DURING SEVERAL TRIPS within the ex-Portuguese colony of Goa on the west coast of India, we have visited churches and other Christian religious establishments built under Portuguese rule. The Portuguese arrived in India several centuries ago, and finally left their colonies in 1961 when they became incorporated (or annexed) into India. One of the aims of the Portuguese was conversion of their Indian subjects to Christianity. Many of the conquered people became Christian, and many churches and seminaries sprung up in the occupied territories. We have visited quite a few of these.
In most of the churches we have seen in Goa as well as in the recently opened Museum of Christian Art in Old Goa, we have noticed that depictions of angels saints, and Christ himself have facial (and other) features that are typical of Indian physiognomy. This is not too surprising as many artefacts in the churches of Goa were created by Indian artists.
When we visited the Museum of Christian Art in Old Goa, we saw two depictions of Baby Jesus lying on what looked just like typical Indian ‘charpoys’ (traditional Indian beds). The Holy Child in each case is a tiny doll. What fascinated me is that the dolls were wearing the sort of tiny bangles that are often worn by small Indian babies. One of the tiny models of Jesus was also wearing earrings.
Moving away from Christian sculptures and paintings, which have incorporated Indian characteristics, day to day Christian worship in India often incorporates features with origins in Hindu ritual practice. One example is the use of flower garlands (‘malas’), which is just as common in Christian settings as it is in Hindu settings.
Christianity was introduced to India not only by the Portuguese, but by others including St Thomas (apocryphally), and various European invaders. However, despite its foreign origins, India was not only affected by the Christian religion but has also made its mark on it.
Maybe because the baby Jesus is a baby girl?