Story by Ravindra Uppar
Belagavi: Snanika Arulappara Viraktamatha, a church at Deshnur village, 28 km away from district headquarters Belagavi is showcasing rare path of social harmony by its traditions, which seen nowhere in Catholic culture. Here the people worship Jesus and Mary but in Lingayat style. They burn camphor, agarbattis and wear vibhuti on the forehead. Offer prayers with folded hands. One can see Om mark at the entrance of the gate and sayings of both Hindu and Christian spiritual leaders on the walls.
More interesting is, priests here wear saffron colour attire as seers of Lingayat mutts. On the line of Anna Dasoha concept in Lingayats, food is served to thousands of villagers on special occasions. Inside the church, there is a tabernacle in the shape of Shivalinga, which is usually seen in churches.
Since its establishment in 1947, five Christian priests served here and they all had changed their Christian names to Hindu. First Fr Armonda Alveris had changed his name as Swami Animananda while Fr Sébastien, a second priest as Swami Arulananda and so on. All these used to wear rudraksha mala in the neck. More interestingly, a purely vegetarian diet is maintained on the premises.
The same tradition has followed all these years and present priest Fr Menino Gonsalves is continuing the same. Diocese of Belgaum supports the Church whenever it needs. Fr Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Society of Jesus had visited the church in March 2019 from Rome and accepted padapuja wearing saffron pheta on his head. Church runs two aided primary schools where around 550 students are pursuing education. Besides, it also runs a children orphanage where 24 children have taken shelter. There is also a free dispensary for the villagers.
According to Fr Menino Gonsalves, who is taking care of the church for the past 11 years,many people get confused with the tradition of the church. He says although church is functioning since past 75 years in Deshanur, there is not a single Christian family in the village.
It was the year of independence, Swami Animananda came to Deshanur village all over from Goa and settled in a hut at the hilltop. Gradually, he earned the faith of locals and started social activities there. He started a school for village children at the time there were no schools in the village or in the surrounding.
He also constructed the church but to blend with the local culture and traditions of people, he started following Lingayat tradition of spirituality and allowed people to follow their way to worship Jesus Christ. Villagers are very happy with the services being done by the church and standing firmly behind it. This church is a rare example of social harmony.