« Talking Tamil, Talking Saivism: Language practices in a Tamil Hindu temple in Australia » by Nirukshi Perera

Nirukshi (Niru) Perera has completed her PhD at the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University (Melbourne, Australia).

The thesis  – Talking Tamil, Talking Saivism: Language practices in a Tamil Hindu temple in Australia – is available to read here.

Sum up

Hinduism is growing in its influence and significance both in Australia and internationally. The development of India as a superpower and the rise of Hindu nationalism in India are indicators of this growing influence.

In Australia all censuses since 2001 point to Hinduism as the fastest-growing non-Christian religion yet the phenomena of Hinduism in Australia is relatively under researched. Furthermore, non-white immigration and multiculturalism are once more under the spotlight in Australia with the government’s proposed changes to the English language requirements for citizenship, and with the recent release of the 2016 census results. The figure for the number of people who speak Tamil at home has grown by 45% since the 2011 census, and is now approximately 74,000 people. This means that for the part of the Australian population that speaks a language other than English at home, Tamil is the 13th top language.

Therefore, this research is a timely report on the experiences of Sri Lankan migrants and a focus on the role that language and religion play in their lives in Australia and in the formation of identities for the second- and third- generation. In fact, this is the first thesis to focus on the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in Australia.

Niru conducted an ethnographic study in a Tamil Hindu temple to investigate what languages are used in the temple space and to show how the temple, as a religious institution, is helping migrants to maintain and transmit the Tamil language and Saiva religion to the next generation.

The study found that the temple has a positive influence on the development of young Tamils’ religious, ethnic and linguistic identities and it provides a safe space for children to use Tamil in a new way. This new way is termed “translanguaging” and it allows for children to use all their languages often resulting in speech that mixes Tamil and English. While English is generally their stronger language, their use of Tamil in translanguaging is evidence of the significant influence of their heritage religion and culture in their contemporary Australian lives.