The End Is Nigh

by sidin in


As you may have noticed, I usually don't post up links to my columns or articles here on the blog. I already pimp them enough on Twitter.

But this one is kind of close to my heart. And personal.

And I enjoy the occasional long posts about home:

An hour away from Thrissur, in central Kerala, lies a little town that, to use a popular Indian usage, I call “my native place.” The town of Pavaratty is best known for the massive warehouse-like shrine of St. Joseph, a bustling local pilgrimage centre. The shrine looms over the town with a population of about 11 000, emotionally, geographically and architecturally. Distances are measured from the shrine. Events are remembered in reference to the shrine’s calendar of feasts and festivals. In Pavaratty the shrine is pole star, magnetic north, prime meridian and equator all rolled into one. This pivotal presence of the shrine imparts a certain intensity to the religion of the local Christians.

It is not a hostile intensity – the kind that leads to xenophobia or agitation. Quite the opposite. It is the benign intensity of Star Trek or Star Wars fans who, while acknowledging the unassailable superiority of their own beliefs, are quite happy to play along with your own under-educated biases. So while my grandfather had no doubt that Christians were God’s chosen people, he still believed that the great Hindu temple at Guruvayoor, 30 minutes away, was a source of divinity and power.

There is also a thick syncretic vein that runs through the Christianity of the region. Over the centuries, customs and rituals have changed hands between religions more times than many like to admit. For instance, each year before the shrine’s major annual feast on the third Sunday after Easter, a flag is hoisted up the pole in front of the church. The flagpole lines up almost exactly with the crucifix above the altar inside. But is slightly shifted to one side, out of deference to the deity.

Temples in the region do the exact same thing before their festivals. Flags are hoisted on flagpoles placed in the temple courtyard that line up almost exactly with the idol in the sanctum sanctorum, but not quite. Out of deference.

And all this intensity, devotion and syncretism came together in the winter of 1999 when we began to prepare for the impending end. In the last few months of that year there was a kind of apocalyptic frenzy among some of the terribly Catholic, god-fearing, and all round well-meaning inhabitants of Pavaratty.

Read the rest of the piece, and see the remarkable illustrations on the Motherland magazine website here.