Saturday, July 26, 2008

An Indianized Bible

Vatican banking on sari-clad Virgin Mary in 'Indian' Bible to draw in converts @ NewKerala.Com News, India Despite the rather silly headline (sure, all that's lacking in Catholic evangelization is a sari-clad Virgin), I doubt that the Vatican had anything directly to do with production of this Bible, which was likely the work of the Indian episcopal conference. The next time I'm back in the subcontinent, I'll have to look for a copy. The "Indianization" is part of the attempt to "inculturate" the Gospel in an Indian context. Inculturation is the big buzz word among ecclesial leaders in India. This bible is unusual in that it carries quotations from Hindu scriptures as well. Hmm.
Produced by the Society of St Paul, this is the first of its kind Bible that has been penned in simplified English.

It includes 27 sketches, most of them of typical Indian scenes such as a family in a slum beneath skyscrapers. Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.

In addition, it also carries quotes from Hindu scriptures, like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, to explain Christianity to prospective converts.

"We wanted to show the parallels between the themes in the Bible and in Indian religions. We've put the sacred text in a local context," said Father Tony Charanghat, a spokesman for the Archbishop.
(That's Archbishop Oswald Cardinal Gracias of Bombay) I have no idea what "first of its kind Bible that has been penned in simplified English" means, but one hopes that it doesn't follow the "Good News Bible" or "Today's English Version" (which is what one hears most commonly in the liturgy in India) when it comes to translation. I also think the folks at the Ministry of Tourism would have some issue with the idea that "a family in a slum" is a "typical Indian scene." :)

Then there's this:
Christianity is now the third-largest religion in India - after Hinduism and Islam - with 24 million followers, of which 17 million are Catholics.
Now? Who did Christianity overtake? Christianity has been the third largest religion for ages. So now one has some 800+ million Hindus, some 130+ million Muslims and (officially) some 25 million or so Christians. If one starts looking at figures for crypto-Christians, as well as recent converts among Dalits and tribals, one could double that figure. But it's still the third largest religion in India.

Ah, here's a website for the New Community Bible and this page gives more details about what's new, including some explanation of the use of non-Christian scriptures.

Here's a story from the Mumbai Mirror.
The liberative knowledge of the spirit (atman) is to be attained through 'seeing, listening, reflecting and meditating' This verse from the hoary Brihadaranyaka Upanishad explains chapter 51 of the Book of Isaiah, in The New Community Bible (Catholic Edition) for India.
(Hoary? Man, I love Indian journalistic usage!) Here are examples of illustrations (from the same story):

And I am a bit astounded, though not really surprised, but this description of Vatican II and what followed:
The Indianisation process began in the sixties when a revolutionary council in Rome introduced local traditions and practices, like use of local languages for mass and incorporation of Indian worship in church rituals.

Though the process has been criticised by both Hindu radicals and the orthodox among Catholics, the idea has taken root and is now generally accepted.
This bit had me goggling a bit:
Diwali is an important event in church calendars.
Um, I don't think Diwali is on the ecclesiastical calendar, though it might be celebrated by Indian Christians along with their Hindu neighbors. In India, at least in urban India, everyone joins in the festivities at everyone else's festivals.

The "New Community Bible" seems to be a best-seller and is already nearly out of print. Hope this endeavor bears much fruit!

My only comments at this stage (without having seen the new publication or heard from my Indian friends):

-- if one really wants to get Indian, then pay attention to good translations of the Scriptures in the various vernaculars, and promote Biblical literacy (along with literacy period) among the laity, along with lay formation, discernment and collaboration. Apart from the urban enclaves, I don't think most Indian Catholics speak English.

-- I continue to find it incredibly frustrating that "Indianization" is understood to be "Hinduization" at the most superficial of levels.

-- as an evangelical tool, I really don't think educated Hindus (who might be the only ones interested in reading an Indianized Bible in English) will be drawn in much by the presence of scattered quotations from the Ramayana or the Upanishads. It will only reinforce the deeply ingrained Hindu idea of religious relativism "many paths, same destination." I am sure, though, this will be greatly appreciated.

-- so, it seems, this endeavor is really addressed to Indian Catholics, as part of the ongoing attempt to shuck the colonial baggage of being understood to be foreigners or European lackeys.

Some rather hasty, possibly too hasty, observations. And as always the caveat: I am Indian. I am a Catholic. But I am not an Indian Catholic. I am an American Catholic, and very much an outside observer, with an interest (understandable, one hopes) in the Church in my native land.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Gashwin
Well said. On the question of the Bible. There are a lot of issues, and in this short comment it is impossible to do justice to this very complex issue. It will be wonderful of course to your readers to put forth their objections to Bishop Valerian D'Souza of Pune at the Orkut Group formed for the or email your comments to
It is important to understand that every educated voice helps the Indian Church to resolve this battle between the new age theologians and the Church.
Also please do not forget to read Brother Michael Prabhu's (who has a 27 year old ministry combating New Age errors in the Church)well researched comunication to the Bishops and the article posted on his website and email him at for ongoing updates
Peace and God bless, and may Gods will be done