Sunday, 6 October 2013

Holy Dwar

Religions are complex and contentious. In its multitude, the fact that religions do share common ground in their beliefs, practices and symbols are often overlooked. This is not only true for religions that share a common ancestry, like Abrahamic or Indian, but also across these religions.

In Hinduism, Surya; the Solar deity, is usually represented as riding in a chariot. This representation of the Sun God is not limited to Hinduism alone. A similar representation is being used in some of the European religions as well. In Greek, Helios - the Greek personification of Sun, is represented riding in a chariot. Similarly some of the paintings in the Vatican Museum also depicts the Sun God as riding in a chariot.

Holy Door in St.Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
The similarities doesn't end with symbolism. In catholic custom, 'Holy Door', also called as the 'Door of Great Pardon', is seen as a representation of Jesus. This 'Holy Door', present only in the four major basilicas of the Catholic Church, is opened during the holy year that occurs every twenty five years. Passing through this 'Holy Door', which portrays scenes of man's sins and redemption through God's mercy, is believed as an act of redemption among the Catholics.[1]

A custom similar to that of the 'Holy Door' is being practiced in another religion, a non  Abrahamic, whose roots are in a different continent.

'Vaikuntha Ekadashi' is a holy day for certain Hindu sects. On this day, the devotees pass through a special door called as 'Vaikunth Dwar' or 'Swarga Vaasal' which literally translates to 'Door to the Heaven'. According to the Hindu mythology, people who fast on this day and pass through this door are redeemed of their sins.[2] Though the Hindu mythology and Catholic church have different stories about the origins of these doors, their purpose is similar and is not very difficult to draw parallels between them.

Swarga Vaasal in Jagannadha Temple, Tamil Nadu[6]
In a multi-faith country like India, certain religious practices can be found common among different religions within the country. The votive offering of metal images of body parts (for healing) and salt to God is common in certain churches and Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu.[3][4][5] This commonality is understandable in countries like India; a closely knitted society where many of its customs are shared, including religious ones.

In the case of 'Holy Door', though is a catholic belief, is practiced only in the major basilicas, located in Rome and the Vatican City. So the 'Holy Door' is not a common practice outside the major basilicas. So unlike votive offering,  the practice of  'Vaikunth Dwar' being influenced by another religion from the same geography seems less probable.

The earliest reference of  the 'Holy Door' is in c.1437[7] and there doesn't seem to exist a chronology for the Hindu practice. So it is unclear how the same practice came into existence in different religions. Comparative religious studies might explain this commonality and may even highlight many such practices among different religions. Nevertheless, it is intriguing, to observe different doctrines following similar customs in different geographical locations without much influence from each other.

6. Jagnnada Temple Photo Credit: Sriram Srinivasn - Flickr:Creative Commons

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