Secular India
-By Maxwell Pereira
mfjpkamath@gmail.com

The story of a Hindu temple mahant in Gujarat performing the nikah of his Muslim adopted daughter to a Muslim youth with full Muslim rites was heart-warming. Even more significant, was the request in consequence to the mahant made by his daughter’s new father-in-law to find suitable grooms for his own three daughters – eminently endorsing the fact that despite all efforts of fundamentalists and politicians to drive a wedge between communities, we Indians are at heart totally secular minded. Reading this beautiful story, I couldn’t but help remember a somewhat similar experience nearer home recently.

When the musically proficient concert pianist Ariane followed her boyfriend to India, I quipped jokingly – it is, I hope, to tie the knot! That was in the fall of 2005. I had earlier met friend Vijay and she years ago in Paris, and known them to be going steady since more years than they apparently chose to remember. Pleasantly now, she conspiratorially confided yes, and hoped I would back her up in this adventure.  She joined our choral group ‘The Capital City Minstrels’ as a guest artist for piano solos. Initially she also made due enquiries of me regarding local regulations, clergy and church conveniences – but then there was a lull, to make us entirely forget about impending wedding bells and let other matters invade our minds. Not until late 2006 it was then, that she sprung a surprise and actually announced the date, also requesting the Capital City Minstrels to sing at her ceremony – which we readily agreed to, as a privilege and an honour.

Ariane selected her music – some Bach and some Gregorian – not really the traditional wedding fare. I took it for granted that it was to be a church wedding – but that, she said, would be later, in the presence of her parents and family, when they visit France again. Now, it would be the Hindu rites, at the next-door Jagannath temple beside the deer sanctuary in Delhi’s Green Park. I realized we were in a fix, as I was wary – Christian hymns at a Hindu temple? No way! There’d be a storm, I feared.

But apparently between the two, Ariane and Vijay, and the temple management, they had sorted all out, and insisted we did the honours. So on the decided day, there we were a motley bunch of secular choirists that included two clergymen besides me and four other Catholics, including the French organist cum soloist who sang the Ave Maria and some Hindus that included the President of our CCM group too – lending our voices with gusto singing praises to the Lord on this happy occasion, ‘midst Vedic chants of the “Shree Ganeshaya Namah” and the Vivaha Manthrartha of related pujas that included punyahavachan, madhupark, the mangalashtak and antarpat before kanyadaan, mangalsutra bandhan, vivaha hoam, pani grahanam, laja hoam & ashmarohan and saptapadi followed by Laxmi pujan and the final Ashirvada.

There was pin drop attentive silence during what was to the congregation present our alien rendition. And it was gratifying when at the end the chief pundit came up to me wanting to know the exact words and meaning of what we sang. This is the tolerant and secular India that we are proud of

20.01.2007: Copyright © Maxwell Pereira: 0124-2360568, 4111026; 3725 Sector-23, Gurgaon-122017Available also at - http://www. maxwellpereira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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