Religious Images On Wall Tiles Gain Popularity In Ranchi

2003-07-18 00:00:00

Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religious images on wall tiles are found in more and more homes in Ranchi, eastern India, though religious leaders are not all at home with the idea.

Christians in the Jharkhand state capital, 1,160 kilometers southeast of New Delhi, can cover their walls with colored marble tiles bearing images of the cross, Christ or the Blessed Mother.

Hindus, on the other hand, can have their pick of deities.

For Muslims, whose religion forbids images of animate beings, the tile manufacturers have imprinted images of the Ka´bah, the sacred Islamic shrine in Mecca, and Mecca itself.

Sikhism´s founder, Guru Nanak, and holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in the northern Indian state of Punjab, are also available.

The tiles range in size from 15 centimeters by 10 centimeters to larger ones, some large enough for life-size images, such as of Christ.

People who bought the tiles told UCA News the images can help create a spiritual atmosphere in their home.

Sushma Kaila, a Hindu housewife, believes they will bring divine blessings. "When the world is turning away from God, the images of gods and goddesses on the walls will help my family members think of the Supreme Being," she said.

Shashi Verma, another Hindu, bought a variety of tiles. "Each member in my family is devoted to different gods and goddesses," she explained.

A Catholic couple, Regina and Francis Kujur, pointed out that unlike wall calendars and laminated holy pictures, the tiles they bought with images of the cross and the Blessed Mother will "last forever."

Regina said such tiles not only enhance the interior beauty of the house, but also give a sense of religious devotion. "The holy pictures make us aware of God´s presence in the house. Moreover, they help children become spiritual by looking at them often," she said.

How these tiles became popular in Ranchi is another story altogether.

The Hero House, a two-story shopping complex, introduced them to Ranchi at the start of 2002 in a bid to keep the walls along its stairs clean.

It used images of various religions, complex owner Alok Ghosh told UCA News, because "people of all religions chew pan." Chewing on the mixture of lime and tobacco wrapped in betel leaves produces a red juice that people spit out rather than swallow.

"While climbing stairs, they spit and leave red spots on walls," Ghosh said, adding that stairs in buildings throughout the city stink from the habit.

The businessman explained that though he would paint his complex every year before Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights in November, the walls would become dirty with spittle within a week.

After seeing the "holy tiles" in other cities, he got the idea to plaster his walls with them, reasoning that most Indians are God-fearing and would not dishonor holy images. "The formula worked very well. Not a single red spot was seen after we placed the tiles," he reported.

Shoppers were inspired to buy similar tiles for their own use, but religious leaders in Ranchi seem less enthused by the idea.

"Holy images cannot be used for house decoration," protests Baba Chitaranjan Das, priest of a main Hindu temple in the city.

Speaking with UCA News in June, he alleged that marble traders now make a profit "at the cost of religious sentiments." He clarified, however, that he has no objection if people use the tiles out of devotion.

Swami Sashankanand, head of a Hindu sect´s Ranchi chapter, told UCA News that though use of the tiles may be a matter of faith and religious sentiments, he fails to understand "the logic behind such devotion." He added that he has also seen such tiles left unattended outside shops, where birds soil them. But nobody wants to stop people from buying the tiles, he said, as this could be seen as interfering in their belief.

Maulana Asghar Misbahi, a Muslim cleric, was unaware that tiles bearing images of the Ka´bah and Mecca are being sold. "But, if they are indeed available, their use should be restricted to mosques," he told UCA News.

Two Catholic priests UCA News spoke with offered mild words of caution.

Salesian Father Jose Naikam, a parish priest in Ranchi, says use of the tiles should be left to people´s conscience, but a "true Christian" would not cause disrespect to images of cross, Christ or Blessed Mother.

Father Ignatius Topno of Ranchi archdiocese´s cathedral sees nothing wrong with people placing the tiles on walls. He pointed out, however, that "usually holy images are put on walls out of devotion and not for decoration."

Pankaj Singh, owner of Pankaj Marbles in Ranchi, which sells the tiles, says his clients include even government agencies. "The telecommunications department bought 250 tiles with holy images of all religions. They need divine help in abundance," he joked.

Singh recalled that the first opposition to the tiles came from a neo-Christian sect. "Now a few Muslims and Hindus" have also objected, "but they have not come out openly with their objections," he told UCA News.

He claimed his company is not motivated by profit alone in selling the tiles. "We are working to earn money, but we get satisfaction when we hear that these holy images help bring people closer to God."


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