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Do gods and saints weep?

October 18, 2008

The star of fortune has risen for Malayali women, not in this world but in the next. Catholics in Kerala celebrated the canonization of Sr. Alphonsa, a young nun from Kudamaloor in Kottayam district, who passed away after a life of intense bodily suffering and prayer in 1946, as a ray of hope in hard times. Becoming a nun and leading a life of asceticism were never easy choices. That too, for a eligible, beautiful young woman in early 20th century Kerala, born in a small village, whose guardians were determined to see her respectably married. Given to excruciatingly difficult forms of prayer even as a child, Alphonsa resisted her maternal aunt’s plans dramatically by trying to disfigure herself. She jumped into a smouldering ash-pit; badly burned, she climbed out. The family was so taken aback that they gave in to her desire to become a nun. This story is not an isolated one: struggling with one’s family to escape domesticity in the hope of a rich spiritual life and an ‘eternal bridegroom’ in Christ is a story retold by other Malayali nuns, for instance, the well-known poet Sr. Mary Benigna. Breaking social norms in the service of Christ was also characteristic of the story of Sr. Mariam Thresia, the other female candidate for sainthood from Kerala (there are six candidates for sainthood from Kerala now,mostly Syrian Catholics, including Sr Mariam Thresia) — her spiritual life began with attempts to reach out to suffering families across caste.

No doubt, the contrast between the male and female candidates is striking indeed. While most of the male candidates are known to be institution-builders, the women’s hagiographies emphasize their capacity for suffering and subservience. Mariam Thresia’s remarkably active and dramatic life as the founder of the Holy Family Convents, the first indigenous order of Catholic nuns in India who devoted themselves to visiting and aiding distressed families, is, in fact, less emphazised in the hagiographies.The criterion for sainthood is the saint’s capacity to produce miracles. Mariam Thresia’s suffering was literally imitatio christi — it is said that she was given to trances on Fridays,and would bleed with/as Jesus on the cross, driven by such an unseen force that her hands would be pinned on the wall in a crucified position and could not be pulled away.But given her determination to change the lives of oppressed others through walking and working in this world, one could imagine her less willing to work miracles!

Alphonsa’s sainthood is connected with her status as the worker of miracles — she is perhaps the most popular Catholic saint in Kerala, after the mythical St.George, who continues to be worshiped by Christians and Hindus. St.George is no Malayali but thoroughly domesticated, a hybrid saint (Portuguese-Malayali or British Malayali). Even though his historicity was questioned by the Vatican, he continues to have a huge following in Kerala. St.George is domesticated in Kerala mainly through the ‘kinship’ system that exists between Hindu and Christian gods in Kerala. Sibling ties are projected between deities in temples and saints in churches. In my ancestral village, St.George, in the local church, and the Bhagawati — Kali — in the local temple, are believed to be brother and sister bound by matrilineal norms — which means that the sibling tie is really strong. Until a few decades ago, fowl sacrifice was common during the temple festival, and it was believed that the meat was to be treated as a gift to the brother from the sister. The festival procession bearing the idol of the goddess goes along the road to the church, and on reaching the church courtyard, the elephant bearing the Bhagawati’s idol turns towards the main entrance. The doors of the church are left open and brother and sister face each other in an annual meeting. A similar meeting is enacted during the saint’s festival; this time the doors of the temple are left open for the brother-sister meeting. There are many other wonderful stories of Hindu and Christian gods becoming friends; one from Piravam — about  god Siva making friends with the Three Magi, when they were traveling along the same route which was long and tiring. The four gentlemen reached the Meenachil river and were unable to cross it. There appeared a kind boatman, Chalasery Panicker,who ferried them across. He saw that these were not mortals and so persuaded them to stay on at Piravam in appropriate residences — the Siva temple, and the Church of the Three Magi at Piravam.The house of Chalasery still receives honours from both shrines during annual festivals. People do not tamper with these traditions of kinship and friendship readily. Such interference is supposed to bring bad luck. In one such village in Kannur, young RSS men persuaded the temple committee to end the ritual meeting of the goddess with her brother (St.Sebastian, in this case) and kept temple door closed during the saint’s procession. Apparently, that was a terrible year, and finally it was reckoned — through the priest and the temple oracle — that the discontinuation of her meeting with her brother had displeased the goddess. The practice has been restored.

Alphonsa’s divine acts are wonderful in that they carry on this tradition of kinship and friendship with the other. She is reported to have healed Hindus, Muslims, and Christians of club-feet. The most exhilarating of such tales is of a young Hindu woman from Thrissur who was cured by Alphonsa. Since she was strongly identified with Alphonsa, the young woman prayed to her for advice on whether to convert and become a nun. The saint appeared to her in a dream, she says, and told her that there was no reason to convert, and besides, she should pray for the souls of those  people who may demand such conversion. In the puja room of the family, a large framed photograph of Alphonsa is venerated along with Hindu gods; an oil lamp is lit for the latter; a candle, for Alphonsa. On the wall is pinned Sree Narayana Guru’s dictum — ‘One caste, one faith, one god, for Humanity’. This is a tradition from long; I remember, as a child, listening to a prayer song called the Kanyaambikaastavam — eulogy of the virgin mother– penned by a senior grandaunt who had been cured of eczema by St.Mary of Manarcaud — who is the sister of Kannaki, who resides in a neighbouring shrine. Women danced to this song during Onam.

Strangely, I find tears pricking in my eyelids as I write these wonderful stories. These tales of love, friendship, and sharing have been the bedrock of communal amity in Kerala, I feel — and not ‘rational choice’ by communities trying to maximise their social, economic,and political advantage. The echoes of hate against the Christian faith have struck us too — Hindu fanatics have tried to desecrate many shrines of these saints, these beloved figures, who are so much part of our growing up.The incidents did not multiply. But such hate hurts those of us who have grown up in the warmth of benevolent non-sanskritised and non-vaticanised village deities who resembled grandmothers and grandfathers, and not transcendental beings.

I want to go back to my childhood and pray to St.George and Kali — both adept at slaying monsters — to protect us from the evils of casteists and religious fanatics.

45 Comments leave one →
  1. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 19, 2008 12:31 AM

    This is Christian pathology and propaganda at its worst. God bless you laughable Virgins of Christ.

  2. urmila permalink
    October 19, 2008 10:57 AM

    this piece does not seem to have anything which can invite as vicious a comment as the one by mr. bhattacharjee. i personally do not agree with the liberal multicultural we-all-love-local-traditions approach (nandy’s religion-as-faith) of the piece but this comment is downright right-wing.

  3. Aarti permalink*
    October 19, 2008 12:35 PM

    Manash,

    Perhaps you would like to elaborate precisely how Devika’s post is Christian pathology and propoganda. I find this form of argument quite disturbing to put it frankly where you can simply write off a text appropriately labeled as per your current peeves and prejudices. It would help in furthering the discussion if you could tell us what about the piece irks you.

