God orphaned

God orphaned

Two weeks ago, I was in the precincts of Shri Krishna Temple at Udupi and was enjoying afternoon breeze in the enclosure surrounding Shri Anantha Padmanabha Temple located just nearby.

This was not my first visit to the place nor do I wish it to be the last. An air of serenity swayed over me as I sat and relaxed for almost an hour. I have tried to seek answers to the questions that haunt my mind as to why place such as a temple above should offer a sense of tranquility whenever anyone visit it.

Reasoning in my own way, I observe things around, the architecture of the place, the atmosphere of devotion within, the number of pilgrims who come pleading for countless wishes, the ageless stone sculptures, the ever burning oil lamps on which devotees pour oil making a wish: all these give life to the lifeless things around. As I get up, a sense of emancipation pervades me. And I must say this experience is not limited only to a temple but to a church or a mosque where people gather with positive thoughts forgetting their mundane worries.

Pondering over these thoughts, a classical rendition of the song sung by a female devotee, praising different gods of Hindu pantheon further enhances the feeling of devotion. As the lady ended her rendition, I almost got the answer to eternal question- why place that gathers so many people is holy and tranquil. The song had a climax with the thought that Bhakta or the devotee is as important as the deity. A devotee adds an important dimension to the omnipresent power called God.

A holy place is sanctified by number of devotees who believe in its power and this happens over the ages as countless number of people leave their mark even by a mere visit. I leave the precincts with positive energy and thoughts. A thing of antiquity like a worshipping place is a mark of identity, symbol of devotion, testimony to the creative human spirit, a historical record, witness to the human heritage; for it has survived or is going to survive many human generations and has seen so many born, live and die and has timeless character assigned to it.

But the issue I wanted to highlight with above background is a matter of defending human and spiritual heritage and how crucial it is to protect it in the fast changing modern world. As I hold on to the thoughts above, I am battered with the news coming one after the other- of demolishing old church buildings in and around Mangalore.
Seeing from the current perspective, all the demolitions may seem necessary, at times pragmatic and almost unavoidable.

Justifications come in various forms and leading of them is an old structure is not able to hold the congregation. My simple question would be- as how can you destroy a place that you always believed as God’s presence to which people flocked with a sense of devotion. Our grandfathers, great grandfathers and beyond have prayed and pleaded for their well -being and just because a church is not able to hold the congregation you raze the structure to the ground?

A case in point is the just removed Kulur Church in Mangalore. Perched beautifully on a small hillock, I felt, it provided a strong sense of identity to the city of Mangalore. Further, bad news came from Udyavar Church built by the servant of God Msgr. R F C Mascharenus, or the St John’s Church at Kokkada near Uppinangady scheduled to be razed to the ground. Although the news that Udyavar Church demolition has been temporarily put on hold makes me relieved, it does not allay my fear about others.

I visited the Kokkada Church where they were preparing to break the altar and in a helpless state I argued my case only to be questioned ‘If you can stop it’ by group of people there who of course were some of the parishioners. The situation, to me, looked nothing short of a church attack with a broken crucifix. 

Defenseless, as a last firing salvo, I asked them ‘Why don’t you demolish the entrance to the church too, which is fairly recently built and there was no answer. It was simply because persons or person who donated it may still be alive and will certainly raise an objection.

Why should I not think these will become the prelude to the demolition of other churches? As time and again, we have proved a scant regard to the church heritage. What if church like Milagres or the Rosario Cathedral are removed and a mere thought sends shivers down my body and I am sure it will to many others.

Can the sensible expect to see the Mangalore landscape without these imposing structures? All these paint a grim scenario even if Diocese of Mangalore proclaims proudly from the crumbling facades that it is 125 years old. Not able to keep these pressing concerns to myself, I wrote a letter to the Bishop of Mangalore urging him to evolve a policy at the diocesan level to preserve the old church structures and quick came the reply appreciating my concerns about the church history and heritage and a promise to look into the matter. That leaves me with no option but to be positive and waiting as the learned authorities gather thoughts in this regard.

The justification for razing church buildings is peculiar to the Mangalore Diocese as each parish is competing to build a new church. Look at the 125 year jubilee celebration of the diocese or the 100 year celebration of the Milagrese parish, both these celebrations have undermined the antiquity of church in Mangalore and scholarly historians will vouch for these facts.

The Milagres parish which is more than 330 years old and to celebrate 100 years of the church building, to me looks entirely misplaced. Does it mean you have to celebrate the building or the congregation? As the craze for building new church buildings and demolishing old gathers steam, it looks like campaign ‘Younger the looks better it is for the church’. But the bitter truth remains, church history gets erased each time you take off piece of history and it would not be any different from the number of new born sects that mushroom by the passing day. 

Compare this scenario with the Diocese of Goa where most of its churches are centuries old and are fit for service although at times the congregation spills out of its doors. Has the number of faithful not increased in Goa in the last 400 odd years that they ever felt the need to raze the church to ground to make way for the new one?

The fact is Goa gets its identity from the church heritage too obvious to understand. An historical edifice stands as the living example of a stage in human history and any efforts to erase it will only prove to be an effort of destroying our sense of identity. A mere look at the monument is enough to convince about the time in which it was built.
I come back to the question raised in this article as to why we need to keep the old church buildings.

An old church is a testimony of the sacrifice of our ancestors. The older the monument, the stronger the sense of identity it provides to everything that inhabits its surroundings. Identity gives us strength in an ever changing world. History and heritage are the prisms of seeing ourselves. An architectural creation is a strong element, providing a link between the past and the times we live and this link is essential for us and our future generations. Identity does not come cheap but carefully earned with cumulative human efforts over the ages. My concern does not stop at the demotion of old churches but extends to all structures that are testimony to the historical, spiritual and human evolution. I feel the same pain when an old temple is demolished as when I see a church being razed to the ground.

I feel proud when I see 450 years old Monte Mariano Church in Farangipet that the Capuchin friars have retained in good condition. Perhaps this is the only structure which explicitly announces the antiquity of church in Mangalore diocese. There are many challenges to protect the heritage structures owned by private individuals but the secular heritage like churches, temples, parks, old streets, government heritage buildings belong to people. More so, buildings like the old church buildings can easily be protected if a policy is evolved with regards to its protection. Proactive attitude by the concerned will definitely do the needful.

As I return from my efforts of conveying the importance of protecting the heritage, I ask for permission to pick up two candle stands from Kokkada church which lie discarded and as memory of the age that has slipped into oblivion. I mull over the thought how many times they may have lit the Blessed Sacrament, the Way of Cross and other devotions and of course I will tell whoever sees them about the sad story hidden within them for no longer they will bear candles and light the presence called God. I smell the wooden candle stands and attempt to listen to the silent whispers and they do have a painful story to narrate. They are living and a smell of incense with which they were sanctified over the years fills me and I feel God has come home.

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