Summer 2009 Rapport—web only content:
Respect and Blessing in Indian Culture
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by Basant Prakash Shrestha
Basant Prakash Shrestha (D.Min. participant) is the director of admissions and academics at Southern Asia Bible College and pastor of a Nepali congregation at Full Gospel AG Church in Bangalor, India.
In the crowded traffic of Bangalore, India, a friend of mine overtook a bike with two young riders. They took it as a challenge and started to chase him. At the red light, the bikers pulled in front of my friend shouting challenges. As my friend took off his helmet, both men dropped their heads and apologized. They had seen his grey hair and quickly vanished into traffic.
I grew up in a culture that nurtures respect of elders. It starts with the family. Parents make enormous sacrifices for their children. Children respect elders and consider it their duty to take care of aged parents. Brothers and sisters sacrifice for each other. Younger ones respect the eldest sibling.
Even our language reinforces this value. For example, we address age groups with different words for “you”—a younger person would be addressed with ta, for an equal we use timi, for an elder we use the respect word tapain. As they grow, children learn to use different words for different age groups.
Christians have retained this value. When I enter the classroom, students stand as a mark of respect. No one leaves the room until the teacher has left. Some students coming from Hindu backgrounds continue to express respect by touching the feet of their gurus (teachers)—a sign of receiving blessings from the elder.
In the church, believers call me “father,” not in Roman Catholic sense, but as a familial term. Likewise, they call my wife “mother.” We indeed feel like a family. As shepherds of the congregation, we feel a deep sense of love and commitment toward believers who put their trust in us and respect us as their parents. Often people bend forward to receive my hand on their head—a symbol of blessing.
Despite misunderstanding that leads some to fear that touching the feet and bowing is a form of worship, I believe continuing this cultural practices creates bridges for fellowship. Moreover, when I respect elders, I obey God, and obedience always brings blessings. When I give permission to a wise elderly person to speak into my life. He becomes my mentor and helps me to receive correction with humility. The challenge today is to preserve this culture’s respect for its elders from the onslaught of different values bombarding today’s youth through media propagated by outside cultures.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:43 PM