(University of Tasmania)
Paper Short Abstract:
The paper examines the transformation of the cult of St Anthony in a popular centre of pilgrimage in rural Bangladesh. Christian and non-Christian devotees both make manots (vows) to St Anthony and take part in the annual festival. The paper discusses the rapid growth and transformation of the cult of St Anthony which has similarities to that of Muslim saints and Hindu deities in the region.
Paper long abstract:
The cult of St Anthony of Padua was brought to the regions that now form Bangladesh by the Portuguese who converted a section of the local population to Catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries. In recent years, the annual festival of St Anthony has grown rapidly in size and become a major focus for annual pilgrimage by Bangladeshi Catholics in and outside the region. As with major Indian Catholic shrines, such as the shrine of Our Lady of Good Health at Velankanni in Tamil Nadu or the shrine of St Francis Xavier in Goa, St Anthony is also patronised by non-Christians who do regular manots (vows) to St Anthony and then take part in the annual festival in Panjura, just as Christians may take part in Hindu festivals or visit shrines of Sufi saints. In recent years, the Church authorities have encouraged the development of the festival as a spiritual gathering where all can appeal to St. Anthony, a saint for all who answers the prayers and vows of all, regardless of religious boundaries. In other respects, however, such as the adoption of religious imagery and symbols associated in Bangladesh with Hindu Bengali culture, Bangladeshi Catholicism, while seeking indigenous modes of expression, has emphasised its differences from the Muslim majority in Bangladesh. The paper discusses the recent rapid growth and transformation of the festival and asks what they can tell us about the place of the cult of St Anthony, and Catholicism in general, within the complex religious field of contemporary Bangladesh.
Transformations in contemporary South Asian ritual: From sacred action to public performance