Religious harmony: Uniquely India; Community celebrates Christian Easter and Hindu Vishu together

(caption for the above picture: Christchurch Kerala Association celebrating Christian Easter and Hindu Vishu together in Christchurch on April 23; picture courtesy CKA and Tulsi Gopal)

In what can be termed as an excellent example of religious harmony in New Zealand, and more so, shining a bright light on India's age-old diverse traditions, last weekend, Keralites [those from the southern Indian state of Kerala, also called Malayalis] in Christchurch celebrated Easter, a Christian festival, and Vishu, a Hindu festival, together.   

First up on Saturday, April 22, was the celebration by the Kerala Cultural Forum (KCF), which was formed in 2009. This was followed by the event on April 23, hosted by the oldest Malayali organisation in the City – since 2005 - the Christchurch Kerala Association (CKA).  

Notably, while Christians around the world celebrate Easter marking the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Vishu is a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala, with decorating lights and bursting of firecrackers. signifying the beginning of a new year.

The most important event in Vishu celebrations is called Vishukkani meaning - the first thing Lord Vishnu sees after waking up. Thus, articles signifying prosperity are ritually arranged around Lord Krishna and traditional oil lamps are lit, with the hope and prayer that these are the things Lord Vishnu will see first after waking up. This ritual, it is believed, bring good luck and prosperity to the community.  

Another, and probably the most adored ritual during Vishu, is called Vishukaineetam. It refers to hansel given to children by elders in the form of coins, preferably gold. It's a symbolism for blessings for the oncoming new year. Moreover, the belief is sharing one's wealth with loved ones, will bring in even more prosperity.     

“And we were lucky that we had elderly parents of some of our members in Christchurch right now, who gave Vishukaineetam to over 30 children that day. Overall, the celebrations were attended by 140 people. The highlight of the day was Uma Varma and her students from Revathi Performing Arts performing several Bharatnatyam [Indian classicla dance] pieces.” Mobin Mathew, treasurer of KCF informed.  

Dinesh Kumar, president of the Forum added, “Moreover, it was also decided and communicated to the attendees that KCF's will be starting free Malayalam classes on Thursday evenings from June. This is aimed at our vision of nourishing the Malayali culture and passing on our rich traditional values to the next generation.”

Similar were the celebrations by CKA, of which Ajesh Jose, a member, noted, “Our celebrations started at 7pm with almost 50 of our members attending the event. While there were few Malayali dance and music performances, the evening's highlight were the prayers offered for both Jesus Christ and Lord Vishnu.”

Easter celebrations by St Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Community in Christchurch

A recently registered non-profit - consisting mainly of members from the Malayali Christians in Christchurch - the St Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Community also celebrated Easter and marked Good Friday last month.

The holy week started with Palm Sunday on April 9, followed by Maundy Thursday on April 13, Good Friday on April 14, and Easter on April 15's midnight.   

Renju George, who is the President of the newly-formed outfit, informed, “While we had over 200 people on other days, almost 380 people got together for the Eater mass at the St Peters Catholic Church, which was led by Fr Francis Kolenchery. Now that we are a registered society, our next steps involve bringing the entire Syro-Malabar Catholic community in New Zealand together, followed by building our own church here in Christchurch and bringing in our own priest.”

“And to give this vision an impetus, we will be hosting Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar church Mar George Cardinal Alencherry in Christchurch in September,” he added.