No single, universally acceptable procedure ever exists for getting converted to Hinduism – this is the basic truth. Why? Hinduism, in absolute reality, is not a religion, but “sanatana Dharma” – the righteous way of living; it encompasses the entire creation; it is not a religion founded by any one messiah.
Hinduism is quite different from Christianity or Islam from the point of view of its vastness in the scope of practice and perception. The concept of one supreme God, who is amenable for worship in multitudes of names and forms, is one major aspect of religion that sets Hinduism apart from other religions. This has resulted in numerous sects and sub-sects in Hinduism. Further, Hinduism as practiced at the grass root level and as comprehended at the elevated spiritual and philosophical level has a vast difference in between.
Thus, Hinduism is a multifaceted religion; it is like a pyramid with multiple faces at the bottom, culminating at a single point at the top. Obviously, there is no “single point of entry” available to the religion which is amenable and acceptable one to all. This being the reality, let us now see how one can “convert” to Hinduism for all practical purposes.
For that, one basic question must be answered. What is the motive of one to adopt Hinduism?
Adopt to Hinduism purely on spiritual motive
For some non-Hindus, Hindu’s way of worshiping a personal God with a name and form and choosing the path of Bhakti (devotion) as a way to God realization may be very appealing. For such of them, the social need of a formal conversion need not exist. For them, nothing can really hinder their choice of the personal God, method of worship, following the traditional Hindu dress codes (like wearing a Sari or Dhoti) wearing kumkum or any such religious marks at the forehead. It is up to them to seek a Guru of the particular sect of their liking and even get a “Mantra Diksha ” of the specific God form (i.e. getting initiation of the sacred name of the God for chanting and Japa).
One bhakti movement of Hinduism very popular amongst westerners is ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness), where Lord Krishna is worshiped as the prime deity.
For some other non-Hindus, the exalted spiritual truths expounded in Upanishad s (Vedanta ), Bhagavat Gita , etc. may be very appealing. At this level, the need for a personal God is non-existent. Great spiritual masters of Hinduism are of the firm opinion that the purpose of human birth is to attain Brahman or realize one’s atman, which are one and the same, viewed from two different perspectives.
This is the ultimate goal to be attained and it is varyingly termed as God realization, self-realization, attaining the knowledge of Brahman, attaining birthlessness/deathlessness (“Moksha”, “Mukthi”, “samadhi”, “nirvana”). It is this class of spiritualism that attracts quite a lot of westerners to Hinduism.
For some others, the Yoga (Kundalini Yoga, Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga) may be attractive.
For such earnest seekers, the best advice is to seek a Guru or rather a Satguru (a guru of the highest order who has attained the truth by self-experience), surrender to him and seek his guidance. Religious organizations like Sri Ramakrishna Math, Vedanta Society (belonging to Ramakrishna Math), Mata Amritanandamyi Math, Divine Life Society, Anandashram, Ramanashramam, etc. can be of help to them.
A typical Hindu Homam (fire ceremony)
Convert to Hinduism based on worldly, social and legal motive
For example, you belong to some other religion (you could be an Indian or a foreign national) but you love a boy or a girl belonging to Hindu religion. Your in-laws are very particular that you should be (become) a Hindu; perhaps you too would love to become a Hindu or at least you have no objections to becoming a Hindu. You want to settle in India along with your spouse; you want to make sure that your religious conversion is perceived as valid, and that your marriage is valid as per laws under the Hindu Marriage Act, so that you won’t have any legal disputes whatsoever related to your marital relationship or the shared properties with your Hindu spouse.
In this case, Arya Samaj, a religious organization founded by Swami Dhayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) could offer help. This organization offers service for procedural conversion to Hinduism. This conversion practice was originally started by the founder as early as in 1877 to bring back such of those Hindus who had been converted to some other religion by choice or by coercion, who were subsequently willing to come back to Hinduism.
The procedure involves a vedic purification ceremony Called “Shuddhi Karma”.
One who wants to convert to Hinduism can approach AryaSamajTemple (existing at several places in India), make a written application along with an affidavit stating that he/she is agreeing for the conversion based on his/her free will, along with proof of age and residence signed by the applicant along with 2 witnesses.
The Shuddhi Karma (purification ceremony) involves conducting a “homam” (a typical Hindu ritual done in front of fire) involving chanting of certain Hymns from the Vedas by the applicant, as guided by a priest. It may take about one to one-and-a-half hours to complete the ceremony. After the purification ceremony, a Certificate of Conversion to Hinduism is issued to the applicant.
It is said that the conversion certificate issued by Arya Samaj is legally valid based on Indian Government Order dated March 19, 1985.
With this certificate in hand, the converted Hindu can marry the Hindu man/woman in Arya SamajTemple as per traditional Hindu marriage rites. For the marriage too, the couple has to give an application with proof of age, place of residence, etc. and an affidavit for consenting for marriage out of free will. The application must be signed and supported by 2/3 witnesses. After completion of marriage ceremony, A certificate of Marriage will be issued by Arya Samaj.
The Marriage certificate from Arya Samaj is a perfect legal document (Arya Samaj Marriage Validation Act, 1937 & Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Sections 2(a) and subsection (c) of the explanation to Section 2).
For the purpose of getting a passport, immigration, Visa. etc. a formal marriage registration with the Registrar Office will be required, which can also be done by submitting the Arya Samaj Marriage Certificate.
A few words of caution
(1) Though “Indian Government Order dated March 19, 1985” is mentioned above, it is based on other sources at Internet. This author has not personally verified the statement, nor could he locate the specific document’s contents or details on this Government Order in other Internet sources. Perhaps it has to be verified outside the web.
(2) In Hindu society, caste system is a practical and sociological reality. Certain castes in Hinduism considered backward get privileged reservation in educational institutions and Government jobs; Arya Samaj Certification will not help in the caste orientation of the converted Hindu.