Modern Hindu Groups and Leaders
Main Groups in the UK
There are many different Hindu groups in the UK, and it would be misleading to consider one as more representative than another. Nonetheless, while keeping this in mind, it is important to know and teach about the main ones, briefly described below.
Swami Narayana Mission
Swami Narayana Hindus are largely from Gujarat and follow teachers in the line from Sahajananda Swami (1781–1830), considered by his followers as an incarnation of God. The group claims heritage from the Shri Sampradaya of Vaishnavism. There are now various Swami Narayana sampradayas reflecting different views on the identity of the guru and the genuine line of succession. The largest is the Swami Narayana Mission, whose current leader is Pramukh Swami (right) and whose centre is a magnificent traditional temple in Neasden, London. Another major group, looking to the leadership of Acharya Tejendraprasad Pande, is based in Willesden Lane, London.
The Hare Krishna Movement (ISKCON)
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a strand of Gaudiya (Bengali) Vaishnavism following the bhakti saint Chaitanya (1486–1534), considered an incarnation of Radha and Krishna. He opposed the rigid caste system by widely popularising the congregational chanting of the Hare Krishna Mantra and by creating brahmanas from those born of lower varnas. His theology was developed by the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana and consolidated by Baladeva. The Bengali saint, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who appeared in the line of succession from Chaitanya, founded ISKCON in 1966. The Society’s UK Headquarters are at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire.
The Ramakrishna Mission was founded by the Bengali saint, Vivekananda Swami (1863–1902) in the name of his guru, Ramakrishna (1836–1886). It teaches the advaita version of Vedanta coming from Shankara. It is headed by a well-disciplined and organised body of sannyasis. It is still particularly popular in Bengal. Its UK Headquarters is near Slough in Berkshire.
The Pushti Marg (path of nourishment) tradition descends from the bhakti revivalist Vallabha (1479–1531). Its followers worship Krishna in his form as an infant and as Nathji, holding up the Govardhana Hill. Most of its members are from the Lohana jati (community) from Gujarat. They believe that entering the Lord’s nitya-lila (eternal pastimes) is a higher goal then even liberation. They are largely represented by a group called the Shree Vallabha Nidhi. There are several successions from Vallabha, and a popular guru who visits Britain regularly is a lady called Indira Bettiji.
The Arya Samaj
Members of the Arya Samaj follow the teachings of the reformer Dayananda Sarasvati (1824–1883) who rejected the practices of caste and murti worship. The main ceremony performed is the havan (sacred fire) ceremony. The Arya Samaj remain influential worldwide and in Britain, where most followers come from the Punjabi community.
Visiting Holy People
Many holy people from India regularly visit the UK. Murari Bapu (right), who speaks from the Ramayana, is most popular with worshippers of Rama. Rameshbai Oza is famous for his bhagavat-katha, a recital of the Bhagavat Purana (see The Puranas) which usually lasts seven days and is attended by thousands. Many other sadhus (holy men) frequently visit the UK. Many temples also rely on India for priests to perform their regular worship. Musicians, dancers, and other performers also regularly visit Britain.
Other Hindu and Hindu-related Groups
There are several organisations which do not always classify themselves as Hindu but which are somehow related. These include the Satya Sai Baba Organisation, headed by Sai Baba. He was born in 1926 in India and is considered a reincarnation of the saint Kabir. The organisation understands itself as a spiritual organisation which embraces all faiths. It has centres throughout the world.
Transcendental Meditation rose to popularity in the 1960s under the leadership of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (right). He taught mantrameditation that remains popular today. Many other Hindu-related groups became popular during the same period, including Rajneesh (1931–1990), whose movement is now called “Osho.” The numerous yoga organisations in Britain also derive much theory and practice from Hindu scripture. A popular group is The Divine Life Society with its Shivananda Vedanta Yoga Centres.
There is no single representative organisation for Hindus in the UK, though the National Council for Hindu Temples (NCHT) has perhaps the widest membership. In 1994 it was instrumental in forming the Hindu Council of the UK, which now appears to be becoming a leading voice for Hindus in the UK. The national branch of the VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad) has centres throughout the UK. There are also regional umbrella groups and numerous groups based on caste, regional, or linguistic affiliations, or performing some type of charity work.
Other Prominent Groups and Centres
There are many other organisations in the UK. For details of further groups, please consult Religions In The UK – A Multi-faith Directory published by The University of Derby in conjunction with the Interfaith Network.
“God’s grace is like a strong wind that’s always blowing. But we have to raise our own sails.”
“The Indian people are forgetting their glorious tradition, their culture, their religion and it is a big problem for the children’
Eight Types of Hindu Figures
- Deities (God/Goddess and gods and goddesses)
- The ancient rishis (seers), including the Seven Rishis
- Mythological figures (may also be historical)
- Theologians and founders of sampradayas
- The bhakti saints
- Socio-political leaders and reformers
- Recent cultural and religious leaders
- Contemporary gurus and leaders