Some Seek Indian Way to Be Christian

By Gomes, Janina | National Catholic Reporter, June 16, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Some Seek Indian Way to Be Christian

Gomes, Janina, National Catholic Reporter

The Catholic church in India has practiced a Western mode of worship and theology because of its colonial origin (except in the state of Kerala in Southern India, where the Syrian mode of worship has prevailed). But from the 19th century to the present day, there has been a growing chorus of voices calling for a more Indian expression of the church's truths and beliefs, in what has now come to be popularly called "inculturation."

In Christian history in India, there have been leading personalities such as Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya and Narayan Vaman Tilak, Sadhu Sundar Singh and Paul Sudhakar, who all tried to find a synthesis between the religion to which they were born and Christianity, the religion to which they converted. Most lived in the early part of the 20th century.

All these figures contributed immensely to India's spiritual history. Upadhyaya also played a significant part in its cultural and political history. It was he who helped Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Nobel laureate poet, to found the Indian University of Shantiniketan and continued Swami Vivekananda's efforts to establish chairs of Hindu philosophy at Oxford and Cambridge.

Upadhyaya, through his paper, Sandhya, gave a clarion call to the masses to work for independence from British rule. In fact, the awakening of national consciousness stimulated many reform movements in India, since Indian leaders saw the need of a solid spiritual foundation on which India's progress and prosperity could be built. Quite a few reformers adopted some Christian principles.

Upadhyaya, who became a Christian through his own study, was deeply attached to all that was good in the Hindu tradition and published a monthly, The Harmony, in which he tried to reconcile the best in Hinduism and Christianity.

He believed that just as the Christian religion, when it spread beyond the confines of Palestine and came face to face with the Greco-Roman culture, gave birth to theologians who established a synthesis between Greek thought and the Christian faith, there was a need in India for a fresh synthesis between the non-dualist form of Indian philosophical and religious thought and Catholic thought.

Upadhyaya believed that Hinduism and Christianity were not mutually exclusive. The Christian religion, he argued, was essentially a way toward union with God, a way of salvation. He felt Hinduism was a social organization or a culture, which left it open to its members to opt for that way of salvation that suited each best. He made an important distinction between two aspects of Hinduism, the one consisting of rules regarding social life, the other aspect pointing to a way of salvation. Upadhyaya felt that Hinduism left him free to profess the creed that appealed to him and therefore had no difficulty in declaring himself to be a Catholic Hindu or a Hindu Catholic. His arguments in this direction did not find much favor with the ecclesiastical authorities.

In Maharashtra state in Western India, the great Marathi poet Narayan Vaman Tilak realized that a Hindu-Christian synthesis was simply not possible unless the Christian religion had deep roots in Indian culture. Tilak's love of prayer and devotion was formed by the great poet-saints of Maharashtra.

Tilak felt the knowledge of God implanted in his mind by the poet-saints was the best possible preparation for Christ. He was convinced that God had prepared the mind of India for the coming of Christ through the great Bhakti movements of popular devotion that sprang up in Hinduism.

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