October 29, 2007

U.S. College Visits Quo Vadis

St. Olaf a liberal arts College of the Lutheran Church located in Northfield, Minnesota USA., is comprised of some 3,000 students representing 45 U.S. States and 18 foreign countries. It is a College that inspires students to act on intellectual and ethical ideas to better the world at home and abroad.

For the last 39 years St. Olaf College has offered a Global Semester comprising a five-month academic program offering five courses in different parts of the world. This year’s group of 28 students, 2 supervising faculty members and their teenage son are undertaking a global trip taking the group on visits to Switzerland (the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva), Egypt, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and South Korea. The students’ time in India is concentrated on lectures, discussions and field trips to facilitate a better understanding of the history, traditions and contemporary practices of religious expression in this country.

Students arriving at Quo Vadis

Students setting off on their girivalam

The travelling group, currently in the midst of its India Trip, was hosted by Quo Vadis Interfaith Dialogue Center and the Arcot Lutheran Church (ALC) on October 18th and 19th at Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. On the first day of their visit the students performed Arunachala Girivalam on four brightly decorated bullock carts with some Indian friends from Quo Vadis.

Going through Tiruvannamalai on bullock carts

The young students from the States were enchanted by the friendly reception of locals all along the hillround roadway.

Lunch at Lebanon Compound

After Girivalam the group was hosted at the ALC Lebanon Compound by Douglas and Jane Koon, a married couple who actually participated in the inaugural St. Olaf Global Semester 39 years ago. After enjoying a delicious Indian lunch the group were received at Arunachaleswarar Temple where a special puja was performed on their behalf. In the early evening the students experienced Ramana Ashram before returning to Quo Vadis Inter Faith Dialogue Center. The evening at the Center was the highlight of their day as they were able to interact with local Indians, participate in folk dancing, experience chapatti making and end the day with spiritual dialogue and meditation.

On Friday, 19th October, the group participated in a walking meditation on Arunachala Hill before leaving Tiruvannamalai for a one-day stay at ALC, Cuddalore where Bishop Gideon personally recounted the history of the Church in Tamil Nadu. On the 20th October the group left Tamil Nadu and returned to Bangalore where they will continue their study course at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Bangalore (Whitfield).

After India, the group head towards Thailand for a week’s vacation before continuing their Global Semester in Hong Kong, mainland China and Korea before returning to the U.S. around January 25th, 2008.

Nomadic Gypsies

The Arcot Lutheran Church (AlC) works with nomadic gypsies legally categorised as a “scheduled tribe” in the designated ‘Vahiri Ministry’. A colony of these nomadic people live at Madampoondi about 40 kilometres from Tiruvannamalai. They live in tents and huts and support themselves by making jewellery and selling cosmetics to homes. In previous times these nomads also hunted however recently the Government cancelled the tribe’s licence to hunt

Traditionally the tribe placed no value on education and would only marry within their own group. The majority of the nomads are baptised and live as Christians. There is a camp of these people located in the township of Tiruvannamalai at a place called Canon Nagar.

The Tamil Nadu Government, in an effort to give importance to these uneducated people, has arranged assistance in the form of free land at Madampoondi. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Dr.M.Karunanidhi, asked that officials give a proper place to these people and that Patta Land (freehold, titled land) be given to the leader of the tribe (Devaraj) to hold on behalf of his people.

Mr.G.Ebenezer Irai Amirtham (a pastor of ALC and participant of Quo Vadis Interfaith Dialogue Center) is in charge of organising social programmes for these nomads. Of prime importance is imparting to the group of 180 people the value of education. From this group 60 youngsters go to Government School. The pastor visits the nomads 3 days a week and conducts ‘Faith in Christ’ programmes, prayers for healing and a spiritual and secular Sunday School.

The people of this nomadic tribe are non-vegetarians and the ladies work selling from big baskets, door to door and place to place. Another source of income is the making beaded necklaces and japamalas (prayer beads). Previously the tribe were forced to work for exploitive wages of Rs.8 for the production of 12 chains. However recently a better rate of Rs.200 per 12 chains (an average day’s production) has been negotiated. The tribe also make decorative flowers out of paper, plastic and cloth.

