| The current situation of Hinduism
on the island is thus one of constant (overt or covert) dissension between old and new
religious perspectives. People of Tamil descent in La Réunion today face an important
dilemma emerging from within: to reform or not to reform their ancestral practices, to
adopt or not to adopt a new form of Hinduism that is not that of their ancestors and
elders and that comes from "outside" what is now their society. The interesting
anthropological point of this new approach to Hinduism is that, in its apparent
discontinuity, it still expresses a need to adapt to the global society. Yet, this time,
subject to the general western outlook of this French island and its overt disapproval of
animal sacrifices, the adaptation appears to reach a point that the elders never wanted to
reach. Folk Hinduism is now regarded froru within as the whole society has always been
inclined to perceive it: a violent religion based upon numerous superstitions. Besides,
like in India, the new reference to a Brahmanic Hinduism is of course more valorizing - in
the Hindu scale of value -than the folk one, too evidently expressing low caste origins. A
respectable external Indianness is now strongly emphasized but this emphasis, tangibly
expressed in the wearing of Indian clothes once prohibited, is restricted to specific
social contexts like Indian music concerts and attendance in temples, especially those run
by Brahmin priests. This movement, concerned with the expression of a specific cultural
and religious identity, is emerging while the island slowly opens its doors to tourism. In
this context, cultural and religious differences become consumer goods like other
specificities of the island. The striking point of this new religious attitude is that, at
the same time that an external Indianness is emphasized, Hindu practices themselves
involve less fasting, fewer restrictions and less inner commitment than those of the
senior generation who had little concern with exhibiting their Indianness.
It has been said that living traditions adapt themselves in order to survive. Like elsewhere in the world, times are changing in La Réunion and the Hindu practices must again adapt to contemporary society. Criticized in their beliefs and practices, elders point out the disorder and the confusion rising from the radical and fast shift from the ancestor's tradition to a "new tradition" coming from India. The stability of a reconstructed Hinduism on the island is, once again, endangered. The problem of adjustment is obvious when the desire to display an Indianness leads more and more people of Indian descent to engage in Hindu marriages presided over by the "imported" Brahmin priests. The wearing of a red sari entailed in those marriages, for instance, is not quite understood by the eider generation who do not see the honor and the virginity of the girl externalized without the white dress and diadem they were accustomed to. For that generation, these Christian symbols did not disturb the basic Hindu conceptions of purity and constituted a modified expression of Hinduism. Besides, in the folk Hindu tradition in La Réunion, the wearing of a white western dress had been the norm when going to the temple. In the logic of the adapted conceptions of the Hindu tradition to the cultural context of the island, white saris are sometimes worn during Hindu marriages at the temple and are also occasionally worn when ordinarily going to the temple, a thing that would never occur in India because it is there symbolically associated with mourning. Thus, what is tradition in India (red saris during marriages) becomes a problematic modernity in La Réunion and, what is the adapted tradition there (white dress at church and at the temple) has an inauspicious character in India and in its practices recently imported to the island (white saris during Hindu marriages or religious ceremonies).
The desire to show a greater Indianness than that of the eiders is actually destabilizing and even breaking the basis of the adapted Hinduism in La Réunion. Paradoxically, this deconstruction and reinvention of Indian ways on this French island refers to a "foreign" and idealized place, far away from the everyday realities of people living in this increasingly modem society. The fact is that more and more persons of Tamil descent express their intellectual position and their attainment of a good financial situation through their adhesion to this recently imported Hinduism. As this society allows more and more people to improve their level of life, one can expect that sooner or later the practice of folk Hinduism will disappear with the eider population involved in it.
It is nevertheless too soon to predict the future of the new form of Hinduism that is taking place in this French Department of the Indian Ocean. We can understand this revivalism as another effort from people of Tamil origin to adapt to the changing social and cultural contexts of a society that is no longer a host society but their own society.
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