Influence of Indian Traditions
on the Rastafari Movement



Alongside of the African slaves who were freed came the indentured labor force from India who were mainly Hindu by religion. In Jamaica particularly, these Indians kept themselves apart from the rest of the community and mingled more with the poor of the African community.  As the Ras Tafari Community developed many of the spiritual traditions of India were adopted. As I have elsewhere developed, the Dravidians were of Abrahamic origin through his second wife Keturah.

Leonard Percival Howard grew up in Clarendon among Indians and their Hindu culture and was exposed to the daily ceremonies the Indians performed to honor their Gods, drinking ‘bhang’ ganja elixir, and to the chanting if ‘Jai Kali Mai’.Leonard Howell, borrowed many of the early tenets of the Rastafari movement from Indians. Probably this Keturah Dravidian connection to Abraham and their methods clicked with Howell’s spirituality.  Indians had astronomical influence on the early tenets of Rastafari. One Jamaican Hindu priest, Laloo, was one of Howell's spiritual advisors.

  The ital diet, a more disciplined form of vegetarianism, derives directly from the influence of indentured servants who were vegetarians continuing an ancient practice from India.




Learn the importance of “I-tal”. Rastas use the word “I-tal” to refer to food that is in its natural state. "I-tal" food has not touched modern chemicals and contains no preservatives, condiments, or salt.

Joseph Hibbert, another founding father of Rastafari, acknowledged the Hindu influence on Leonard Howell in an interview with Leonard Howell’s biographer Helene Lee. “After learning about the Hindu God incarnates Rama, Krishna and Buddha, Howell was convinced that every nation had their own God.” Leonard found his African god in the crowning of Emperor Selassie of Ethiopia.

Howel was known to use a name “G.G Maragh”, for Gong Guru Maharadj, an Indian name.  It is a short form of name Gangun Guru Maharadj. He used it in all of his early publications presenting Rastafari. In Hindi the name means  (gyan =knowledge; guna = virtue; guru= teacher) “the Great teacher of the Wisdom”. “Maharadj” means Great King. Robert Marley, who developed the music of  reggae which made Rastafari popular held the nickname ‘Tuff Gong,’ which derived from Leonard Howell who was called ‘Gong.’ Apparently his adviser was a Hindu Kali Priest by name Laloo.

 Among other Indian contributions are:

1. Ganja smoking:

Ganja is a Indian Sanskrit word for Marijuana, they were supposedly the ones who brought the plant to Jamaica. Collie, Kush, Sensi and Ishence are also often used. It is also called callie, Iley, "the herb", "the grass", and "the weed"
”We don’t like to call it weed as a weed is a wild growing pest so to say.”



According to The Vedas, cannabis was one of five sacred plants and a guardian angel lived in its leaves. The Vedas call cannabis a source of happiness, joy-giver, liberator that was compassionately given to humans to help  attain delight and lose fear (Abel, 1980). It releases anxiety. The god, Shiva is frequently associated with cannabis, which is called “bhang” in India. According to legend, Shiva wandered off into the fields after an angry discourse with his family. Drained from the family conflict and the hot sun, he fell asleep under a leafy plant. When he awoke, his curiosity led him to sample the leaves of the plant. Instantly rejuvenated, Shiva made the plant his favorite food and Siva became known as the Lord of Bhang.

But the use of marijuana for the spiritual purpose was present also in the Taino culture (as we have shown earlier) as well as in some African cultures. Practitioners of Kumina, a West African tradition, also utilized marijuana to communicate with their ancestors. Ironically, the British were the main suppliers of marijuana to Indians in Jamaica before it was criminalized in 1938. Later the Rastaferian produced them  in large quantities and exported it even to England.  In all the raids of Howell’s Pinnacle large amounts of money was found which was claimed to be the money raised from the sale of marijuana.

It is usually used within religious ceremonies in a highly ritualised manner in order to enhance feelings of unity and help generate visions of a spiritual and soothing nature. Rastafari “reasoning sessions” are religious meetings that involve group meditation, and marijuana is used to help the follower go into a trance-like state. The marijuana is usually smoked in a pipe (or “chalice”) and a short prayer is always recited before it is smoked by the Rastas:

“Glory be to the father and to the maker of creation. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be World without end.”

