Jakhs of Kutch-Were they Jacobites?
Dec29

Jakhs of Kutch-Were they Jacobites?

By Mr. P.I. Abraham The Eastern Christian church came in contact with India from the very beginning of the Christian era. We know the St.Thomas origin of the Malankara church and the subsequent immigration and settlement of Thomas of Kana. Several similar settlements were said to have existed in several parts of India, such as Thane in Bombay and Bharuch in Gujarat.Of these settlements, that of Malankara coast is one that is marked by its survival to this day. Almost all others vanished from the face of the earth, either due to invasions or due to persecutions of the rulers. Some of them exist in historical records or folklores. Story of Jakhs of kutch is such a folklore which points to the existence of a Christian church in ancient times at that place. Jakhs of Kutch Before dealing with the story we should know a little about the geography and history of kutch. Kutch is a peninsular area on the northern end of the western coast of India .It is the largest district of Gujarat .Tropic of cancer passes through Kutch. As such it experiences severe heat in summer and severe cold in winter. More than half of the district is desert.  It is said that in ancient times the river Sindhu flew through Kutch and fell in to the Arabian sea As a result the soil was very fertile and the area was very prosperous. A rich culture existed in kutch even in ancient times. This fact has been established by the excavations made in Indus valley civilization sites viz. Dhola vira and Lothal. The peoples were very industrious and sea faring. They had trade relations with countries far and wide. Kutch was ruled by the Indo Parthian dynasty in the first century A.D. Indo Parthians ruled the territory from Sindhu river in the north to Narmada river in the south. That means that the whole of Gujarat was in their sway. King GONDAPHOROUS was one of the kings of the Indo Parthian dynasty.(Gondophorus or Gondophernes was perhaps a title used by Indo Parthian kings) As we know, St.Thomas the deciple of Lord Jesus Christ had visited the palace of Gondophorous during his journey to India. This fact has found a place in the history text books of primary schools in Gujarat. Historian George Mark Moraes in his “History of Christianity in India” makes mention of a community called followers of Thumma Bhagat which once lived in the Kutch-Sindh area. It is believed that Thumma Bhagat was none other than St.Thomas. Now let us come to the story about JAKHS. They are also locally called Yakshas, which means...

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The Heathen and the Syrian – Syrian Christian Ritual and Tradition pre 1599 A.D.
May19

The Heathen and the Syrian – Syrian Christian Ritual and Tradition pre 1599 A.D.

The Heathen and the Syrian – Syrian Christian Ritual and Tradition pre 1599 A.D.: In A.D. 52, St. Thomas – Doubting Thomas of the New Testament, is said to have landed at the Kerala port of Muziris and started his task of spreading the Christian faith. From this date, all Syrian Christians believe, their Church began and has continued without interruption. Christianity gained a foothold in Kerala well over 300 years before it succeeded in obtaining official recognition in Europe, or in becoming the established religion of Rome. The respect and toleration shown to this faith, found expression in the fraternal treatment extended to its adherents, who were accorded and retained for themselves an honoured place, in the social and economic life of kerala. They succeeded in doing this because they were Christian in faith only, but in all else, they were Indian. They were no doubt staunch in their adherence to their faith, and proud of the apostolic origin of their church, but they made no attempt to evangelise, or become a militant body. Their primary concern was to live in harmony and requite the hospitality and toleration shown to them by the Hindu kings and princes. This could only be done by respecting the faith and customs of their rulers. They were not slow to realise that if they desired to occupy an important place in society, they had necessarily to conform to the pattern and practises governing a caste society. In this perhaps, they can be accused of not having followed the strict tenets of their faith and doctrine, which emphasised the equality of man. But to this small community striving to achieve importance in the social hierarchy, doctrinal affiliations had to give way to expediency. In this they succeeded completely, by assimilating themselves in the society in which they lived and by adopting the language, dress and habits of their Hindu brethren. In A.D. 1599, Alexis Menezes, Archbishop of Portuguese Goa, arrived at Cochin on a mission to ‘purify’ the faith and customs of the St. Thomas Christians. This mission culminated with the Synod of Diamper on the 20th of June, 1599 at Udayamperur (in western literature called Diamper). The synod was an assembly of six hundred and forty representatives of churches across Kerala as well as sixty three Nasrani priests under the presidentship of Archbishop Alexei Menezes with the Nasrani Archdeacon Geevarghese in meek attendance. Dr. Scaria Zacharia in his scholarly work upon “The Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Diamper 1599” sums up this synod as the first organised attempt to westernise Kerala society as part of Colonisation. The Portuguese colonialists shaped...

