Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Religion and Modernity in India

"While the West often likes to imagine the religions of the East as deep wells of ancient, unchanging wisdom," writes William Dalrymple, "in reality, much of India’s religious identity is closely tied to specific social groups, caste practices and father-to-son lineages, all of which are coming under threat as Indian society transforms beyond recognition" — Rush Hour for the Gods. The author notes that "development, progress and education have not in any way threatened religion in South Asia." He reports:
Instead, across the subcontinent, faith has been growing and religion becoming stronger as the region develops and reinvents itself. In nineteenth-century Europe, industrialization and the mass migrations from farms and villages to the towns and cities went hand in hand with the death of God: organized religion began to decline and the church and state moved further and further apart. The experience of South Asia has been more or less the reverse of this.Click on the link for more about this "dramatic revival of piety and religion in India" and "how globalization may be making her country richer and arguably more materialistic, but it is also making India more religious." This anecdote stands out:
In the southern Indian state of Kerala, I visited the village of Mannarkkad where the Virgin Mary in the Christian church and goddess Bhagavati in the Hindu temple are believed by locals to be sisters. For centuries, the villagers brought the two together in a procession which ensured peace between the two religious communities. Now, however, this old syncretism is under attack. Some of the village Hindus have built a new Vishnu temple which is the chosen place of worship for those who do not have anything to do with Christians, of whose prosperity and prominence they disapprove.The Christian clergy at the church of Mannarkkad also do all they can to stop their own flock from visiting the Hindu temple, and they strongly disapprove of their congregation indulging in syncretic ceremonies. When I asked the local priest, Fr. Kuriakos, about the festival of the goddess Bhagavati and her forthcoming visit to the church to see her sister, he made it clear that he would on no account be present to welcome the goddess: “The Virgin Mary comes from Jewish tradition,” he said, clearly exasperated from repeating this regularly to his congregation. “She is the daughter of Joachim and Anna, and was from Palestine, not India. This Devi temple is a thing from Indian tradition. There is no relation between the Virgin Mary and Bhagavati,” he said. “We cannot encourage this belief. It is a myth. Worse, it is nonsense.”

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