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Explaining the Dandia Programme at St. Peter’s

Extracts from: EVANGELII NUNTIANDI – December 1975


“For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence, transforming humanity from within and making it new. For the Church, it is a question of affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, humankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life.

What matters is to evangelize human cultures. The Gospel, and therefore evangelization, is certainly not identical with culture, and it is independent in regard to all cultures. Nevertheless, the kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men and women who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human cultures. Though independent of cultures, the Gospel is not necessarily incompatible with them; rather it is capable of permeating them all, without becoming subject to any one of them. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of cultures.

The first proclamation of the Gospel is addressed to the immense sections of humankind who practice non-Christian religions. The Church respects and esteems these non-Christian religions because they are the living expression of the soul of vast groups of people. They carry within them the echo of thousands of years of searching for God, a quest which is incomplete but often made with great sincerity and righteousness of heart. They possess an impressive patrimony of deeply religious texts. They have taught generations of people how to pray. They are all impregnated with innumerable “seeds of the Word” and can constitute a true “preparation for the Gospel”.

We wish to point out, above all today, that neither respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the questions raised, is an invitation to the Church to withhold from non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ. On the contrary the Church holds that these multitudes have the right to know the riches of the mystery of Christ – riches in which we believe that the whole of humanity can find, in unsuspected fullness, everything that it is gropingly searching for concerning God, man and his destiny, life and death, and truth.”

The above is a 38 year old statement of the position of the Catholic Church, which forms the basis for the dialogue of life and action with people of all faiths. In India, the land of many religious traditions, people living at the grass roots have traditionally participated in the dialogue of life, celebrating each others’ festivals and creating an atmosphere of fellowship and solidarity.

The Parish of St. Peter’s has continued with this dialogue by attempting to build bridges with people of other cultures and faiths – forming “Small Human Communities”. Cultural and outreach activities have brought people together in understanding and harmony. Common events on the occasion of Independence or Republic days and on festivals of the different religious groups have brought our people in small human communities together. Recreational outings and Visits to different Homes for the Disadvantaged have begun to include neighbours of other faiths, and these latter have appreciated the invitation.

Our Catholic Schools and other organizations like the Social Outreach Cell of our Parish have always included beneficiaries of all religious groups. St. Stanislaus has a healthy mix of one-third Catholic, one-third Hindu or neo-Buddhist and one-third Muslim, reflecting the residents of the area. Our SOC runs training and recreational sessions every Sunday for children who are differently abled and these are from several religious affiliations from this part of the city.

The Multi Faith Committee, constituted earlier this year, of people of different faiths living in our Parish boundaries, decided on the initiative of holding a cultural festival to bring people together in fellowship and celebration on the occasion of Navratri and Dassera. A Dandiya dance and an inter-cultural Food Festival were suggested. Simultaneously, the SOC proposed the holding of a Dandiya Programme for the differently abled children and others in the Parish who are interested. The two proposals merged into the holding of the Dandiya Dhamaka – a purely cultural festival, learning the movements of the dance which is typical of Gujarat and Rajasthan. There were no religious connotations involved in this event, except the general effort to overcome evil with goodness, disharmony with harmony and collaboration – which is the theme of the Navratri festival – a theme very close to the heart of every Christian. We believe that, “the building up of the Kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human cultures” and “the Gospel is not necessarily incompatible with them”. In fact, the proclamation of the Gospel, in dialogue, is enabled by the coming together in cultural events which are the shared heritage of all Indians. Catholics cannot afford to insulate ourselves if we want to bear witness to God’s love in Jesus.

The Introduction to the Event prepared by Fr. Aubrey Mascarenhas, throws light on the meaning we attach to this event:

“Navaratri is the auspicious season of the year, during which, the cosmic battle between Good and Evil is engaged in, for nine days and nine nights, culminating in the final victory of Good over Evil on the 10th Day, Dassera.

From time immemorial, human beings, men and women, separately or jointly, have joined the Cosmic Powers in this fight against the Forces of Evil, by symbolically using weapons (like dandiyas), while taking part in the vigorous dance, to the rhythm of drums, the drummer standing in the centre of concentric circles of men and women.

Regional groups invoke their favourite Cosmic Power to engage with them: some invoke Shakti Mata (Cosmic Energy), others invoke Ram (the Ideal King), still others invoke Devis, like Durga or Lakshmi or Saraswati, confident of Victory over the corresponding Evil (symbolized as Ravana or Mahishasura;  inner evils like Egoism, Ignorance or Greed). Christians invoke St. Michael, the Archangel, or St. George, in this fight against the cosmic forces of evil.

In this multi-religious celebration at St. Peter’s, we avoid any references to particular deities, though we may invoke Almighty God to guide and assist us in our human efforts to overcome the forces of evil in this world.

However, we must learn the intricate and energetic dance steps of the Dandiya raas, we must dance to the rhythm of the drums, with the clashing of the dandiyas in unison, so that with the harmony of the Dandiya dance, we are able to overcome the disharmony, the division, the discord, that evil forces often give rise to among human beings. The Goodwill and friendly Collaboration of all the dancers, men and women, will help overcome the rivalry, the enmity, the hate feelings that evil can arouse when evil takes possession of our hearts.

Our Differently-abled children will join us in the harmony of the Dandiya Dance. Their heroic efforts to create the rhythmic movements of their limbs and bodies will inspire us to create harmonious relationships with people of all abilities.

God is all-powerful to overcome Evil in this world. But, in most religious traditions, the Divine invites human beings, men and women, to freely collaborate in overcoming evil with Goodness. This multi-religious venture of St. Peter’s Church aims to demonstrate that through engaging in this harmonious, rhythmic, cultural dance of the Indian people, people of all faiths can be motivated to work together to build up an Indian Nation, where the values of Equality, Liberty and Fraternity can bring joy and hope into the hearts of all our Indian people.

We welcome your sharing as to whether such cultural celebrations are useful to overcome stereo-typed prejudices and to build up unity and harmony among the varied peoples of our land of India. Dhanyavaad ! Thank You !”


The Jesuit Parish Team

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