Hinduism in the Philippines

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OM, a sacred syllable and a quintessential symbol of Hinduism. Its meanings are many.

Hinduism has been a major cultural, economic, political and religious influence in the archipelago that now comprise the Philippines. At present, however, it is limited to the immigrant Indian community, though traditional religious beliefs in most parts of the country have strong Hindu and Buddhist influences. Hinduism arrived from the Javanese empire of Majapahit.[1]


Pre-contact period[edit]

Before the Spanish period, the archipelagoes of Southeast Asia were under the influence of traders from the Hindu-Malayan culture, such as the Majapahit Empire, which was then supplanted by Islamic teaching by Muslims traders from Gujarat, India. Influences from the Indian subcontinent may be traced earlier to before the arrival of the Arabs and the Europeans during the 15th and 16th centuries respectively. The rulers of many of the islands were called Rajas, or Rajahs. An example would be the Visayas, said to be named after the Hindu-Buddhist Sri Vijayan empire.[citation needed]

Spanish era[edit]

Further adherence to Hinduism was superseded by the advent of Islam brought to the archipelago By Indonesian, Malay, and Arab missionaries in the 14th century, as well as the arrival of Christianity with the Spaniards in 1521. Local Rajahs gave tribute to such empires such as the Buddhist Sri Vijaya and/or Hindu Majapahit.

American period[edit]

Ancient statues of the Hindu gods were hidden to prevent their destruction by Christians who worshiped a single deity. One such statue, known as 'Golden Tara', is a 4-pound gold statue of an Indo-Malayan goddess found in Mindanao in 1917, which now sits in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and is dated from the period 13th to early 14th centuries. Another gold artifact, this time found on Palawan, is an image of Garuda, the bird who is the mount of Vishnu.[citation needed]

Hinduism today[edit]

There is some growth in the religion as of late, although most temples cater to the same communities. Actual adherents of Hinduism are mostly limited to communities that include indigenous and native peoples, expatriate communities, as well as new converts. There are various Hare Krishna groups and popular Hindu personalities and groups such as Sai Baba, and Paramahansa Yogananda (SRF) that can be found. Hindu based practises like Yoga and meditation are also popular.

Statue depicting Shiva as Nataraja.

National psyche[edit]

Although Hinduism is now a minority religion in the country, some of its beliefs still pervade the national psyche. Vestiges of this belief system and customs are socially and culturally ingrained in Filipinos, most of whom are either part of the Christian majority (Catholic and Protestant), or part of the significant Muslim minority. An example is that the concept of karma is readily understood by locals as a form of divinely-sanctioned punishment, and thus forms part of traditional ethics.


With the advent of Spanish colonialism in the 16th century, the Philippines became a closed colony and cultural contacts with other Southeast Asian countries were limited, if not closed. In 1481, the Spanish Inquisition commenced with the permission of Pope Sixtus IV and all non-Catholics within the Spanish empire were to be expelled or to be “put to the question” (tortured until they renounced their previous faith). With the re-founding of Manila in 1571, the Philippines became subject to the King of Spain and the Archbishop of New Galicia (Mexico) became the Grand Inquisitor of the Faithful in Mexico and the Philippines. In 1595, the newly appointed Archbishop of Manila became the Inquisitor-General of the Spanish East Indies (i.e.,the Philippines, Guam, and Micronesia), and until 1898 was active against Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. As was the case in Latin America and Africa, forced conversions were not uncommon and any refusal to submit to Church authority was seen as both rebellion against the Pope and sedition against the Spanish Crown, which was punishable by death.

However, the linguistic influence left its most lasting marks on every Philippine language. Below are some borrowed terms, which were often Buddhist and Hindu concepts, with the original Sanskrit; about 25% of the words in many Philippine languages are from Sanskrit and Tamil.[2]


  • budhî "conscience" from the Sanskrit bodhi
  • dalita "one who suffers" from the Sanskrit dharita
  • dukhâ "poverty" from the Sanskrit dukkha
  • guró "teacher" from the Sanskrit guru
  • sampalataya "faith" from the Sanskrit sampratyaya
  • mukhâ "face" from the Sanskrit mukha
  • lahò "eclipse", "disappear" from the Sanskrit rahu
  • maharlika "noble" from Sanskrit mahardikka
  • saranggola "kite" from Sanskrit layang gula (via Malay)
  • asawa "spouse" from Sanskrit swami
  • bagay "thing" from Tamil "vagai"
  • talà "star" from Sanskrit tala
  • puto, a traditional rice pastry, from Tamil puttu (via Malay)



  • budaya "culture" from Sanskrit; combination of boddhi, "virtue" and dhaya, "power"
  • balita "news" from Sanskrit varta
  • baya "warning to someone in danger" from Sanskrit bhaya
  • diwata "goddess" from Sanskrit devata
  • gadya "elephant" from Sanskrit gajha
  • puasa "fasting" from Sanskrit upavasa
  • saksí "witness" from Sanskrit saksi



  • karahay a cooking pan similar to the Chinese wok, from the Sanskrit karahi

Common to many Philippine languages[edit]

  • sutlá "silk" from the Sanskrit sutra
  • kapas "cotton" from the Sanskrit kerpas
  • naga "dragon" or "serpent" from the Sanskrit nāga

Folklore, arts and literature[edit]

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the two great epics of India. Ramayana portrays the battle between good and evil. Rama, with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana, represent the eventual victory of good over evil, represented by Ravana, the ten-headed demon king. Rama is helped by his devotee, Hanuman and the army of monkeys under the command of the monkey king Sugriv.

Versions from the different ethnic groups of the Philippines exist. According to the research by Filipino Indologists Professor Dr. Juan R. Francisco and Professor Dr. Josephine Acosta Pasricha, the Maranao version is the Maharadia Lawana (Mahārāja Rāvaṇa). Lam-Ang is the version of the Ilocanos and Sarimanok (Indian Garuda) is the legendary bird of the Maranao culture. In addition, many verses from the Hud-Hud of the Ifugao are derived from the Indian Hindu epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata.[3]

See also[edit]


  • El Sanscrito en la lengua Tagalog - T H Pardo de Tavera, Paris, 1887
  • The Philippines and India - Dhirendra Nath Roy, Manila 1929 and India and The World - By Buddha Prakesh p. 119-120

External links[edit]