Reasoning sessions are very important religious rituals for Rastas – it’s a time for them to come together to debate living according to the Rastafari outlook. The effects of smoking marijuana allow the user to reach a sort of “cosmic consciousness,” a state where they become closer to “Jah” (God) and can see the truth of the world more clearly and allows the smoker to discover their inner divinity, or "InI consciousness". The pipe is passed in a counter-clockwise direction around the assembled circle of Rastas.


Most Rastafari only smoke Ital Herb if possible, Ital meaning without tobacco and that the Herb is grown Pure and Natural without the use of chemicals - the organic herb in todays tongue.  

Rastas believe that the Tree of Life mentioned in the Bible is the marijuana plant and that several other biblical passages further promote its use,

There are several of biblical passages in the bible which Rastafari see as support for its use

Genesis 1:12 And the earth brought forth grass and herb yielding seed after its kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and YAH saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:29-31 29 And YAH said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. 31 And YAH saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

(Genesis 3:18)“Thou shalt eat the herb of the field” ,

(Exodus 10:12) “Eat every herb of the land” and  

 Ezekiel 34:29 “And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more”

Isaiah 18:4-5  4 For so the LORD said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs, and like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest. 5 For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches.

Psalm 104:14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth.

Revelations 22:1-2  On either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare 12 manner of fruits, and yielding her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

2: Rastafari Meditation

Herb is often used to enhance this state of being, but it is not a necessity. Anything that has to do with Rastafari and doing that with the highest focus or intent is part of the meditation of a Rastafari, giving Praises to YAH and/or Haile Selassie I, playing Nyahbinghi or Reggae music, Chanting, reading the Bible, the burning of incense like frankincense and mere, a wood Fire if living outdoors, Good healthy and lively eating, physical activity…it is all a part of a Rastafari meditation or focus.


A lot of people use tobacco in their spliff, but it’s good to know that tobacco is what they call a “downer” on an energetical level. It brings people down Spiritually, mentally and physically. Pure Herb is what they call an “upper” it gives the feeling of being High and also functions as a medicine.

Meditation is part of Judeo-Christian life and rituals and use of music etc are found in all religions. Genesis 24:62 -67;  Joshuah 1.6-8; Psalms 1:1-3; Psalms 19:7 -14; Psalms 49:1-3; Psalms 104:33-35;  Psalms 119:1 -16 and 52-48 and 88-99;and       137-149; Psalms 143:1-6 
Yoga meditation, Kundalini meditation, Zen meditation, etc.are similar to this also.
Music is a big part of a Rastafari Meditation.

Some Rastafari burn incense when meditating, this can be different things.
The main incense being used by Rastafari is Herb. Not only is it used to smoke, it is also plainly used as incense. It is mentioned in certain old Bibles as kaneh bosm and was used for sacred practices   Frankincense and Myrrh are also mentioned in the Bible and often used by Rastafari. The burning of plain wood in a fire can also be seen in this way, 

3: Ritual chanting.
Repeated use of the same prayer is supposed to give a concentration effect for the mind.  In Christianity Jesus is the Word who became flesh and Jesus created everything by the world of mouth.

In India the word AUM is considered to be this word that created and is hence contains the power of creation. It starts from the stomach and rises in three levels unblocking all chakras .Mantras has got the efficiency to bring concentration.
It is suggested that the Jah chant itself probably came from the hindu worship chant jai jai Krishna etc.


4: The Braided Long Hair

Hindu Sanyasins also do not cut their hair as the Rastafarians and keep them as braided bands. This evidently was borrowed directly from the Indians. For Biblical reference the Nazarene vows alone stand related to it.



5.Ital diet
Rastafari have a specific diet called Ital, a word that stems from vital. Many people confuse Ital with vegetarianism or veganism. It’s actually a diet of its own and may change somewhat based on the denomination of Rastafari or the individual.

They refuse any processed foods. They won’t eat red meat. . Many will still eat fish because they believe that it is allowed in the Bible. However, some refuse to eat fish, and others will remove dairy from their diet and go closer to full-vegan.

In Rastafari, your body is considered your temple, so you need to really take good care of yourself. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

Part of this can be seen in the philosophy of the Ital diet. However, it goes much further than just eating good food to take care of your health. They believe that they should let their hair grow long and not taint it with anything unnatural. This all comes down to respecting your body and what it is. You don’t cut your hair, tattoo your skin, or eat bad food.