The social approach of the Vahiri Ministry is; Awareness Programmes, Importance of Education, Family Counselling, Cleanliness and Exposure Programmes. It is hoped that at least 20 children of this group will reach Higher Studies (Engineering and Medicine).

September 27, 2007

History of ALC

The first Protestant missionaries to India were German Lutherans sent by the King of Denmark and who landed in Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu on 9th July, 1706. The Tranquebar missionaries and Protestant Christians in Tamil Nadu were influential in many areas. They translated the Bible into Tamil and Telugu languages, were grammarians and lexicographers and studied the religious, social and cultural customs of the people. They translated Indian literature into European languages, established indigenous churches and public schools and set up a theological seminary.

[Tranquebar, about 1600]

Arcot is a City and a Municipality in Vellore District, Tamil Nadu. It is located on Palar River, and straddles a strategic trade route between Chennai and Bangalore, between Mysore Ghat and the Javadi Hills. The people who lived in the Arcot region especially in and near Tiruvannamalai, belonged to a clan called the Arcots. These were warriors and landowners, some of them were descended from ancient Dravidians and Hindu Marathas. The Arcot region was one of the quickest areas in Tamil Nadu to develop, perhaps in part, due to the influence of Danish missionaries.

The first missionary of the Danish Missionary Society (DMS) was a German Rev. C.C.E. Ochs. He started his first Mission station, Bethanien, at Melpattambakkam in South Arcot in 1861. Now all its activities have been transferred to the nearby town Nellikuppam. The second mission station of DMS was opened at Tirukkoyilur in 1869 and was called "Siloam". Saron, a third mission station of DMS, was opened in the year 1882 and situated just outside Tiruvannamalai. In 1898 a mission station was built in the town. From 1905 it was called "Carmel." The fourth mission station in the Arcot District, "Bethesda," in Kallakurichi was built in 1893. Later DMS started mission stations at Panruti, Vriddhachalam, Devanampatnam, Darisanapuram, and Servaroj Hills.

In the late 1950s the Church was handed over to Indian hands with Bishop D. Peter being the first Indian Bishop. The church was renamed the Arcot Lutheran Church and is still known by that name. Education and health were given to all people. The Church is serving Tamil-speaking population in the Districts of South and North Arcot, Tamil Nadu. [Other work of the Danish Missionary Society is now undertaken under the name of Danmission].

Arcot Lutheran Church has about 30,000 members and works in several Districts of Tamil Nadu. It is a Church, committed to service to society through schools, orphanages, homes for women, hostels for students and working women, hospitals and community service centres in villages and towns. Currently the Arcot Lutheran Church educates nearly 40,000 students in 90 schools. The current Bishop of Arcot Lutheran Church is the Rt. Rev. Gideon Devanesan. The Arcot Lutheran Church headquarters are based at Cuddalore but much school and social work of the Organisation is undertaken here at Tiruvannamalai.

Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry became associated with the Arcot Lutheran Church in 1996 when it began to support children in three boarding homes; Melpattambakkam, Siloam and Saron.

Bodhi Zendo

Various members of ‘Quo Vadis Interfaith Dialogue Center’ are currently participating in a 2 night, 3 day programme (25th to 27th September, 2007) at Bodhi Zendo, a Zen Training Centre in South India’s Perumal Hills, which also serves as as the Centre for Bodhi Sangha, an International Community of Zen Master, P. AMA Samy. Bodhi Zendo is open to all who practise Zen, or who wish to experience it.

What is Zen?

