Bangalore Bhath | The Thursday mass
This church has inspired a movie, and its followers advertise their love and gratitude in classified ads
“Thank you for favours received (sic). Please continue to bless us. Sorry for the delay”—page 15, The Times of India, 16 May.
The classified was accompanied by a picture of Infant Jesus, and flanked by six other messages, each with the same image of Infant Jesus.
In a June edition of the same daily, another such message to Infant Jesus said: “Heartfelt thanks for the curing of my right lungs plural effusion (sic) disease with normal report.”
On a recent Thursday evening, the sound of the organ could be heard in the courtyard of the church while the faithful inside sang a Tamil song in praise of the Arputha Kulanthai, the miraculous baby. Seven masses in different languages are conducted every Thursday. Though the church requests only Catholics participate in the mass, the adjacent building on the same premises is open to people from all faiths. Don’t expect the quiet serenity of a church here though.
Every Thursday people from across religions visit the church, situated in the middle of congested Viveknagar, a locality with middle and lower-middle-class homes. One could compare this crowd to the one seen at Mumbai’s St Michael’s Church every Wednesday or the never-ceasing crowds at Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah on Thursday evenings, but it is important to acknowledge that the popularity of this church, less than three decades old, is relatively recent. The Thursday pilgrims come here to make their prayers come true. Many are regulars because their prayers did come true.
The church distributes free books with testimonies from those who have experienced the miracles. “I had expected no more than 70% and I ended up getting 94%. This was a miracle performed by Infant Jesus,” says Monica Thomas, in the annual Infant Jesus Shrine prospectus of 2011—she had chicken pox during her class X exams.
Rector Antony says the church saw a sharp rise in the number of followers after the 1984 release of Kulanthai Yesu (Baby Jesus), a Tamil film starring Saritha, Rajesh and comedian Senthil. The film dramatized the power of the shrine; the storyline was of a childless Hindu couple who had a child after visiting Infant Jesus in Bangalore. The movie, with its overtly sentimental undertones, appealed to the masses—the bits of action and comedy helped. Soon, word on the church spread among the Tamil-speaking population of Karnataka—and in Tamil Nadu too. Today, you can buy the film’s DVD in the church.
The church started as a small tent in 1971 in what used to be a rose garden. There are stories about its early magical powers—especially on Thursdays. Seventy-one-year-old Vedha, who has been visiting the shrine for 37 years, says: “There was a tent with a statue of Infant Jesus and it began to rain. It was a Thursday and the disciples sat praying and though the tent was leaking and everybody was getting drenched, there was not a drop on the statue.”
The church, which has 28,000 members, sees about 10,000 people walking in every Thursday, including celebrities like Kannada actors Shivrajkumar and Aindrita Ray, who prefer the late hours to avoid crowds.
But it’s not just the church coffers that benefit from the weekly devotees. Every Thursday, Nusrat takes a break from her job as a daily-wage labourer to spend her day outside the church. She’s Muslim, so it’s not faith that brings her here—it’s the knowledge that every 5 minutes someone emerging from the church will distribute money and bread. “Sometimes even saris,” a passer-by says.
Nusrat says she earns more in a day sitting outside the church than she does all through the week doing odd jobs.
Similarly, the street vendors outside the church might never have placed newspapers ads, but thanks to Infant Jesus, they do brisk business—at least on Thursdays.
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