Raising South Asian Voices

Cynthia Dettman:  Author

Religious Melding

I love the way India adopts and adapts the religions and cultures of the world into its already diverse landscape.  During my last India visit, my hotel (a rather luxurious accommodation which the Fulbright staff planned for me) was going all out to prepare for Christmas.  The lobby is lined with replicas of Hindu gods, appropriate in a mostly Hindu culture and in a city known for its ancient Hindu temples.  But the staff have decorated a Christmas tree, put up a nativity scene, and the hotel entrance is decorated with imitation fall leaves (i.e. red leaves as in American autumn leaves), unheard of here in India!  Note the Hindu statue in the background in this nativity photo. I like the chicken with the laid egg!

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This easy integration of multiple traditions is endemic to India- I remember the same growing up in Madurai, where one could hear Hindu temple bells, the call to prayer from mosques, and girls singing in a Christian choir, the sounds wafting together in the same neighborhood.

Sadly, there has always been “communal” conflict as well, especially recently, with attacks on Muslims and rising Hindu fundamentalism both within the government and in states and communities.  My impression is that South Indians have historically done a better job of allowing different religions and sub-cultures to co-exist.  The import of Western traditions is of course heavily influenced here by crass commercialism.  India’s growing middle class is hungry for stuff- consumer goods, cars, Western clothing, appliances, beauty products- and Christmas, as we know in the US, is a heavily commercial holiday.  Still, it’s both amusing and heartening to see a variety of rather contradictory traditions being enjoyed at this time of year!

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Yes, I agree. At the universities there are MANY holidays, and they seem to recognize most of the major Hindu, Muslim and Christian holidays. Great for students and staff – time off from the grind!

Yes! I’m delighted by the mixtures of religions in South India, particularly now as the Indian President Modi is pushing an anti-Muslim agenda. People are protesting, and here in South India, there’s a long history of anti-central government authoritarianism. I’m not sure why South India has a history of religious tolerance, more so than North India, but it’s good to see.

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