Debating India

Tsunami and the battle of faith

Friday 7 January 2005

VELANKANNI: Reeling under the fury unleashed by the tsunami, the people know this much: the gods are angry, but why, they can’t fathom.

The resultant confusion has shaken the faith of some like Gomathi who can’t understand why the local deity couldn’t save her village, while it has made many more fearful of His wrath. After all, it was the vulnerability to elemental fury that contributed in shaping faiths. In many paradoxical ways, the shaken faith today is being shaped into new rituals - like Janaki’s milk offering to the sea - and a new quest for understanding the inexplicable.

The larger question of faith is now resonating around the world, as images of the Buddha standing rock steady amidst ruined beaches of Sri Lanka and Thailand flood television screens. It’s coming up when you read stories of miraculous escapes like Rizal Shahputra’s who survived eight days on a tree trunk in the ocean. Does that mean god’s whimsical? That He saves some, forsakes some?

The question is being raised in small temples in Nagipattinam and the church to St Mary in nearby Velankanni. The church is intact and dry, but thousands of devotees were washed away from the beach a few meters away. It’s a concern echoed in multi-faith vigils in Toronto and Buddhist temples in Thailand. Did God let us down?

The big problem facing priests is keeping the flock from going out with the tide of cynicism. Father P Xavier of Our Lady of Health Shrine Basilica in Velankanni tells a gathering they must pray. "If you don’t pray there is no meaning to life." Later explaining to this reporter, he says the clergy has to instil confidence. "Man is not like an animal. We believe in resurrection. We cannot blame God now."

Mohammad Kalifa Sahib of a local mosque in Nagore, adjacent to Nagapattinam, also urges more prayers.

See online : Times of India

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