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.)
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
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 is divided into five sections. The following section describes a brief history and divisions of Nasranis. Section 3 discusses traditions associated with the Pesaha celebration. Followed by this, a discussion on the plausible origins in provided. Finally, the paper concludes with a summary and conclusions.
2 A concise history of Mar Thoma Nasranis
A brief discussion of Nasrani history is essential for this paper. The following paragraphs of this section cover it. According to the tradition of Mar Thoma Nasranis, St Thomas the Apostle, landed in Kodungalloor in 50 AD [Koonammakkal, 2012b]. It could be that he travelled to the Malabar Coast by a ship of Roman traders as there was active trade between the Gulf Peninsula and the Malabar Coast according to a number of authors like [Tomber, 2008]. As per Rambaan songs, the traditional folk songs of Nasranis, Saint Thomas the Apostle established seven Churches in Kerala – Kodungallur, Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kokkamangalam, Kottakkayal (Paravoor) and Palayoor. Their folksongs also describe the martyrdom of St Thomas at Chinna Mala near Chennai in Tamil Nadu in 72 AD. The events described in the folksongs are in line with the Acts of Thomas [Vadakkekkara, 2007], written in classical Syriac before the third century. Although the Acts cannot be considered as an apocryphal work, the striking similarity of their folksongs and the text of the Acts indicate the antiquity of the traditionon the Malabar Coast.
2.1 Historical Divisions
Until the aftermath of Coonan Cross oath in 1653 AD, the Nasranis were united under a community head called Arkadiyokkan (Archdeacon or Jaathikku Karthavan) – “the head of the caste,” bearing the title “Archdeacon and Gate of All India”. The Archdeacon held all characteristics of a King or a modern secular leader. He was normally escorted by a group of Nasrani soldiers. By sending Bishops spiritual guidance was given by the Catholicos-Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon -the Church of the East (CoE). Though there were occasions when more than one bishop from CoE was present in Malabar at the same time, there was only one Arkkadiyokkan – the head of the Church – who made decisions for temporal matters of the Church. Bishops from CoE had the role to give spiritual guidance and they never intervened in the financial and communal matters of Nasranis. Thus the Church in Malabar was united under the leadership of the Arkadiyokkan.
When traders from Portugal came from 1498 AD onwards, there were also Roman Catholic missionaries accompanying them. Relation between Mar Thoma Nasranis and Portuguese in the early years (until AD 1550s) of their visits were friendly since the Portuguese had to depend on the Nasranis for reasons of trade and military help. Gradually the power and influence of Portugal increased in India and they demanded power on the churches of Mar Thoma Nasranis, thinking that they could gain control on the spice trade. Portuguese managed to get support of the Hindu King of Kochi as well, a Kingdom that had supported them for long time. As a result, the Portuguese missionaries convened a meeting in 1599 AD, which they call “Udayamperoor Sunhados” (Synod of Diamper), an invalid Synod according to Thaliath . The so-called Synod declared the authority of the Portuguese Padroado over the Church of Saint Thomas Christians and appointed a Jesuit Bishop of Portuguese origin to govern the Malabar Church. Thus the Portuguese colonised the Church of Malabar that has apostolic origin. Fifty years after the invalid Synod, through the Coonan Cross oath, the Nasranis sought to assert the freedom their ancestors lost. They pledged that they will never accept the authority of any Jesuit or Portuguese bishop1. Perhaps this might be the very firstorganied activity against European colonialism in India. However, the events after the oath were not positive; Nasranis split into two factions and in the later centuries into many more denominations. At present they are divided into seven denominations. A pictorial representation of these divisions is given below. For more details see Figure 1.
2.2 Origin of Early Converts
It is reasonable to think that the early converts on the Malabar Coast in the first century were from various ethnic groups and religions, including Judaism2 , Buddhism3 , Jainism4 , Vedic5 , other tribal6 religions of Kerala and immigrant communities7 (Greeks, Romans and Persians). Therefore the ethnic composition of Nasranis cannot be considered as a single entity. In the early centuries Aramaic was the lingua-franca of trade in Asia [Koonammakkal, 2012b]. Saint Thomas was an Aramaic speaker and a Jew and it is reasonable to think that it was the Jewish colonies that existed in the India from the times of King Solomon that paved the way for Saint Thomas to India [Puthiyakunnel, 1973] and [Koonammakkal, 2012b]. In the later centuries, by the end of third century onwards or even earlier [Mingana, 1926], large groups of Christians from Persia and perhaps other Middle Eastern Kingdoms started migrating to Malabar Coast due to persecutions, political or economical reasons. Hence, it can be said that the community has emerged through centuries of conversion of local inhabitants and the assimilation of migrations of a number of foreign communities.
