How to Become a Hindu

Six Steps Toward Conversion

imageO GAIN CLEAR SUBCONSCIOUS MEMORY patterns of the past for his future religious life, the individual seeking to enter Hinduism must examine and reject those beliefs of his previous religion or philosophy which differ from those of the Hindu sect he wishes to join. Then he must examine and accept the Hindu beliefs which are new to him. §

If he was confirmed or otherwise initiated in another religion or ideology, he must effect formal severance from his previous religion or faith before formally entering the Hindu religion through the the name-giving sacrament. Full religious conversion includes informing one’s former religious or philosophical leader, preferably through a personal meeting, that the individual is entering a new religion. §

Further, ethical conversion means that the parents and relatives, too, understand the momentous change that has taken place. This societal recognition, along with initiation, vow-taking and legal change of name on passport and all documents, signifies true conversion on all levels of being. Nothing less will suffice. Even within Hinduism itself there are formal ceremonies and soul-searching requirements for Hindus converting from one denomination to another, as when a Śaivite becomes a Vaishṇavite or a Smārta becomes a Śākta, accomplished, in part, in some communities by writing with a golden needle the divine mantras on the convert’s tongue. §

Before explaining the steps of conversion, we want to advise Hindu societies worldwide to make close inquiries of adoptives and converts as to their fulfilling the six steps of conversion to open the doors to the ardha-Hindu into the fullness of the sectarian faith of his or her choice. Detailed below are the procedures for religious reconciliation that we have practiced for several decades in our own fellowship, guiding sincere souls who have initiated a process of self-conversion which leads from a severance from their former faith into Śaivite Hinduism.§


First and most importantly, the devotee mixes socially and earns acceptance into an established Hindu community. The devotee should be worshiping regularly at the community’s satsaṅgas or temples, making yearly pilgrimages, performing daily pūjā and sādhanas within the home and seriously striving to live up to the culture defined in the 365 Nandinātha Sūtras of Living with Śiva, which is a complete statement of Hindu values and culture. §


The devotee undertakes certain assigned Hindu studies and a formal analysis of former religions, denominations, sampradāyas or philosophical systems. He or she writes a point-counterpoint comparing Hinduism with each such school of thought to demonstrate a thorough grasp of the similarities and differences. Part two of this assignment is to complete a written analysis of all former pledges or vows, indicating when and why each point mentioned in those vows was abandoned. This point-counterpoint is then presented to a Hindu elder for his review and comment.§


If formal severance is required, the devotee returns to the former institution and attends services or lectures for a few weeks. Then, accompanied by a relative or friend as a witness, he or she meets personally with the former mentor. In the case of a married person, the spouse is preferred as a witness. The devotee explains that he will be joining the Hindu religion and wishes to sever ties with this church or institution. For an intimate understanding of severance, I would like to share with you a letter that one of my family counselors wrote to a potential convert from Catholicism: “Your point-counterpoint will do much for you in preparing you to meet your former priest to convince him that an inner transformation has occurred and you are indeed a Hindu soul, not a Catholic. This is a face-to-face meeting with the religious leader of your former faith or his successor. This step is done on a very personal level, as the fire of severance takes place during this confrontation. It cannot be done through the mail or on the telephone.§

“During this meeting, your conviction and clear understanding of both religions will allow your priest to see the thoughtfulness and sincerity of the decision you have made. A letter of release can, many times, be obtained before you leave his office when he sees clearly that you have completely abandoned the Catholic faith. This letter validates your personal release and clears the way for your formal entrance into Hinduism in all three worlds. It is an essential experience and document necessary for your nāmakaraṇa saṁskāra.§

We have many letters from Catholic priests, even archbishops, attesting to full conversion to Hinduism on the part of their former parishioners. In the case of formal religions, the devotee requests a letter of release, as an apostate (such as with the Catholic Church) or as an inactive (as in most Protestant Christian denominations). If the religious leader grants a verbal severance but will not convey it in writing, the witness to the interview writes a letter stating what took place. This letter is later given to the guiding elder of the Hindu community which the devotee seeks to fully join. §

Even if there is no granting of severance, verbally or in writing, the conversion is still considered complete, based on the canon law of the Catholic church (and which applies to other faiths in principle, such as Judaism) that someone who adopts another religion is, ipso facto, an apostate. In cases where there has been no formal commitment, such as in nonreligious schools of thought, an inner severance may be effected through heartfelt conversation with former mentors of that school in which the devotee shares his or her true convictions. §


The devotee then proceeds to have a legal change of name. The new name is placed on his or her passport, driver’s license and all important financial and legal instruments, including credit cards, library cards and bank accounts. Even before formal entrance to Hinduism, devotees are encouraged to begin using their Hindu names at all times.§


