This past year when I taught at the Texas Yoga Retreat, held on the grounds of North America's largest Hindu Ashram, a young woman of Indian descent spoke with me after my presentation. She thanked me for making her Hinduism interesting and applicable to life and added that "no one in my family, including my parents who are from India know much about Hinduism beyond Temple rituals."
This young woman also told me she felt that today's Western yoga instructors are helping Indian immigrants to better understand and appreciate their religious heritage.
The reasons Hindu's are illiterate about their own religious tradition are concisely explained by Murali Balaji, a journalist and lecturer at Pennsylvania State University. He writes:
"Much of what we know about Hinduism today was profoundly shaped by three major overlapping forces: colonialism, Christianity and capitalism. We as modern Hindus, whether we are in India or are diasporic children in distant lands, are products of colonial-era constructions of Hinduism. This has been a major contributor to our collective illiteracy about our way of life, as British attempts to eliminate or obscure Vedic teachings were connected to the Crown's grand vision of making Indians into the ideal colonial subjects.... While Indians mark the annual anniversary of India's physical emancipation from British rule, it's important to note that we have yet to mark our psychological emancipation from colonialism. We continue to be the ideal colonial subjects, inherently believing in the British standard of society as the one that India--and Hindus--needed to progress towards."
Under the yoke of a powerful colonial empire, everything British was to be embraced and things Vedic dropped. For example, Indians have moved heavily into Western Medicine completely neglecting their own Ayurvedic health and wellness system almost. Indians who exercised did so in British YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) gyms present in Indian cities, abandoning their own yoga culture.
Little by little these colonial impositions are being addressed and corrected, largely by yogis in the West who have discovered and are sharing India's vast spiritual resources.