By Alanah May Eriksen
Similarities between Hindu and Maori customs and language are making living in New Zealand an easier transition for some immigrants.
Some Hindu cultures are more similar to Maori than most people realise, says Rotorua Scion senior scientist Dr Guna Magesan. His son has even been mistaken for a Maori.
Next month Dr Magesan will share his Kiwi experience at the World Hindu Conference in Prayagraj, India, where he has been asked to talk about what it's like being a Hindu living in New Zealand.
He and his family have found there are many similarities between their own culture and that of Maori.
Those similarities have made it "very easy" to live as a Hindu in Rotorua, according to Dr Magesan, who moved to New Zealand from Nilgiri in India in 1988 to complete a PhD in Soil Science at Massey University.
He has since written booklets on Indian culture and helped release a book in Rotorua about the similarities between Hindu and Maori.
"There are at least 185 Sanskrit and other Indian language words similar to the Maori language. For example, 'tama' means boy, 'e tu' means stand and 'mana' means pride or self respect.
"Some Hindu communities also have similar buildings to marae, where people hold meetings and sleep over."
Hindus also bless new buildings before they open, usually before sunrise, as Maori do, Dr Magesan said.
He has encouraged his son Murali, 11, to learn te reo Maori at school and be a member of the kapa haka group.
Dr Magesan believes Maori and Indian people even look similar - Murali was once asked by a soccer coach which iwi he belonged to.
Perceptions of Indian people have changed in Rotorua over time.
"We're not [from] that economically poor country anymore," Dr Magesan said. "Our science and technology areas are growing like anything, and people realise that. Many people from the United Kingdom and United States are returning home [to India]."
He has found Kiwis are very welcoming of other cultures and religions and respect the fact he doesn't eat any meat or eggs because he believes animals are sacred.
"It is a very different place to when I came here 18 years ago. People used to always have steak for dinner but now there are different types of food out there. And I've been to some vegetarian restaurants in Auckland, which wouldn't have even be thought of years ago."
Dr Magesan had to explain to teachers at his 9-year-old daughter Deepika's school why she didn't bring any home baking to her school camp - because it would have contained eggs - but such issues don't crop up too often.
There is a large Hindu community in the country, which mean they are able to retain their traditions and identity while still being part of mainstream New Zealand.
Dr Magesan is the coordinator of the Hindu Council of New Zealand and one of the trustees and secretary of the Hindu Heritage Charitable Trust.
Dr Magesan will attend the conference in India from February 10 to 13, where delegates from around the world will discuss the role of Hindus worldwide.
The conference coincides with the Ardha Kumbha festival, when about 70 million Hindus gather take a holy dip in the Ganges river.
By Alanah May Eriksen