I am sharing content regularly this month on various platforms, including Innov8social, LinkedIn, The Impact Podcast, and, here, on Medium — depending on where it fits. This piece is one I began drafting in 2013, when I had my sweet pup, Bella.
Like heirlooms, estates, or treasured signature recipes — families often pass on religion with care. Special schools, often convening on days of repose, are attended and coming-of-age rituals are observed. Trips are made to motherlands, native places, and religious centers. Stories are told, seminal texts read, referenced, or mentioned — and auspicious days celebrated, often with commemorative cuisines and festive attire.
Within it all there is a spectrum, a range, a slider bar signifying adoption of religion according to an accepted baseline. Some uphold traditions with precise devotion — following the minutia of modes and manners practiced by generations preceding with gusto. Still others, a camp in which my family falls, are more interpretive, placing generous emphasis on the expression of the relationship to their faith as “practice”.
It helps, in understanding my family’s perspective, that Hinduism has often had a certain elasticity. Or perhaps, our version of it. Stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata were shared from a young age and festivals attended, garba (circle dance during the nine-day festival of Navaratri) always a special time of year. Though you will find individuals identifying with this religion who adopt a number of culinary criteria — vegetarian, vegan, vegetarian on certain days, certain kinds of meats only, not certain kinds of vegetables — increasingly there doesn’t seem to be a singular gold standard. Vegetarianism was my introduction to food as an infant, became the chosen option in school when I shared the lunch table with chicken subs and tuna sandwiches, and has become something of my own as I move closer to veganism in adulthood.
My parents shared a broad view of our religion and of others. My mother spent the formative years of her childhood education at a boarding school in a quaint hill station outside the city of Pune, two hours southeast of Mumbai. It was a Catholic school run by nuns. My father moved to the US from a suburb of Mumbai in the formative years of his adulthood as an undergraduate. He met, roomed, and shared adventures, often resulting in hilarity, with students from far corners of the globe, whose internationality in a foreign land formed a kind of bonding faith of its own.
I myself have been curious about spirituality in the abstract. Hinduism has suited well in that respect — I like the ideas of the looping of existence and essence through reincarnation and the general belief of a universal oneness manifested in various forms. Just like with the culinary inclinations associated with practitioners of the faith, there doesn’t seem to be a singular marking that demarcates every person who stands under the umbrella of Hinduism. In fact, it is often fascinating to find such motley company under said oversized umbrella.
Though, be it noted, I would not be the first to line up to take a challenge to identify the many deities and recap their stories with accuracy. The customs of my born-into and re-confirmed faith are not indelibly etched so that I do not forget them. I mean to say, I forget them. Regularly. Thankfully, though, my typing speed and searching skills are somewhere on par with my forgetfulness. So within a short a time and through a few Wikipedia queries and a thousand tabs of supporting blogs, articles, YouTube clips, Reddit threads, Insta stories, quotes, and image searches can help rebuild recall.
College and life in general have facilitated exposure to other religions and practices with similar holistic views of faith. I have attended Mass with friends, watched a close friend perform one of her five daily prayers in the direction of Mecca, spun a dreidel to celebrate the season, been amazed by the interior and solitude within the walls of a Gurudwara, shared evening prayers with over a hundred Jain schoolchildren, and have been curious about Sufism, especially after reading Khalil Gibran’s masterpiece “The Prophet”. There can be a simple beauty in seeing the practice of faith — that makes it feel all more familiar than distinct.
I have also been drawn by the quiet, introspect aspects of Buddhism. The story of Siddhartha Gautama is at once fascinating, with one influencing account on the subject having been famously written by a German-born Swiss poet.
So, I guess what I’m trying to ask is — is my dog Hindu?
Offspring are exposed, can choose, to accept and continue the given religion — or discard and choose their own adventure. I too, feel the burden of the question of passing on religion to a four-legged family member, whom I adopted at the adorable age of six months old.
Bella the pup is older now, having recently celebrated her fourth birthday, and is arguably old enough to critically regard matters of faith. I don’t know that I’ve been a good role model in that respect — she has never been to a mandir or any place of worship, but has celebrated Diwali. She isn’t vegetarian — and in fact takes every opportunity to scavenge for bones in the most unlikely places — but has tasted turmeric and even jaggery (often used in religious ceremonies, or ‘pujas’). She has barked at women wearing saris and the UPS delivery guy — but has done so with equal regard to their spiritual beliefs.
A part of me likes the idea of her sharing my faith, or having one of her own. In times of great celebration as well as great difficulty, there can be a certain solace in the thought that this is not all there is, that we are humbled to be part of something far greater than our comprehension, and that there is some guidance in processing life’s enduring mysteries such as love, loss, and letting go.
With that thought in mind, I am going to put it out there. Bella is part of my spiritual belief system. She is Hindu and is welcome to identify with any other faith as well. There isn’t a rite of passage we will go through to formalize this, but as we continue to navigate our lives together, I will pull her under my oversized umbrella of spirituality, if for no other reason than to hold her closer for a little longer. Until, of course, she picks up the enchanting whiff of tossed chicken bones near a trash can. All bets are off at that point.
If you liked this piece on little Bella, you may (or may not) want to read this one.