How Good Friday & Easter Weekend became a convenient time for South Indian Hindus to pray

How Good Friday and Easter Weekend became a convenient time for South Indian Hindus to pray.

Good Friday and Easter — along with other days during Holy Week — are some of the most important on the Christian calendar. During this time, Christian communities around the world commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ through a variety of religious rituals and observances.

However, while these dates have religious significance for Christians, they have also become important for some Hindu communities in South Africa. The story of Easter’s significance for these South African Hindus is intertwined with slavery, colonialism and indentured labor — all of which have shaped the history of modern South Africa.

South African Indians number about 1.5 million people, around 2 percent of the country’s population, concentrated in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. Most South African Indians trace their roots to indentured workers who were brought by the British colonial government between 1860 to 1911 to grow the colonial economy by working on sugarcane plantations. The majority of these indentured workers came from modern-day Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, with a smaller percentage coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

For these migrant workers who found themselves in an unfamiliar land, religious ceremonies and rituals provided a way to build community and a shared identity. For the South Indian workers, who largely came from non-Brahmin caste and class backgrounds, amman (goddess) worship was a central part of their religious practices.

Finding adequate time to worship their goddesses was a challenge for these workers. Historian Kiru Naidoo observed that “when they first arrived in the 1860s, Indian indentured workers had terrible working and living conditions with almost no time off. … They slotted into the dominant calendar out of necessity. Easter was when it suited the bosses to be off and as a result that was when cane workers were given off.”

Thus, these workers decided to dedicate Easter weekend to their goddesses, particularly Mariamman and Draupadi Amman.

Festivals for Mariamman in India are usually held in the Tamil month of Adi (July-August), but in South Africa this festive period was shifted to Easter.

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