Monday, November 24, 2008

Imitation is the best form of flattery

Of course, that could sound deceitful for some, but thats not the point.

Christianity in Kerala has adopted quite a few "Hindu" customs and symbols like the Kodimaram (see the cross on top) and a stone lamp (Wonder what it is called) - often seen in Kerala temples and never associated with churches in any other place other than Kerala. They even have a panchavadyam variation - our cab driver told me about it once.

Religions adapting to India is not a new thing, though of late, there are trends to the contrary...


Anonymous said...


It is a bit too much to say what you saw in Kerala churches is imitation. Imitation is when you copy something which you didn't have earlier. In this case, the Christians in Kerala only retained what they had before becoming Christians. Christian churches in Kerala have had these since ages. The kodimaram, stone lamp etc are part of a shared culture. Need we restrict them for the exclusive use of Hindus?

You may not be aware of it, but many Kerala Christian denominations didn't accept the Pope's authority for centuries. Some don't, even now. Almost all of them retain distinct Indian practices. There are bishops who wear saffron robes and insist on oil lamps, because using the traditional priestly robes and wax candles are 'foreign'.

Anonymous said...

Also, in case you didn't notice during your visit, there are many old Muslim mosques in Kerala which look exactly like typical Kerala Hindu temples.

Of course, these were built in an age when not many thought of forging distinct cultural identities and most felt secure and comfortable in the culture they all shared.

Anonymous said...

the stone lamp is called kalvilakku - kal for stone and vilakku for lamp.

Arun M said...

The Christians in kerala have been slowly integrating to the mainstream society, adopting several practices of Hindus.A couple of examples would be vidyarambham(on Vijayadasami day) at churches and Christian women wearing the sindoor after marriage, a widely held practice among Hindu women.

Neelakantan said...

Anonmymous, Couple of things here.

It is true that earlier everything that came into India assimilated and found its own form. Sufism in Kashmir, Christianity in Kerala are examples of that assimilation. The Indian tradition itself is one of assimilation. However, the present trend is not that.
When you are saying "Not many thought of forging distinct cultural identities" you pretty much reflect my own thoughts there...That is one point.

Second, when you say Christians in Kerala only retained what they had before becoming Christians is only partly true. It had to come from somewhere - their previous religion? Now it could have come either because of assimilation or because of a concerted effort. I am not saying it is either, that is part of a much longer debate, though in Kerala I believe a lot of it is assimilation. In a lot of other places, that is not necessarily true, but that is not the purpose of this post.

ZNN said...

Its called incultuartion. Just copying culture of others. after so many years people of that era may doubt the origin of these cultures.