'Zen' can mean many things: Zen Buddhism, Zen meditation, Zen method, Zen philosophy or Zen approach to life, Zen experience or realization, Zen enlightenment or awakening and so on. However Zen meditation and realization are different from Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism characterizes a religious group; Zen meditation is independent from any specific religion. In fact Zen is the religion of non-religion, yet in its light religions can truly be themselves. Zen, in terms of practice and realization is apart from any philosophy, ideology or any "- ism" (Monism, pantheism, nihilism, secularism, humanism etc.). It transcends both, negation and affirmation. It finds and fulfills any reality in its suchness and singleness. It is the death of the "Old person" and the birth of the "New person", the new sky and the new earth. However, Zen is more practice and action (Jap. gyo, Sanscr. sadhana) than theory. It is the exercise of life together with the Master, the Sangha and daily living. It is the practice with body, mind and spirit that becomes realized within the space between oneself and the others - the action of the Universe.

Ole Madson

Below is a photograph of Ole Madson from Denmark who recently completed a six month tenure representing Danmission as administrator at Tiruvannamalai during the setting up of Quo Vadis. He has done an amazing job.

Thanks Ole and Quo Vadis will certainly miss you.

September 24, 2007

Computer Donation

Software Company Donates Computers to Start Internet Cafe for Non-Profit Group in India

From Minneapolis, USA on September 24th, a press clipping including information about SoftBrands computer donation to Quo Vadis here at Tiruvannamalai.

"SoftBrands, Inc., a global supplier of enterprise application software, is one of nine companies sponsoring Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's delegation of business leaders on its upcoming trade mission to India. SoftBrands is based in Minneapolis but has offices around the world, including two in India, where the company has more than 130 employees.

The mission trip to India, which will include visits to New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, will take place October 20-27. The goals for the mission include helping Minnesota businesses explore opportunities in India, increasing exports to India and helping business leaders develop important personal relationships with leaders in India.

"SoftBrands offices in India include a key software development center, our worldwide customer support center, and marketing services. In the past several years, our India operations have become an increasingly important part of our global business plans," said Randy Tofteland, president and chief executive officer of SoftBrands. "Working together, Minnesota and India can be a powerful combination for growth and innovation. Mission trips such as this one provide great opportunities for developing or building important relationships."

SoftBrands employees also work to better their community in India. After a recent round of computer upgrades in its Bangalore offices, Binu Mathews vice president and general manager, SoftBrands India, arranged for used computers to be donated to worthy non-profit groups in India. The first computers have been sent to Quo Vadis, an inter-faith dialogue center in Tiruvannamalai, to help the group set up an Internet cafe. The center provides a place for people to hold meetings, workshops and meditations and will also offer lodging and other amenities.

"One of our goals is to connect people with needs to the resources that will meet those needs," said Gordon Olson, president of Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry, a Minneapolis-based organization that is a partner in building the Quo Vadis center.

"One great need is to provide computers for schools and institutions that we work with in India. This center brings people of different religions together for dialogue and fellowship, an initiative that will help to resolve conflict and misunderstandings and promote peace and unity in this very diverse country. We are so grateful to SoftBrands for making this gift possible, as it will open more doors of possibility."

To learn more about Governor Pawlenty's trade mission to India, visit:

SoftBrandsSoftBrands, Inc. is a leader in providing software solutions for businesses in the manufacturing and hospitality industries worldwide. The company has established a global infrastructure for distribution, development and support of enterprise software, and has approximately 5,000 customers in more than 100 countries actively using its manufacturing and hospitality products. SoftBrands, which has approximately 825 employees, is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., with branch offices in Europe, India, Asia, Australia and Africa. Additional information can be found at:

September 15, 2007

Inauguration of Quo Vadis

On the 15th September, the evening of Ganesha Chaturthi, the inauguration of Quo Vadis, the new Interfaith Dialogue Center in Tiruvannamalai, was celebrated. In the below photograph the ladies are creating a brightly coloured rangoli to:

"Welcome to Quo Vadis Interfaith Dialogue Center on this most auspicious day, the inauguration of our Internet Cafe, Library and Business and Spoken English Courses . . . "

When visitors arrived at the gate of Quo Vadis they were greeted by a host that tied a coloured ribbon around their wrist and given a note which said:

