Story: Indians

Page 6. Religion and kin

All images & media in this story

Worshipping together

Early Hindu immigrants missed the colourful mass celebration of festivals such as Navratri (nine nights of folk dance and prayer), Diwali (festival of lights), Janmāsthami (Lord Krishna’s birthday) and Ganesh Chaturthi (Lord Ganesh’s birthday).

Nevertheless, before 1925 Hindu Indians in Wellington and Auckland met regularly to pray and listen to readings from the Bhagavad Gita, their central religious text. In the 1920s permission was received from some local authorities to conduct cremations according to Hindu and Sikh rites. Later, the regional associations organised Gita classes, and the community halls they built were used for festivals. In 1964 the Sanskāra Kendra, a centre for religious instruction, was established in Auckland. Both Auckland and Wellington now have Hindu temples.

Sikhs celebrate festivals including Vaisakhi (a commemoration on 13 April of the establishment of a sacred community by Guru Gobind Singh), and guruparba, the birthdays of other gurus. In 1964 the New Zealand Sikh Society was formed to provide opportunities for religious and social interaction, and in 1977 the Sikh Gurdwara (temple) was opened at Te Rapa, just outside Hamilton. Now there are gurdwaras in Auckland, Wellington and Hawke’s Bay.

There were initially so few Indian Muslims that organised worship was almost impossible. The New Zealand Muslim Association was founded in 1950 and reconstituted in 1976, bringing together Muslims of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds. According to the 2013 census, Indians made up about 36% of New Zealand's Muslim population.

Home and family

Traditional Indian family values emphasise the importance of family honour and duty, conforming to prescribed gender roles, respect for elders, and following parental advice on decisions such as marriage. In Indian society, extended kinship networks founded on caste are the basis of a sense of belonging.

The complex caste system of India was not fully replicated in New Zealand, and many Indians rejected aspects of it, following the example of Mahatma Gandhi. But it remains an important consideration in arranged marriages, and as a result suitable partners are often sought overseas.

Some attitudes have shifted, for instance beliefs about the role of women, expectations about living with extended family, and ideas on ‘cooperative’ arranged marriages where the opinions of the couple are taken into consideration. Despite these changes and challenges, the family remains at the centre of New Zealand Indian life.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Indians - Religion and kin', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 May 2022)

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