Story: Indians

Page 5. Retaining and transforming culture

All images & media in this story

Unity and diversity

From 1918 onwards, Indians adopted a united front despite religious and other differences. They established associations to combat ignorance and hostility, and to promote Indian values and culture.

The Auckland Indian Association was the first such organisation, and eventually there were nine regional associations. In addition, the Central Indian Association was formed in 1926–27 to respond to the propaganda of the racist White New Zealand League, and to provide a focus for the regional associations.

Nowadays, with the exception of the Sikh-oriented Taumarunui association, the Indian associations are predominantly Gujarati and Hindu in character. Sikhs and Muslims have established separate organisations to foster their own religious and cultural traditions. More recent immigrants of Indian ethnicity have formed their own support groups, such as the Probasee Bengalee Association, the Bangladesh New Zealand Friendship Society and the Pakistani Association.

Bollywood in New Zealand

After the Second World War, Indian associations began to hire and screen films in Hindi to impart an idea of Indian culture to the younger generation. These movies, usually musicals with a central love story, were produced in Bombay (Mumbai), sometimes dubbed ‘Bollywood’. Since the box-office success of Kaho naa pyaar hai (Say I love you), filmed in Queenstown, New Zealand has been seen as an ideal location for such movies.

Nurturing language

In the 1950s and 1960s some of the Indian associations started classes in Gujarati language and culture for younger people. Many of these classes continue today. Other languages, such as Punjabi, Marathi, Bengali and Hindi, were maintained within families. Formal teaching of Hindi began in Wellington in 1985, and Fijian Hindi classes started in the 1990s.

Keeping in touch

A monthly Gujarati newspaper, Aryodaya, existed briefly in 1921. It was followed by another periodical, Uday, published between 1933 and 1935. In 1972 the New Zealand Indian Chronicle ran for a short time. Now Indian New Zealanders are more likely to catch up with community news through websites such as Indian Newslink or NZ Punjabi, and the bi-monthly Hindi magazine, Bharat-Darshan.

The arts

The first Indian immigrants to New Zealand did not come from parts of India that emphasised the classical traditions in art, music, literature and dancing. Now that the Indian population is more diverse and established, there is considerable interest in dancing, music and other arts. Audiences flock to hear visiting musicians such as the sarod player Amjad Ali Khan, and classical dance is enjoying a revival among the younger generation.


Sport, especially hockey and cricket, has always been important to the Indian community. In the late 1920s in Wellington and Auckland, men would get together on a Sunday to play cricket, sometimes using the lids of banana boxes as bats. In the 1930s sports associations were founded in Auckland and Wellington, inspired by the All India Hockey Team’s tour of New Zealand.

Later, sports clubs were formed in Christchurch and Pukekohe, and in the early 1960s the New Zealand Indian Sports Association was established. From the 1970s women became involved, and the range of sports expanded.

Notable New Zealand Indian sportspeople include Ramesh and Mohan Patel, who were members of the 1976 Olympic Hockey Team, and cricketer Dipak Patel.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Indians - Retaining and transforming culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 May 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015