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The Syrian Christian Church – An Architectural Overview
Jan26

The Syrian Christian Church – An Architectural Overview

Architecture is that great living creative spirit which from generation to generation, from age to age, proceeds, persists, creates, according to the nature of man, and his circumstances as they change. That is really architecture.” —Frank Lloyd Wright,  In the Realm of Ideas The Church in Kerala has always been a central source which has preserved the continuity of faith and tradition from one generation to the  next, through the mists of time. This article which references sevaral sources sheds light on the architecture of the Syrian Christian Churches found across Kerala. We will also discuss the possible reasons behind the choice of those particular  architectural characteristics. The traditional Kerala form of architecture has buildings with low walls, sloping roof and projecting caves. The rooms had numerous openings by way of windows and apertures on the walls through which the houses could breathe in and the hip gables (mokappu) placed on the roofs allowed the hot air that rose up to flow out. If there were false ceilings below the roofs, the mokappu allowed the air to flow freely in and out of the air space thus allowing the roofs to breathe. This design mostly evolved from climatic considerations – for protection from excessive rain and intense solar radiation. The setting of the building in the open garden plot was again necessitated by the requirement of wind for giving comfort in the humid climate. The natural building materials available for construction in Kerala are stones, timber, clay and palm leaves. Timber is the prime structural material abundantly available in many varieties in Kerala – from bamboo to teak. Perhaps the skilful choice of timber, accurate joinery, artful assembly and delicate carving of wood work for columns, walls and roofs frames are the unique characteristics of Kerala architecture. Clay was used in many forms – for walling, in filling the timber floors and making bricks and tiles after pugging and tempering with admixtures. Palm leaves were used effectively for thatching the roofs and for making partition walls. Another noticeable feature of Kerala Church architecture is the preference for Laterite instead of  Granite which is seen in Stone Structures across the rest of India. Granite is a strong and durable building stone; however its availability is restricted to the Northern regions of Kerala. Laterite on the other hand is the most abundant stone found as outcrops in most parts of Kerala. Soft laterite available at shallow depth can be easily cut, dressed and used as building blocks. It is a rare local stone which gets stronger and durable with exposure at atmospheric air. Laterite blocks may be bonded in mortars of shell lime, which has been the classic...

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A Syrian Christian Family Portrait – Circa 1620 A.D.
Oct07

A Syrian Christian Family Portrait – Circa 1620 A.D.

The below folio is from a manuscript at the Casanatense Library in Italy. It is called the ‘Portuguese Codice’ and is from a collection of manuscripts donated by Cardinal Casanata ( 1620 A.D. -1698 A.D.) to an Italian Public library which was to be run by Dominican monks. The codice is composed of 76 folios, containing as many aquarelles, with images of various people the author found in Asia and also Africa. In Asia, only Japan is not represented, which suggests that this Album most probably dates from the XVI century. The legends, in lettering of such period, were in all probability inserted by the author. The author whose name is lost to us seems to have roamed the length and breadth of Portuguese territories in India and the Middle East. Though he does not impress us as a painter, his work is still an excellent primary source of understanding various facets of that period namely cultures, clothing, flora and fauna, weaponry, etc. Folio LXIV (64) is of particular interest to us as the narration on it which is in old Portuguese reads – ‘Malabar Christians, developed by the well ventured Saint Thomas’. The leaf on examination shows a man and a woman, in all probability a couple, standing standing in a field of flowers, the lady holding a flower in her hand with a Cross in the foreground. Now, let us study each of the elements of this portrait and see how we could relate them to contemporary Syrian Christian society and tradition. The flower garden chosen as the background goes in hand with contemporary portraits of that era common to both the West and the Orient. Compare this with many Mughal and Rajasthani Miniatures of that era. The theme is similar – (Courting) Couple in a garden. The lady is seen wearing a costume which is the traditional Kerala Christian ‘Chatta and Mundu’. This can be ascertained from the jacket worn by the lady which has the striking ‘V’ shape neck. Around the waist we see he wearing the traditional mundu which is seen hanging down to the ankles. The characteristic fan or ‘nyori’ that is tucked in at the back is not to be seen possibly as a result of the lady’s position in the portrait. However, what is uncharacteristic of her attire are it’s delightful colors. The traditional Chatta and Mundu combination is a typically ‘White only’ colored attire. Perhaps the lady in the portrait was far ahead of her times when it came to fashion or maybe, we can assign this ‘flaw’ to the author’s artistic license. Her hair is seen packed tight in...