Despite being a cosmopolitan community, some ascetic practices of St Thomas Christians are still similar to those of Jews. Some of these are unique and cannot be found among other Christian communities in the world. Among them is the tradition of Pesaha and this paper focuses on this topic.
3 Pesaha night rituals of Nasranis and Jews
For Jews, celebration of Passover is related to their Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery under the Pharaohs in Egypt. The story of the Exodus from Egypt is described in the Old Testament (Exodus 1-15). This festival commemorates the beginning of their life as a nation. A brief mention of the Jewish Passover is needed for proceeding with this subject, and is described in the following paragraphs. At least for the Eastern Christians, the Passover is the most important celebration because the Last Supper was a Jewish Passover Seder.
3.1 Jewish Passover
It should be noted that there are differences in the way Jews from different nations celebrate Passover. Cultural elements from their host countries influenced their Passover practices too. For example Jews of Kochi have extra observance on their purification rituals prior to the Passover week, compared to Jews from other countries. This is perhaps due to their interaction with the caste concerned Hindu society [Katz, 2005]. Only a short description of general practices is given here.
The removal of chametz (leaven) is the most significant observance related to Jewish Passover and this practice is consistently seen among all Jewish communities. Chametz commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their flour ferment. Passover customs include drinking four cups of wine and eating matza (cracker-like bread made of white plain flour and water. The bread is pricked in several places and not allowed to rise before or during baking) and consumption of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder plate. While many Jewish celebrations revolve around the synagogues, the Jewish Passover is conducted at homes. It is an occasion for praise and thanksgiving. Often the celebrations go on until late at night, with the reading of the Haggadah, study the meaning of various passages, and singing special Passover songs. It is customary to invite guests, especially strangers and the needy.
The Passover Seder Plate is a special plate containing six symbolic foods used during the Passover Seder. The six items on the Seder Plate are:
- Maror and Chazeret; Two types of bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Ancient Egypt.
- Charoset; A sweet, brown, pebbly mixture, representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt.
- Karpas; A vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually parsley but sometimes something such as celery or cooked potato, which is dipped into salt water (Ashkenazi custom), vinegar (Sephardi custom) or charoset (older custom, still common amongst Yemenite Jews) at the beginning of the Seder.
- Z’roa; A roasted shank bone, symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.
- Beitzah; A roasted egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.
3.2 Pesaha of Nasranis
For Nasranis, the observance of Pesaha is the feast of Eucharist and it falls during Sawma Ramba (Weeks of Great Fast) unlike the traditional date of Sacred Heart in the Latin rite [Pathikulangara, 2009]. It falls on the Maundy Thursday and coincided with the Passover Seder night of Jews. It is a public Holiday in Kerala state. There are no reliable records8 other than tradition to prove its antiquity, however the name Pesaha (originates from Syriac) itself and the characteristics of the associated rituals indicate its antiquity.
3.2.1 Passion Week and Pesaha
The Weeks of Great Fast itself is the preparation towards Qyamtha – the Great Sunday of Resurrection. Passion Week (or the last week of Great fast) has the highest piety for Nasranis. Preparation for Pesaha starts on the Sunday of Oshana or Palm Sunday. Tender coconut leaves distributed on the Sunday of Oshana has great importance for the Pesaha celebration. On this week, the home and its surroundings (Adichu Thuda in Malayalam) are thoroughly cleaned. The eldest male member has a significant role in the Pesaha celebration. Still in some families the tradition of cleaning the surroundings are done by the head of the family, like in the olden days.