6. Heroes as God

The installation of Emperor Haile Selassie as the Jah the God of Rastaferians also is a clear borrowing of the Indian custom of making their heroes in all varying fields as gods.  Here are ten examples of the hero worship as given in http://www.feedzig.com/10-celebrity-temples-india/

.Top 10 Celebrity Temples in India Maintained by Fans/Worshippers Sunita V 2016 

As if having hundreds of deities wasn’t enough, Indians have been redefining idol worship by building temples for real life personalities, including actors, politicians and sportsmen.

.1.  Mahatma Gandhi Temple, Odisha

In a small village called Bhatra near Sambalpur, Odisha is a temple dedicated to the Father of the Nation. Built in the 1970s with the intention of promoting communal harmony, the temple sees visitors all religions and castes. The idea of building it came from ex-MLA Abhimayu Kumar as he wanted to provide a temple for Dalits, who were not allowed to enter other temples due to their ‘untouchable’ status. The head priest, who performs the morning and evening arati at the temple, is a Dalit. Gandhi’s teachings are also read daily at the temple.

.2.  Sonia Gandhi, Andhra Pradesh

Located in Mallial town in Karimnagar district is a temple built in 2014 to honour Sonia Gandhi as the creator of Telangana State – a token of gratitude to the party president from Congress members in the state. The temple has a marble statue of Sonia Gandhi as well as portraits of other members of her family, including Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

. 3.  Narendra Modi, Gujarat

Followers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi built a temple for him in 2015 at Kothariya Village near Rajkot. The main movers behind this initiative were a group of BJP leaders and state ministers, including Govind Patel and Vijay Rupani, who wanted to celebrate Modi’s journey to success starting as a first time contestant at the Rajkot assembly polls to finally becoming the country’s leader.

. 4.  Amitabh Bachchan, South Kolkata

It’s only natural that the icon of Bollywood should have a temple in his name! In Old Kolkata’s Ballugung area, is a temple dedicated to Amitabh Bachchan. The two roomed temple is a museum of sorts with a collection of photographs from the superstar’s films in the first room, while the inner sanctum has a green throne like chair that was featured in Amitabh-starring supernatural thriller Aks. On the chair rests the white shoes that star wore in the movie Agnipath. Sanjay Patodia, who worships Bachchan like a devotee rather than a fan, built this temple in 2003. The rituals and ceremonies in this place of worship are conducted like in any other Hindu temple in India.

 5.  Rajnikanth, Karnataka

Unlike other celebrity temples, this one is different as it does not have an idol of the Tamil superstar Rajnikanth, but rather a special ‘Sahasra lingam’ installed by his fans, for the health and prosperity of their favourite star. This is a part of the Kotilingeswara Temple in Kolar district, Karnataka – a famous Shiva temple that allows installation of lingams for a price. Like with all other lingams in this temple, the one for Rajni was installed by the temple priests after special prayers and Vedic chants.

6.  Sachin Tendulkar, Bihar

A temple to India’s cricket god Sachin Tendulkar is being constructed in Kaimur district in Bihar by Bhojpuri singer-actor Manoj Tiwari. The temple will feature a life-sized white marble statue of Tendulkar.




.7.  MGR, Thirunindravoor, Tamil Nadu

Perhaps no other state in India worships film actors as much as Tamil Nadu. In Nathamedu village in Thirunindravoor in Chennai district is a temple built for M G Ramachandran, a former Chief Minister of the state and a popular actor. The temple was built in 2011 by Kalaivanan, a great fan of the actor, using his own money as well as donations from other MGR devotees.

8.  Kushboo, Thiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu

Tamil movie heroine Kushboo had a temple built for her in Trichy by her fans in 2001. However, her status as Mother Goddess was short lived as the temple was demolished by angry fans in 2005 following her controversial stance on premarital sex.


9.  Namitha, Tamil Nadu

The second Tamil movie actress to have the honour of temple built in her name is Namitha, whose fans constructed one for her in Tirunelveli District.


.10.  Mayawati, Uttar Pradesh

In Mahoba District in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, a temple is being built for Dalit leader, Mayawati. The temple is located on land owned by a Mahoba-based lawyer, Kanaihya Lal.