    Urmila, thanks for your comment. I actually did not read this piece as Nandy’s religion-as-faith, though again I don’t think there is nothing of value in his position. Nor do I think devika would think of it as falling in some framework of liberal-multiculturalism (though of course she will have much more to say about this).

    Rather, I think the piece demonstrates the complex ways in which religious traditions make place for each other and in the current hostile environment I think it is a point worth making. Similar multi-faith practices and traditions particularly to do with devotion at the shrines of Muslim Pirs, at particular Gurduwaras, are common all over Punjab, Rajasthan and the North West. I don’t think we should see these as liberal multiculturalism because that assumes that culture and religion are fixed entities which interact with each other within certain discursive norms. These practices are much more banal, everyday, and therefore, I hope, resilient.

    best
    A

  4. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 19, 2008 1:34 PM

    Aarti,

    You could have also perhaps asked Urmila, how could she come to her conclusion about my remarks so easily, and without any explanation whatsoever.

    Anyway, I found Devika’s story a sentimental hogwash. There was no attempt to analyse the “symptom” or the “event” which could give us some idea about the whole myth behind miracles. It was taken for granted and left for our imagination! I wonder what is being provoked here. What does this sentence even mean? – “Becoming a nun and leading a life of asceticism were never easy choices. That too, for a eligible, beautiful young woman in early 20th century Kerala, born in a small village, whose guardians were determined to see her respectably married”. The problems behind being “respectably married” is too easily contrasted with “a life of asceticism” and the latter is subtly eulogized. This is dangerously religious. And propagandist. The fact that Hindu and Christian gods “became friends” doesn’t affect the ideology of religious rule over people’s psyche. In the garb of being a secular liberal, Devika betrays too many sentiments without giving a single critical explanation. If she’s asserting her rights to be a believer-intellectual, then I don’t mind. But it is certainly not the language of a critical intellectual. There is an absolute lack of any critique of the church. I don’t mind the stories which have come up around the befriending between Hindu and Christian figureheads. But to treat those stories like some wonderful, liberating mythology of Hindu-Christian amity would be too much. We need to look at the politics of friendship as critically as we look at the politics of enmity. Devika writes: “Alphonsa’s divine acts are wonderful in that they carry on this tradition of kinship and friendship with the other.” I wonder how should we read this “tradition of kinship and friendship” which is made to rest upon the “divine acts” of Alphonsic proportions. If Devika wants us to take the ‘divine act’ for granted, I understand. Or else we are still left with the painful task of interpreting this so-called divine act.

    Basic historical knowledge would reveal that Christian conversions in India allowed the induction of local gods and practices. But be it in Nagaland or Kerela, the church plays its own hegemonic role. The most pro-Naga movement friends who have visited Nagaland in the recent past have told me how one can’t raise a single finger, or question in Nagaland, against the church. It is almost taboo. Naga nationalism and Christianity is problematically enmeshed there.

    And yes – I don’t mind saying that I find the propaganda which succeeds in making women desiring to become Virgins in the service of the Lord, as bad and probably worse than the idea of a ‘respectable marriage’. I would rather go for a society where women risk the perils of a sexual relationship than going for a relationship which is the Origin of all (religious) patriarchy!

  5. Devika permalink
    October 19, 2008 5:23 PM

    I’m not arguing for liberal multiculturalism at all. In fact, the kind of faith I’m talking about is not about bounded communities that then jostle for space peacefully or otherwise. Nor is conflict absent; to the contrary, the kind of relationship I briefly talked of did directly involve acknoweldgement and resolution of conflict. The lib-multiculturalist mode is what is now prefered by community elites. In fact, as a response to Orissa, the two ‘communities’ held a series of dialogues which actually fall into the poverty-stricken liberal multiculturalist mode, which lets the elite of both sides take over. Both sides are equally contemptuous of the kind of faith I’m talking about; both would like their respective faiths cleansed and stable.

    As for Mr Bhattacharjee’s comment, I will not respond to people who leap at other people’s throats in a hurry. His contempt for the other is so apparent in the way he writes and his interpretations and inferences are downright wrong. And putting up his opinions (for example regarding marriage and the impossibility/stupidity/ political incorrectness of free choice of asceticism) as the BEST TO WHICH YOU BETTER AGREE. His general interpretive method is one of overeading every statement and jabbing an angry and accusing finger at the inadequate people who inhabit the uncivilised wilds beyond deterritorialised New Delhi (or another such metro)whose lives and minds are numbed by superstition, which the likes of him should rightly revive!

    Brand me a Christian propagandist if you will. I’m thankful for the Church in Kerala — it helped a lot of people escape through modern education. It allowed ascetic women dignity in a way that the Hindu faith never did until Amritanandamayi entered the scene quite recently. Irrespective of whether the metro-radicals’ theoretical formulations permit it or not, our mutually intertwined faiths allow spaces for each other, and offer ways of resolving conflict too.

    And Alphonsa’s canonisation is a valuable moment for me. It forcefully disproves the charges of ‘forced conversion’ levelled against the Catholic church. Just when the stories of ‘forced conversion’ by Christsians circulate all over India, a saint who spoke against it is canonized (and this was no spot decision, remember). If the church were so interested in forcibly converting people, why should it canonise a saint who apparently did not recommend it? Mind you, canonisation processes do take into account every single ‘miracle’ attributed to the saint.

    Interestingly, Mr Bhattacharjee’s tone resembles that of Bishop Mar Powathil in some parts and Kummanam Rajasekharan (of the RSS) in others. I can perhaps go back and show, statement by statement, how this person has no clue of religion in Kerala,or how he makes completely unwarranted inferences, but I don’t think correcting Patriarchs, even if they are radical and located in deterritorialised metros, is of any use.

  6. Aarti permalink*
    October 19, 2008 6:28 PM

    Dear Devika,

    In fact the liberal multi-culturalist approach which you rightly deem as ‘poverty stricken’ is precisely in opposition to the everyday non-elite practices of sharing between communities. I remember recently there was much discussion about “communities” in Karnataka policing love between young people where the Bajrang Dal which targets christians in other states and the Social Action Commitee, a Christian organisation, found surprising common cause when it came to forcing young people to stop interacting with each other. When incidents of violence were brought to their attention, predictably the police threw up its hands and said it was up to the “leaders” of the community to deal with the issue as they deemed fit.

    What Manash terms the “ideology of religious rule over people’s psyches” is also located in practices of community policing and silencing by elites, and it is precisely practices like the ones Devika details that cause them the most discomfort.

    best
    A

  7. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 19, 2008 7:08 PM

    May the peaceful reign of the Church and His Holy Father and His Holy Daughters continue to throw us Light and remove society’s ills. We bow our heads respectfully towards all such Deities of Wisdom and Friendship and Love for showering upon this war-ravaged world and country, some moments of sanity. And magic! Amen.

