When a Hindu Becomes a Christian
By “Awake!” correspondent in India
THE street is lined with rows of pitiful beggars. It is a sight Purshotham Patel cannot help contrasting with the magnificence of the building he is about to enter. In the receptacle at the door he dips his finger. and puts it to his forehead. Inside, the somber darkness is relieved by the flickering lights that reveal the recessed images of the holy ones to be worshiped. Incense weighs heavy in the air. Holy music is in the background.
Patel moves to the images before which he wishes to worship. Some images have the form of women, others of men. There he prostrates himself alongside other worshipers. Patel earnestly petitions for the matters he has in mind, which, as usual, involve personal problems. He touches an image three times, returning the hand to his forehead and chest. Surely his faith and devotion are without question.
Do you wonder what the religious faith of Patel is? You may say he is obviously Catholic. But if you are a Hindu you may say that he is obviously a Hindu. Would it surprise you to hear that the above description fits either place of worship?
The worship of Catholics and Hindus in India is so similar that Hindus commonly say they are one and the same, just that the gods have different names. In fact, Patel commonly worshiped in both the Hindu temple and the Catholic church, as is the custom with many Hindus.
Similarities in Worship
The Hindu religion in India, with its over 400 million devotees, has wielded a strong influence on the 10 million professed Christians in the country. The churches claim to have “Indianized” their services, yet church members often say the services have been “Hinduized.”
Commenting on the introduction of Hindu rites in a Catholic church, the South Indian newspaper Malayala Manorama said: “Mass was conducted in the genuine model of Hindu pooja (worship). Hymns and songs in word and in tune were like that of the incantation of Hindus. The emblems used were the same as in Hindu temples.” Similarly, the Official daily newspaper of the Catholic Church in Kerala, Deepika, quoted a leading priest as saying: “We are still following the customs of Brahmins with timely changes.”
Hindus here carry their god through the streets in a procession accompanied by loud music and vigorous dancing, even as Catholics carry images of their saints. In some churches priests wear saffron robes and have long hair. At the main festival time for Hindus, called Diwali, lanterns and “stars” are widely used. Then, shortly thereafter, at Christmastime, these same decorative lights are used by professed Christians in their celebration.
“Christian” women mark their foreheads with a circle of red powder, “Kum Kum,” which is a Hindu caste identification. At the Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni in South India, Catholics who have made vows shave their hair and beards off, the same as Hindus who make a vow at their temple. Here, too, ear-boxing ceremonies and special rites are carried on for girls when they come of age. For marriage and other important events, the Hindu custom of consulting the horoscope is used to determine the auspicious time for the event.
It is these and many other similarities in worship that cause the Hindus to say to Jehovah’s witnesses when they call in their preaching work: “Our religions are all the same. You Christians call your god Jesus and we call the same god by other names.”
This is how Purshotham Patel felt. Although born a Hindu, he explained why he became a Catholic: “It was my desire to go to heaven. In the Hindu belief I could see that this could have taken an unknown period of time, but in the Catholic faith the priest told me that this could happen at the time of my death. So to become a Catholic was simply a short-cut to my objective of getting to heaven.” Yet his change of religion resulted in no corresponding change in his way of life. In fact, he said: “As a Catholic I felt more free for worldly living.”
Bible Truth Changes Lives
It is different, however, when a person becomes a true Christian. Real changes then take place in one’s life. This is illustrated by Latha, a devout thirty-year-old Hindu woman who lived near Ernakulam, Kerala.
Her devotion to the goddess Kali was so intense that there were times when she would be completely possessed. She would be informed nine days in advance when the goddess would take control of her. During the intervening time she would eat only fruit. Toward the end of this period she would eat some betel nut, immediately after which Kali would take control of her.
As Kali was a goddess of blood, Latha’s sisters would cut her legs until the blood flowed freely. The period of possession was for one hour, and during this time the sick were brought to her to be healed, including those mentally ill. She would also give correct information about things stolen. For eighteen years her superhuman abilities were the main support for her and her family, although she was also a well-known dancing tutor.
However, a study of the Bible was then started by Jehovah’s witnesses with one of Latha’s sisters. In time Latha joined the study and made good progress in gaining Bible knowledge. She came to see that it was not a god made of clay that possessed her, but really invisible wicked spirit forces.—Eph. 6:11, 12.
She threw away the stones around the neem tree in her garden, which were used in connection with the worship of Kali. Immediately the neem tree dried up, and neighbors knew that Kali had left her. An oppressive pressure was lifted from the entire family.
Latha stopped giving dancing instructions so as to devote more time to learning of the Bible promise of God’s approaching new order of righteousness. (2 Pet. 3:13) Now her income is derived from manufacturing ladles and spoons made from coconuts. She is grateful for having found the true God and the happiness that this has brought her.
Family Problems Corrected
Among those who have had unfortunate family situations corrected is V. T. Devasia of South India, and his Hindu companion Savitri. After a period of studying the Bible, they came to the point where they wished to dedicate their lives to Jehovah God. However, Devasia had previously been married to a Catholic woman, Mary. He had two children by her before abandoning her to live with Savitri, by whom he also fathered two children.
When the elders of the local congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses explained the Bible principle that a husband can properly have only one wife, Devasia decided to rejoin his wife Mary. This meant he would have to leave Savitri, even though she had now progressed with him in understanding the truth of God’s Word. Both Devasia and Savitri prayed earnestly to Jehovah for guidance.
