When people think of religion in Wales, Hinduism does not immediately spring to mind. This is because Welsh Hindus make up a relatively small number of Wales’ population, about 0.6 per cent, but also because Hinduism is of relatively recent provenance in Wales.
The vast majority of Welsh Hindus settled in Wales during the second half of the 20th century and came from a number of countries, including India and Uganda. They came in search for economic opportunities, to join family members and/or to seek a safe haven from persecution in their homelands.
Today, Wales’ Hindu population is made up of those individuals who came directly from the Indian sub-continent, descendants of those who had originally migrated to other countries but later resettled in Wales, and those born and raised in Wales.
This image, right, is of an 18-year-old Hindu man named Jaspal Singh, centre. Taken in Cardiff in February 1988, it depicts a traditional Hindu engagement ceremony – the sagai – which solidifies the formal engagement contract between two Hindu families.
Singh is the groom-to-be and of particular interest is the garland hung around his neck, which has been decorated with monetary gifts from family and friends. Garlands play an important and spiritual role in Hinduism and are traditionally used in the worship of gods. In this context, the garland is used to show honour and respect to Singh.
Hindu engagement ceremonies are very elaborate and vibrant affairs, a sort of prequel to the wedding itself, which traditionally features colourful floral garlands that are exchanged between the newly wedded couple to symbolise their happiness, love for each other and long lasting relationship in life.
Although most adherents to organised religion in Wales (57.6 per cent) follow the Church in Wales or other Christian denominations such as Catholicism and the Prebsyterian Church of Wales, approximately 2.7 per cent of Wales’ religious demographic today is made up of individuals who affiliate with other religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism.
That Wales is made up of multiple religions may seem obvious, but it was something that was not formally recognised until 2002 when the Welsh National Assembly established the first Interfaith Council for Wales.
It was replaced in 2004 by the non-government body “Faith Communities Forum”, which seeks to promote a dialogue between the Welsh Government and Wales’ multi-faith communities.