Saturday, March 01, 2008

Daily Mass, desi style



Thursday morning, I was invited to daily Mass at DeNobili College, the Jesuit seminary in Pune. DNC is a familiar place: when I was in Pune in the early 1990s, a good friend was a Jesuit scholastic there, and I'd often end up there for (free) meals and conversation. This was also the year that I was going through formal instruction to prepare for baptism (one-on-one with a Dutch Mill Hill priest. The RCIA, it seems, had not been heard of in these parts.) ...

Daily Mass is at 635 am. I woke up before my alarm clock, and hopped in the car. Pune has changed tremendously -- there's a new bridge across the Mula-Mutha river, which shortens the distance to DNC tremendously. There's a whole new neighborhood, a concrete explosion, in a place that was a grassy riverbank a decade ago. Nagar Road, where the seminary is located, has changed so much that I drove past the seminary gates and had to turn around.

Mass was with the entire house (philosophers and theologians), footwear outside the chapel, sitting on the floor cross-legged, Indian style. As is common among some clerical cirlces in India, the main celebrant wore a shawl instead of a chasuble. Normally these tend to be saffron, the color that Brhamin priests use (I tend to find that a bit too much. Why "inculturate" just to Brahmanism? And as a few priests have told me, Dalit congregations tend to hate this practice): today, the shawl was purple, the color of the season. Other than that, it was a standard Novus Ordo Mass. [My host, a priest working on a post-ordination degree here, and knowing my orthodox leanings, said, "I hope we don't scandalize you." I was half expecting something truly outrageous, like the ill-fated Indian anaphora from the 1970s. I assured him that I was far from apopleptic about sitting on the flor, and that anyway, Mass is Mass ... :)]

Here are some photos ...



An arresting image of Christ the Guru (quite common in post-Conciliar Indian settings, as part of an attempt to inculturate the Church which was seen, rightly or wrongly, as too European). [A little bit of school history came to mind: the folds reminded me of the Gandhara or Kushan style of sculptures of the Buddha, and the effect in this image seems quite Buddhist.] I totally get the symbolism of placing the tabernacle in his heart, but surely something a bit more seamless could have been managed? :)

Along the sides of the chapel were some beautiful paintings of scenes involving famous women from the Bible. The style is normally associated with paintings from the life of Krishna, and, apart from the subject matter, these could pass for Gujarati or Rajasthani pichwais.





After Mass, I found myself wondering why I hadn't really heard of any indigeneous Christian art in India. Christianity has been in this land from apostolic times ... perhaps there is something distinctively Indian associated with the Eastern Churches? Certainly there have been some conscious attempts after the Council in the Western Church in India ... and while it is quite appropriate and understandable that Hindu elements of various sorts be used as models, I often wonder whether this isn't a perverse capitulation to the philosophy of Hindutva, that only Hinduism (and that too this artificial understanding of a mythic "pure" Vedic-Brahmanical Hinduism that is trumpeted by the Sangh Parviar) is really Indian, and everything else is foreign and alien.

Breakfast was a simple one of pancakes and chutney in the refectory, and my table companions included two Jesuits, a Vincentian, and a member of the Congregation of St. Therese. All from Kerala. I really must get down to the Catholic heartland of India some day.

2 comments:

thosehollenbecks said...

I wonder if India might not have indigenous art because the form of Christianity proper to India for all those centuries until the European incursion was Assyrian Orthodoxy, which does not use images.

No surprise that the symbol of Indian Christianity became a particular style of the Syrian cross... to which the Church of the East boasts the most robust veneration of any church.

Gashwin said...

That's quite possibly true! I should have asked the priest at the Oriental Institute I met with earlier this week in Rome ... Still, non-iconic art forms would have developed, and I guess the St. Thomas Cross would be a form of that ...