Syncretism in India.

syncretism |ˈsi ng krəˌtizəm| noun. The amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.

I came across this sentence…

But the bombings also reflect another less-understood project: the war of Islamist neoconservatives against the syncretic traditions and beliefs that characterise popular Islam in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

…in an article in The Hindu on the recent terrorist attack in Ajmer.

This morning at work, I saw a subordinate with a clean-shaven pate. I know that he is a Christian, so I asked him if it was a new fashion statement.

To my surprise, he said he had been to Velankanni and had his head shaved as a votive offering at the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health.

A typical example of religious syncretism in India. I thought this particular votive offering of shaving one’s head was done only at the Venkateswara temple in Tirupathi and in the various Murugan temples in Tamil Nadu.

The Wikipedia article gives more examples of relgious syncretism…

Pilgrims to the basilica are common during September, around the time of the feast. Then, millions from all over India and abroad come to join in prayers. The feast day prayers are said in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Konkani, Hindi and English.[13] The pilgrims include people of many faith backgrounds, especially including Hindus as well as Christians. The centuries of pilgrimages and devotion by Hindus have had a profound influence on Marian devotion in Velankanni.[14] This especially includes use of kotimaram, which has been described as an extended influence of Hinduism on Catholicism. This has made the Basilica a meeting point of two of the major religions of the world.[15] It is said that the portrayal of Virgin Mary as a curer of illness and a victor over all demonic forces is seen by local Hindus as an attribute equivalent of Hindu Goddess Mariamman.[16]Such pilgrims are also common during Christmas.[17]

I have seen pictures of the Vellankanni Basilica and the Holy Mother in puja rooms in a few Hindu houses. I have also seen pictures of the Nagore dargah in a few Hindu houses.

Likewise, Wikipedia’s article on Nagore gives more examples of syncretism…

Although dedicated to a Muslim saint, the dargha’s rituals and architecture are influenced by Hinduism, and the area is characterized by largely peaceful coexistence between its Muslim and Hindu populations. In the immediate aftermath of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the dargah sheltered and fed thousands of Hindu tsunami survivors, and buried the bodies of more than 300 Hindus killed in the tsunami in its graveyard.[2]

I am a Hindu and my family is devoutly Hindu. But I distinctly remember being taken to the local mosque for being sprinkled with holy water and dusted with the Muslim version of the vensamaram whenever I suffered a minor childhood illness. Typically, my mother or father would say in Tamil –  masUthikku pOi manthirichittu varalAm. It was based on the strong belief that the evil spirits (?) that caused the illness would be driven away by the process.

There must be thousands of such examples of inter-religious syncretism in our vast country.

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Published in: on October 14, 2007 at 11:55 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi. So, is this your first post?
    Congrats for losing your WordPress Wirginity.
    🙂

  2. Hello Rambodoc.
    Thanks.
    It’s great that you found me even after I messed up the link when I left a comment in your blog.
    You must be one smart doctor 🙂


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