In the meantime the elders contacted Mary to explain the situation. Her joy knew no bounds when she learned that she was to get back her beloved husband. This was something she never dreamed would happen, since neither the Catholic priest nor the police had proved of any help when her husband had abandoned her.
When Devasia and Savitri made their decision to separate, Savitri wrote to Mary. She explained that because she wanted to be one of Jehovah’s witnesses she was prepared to separate from Devasia willingly and wished to see him back with his legal wife. The time came for the separation. It was a time of deep emotion as both Mary and Savitri embraced in warm love.
A Bible study was arranged with Mary, who attends the meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses along with her husband and the children. One can well imagine the feelings of Savitri as she sees the man who was considered her husband sitting in the same hall with his legal wife. Bible truth can certainly build noble personalities and reunite broken families in the bond of love.
Change of Religion Difficult
Family pressures often make it hard for a Hindu to change his religion. This was true in the case of Y. N. Bushan of Bangalore. As a Hindu he understood that those who were considered wicked would go to a “hell” where they would suffer torments. These torments included being forced to walk on fire, being put into a vessel of boiling water, and having one’s body cut into two parts from top to bottom. But Bushan could not see how such physical torments could be suffered when the body had been cremated and returned to the dust.
Such confusing Hindu teachings caused Bushan to search for truth through Bible study. The simple, clear statements of the Bible made sense to him, resulting in his changing his form of worship, even though it meant the loss of favor of his relatives.—Eccl. 9:5, 10; John 5:28, 29.
This difficulty of breaking away from family religious traditions was also experienced by Veeramani Iyer. He was of a Brahmin (priestly) family and his wife’s father was a Brahmin priest. He said that his change to true Christianity caused his parents distress. “But,” he said, “I loved Bible principles even more than the pleasure of my kin.”
Abandoning Religious Customs
It is often particularly difficult to abandon popular religious customs. For example, married Hindu women wear around their necks a string necklace called a “thali.” This has considerable significance.
Since the word “thali” means “to bind,” this necklace, given at the time of marriage, becomes a visible sign that the wearer is married. To remove it could indicate that the woman is a bad type, or that the marriage is broken. However, the thali also has lines engraved on it to indicate which god the wearer worships. Thus the removing of the thali indicates that the wearer has thrown aside her god. This thali is also worn by some church members, but, instead of a symbol of a Hindu god, a cross is engraved on it.
Because of its religious significance, a decision has to be made by one who becomes a Christian as to whether she is going to continue wearing the thali. This is one reason why Jehovah’s witnesses endeavor to include the husband when a Bible study is conducted in a Hindu home. As a result, he will understand that his wife has no intention of breaking the marriage should she remove the thali upon learning its religious significance. Her removal of the thali simply indicates that she is now worshiping Jehovah and does not approve of idol worship.
Another religious custom that Christian women here abandon is the marking of their foreheads with a dot of colored powder, usually red, called the “Kum Kum.” Originally this was for caste identification, but today many modern Indian women wear it for decorative purposes. However, because of its association with the Hindu religion, Christian women prefer not to use it.
Maintaining Local Customs
At the same time, becoming one of Jehovah’s witnesses does not require persons to abandon customs of their land that are not in conflict with the Holy Bible. Most Christian women in India, in harmony with local custom, will not eat their meals with their husbands. Only after the husband has eaten will the wife eat. Also, when men enter the presence of women, the women cover their heads with their saris.
There are many other local customs that are often observed in Christian homes. For example, upon entering a home the householder and visitors will customarily remove their shoes and leave them at the door entrance. When eating, members of the family usually sit on the floor, using their fingers, but only those of the right hand, to eat. In some areas of India, such as in Tamil Nadu, there is much objection to the eating of beef. When people from this area become Christians, it is noticed that generally they continue to show a dislike for eating beef. The typical Indian greeting “Namastay,” made by holding the two hands in a prayerlike position, is also commonly used. Thus, with these and many other local customs, the Christian maintains his Indian identity.
A New Way of Life
While, in general appearance, it may not be noticed whether one is a Hindu or a true Christian, in the way he conducts his life it will be. This was found out by Purshotham Patel when he began to study the Bible regularly with his friend.
Patel soon learned that his worldly habits of gambling and getting drunk, which had been no barrier to his being either a Hindu or a Catholic, had no place in the worship of Jehovah God. This meant a new way of life for him, a new set of friends, but also progress toward a good relationship with the true God, Jehovah. Now his hope is not set on a Nirvana of nonexistence, but on living forever on this earth when it will soon return to paradise conditions in harmony with the loving purposes of Jehovah God.—Ps. 37:29; Rev. 21:3, 4.
Hindus are sensitive to “conversions.” They know that the churches in the past used force to convert Hindus to their faith. In recent times bribes of food, such as cheese, milk powder and similar items, have often been used to influence the poor and hungry to associate with the churches, and Hindus understandably object to this. However, a person who becomes one of Jehovah’s witnesses does so because of his own desire to worship the true God and not because of coercion or for selfish reasons.
Today, in many parts of India and in other parts of the world, Hindus are becoming Christian witnesses of the true God, Jehovah. This is often not easy, due to family and community opposition, but the pleasure of knowing and serving the Grand Creator, who promises everlasting life to his worshipers, is what motivates them.—John 17:3.