3.2.2 Pesaha Meal
Depending on the region or family, new vessels are bought for making Pesaha meal, called Pesaha Appam9 and a sweet drink called Paal (milk in Malayalam). In some families or regions, dedicated vessels are used for making Pesaha meals only. In some regions the earthen pottery used for making Pesaha meal is destroyed after use. In some places like Kottayam, Pala, Changanassery etc. and Kuttanadu region, the appam is cooked using steam whereas in places such Thodupuzha and Kothamangalam or the high range areas, the bread is roasted on a hot plate instead of steaming.
Unlike the other traditional breads of Nasranis, Pesaha Appam is the only bread that is made using urid daal (a kind of lentils white in colour). The important aspect, like in the case of Jewish Passover, during its preparation is to avoid traces of any old food or fermentation. As described earlier, a new vessel or a dedicated vessel is used for cooking the meal. In addition, the batter prepared using rice flour, urid daal, garlic, local herbs and coconut is not allowed to ferment – that is, the first loaf of bread is made immediately after the batter is prepared. Over the first loaf of bread a miniature form of plain cross made using the tender coconut leaves (distributed on the Sunday of Oshana) is placed. The left over batter is also cooked, but without a miniature cross. The sweet drink (ingredients: Rice flour, coconut milk, jaggery – a type of unrefined sugar – and some local herbs) also is made so that any traces of fermentation is avoided. As in the case of Pesaha Appam, a miniature cross also is put into the vessel while cooking Pesaha drink. This thick brown-coloured drink might be comparable to the characteristics of Charoset of Jewish Passover Seder. Pesaha meal also includes some local fresh fruits and nuts.
3.2.3 Pesaha Night
On the night of Pesaha, all family members gather together at home. If extended family members also live in the near vicinity, they gather at their ancestral home. The eldest male member or the head of the family cuts the Pesaha Appam. Some families cut the bread into 13 pieces, to remind the Last Supper of Isho M’shiha. The head of the family narrates the story of Pesaha to young family members or children during ceremony. Extracts from the book of Exodus about the Pesaha – the exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery – are read. In some regions the reading of the last supper which was a Pesaha meal – is also read. Some families still follow the tradition of singing special hymns or songs on the night of Pesaha. The head of the family serves the food and no food other than Pesaha meal is consumed on the night of Pesaha.
If a death has occurred in the family, the Pesaha Appam is not made that year, but relatives or a neighbour makes two loaves of Pesaha Appam and gives the extra one for the grieving family. The first loaf of Pesaha Appam is never shared with non-Christians; however, the extra loaves are shared. Strictly speaking, the extra loaves are not necessarily unleavened as they are not cooked immediately after the batter is prepared. If there is any leftovers, it is either consumed on the Passion Friday by the children during the day or in the evening by the adults – since it is a traditional Fasting day of Nasranis. Any further leftovers are dried and consumed later, but never thrown away.
3.3 Similarities of Jewish Passover and Pesaha of Nasranis
The Passover of Nasranis has some similarities with the Passover celebration of the Jews as listed below.
- Cleaning of the household.
- Usage of thoroughly cleaned or new dishes for cooking the Pesaha meal.
- Both groups make unleavened bread on the day of Passover.
- Traces of leavened food or grains are avoided.
- The sweet drink among the Nasranis may be an incultured form of Charoset in the Jewish Passover Seder plate.
- The head of the family serves the food.
- Meals of both groups include bitter food. Bitter drink10 among Nasranis and maror among Jews.
- Singing of special songs or hymns.
- Alms-giving to the needy11.
The Jews of Kochi had a practice to sell the old potteries during Passover and buy new ones for cooking their Passover meals [Katz & Goldberg, 1993]. Nasranis in some regions still observe a similar tradition of using new potteries for cooking Pesaha meals.
Pesaha of Nasranis might be an indication of their Jewish or Judeo-Christian roots. The author proposes four points for further discussion in this section to perhaps trace the origin of Pesaha among the Nasranis.
- Jewish past of Nasranis.
- Persian immigration and their religio-cultural relationship with the Persian Church and the East Syrian Church.
- Judeo-Nasrani interaction in the later centuries.
- An import of the 16th century European tradition.
