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The Baudhayana Sutra, one of the Hindu Dharma Shastras, says that "making voyages by sea" (II.1.2.2) is an offense which will cause pataniya, loss of caste. It offers a rather difficult penance: "They shall eat every fourth mealtime a little food, bathe at the time of the three libations (morning, noon and evening), passing the day standing and the night sitting. After the lapse of three years, they throw off their guilt."
They were supposed to practice their religion within the confines of India. Because they feared people who wanted to go abroad would pick up altogether different western dietary habits of eating beef, pork,se food, hot dog,beef burger and what not. Further, they believed that vegetable food items were rare in the western culture.
For ardent Hindus daily pooja, after morning ablution was a must and it was difficult to get pooja materials in foreign lands. Living near a river or temple would help them engage in some daily rituals, but in a strange land the harsh climate and absence of temple would not be helpful. Distractions were so much, Indians, in course of time, would start losing interest in religious practices and western life would take a grip on them.
Those Hindus who crossed the oceans would not only lose their religion and sanctity but also become a 'melachaan'( in local parlance sort of 'social out cast') in the eyes of the natives. They might even be excommunicated. This punishment is harsh in villages in those days. It means they have to spend their life in seclusion, not mixing with other people and participate in social activities. Besides, their daily life will become miserable as they will be denied access to certain public services such as grocers, milkman, washer man, barbers, et al who keep a distance from such people who have lost their religiosity.
During the British Raj when the Hindu Sepoys – soldiers of higher caste were asked to go to Burma by sea for military service, they bluntly refused to oblige the military orders of the high command on grounds of religion. However, they agreed to go to Burma by land via Assam. The British military senior officials got mad for disobedience and dereliction of duty on the part of petty soldiers. In 1856 Hindu soldiers who refused to go to Burma by sea were court- marshaled and severely punished.
After 1856, Hindus were inducted into the army only upon their written commitment to serve military abroad failing of which they would face extremely serious punishment.
The British India military high commands' over reaction to Hindus' sensibilities was also a factor for the Sepoy rebellion in the following year (1857).
Today the Hindu diaspora is responsible for the presence of fairly large Hindu communities in many countries of the world where they have built Hindu temples and need the services of trained temple priests and spiritual leaders to serve the communities. The most popular Thirupati Sri Balaji temple and some other temples train and prepare people for priesthood and send them overseas for temple jobs. But these temples here won't allow their priests who attend to daily pooja protocols to travel abroad including religious duties.
The Chidambaram Dikshithars (a subsect of Brahmins; also known as Thillai moovathars) who run the administration of the famous Sri Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu belong to a conservative community and won't allow marriage outside of their community. Nor do they allow the temple priests to go abroad for temple assignment; as for others, purification is a must upon return to native soil. Likewise, for the great Hindu religious heads and scholars of Mutts such as Sankaracharyas, Madhvacharyas and Vaishnava Acharyas - such as Jeers or Andavan Swamigal of Srirangam sea voyages or foreign trips are strictly prohibited and the Mutt traditions and regulations will not allow them.
The above practices in the olden days were prevalent among high caste Hindus in particular. There is a misconception in some foreign countries that in India, all the Hindus do not eat non vegetarian food. Mostly Brahmins and other higher cast Hindus don not eat NV food. As a matter of fact, most of the Hindus do eat NV food. However, during certain periods or months and also on certain days, they avoid NV food. Almost all Hindus avoid beef and pork. In India, Hindus consider cow as a sacred animal and it has a special status in the Hindu culture. Right from birth till death,entirely we depend on cows for our requirements of dairy products which are essential for the growth of kids.
One can practice one's religion by being true to himself and at the same time caring for others. The religious isolation in the last several centuries saw India in retrograde mode. In spite of intellectual competence in various fields in ancient India,
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Rigid Hindu religious tradition is now gradually changing in tune with the change of time and easy mobility across the globe as the Indian diaspora has a strong presence in the western countries.
( Re modified July 14, 2015)