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.
A POST ON FACEBOOK reminded me of something that happened about 27 years ago in a country east of France.
We were staying with a German lady, who used to become easily stressed. One day I was sitting in her living room whilst she was preparing a meal in the kitchen nearby. Something must have been going wrong because I heard her shouting “cheese is nice” in an angry voice. She repeated these words over and over again.
I like cheese, but could not understand why she was expressing a liking for cheese so angrily. And then the penny dropped. It dawned on me that she was not talking about cheese, but about Jesus Christ. In her perfect but Germanically pronounced English she was saying what sounded like “cheese is nice” but in reality she was cursing by saying “Cheesus Christ”
The posting on Facebook showed Joseph and Mary looking at Ababa doll in an opened Amazon delivery package. The caption to the picture was “Bloody hell, Alexa, I ordered baby cheeses”.
Once, we spent a weekend with a German friend living in Germany. She was a great cook and spent much time preparing delicious meals for us in her kitchen.
I was sitting in the living room, which was next to the kitchen when I heard our hostess angrily shouting what sounded to me like “cheese is nice”. Now, I would be the first to agree with that sentence. However, she kept repeating it angrily whilst crashing about in the kitchen. I could not see why anyone except possibly a vegan could possibly use that sentence so angrily.
After a while, it dawned on me that our friend was not talking to herself about cheese, but about Jesus, whose name she pronounced as ‘Cheesus’. What she was really saying angrily in her strong German accent in English was ‘Jesus Christ’.