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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Margam Kali – History, Text, Lyrics, Theme, Early Reference and Modern Developments
May04

Margam Kali – History, Text, Lyrics, Theme, Early Reference and Modern Developments

Margam Kali – History, Text, Lyrics, Theme, Early Reference and Modern Developments Margam Kali (Maargamkali) is one of the ancient round group dance of Kerala practiced by Saint Thomas Christians. It is difficult to trace the exact origin of the dance form and the compilation of the lyrics.But these dance form was in practice among the Saint Thomas Christians before the arrival of Portuguese missionaries in Kerala. In the traditional style, the performance of Margam Kali is divided into two parts, Vattakkali ( round dance) and Parichamuttu kali ( sword and shield dance) with singing a particular ballard known as Margam Kali pattu ( The Song of the Way). This dance form describes the introduction of Christianity or the Christian way ( Marga) of worship into Kerala. Margam Kali pattu text comprises of fourteen stanzas which narrate the life and work of Saint Thomas the Apostle in Kerala. It retells how the Apostle landed in Malabar, how he healed the sick, won converts, how he established churches or communities and undertook missions to China and how in the end died a martyr in Mylapore. Maargam Kali, as a performance art form of Saint Thomas Christians has undergone changes in its structure, appearance with the Portuguese influence and with the developments among the Christians due to the emergence of ecclesiastical jurisdictions. History The literal translation of the word Margam ( Maargam ) is ‘way’ or ‘path’. In olden days those who embraced the new faith was called ‘ Margamkar’ or ‘Margam Vasikal”. The term ‘Maarga’, is a derviation of the Pali word ‘Magga’ and has always been use among Saint Thomas Christians of India.1 It is very difficult to fix the origin of this dance form. It has been suggested that, the Maargam Vaasikal ( followers of Maargam, ie, Saint Thomas Christians ) in order to propagate and sustain their faith performed the elements of their passage in Pattu tradition and then gradually resorted to dance traditions. The earliest form of these dancing traditions of the native Christians involves circular movements while singing in gathering. Pallippaattu, MaargamKali, Vattakali, were some of these performing traditions of the early Saint Thomas Christian community.2 Margam Kali – Text and Theme In both the Margam Kali and Parisamuttu Kali, an old-fashioned brass lamp was placed on the floor, and the dancers, usually 12 in number, used to go round the same, with measured steps, singing religious songs on St. Thomas, the Apostle, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some of the songs now used are rather modern, or better, modernized versions with additions to ancient songs. The song tells the story of how our Lord...

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Lifestyle of Kerala Syrian Christians
Apr15

Lifestyle of Kerala Syrian Christians

The way of life or lifestyle of the Syrian Christians of Kerala or St. Thomas Christians or Nasranis, as they are called, is best described by the term ‘Margavasis’ or ‘Followers of the Margam (Path)’ used by them, and speaks for their identity as one of the most distinct and a unique community of Christians. The Thomasine connection and their Jewish or Hebraic heritage in a well blended local keralite culture and atmosphere speaks for their lifestyle. It may be recalled that the Nasranis who confronted the Western Christians described their way of life as ‘Marthomayude Margavum Vazhipatum’ or ‘The Way and Traditions of St.Thomas’. They said: “We follow the way of Thomas and you follow the way of Peter” to distinguish themselves from the western christians. The Canon of the Synod of Diamper (1599) bears testimony to this declaration of the community members. Social Culture and Lifestyle of Kerala Syrian Christians St. Thomas Christians were classified into the caste system in accordance with the Hindu tradition, with special privileges for trade, granted by the benevolent Hindu kings and were considered at par with the upper-caste Hindus of Kerala in nobility. People in Hindu kingdoms, regardless of religion, were expected to strictly abide by stringent rules pertaining to caste and religion. This is why St. Thomas Christians had such a strong sense of caste and tradition, being the oldest order of Christianity in India and thus shared many social customs in common with their Hindu neighbours. Many Syrian Christian practices are distinctively eastern and early western missionaries found them primitive and ignorant in their point of view terming them as heretics. The caste consciousness is prevalent till today among the Nasranis. There are many other Hindu traditions followed by Christians such as dowry system, decorations with rice flower, forty-one day observance after a death in the family. The ceremonies after child-birth, like initial feeding of the newborn with powdered gold and honey, solemn rice feeding (Chorunnu ceremony), tying of an amulet around the waist (arannyaanum) are all Hindu customs while those related to child-birth purification and related observances are Jewish and comply to the Mosaic laws. Beliefs such as those in astrology and horoscopes are also rarely prevalent. Nevertheless the Hebraic or Jewish Heritage is also preserved to such an extent that the westerners, especially the Portuguese, termed the Nasranis as ‘Judaizers’ and also have been known to degrade their original Semitic customs and practices to a large extent. What remains today are probably just few remnants of the original Heritage. Names of Syrian Christians and related aspects Their names are Biblical names mostly of Hebraic origin like Yohannan...

