It was sometime in 2009/2010 that Julia Roberts discovered Hinduism. Roberts, who was born to Baptist and Catholic parents, is thought to have made the religious conversion while shooting for her film “Eat, Pray, Love,” in which she plays a woman who visits Italy for food, India for spirituality and Bali, where she finds love.
Roberts, who disclosed her conversion in an interview to Elle magazine in September 2010, revealed that she and her husband Daniel Moder take their three children — Hazel, Phinnaeus and Henry — to the temple to “chant, pray and celebrate” on a regular basis. In several subsequent interviews, Roberts has admitted that the religion makes her more compassionate and a more loving person
Hinduism — third largest and the oldest surviving religion in the world with over one billion people belonging to the faith, has been described more as way of life than a religion. The teachings of Hinduism have always attracted people from all over the world. While Apple’s Steve Jobs and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have said to have visited India to seek spirituality, many Hollywood stars have converted to Hinduism after getting fascinated by the religion.
Like Roberts, several celebrities in the West have taken solace in Hinduism as well as Buddhism, raving about its many aspects like meditation, yoga and spiritualism. Many who have converted have been raised in the Christian faith. “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert, on whose book the movie starring Roberts was based on, also found Hinduism while on a trip to India, which inspired her to write the best-selling book. Gilbert was raised on a Christmas tree farm in Litchfield, Connecticut.
The Hindu American Foundation describes Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma (eternal way), as the world’s oldest living religion. “It is a richly diverse family of philosophies, traditions, and practices that have been followed primarily throughout Asia for thousands of years,” HAF says, adding that today, Hinduism is a global religion “with adherents living on every continent, and comprising majorities in three countries: India, Nepal, and Mauritius.”
Although there are several celebrities who are now initiated into the teachings of Hinduism, one of the early converts and perhaps the most well-known is George Harrison. The Beatles singer, converted from Christianity to Hinduism in the mid 1960s. According to an article in ThoughtCo., Harrison continued to embrace the Hare Krishna tradition (particularly japa-yoga chanting with beads) and became a lifelong devotee. He was also a vegetarian, on religious grounds, from 1968 until his death.
“Through Hinduism, I feel a better person,” the article quoted Harrison as saying. “I just get happier and happier,” he said. “I now feel that I am unlimited, and I am more in control.”
In 1966, Harrison traveled to India to study the sitar with Pandit Ravi Shankar. In search of social and personal liberation, he met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “which prompted him to give up LSD and take up meditation,” ThoughtCo. says In the summer of 1969, the Beatles produced the single “Hare Krishna Mantra”, performed by Harrison and the devotees of the Radha-Krishna Temple, London that topped the 10 best-selling record charts throughout the U.K., Europe, and Asia. “The same year, he and fellow Beatle John Lennon met Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the global Hare Krishna Movement, at Tittenhurst Park, England,” the article says. After Harrison died in 2001, his ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers.
British comedian and actor Russell Brand is said to been initiated to Hinduism through transcendental meditation. Although there aren’t many details about how and what attracted Brand to Hinduism, his Hindu wedding in Rajasthan to singer Katy Perry in October 2009 gathered a lot of attention.
The two reportedly exchanged their vows in front of some 80 guests at the exclusive Aman-i-Khas resort near the Ranthambhore tiger sanctuary in Rajasthan. The couple had booked 21 camels and an assortment of elephants and horses for the marriage procession, hosted a Bollywood theme party for their guests, had the Indian wedding procession, and even incorporated Vedic chanting in their ceremony. Unfortunately, the two divorced after 14 months.
Brand married again — in 2017 — to his longtime partner Laura Gallacher. Although the wedding was held in at Henley-on-Thames in the U.K., it was followed by an India-themed wedding reception.
Another well-known follower is Hugh Jackman, who has always admitted to have been attracted by the mysticism of Hindusim and is said to follow the Upanishads and the Bhagwad Gita. “The scriptures that we follow are a mixture between the West and the East and would be from Socrates to the Upanishads, to the Bhagavad Gita, to a number of different texts,” he told The Times of India in an interview in 2014.