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Names, Middle Names and Last Names among the Syrian Christians
May16

Names, Middle Names and Last Names among the Syrian Christians

A syrian christian takes his own name which is the name of his paternal grandfather, the name of his father  and his house or ‘tharavad’ name. He may make any of these his surname and hence he may be G.J. Olikara, ‘G’ for Gevarghese (name of paternal grandfather),  ‘J’ for John(name of father) and ‘Olikara’ for name of his ancestral house from where the line of his paternal family descends. He may be the son of O.G. John, ‘O’ for Olikara(name of the house), ‘G’ for Gevarghese (name of father) and ‘J’ for John(name of paternal grandfather). It was customary that the eldest son be given the name of his paternal grandfather and the eldest daughter the name of her maternal grandmother. The second son bears the name of his maternal grandfather  and the second daughter bears the name of her maternal grandmother. This naming convention is also seen among the Sephardic Jews, whose customs may have been imbibed by the Syrian Christians in kerala. As a general rule, the Syrian Christians bear names which are biblical. It is interesting to record that despite Decree XVI of the Synod of Diamper of 1599, which forbade the use of old testament names, for 400 years after this date the Syrian Christians still continued using such names, though through usage they became Indianised. Some common Syrian Christian names are: For Men: (Thomma, Thoman, Mamman, Oommen) from Thomas, (Chacko, Yakob) from Jacob, (Pathros, Pathe, Pathappan) from Peter, (Yohannan, Lonan, Ninan) from John, (Mathai, Mathan, Mathu, Mathulla) from Mathew, (Yesoph, Ouseph, Outha, Ipe) from Joseph, (Koshy, Easo) from Joshua, (Abragam, Avraham, Avrachan, Itty) from Abraham, (Ittack) from Isaac, (Lukose) from Luke, (Philipose, Pothan, Pothen, Poonen) from Philip, (Paulose, Piley) from Paul, (Chandy, Chandi, Idichandy)  from Alexander, (Iyob, Iyoben, Eapen) from Job, (Cheriyan, Kurien, Kuriakose) from Zachariah, (Verghese, Vargisa, Varkey, Varied, Geverghese) from George, (Kuruvilla) from Korah. For Women: (Mariam, Maria, Mariamma) from Mary, (Akka, Rabka, Raca, Akkamma) from Rebecca, (Rahel, Rahelamma) from Rachel, (Susanna, Sosa, Sosamma, Achi, Achamma) from Susan, (Saramma) from Sara, (Elspeth, Elisa, Elia, Elacha, Eliamma) from Elizabeth. This ‘nativising’ of root Greek, Latin and Hebrew names can be seen in all the ancient chrurches like the Ethiopian, Slavic as well as the Armenian ones. In kerala, the Syrian Christians are known by the distinguishing nomenclature of ‘Nasrani Mappilas’. They also shared with the Nairs some honorific titles. The word ‘Tharagan’ or ‘tariff collector’ is a title that some families bear. Similarly, ‘Panikkar’ which denotes proficiency in arms is a title borne by certain Nasrani families. In and around Quilon, there is a group of families claiming descent from the fourth century...

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