It is a day of great celebration in India and I hear the sounds of random fireworks. Millions of Indians all over India and the world are celebrating one of the most popular annual festivals of Hindus. It is Deepavali or ‘Diwali’ in short, the “festival of lights”. India knows how to celebrate a festival. There are many interpretations for Diwali but the most popular one commemorates an ancient mythology of the annihilation of Narakasura a ten headed demon by Krishna. It sends out a powerful message that Good can and will ultimately overcome Evil no matter how seemingly powerful and daunting Evil may be. Evil is temporal while Good is enduring and eternal. The Positive forces of Light will ultimately overcome darkness. The explosive sound of fireworks replicate the huge ‘bang’ the ‘thud’ that was supposed to have reverberated and heard all over the world when the demon dropped dead. People everywhere young and old who were oppressed by evil and obsessed with the fear of darkness were to have heard the sound and seen the sparks. Millennia later that message is celebrated and communicated today in its most traditional and archaic form and of course, now with a touch of technology too.
No one knows when the tradition of fireworks began. But Symbols, acts of rituals and celebrations are a powerful means of both communication and unification for the Hindus. Indians are a complex mix of ethnic groups, languages and cultures. India is a nation of nations. People may be divided by many differences but still remain united at the core by religion and culture. Despite Hinduism not having a universal meaning for all of its diverse followers, its symbols and images unite them. Amidst all the social and cultural complexity there does exist a homogeneity that binds the Hindu. The threads are the ancient images, steeples, carvings and paintings that have survived and passed down for many centuries. They once communicated stories about God but over time have become objects of worship.
A social history of the media: From Gutenburg to the Internet helped clarify certain doubts that I have struggled with all my life. First, how can one believe in many gods? Secondly how can one worship an image? The images that once as a medium communicated the sacred stories of Man’s beliefs became sacred themselves. Over centuries, images that translated God became God. This revelation has set in my heart a greater measure of sympathy for the millions of Indians who worship millions of images and idols as gods and goddesses.
A significant number of these people would find their place in the earliest spots on the time line of the history of the media. These are among the millions who are yet to be impacted by the Trio (Briggs, page 17) living in regions where the ‘tyranny of distance’ still rules; and masses of people whom the Trinity (Briggs, page 210) is yet to touch. They march to a different time and to a different intellect and they still do it at a snail’s pace compared to the rest of the world. I want to do something in my lifetime to shape the lives of these people and help them discover their destiny in Jesus by finding the best way to communicate the Message. They wait for the Good News. When it is communicated well, they hear it and embrace it.
The other day a friend commented: “The church in India is growing. Look what technology and media must be doing”. I got to thinking about that statement. The church in India in good measure, is growing among those who are not touched by modern technology. No ship, no train, No print, no radio, no telephone, no TV, no cable, no fiber optics, no cell phone, no internet, no facebook, no twitter, no tumbler. It’s the good old primitive technology that is still working for them. Face to face, person to person, changed life to change life. Good old discipleship, good old mantra: “Go, preach, baptize, make disciples, teach”. That’s what is working.
I am not trying to convince anyone that this is the only way it should be done. No, don’t get me wrong. I do believe in the power of the media and the fact that there’s no turning back, there’s no slowing down from the point where technology brought it to. The second half of The Social History of the Media by Briggs and Burke totally convinces me of this reality. What I am trying to say is that this medium is the most relevant and therefore most effective and productive for these people in this particular context. Ultimately it is all about two things, first people and then effective communication. Media is the “how”; it is the method, the medium. It will be unfortunate if one comes to believe that the ‘medium is (purely) the message’ (The Medium is the Message n.d), and rests one’s laurels on the medium forgetting to communicate the message.
Peter, Asa Briggs and Burke. A social history of the media: From Gutenburg to the INternet. Oxford: Oxford: Blackwell Publshers, 2010.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_medium_is_the_message (accessed November 13, 2012).