The “Wolverine” actor, who was born a Christian, also has a Sanskrit inscription engraved wedding ring which reads “Om paramar mainamar,” which means “we pledge our union to a higher source.”
Others who practice Hinduism include singer KRS-One, author of “The Gospel of Hip Hop”; NFL player Ricky Williams, who is a Hindu and vegetarian and uses pranic healing to recover from injuries; Dinosaur Jr. musician J. Mascis, who, in 2005 released the album “J and Friends Sing and Chant For Amma,” which includes devotional songs dedicated to Mata Amritanandamayi; musician Trevor Hall who lives as a Hindu monk when he is not on tour; and “Army Wives” actress Kelli Williams converted to Hinduism when she married her husband, Ajay Sahgal, in 1996.
British-Sri Lankan musician’s Hindu faith came into light when she claimed that giving the middle finger was a religious act in tribute to a Hindu goddess. M.I.A., born Mathangi Arulpragasam, claimed that her infamous 2012 Super Bowl middle finger was a tribute to the Hindu Goddess Matangi whose symbol is the middle finger. “Well, you know gang signs — in America you have gang signs, and people throw up initials and stuff like that,” she told NPR. “Well, 5,000 years ago, there was thing called a mudra, which is your sitting position when you do yoga or you’re meditating or praying or whatever. And you have different ones based on what you’re meditating over. There’s not a lot of them that are named after gods and goddesses, but the middle finger is specifically named Matangi — the Matangi mudra.”
Like MIA, pop sensation Madonna has displayed the influence of Hindusim on her by incorporating shringar, bindi, henna during her performances. She has also repeatedly used Hindu prayers and explored the “Shanti/ Ashtangi” chant in her songs.
Although some Hollywood bigwigs have not converted to Hindusim, they have been touched and inspired the religion in more than one ways. And what better way to show it than to have it permanently engraved on your body. Maroon 5 lead singer Adlam Levine has the word “tapas” (meditation) inked on his right chest; Katy Perry has “Anuugacchati Pravaha” (go with the flow) on her right arm; Rihanna’s Sanskrit tattoo down her right hip means forgiveness, honesty, suppression and control; Jessica Alba and Myley Crus have a ‘Om’ tattoos; Brittany Snow has the word “Abhay” meaning one without fear tattooed above her ankle; Pussycat Dolls singer Kimberly Wyatt has a Sanskrit tattoo on her neck; while Angelina Jolie, who practices Buddhism, has a Pali script tattoo down her back.
A substantial number of Hollywood stars have adopted Buddhism as well. The most famous of them being Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn and Angelina Jolie.
Gere was raised a Methodist. His interest in Buddhism is said to have begun when he was in his 20s. He first studied Zen Buddhism under Kyozan Joshu Sasaki and later met the 14th Dalai Lama in India and became a practicing Tibetan Buddhist of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism and an active supporter of the Dalai Lama. In a 1999 interview with Lion’s Roar, a Buddhist website, Gere talked about his many years of Buddhist practice, his devotion to his teacher the Dalai Lama, and his work for Tibetan freedom. “Im lost like everyone else. So I’m certainly not a leader. …I talk about these things, but only in the sense that this is what my teachers have given me,” he said.
Jolie is said to have converted after adopting Maddox, a Buddhist. Since then, Jolie is said to have gotten involved in Buddhist traditions and accepts Buddhist learnings as an integral part of her life.
Hawn has been a practicing Buddhist since the ‘70s, and according to various reports and interviews, considers herself a Jewish Buddhist. Practicing both equally, she has kept her Judaism and practiced Buddhism alongside it, even raising her children in both traditions.
Another Buddhist convert is Robert Downey Jr., who is also said to be a firm believer of the Hare Krishna ideology. He is currently said to be following a mix of Buddhism and Judaism.