    Yours Faithfully,

    Metro Radical (Neo-convert)

  8. Sunalini Kumar permalink*
    October 19, 2008 7:52 PM

    Manash, sarcastic leaping to conclusions about writers’ hidden fundamentalisms, propaganda and other sins may be fun for you, but it is certainly not very useful. Do you really believe that J Devika is unaware of the fact that there are areas where as you put it, “the church plays its own hegemonic role”? I believe it is a rather well-known point that organised religion has been hegemonic. So no points for revelation there.

    I think the point of Devika’s very unusual story is precisely to trace the non-hegemonising potential of daily inter-religious contact between communities all over this complex country. Indeed, the contact is so enmeshed in local practices as to render elite-led visions of hermetically sealed monolithic communities untenable (right-wing politics as well as, unfortunately, multiculturalism depend on such hermetically sealed categories). You seem to overlook that there could be a range of subtle positions and experiences between the total condemnation / neglect of religion that secular leftists have traditionally practised, and a complete embracing of religious experience in any unreconstructed way. (You may find some reading on liberation theology, or on the Quakers, useful).

    And you follow your own very distinct forms of ‘subtle eulogizing’; prime among them being a valorisation of your notion of an ‘analytical, critical liberal’ over ‘betraying too many sentiments.’. Its been at least a few decades since radical intellectuals of any hue realised that sentiments and critical analysis may coexist without contradiction.

    So God forbid! If Devika did betray too many sentiments’, she must be a ‘laughable Virgin of Christ’. Do you really believe such language is warranted? More importantly, do you really wish to waste your time engaging with such sentimental, dangerous propagandists of the Church, and of other dangerous forms of minority-ism practised by left intellectuals on this post (apropos your comment on the mother of the young muslim man arrested for being a terrorist)?

    Respectfully,

  9. N.D.Jayaprakash permalink
    October 19, 2008 10:43 PM

    Dear Devika,

    Thanks a lot for the sensitive piece. Since you have done the groundwork, it would be very useful if you could actually document all the information that you have collected with photographs, relevant dates, names and addresses, complete lyrics, etc. The information would be of great help in fighting religious bigotry and fundamentalism of all hues.

    Please ignore the sterile comments of the “critical intellectuals” who sit in their ivory towers and who don’t even pretend that they are trying to engage in a serious discourse.

    Regards,
    Jayaprakash

  10. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 20, 2008 2:21 AM

    Sunalini,

    I think having “fun” may be less pathological than utilitarian views of “useful” knowledge. Anyway, since you have responded to me, I thought I must respond back, equally “respectfully”.

    Firstly, I find the distinction between “non-hegemonising potential of daily inter-religious contact between communities” and “elite-led visions of hermetically sealed monolithic communities” quite simplistic. This position is indeed quite close to Ashish Nandy’s. I am critical about that position but don’t reject it outright. Nandy is looking for certain spaces within religio-cultural traditions to exert an ideological pressure against the homogenizing tendencies of secular modernity. Fair enough. But in Nandy’s schema one doesn’t find a critique of the caste system. Nandy is solely concerned about non-masculinized versions of Hinduism. There is an element of truth about the Hindu right-wing movement being masculine but I find it a limiting critique. There is a larger malaise within the whole social structure of Hinduism from which right-wing tendencies can easily emerge. And this larger malaise would include a whole lot of practices where the ideology of the so-called elite and the so-called non-elite merge. Now comes my point – I am more interested in how the distinctions between what is non-hegemonising and what is hegemonising in terms of an elite and non-elite discourse is blurred once this elite/non-elite dichotomy is abandoned as I find it as meaningless as Ambedkar did. You will know how Ambedkar’s central critique of Gandhi’s optimism about villages was precisely that in the villages the atrocities against Dalits have been much more than in the towns and cities. The case is still true. But again, Nandy is quite right in asserting that most communal riots between Hindus and Muslims take place in urban areas. So what is the picture we get? That caste, being a more ancient form of oppression, is more rampant in the villages (even now), while communalism thrives within modern habitats. But the Hindu right-wing is slowly homogenising the different zones of oppressions into one whole. They are also, in the process, as Rajani Kothari once brilliantly put it, “pluralizing the enemy”.

    But among all of us who are “enemies” of the right-wing cause in one way or another, we have to have our own standards of judgment apart from our political stance against right-wing politics. If we believe we are facing all kinds of human abuses within all kinds of cultural and religious spaces, it behoves us to mark out how the sleight-of-hand nature of power changes form and structure the moment we move from one kind of life to another. We have to see how certain moments of liberation might be equally another trap. We have to become our own critics – something fanatics can’t do.

    I have never taken a secular leftist position on the issue under debate. I was simply critiquing Devika as I found her discourse to be oblivious of certain power structures which seep into the whole spiritual agenda she endorses with so much passion. If it is a bad political moment to critique something Christian in a heavily loaded Hindu right-wing atmosphere then I am sorry. But I wasn’t interested in Christianity per se. I found this idea of the eulogy of the miraculous and of sainthood, in the context of inter-religious harmony and “non-hegemonic” practices very problematic. First of all, I would like to assert that since late modernity, we have been having this hegemonic versus non-hegemonic debate in the context of religious communities. This is a very simplistic distinction, as what is important is “spaces” and not merely “groups” or “ideas”. Also, “ideas” are more porous than “groups” are. Then we have the problem of intra-community hegemony. Just because St. George and Kali, and Shiva and the Three Magi are getting together in stories, doesn’t mean a great social and cultural upheaval in terms of power discourse is happening. As I said earlier, this is how the Christian conversion story goes in India. Am neither interested in condemning nor praising such a phenomenon. My job is to read it critically as a phenomenon and see what kinds of new identities (and hegemonies) it creates.

    Anyway, to come back to the issue, I have a problem with the institutionalization of the saint. Also, I am interested in the credentials of the so-called saint in terms of his/her role in society. If “miracles” and “healing” and “eternal bridegroom” are what goes in the name of the social and cultural status of sainthood then am afraid I have to treat Satya Sai Baba (or other gimmicky Hindu saints like him) very seriously. And remember, it did not need a rationalist, but an equally excellent “magician” like P C Sarkar, to expose the Baba’s game. Because modernity has created the rationalist dichotomy between reason and faith, and between science and magic, we need not fall into that binary trap by holding one above or against the other simplistically.

    I have a liking for mystics. Mira Bai, Mahadevi Akka and Lal Ded were radical saint-poets. There lives were marginal and uncompromising. They became legends without any need for gimmicks or extraordinary claims. In modern times, Mother Teresa has contributed much more to the cause of the poor and the marginalized than perhaps anyone else’s miracles have done. In fact, Mother Teresa is the greatest miracle of all – to tend to the poor and the needy by being ordinary is being truly extraordinary. I am against this proof-ridden miracle-mongering discourse. Am not contesting its falsehood or truth – that would be stupid. Am critiquing the very discourse of looking at the idea of the miracle as an ultimate proof of saintliness. I don’t mind bizarre stories. But I refuse to put them on a scale. I can also read those stories like a joke – in a completely non-rational manner.

