Searching out a classmate years after you lost contact can be a very exciting enterprise. Henry was my classmate at St Albert’s College, Ernakulam during the years 1982-1985. I had no contact with him during the last 20 years though I knew he had become a priest in the Society of Jesus. [One of the ironies in our (Henry’s and mine) life is that he chose religion as a profession just a few months after I left it.]
Before I left for Kerala on Diwali vacation I Googled Henry’s name and, after many a twist and turn in the labyrinth of the Internet, located him in Kalady – the birthplace of Adi Sankaracharya. The very next day after my arrival in Kerala found me – to Henry’s shock, I should say – at Sameeksha, the institution that houses Henry and many other priests as well as students of priesthood. [I desist from speaking more about Henry lest he finds it too flattering.]
Sameeksha is a charming conglomeration of houses built in the traditional Kerala style amidst an expanse of nutmeg trees – very unlike a Christian seminary. What struck me most is the meditation house which is also built in the traditional Kerala style and has a very ‘un-Christian’ air about it. First of all, there is a tulsi thara right in front of it just like the ones you used to find in front of the houses of Hindus before modernity uprooted tulsis (basil) and other such plants that have no commercial value. On another side of the meditation house is a layered lamp carved out of granite, again an adaptation from Hindu temples.
Inside the meditation house, which you have to enter barefoot as you are supposed to do in any other building in the complex, there are the sacred scriptures of four different religions kept open on very low stands on the carpeted floor: the Bible, the Gita, the Koran and the Dhammapada.
All this in a seminary that teaches Christian theology to future Christian priests! It did make me think of all the religious intolerance one finds these days.
A few days later the marriage of a relative took me to a church in Aruvithura, another place in Kerala. St George’s church in Aruvithura is quite famous in central Kerala for the pilgrims it attracts. I was struck once again by the brass lamp in front of the church (though Christianised with a cross atop). What’s more, the devotees were pouring oil in the lamp, an act that resembled the abhishekam in Hindu temples.
Perhaps, I thought, we could acquire more religious tolerance if all religions incorporated certain practices of other religions and learnt to respect such practices – if only because they (the practices) have some significance to those vast numbers that perform them.
To read this along with the photographs of the places mentioned, please click here.