Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Miracle Healing and Exorcism: The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Context of Popular Hinduism [*]

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Miracle Healing and Exorcism: The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Context of Popular Hinduism [*]

Article excerpt

MICHAEL BERGUNDER [**]

In a country dominantly shaped by the different traditions of Hinduism, Indian Christianity is statistically rather insignificant. Nevertheless, in south India, where nearly two thirds of Indian Christians live, Christianity represents a relatively strong minority and, within the south Indian Christian population, the percentage of Pentecostals is relatively high with a growing trend. The author's conservative estimate is that 20% of south Indian Protestants are now Pentecostals. [1]

In south India, similar to what can be observed in many other parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, [2] miracle healing and exorcism have a prominent place within the congregational practice of the Pentecostal movement. As a result, especially in the case of exorcism, south Indian Pentecostalism shows many phenomenological parallels to popular Hinduism. Pentecostal pastors and evangelists often work in direct competition with the designated exorcists of Hinduism and thereby have a very effective point of contact with the context of the people. Pentecostal promises of healing are acceptable to people because of the experimental approach of Hindus and Christians from mainline churches to offers of this kind. These kinds of contextual interfaces will be analyzed below.

Overview and testimonies

In the south Indian Pentecostal movement, the practice of miracle healing usually consists of a prayer with the laying on of hands, often no more than the short sentence, "In the name of Jesus, be healed!" In addition, quite often the sick person is anointed with oil. Fasting in preparation for the prayer lends greater power. In big rallies, but less often in ordinary worship, the healing will be announced through prophetic gifts. In all this, the practices associated with prayer for healing are not very spectacular.

The case of exorcism is somewhat more complicated, [3] and here elements from popular Hinduism are most influential. The Pentecostal exorcist and the Mantiravati (which is the designation commonly used in Tamil) in popular Hinduism claim the same professional competence, as shown in the following testimony from an evangelistic rally of Iyecu alaikkirar.

My husband drank too much and was breaking up the family. I used all my money on a Mantiravati to bring him to his senses. There are no bounds to what I have suffered in the last 16 years. Will the Lord not bring a freeing to my husband? With this wish I came to the rally. As brother Paul Dhinakaran prayed for me, implored the Lord with tears. I was amazed to see Jesus with his crown of thorns close to me. He said to me, "Since you have truly sought me during your time of anxiety, I will change your husband's life". Then I had a good feeling in my heart. I came to believe that Jesus would change my husband. With that I was filled with a happiness I had never known. [4]

Between the Mantiravati and Pentecostal exorcists there are striking phenomenological parallels. The former seeks to influence the world of evil spirits by means of an effective incantation, called a mantra; this influence can be greater or lesser according to his capability. The calling on Jesus, e.g. "In the name of Jesus, come out!" has certain external similarities to a mantra.

There is no lack of impressive associated phenomena with Pentecostal exorcism. Thus, a recognized exorcist, a well-known Tamil Pentecostal leader's wife, says that she seeks a visible sign from the evil spirit that it has really gone out. Such a sign could be, for instance, that the branch of a tree breaks off of its own accord. In popular Hinduism, when spirits are driven out they often pass into trees. [5]

A person from whom an evil spirit has been expelled by calling on the name of Jesus with the laying on of hands often falls immediately to the ground in a kind of faint and then revives after a little while. This also has parallels in Hindu popular religiosity. …

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