The name-giving sacrament can be held at nearly any Hindu temple. Before the nāmakaraṇa saṁskāra, the devotee informs family, relatives and close friends of his or her name change and intended entrance into Hinduism. At the sacred name-giving rite, the Hindu name is received, vows are taken and a certificate is signed, documenting the former name and the new name, place of ceremony and signature of the priest and at least three witnesses. This sacrament marks the formal entrance into a particular sect of Hinduism, through the acceptance and blessings of established members and the blessings of Gods and devas invoked through rites performed by an authorized Hindu priest. §

When seeking out a priest who will perform the name-giving rite, it is necessary to approach someone from within the sect that you wish to enter. Most priests will be familiar with how to perform the ritual; but if not, here are a few guidelines. More information will be posted on our Website at §

Arrangements must be made ahead of time. In summary, a homa (fire ceremony) is begun, with the supplicant sitting near the fire. He tells his old name and new name to the priest, along with his birthstar, nakshatra. When reciting the saṅkalpa (pronouncement of purpose), the priest intones the new name. A large tray of uncooked rice has been prepared. At an auspicious point in the ritual, the priest asks the participant to read aloud his declaration of loyalty to Hinduism. Then he is asked to recite his new name three times. After each recitation, the priest and the congregation proclaim, Tatha astu, meaning, “Be it so.” Finally, the devotee is directed to write his new name in the tray of rice. The certificate is then signed by the devotee and witnesses.§

On the day of this sacred occasion, the devotee should bring an offering basket of incense, fruits, a husked coconut, rock sugar, loose flowers and a beautiful flower garland for Lord Gaṇeśa. Dakshiṇā, a love offering for the priest, is a traditional appreciation of his services in bringing the seeker into the religion. A generous dakshiṇā, a sum of US$900 or more, is appropriate by year-2000 standards in the US, depending upon the number of priests attending. It is estimated that such a Vedic ceremony will take one to four hours and require many more hours of strict preparations. The presiding priest would be given $301 or more, his second helper $201 and other helpers $101. Traditionally, cash is wrapped in a betel leaf or its equivalent and handed personally to the priests right after the ceremony. §

Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime happening, the cost of the giving should not be a consideration. Of course, when the rite is performed in a temple, the management should also be given $201 to $501 for the use of their facilities, which would be arranged with them in advance and could be paid by check. In general, generosity is preferred to miserliness when it comes to rewarding our priests for these enormously important sacred ceremonies and passages. Such appreciation in the form of equitable payment ensures the gratitude and good feelings of the priests for the life ahead. If more than one family member is receiving the nāmakaraṇa saṁskāra, the amount paid to the priests and the temple would not necessarily be increased. This depends on the protocol of the particular temple. Any reception held afterwards would, of course, involve additional costs. One may elect to give gifts to the temple, such as a picture of your guru and his books and other publications, in thanks for the assistance and services. §


A sample nāmakaraṇa certificate is provided on the opposite page which can be photocopied (enlarged) to document a nāmakaraṇa held at any temple. Four originals of the certificate should be signed: one for the temple management to display, one for the devotee’s records, one for one’s guru and one for legal matters, such as immigration and travel. Each original is signed by the devotee, the priest, his assistant and at least three witnesses who are established members of the faith. From his original, the devotees should send photocopies to all friends and relatives. A copy of this significant document proving membership in the Hindu faith should always be kept with one’s passport to respond to institutions that ask for proof of Hindu identity before allowing entrance to their premises, such as orthodox temples in India. §

The nāmakaraṇa certificate is a legal document giving the name of the temple, home or hall where the ceremony was performed. It is proof of one’s Hindu name that can be used for name changes on other documents, though ideally the name change should be legalized before the ceremony. In the United States a legal name change by court order is required to obtain a passport, and in some states it must be signed by a secretary of state. Each country has its own rules, so for these matters it is best to consult the proper authorities. For strength of character, commitment, loyalty and integrity, a double standard should be avoided at all costs, such as being a Hindu in the home and a non-Hindu to others by using the former name, or using a Hindu name on your driver’s license but a non-Hindu name on your passport for international travel. This type of behavior reaps no spiritual benefits, but could reap harm to one’s integrity.§



After the severance and name-giving, the devotee publishes a three-day announcement in a local newspaper stating that the name-change has been completed and that he or she has entered the Hindu religion through the nāmakaraṇa saṁskāra. The devotee should keep a copy of these announcements and all other documents related to the conversion (such as letters from attorneys and elders) as part of a dossier verifying the name-giving, which may be needed in the future, such as when seeking acceptance into a conservative Hindu organization, seeking permanent residency or citizenship in a foreign country or in other cases when the Hindu name may come into question. Similarly, many temples in India and other countries will ask to see the passport, name-giving certificate or other appropriate proof of Hindu identity before admitting devotees of non-Indian origin.§