Denmark: Welcoming Many
© Urmila Goel,
www.urmila.de 2002 [also in
Church of Zion in Tranquebar, in
Nagapattinam District in Tamil Nadu dates back
to 1701 and was founded by the Danes. It is the
oldest Protestant church in India.
1713 the Tamil boy Timotheus is presented at the court in Copenhagen. He is
brought from the Danish colony Tranquebar by missionaries of the
“Dänisch-Hallesche Mission”, the first protestant mission in Southern India from
1706 to 1837. At their school he was taught not only the Christian religion but
also the Danish language. Now he is brought to Europe as a show piece.
Seeing Timotheus the widow of the king is so much impressed, that she asks for a
Christian Tamil boy for herself, whom she gets. Timotheus gets to know the
Tamils already living in Copenhagen. When his relationship to a Tamil girl – a
former slave of a Danish priest in Tranquebar – becomes public in 1714,
prejudices about the sexual permissiveness of Tamils are strengthened.
Nonetheless Timotheus begins his studies to become a missionary. These are
interrupted when the king allows a journey to Halle. After his return Timotheus
is selected to teach two Danish candidates for the mission in Portuguese and
Tamil. Soon, however, another training is sought for Timotheus, he begins an
apprenticeship as a bookbinder, which he completes in 1717. After marrying the
Tamil Sahra he returns to India, where he works for the mission. (Liebau 1996,
Today - long after Denmark has ceased to be a colonial power - the link to
Tranquebar seems to have gone as well. Only few immigrants of Indian origin live
in the country, the considerable number of Tamils are refugees from Sri Lanka,
the largest South Asian group in Denmark are the Pakistanis. The latter seem to
have come as guest workers in the 1960s and 70s (Steen 1993, 103). Ali (1982,
84-85) gives an account of the Pakistanis in Denmark at the beginning of the
According to this report they come mainly from the Punjab, the majority
are men, who work in the production and service sectors of the economy. An Imam
of a mosque is a Pakistani, there are some Urdu magazines and already 1982 a
convention of Pakistanis in Denmark has been hold. A few years later in 1985 the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Denmark invites to an international Hindu Conference in
Copenhagen with the objective of bringing the European Hindu community together.
While the majority of immigrants of Indian or Pakistani origin have in 1998 the
Danish nationality, most Tamils who came later as refugees are legally still Sri
Lankans. Their entry is the second influx of refugees after the 4000 to 5000
Asians coming from East Africa at the beginning of the 1970s . In fact Denmark,
which has had a history of assisting refugees (Steen 1993, 87) , received an
unusual large number of Tamils for its size (81).
When the first Tamils applied for asylum in Denmark in 1984 they could not refer
to an ethnic support group living there already, they came to a culturally
totally alien country (81). The support came from the Danish state. Although in
1986 Denmark tightened its Aliens Act (87), most Tamils have been recognised as
de facto refugees, which gives them a legally secure status, allows for family
reunion (81) and provides them access to the same social services as the Danes
The refugees pass through a process beginning with the pre-asylum phase
from a few months to several years in refugee camps, where they are not entitled
to work and their children cannot attend the Danish schooling system, continuing
with the integration phase, when their asylum has been granted and they are -
for in average17 months - in the care of the Danish Refugee Council, and finally
finding their welfare in the responsibility of the municipality. (94-95)
Confronted with the bad reputation of other refugees and the guestworkers of the
60s and 70s the Tamils make attempts to differentiate themselves from these
(103). Their polite and reserved behaviour makes them the ideal refugee for the
Danes, makes them the favoured group of the officials (102-103). Nonetheless
their life is not easy. Besides being faced by patronising and missionising
instincts by the Danes, who are guided by cultural stereotypes and use their
assymetrical power position (100), they increasingly have problems finding
employment (97). The Danish system makes them clients rather then acting
After the first pioneers had found their way to Denmark chain migration set in.
Newcomers – mainly young bachelors – are related to earlier refugees, are their
friends or school-mates from the home village. Virtually nobody leaves Sri Lanka
for Denmark without contacts and telephone numbers of Tamils living there
already. Once arrived they often become closely attached to their “contact”-
families. (166) The social life takes place primarily in the Tamil community.
Only few have relationships with Danish women and even less legalise these.
(176) There is no feeling of belonging to the place they live in, which hinders
also the establishment of their own institutions (186).
In 1985 the need for a Hindu temple is first formulated (183). The wish is
however not strong enough to put it to realisation (185). The religious rites
are performed by a travelling Brahmin (183). The first Tamil death in Denmark
brings total confusion about the rituals, a book of verses is sent for in
Germany, but there are not the right persons present to perform the service
(189). Nonetheless Tamils from all over Denmark attend the burial as they were
called by the leader of the LTTE in Denmark. Thus it became a political
demonstration of the refugees in exile. (190-191) Well organised Tamil militant
groups in fact play an important role in the life of the Tamil community in
Denmark. Several groups compete with each other (129). The pressure on the
refugees to support them financially is so high, that many have complained to
the Danish Refugee Council and have requested its help against this (136).
With the emergence of the internet also the Tamil community uses this medium.
For some time the English www.tamil.dk gives a forum to Tamil issues. But not
only the Tamils can be found in the virtual world. There are, for example, some
appearances of second generation Indians. A student with roots in Punjab refers
to these on his homepage and on Dr. Bombay’s homepage one learns about his
Shakti in Denmark - Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger (Aarhus
Abstract of Paper presented at the 3rd Congress of the
European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR), 8.-10. May 2003,
Shakti in Denmark
- a focal point for many Tamils in Diaspora
In Denmark we have two consecrated Hindu temples: one dedicated to Vinayakar
or the elephant-headed Ganesha and the other to the goddess Abirami, where
an autodidact laywoman, Lalitha Sripalan works as priest, shakti-medium and
consequently as healer. This makes her well known among Tamils in Diaspora
in general, who consult her either by phone, mail or by visiting the temple.
This paper will describe the history of Lalitha Sripalan, showing how the
Diaspora situation has given her options, that she presumably would not have
accomplished had she been in Sri Lanka. The paper will discuss her local but
also international role among Tamils, and by using her as an example it will
show how the Tamil Hindu tradition has adapted to the Danish environment. As
a crucial example I will use shakti and its manifestations through Lalitha
Sripalan following the red-letter days in the Danish calendar to a certain
extent, however taking a cyclical understanding of time into account."