    That is how one also reads Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. In fact, in an interview, Marquez says that “If you don’t believe in God, at least be superstitious”. I find it an extremely illuminating statement. Marquez is sensitive to the fact that a secular-rational world is eroding old ways of describing the world.

    But – and it is a crucial but – when such ideas and understanding of faith and magic get into a religion’s internal discourses, and used as a justification of someone’s status, it gets problematic and indeed hegemonic.

    Someone commented I am against the ‘positive’ (welcoming) notion of the other. Well, I think I have really wasted my time all these years trying to read Gandhi and Levinas. And am wasting my time now as well.

  11. Anant permalink
    October 20, 2008 7:40 AM

    Dear Manash,

    candidacy for sainthood! If you really need to go after a counter hegemonic project that is the window through which to exit (or enter as I will show).

    If you read the piece with less hostility you will notice that Devika uses the term hagiographies a couple of times right in the second para.

    Hagiographies are not history. They are stories that are built by the active imaginations of people trying to come to terms with memories of joy, of loss – of intense pain and aspirations of recovering a sense of agency from a disabling present. They do that by seeking allies – summoning them from the other world if necessary and they tell stories to enable meaningful action which includes having fun, by the way! – (some people have to pay a bloody hefty price to have fun and enable others to have fun. And that is what this is all about.) Those stories are passed on from generation to generation and modified along the way to retain their efficacy.

    Organized religion codifies those stories according to master scripts and seeks to authorize some hagiographies and rejects others. In the case of the church, institutionalized on a world scale as it is – this becomes a series of interconnected contestations – over gender roles, over love and friendship, over patronage -, over the unfairness of disease and loss, over deprivation and oppression and even over what it means to challenge the hegemonic order. It takes place in multiple spatial arenas – from natal home to the papal establishment including the local economies. It takes place over centuries!

    Seriously – Sr. Alphonsa’s sainthood is about codifying the principles and outcomes of some of those contests.

    Devika described those intereconnected sites without using the word contestation in the paras that follow. I do not know why she did that, but I would not be surprised if it is a deliberate choice. Her description speaks to a different ontology. If you are after a counterhegemonic project, I seriously suggest that you should try re reading the post – the thread starts right in the first sentence “the star has turned …not in this world -but in the next”

    But the church is not the only place where it happens. Where would the tribal movements in India be without stories of the immortality of komuram bheem, birsa munda and raja praveer chandra ? that is the material from which new pathways will have to be constructed – and a left that sees itself as too holy to dip its hands in such matters will remain just that … a holy spectator to the accomplishments of obscurantism.

    Let me put it in simpler terms. It doesnt take much insight to declare that sainthood has to do with hegemony. But it does take effort to recognize the multiple counterhegemonic projects in sainthood. The half a dozen or so stories in Devika’s post just about indicate what such contests might be in kerala.

  12. ck.vishwanath permalink
    October 20, 2008 11:21 AM

    Manash,
    in india,atrocities on dalits in towns are much less than those in villages.How do you say so?Dalits have been facing multiple atrocities in towns in as well.the divide between village-town is too narrow now.thanks to new age technologies.
    Ambedkar’s criticism on hinduism is more challenge to hindu majoritarian political construction.If you look back to the history of 1920′s,you will get the right answer.Now,all the little traditions of india’s dalits and adivasis are being transformed into sanskritised traditions.the hatred politics is spreading deeply into rural areas.jayanth rele’s study on maharashtra gives the reasons of new hiduised political assertions of rural maharashtra.
    Communal riot/polarisation is not an urban phenomenon now.Gujarath scenario provides the classic example.many syncretic cultural spaces have been demolished(durgas,sufi shrines etc).the vernacular humanism is becoming a nostalgia.When ghettoisation of a community ala competitive majoritarian-communitarian mobilisation becomes a reality,how do we create a new world free of communal hatred?

  13. Devika permalink
    October 20, 2008 11:38 AM

    Reading such wild accusations by Manash, I’m reminded of a wonderful story from the 19th century CMS archives: this was a report from a CMS missionary stationed at Nagercoil to his superiors in England, and the former is peeved at the ‘superstitious’ people of Nagercoil who refused recant despite his best attempts. There was a woman in the Kottar market of Nagercoil who blew fire from her mouth and collected money as a holy woman, who the missionary set out to expose. So he stood in the centre of the market one day calling to passers-by and the shopkeepers to come and see for themselves that he could perform the trick and exhorting them not to give the ‘holy woman’ any money. A crowd gathered to watch, but in the end they told him that they did know that this could be performed well before his expose and that the woman was doing it for a living. But they sent the missionary away, telling him that it was better to believe the woman’s words than his, because “he could be so unkind just because he thought that he [alone] knew the truth”.

  14. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 20, 2008 12:15 PM

    mr, vishwanath, i don’t say so – i have specifically mentioned that ambedkar had said so and repeatedly. in fact this is his counter thesis against gandhi. please refer to his works. his arguments against hindu society are wider and deeper than what you call “majoritarian political construction”. i am not going to say anything further on this

    and devika – i wonder what made you desperate enough to mail me personally and try and convince me of your stand and then use half of the mail to me as a post here. please don’t send me personal mails. don’t take advantage of your access to people’s emails. this is getting very uncomfortable. am not interested in personal correspondence with just anybody. please grant me my right to privacy.

  15. Devika permalink
    October 20, 2008 4:25 PM

    The personal email to you was a mistake — and I apologised as soon as I found out.

    I have your email acknowledging the receipt of my apology.

    Such childishness that I’m beginning to feel sorry for this person.

  16. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 20, 2008 4:43 PM

    Devika, you appear like a compulsively insecure person. I emailed you back out of politeness and relief. I am not interested to know the reasons behind your mail. But I have a good idea about it.

    And yes – am equally concerned about your motherliness as you are of my childishness. Amen.

  17. October 20, 2008 5:10 PM

    Manash,

    When you comment here you leave your email address as well, and if the post author thinks s/he wants to write to you personally, I see nothing wrong with that. You can choose not to reply, or reply requesting that the discussion be kept in the public domain, or that you do not wish to be personally emailed. But to object to it so strongly on this thread, to claim that by sending you an email Devika has taken away your right to privacy – surely, you are over-reacting?

  18. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 20, 2008 5:38 PM

    @ Anant,

    You haven’t got most of my arguments in your anxiety to defend what Devika’s saying.

    Devika is leaning upon hagiographies while I expected a historicist or at least a sociological critique of the phenomenon where the whole thing need not be seen as necessarily detrimental or liberating. I am not after any “counter hegemonic project” of sainthood. That merely sounds like a social science jargon. Though I know when to be a social science student and when not to be. I was trying to open up another side of the debate. You are interested in how “Alphonsa’s sainthood is about codifying the principles and outcomes of some of those contests.” I am interested in how those contests themselves occur within a larger and more complex ideology/politics/propaganda. That is all. I wanted the threads to be opened, not closed in favour of Devika’s arguments.