4.1 The Jewish Past
One may ask whether there were Jews in Kerala when St Thomas arrived in Kerala. It is not possible to establish the existence of Jews in Kerala based on documentary evidence. However, circumstantial evidences, particularly the trade links that Kerala had in those days, lead us to the existence of Jewish communities in Kerala. Koonammakkal [2012b] describes the trade links that existed between the Mediterranean world, Mesopotamia, Persia and India long before Christ. According to him, these existing trade links were the basis for Solomon‘s commercial enterprises in the 10th century BC.
4.1.1 Indications from Old Testament
Old Testament mentions a number of materials that may have been exported from India to the Kingdom of Israel. We read in 3 Kings, 10:28 “…And they came to Ophir and fetched from thence, gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to King Solomon”. Again in 3 Kings 10:22, “For the King’s navy once in three years went with the navy of Hiram by sea to Tharshish (may be the old name of Tharissapalli, near Kollam) and brought from thence gold and silver, ivory (elephant teeth) and apes and peacocks”. Scholars disagree about the location of Ophir but commodities like peacocks, elephants etc. are not found in Palestine and neighbouring countries and it is reasonable to think that these were taken from west/east coasts of India.
In addition, spices like cinnamon and cassia are mentioned in Exodus 35:1-24, and were foreign to Palestine. It is reasonable to think that these were imported from Malabar Coast or Ceylon. Indian teak wood logs have been found in the temple of the Moon at Mugheir and in the palace of Nebuchadenazzar. It is believed that Solomon’s ships (Pathemaari in Malayalam) were of teak wood and believed to be built in Malabar Coast. Blue  describes that there was no suitable timber for building ships were available in Arabia and hence the Arabs visited the forests of Malabar to collect teakwood or even to purchase ships built at Bepoor. Hence it could be concluded that the trade links might have started due the availability of teak wood, peacocks, pepper, Sandalwood and other spices in Malabar.
There are clear evidences that Malabar Coast had constant trade links the Roman and Hellenic worlds for hundreds of years, between 3rd century BC and 5th century AD [Tomber 2008]. After the revolutionary voyages done by Eudoxus of Cyzicus between 120 and 110 BC, the flow of traders from the Mediterranean region to southern coasts of India by sea had dramatically increased. This increased the tempo of the trade to a greater extent and led to the formation of large foreign settlements and communities on the Indian coasts.
4.1.2 Evidences from ancient records
Muziris was an important harbour of Malabar Coast until the middle of the 14th century. The tradition holds that St Thomas the apostle landed at the port of Muziris. A number of travellers describe the sea-route to Muziris. The most important one is the Periplus Maris Eurythyraei (PME), written by a Greece-Egyptian merchant, written in mid first century. In the first century BC, the Greek sailor Hippalus discovered the secret of the monsoons. These publications might have attracted even more traders to the Coast.
Another document that mentions about Muziris from early centuries is called ‘Muziris Papyrus’ [Casson, 1990] [Tomber, 2008]. The Papyrus contains an agreement between two businessmen to do business between Alexandria and Muziris. It also contains detailed itinerary and instructions for transporting goods to the ports between Red Sea to Alexandria. In addition details regarding the value of cargo and goods – namely nard (a typical Ayurvedic herb), ivory, and textiles are described. More details about the document can be found in [Casson, 1990]. Although Muziris Papyrus dates back to the second century, it testifies the existence of a well-established trade between Muziris and other ports. As per Peutinger table, original copy written in the fifth century [Tomber, 2008], the ancient city Muziris had a Greek community with a temple of Augustus for their worship.
It should be noted that Muziris was the most important port and not the only one. A number of other ports like Kollam, Nelkynda, Thyndis was also had trade links with ancient world. The point here is that it was plausible for St Thomas to visit Malabar Coast in the first century due to the active trade links.
A number of texts written in India also mention Muziris. Of these, the most important ones are the Sangam poems, written between 300 BC and 300 AD by a number of poets. Akananooru and Purananooru also mention about Muziris as Muchiri.
