- Culture & Society
Celebrating Easter in India
17 Apr 2022
At Easter, Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith. Christians believe that Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, sacrificed himself for mankind and revealed himself as the redeemer through his resurrection. Therefore, Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, and Easter Sunday, the day of his resurrection, are of particular importance and are accordingly celebrated with various traditions and rituals.
There are a variety of Easter traditions in Germany, which differ from region to region (You can read our article about Easter in Germany here). India, on the other hand, is often perceived primarily as a Hindu country, but this image is far too one-sided. In fact, India is home to an enormous diversity of cultures, traditions and religions. Sizeable Christian communities have been living in some regions of the Indian subcontinent for centuries. These include Goa on the west coast, the north eastern states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, as well as big Christian communities in metropolitan Mumbai and the southern coastal state of Kerala. Overall, Christians only make up around 2.3 % of India’s total population, but they nevertheless constitute the country’s third largest religious group – way behind Hinduism and Islam.
According to Christian belief, Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Christ, is regarded as the founder of Christianity in India. He is said to have reached the Malabar Coast in the southwest of the subcontinent by ship in 52 AD. Scientists assume that larger Christian communities had developed on the coast of present-day Kerala already by the 6th century. Due to the growing influence of the European colonial powers in India from the 15th century onwards, various Christian denominations were able to establish themselves as minority religions in India. Because of the centuries-long Portuguese influence in Goa, a lot of Catholics still live in this state and in the coastal regions of the neighbouring states. The Goan Carnival is famous across India for its colourful costumes and boisterous street celebrations. On India’s eastern coast, France had established trading posts which served as the gateway to introduce Christianity to this part of South Asia. As the second largest Christian denomination after Catholicism, the Anglican Church was able to expand with the help of British colonialism. For this reason, the most important Christian churches in India are located in the old capital of British India, Calcutta (nowadays Kolkata), as well as in Goa, which has a strong Catholic tradition.
Easter has its own traditions in India. Painted Easter eggs and Easter bunnies, which are ubiquitous in Germany, are rarely found here. However, Christians in India also exchange small gifts and wish each other God’s blessings at this special time of the year. Some Indian Christians also follow the Christian tradition of fasting, which is very common in Europe. Similar to Germany, many Christians in India refrain from eating meat during the fasting period before Easter and on Good Friday. A special feature is the tradition of serving a bitter drink on Good Friday, which often contains vinegar. The bitter taste symbolises the mourning over the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition, plays are often performed that tell the story of Jesus' passion and redemption.
Since India's Christian population is spread across the country, Easter traditions also vary from region to region. Goa is known for the particularly lavish decorations adorning the Portuguese churches. On Good Friday, the way of the cross is re-enacted in Old Goa: Believers carry a massive wooden cross and an image of Jesus through the streets to commemorate Jesus' sacrifice for mankind. After attending church service on the morning of Easter Sunday, Goa’s Christians gather at their homes for a big feast, as part of which home-baked Easter cakes and meat dishes are eaten. In Kerala as well, meat may only be eaten on Easter Sunday. In addition, specialties from the Kerala cuisine are consumed, such as the rice pancake appam, baked bananas and the famous egg curry. The predominantly Christian north-east of India, on the other hand, has its own traditions. In the state of Meghalaya, folk songs are sung and traditional dances performed at midnight. In Mizoram early in the morning, music bands of the salvation army play Christian songs to awaken the faithful and create a solemn atmosphere for this special festival.
Do you know of other special Easter traditions from India or any other country? Feel free to write to us in the comments or directly to [email protected].
Written by: Ferdinand Schlechta
Cover Photo: Unsplash - Anantha Krishna A
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