    And since I wouldn’t like to post anything further on this issue however provoked, let me add one more thing. Devika has resorted to using a very journalistic labeling like “metro radical”. But I wasn’t born – or lived the first 25 years of my life – in a metro. And I was described as a “foreigner” in what I thought was my country (though now I envy that status and don’t have any anxieties about “belonging” to my country). That is besides the point though. I think there is an intolerance towards criticism by some people here. I don’t think the intellectual debates in Europe or the West were always polite. Politeness, as Sartre would agree, is a bourgeois virtue. I might have been off the mark sometimes or a bit harsher than necessary, but it is better to err on the side of engagement. And I have never meant it personally – though I have attacked someone’s views I found problematic. And I accept the same against me. Sunalini had the right to be acerbic with me if she felt so. And I hope to have the same feeling. I think hostility towards a text/post is better than being part of a Sensitive Club in agreement with each other’s views. It won’t spoil my cause or improve anyone else’s.

  19. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    October 20, 2008 5:52 PM

    If anybody sounds desperate here, surely it is Mr Bhattacharjee, who after promising to not waste his time on Kafila (in a private email, after his vicious comments on Rohini Hensman and Ahilan had to be moderated) seems to inevitably return for some masochistic (or sadistic?) pleasure.

  20. urmila permalink
    October 20, 2008 6:04 PM

    hello. it is no more than a self-satisfying, pleasant thought to assume that emphasising on the complex and contested nature of ordinary people’s lives and stories, and non-elite hagiographies, WOULD MEAN that you are out of the liberal multicultural game of capitalism. what is multiculturalism? diversity, multiplicity, hybridity, local cultures, religion-as-faith : are these not precisely what liberal capitalism today really propagates? one way in which capitalism today reproduces is not really by homogenising, smothering the particular and the singular and the heterogeneous but by denying the univeralist dimension. devika and others here deny the universalist dimension and pitch for the fragmentary and the particular? like the pomo, poco approach, she tends to believe that the universalist dimension is what the church, the modern state etc represents which then leads to Truth and History and all the horrors committed in their name. thus let us all celebrate the local, subaltern, non-elite cultures and traditions. precisely speaking, what devika overlooks is that the non-elite syncretic culture bringing together st george and kali or lord shiva is split between its own particularity and a universality which resides in this particularity itself. the inability to imagine any other universality than that given by capital and the modern state, means that such particularist radicalism ultimately ends up playing the liberal multiculturalist game. devika therefore does not want to question the question of faith, or of the miracle itself and thinks that passing a ‘judgment’ on it would mean you are already some metro-radical, or some ivory tower intellectual. there is this pathetic love of authenticity of ordinary life, of ordinary people’s beliefs and practices (and how complex and non-linear they are…). this is really nothing but pushing ordinary people into a fool’s paradise, as though they can lead such full authentic lives under capitalism. this is what ultimately feeds into the present moment of liberal, decentred, non-hierarchical capitalism.

  21. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 20, 2008 6:13 PM

    Thanks for enhancing your Club’s sick solidarity where everyone targets a person unanimously.

  22. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 20, 2008 6:15 PM

    And Aditya, improve your language a bit. It is really mediocre.

  23. Sanya permalink
    October 20, 2008 6:27 PM

    When all arguments fail (or are not even attempted), the fangs come out. Good to see the moderators finally lose their garbs of politeness. And ‘moderation’. At least they sound honest this way.

  24. October 20, 2008 8:16 PM

    Dear Manash,

    It seems that Aditya was merely making the point that while you had yourself been corresponding with him (on email, privately), you are objecting to Devika having sent you an email. Surely, if private email correspondence about public debates is inappropriate, it must be inappropriate in both cases? Though I don’t think it is inappropriate in either.

    I must say I enjoy your constant engagement and provocation. At the same time I do wish that your comments, like the first one on this thread, concentrated on making a point rather than attacking or insulting the other person.

    Please also note that I speak only for myself, because at Kafila we all speak individually, as clarified here.

  25. Rathi Menon permalink
    October 21, 2008 4:44 PM

    Dear Devika,
    Even now I have not understood what really people mean by forcible conversion . I have travelled widely and stayed outside India too. I worked in a christian institution for few years. I have never experienced any moment when my faith clashed with that of the institution. I really liked your article. Knowing your thorough theoritical background with feminist studies such a simple writing really surprises me. I really liked it. More because I am also trying to learn more about Sr Alphonsa and through her many divine souls who can pacify poor and distrssed without any religious or communal tag. Thank you.

  26. Anant permalink
    October 22, 2008 5:39 AM

    Urmila,
    I dont quite know what multiculturalism might mean in the Indian context outside of a small academic circle. But on the question of passing judgement – the issue is really about the relationship between the judge and the judged. Sister Alphonsa becomes a symbol of hope for people who cannot find anything credible and affordable around them that can attend to their problems. If you want to tell them that they are in a fool’s paradise, it becomes your moral responsibility to participate in their search for credible and affordable remedies for their illnesses. Without such participation judgements have corrosive and corrupting effects on both the judge and the judged. We have become so used to it that we hardly notice it anymore. When you participate in it, then the act of judging throws up all kinds of dilemmas.
    For instance, the RSS activist in Devika’s story disrupted a lot of local economic and political processes when he shut the doors of the temple. We can get the doors opened by atributing the negative consequences of that disruption to Kali’s anger (which is but the collective unacknowledged anger of a lot of people) or we can declare that the RSS activist is wrong and so is anyone who wants to open the temple doors by invoking Kali’s anger. How do we decide ?

    Refusing to judge in the conventional mould does not necessarily imply descending into a delirious celebration of local diversity as a panacea to the world’s ills. It implies grasping what appear to be local strategies and track their global ramifications so that we can rearticulate those strategies.

  27. ranju radha permalink
    October 22, 2008 7:37 AM

    Forcible conversion is nothing but what has been practised by Hindus (right from the great Sankara to Bajrang Dal/VHP) to threaten people of other faiths and religion such as Buddhism, Dalits and Adivasis. They are being either forcfully converted or killed. This is the history of “intolerance” upon which the hindu community has been constructed over the years.

  28. ck.vishwanath permalink
    October 22, 2008 10:33 AM

    Manash,
    I agree your points on ambedkar.He is more relevant now.
    what is this so called rural or vernacular tolerance?in villages-what is caste hindus -dalit reations?violence is like a salt and pepper of the indian society(sudir kakker) upon which indian society has been created.

  29. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    October 22, 2008 4:11 PM

    Dear Urmila,
    I wonder what you mean when you use the expression “liberal multicultural game of capitalism”? I mean I think I know what you are driving at but wonder what the warrant for making such a claim is?
    To cite you: “what is multiculturalism? diversity, multiplicity, hybridity, local cultures, religion-as-faith: are these not precisely what liberal capitalism today really propagates? one way in which capitalism today reproduces is not really by homogenising, smothering the particular and the singular and the heterogeneous but by denying the univeralist dimension.”

