MUMBAI, India – The Passion of Christ is bringing together Hindus, Muslims and Christians in India.
The Passion Play – which is a retelling of the betrayal, arrest and crucifixion of Jesus – has often brought controversy in multi-religious places due to perceived anti-Jewish implications. However, in a nation such as India, where Christians are still a small and often persecuted minority, the Passion Play is only recently coming into its own and with none of the anti-Semitic implications it sometimes has in the West.
Father Anand Mathew of the Indian Missionary Society has written and directed a version of the Passion play to be performed in the southern Indian state of Kerala through March 22.
This kind of performance is a rare event in India. Hindi speaking artists from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Delhi and Rajasthan are also involved. What makes this version especially interesting is that the cast is predominantly Hindu, with a few Muslims and Christians sprinkled in the mix. Seven of the Christians belong to the Santvana community, a fraternity of lay people founded by Father Dheeraj Sabu, IMS.
Titled “Snehabali,” the play is in Malayalam, Kerala’s official language, even though most of the actors don’t speak it. However, the performers went the extra mile in their attempt to understand the depth of the narrative by spending several days in prayer, fasting, and abstinence.
So far, the audiences are giving rave reviews. Matthew says that some of the most dramatic scenes have “provoked such strong emotions that many spectators burst into tears.
“Some participants,” Matthew explained, “said that they experienced healing during the representation.”
At the end of each performance, Father Prashant IMS invites spectators to meditate on the value of the blood that Christ shed on the cross, and experience the healing of body, mind and spirit through the power of that Precious Blood.
Prashant serves as director of the Indian Missionary Society Dhyana Bhavan in Punnapra, a village in Kerala.
The multi-faith presentation of a distinctly Christian story is taking place during a time of political uncertainty for India’s small Christian minority.
The ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scored a major electoral victory in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on March 12.
Matthew said his Passion Play is not meant to be a political statement, but the rise of the BJP is not good for the Indian Christians, nor interfaith relations in the country.
He told Crux that “their victory is a proof that people can be taken for a ride through the art of rhetoric, money power, and the politics of luring. The party used all tactics, many unethical ones, to lure the voters.”
Matthew added the BJP victory represents “bad days for the entirety of India. The policies of this party are anti-poor, anti-people. But they do it systematically with beautiful rhetoric.”
Since the BJP has come to power, Christian groups have complained of a systematic campaign against them.
Last October, Pope Francis said he planned on visiting India in 2017, and it is hoped the pontiff will engage in some quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy to defend the rights of the country’s estimated 30 million Christians.