Hinduism fits well into the “sound-filled” West African religious soundscape, which is a scene of competition and conflict. This article explores the soundscape of devotional singing, mantras, and prayers as a central part of the embodiment and embedment of Hinduism among Africans in Ghana, where the Indian diaspora has been relatively small and the indigenous movement of Hinduism entirely through African initiative. Using ethnographic and written sources to examine the Hindu Monastery of Africa, founded by the Ghanaian monk Swami Ghanananda in 1975, I examine how the oral and aural popular devotions crafted by the swami have shifted attention away from worship through idols toward sensory exploration of the unmanifest form of the divine. Such practices have made irrelevant the issues of translatability and conversion found in other religions. The Hindu Monastery’s sound-production as a communal calling—without respect to language or school of Hindu teaching—has created unexpected new directions in public piety, including the celebration in Ghana of the annual Sabarimala pilgrimage to a sexually ambiguous deity that has in India been the scene of protest over gender and caste discrimination. The Monastery has transformed into a sanctuary for singers and seekers of all religions, including many Indian migrants and gurus, as well as an Indian woman swami, giving Hinduism a new life in Ghana following the death of Swami Ghanananda in 2016.

Author Biography

hobana Shankar’s work focuses on cultural history and politics in West Africa and Africa-Indian encounters, bringing together the fields of history, anthropology, religion, and health. She is finishing a book, An Uneasy Embrace: Africa, India and the Spectre of Race (Hurst, 2021). It examines how Africans and Indians have attempted to understand and negotiate their complicated relationships in spheres like religion, science, and education where postcolonial peoples have sought autonomy from Euro-American power. She is also author/co-editor of three books: Religions on the Move: New Dynamics of Religious Expansion in Globalizing World, with Afe Adogame (Brill, 2013); Who Shall Enter Paradise: Christian Origins in Muslim Northern Nigeria, c. 1890-1975 (Ohio University, 2014); and Transforming Religious Landscapes in Africa: The Sudan Interior Mission, Past and Present (Africa World Press, 2018), with Barbara Cooper et al. Aside from numerous academic articles, she’s also written for wider audiences including an essay for The Conversation about what the U.S. can learn about immunization from Nigeria and another in The Washington Post on eugenicist practices at the Mississippi State Penitentiary.

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