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Celebrating religious pluralism the Indian way

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PIETY: David Hart, an Anglican priest, offers prayers to a Ganesha idol in front of his house at Karumam in the State capital. Photo: C. Ratheesh kumar
PIETY: David Hart, an Anglican priest, offers prayers to a Ganesha idol in front of his house at Karumam in the State capital. Photo: C. Ratheesh kumar

Sangeeth Kurian

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Meet David Hart, an Anglican priest, who recites Gayatri Mantram with the same devotion with which he celebrates the Eucharist or offers namaaz at Muslim prayer halls.

He is a "religious pluralist." His fascination for Lord Ganesha has prompted him to celebrate Vinayaka Chathurthi by consecrating an idol of Ganesha at a specially-erected podium in front of his rented house at Karumam on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram. Rev. Hart is an associate professor in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Winchester in the U.K. He says his "pilgrimage to the ocean" on September 1 to immerse the idol will mark the culmination of a spiritual journey he had undertaken since his school years.

"The image of a God with the head of an elephant and four arms was initially an object of curiosity. But it soon turned into a quest to learn more about this extraordinary God," says 51-year-old Rev. Hart. However, his efforts did not make much headway, as there were no Ganesha temples in England in those days. "Today, the cult of Ganesha has become globalised. He is no longer just an Indian God," says Rev. Hart, who renewed his orders for priesthood under the Bishop of Ely, Cambridgeshire, last month. The spiritual image of Ganesha as the remover of obstacles has a special appeal to Britishers. "In England, the idol of Ganesha is more popular than Krishna or any other Indian God and many households have Ganesha in the living room."

"The modern world is no longer dominated by any single form of belief. It is a world of religious pluralism," he says. Rev. Hart is the international secretary of the World Congress of Faiths based in London. He officiates the Holy Communion at St. James Parish Church in Stretham, Cambridge, when he is in England and prefers to spend his time offering namaaz in the Muslim prayer room while waiting for a change of plane at the Dubai Airport.

"The Anglican church firmly believes in engaging itself fully in inter-faith dialogues," says Rev. Hart. "God is the same irrespective of whether you pray to him in a temple, church or mosque," says Rev. Hart, who is currently working on his latest book `The Unification of World Faiths' scheduled to be published next year. His `Trading Faith: Global Religion in an Age of Rapid Change,' a book which focuses on a new model for understanding religious practice and faith, was released in the city early this year.

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