The Velankanni shrine is known for many miracles. It is said that at this site 12 km south of Nagapattinam in 1560, the Virgin Mary made an appearance in front of a shepherd, asking him for milk for Baby Jesus. The shepherd returned promptly to fulfil her request and ever since then, his pitcher was always full of milk. People built a thatched church at the spot. Then, in the 16th century, a lame boy regained control of his limbs. After this, the Church was built for the Madonna of Velankanni and has always been known for its miraculous powers to cure and heal. From the 28th of August to the 10th of September, every year, devotees offer prayers at the shrine. Many shave their heads and walk on their knees or roll on the ground up to the church. Many others carry crosses and pierce themselves, equalling in suffering with Lord Jesus to gain strength to lead their lives on earth. In this way, they are becoming one with God.
Rituals, symbols and manifestations
At the shrine, candles are offered in the shape of the ailing organ – a liver, a heart or lungs. In this way, each ailment takes on a symbolic physical shape. If the person is cured of his sufferings, he posts a missive in the form of a gold or silver replica inside a bottle or hollow container thrown out to sea.
When I went to Velannkani, I found a whole bunch of locks on a gate. There were thousands of yellow threads tied to another stand adjacent the church. When I inquired, I found out that a childless couple was meant to tie a handkerchief in the shape of a cradle. If the worshippers wanted safety for their home, they fastened locks. To secure blessings for happiness of their marriage, people tied yellow sacred threads.
Why do large numbers of people believe in Velankanni? Is it merely blind faith? Surely, they must find solutions of some kind. More than a promise of always success, the devotee looks for a support system from the Church, to performÂ meaningful ritual and dialogue. At Velankanni, over time, trust has been built. God is there for his devotees – has been established. The believers reach out to God through signs and symbols that reinforce their belief. For every desire, a physical symbol is derived.
Lock = security
Binding = togetherness
Cloth cradle = progeny
Symbols are physical expressions of aspirations. The presence of a symbol reinforces strength because we form specific associations with it. Since Christianity came to India through missions, the symbols here are infused with the local customs and beliefs, like the yellow threads for tying. The icon then takes on the ultimate source of power. Velankanni, on the southern coast, is Mother Mary.
That thing, that brand
When we find rituals and traditions in religion that go beyond our everyday routines, we find it bizarre and record them. Yet, even in our advanced lives, brands can make us do things out of the ordinary. Brands have the power to make us believe, and this in turn influences our behavioural patterns. Advertising for fairness creams is critical of dark skin. Yet, an ad has the power to encourage fairness. There are many products available to fulfill our needs and advertisements draw us to the target. Of the many mobile phones, a hunch tells us which one to choose. But where does that intuitive decision come from? Brands constantly make connections with our comfort level of aspiration.
The image of a brand is a bridge between the emotional and physical content. Nike represents power and speed. Harley Davidson stands for freedom. These archetypal notions attached to brands are often indistinguishable from the product itself. For the longest time the brand name Frigidaire was synonymous with fridge when we meant a refrigerator. The perceived image of a thing reinforces itself as something real. We cannot quantify the value of Starbucks coffee, yet many choose it for the coffee house affords a certain ambience and it delivers coffee as promised. It fulfils expectancy. For many, Starbucks is coffee. This relationship with a brand is built up over a period of time. A brand, which successfully garners trust, grows. At any point, if the brand repetitively fails to deliver, then its buyer will turn away. To survive, a brand must continually evolve with time, in imperceptible ways. It has to fuse itself with the changing notions of culture and need and play on notions of familiarity and certainty. Ultimately, a good brand is indistinguishable from the Thing itself. From being, it becomes.
By Anthony Lopez on Sep 14, 2014