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Kerala Nazranee Pesaha Receipes
Mar16

Kerala Nazranee Pesaha Receipes

The following are recipes for certain unique Kerala Nazranee Pesaha dishes, from different sources/individuals as duly acknowledged after each recipe. Such or similar dishes were and are part of the Pesaha (Maundy Thursday) supper in several Nazranee families in India and overseas. The tradition is thus kept alive by them. 1. Pesaha Appam (Unleavened Bread Kerala Nazranee Style!) Rice -1.5 cups Urad Dal withot skin – 0.5 cup Cumin seeds – 0.5 teaspoon Garlic – 2 cloves Coconut, shredded – 1 cup Salt – as needed Soak the rice overnight on Wednesday evening. Heat Urad Dal in a frying pan, stirring continuously. Be careful so that it does not burn. Stop heating when golden brown. Stir and let it cool. Soak this Dal for 2 hours. Grind all ingredients together. Add water just enough for a viscous batter. Do not grind to a fine paste. The batter should be slightly lumpy. Taste and add salt as needed. Pour in a baking dish. Steam for 20 minutes. Alternatively, bake at 400 F. Allow it to cool before serving with Pesaha Pal (see below).1 _________________________________________________________________________ 2. Pesaha Pal (Kerala Nazranee innovation for Wine!) Coconut Milk – 2 cups (alternatively, use regular milk) Putt flour – 1 table spoon (alternatively, use Cream of Wheat flour) Brown Sugar – 2 to 3 tablespoons Cardamom (powdered) – 2 Salt – for taste Mix flour and milk in a saucepan. Add brown sugar. Boil for 3-5 minutes until thickened like gravy. Add salt and test for taste. Adjust thickness by adding more flour or milk as needed. Add cardamom. Keep stirring till it cools. Serve with Appam (see above).2 __________________________________________________________________________ 3. Pesaha Appam (This is said to be the way the Pesaha Appam is made in the southern side of Kottayam) (For One Deep Dish) (10-12 pcs.) Rice Flour – 2 Cups Cream of Rice – ½ cup (Option: Soak 2 cups, ie. 1 pound long grain rice in water for 3 hrs, grind coarse, 1 cup grated coconut. Use the coconut water to grind the rice.) Coconut, grated – 1 cup (Blended) Dark Brown sugar – ½ cup (More for more sweetness) Yeast + Sugar – ¼ Tsp + 1 tsp sugar in ¼ cup warm water (Instead of yeast, save the coconut milk with 1 tsp raw rice grains, 1 tsp sugar , keep it in a warm place for a day, use that mixture to grind the rice. Also, if vellom (chakkara) is used,no yeast is needed. Or, one cup (pressed, not loose) of the crust-free soft bread could be used in place of yeast.) 1 Table spoon farina boiled in ½...

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