Behold our gods
It is here the significance of making heroes as gods which Hinduism has brought into Rastafari beliefs.  You can see these arguments from InI as pervading divinity of all humanity. They take the statement of Haile Selassie I “'I am a man,'  'I am mortal,' 'I would be replaced by the oncoming generation,and that they should never make a mistake in assuming or pretending that the human being is emanated from a deity.' etc” to twist and use the Indian concept that “God is in Everyone”
see the blogs for these arguments

7. Reincarnation
In Rastafari there is no funeral ceremony to mark the end of life.

Rastafarians believe that reincarnation follows death, and that life is eternal.
Man was created as an eternal being.  Death was given as a blessing by God so that in a fallen world man may not suffer pain eternally. Death is only temperory period of sleep in between.  Life is not in heaven, but here in this world.  Heaven and Hell are on earth 


Hinduism is the leading single religion of the Indo-Caribbean communities of the West Indies. Hindus are particularly well represented in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, where they constituted 25 percent of the total population, as of 1995. Smaller groups of Indo-Caribbeans live elsewhere in the Caribbean, especially Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

It is easy to see how the Jamaican blacks were able to make their culture following the age old custom and culture of the Indian continent in such a short indirect contact with the labor forces who went to the island to find a means of living.

The word  “Rasta” in Hindi of India mean ”The Way”


Jesus as represented by the Rastaferians

” We as Negroes have found a new ideal, whilst our god has no color yet it is human to see everything through one’s own spectacles. And since the whites people have seen their god through white spectacles we have only now started out late thought it be, to see our god through our spectacles….We shall worship Him through the Spectacles of Ethiopia” (The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. page 41)


Jesus with crown of thorns - white and black


“King Ras Tafari of Ethiopia was sent as the Messiah, to free the minds of Africans who have been enslaved mentally and physically. King Ras Tafari taught us to go beyond the height of consciousness and accept that the black man too have a GOD that is made in the image of a BLACK man, same as the White GOD is made in the image of a white man, an Indian GOD is made in the image of Indian man, an Oriental GOD is made in the image of a Oriental man etc.” Howell.

The Last Supper

Why was it possible for the Hindu culture to superimpose over the early Rasta culture? It will not surprise us that this was not really accidental. We have to look into the derivation of Hinduism in India from the Indus Valley Civilization.  I had elsehwere in detail dealt with the connection between the Indus Valley Dravidians and the Abrahamic people.  Long before the Aryans came and conquered Indus area there were these black people whom the white Aryans called Dasyus - the servants or slaves from which at least one group of the Abrahamic children originated.The second wife of Abraham was Keturah. Keturah bore Abraham six sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Genesis and First Chronicles also list seven of her grandsons (Sheba, Dedan, Ephah, Epher, Enoch, Abida, and Eldaah). Keturah's sons were sent to the East   (Genesis 25:1-6).

Thus the Dravidians who formed the major group who went to west indies as indentured laborers were of Abrahamic origin.  Whenever a religious group who were non-monotheistic these people always reverted the faith into monotheism.  This was done when the pantheistic Aryans invaded India with their 33 gods of nature.  The dravidians teachers went underground and began to teach in upanishadic way establishing finally the concept of Brahman, the God of Abraham.  Upanishad simply mean “sitting beside” the way a teacher teacher his disciples by word of mouth.  These were later written down and were called “Upanishads.”

Later when Christianity came into India with Apostle Thomas with the teaching of Trinitarian concept and the concept of incarnation they simply took away the Christ of history and introduced the concept of atman (individual human soul) as part of Paramatman (the ultimage soul) - the God. So if we meet the Dravidians who were coolies as partners with the blacks who were bound with Christians with HIM as the second coming of Christ, it was natural for them to reinterpret and establish their monotheistic Brahman, the God of Abraham who alone exists with clear definition as InI.



The Yakult Midrash makes mention of the tribal connections of the three wives of Abraham.
“Abraham married three wives –

l        Sarah, a daughter of Shem;

l        Keturah, a daughter of Japheth; and

l        Hagar, a daughter of Ham.” (chapt. 8)

.Acts 17:26-28 New King James Version (NKJV)

26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’