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History of Hinduism in Switzerland

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and shapes the lives, feelings and thoughts of around 1000 million Hindus, mainly on the Indian subcontinent, but also in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bali, Mauritius and other Asian countries. In Switzerland, Hindus make up about 60,000 people or 0.7% of the population.

Hinduism is enormously diverse in terms of faith, theology and way of life of different traditions. This is also true of Hinduism in Switzerland, where we find not only a strong representation of Tamil Hindus but also believers with origins in India and Nepal, as well as Swiss people who have turned to Hindu spirituality.

"Hinduism" is not a Sanskrit word, nor is it found in the Vedic scriptures. This term was coined by Persian speakers who invaded North India (12-14 century). They used the word "Hindu" to refer generally to all members of the non-Mohammedan Indian religions on the other side of the river Sindhu (Indus). Today, the collective term "Hinduism" refers to all kinds of religious currents and traditions in India.

When Hindus themselves describe their religion, they usually refer to the old, traditional term Sanatana Dharma, which means "eternal religion" or "eternal order".

Hindu thought

The first Hindu ideas are said to have come to Switzerland in the 1920s through the French writer Romain Rolland (1866-1944). The Nobel Prize winner wrote biographies of the Bengali saint Ramakrishna (1836-1886) and his disciple Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), which were also translated into German. It was Swami Vivekananda who appeared at the first session of the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, thus becoming the first great representative of Hinduism in the West.

swami vivekananda.jpg

Interest in yoga

The first yoga school in this country was founded 70 years ago. The Hungarian pianist and sculptor Elisabeth Haich moved from Budapest to Zurich in the 1940s together with her Indian husband and doctor Selvarajan Yesudian. Together they opened the first yoga school in Switzerland in 1948. Although yoga today is primarily understood as a form of relaxation and physical exercise, it still arouses the interest of many practitioners in Hinduism with the knowledge that yoga originally had a deeply religious-spiritual approach.

Gurus from India

Further Hindu impulses then came to Europe, and thus also to Switzerland, especially in the 1960s and 70s. Several spiritual teachers, gurus, came to the West to spread various forms of Hinduism and Indian spirituality. The first Indian monk to found an association in Switzerland was Swami Omkarananda, who founded the Omkarananda Ashram in Winterthur in 1966. In the early 1970s, the Osho community under the leadership of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) founded by Swami Prabhupada also spread. ISKCON, also known as the Hare Krishna Movement, has been able to establish itself well over the decades and today comprises a community of about 400 members and a circle of about 2000 friends and sympathisers. Other groups that have a community in Switzerland are Ananda Marga (since 1972), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (since 1973) and the Brahma Kumaris as well as the Sathya Sai Association (both since 1980). Not all of these communities see themselves as 'Hindu' because, as mentioned above, this term is a foreign designation. For this reason, some of these groups prefer to see themselves as successors of the Sanatana Dharma or simply as spiritual communities of Indian origin.

Buddhisten Beten
Hände halten Perlen
Hindu Tempel

Hindu culture through immigrants

In Switzerland, however, it is the refugees and migrant workers from South Asia, especially Sri Lanka, who immigrated in the 1980s and who make up the majority of Hindus. When civil war broke out in Sri Lanka in 1983 as a result of the conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority, many Tamils fled to Europe and thus also to Switzerland. In the early days, the Krishna Temple on the Zürichberg, which opened in 1980, was the first refuge for many Tamils. Over the years, various communities were formed and the first Tamil temple was opened in Basel in 1986. Further temples followed in all parts of Switzerland, with over 20 different Tamil Hindu temples in existence today.

Diversity of Hinduism

Through all these different influences, a colourful, diverse Hindu landscape has emerged in Switzerland, which is often difficult for the public to understand. After all, there is not simply one Hinduism. Nor is there one representative or one common leader, or one common holy scripture that all Hindus possess. The differences are not only related to origin, but are also evident in practice, in the deities to be worshipped and the religious school to which one feels one belongs.

It is precisely under these circumstances that the need for a Swiss umbrella organisation for Hinduism becomes clear. After all, all the different traditions, despite their different origins and practices, serve the same Sanatana Dharma, the same divine order as described in the Vedas.

In the association founded in April 2017, we invited members from all forms of Hinduism to come together under a common umbrella. Various communities have accepted this invitation and together we are working to promote contact among ourselves and make Hinduism more accessible to the general public.

Hari Om Tat Sat 


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