For the context of this article, Indian culture with the Hindu religion is the focus. Yoga and other practices can belong to multiple Dharma religions and traditions like Buddhism and Jainism. The harm on one specific group can apply to all Dharma traditions as a whole.
Cultural appropriation has infiltrated our society in many ways most people don’t think about. In some ways, it’s hard to even be able to blame them. Most people don’t care about things that don’t affect them deeply.
Cultural appropriation is where one group of people who has historically disenfranchised another group of people, takes something from their culture and benefits off of it while completely disregarding where it comes from. Whether it be by making a profit, or being praised for doing it as a trend, cultural appropriation can be found in places we didn’t even know to look.
The cultural appropriation of Hinduism has been silent for a long time.
Western culture has capitalized and nearly monopolized on the appropriation of Indian religions. Consider yoga, a spiritual practice found in many Indian religions has been integrated into the billion-dollar fitness industry and sold for capital venture in the west.
So, let’s dive into it.
Holi or “The Festival of Colors” is an ancient Hindu festival that welcomes spring after winter. It is a celebration rich in music, food and culture. The main way of celebration is by smearing paint on each other and throwing colored dye into the sky. The Color Run took the beauty of Holi and turned it into the key selling point of their entire organization, without any mention of where the practice originates from.
Mehndi is another huge example, otherwise known as henna in the west. When used in western culture it is simply used as an accessory, yet the real significance is much deeper. Mehndi is applied to the hands and feet, where the nerves end, as a way of cooling down the body and relieving stress. That’s why Mehndi is a tradition for something like a wedding. As well as signifying love and prosperity in a marriage. It’s not something to look cool with. Once the west picked up on Mehndi, an abundance of fake henna like products erupted. The over saturation has made the true meaning be overlooked.
And thus, we arrive at the topic of yoga. A deeply rooted cultural tradition that has also, had its meaning overlooked. Most articles and yoga publications only display Instagram model like people with the selling point of having “balance within one’s self”. This idea is in fact connected to yoga, but it is connected a little deeper, it’s a principal of a religion. It must be thought of in a deeper sense, and not used as a slogan.
Make no mistake, this is not to say no more yoga mornings. However, consider that western society has a white washed picture of yoga and the culture in general. When the phrase “Thank you, come again” is one of the most common depictions of South Asians, rather than something beautiful like the practice of yoga, there is a huge problem. This stereotype is false, harmful and can have long lasting effects on the people of this community. The problem with Apu is that he has become the face of South Asians.
Some may say, people should be able to enjoy things. Those people aren’t wrong, but it’s time to change how society has always views things. When the only google images that come up of yoga are thin white women doing the warrior pose, the true origins are hidden. Changing that is something that needs to happen in order for us as a society to appreciate culture, rather than appropriate it.
Allies, especially white allies, stay educated in every aspect. Think of other cultures not talked much about, and take the time to learn a part of them. Education is key and there is always room to learn more about things that aren’t on the forefront of the conversation.