4.1.3 Archaeological Evidence
Until recently historians and archaeological researchers were not certain about the existence of such a port due to the lack of archaeological evidences. Recently, a group of researchers from the Kerala historical Society excavated a small village called Pattanam near Kodungalloor. They believe that they have found at least a part of the ancient port of Muziris [Selvakumar et. al., 2009]. According to their studies, Muziris was cosmopolitan port with inhabitants at least from the second half of the 1st millennium BC. A large number (in thousands) of potteries found from the excavated spot originated from the times of Parthian and Sassanian Persia in addition to South Arabia (present day Yemen) Roman Empire, Greece and East Africa [particular article]. According to them, the location of Pattanam matches the descriptions given PME. The carbon dating study conducted on a piece of canoe made of Anjili (Artocarpus hirsutus) concludes its age between 1300BC and 100BC, the oldest part of a ship found from India [Selvakumar et. al., 2009]. These indicate that the Muziris was an active port even before Christ.
All these point towards the fact that there was a number of flourishing trade centres in the Malabar Coast. Therefore the possibility for the existence of Jewish communities cannot be ruled out. According to Katz & Goldberg , permanent settlements were formed as a result of the ancient trade links. Among them were not just Jews but Greeks and Romans. Therefore the author proposes that there were Jews among the early converts by the Saint Thomas. It does not mean that other communities rejected the Good News, as Malekandathil  proposed that possibilities of Yavanas to accept Christianity in the first century could not be ruled out. The fact that the seven churches established by St Thomas are close to early Jewish settlements supports this view12 . Therefore, the view that there were Jews in the first century when Saint Thomas established his Church in the Malabar Coast cannot be rejected. If this hypothesis is true, it is reasonable to believe that the Pesaha tradition of early converts were continued by the later generations and preserved till today. This point has more validity as the Pesaha is not the only tradition that Nasranis share with the Jews. See Appendix for more details.
4.2 Due to the interaction with the early migrant Christians from Persia
The relationship between the Nasranis and the Church in Persia starts through Saint Thomas the Apostle. The Church in Persia proper (Church in the Fars province headquartered at Rewardashir) also originated from the same saint. Contents of the Acts of Thomas might have been transmitted to Persia or vice-versa through Aramaic-speaking traders. This explains the similarities between Rambaan songs and the Acts of Thomas. Mingana  states that whenever there is a reference about Malabar church the Persian church is also mentioned. He writes: “…Any attempt to speak of early Christianity in India as different from the East Syrian church, is, in our judgement, bound to fail”.
Some scholars and leaders of Nasrani Churches believe that the migration of Persian Christians and the dependence of Nasranis on the Persian Church started from 345 AD onwards under the leadership of Thomas of Cana13 . Mingana  writes that this is far from the truth, but he agrees that the migrations might have reached its peak during 345 AD due to the persecution by Sapor II. Evidences speak that the migrations might have started much earlier. According to him, two shores in the Persian Gulf – Basra and Qatar had well-established bishopric sees by 225 AD and these ports were flourishing trade centres at that time. The first recorded migration of Christians from West Asia to Malabar Coast happened around 300 AD with the leadership of Bishop Dawood of Basra according to Chronicles of Seert. According to Tomber  the Sassanian Empire (224 to 651 AD) gained dominance in spice trade from the Romans after the third century. Perhaps this might be the reason why we see clear evidences for migration from Persia to Malabar Coast around that time. From this point onwards a number of Christians started migrating to the Malabar Coast. As Mingana pointed out, persecutions by the Sassanian King Sapor II might have attracted even more Christians from Persia to Malabar. These early migrant Christians from Persia carried Syriac traditions with them.
Christians of Aramaic-speaking world, particularly those in Persia, in the early centuries followed a number of Jewish-customs. Rouwhorst  reports the Jewish customs present among the Christians of the early centuries. They include architecture of worship houses, the liturgical readings from the Torah and the Prophets, the Eucharistic Prayer, traces of the Jewish Sabbath, Passover etc. He adds that this was particularly more evident among the Christians who used Syriac in the later centuries. Since church in Malabar had connections with Christians of Persia as early as 3rd century, it is possible that the Jewish customs prevalent among them were passed over to them through the migrants. According him, the Jewish customs of Christians of Persia has vanished after 4th century.
