Lingraj Temple, Orissa.
It's quite common knowledge that many of the major Hindu temples in India don't allow non-Hindus, particularly foreigners, to enter. The main reasons are because they may do something disrespectful or because of their personal habits (for example, eating beef). Basically non-Hindus are considered impure.
However, I was shocked to learn that a friend of mine got turned away from the Lingraj Temple in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, yesterday because she didn't look or sound Indian (and thus Hindu) enough. My friend is of Indian descent and was born in Australia to Hindu parents. She has an Indian Hindu name, and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Card which she showed at the Temple. Yet, they still refused her entry, and said they'd only let her in if a policeman said she was Hindu.
At the police station, my friend was asked to prove that she was Hindu. After showing the police her OCI card, they laughed and said she was neither Indian or Hindu. They wanted to see a document that said she was Hindu, despite not having such a document for themselves.
Unfortunately, this wasn't an isolated incident. My friend also encountered a similar problem at the Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, where she was put through a 25 minute inquisition to prove her "Hinduness". She was also questioned about whether she was Hindu at the Vadakkunathan Kshetram Temple in Thrissur, Kerala. However, after showing proof of her name, she was allowed to enter.
Interestingly, she visited the Guruvayur Temple (a famous Krishna temple in Kerala) dressed in a sari, as per the temple's dress code, and was allowed to enter without issue as she blended into the crowd.
Naturally, my friend has been quite shocked by how she's been treated. She wonders, in this world of global migration and choice, how is one supposed to "prove" that they are Hindu?
If you are Hindu but were born overseas or have lived abroad for an extended period, and look and sound like a foreigner, do make sure you carry appropriate identification with you when visiting important Hindu temples in India. Also, consider dressing in traditional clothes even where there isn't a requirement to do so, to avoid being denied entry to temples or challenged.
If you'd like to go on the temple trail in India, this vacation planner of India's temples is a good place to get some ideas.
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