And there is nothing contradictory or ironic about it, he would have you believe.
There’s nothing to suggest that Subrata Ganguly is not a Christian. From a framed ‘Apostolic Blessing’ conferred on his family by Pope John Paul II and a portrait of current Pope Benedict XVI that proudly adorn the wall of his office at Kolkata’s northeastern suburb Teghoria, to the many statuettes of Jesus, Mary and many other Apostles and Biblical figures that crowd his desk, Ganguly’s workplace is as Christian as can be. His knowledge of the Bible, the teachings of various Apostles and intricate Canonical laws and their nuanced interpretations would leave many a Catholic amazed. But, this is not surprising, considering that Ganguly executes most of the inculturation projects on behalf of the Church across the country—from designing and building new churches and renovating existing ones to installing murals, statues and paintings.
Ganguly’s association with the Catholic Church dates back to his days as a student at Don Bosco school in Liluah, near Kolkata. Born to a family with interests in metals, fabrication, automobiles and engineering, he got close to the Salesian Fathers at the school via various extra-curricular activities. “My family was already executing some engineering and construction jobs for the Church and its schools,” says Ganguly, “and I got involved with these during my high school days in the late 1980s. Those days, all statues and objects used by the Church were imported and European in design. We started making those, and by 1990, our studio—Church Arts—was set up.”
The inculturation process of the Catholic Church in India was slowly gaining momentum at that time, and Ganguly plunged headlong into it. He educated himself about Christianity, the Catholic Church, and its laws and theology, visiting various seminaries and Biblical Studies institutes to understand the complex nuances of Catholic practices, rituals and traditions. “I’m still learning,” he says. This vast knowledge base was crucial in his selection by the Catholic Church in India to execute its inculturation projects. Given the assorted sensibilities that must be taken care of, these can be quite complex.
Just how vital it is to have a thorough knowledge of theology is evident from this example: “A parish church wanted me to design its sanctuary on the theme of Ascension,” recounts Ganguly, “Without understanding this theme… it wouldn’t have been possible to execute the project. For instance, a depiction of Jesus’ birth in the sanctuary would be at total odds with this theme.”
Ganguly’s first major project, in 1993, was the installation of a giant ceramic mural at a church at Barama in Assam’s Bongaigaon district. “That mural had a very strong Bodo (a local tribe) influence. The next year, we undertook extensive renovation of a church at Mawlai in Shillong and incorporated many Khasi tribal elements in everything,” says Ganguly, who holds degrees in chemical and mechanical engineering.
Designing and executing an inculturation project takes a lot of time and effort. Says Ganguly, “After a parish decides to have such a project, be it a new church, renovation of an existing one, or installing murals, statues or objects like the pulpit and tabernacle, we go there, talk extensively to the parish priest, study the history of the parish, the place, the local people, the local demographic profile, the customs, beliefs and culture of the place, and hold close interactions with the parishioners. After that, we make the basic blueprint in accordance with canonical themes and then hold formal discussions with the parish priest and parishioners. Often, we have to go back to the drawing board to incorporate suggestions. Many a time, parishioners object to the inculturation, and we have to patiently work with them, explaining things. Only after the priest and most parishioners—it is not possible to satisfy all of them, we go ahead if about 80 per cent of them approve—give the green signal do we make and place the final blueprint before the Bishop or Provincial, and then go ahead with the execution.” Of the 160 Catholic dioceses in India, Ganguly has worked with more than a hundred and made installations at, renovated or built a few hundred churches.
In all this, it’s hard to miss the novelty of a practising Hindu, and that too a Brahmin, convincing parishioners of the Catholic Church of the need to have Jesus or Mary with a desi look, or a tabernacle modelled on a traditional drum!
“There is no contradiction in my religious beliefs and the work I do for the Catholic Church,” says Ganguly matter-of-factly, “I perform puja everyday at home and am a disciple of Baba Lokenath. I have read a lot of Hindu religious texts and a lot of Christian theology as well. Both religions—in fact, all religions—preach love, humanity, caring, charity… So there’s no conflict of interest. There’s no irony in my being a Hindu and executing projects for the Church. They are, in fact, complementary.”
Ganguly’s two workshops at Teghoria and Liluah reflect the catholicity of his work. About 50 workers—Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and a few Christians—toil silently to make statues, murals, stained glass windows and other objects for churches across India and even other countries. And, significantly, while Church Art executes all these works, its holding company is named Lokenath Engineering (Baba Lokenath being a medieval Bengali Hindu saint with millions of followers). A telling encapsulation of the story.