By: Cassandra Burris
While Hinduism is often associated with India, there are many practicing Hindus right here in Columbus, Ohio! At the Ohio History Center we are highlighting the Bhutanese-Nepali population in Columbus in our exhibit: Bhutanese-Nepali Neighbors: Photographs by Tariq Tarey. Here we have collected many stories from our Bhutanese-Nepali neighbors in order to highlight their journey to Ohio. If your class is studying biographies or stories about people this is a great exhibit to experience many different stories in one exhibit. Not only can this exhibit help create an understanding about the refugee experience, but can help students understand the religious practices of the Bhutanese-Nepali community as well. Many from the Bhutanese-Nepali community are practicing Hindus. The Bhutanese-Nepali are refugees who were forced out of their homes in Bhutan due to ethnic and religious differences. But how did a group of people who are ethnically Nepali end up in Bhutan and why do they have to leave?
Around 1620, Ngawang Namgyal (unifier of Bhutan) requested that a group of Nepali people come and settle the southern part of Bhutan. There was another migration of Nepali people in the early 19th century motivated by economics. When India gained independence in 1947, official internationally recognized boarders were drawn for Bhutan and Nepal. This legally made the ethnically Nepali people living in Bhutan officially Bhutanese citizens.
The Bhutanese-Nepali people lived in Bhutan until the 1980s when the Bhutanese government passed a series of immigration and other policies which promoted the goal of “One Nation, One People”. These policies were meant to unite the Bhutanese people, but instead ended up targeting the ethnic Nepali people. Most of the Bhutanese practice Buddhism, while many of the Bhutanese-Nepali people practice Hinduism. The Bhutanese-Nepali people also have a different traditional dress in comparison to the traditional dress of the Bhutanese people. Since the Bhutanese government wanted everyone to conform to a standardized culture, language and religion, else be deprived of government resources, this targeted the ethnically Nepali. After several failed uprisings the Bhutanese-Nepali people were forced out of Bhutan in the early 1990s and relocated to refugee camps. Many of the families came to the United States as refugees in the late 2000s after living in refugee camps in Nepal for several years. Columbus is currently home to somewhere between 18,000 and 20,000 Bhutanese-Nepali people.
Often considered one of the oldest religions on record, Hinduism dates back to as far as 4000 BCE. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, meaning there are many gods. Some of the Hindu gods and goddesses are Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, Shiva the destroyer and Ganesha, the god of new beginnings. This religion is often considered to be a way of life due to the belief in karma. Karma is a spiritual cause and effect where the actions one takes can come back in positive or negative ways. Good karma, earned by doing good deeds, helps one get reincarnated into a high form of being. Hindu life is cyclical, meaning that as a person cycles through life and death one can use those multiple lives to better one’s self each turn of the cycle. The goal is to live life so well that someday the cycle will allow one’s soul to unite with the soul of the deity. In order to live their life properly Hindus follow sacred texts, the Veda, and to live a pacifist lifestyle. Some followers even give up the consumption of meat to uphold those values.
One of the best ways to learn about any religion is through the holidays they celebrate. One holiday that Hindus celebrate is Diwali. Diwali is considered to be one of the most anticipated festivals of the year. Called the Festival of Lights, Diwali is celebrated for five days full of traditions and customs passed down for generations. Lights are very important to Diwali and can often be found burning all through the night. The Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India notes that “most civilizations of the world recognize the importance of light as a gift of God. It has always been a symbol of whatever is positive in our world of experience. To Hindus, darkness represents ignorance, and light is a metaphor for knowledge. Therefore, lighting a lamp symbolizes the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative forces- wickedness, violence, lust, anger, envy, greed, bigotry, fear, injustice, oppression and suffering, etc.“
If you would like to visit the Ohio History Center with your students and learn about Hinduism or the Bhutanese-Nepali people through real photographs and stories, reservations for school field trips can be made through [email protected] or call 614.297.2663 or 800.686.1541.
This exhibit will be on display until Sun., Jan. 7, 2018
Discussion Question (K-3rd grade):
If you invited a friend to join in a family tradition, what would they learn about you?
Discussion Question (2nd-4th grades):
How do people’s life stories teach us about history?
Discussion Question (6th-8th grades):
How may being Hindu affect everyday life for the Bhutanese-Nepali people and the traditions they have?
Research Question (6th-8th grades):
What are some ways that Hinduism and Buddhism compare and contrast?
For more on the Bhutanese-Nepali people: https://www.bccoh.org/
For more on Hinduism: https://www.ancient.eu/hinduism/
For more on Diwali: http://www.diwalifestival.org/