The Hindu Santa 'Clause'

Indian men disguised as Santa Claus offer traditional Hindu prayers after taking a holy dip in the Sangam, confluence of thre
Indian men disguised as Santa Claus offer traditional Hindu prayers after taking a holy dip in the Sangam, confluence of three rivers, the Ganga, the Yamuna and Saraswati on the occassion of Christmas in the northern Indian city of Allahabad on December 24, 2011. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

That festive "Holiday" season is again upon us. As I've mentioned in an earlier HuffPost blog, "Diaspora Hinduism and the December Dilemma," the season is a challenging one for members of the Hindu Diaspora.

Diaspora Hindus often reflect upon the degree to which they and their children have acculturated ("the process of adapting to the norms of the dominant culture") or assimilated ("adaptation status in which individuals absorb the culture of the dominant group while they reject the norms of the heritage culture"). Remarkably, the assimilation and acculturation issues faced by Diaspora Hindus were anticipated in the Visnu Purana (4.24.70-97) wherein it is observed: "People will follow the customs of others and will be adulterated with them." This passage is found in a set of passages concerning the traditional story of the four yugas (ages). According to this narrative, the universe proceeds through a cycle of four yugas. These yugas -- namely, Krta (the first), Treta (second), Dvapara (third) and Kali (fourth age) -- are distinguished by the degree to which the sentient beings of the universe adhere to dharma (law or proper behavior). In Krta-yuga, dharma was upheld, while in Kali-yuga , it is ignored. Current times, not surprisingly, are believed to be Kali-yuga . And the acculturation and assimilation of Diaspora Hindus into a largely Christian country is, as per this lens, proof of the inevitable and unavoidable decline and dissolution of dharma. And this, of course, was predicted as evident in the astute passage from the Visnu Purana.

With this sense of impending doom and apocalypse in Kali-yuga, Hindus are permitted (or excused) for their transgressions. Hindus who have gone (or who have been led) astray are merely breaking the rules because of the crisis of modernity, globalization, immigration and the complexity of a situation that is beyond their control in which all traditional rules have disintegrated. They are only following (or attempting or aspiring to follow) dharma (dutiful behavior) in the time of extremity (apad-dharma ), preeminently exemplified in Kali-yuga. This stipulation, this clause, this loophole in the contract of dharma thus permits Diaspora Hindus to (reluctantly) assimilate and acculturate.

It thus follows that, in the current festive "Holiday" season, it would be reasonable to invoke the Santa "Clause" as a justification for embracing the legendary, mythic, white-bearded, plump, gift-giving, philanthropist, who is the implementer and remunerator of justice.

So, Disapora Hindus can and do have a Santa Claus(e).

And if a conscientious Diaspora Hindu seeks to re-invent Santa Claus to be a Hindu phenomenon, then I would suggest that applying nirukta (etymological derivation of Sanskrit words) to the compound Santa-claus may be fruitful...

After all, "Santa Claus" can be rendered as "Shanta-klosha ," or "By whom the crying was pacified."

And it is in this spirit, in the spirit of Shanta, of pacifying, in the spirit of a skillful means, in the spirit of the imaginary figure who soothes our (imaginary?) souls, in the spirit of strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hands, that I would invite Hindus (Diaspora and otherwise), Christians, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists -- all sentient beings, really -- to embrace, uphold, strive for and celebrate peace in the world.

Sarvesham Svasti Bhavatu
May auspiciousness be unto all;
Sarvesham Shantir Bhavatu
May Peace be unto all;
Sarvesham Purnam Bhavatu
May fullness be unto all;
Sarvesham Mangalam Bhavatu
May prosperity be unto all;
Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
May all be happy;
Sarve Santu Niramayah
May all be free from disabilities;
Sarve Bhadrani Pashyantu
May all behold what is auspicious;
Ma Kaschid-Duhkha-Bhag-Bhavet
May none suffer from sorrow...

With all good wishes in this festive "holiday" season,


  • Both definitions of "acculturation" and "assimilation" are taken verbatim from Bryan S. Kim "Acculturation and enculturation of Asian Americans: A primer" in Asian American Psychology: Current Perspectives , Nita Tewari, Alvin N. Alvarez, eds. (NY: Psychology Press, 2009) 110.
  • Translation of passage from the Visnu Purana from Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen's Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978, p. 41.
  • Shanta-klosha " taken as a Bahuvrihi samasa: shantah klosha yena sah