than one century between the descendants of the Tamil immigrants in La Réunion and India, the main patterns of Hinduism have been scrupulously conserved by families ~f strict Tamil descent in this island, even if the full theological knowledge is not known (but we can wonder if a full religious knowledge is really the case in India itself!). Actually, the main particularity of Hinduism in La Réunion is that it has no institutional connections with the global society.

Hinduism in La Réunion is a folk religion, strongly connected with the idea of protection, a protection against many things, notably the evil eye and the negative forces of the visible and invisible world. The Hindu attitude is always considered as auspicious and provides the normal way to manage the difficulties and problems of everyday life as well as an unlucky fate. As it is often the case in India, individuals are inclined to personally turn towards God to find a solution to their problems. I cannot enter here into the details of such religious practices, but I would like to mention the main living patterns of the Hindu religious attitude in this French island that are the sense of sacrifice and purification leading to a frequent fast destined to turn things into one's favor. Fasting (through the abstinence from meat, from sexual relations, from any physical contact with those not fasting, etc.) is a means to realize one's vows by renouncing one's potential pleasure. Restricting oneself also purifies and brings one nearer to God.


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Copyright © Christian GHASARIAN - 2002