The majority of the East Indian immigrants were Hindu, and
their dominant sect was Vaishnavite Hinduism. Status differences
were attached to castes, and rituals varied with caste status. The
higher castes worshipped the classic pantheon of Vishnu and Shiva.
Vaishnavite Hinduism remains the predominant religion of the IndoGuyanese , although it has been considerably modified.
During the indenture period, the East Indian caste system, with
its reinforced variations of rites and beliefs within the Vishnu
cult, broke down. Hinduism was redefined, and caste-distinguishing
practices were eliminated. Christian missionaries attempted to
convert East Indians during the indenture period, beginning in
1852, but met with little success. The missionaries blamed the
Brahmans for their failure: the Brahmans began administering
spiritual rites to all Hindus regardless of caste once the
Christian missionaries started proselytizing in the villages,
hastening the breakdown of the caste system. After the 1930s, Hindu
conversions to Christianity slowed because the status of Hinduism
had improved and discrimination against Hindus had diminished.
Orthodox Hinduism stresses the festivities accompanying
religious rites. Festivals may last several days and are usually
held in times of crisis or prosperity. Because the sponsor of a
festival provides a tent and feeds a large number of guests,
orthodox Hindu rituals require considerable outlays of money. A
Hindu family has difficulty fulfilling ritual obligations unless it
has accumulated a surplus of cash.
Since the late 1940s, reform movements have caught the
attention of many Guyanese Hindus. The most important, the Arya
Samaj movement (Aryan Society), was founded in India in 1875; the
first Arya Samaj missionary arrived in Guyana in 1910. Arya Samaj
doctrine rejects the idea of caste and the exclusive role of
Brahmans as religious leaders. The movement preaches monotheism and
opposition to the use of images in worship as well as many
traditional Hindu rituals.
Data as of January 1992