Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Christianity India style

Religion is a seriously big deal in India, and it doesn’t matter what religion you are, India will cater for you. And unlike the more sedate, subtle appreciation of religion we have in most of the West (bar maybe some of the fanatical Christians in the US), in India, religion is a vociferous, colourful and often slightly garish affair.

Take the Christian churches I came across in Munnar. On the hill was the Roman Catholic church – a large stately building looking down over the whole town. Down below, at the base of the hill was another Christian church. This church was an outdoor church: a white, fixed cross stood high and proud on a wide pole. Attached to the pole was silver bunting, which created the shape of a makeshift church roof. Beneath the bunting the priest stood.

At night – every night – this church and the RC church at the top of the hill came to life. And it was in no way subtle! The RC church on the hill had neon blue lights that created an outline of the church so that it shone out from the blackness of the night sky like a beacon. Down below, at the more makeshift church, a PA system attached to the roof of a rickshaw was set up. Out of this blared the tinny sound of an electric organ/keyboard and the unfortunate whine of Indian song performed on a very cheap and nasty mic. Small neon lights were hung around the invisible edge of the church and flashed every colour of the neon light colour spectrum.

Out in the street, life came to a halt. Rickshaws came to a firm stop in the middle of the road and people gathered holding candles to hear the sermon boom through the crackling loudspeakers. People had come from everywhere for the service and filled the entire road, frustrating those rickshaw drivers who were still trying to make a few pennies and who insisted on nudging the mass goers out of the way with their front tyre whilst simultaneously pelting their horns.

The following evening I was sat in the garden of Rheinberg Homestay when I nearly jumped out of my skin in fright with the sound of the loudest and, what must have been, the lowest airbourne fireworks I’ve ever heard. Intrigued, I headed down into the town to take a look at what was going on. A large procession was taking place on behalf of St Anthony (I’m not entirely sure why as that’s as much information as I could gather). The street again was filled with people walking in procession and holding candles. At the front, beneath a tarpaulin attached to four poles and held by four people, the priest led the way. Just behind him was a large open-backed truck. On the roof of the driver’s compartment was attached a large gaudy statue of, I guess, St Anthony. The truck was draped in coloured tarpaulin and flowers; a thin string of neon lights also made an appearance. At the back of the truck were (as you’d expect) a PA system blaring religious hymns and a collection of V.I.P’s. Again, traffic frantically wove in and out among the procession goers and yet they continued to walk peacefully with their candles not fearing for their lives whatsoever.

It was a fantastic sight to see, the colour, the culture, the clamour, the character bringing my vision of India very much to life!

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