The Father, the Son, and the Holy Rave Party


The Father, the Son, and the Holy Rave Party

Illustration: Akshita Monga

There I was at work, attempting to look busy while scrolling through Facebook, when it hit me between the eyes. I’d stumbled upon an FB group called Stop Religious Conversion in India, which had a video of a Christian prayer meeting in Kerala. You know the template: A man of God speaks in rousing tones – and unintelligible language – to a large congregation of (often) sari-clad women and sends them into an epileptic tizzy by bumping their foreheads with the palm of his hand.

In the video unfolding before me, such a man was purportedly attempting to convert people to Christianity through the power of a blue CD. His flock was rolling all over the place, doing their best Amy Winehouse impressions (both pre- and post-mortem) and head banging like Lars Ulrich. But what this leader of the flock was doing was pulling the wool, from the lamb of God no doubt, over the eyes of people – who were just as much a part of the charade.

The man was leading a prayer meeting, a gathering where the devout give praise to God. It is the Christian equivalent of a jagrata, where the real housewives of Shalimar Bagh gather to groove out to the musical stylings of Gulshan Kumar and sing praises to Ma Sherawali, First of her Name, the Muse of Bhajankars, Merchandiser of Red Chunnis, Provider of Prasad, Protectress of 90’s Bollywood Good Guys, and Mother of Tigers.

This whole shebang with the pastor and the hoky-pokey prayer junkies took me back to the time I was 16 and I went to a similar prayer meeting. What was I doing at such a meeting, given my healthy mistrust of religion? The answer, in one word, is Melissa.

I had a crush on Melissa the moment I realised I wasn’t really going to hell for having the hots for a girl outside wedlock. Melissa was, in her words, pious as heck (even the word hell was too hardcore for her). So in one of the most hare-brained, half-baked cons I’ve ever pulled, I feigned an interest in all things holy just to cosy up to her. The light of God was my in, until somehow, I could bring her over to the dark side. I even let booty blindness trick me into accompanying her to a prayer meeting, her favourite thing to do on a Wednesday evening.

The spectacle began, at decibel levels that made Ganpati visarjans look like soothing lullabies. Lyrics about Jesus being our saviour were belted out over some pretty awesome guitar licks that sounded like they were “borrowed” from Zepplin and Floyd. Next, we were asked to hold hands and invoke the power of the Holy Spirit. The moment I was there for arrived: For a 15 year-old, overweight Catholic boy, it was like manna from heaven.

Brother Matthew had moved on to her and touched her forehead while muttering gibberish. She obediently hit the floor like a sack of potatoes with a smile on her face.

What I hadn’t bargained for though, was a personal visit from the brother who was leading the meeting.

I felt a palm on my forehead, exhorting me to feel the power of the Spirit. I opened my eyes to see Brother Matthew, the man behind this whole God-and-pony show, standing in front of me. “In the name-ah of Jeesuuus-ah,” he yelled, this time pushing down a little harder. The urge to let go of Melissa’s hand and push back in the name of Damian-ah was building, but before anything could happen, I felt Melissa’s grip loosen.

Brother Matthew had moved on to her and touched her forehead while muttering gibberish. She obediently hit the floor like a sack of potatoes with a smile on her face.

When the holy water had evaporated, I asked Melissa what had transpired. She said she didn’t know how to describe it, but that she felt bad that I hadn’t experienced it. That’s when I knew that I wasn’t the con in this equation – she was.

I’ve struggled to put the experience in words, but after swearing off prayer meetings and Melissa – and years of doing stuff almost every major religion forbids – I now have the perfect analogy.

At their core, these gatherings are nothing but religious raves, attended by those who want to recreate the unique feeling of being at a rave but without inviting the wrath of God or their mortal minders, parents. They are the first-time enthu ravers who take a hit from the joint that’s being passed around and are instantly “fucking high man”. They are sober enough to do their taxes but pretend to be tripping balls just to fit in.

How else do you explain the people at these shindigs who go into fits and become possessed by a deity? The aunty whose body becomes the abode of the mata, the guy in a trance at a shrine, are all simply people having a really bad trip. Their drug of choice is the opium of the masses.

Melissa did it, as did the folks in the video, as do the aunties at the jagrata who get a visitation from Mata. And Brother Matthew? Well he’s the DJ who’s actually high as kite, playing tracks, and controlling the energy in the room. Then there’s me, the slightly reluctant raver who goes to Coachella expecting to hear some dhinchak Bollywood, only to go, “Yeh kya chutiyapa hai bhenchod”, and walk out midway.

There’s something to be said about collective effervescence, the feeling you experience in a large religious gathering, surrounded by the energy of hordes of faithful folks. In such a gathering, even a blue CD held against the forehead can summon the power of the Holy Spirit. At least it isn’t a one-way street: As with any good rave, the raver has to be an active participant to feel the vibe.

The only difference is that there are no hard drugs at these raves – save for the deadliest one: Religion.