"While reading this please notice the coloured thread, that by now you will be wearing, which was presented to you on your arrival at Quo Vadis. This thread is to identify your friend in faith. So, please now look around and select the person of your choice who is wearing a thread of a different colour to your own. This is the friend that has been selected for you by Providence to SHARE YOUR FAITH (or lack of faith) this day. So, we would ask you now to connect with your friend and discuss the following:"


Spend as much time with one another discussing this question of Faith and when you feel satisfied with your interaction then please both go upstairs to the rooftop where you will find a white board on which we invite you to write or draw whatever thoughts are uppermost in your mind regarding the interaction you have just experienced with your friend in faith."

Once the introductions, formalities and discussions about faith were over it was then time for speeches from the visiting dignitaries that included:

Rt. Rev. Dr. Gideon Devanesan, R.J., Bishop of Arcot Lutheran Church,
Mr. K. Pichandi,
the Rev. G. Raja Socrates, Vice President ALC,
Dr. T. Richard Baskaran, Secretary ALC,
Rev. R.D. Vijayakumar, Treasurer ALC,
Mr. P. Franklin Joseph, Education Board Chairman ALC,
Mr. Rev. J.Daniel Gnanasekaran, Property Officer ALC,
and (Guests of Honour from the U.S.) Mr. and Mrs. Douglas and Jane Koons.

During the evening the official opening of the Internet Centre and Library also took place.

September 9, 2007

Children’s Festival

A Children’s Festival was held at the Danish Mission School, Tiruvannamalai that invited the participation of school and village children of all faiths from throughout Tiruvannamalai.

Quo Vadis organised two programmes for the Festival held at the School’s Campus on September 8th, 2007. One programme involved forum members of Quo Vadis who have been teaching singing to a group of approximately 75 children and another programme concerned ‘play street theatre’.

In the theatre function 25 children from the Eph-phatha Orphanage (Eph-phatha i.e. ‘open’) schooled in drama by Harmony group, acted out a Theme Child Dream – representing what is in a childs’ imagination.

To learn more about more events of the Children’s Festival at the venue of the Danish Mission School, please read the following news release of September 9th, 2007 issued by the Express News Service.

‘They were allowed to freely doodle on a long white cloth banner using readily available brushes and palettes of colour and were not scolded at for making their hands muddy while designing toys of their fancy using wet clay.

Children were on cloud nine at ‘Buddhangalin Pozhuthu’, a day long congregation of kids here on Saturday.

The informal and fancy-filled event was organized by ‘Cuckoo’ a children’s club at the Danish Mission School campus.

The thousands of visiting children were allowed to spend their time exploring the areas of their interest. While some children chose to gaze at the 2000-odd paintings by students of various schools from across the state, which were displayed under a huge tree, others tried their skills with brushes and colours on the long white screens.

Hundreds of other children thronged to watch acclaimed short films such as ‘Children of Heaven’, ‘Modern Times’, ‘Agni Thoorigai’, ‘Oru Kan Oru Parvai’ and ‘Ayisha’.

Wet clay was freely available to children interested in clay modelling. In the afternoon kids were treated to a puppet show.

An organiser of the event said that the programme was aimed at infusing confidence in the young minds, which the school curriculum will not accomplish.

“Today’s education system treats first rank students as geniuses and low rankers as stupid. This creates a feeling of inferiority in many and superiority in a few. A good education should make the learners brave and liberal . . . Our aim is to make up for the deficiency in the present system of education, by making children confident and liberal thinkers.”’

September 4, 2007

Labour Day

To foster the development of co-operative relationships of the members of Quo Vadis Forum, it is planned to hold a labour day at Quo Vadis Interfaith Dialogue Center once in every two months.

At which time Forum Members will be encouraged to work together tending to the maintenance, repair and upkeep of all rooms, bathrooms, hut and garden.

The same structured programme will also be undertaken by members of the Quo Vadis staff once each month.

Labour Day for Forum Members fell between 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. on 4th September, 2007.