Cordileone’s pilgrimage to India
Learning the rules of the road
Day 2: Saturday, Dec. 31
Today we took a trip to the neighboring city of Mysore.
Although much smaller than Bangalore, it is distinguished by its rich
history and culture, with Bangalore being more the economic and business
center of the area and experiencing rapid growth more recently. The last
stronghold of Muslim power in the area, Mysore fell to the British in
1799, giving Britain total control over India.
The story goes that the Muslim ruler Tipu, a fierce warrior, was betrayed
by his own men. Fighting against the British in an impregnable fortress,
the British bribed one of his soldiers to let them in. Tipu fought to
the end, but eventually succumbed to the British sword.
We first visited his tomb, a very large, ornate structure on the classic
Islamic architectural style which houses the tombs of all of the family
The next stop was the main purpose of our venture to Mysore: a visit to
the royal palace, home to the Maharajahs, the Hindu kings ruling over
the area. After the British defeat of the Muslim powers, the Maharajahs
were allowed to return to their palace.
“The” palace is actually a series of buildings, including
some temples, on a huge, sprawling campus. All of the buildings were characterized
by rich and finely detailed art work, much of it depicting scenes from
Hindu mythology. It spoke to me of the dynamic between faith and culture,
and how all of the cultural arts – music, art, architecture, literature,
etc. – find such a high level of expression when religion and culture
are inextricably enmeshed, resulting, over centuries of development, in
a unique spiritual tradition which provides the language for communicating
what is noblest in the human spirit.
Our final stop was a visit to the church of Saints Joseph and Philomena,
the Cathedral of the Diocese of Mysore. Although not a large structure,
it is built in the classic Gothic style, and is taller than it is wide.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the church is a plaque at the
entrance, expressing thanks to “His Highness, our Maharajah.”
It was the Hindu king who financed the rebuilding of the Cathedral in
the 1950s, another sign of the cooperation among the different religious
groups so characteristic of Indian society.
Already early on during my visit here the contrasts between old and new
have been quite noticeable. The first striking example was on the way
to Mysore. We drove past what appeared to be a large Hindu cultural and
convention center. The building on the street of the complex had space
in it rented out to businesses, including a movie theater and –
what else? – a McDonald’s.
And speaking of driving, the three hour ride to and then from Mysore allowed
me to graduate from beginner to advanced beginner in the Indian school
of riding in a car (to actually learn to drive here is reserved for those
who qualify for post-graduate studies).
What I observed my first day came into relief with nerve-racking clarity:
in India, everyone and everything has a place on the road – not
just cars and buses and trucks and, of course, cows, but also pedestrians,
dogs, mules, goats, horses both unshackled and drawing carts, ox-drawn
carts as well, hand-pushed carts operated by merchants peddling their
wares, small three-wheel motorized vehicles for transporting passengers
or cargo, and, of course, the ubiquitous motorcycles and motor scooters.
Oh, and for those with sufficient daring to use a motor vehicle, there
is one rule of the road which in the mind of every driver must always
be borne: spare the brake and indulge the horn!
After our return to Bangalore, the day concluded with Mass at a nearby
Salesian parish. I celebrated the English Mass, one of the three languages
in which Mass is regularly celebrated in the area, the other two being
the local language of Kannada and the language of the neighboring state,
Tamil (many Tamils have come to Bangalore in search of work – a
sort of scenario quite familiar to us). True to the Salesian charism,
the parish is located in one of the many slum areas of Bangalore.
The church was jam crowded. I was greeted on the steps of the church by
young girls in elegant dresses showering me with flowers, the traditional
way of welcoming a distinguished visitor here. After kneeling to pray
for a minute at the entrance to the church, I vested and the entrance
The experience of the Mass was quite familiar: a youth choir singing contemporary
music, and the people actively engaged in the singing and prayers. I did
notice a few features a bit unusual to us; for example, while the people
in the assembly were wearing their shoes, the altar servers were barefoot,
and one of the concelebrants slipped off his sandals when he arrived at
his seat in the sanctuary.
And the economic depression of the surrounding neighborhood was nowhere
evident: electronic monitors strategically placed displayed the words
to the songs, the church was ornately decorated and clean, and many of
the people turned out in their Sunday best. The Salesian priests have
obviously worked very hard to bring dignity to the poor people of this
It was the simplicity and the devotion of the people, though, that most
struck me and will remain seared into my memory. The fervor of their prayer,
the reverence with which they received Holy Communion, and their crowding
around me after Mass to greet me and ask a blessing was quite moving.
As the car pulled away with us waving good-bye to each other, a part of
me wanted to stay behind simply to enjoy the experience of being with