A trip down Christian India

For many of us, India is linked to the symbols of Hinduism, which remains without any doubt the major religion of the country. It's easy to think of a noisy street full of sadhus, a crowded temple saturated by the fumes of incense, or an extravagant feast celebrating religious deities and their wild representations. However, South India offers a very different scene that is strikingly different from the rest of the country.

 

Here, the buildings facades display biblical proverbs, kitsch and colorful representations of Jesus hang from public buses' mirrors, and churches are everywhere in the urban landscape. Here, Indians are mostly Christians and are not afraid to claim their faith proudly.

 
That is the cultural and religious reality in the states of Kerala and Goa. Since the fifteenth century, these former Portuguese counters have experienced a series of massive arrival of Europeans. Arriving in large numbers to southern India, Christians of faraway Europe started to build basilicas and cathedrals with a very Portuguese architectural style.
 

The architectural heritage of this Catholic presence has now several faces: from the imposing cathedrals of Goa, built under the influence of the Dominicans, Jesuits and Franciscans, which arrived shortly after Vasco da Gama, to the small village chapels which are often modest houses converted into churches.

 

Although much smaller than the cathedrals, these small places of worship are very popular and supported by the rural community. Every little village, even if isolated, has its own. Seen everywhere, these churches thus represent an important conveyor of the Christian faith in South India.

 
 
One can discover a rich and colorful decoration, an astonishing mixture combining the exuberance of Indian culture with Christian iconography. The many representations of Mary, Jesus or bible's Saints thus take unexpected features, far from the sobriety of the representations found in faraway Europe.
 

Easter, the highest point of the religious calendar, allows this important Christian community to display their faith. Espcially during Holy Week, an impressive crowd of pilgrims invades the streets and the churches, and parade for long hours in the cities' streets.

 

The masses, usually very animated, turn into a real show as the pilgrims' devotion is expressed with exuberance. After the silent meditation, the crowd begins to sing, eyes closed, hands clapping to the rhythm of the prayers. The priest, turned into a preacher, is shouting "Praise the Lord" and "Halleluyah".

 

As the Mass ended, the devotees form a procession which will then crisscross the city for several hours. Standing on a cart, the priest, whose voice is broadcasted through speakers, guides the huge procession through the city. Stopping at churches and altars along the route, their songs will last through the night.

 
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