Image source: Facebook page of World of Kolkata
Trending on the Internet, not too long ago, was the story of the Chinese Kali Mandir in Kolkata. The temple, which is 60 years old, stands on the Matheswartala Road in Tangra.
Nestled in East Kolkata, the Tangra region houses Chinese migrants who have made India their home. The 1930’s Civil War in China led to an influx of refugees who looked for shelter and blended with the ambience of the region they settled in. The area is also known by the name of Chinatown.
If we were to peek into the corridors of history, we would get glimpses of China’s culture being shaped by Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. So the worshipping of a Hindu goddess by the Chinese is a news that invariably invites interest.
The Story behind the Chinese Kali Mandir
A story unfolds that locals in the Tangra region worshipped two granite stones smeared with vermillion beneath a tree for years. A 10-year-old Chinese boy had fallen seriously ill, and doctors failed to cure him. As a last resort, the parents lay him in front of the stones and prayed for several days at a stretch. A miracle happened, and the boy recovered. This incident strengthened the faith of the people in the divine, and the Bengali and Chinese communities came together to build a shrine in honor of goddess Kali.
Image source: Facebook page of World of Kolkata
What one witnesses in this famous temple in Tangra is a fusion of Indian and Chinese customs. As seen in other Kali temples, garlands of red hibiscus adorn the idol of the goddess. The evening aarti, however, incorporates a ritual that is seen in Chinese churches. Candles made of paper are used to ward off evil spirits. Chinese incense sticks are lighted, and the aroma is distinct from that which one senses in other temples or puja pandals.
Prasad, which is a religious offering, has a great significance in Hinduism. It is believed to be a gift given graciously and shared between the divine and the individual making the offering. The prasad that is distributed among devotees in the Chinese Kali Mandir will take you by surprise. In lieu of fruits or sweets, it’s an array of Chinese delicacies that include chop suey, noodles, stir fry vegetables, momos, and sticky rice.
On a different note, it is worth mentioning that the Indo-Chinese food which is so popular among the Indian masses is an outcome of the Chinese settlement in India. This creative cuisine emerged after the two cultures mingled. A desi twist is added while preparing Chinese dishes in order to appeal to the tastebuds of the Indian people.
Faith and acceptance bind humanity
This story of the Chinese Kali Mandir is rather unparalleled and opens the window for reflection. It is a testament to the fact that different religions and communities can coexist in harmony while maintaining their individuality. What comes to light is the truth that faith and religion can be at diametrically opposite poles yet meet at a mid-point.
Author and spiritual leader Ram Dass lucidly explains, “As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.” This is indeed a brilliant interpretation of the philosophy of existence. To harness a free mind and not be blinded by prejudice should be the cornerstone of humanity.
Born a Christian, Hollywood actor Julia Roberts embraced Hinduism later on in life. The choice she made is a personal matter and should not be within the purview of discussion, but what is exemplary is the way the actor voiced her thoughts. She had emphasized: “I have no intention of demeaning any other religion simply because of my fondness for Hinduism. I don’t believe in comparing religions or human beings. A comparison is a very mean thing to do. I have received real spiritual satisfaction through Hinduism.”
On a personal note, I would like to cite an example from my life experience. I attended a Catholic convent and had an interest in knowing about Christianity. In conjunction with this was the secular mindset of my Hindu parents that made me look at all religions with equal reverence. Later on, as an adult, I was drawn to the Catholic Novena prayer, which even now I seek refuge in during any crisis.
It is heartwarming to see how people, by forgetting the gulfs in caste, creed, color, and religion, unite under one roof to surrender themselves to the divine. I would like to mention three such monumental places of worship in India.
St. Michael’s Church in Mahim, Mumbai is one of the oldest Catholic churches built by the Portuguese in 1534. The place is flooded with people particularly on Wednesdays when prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Help are held throughout the day. This is a place where people from all religions come to seek blessings. A belief exists that visiting the church for nine consecutive Wednesdays will grant devotees their wishes.
The Ajmer Sharif Dargah houses the tomb of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chisti and is a shrine that is visited by millions every year. The devotees include not just Muslims but people from all faiths.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar is one of the most iconic temples in the world and the holiest place of the Sikhs. The Gurudwara is famous for being an open house of worship for people from all walks of life and all faiths. An article from NDTV titled “The Golden Temple , where all may eat, and pitch in” beautifully describes how the temple operates: “Each visitor gets a wholesome vegetarian meal, served by volunteers who embody India’s religious and ethnic mosaic.”
The message that rings loud here is that faith transcends religion. It’s an affirmation that belief and devotion are the paradigms that lend an intrinsic value to human survival.
It is perfectly fine to take pride in our religion, our culture, and our heritage. At the same time, we need to generate respect for something that belongs to others. We need to widen our mind and spirit and understand that our strength lies in our differences and not in our similarities. The beauty of this world is enhanced by the heterogeneity that makes it richer and so colorful with its various shades and hues.
All thanks to technology which has bridged physical distances, the present day world has become a global village. So, why do we not make the mental connect too and unite by accepting diversity and breaking free from the shackles of conservatism? Let assimilation, unity, and acceptance be our mantras of life. There is a lot of food for thought from these words of Kofi Annan that hold great relevance in today’s day and age: “We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.”
(This article was featured in India Currents )
Lovely article, Rashmi! Different cultures and religions have always interested me.