Wednesday, January 21, 2009

[Regina Walton's Expat Interviews] Hinduism in Korea

Here is the third part on religion in Korea.

Hinduism in Korea

This is the third part in a series looking into religion in Korea. The first objective is to give expatriates a springboard from which to develop spiritually. Feature articles have examined Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and will examine Islam, Judaism, Sikhism. - Ed.

Hinduism, non-existent in Korea not too long ago, has become less a rarity. Growing trade between Korea and countries where Hinduism is practiced has resulted in more of those nations' nationals calling Korea their home for business reasons. Add to that the thousands of migrant workers from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and the result is thriving Hindu communities.

One of the hubs of that community is the Vedic Cultural Center. It is located in the Haebangchon neighborhood of Seoul.

I walked in at the end of their daily evening service while attendees were still saying the words of the Hare Krishna mantra. It was soothing to hear the mantra and set the tone for the rest of the interview.

I had the pleasure to speak to Kamala Roy and Mr. Arun, who asked that his full name not be used.

Roy has lived in Seoul for 12 years with her husband, who is an investor.

Mr. Arun is a senior devotee and functions as the center's operations manager.

They wanted to stress that the Vedic Center is more of a cultural center than anything else. The center opened July 2008. "There are some ceremonies that can't be done (in other places in Seoul) because there was no cultural home." Roy added that "the main intention in opening this center was to give people a place to go." At least once a month there is a special cultural or formal event like a Hindu festival or a Hindu wedding. Prior to opening the center, Roy would often host these events at her home.

"This is a place to bring people together" she said. "There are a few of us and we're like family." She went on to say that doesn't just apply to people from India, but it's also for people from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

They started off by letting me know about their scheduled Pongal celebration, which happens on Jan. 13, 14 and 15, but the center celebrated it this past weekend on Jan. 18. The celebration is based on the Hindu Lunar Calendar. "It's like our Thanksgiving Day ... This is the season where we get back the harvest to the home. Getting the harvest to the home is like money coming to the home. That's why we give thanks to the rain gods, sun gods and the land gods - everything actually. It's a very big festival."

Mr. Arun also mentioned that they will have a special event during the Lunar New Year, but at the time we spoke, the plans had not yet been finalized.

Beyond these special events, they stressed the importance of their regular schedule. There are daily Hindu services from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. There are Sunday services from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Also on Sundays, they have a special children's class from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. They stressed that the children's classes are not limited to children of Hindu parents, but that all children are welcome to attend.

"It's for anyone. We teach various things. We teach (Hindi) language. We teach culture. We teach scriptures through video. We teach some musical instruments ... Mostly Indian people come, but people have a wrong notion that it's just for Indians.

"We have Korean children also. ... We've designed a course which changes every weekend so that the children don't get bored." Roy added that they teach language. "Also, we teach them the Indian alphabet because there is Indian school (in Seoul)."

When asked to describe the center's attendee's, Mr. Arun explained that there are people from all over the world who attend. "We have people from India, Pakistan, and basically the Indian subcontinent, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. And, many, many, Americans, South Africans, Canadians, Australians and Brazils. Basically, 30 percent of the people who come here are Westerners."

They added that about 10 percent of their attendees are Korean.

The Vedic Center also has yoga classes. Mr. Arun said that they teach "various types of yoga classes," but most of the discussion focused on Sahaja yoga, which he explained "is basically a deep meditation course."

Their yoga classes are Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sahaja yoga is taught on Saturday. The classes are designed to accommodate "different levels of people." He also added: "It's a free service, because the teachers do it voluntarily, so we don't charge."

I asked them how someone interested in just learning more about Hinduism could do that. Mr. Arun suggested that those interested should visit the center on a Sunday. "For that, we have on Sunday a class, the Sunday Feast program ... with a Vedic lunch. Vedic food, vegetarian food, is Holy food without garlic and onions that fosters your meditation process.

"We give food that is good for your meditation and (allows you to) expand yourself into higher levels of yoga." Roy added that the hope is the lunch "encourages vegetarianism." Mr. Arun explained that there are two main things the center promotes: vegetarianism and meditation. To that end the center also teaches vegetarian recipes to those who are interested.

"We have a cyclic program where people can fit at any level." He also explained that the center is working to further the goal of promoting vegetarianism. "Sooner or later we're going to have a vegetarian restaurant or vegetarian market." They also have a program called "Food for Life," and they distribute vegetarian meals.

The discussion then turned to the Bhagavad Gita.

Mr. Arun explained that it's more a philosophical document than scripture. "People from all over the world think that the Bhagavad Gita is something like the Bible. It's actually a philosophical book. It teaches the way of life, how to live your life. ... It is a way of life." He distinguished Hinduism as not so much a religion but a way to live.

In addition, there are Hindu services in Pocheon in Gyeonggido. Services are held at that location on Saturday and Sunday.

You can find more information on The Vedic Center, including contact information at, e-mail, phone 010-2448-6441. Please contact the Vedic Cultural Center for information on their Lunar New Year event.

Here is a .pdf. Enjoy!

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