06 Dec 2007


Traditions, languages, ethnicity and religions abound in India.  Mumbai, the most populous city of the country with 17 million people is much the same.  With nearly 100,000 people per square mile, these diverse ethnic, religious and language groups must live and work side by side.   Despite the close association of these peoples, many individual traditions remain and are personified by the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the jobs they perform, where they live and their religious beliefs.  Intrinsic in the cultural tradition of Mumbai is the now outlawed caste system.  This system continues to discourage many people groups from integrating into one another.  As a result, social exchange between the groups seldom occurs.  Consequently, the groups hang onto their religious beliefs and traditions that have been handed down over many centuries.

 Nonetheless, cultural change is gradually occurring even with the barriers of tradition and of caste. … The Marathi, … the most populous people group in Mumbai, … is blending with many other people groups.  In addition, different language groups tend to merge as more and more people learn to speak Hindi, the predominant street language.  Among this diverse populace, it is their religious beliefs and practices that are least impacted by the melding of the society.  For the most part, participation in worship services held by the various religious groups is restricted to members only. The Buddhists is a notable exception with a clear invitation to others.  The Hindus, … with millions of gods, … find it easy to incorporate another god such as Jesus into their line up.

 Cultural change is also impacted by globalization in all parts of the city.  Young women exchange their traditional salwar kameez for tight t-shirts and jeans.  Middle class families dream for their children to be educated in the West.  Many are choosing marriages based on love rather than those arranged by their families.  Politicians attempt to rally neighborhoods around common causes. The pressures of the work life leave the nuclear families little time to worship together at their traditional holy places.

 Pressure for cultural change also comes from the enormous economic disparity within Mumbai, the financial capital of India.  A few live in high-rise apartments and townhouses, … each endowed with servants, chauffeurs and other trappings of luxury.  Yet, … more than half of the population lives on the pavement or in slums.  As these two worlds pass each other on the street, individual cultural identity can be seen walking, but most of the time in different directions.   In some places, cultural identity is muted; … such as on the train, … as they all travel together for the ride.  The crowded markets provide another place where all are bound by a common need.  In this case, to purchase daily supplies.

 Still, … many continue to hang onto their cultural distinction in spite of the pressure for change. The Koli fishing villages located within the city limits continue their traditional lifestyle and dependence on the daily catch of fish.  Heavy carts are pulled and pushed along the streets … through crowds of people.  Similarly, ice continues to be delivered by ox cart as it makes its way to the next stop.  Fresh, hot meals prepared at home are delivered by the tiffin-wallahs to wealthy businessmen who work in the financial district.  The dhobis-wallahs continue to wash the dirty laundry of the city’s residents. Weddings for the wealthy are elaborate and opulent affairs that follow traditions passed down for generations.  Cremation is an essential part of the funeral for a diseased Hindu follower.  Methods and practices of worship … have changed little over time.

 Within this closely confined conglomeration of people, culture, tradition and religion, there is respect as observed by the practices of the sometimes-conflicting religions. Muslims consider Friday their holy day and interfere with traffic as they worship.  Hindus setup small shrines in their business and on the street as convenient places for worship.  Some wear turbans; … others have small caps, … while still others wear ritually blessed wristbands.  Some consider the cow as sacred; yet others butcher and eat cattle meat.  Some beg on the street for food at the same time as others pay to feed a cow.

 In this city, … like much of India, … the people are very religious.  It is a place where nearly all will say that there is a god, or perhaps many gods. They also bestow a multitude of attributes to their gods. They all seek to appease and obtain favor from these gods. Few in this city have heard or understand the truth of the Gospel. Instead, they believe in a distant and impersonal god; a god that can be pleased by sacrifices and rituals.  This legacy has been past down for generations.  Thus, it is  very difficult for them to understand the love of the one true God and that salvation comes by grace and not by works. …There are very few Christians in Mumbai.

 Overlay: <1% evangelical Believers

 Christianly has had a disappointing history in the city. In the mid 1800’s, both Catholic and Anglican churches were established. The structures were beautiful; … adorned with stained glass windows and majestic ceilings. The pews were comfortable armchairs and, … for the British soldier, … a place to rest the barrel of their rifle. These churches were made by and for the British. They were out of place in the Indian culture when built and remain an island unto themselves.  Appearing more as monuments than as churches, they are very sparsely attended.

 People in Mumbai need to hear the truth of the Gospel and in a way that is relevant to their own traditions, culture, language ethnicity and social status … and in some places they are.

In a small town, … on the outskirts of Mumbai, … is a church built less than 10 years ago. The path to this church is in view of a Hindu temple and to some cattle grazing nearby.  It is the same path used by the residents of the area as it winds across the field and up between the small stucco homes.  All of the residents know where the church is located and many regularly attend the worship services.

 People arrive early on Sunday gathering outside to talk about the happenings of the day.  When it is time to enter the church, … shoes are left outside on the well-worn steps.  Inside …  woven mats have been spread out on the concrete floor for women to sit on one side and men on the other.  The musical instruments are familiar to all as are the songs and words in their Bibles.  Most importantly, …it is here that the truth of God’s word is proclaimed in their heart language. …. And on their knees, they earnestly pray to the one true God.

 The food and fellowship time after the service reflects their own tastes, culture and traditions. Those attending receive a large plate piled high with rice.  There is just enough room on the plate for fish and vegetables.  In the traditional manner, the meal is eaten by hand.

 Extended families are large, … homes and kitchens are small, … but the love of God is evident.  These Christians have found the Truth of God’s Word and yet are able to retain much of their traditions and customs.

 Pray for the pastor and his family as well as this body of believers as they reach out into the community and share the Love of Jesus.


Pronunciation guide:

Assamese                 Assam-ees

Bengalis                     Ben GAL-ees

Chai:                            ch-eye

Dhobis-wallahs            DOE-bee WAHL ahs

Gujarat/Gujarati        Gooj-ah-rah-t/ Gooj-ah-rah-tee

Hindi                           HIN-dee

Kashmiris:                  Kahsh-meer-ees

Keralites:                    Carol-ites

Koli                             KOE-lee

Maharashtra:             Ma-ha-rash-tra

Marathi:                     Mar-ah-tee                                   

Mumbai                     Moom-BYE              

Nagas:                        Nah-gahs

Punjabis:                    Poon-ja-bees

Salwar Kameez:              SAL war KA meese

Tamil                           Tah-ml                       

Telugu             Tel-goo                            

Tiffin-wallahs             TIFF in WAHL ahs

Uttar Pradesh            Oo-tar-prah-desh            



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