    Quite apart from the fact that, as Anant correctly points out, the term ‘multicultural’ is irrelevant in the Indian context outside a few individuals in the academy, the problem as I see it is with the seamless quality of the argument you present. Marxists – and most certainly Marx himself – have long claimed that capitalism is the first truly universal system that erases all narrow particularities of a nonmodern, precapitalist past, in order to usher in the modern, universal, embodied in the universal class, the proletariat. He had a strong argument which we may now contest. But those who now make the argument that “capitalism today reproduces is not really by homogenising, smothering the particular and the singular and the heterogeneous but by denying the univeralist dimension”, somehow do not feel the need to demonstrate, either through argument or through evidence why such a valorization of particularity is so central to it? Your own comment mere asks, somewhat rhetorically, “are these not what capitalism propagates…?”. One could as well argue that it does not. It is simply forced to reckon with a reality that refuses to go. Even Hardt and Negri (Empire), despite their having written a big fat book, make no argument beyond a rhetorical claim to this effect that underlies their entire book.

    It is always somehow the case, in such arguments, that everything that happens in this world that we do not like, is reduced to the workings of capitalism. Once upon a time, we were told that capitalism was predicated upon free labour. The latter was its precondition. Then while dealing with slavery, Marxists had no difficulty in claiming that slave labour is essential to capitalism as well! Now you tell us that neither free labour nor abstract labour – or the abstract consumer, for that matter – is essential to capitalism. I am not a great one for defining essential traits of capitalism but such major claims need to be backed up with arguments.

    If your argument is that there is something specific to contemporary capitalism that makes it valorize the particular and the local, then that still needs to be demonstrated.

    Finally, a minor aside, not really relevant to the debate: Nandy is neither a liberal nor a multiculturalist. But he does point to what Devika has pointed out here. It is not syncretism or hybridity (both of which presume a prior purer identity that becomes hybrid or syncretic through miscegenation. Nandy would in fact deny that there is any such pure identity; he would rather claim that it is the project of modernity to create such ‘identifiable’ pure identities. Miscegenation is in fact the ontologically prior condition (to render Nandy in a different language).

  30. ck.vishwanath permalink
    October 23, 2008 10:12 AM

    Aditya nigam,
    Is this anti-modernist india -”a violence free zone” ?what is this caste system of india?i am not asking in the name of an arrogant modernist position.I just want to know your comments.

  31. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    October 23, 2008 1:10 PM

    Dear Vishwanath,
    Certainly not. If by ‘anti-modernist’ India you mean ‘traditional’ India. It is constituted by a kind of silent, everyday violence. We all know this. And I agree that this violence does not exist only in the villages but also in towns and cities (as you yourself correctly point out in an earlier comment). If that be the case, it is impossible to reduce the problem of caste violence or discrimination to either tradition or modernity alone.
    Now, the point however, is that ‘anti-modernist’ does not necessarily translate into ‘traditional’, ‘casteist’, and so on: We need to acknowledge that there are (or can be) serious critiques of modernity that come from a desire for a more equitable and just society. Many contemporary critiques in fact make precisely this point. They underline that the very logic of centralization and technological fetishism that marks the modern/ist project, undercuts the possibilities of emancipation for most people.
    As far as Dalits are concerned, I think the real danger is that while seeking to liberate ourselves from the older slavery we might just as well end up being yoked to another kind of slavery. The story of manual scavenging is something to think about. It does not exist in villages and in modern times, is resorted to by the state/government agencies.
    This is in fact a point that can be made about the ‘modern proletariat’ as well – there is nothing to celebrate in ‘its’ liberation from one kind of unfreedom while it is inserted into another of an equally savage kind. Marx’s celebration was predicated upon an imagined historical mission that he imputed to the working class – in quite a metaphysical fashion. Liberation or emancipation should be seen as an ongoing struggle rather than as something that comes with either tradition or modernity.

  32. Sunalini Kumar permalink*
    October 23, 2008 1:26 PM

    Urmila, there may be forms of particularism that are practised by contemporary capitalism – it does selectively valorise little traditions often. The key word here is of course ‘selectively’; like any project of power, it obscures uncomfortable cultural realities. However, this does not mean it has ceased to be the historically most successful universalising project it always was. If you are saying that the universal-local distinction as a marker of radicalism is problematic, I agree. Capitalism’s universalism clashes with the Catholic Church’s, a grassroots movement’s embeddedness in the local will clash with upper caste particularism, etc. Also I believe it is nobody’s case that anything is ‘outside’ of capitalism, you and me included. We negotiate our whole lives within its power structures as much as the poor souls who are apparently being pushed into ‘fool’s paradise’ by us. Indeed, it is precisely its universalising tendency that makes capitalism so pervasive. And btw, if the present capitalist moment is really as you put it, “liberal, decentred and non-hierarchical” then hey, I may not want to be out of it at all!

    And Manash, I also wanted to add that all positions that speak of diversity and the local cannot be reduced to imitations of Nandy. Nandy adopted a polemical style that was perhaps appropriate for the time that he first entered the debate; I find that style somewhat unnecessarily polemical now, after all this academic water has flown under the multiculturalism-cultural studies-poco-pomo bridge. Nandy may at times slide into romanticising non-masculinised ‘little’ hinduism as opposed to Hindutva hindusim (although even of this I am not certain – it depends on the reading). But why assume that Devika’s position can be clubbed with Nandy’s? If as you say that an elite/non-elite dichotomy is meaningless in the context of the multiple ways in which the figure of Sister Alphonsa and others are received in Kerala, you must give some further proof. Please note, Devika is NOT claiming that “a great social and cultural upheaval in terms of power discourse is happening”. Hers was a call to look at realities that are less easy to slot as right or left-wing, and to bring into our imaginative and political terrain such realities. Of course, most of us in this debate do not understand faith in the way in which those who believe in miracles and mythologies as reality do, and we never will. But that needn’t stop us from seeing that faith-based ways of life are as diverse as definitions of god, or atheism, or secularism. Yes, Hindu right-wing organisations may be trying to “slowly homogenis(e) the different zones of oppressions into one whole” (I assume you mean the campaign to convert lower castes and adivasis into marauding Hindu warriors) but this fact still does not, even in these terrible times capture the reality of all believers, and all forms of belief that exist today.

    I feel the thing we are struggling with beneath much of this fascinating debate is the old thorny question: how do we view ‘the mass’? On this note, I have a favour to ask of Manash: your interlocutors take your radical credentials for granted when they engage with you; can you not return the favour? Or else, we will all be fighting shadows inside our own homes for a long time.

  33. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    October 23, 2008 2:30 PM

    Just a quick one Sunalini. I AM actually arguing, as a matter of fact, (not explicitly in the comment above here) that the IS an outside to capitalism. I am arguing against the idea that ‘there is no outside to capitalism’ as this seems to have become such a self-evident ‘fact’ by now that then everything that exists can be explained as functional to capital’s existence: free labour, slavery, universalism, particularism, ‘pre-capitalist’ forms etc. This is the bane of Marxist theorizing that I think needs to be avoided. Especially after Nandigram, I have been thinking about how deep actually has this ‘all pervasive’ capitalism really managed to go? The more I see, the more I am convinced that capitalism always confronts these forms as an externality and they constitute its ‘constitutive outside’ – capitalism is what it is because it has to continuously deal with them and is not simply assimilate them into its totalizing logic of accumulation. But more on that later.

