Slokas On The Mount
Outlook India Magazine
May 12, 2008
Om Namah Jesu could well reverberate inside hundreds of Catholic churches in India very soon, if the changing physical face of these places of worship is anything to go by.
The Vatican-blessed process of ‘inculturation’ being implemented by the 168 Catholic dioceses in India has already seen Jesus acquiring the form of a Hindu sage, St John the Baptist with a ‘kamandalu’, grottos in the shape of conch shells, and a church in Bangalore that can easily be mistaken for a temple.
‘Inculturation’, broadly speaking, is the indigenisation of the Church through the process of assimilating local culture and symbols in construction, layout, interior design, furniture and religious fixtures like the tabernacles.
by Hindu religious symbols. The tabernacle at the recently inaugurated Our Lady of Mount Carmel church at Murugani near Dumka in Jharkhand, for example, has been rendered in the shape of a ‘kula’—used by local tribals and people in neighbouring states, including West Bengal, to thresh foodgrains, and regarded as an auspicious symbol.
This process began gradually in the early 1990s, but gathered momentum about five years ago. “Initially, there was a lot of opposition to this from conservative elements in the Church. For them, any dilution of the European element in church construction, or in the murals depicting scenes from the Bible where all the people look European, or in statues or church articles, was totally unacceptable. That has slowly changed with the growing realisation that the Church has to incarnate the Gospel in the culture in which it is being preached,” a senior priest from the Archdiocese of Calcutta told Outlook on condition of anonymity.
Explained Father Varghese Puthussery, the Jesuit Provincial of Dumka-Raiganj who inaugurated the Murugani church, “In many parts of Asia, especially in India, Christianity is inseparably linked with Western culture, which is looked upon as alien.
Many committed Christians in India feel a split between their Indian cultural experience and the still-Western character of what they experience in the Church. Inculturation, thus, is the Church’s attempt to bridge that divide.” The Murugani church is an eloquent example of ‘inculturation’. “The structure is not typical; we’ve incorporated elements of Islamic architecture since many old buildings in this region have a strong Islamic influence. The tribal influence too is very strong in this church.
The pulpit is a replica of a ‘morai’ used by local Santhal tribals to store grains, the altar rests on a tribal drum, the fibreglass statue of Jesus at the sanctuary looks as if it is carved out of wood, since tribals worship wood-carved deities, and the stained glass windows depicting parables from the Bible have persons with a distinctly tribal look,” Subrata Ganguly, the man helping the Catholic Church implement the ‘inculturation’ process, told Outlook.
Ganguly runs Church Art, a firm that designs new churches and renovates existing ones to give them a strong local flavour. “We have worked in all states of the country. In the case of new churches, we formalise a concept after intensive discussions with the local diocese and congregations, and then work with a local architect to give the concept a concrete shape on the drawing board. Next, we work with the contractor to ensure proper construction.
After that, we start working on the interiors and various other objects like the pulpit, the altar, murals, windows and various other objects. With old or existing churches, too, we follow a similar routine. All the moveable ‘inculturated’ objects, including murals and statues, are made at my workshop in Calcutta and transported to the respective sites. Big objects like statues are transported in knocked-down form and then reassembled at the site,” says Ganguly.
Remarkable specimens of the studio’s creations exist around the country. Like Jesus sitting cross-legged on a lotus (installed in a church in Hyderabad), or Jesus emerging after a purifying bath in the Ganges with temples on the riverbanks (in a mural in a Haridwar church), or rendered as a typical Bastar tribal priest surrounded by tribal women at a church at Bhopal. At a church at Jhansi, scenes from Christ’s life in a set of 40 paintings has human and animal characters that leap straight out of Amar Chitra Katha and Panchatantra comics. “We’ve installed similar panels in many churches and the feedback has been very good. We’re getting requests to make more such panels and murals, which show biblical characters in Indian forms, from various churches, seminaries and Catholic institutions all across the country,” says Ganguly.
“There is greatness and divinity is every culture and the Church draws from that to make itself more acceptable to local congregations. This is more so with tribals and in tribal areas,” says Dumka’s Bishop Rev Julius Marandi. ‘Inculturation’, say Catholic priests, is an evolving process specially tailored to different local traditions. “The requirements for an inculturated church or seminary in Northeast India are very different from those at Ambapara in Rajasthan’s Udaipur, where the next ‘inculturated’ church is coming up,” explains Ganguly.
“At a seminary near Shillong, for instance, Jesus is shown in a mural standing under a pine tree with people in Khasi and Garo headgear around him. At Ambapara, we’ll show Jesus as a Bhil tribal. We’ve studied and researched extensively on the Bhils; we always do this before every such project, to get an accurate idea of local customs, traditions and culture,” he adds. Already, typical Hindu rituals like ‘aarti’ are being performed inside churches.
At a church in Nadia, the Good Shepherd looks like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the 15th century Vaishnavite saint of Bengal, his arms raised in a beatific trance. At this rate, can the cross taking the shape of a trishul be far behind? http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20080512&fname=Church+%28F%29&sid=1
It is not totally baseless if Hindu leaders fear that ‘Indianisation of Christianity’ is meant to bring about ‘Christianisation of India’. – Nitya Chaitanya Guru
What’s in a Name? @ http://indiasecular.wordpress.com/2007/08/22/what-is-in-name/
Interview of Evangelist @ http://indiasecular.wordpress.com/2007/10/07/interview-of-anevangelist/
Evangelism for Sikhs @ http://www.info-sikh.com/PageChris1.html
Tsunami Muslims Christianized @ http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2005-01/13/article05.shtml
Religious Harmony @ http://www.crusadewatch.org/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=928
Inculturation Danger @ . http://newstodaynet.com/col.php?section=20&catid=29