Church’s ‘game of indigenisation’

via H.Balakrishnan published on August 15, 2007





The report “Churches set for desi culture” (TNIE- 15 AUG),gives the impression that something momentous is happening in the Church, when the reality is somewhat different!!


The Church has been at the ‘game of indigenisation’ or to use a Vatican term-‘inculturation’ from the 17th century. At that point,the done thing was to set up ‘Ashrams’, replete with the ‘OMKARA’ symbol!!


The best known example of the ‘Ashram Movement’ was the Rev.Robert De Nobili (1577-1603). He set up the “Sachinaadana Ashram” near Madurai.He dressed himself as a Bramhin replete with the ‘sacred thread’,and grew a kudumi’ (tuft). He painted his body with sandal paste.He took to sleeping and eating on the ‘floor’.Close to the ‘ashram’, De Nobili built a shrine which looked externally as a ‘Hindu Temple’. He called his ‘Mass’ as ‘Pujai’.The fruits and sweets he passed around after his ‘Mass (Pujai)’,he called as ‘Prasadam’. He wrote several books and tracts in Tamil or Sanskrit, packed with Christian lore!! He even invented the “YESU (Jesus)-R-Veda” which was nothing but the Bible!!


This aspect of ‘indigenisation’ or ‘inculturation’ further developed over the years into the ‘theology of fulfilment’.In simple terms, it meant, that Pagan spirituality has prepared the Pagans for Christianity,and only a small increment was needed for the final ‘Harvest of the Soul’! In this exercise, even Upanishadic statements viz ‘Lead us from death to immortality’ are suitably modified to ‘Harvest the Pagan Soul’.


The Belgian scholar,Dr.Koenraad Elst,in his doctoral thesis- “DECOLONIZING THE HINDU MIND” (now a book of the same title from Rupa & Co),wrote about a Vatican Document of 1990 called ‘REDEMPTORIS MISSIO (A Redeemer’s Mission-RM).Dr. Elst quotes Winand Callewaert,a prominent Catholic Indologist’s summary of RM thus:


“The Church is by definition missionary. For our subject, it is important to note that RM strongly emphasises the need of missionary activity in Asia. For this mission ‘dialogue’ and ‘inculturation’ are recommended as the best strategies. The challenge consists in tuning that ‘dialogue’ to the primordial
goal viz evangelization”.
Thus ‘kuthyvilaiku’, ‘keethanai Vizha’, ‘Kollam’ etc.Q.E.D.!!


It may be instructive and educative for your staff if they were to look up the ‘letters-to-the-Editor’ columns of your paper (then the undivided Indian Express,Chennai) of March and April 1987 as also Feb-Apr 1989.May I also commend a reading of (late) Shri Sita Ram Goel’s “Catholic Asrams” (Voice of India, New Delhi).It will place the above news report in its ‘correct perspective’!!






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