  34. Manash Bhattacharjee permalink
    October 23, 2008 4:10 PM

    Sunalini,

    I am utterly uncomfortable when people try and smuggle in claims of positivity about discourses which apparently lie ‘outside’ Hindu right-wing discourses. I find it fine in terms of a political assertion, but can’t give it any intellectual credence because I genuinely can’t find any.

    The whole myth around Alphonsa cannot be seen apart from what it has become today – a Vatican stamp. I was, from the start, unhappy about the way Devika mentioned the various “stories” of amity between Hindu and Christian godheads WITHOUT any immanent critical engagement with those stories. I mean, how those stories themselves play out themes of negotiation and appropriation need to be seen before simply eulogizing them as examples of a well minded Hindu-Christian cultural exchange programme (just being sarcastic :) ).

    I too have read, for example, of a Father Vargese, who worships a Christan god and calls himself a Hindu. I know the Vatican wasn’t very happy with the cult of St George’s hybrid identity in Kerala. I am sure the mythological as well as the historical scene in Kerala regarding the confluence of Hindu and Christian traditions is a complex one. I have also been taught by Christian teachers from Kerala in a Convent in Assam for five years. I will talk about that experience somewhere else. I simply wasn’t comfortable about Devika’s hypersensitive discourse. And to finally clarify – that “laughable Virgin of Christ” was meant for Alphonsa and her ilk. I was quite surprised when people reacted to my irreverence with such a “secular” zeal !! Am not an atheist because I don’t waste time on arguing against the existence of god. Gods exist in history and have raised enough ugly storms, and my only political and aesthetic task is to insult their presence. Period.

    I want to tangentially touch upon the issue of the coming together between Hindu and Christian figureheads from an anti-Christian point of view:

    In ‘Daybreaks’, Nietzsche talks about how Christianity “always could, and it can still go wherever it pleases and it always found, and always finds something similar to itself to which it can adapt itself and gradually impose upon it a Christian meaning”. So what Christianity did with pagan cultures here was nothing new or extraordinary – they did the same thing with pagan cultures in the West as well. One should look into, either with Nietzsche or even without him, what purpose it solves for Christianity. To eagerly praise the phenomenon for cultural and religious amity by posing it vis-a-vis communal fascism serves a very contrived purpose according to my understanding.

    I also get restless when the moment a text/post needs interpretation – it becomes important to quickly brand the writing according to certain prevalent schools of thought. One is either being a multi-culturalist, or a secular Marxist. I have read debates on who’s a ‘political communitarian’ and how different is she from a ‘cultural communitarian’, and I find those debates a politically (even intellectually) useless liberal fetish today. I think we should try and interpret writings as discourses where we can find out how the writing 1. addresses the question of power, 2. is itself power, and 3. is possibly adhering to an idea of ethics or morality which has to be unpacked for what it is.

    Nandy, well, has been an interesting problem. He drew a very gendered, a-castiest, elitist map of Hinduism. But his cultural thesis against colonialism gave the anti-colonial discourse an important Weberian ground. It opened up spaces for the subaltern school and no wonder Partha acknowledges it. Though yes, we gone way beyond Nandy today, though the shift hasn’t been always illuminating.

    And since people here are sometimes anxious to know “positions” let me make one “position” of mine very clear – am absolutely in favour of conversions. Am sure I would have reached Ambedkar’s conclusions regarding conversions even if I hadn’t read him. But since I have, I treat it like a manifesto for conversions. Even though, at times, Ambedkar is a bit simplistic in his arguments. The only thing is – my support for conversions would still refuse to pay tokens of “good fortune” to organized forms/pathologies behind any kind of missionary activity. The Hindu right-wing is also a product of a Hindu-semitic, reactionary mindset. I find the battles a larger battle against the constrains (and openness) of modernity.

    But if there is an ENEMY in this country – in the Brectian sense – it is the Saffron Brigade. More and more people are today willing to wear their Hindu fascist badge and flaunt it proudly in the marketplace. Our ‘political’ task is unfortunately quite narrowly cut out. Like Zizek reminded us, there can’t be “differences” when it comes to fighting fascism.

    Sincerely.

  35. Dilip Menon permalink
    October 23, 2008 9:55 PM

    About St. Alphonse and Hindu Christian amiabilities in Bharananganam as also the dubious St.George see Corinne Dempseys rather well researched Kerala Christian SAinthood (OUP,2001)

  36. ck.vishwanath permalink
    October 24, 2008 3:49 PM

    Dear aditya nigam,
    thanks for your comments,
    yes, we need a more equitable society.
    But, i had written on anti-modernists in india(December,last issue,1999-sati-anti-modernists and sangaparivar).i pointed out -
    anti-modernists fail to check the danger of rural romanticism.
    Devika is right.earlier, k.sardamony expressed the same sentiment in mainstream weekly(mandir, masjid,we the people and our india,april 27,2002
    Of late the rich associational life of kerala society has turned out be a clear marked communitarian-religious life. this is an all india phenomenon.kerala is also giving its contributions.

  37. antimalayalee permalink
    October 25, 2008 12:10 AM

    dear vishwanath,
    the rilegious content of peoples life in kerala is centuries old.your rich associational life of that people is a case of problamatic middle class secularism.i call kerala a special hypocritic zone.
    a good hindu-good man,a good muslim-a good musalman!that is kerala.

  38. ck.vishwanath permalink
    October 25, 2008 9:32 AM

    Dear antimalyalee,
    i am saying about the “Syncretic Identities” of kerala has now turned out be an aggressive communalised agenda.
    eg.now that sabarimala is being targeted for an exclusive religious identity.

  39. ck.vishwanath permalink
    October 25, 2008 10:49 AM

    Dear aditya nigam,
    On Dalit emancipation-
    I think in dalit struggles,the core slogan of ambedker that is relentless struggle is our path to salvation determines basic fact of dalit life. Is n’t it a positive step- from untouchables – dalits to sarvajan(bahujan )politics of Mayavati?Dalits are capturing new spaces in indian life and getting new international solidarity from untouchable communities like those of Roma.their web magazine has just published an interview of Mayawati.she is going to be their new role model.

  40. Sunalini Kumar permalink*
    October 26, 2008 12:59 PM

    Aditya, very thought-provoking comment on the inside and outside of capitalism. I do believe that there is a danger of assimilating everything – all forms of struggle, all forms of class, all forms of productive activity – into capitalism under traditional Marxism. And I completely agree that “capitalism always confronts these forms as an externality and they constitute its ‘constitutive outside’.” But I don’t see why “capitalism (being) what it is because it has to continuously deal with them” means that it is unable to often “simply assimilate them into its totalizing logic of accumulation.” Not simply perhaps, and not in a totalizing way, but as a long-term, complicated process, which is sometimes successfully resisted by the outside, which is also diverse. Capitalism continually grapples with its ‘outside’, and attempts to assimilate and mould that outside according to its accumulative, universalising, pervasive logic. It doesn’t always succeed of course, and its good to remember that. But I despair; after Nandigram, there is Narendra Modi’s Sanand.

