What religion is introduced to Pi by his parents?
Pi Patel spent his formative years in Pondicherry, India, where the dominant religion is Hinduism. In Chapter 17, he states, “I owe to Hinduism the original landscape of my religious imagination.” Pi’s religious devotion has not come from his parents, however – in Chapter 23 we learn that his
family was anything but orthodox. Father saw himself as part of the New India – rich, modern and as secular as ice cream. He didn’t have a religious bone in his body…Mother was mum, bored and neutral on the subject. A Hindu upbringing and a Baptist education had precisely cancelled each other out as far as religion was concerned and had left her serenely impious.
Pi’s parents may not have been religious, but they were open-minded and academic, and one could argue that by simply allowing Pi to read and explore, by buying him a prayer rug when he asked for one, they introduced him to a joint religion, with elements of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity; a trifold interest that would help define him for the rest of his life.
As a child, however, he was purely Hindu, but not from a consciously religious point of view – it was rather a cultural assimilation that colored everything around him. He lived and played within it, as one lives and plays in the natural world surrounding a home in the country. He speculates that in the beginning it was his mother’s older sister who was responsible for it all. She was more traditional than his parents and took him as a baby to a Hindu temple. Pi states that at that time, “A germ of religious exultation…was sown in me and left to germinate. It has never stopped growing since that day.” Pi had been surrounded by the rites and rituals and symbols of Hinduism from birth; he had been raised in this environment, and so it was a comfortable and natural religion to be a part of. It felt as well-worn and as familiar as home to him, and so it was his foundation. And though his parents did not play an active role in introducing him to Hinduism, they did not dissuade him in his interests and allowed him to experiment in and interact as he would with the world around him, a world full of the "sense impressions" of Hinduism.