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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The changing face of the church in Andhra Pradesh, India

Deccan Chronicle July 13, 2011

It’s a well-documented fact that people adopt aspects of other cultures around them. The churches in Andhra Pradesh are following this custom and Indianising some of practices. At St Andrew’s Orthodox Church, West Marredpally, a Dwaja Stambam has been erected. A common phenomenon in temples, and seen in the Kerala churches, it is the first of its kind in the state.

With a cross on top, bells and imprints of the saints, the bronze Dwaja Sthambam stands tall, highlighting how Indian Christians are adopting the religious customs of their Hindu brethren. During parish feasts the faithful light the multi-storied traditional lamp in front of it. Fr Koshy Thomas, the vicar at St Andrews, says, “The Dwaja Stambam flag pole is seen in Kerala churches but in Andhra Pradesh we are the first ones to have adapted this Indian tradition. For us, this is a flag-hoisting pillar, with a cross on top and imprints of the martyrs of the Church. A flag will be hoisted during festivals. This is one of our efforts to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord.”

Already, meditation rooms, small kiosks resembling Hindu shrines and lamps are a part of churches. Fr Anthony Raj, executive secretary of the AP Federation of Churches, which has conducted several inter-religious dialogues, says, “It is easy to relate Lord Jesus to local customs and traditions and the adaptation of these, by the Church, has been taking place from centuries.” Catholic historians say that there are striking similarities between the systems followed at shrines, in marriages and in pujas. Mr Gurram Pratap Reddy, a Catholic historian and writer, says, “Adopting Hindu customs, though not new, has taken a new shape with latest trends like the Dwaja Sthambam. In fact, French priests wore saffron dress, three hundred years ago and they are called Swamis. Even today, in villages, Fathers are called Swamuluvaru. In marriages too, several Hindu traditions are followed, like wearing a mangalsutra and tying the knot thrice. In a relatively recent trend, deekshas, similar to Ayyappa and Bhavani deeksha, are being taken up like the lent season.” He adds, “At Christian shrines, devotees break coconuts, and tonsuring has become common.”

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