  41. antimalayalee permalink
    October 26, 2008 9:34 PM

    dear viswanath.
    your virtulism ignoring invisible peoples real problems and challenges.and a referance terror.things are terrible beyond a columist piece of thought.

  42. ck_vishwanath permalink
    October 28, 2008 9:33 AM

    dear antimalayalee,
    who are these invisible peoples and real problems?
    mandal commission reports says more than 63 castes are in muslims.likewise christians and of course hindus.How is to break off this monolithic community construction?more and more adivasi-dalits are being co-opted by hindutva politics which gives new identity to the adivasis and dalits.the attempt to create a monolithic community construction is for protecting the elite interests.ambedkar had realised this fact in partition period.women are the worst victims of this construction.

  43. Oommen permalink
    December 10, 2008 4:57 PM

    postscript

    Sister Abhaya: Second Indian woman saint, to be beatified

    http://attemptedeconomist.blogspot.com/2008/12/sister-abhaya-second-indian-woman-saint.html

  44. mammen george suku permalink
    January 23, 2009 11:31 AM

    I understand Manash’s concern about Christian expansionism using syncretism as a tool. But what Devika says about Kerala traditions is an entirely different thing. Such Malayali phenomina are not the result of syncretism but the result of natural social evolution – different relegions being moulded in the same cultural, ecological, social and political system. For eg. in North Keralam I have come across Muslims and Hindus having the name ‘Chekkutty’. Actually Hindu chekkutty is the folk Malayalam derivation of the Sanskrit name Shekharan and the Muslim one such derivation of Sheikh (Arabic). My own Christian name ‘Mamman’ in such a derivation from some unknown Hebrew or Greek or Syrian or Persian name.

    This common pool included the evolution of the sacred sphere also-theology, cosmology, world view, view of subtle nature of things and the like. Even now after hundred years of ‘reform’ (ie.standardisation to fit in the international patterns of secular and religious forms)it is not unusual to see all communities using the service of the same astrologers, mantravadies, vastu experts,indigeneous physicians and martial gurus etc. Standardisation (ie. Sanskritic and Westernised Hinduism and similar Christanity and Islam) have affected only the higher or inner realms of theology and sacred rituals and values immediately related to these. A few days back I had a phone call from a former student and friend, now not only a priest of the Orthodox Syrian Church but also a theoology professor, asking me to find and expert astrologer and occultist to solve a business problem of a relative of his.

    I will also give a pure theological example. Before the modern standardisation process(which includes international capitalist, scientific, technological, political, religious, identity formation etc phenomena)a Malayali Christian deity was not a saint in the Western or Byzantine or Middle Eastern sense but was a village ‘muthappan’/’muthi’ of the Malayali folk mould . That is, the deity was not much different in theological and cultural content from Malayali Hindu or Muslim super natural beings. And all these super natural guys of all religions were worshiped with rituals, concepts and objects-even now atleast during archaic church festivals-which had similar structural elements.

    Having been born in a village doesnot automatically ensures one trained in Modernity the capacity to feel and observe the non standardised reality behind the modernity constructs. I will explain. Same type of traditional musical instruments (Panchavadyam)are used even now in both Hindu and Christian festivals. It took me years of political and conceptual experience to understand that this was not due to adaptation by the Christians from the Hindus but only both using things available in the common society/culture/technology pool.

    Ayyappan and Vavar, Sabarimala Temple and Erumeli Palli (=mosque or church..The term is a Pali one denoting Viharas and Chaityas) are not delibrate acts of syncretism but the result of common history. My own ancient village church (formerly Syrian Orthodox) used to keep a brass basin to collect the oil sabarimala pilgrims offered as a ritual. This practice was stopped-not encouraged-a hundred years ago when our palli joined the ‘reforming’(ie. standardising and modernising) factions which considered such a ritual ‘heathen’. The Malayalappuzha Bhagawathi, the famous Mother Kali in the eastern hills of my district, is still a favourite of Muslim and Christian occultists. I have heard Muslim and Christian names (which as I said earlier are distinguishable now due to standardisation) being called out by the poojari to receive the prasadam of their archana. Family legend says my paternal great grand father was killed by a ‘madan’ (Malayali demon) and ,note this, not by dracula or jin. And my maternal great grand mother was once possessed by a ‘yakshi’ (Malayali vampire. Not to be confused with beautiful nymphs of the Sanskrit Literature) And the yakshi was exorcised by a ‘vava’ (a sage from the Middle East) who did not mind the spirit being a Malayali. One of the most favourite Malayali folktale figure is Kadamattathu kathanar, a Syrian Orthodox Priest who lived in medieval times. His guru was a Mala Araya tribal chief. In the famous Panayannar Kavu Kali temple of my district we can still see the yakshi prathishta with the inscription that it was installed by Kadamattathu Kathanar.

    The classic example of how not only religious “ reformists “ and fundamentalists (evangelicals, jamat e Islami, RSS etc. ) but also liberals and the left contribute to the communal construction, was the ‘nilathezhuth’ (traditional Malayali initiation in to literacy) debate which rocked Keralam a decade ago. Both the fundamentalists (including the RSS) and liberals argued that nilathezhuth was a Hindu ritual and hence promoted Hindutva. I had a very interesting experience at that time. On a working day I saw the principal of college where I was teaching hurrying off on his scooter. He was a normal (i.e routinely conservative) priest of the Mar Thoma Syrian church. On enquiry he told me that such an such a family (again routinely conservative Christians) wanted him to initiate their child that day! Half a century ago I myself was initiated by a Hindu ‘asan’ (traditional village teacher) in the house of my maternal grand father who himself was a routinely conservative priest of the said church. And I was later in life told that my fingers were made to write ‘Hari Sree Ganapathy’ and ‘Sree Yeshuve (ie Lord Jesus) namaskaram’. On a conscious debating platform, I am sure, both these priest would not have supported a ‘Hindu’ ritual. And the RSS would have certainly considered such Christian participation as adaptation and syncretism. But the fact is that the ritual is neither Hindu nor adaptation. And does not promote Hindutva.

    MAMMAN GEORGE SUKU

  45. A Stoic permalink
    January 24, 2009 9:56 PM

    It is funny that this site discusses god and saints and the falsities of a religion seriously.

    Are you people just a bunch of credulous innocents?
    Do you fear that god would smite you dead?

    Taken to task by the laity and the civil society for the murder of Sr.Abhaya by two priests and a nun [caught coitus interruptus by Abhaya]; and the Church’s defense of the murderers, the RCC has used the Alphonsa gimmick. And you people discuss it seriously. Vatican must be roaring in laughter at you.

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