PESAHA CELEBRATION OF NASRANIS: A SOCIO-CULTURAL ANALYSIS
Nov11

PESAHA CELEBRATION OF NASRANIS: A SOCIO-CULTURAL ANALYSIS

(This is a draft version of the paper published in the Journal of Indo-Judaic Studies, No. 13, 2013; pp. 57-71. Parts of this paper was published at the Symposium Syriacum, Malta 2012.) Abstract This paper presents the results of research on the Pesaha tradition of Saint Thomas Christians of India (Mar Toma Nasranis or Nasranis) in the context of its socio-cultural aspects. Pesaha is a tradition observed by the Nasranis at home on Maundy Thursday. This practice is observed with piety and has been preserved even after centuries of European influence. This is a unique tradition of Saint Thomas Christians and it is not known to be practiced by any other Christian community in India and abroad. The paper contains details of the Pesaha tradition and associated rituals and practices. The paper also provides an analysis of this tradition and compares its characteristics to that of the Jewish Passover. The paper also attempts to find out the origin of this practice. 1) The recent discovery of an ancient harbour in Kerala, India indicates the presence of Roman, Greek and Middle Eastern communities on the Malabar Coast even before the Christian era. This might point to the presence of early Jewish settlements in Malabar. 2) From literature it is clear that early Jewish Christians, particularly Aramaic speaking Christians, practiced several Jewish rituals including Passover up to the fourth century. 3) An ancient copper plate issued to the Nasranis by the local ruler indicates cooperation between Nasranis and the Jews of Kerala. These lead us to the conclusion that the Pesaha of Nasranis could be traced back to an ancient Syriac Christian practice or it might be the influence of early or later Jewish converts on the Malabar Coast. PESAHA CELEBRATION OF NASRANIS: A SOCIO-CULTURAL ANALYSIS 1 Introduction Mar Thoma Nasranis, St. Thomas Christians or simply Nasranis are a group of Christians in India and they trace their Christian origin back to apostolic times. British scholars erroneously called them as Syrian Christians since they follow Syriac liturgical traditions. According to Ramban songs, one of the folk songs of Nasranis, their ancestors were baptised by Saint Thomas the Apostle during his missionary work between 50 AD and 72 AD [Koonammakkal, 2012]. They are mainly concentrated in the Malabar Coast or Kerala, the south west coast of India. This paper discusses one of their ascetic practices called Pesaha, held on the evening of Pesaha (the night of Maundy Thursday). The topic covered here is not entirely new. What is novel about this paper is the attempt to provide discussions on Pesaha in the context of socio-cultural aspects rather than a theological point of view. The paper...

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