The Catholic Church has produced the first "Indianised" Bible to boost its following in the country.
'Indianised' Bible is a best seller
NEW DELHI // Five centuries after Christian missionaries arrived in India, the Catholic Church has produced the first "Indianised" Bible to boost its following in this country of 1.1 billion people. The New Community Bible is written in simplified English designed to appeal to a wider audience, and shows the Virgin Mary dressed in a sari and Joseph in a loincloth and a pagri, which is similar to a turban.
Mahatma Gandhi, India's independence leader, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta also feature in the lengthy notes that appear on each page to explain the text to Indian readers. The Bible uses passages from Hindu scriptures, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and Sanskrit words such as Moksha - meaning salvation - in its notes, so newcomers do not feel alienated by new concepts and vocabulary. "I am sure this Bible, made in India and for Indians, will bring the word of God closer to millions of our people, not only Christians," Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Mumbai, said at a ceremony to bless the book on its release on June 28.
India now has more than 24 million Christians - including 17m Roman Catholics - compared with just two million in 1900. But the rapid growth in numbers over the past century has been curbed in recent years after Hindu nationalist groups protested at what they saw as aggressive proselytising and successfully lobbied for anti-conversion laws in seven states. At the same time, Christian churches are struggling to maintain their congregations in Europe and North America and increasingly looking to the developing world as a source for millions of new converts.
"We are living through the largest demographic transformation of the last 200 years," said John L Allen Jr, an independent Vatican analyst based in Rome. "A hundred years ago the majority of Catholics were in North America and Europe, but now two-thirds of Catholics live in Africa, Asia and South America." The idea for an "Indianised" Bible first appeared in the 1980s after Father Bernardo Hurault, a French priest working in Chile, produced a simple Spanish translation of the Bible along with a commentary that poor, ordinary people could understand.
Since it was first published in 1971, the Christian Community Bible has been translated into French, Filipino and Chinese and used in South America, Africa and Asia. In India, however, the decision was made to go beyond translation into a local language, many examples of which already existed, and to give the book a greater cultural appeal. "The scholars felt that any serious and contextualised and inculturated commentary on the sacred text, made specially for India, could not ignore the rich cultural and religious heritage of the land," said Fr Tony Charanghat, a spokesman for the archbishop of Mumbai.
For example, alongside the well-known passage in Matthew where Jesus tells disciples to "turn the other cheek", the accompanying notes compare this to Gandhi's creed of ahimsa, or non-violence. Beneath another passage about miracles, the notes explain the difference between Jesus's teachings and the Vedanta - a Sanskrit term for enlightenment. "His miracles are eruptions of charismatic power not the result of yogic techniques," the commentary says.