Mumbai Lens: The garlanded cross

This blog post was featured in the “Around the Blog” section of the DNA newspaper published on August 27, 2012 (pg.7).

That rainy day, I was at Hill Road in Bandra on a gastronomical expedition busy stuffing my face and bags with cakes, quiche, and other baked goodies. My eyes or rather nose was trailing the various aromas coming out of the many bakeries that line the road. And that’s when a flash of yellow-orange momentarily distracted me, the yellow-orange of a string of marigolds garlanding a cross.

The garlanded cross

This large cross is somewhere on Hill Road (I can’t remember the exact location). Together with the beautiful veil like green and leafy canopy, the garland really lit up the cross.

I love the way people take something and adapt it to fit their uniquely local culture, be it food, clothes, music…. The sambhaar powder added to the tamarind paste used to make bhelpuri in Chennai, kurtis teamed up with jeans, Carnatic classical music on Western instruments like the mandolin and violin…, And the way we have “Indianised” Chinese cuisine is legendary !

But what I love the most is the way this adaptation plays out in religion. Recently, on a visit to Chennai, I saw a statue of Jesus standing on a lotus with peacocks at his feet. I have heard of aartis in churches, I have seen non-Hindus at the Sringeri and Brihadeeshwara Temples. But this was the first time I saw a cross “decorated” with a garland.

Academics call such expressions of adaptation syncretism; I call it making it our own. 😀

Mumbai Lens is a photographic series which, as the name suggests, is Mumbai-centric and is an attempt to capture the various moods of the city through my camera lens. You can read more posts from this series here..

46 thoughts on “Mumbai Lens: The garlanded cross

    1. Thanks, Divenita.

      But what is real meaning? 50 years back things were done differently, language, food habits, music was all quite different and yes even religion was quite different. It is not as if syncretism did not exist then. Even 30 years back, my friend remembers a very different church experience—one where all the people sat on the floor and prayed, and then did the aarti after Mass. In the case of religious syncretism, it is never about dilution, it is about strengthening. In in a country as vast and as varied as ours, such sights are beautiful.


  1. I totally agree. We Indians have a special way of making things our own. My maid, who was a Muslim, celebrated by calling women to her home and offering them haldi and kumkum as is traditional in Bangalore. We have Christians putting bindi, sindoor and mangalsutra. I myself visited gurudwaras and mazaars with all cultural etiquette and dupatta on the head. It is beautiful — this multicultural ethos that we enjoy in India. Loved the pic of a garland on the cross!


    1. Thank you, Rachna. As a nation, we have been multicultural for a long long time, and we will be multicultural for a long long time as well. At least I hope so. But these days, we have to keep reminding ourselves of it especially when chest-thumping ‘my religion is better than yours” and suspicion and insularity is on the rise.


    1. Absolutely. And it is all around us, all the time—in the language we speak, in the food we eat, in the clothes we wear, and sometimes in the way we choose to worship.


  2. Beautifully shot photograph. Yes, the church or Christians have adopted a lot of local customs and rituals in their worship. After all the people have their roots in Indian culture. We used to have astris also known as benediction in the church. Garlands are used extensively esp down south.


    1. Thanks, Neena for your comment and for the additional information. I can never forget the beautiful Konkani Mass that I attended with you at the Mount Rosary Church at Santhekatte. As I told you then, the whole prayer service sounded like Sanskrit to my ears.


  3. I have seen arti in Velankanni church. And in Jerusalem, where the different churches have their own shrines, the Christian Orhtodox Church looked like one of our temples with flowers, lamps and incence! When we can have such a lovely intermingling of faith, why fight over the different ways of reaching God?


    1. Yes, why indeed?

      The Greek Orthodx Church in Colchester was framed pictures, lamps and incense. And just before the final prayer, the priest drew the curtain across, just like they do in temples here before the aarti.

      And on something totally unrelated, you’ve been to Jerusalem? And you didn’t tell me about it?


  4. Beautiful image backed up by a brillant narration. Synergy is another word that comes to mind although the corporate world has abused it to perdition. Thanks for sharing.


    1. And syncretism is something that has been used to death by the academics ! So I propose that we say “making it our own” 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Umashankar.


  5. Great observation. Goes to show the amalgamation of the various faiths that coexist in Mumbai. So many hindus celebrate christmas and other faiths celebrate Diwali. Reaffirms my faith that we can coexist in harmony.


    1. Amalgamation of faith and multiculturism exists everywhere around us and in various forms. Not only do we have so see it, we have to appreciate it as well and live by it. Only then can we coexist in harmony.


    1. In India, regardless of religion, we are the same ethnically, at least for a large majority of the population, whereas in a country like the US, people are different ethnically too. Perhaps that is why syncretism is so pervasive and visible in India. 🙂


  6. Sudhagee… you have such keen observaton – a thousand people must have passed that cross without extracting such beauty or meaning in it! Loved the post!


  7. Interesting write up. You see as a Mumbaikar I have always witnessed festivals being celebrated and enjoyed by one and all. Everything and everyone are in sync. Churches and temples are open to all. Only regret is that although we claim to be together, we live with differences filled in our hearts and are quick to point them out in testing times.

    Do read –


    1. Welcome here Nikita, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

      In ordinary times, I may not even have noticed something different about the garlanded cross or even written about it here. But these are not ordinary times and, in my opinion, we need every little reminder that we are not all that different, and need reminding of every little thing that binds us together.


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