New Delhi, Oct. 7: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has welcomed the initiative by an Orthodox Syrian church in Kerala to “Indianise” itself, while the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) — which refrained from using the word Indianise — said it was not opposed to assimilating aspects of local culture.
As many as 53 children were initiated into the world of letters on Vijaya Dashami (October 5), amid a posse of policemen, at Thiruvananthapuram’s St George Orthodox Syrian Cathedral — thus playing host to the Hindu ritual of vidyarambham (initiation into education). Hindus traditionally initiate children into the world of letters on Vijaya Dashami (when goddess Saraswati is worshipped).
RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav welcomed the move and said: “This has been the tradition of original Christian settlers of Kerala from early centuries of the first millennium. They very well mixed with local culture. They are now reviving it and we welcome it.”
Though several intellectuals, writers, poets and social activists welcomed the move, some parishioners protested, flashing placards, accusing the church of falling into an RSS trap. They staged a sit-in outside the church and distributed posters that said: “We will not allow the Indianisation of the church. Don’t fall into the trap of RSS chief.”
Sangh chief K.S. Sudarshan had, in his Vijayadashami Day address two years ago, urged Christian leaders to evolve a “swadeshi” church. He had also exhorted the church to free itself from the Vatican’s dictates — a suggestion that was rejected.
The Catholic Church does not share the Sangh parivar’s interpretation of inculturation that is predominantly Hindu. But it is inclined to assimilate local culture. The church in Kerala had centuries ago adopted aspects of brahminical culture. Now, tribal culture is being imbibed in certain tribal belts.
“We are today faced with the question which inculturation' Brahminical, tribal, subaltern, Islamic, Buddhist'”said CBCI spokesperson Babu Joseph, underscoring the adoption of brahminical cultural aspects by the church in Kerala in the ’70s and ’80s. He said imbibing local culture is fine if it does not hurt people’s sentiments. Kerala has always been a collaboration, “a healthy practice existing since centuries”.
Unlike in the country’s north and west, where Christianity is wrongly identified with foreign culture, Kerala has seen a healthy collaboration among religions, Joseph added. “It is a matter of discovering their cultural roots.” In earlier centuries, temples would come forward to help when the church celebrated its festivals, he said.
According to Joseph, the RSS’ and the VHP’s concern is to re-establish social hierarchy according to a certain Hindu ideology that is resisted by sections of Hindus as well. But “if it is to assimilate certain cultural aspects which is meaningful for people, it should be welcomed”, he said.
George Erakkath, the vicar of St George Orthodox Syrian Church and the brain behind the inculturation move, said in Thiruvananthapuram: “No religion can survive without imbibing the local culture and traditions. People should understand others to strengthen themselves.”
“As early as the ninth century, the Hindus helped Christians to build churches and, in turn, benefited themselves with education. When secularism is under serious threat, it is time to strengthen such bonds and threads of amity,” Erakkath reportedly said.
Mar Baselios Mathews II, the religious head of the church, has appreciated the move.