Since the migration of Christians started from 3rd century onwards, it is possible that the Jewish customs of West Asian Christians were also passed to Malabar Christians through the immigrants. This hypothesis is supported by the testimony of Cosmas Indicopleustes, an Alexandrian Greek traveller and East-Syrian monk. He writes about the presence of East-Syrian Christians in Malabar and nearby regions. He also mentions about a Bishop consecrated in Persia residing in Kalliana. Kalliana could be either Kollam (Quilon in Kerala) or Kalyan (Mumbai). In a letter written in the eighth century, the East Syrian Patriarch Timothy I encouraged intermarriages between Persian Christians and Indian Christians. Therefore this hypothesis also cannot be easily rejected.
4.3 Judeo-Nasrani Interaction in Malabar
It is already established that a number of Jewish migrations took place through the famous port Muziris or present day Kodungalloor. Remnants of a number of early Jewish colonies can be found even today near the vicinity of Kodungalloor. The Christianity of Malabar was centred in these ancient centres.
There was a cordial relation between the Nasranis and Jews of Malabar until the European colonialists came to the scene. There are signatures in Hebrew in one of copper plates issued to the Nasranis in about 9th century [Narayanan, 2002]. There were joint-trade activities by the Jews and Nasranis of Malabar (Anjuvannam and Manigramam). These indicate that when the Christians and the Jews were fighting each other in Europe, in the Malabar Coast the situation was just the opposite. Due to these interactions, there might have emerged a community resulting from the marriages between the Nasranis and the Jews. It is also possible that a number of Jews accepted Christianity in the later centuries and mingled with the Christians of Malabar through marriage relations. When some Jewish people accepted into the community of Nasranis, they might have continued practicing Jewish customs as part of their life. Of these, Pesaha along with many others might have spread into the entire community and remained until the modern times.
4.4 An imported European tradition
One should not rule out the possibility of popularising a form of Maundy Thursday celebration from Europe among the Malabar Christians during the times of European colonisers. Knapp  established that a number of hymns and prayers present in the Latin mass have root in early Jewish prayers. According to him, the European or Roman Christianity had a number of Jewish practices prior to 15th century. Therefore one cannot rule out the possibility of such a tradition among Malabar Christians, imported from Europe in the sixteenth century through colonisers and invaders. Due to the interaction with the Portuguese, the Malabar Church had accepted a lot of Latin practices. The Portuguese missionaries were very enthusiastic to force Latin practices on St Thomas Christians; interestingly some practices are not even seen among the Latin Christians (for example singing of Puthen Paana on the Passiona Friday). By the time of Parambil Chandy Methran, perhaps even earlier than the invalid Synod of Diamper, they even have succeeded in replacing the native vestments of St Thomas Christians with the vestments of Latin Church. Therefore, it is possible that even the practice of Pesaha could be an inculturation of a Latin tradition which was prevalent in Europe in the later centuries of the middle ages.
From a survey conducted among various Christian communities in Kerala, it was found that Latin Catholic communities that live without interaction to Nasrani denominations do not follow the tradition of Pesaha. In addition, the Latin Catholic communities in the Konkan Coast (Mangalore, Goa etc.) do not have the tradition of Pesaha. If this tradition was an import from Europe, it could have also found among the Latin Catholic communities of India. Further, any Christian communities in European countries like Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy etc. do not have the tradition of making unleavened bread on Maundy Thursday. The invalid synod of Diamper describes nothing about the observance of Pesaha of Nasranis. If such a practice was imposed at the time of the so-called Synod, this might have been present in the decree. Due to these reasons the author rejects this hypothesis that the Pesaha of tradition was an import from Europe after 16th century.
Pesaha is a unique ascetic practice of Nasranis held at their homes. We see that there is a striking similarity between the Pesaha of Nasranis and the Passover of Jews. According to Rouwhorst , rituals are characterized by certain stability; usually they are not invented all of a sudden and at least their basic structures are not so easily changed. The practice of making unleavened bread on the evening of Pesaha might be one such basic practice and have origin from the Jewish Passover. Therefore the possibility of Pesaha tradition from Jewish Passover cannot be easily rejected.
As a matter of fact, the possible origins described earlier in this paper are related to each other to a great extent. Therefore the most plausible solution is to find an answer by combining these. The author proposes that the Pesaha of Nasranis could be traced back to one of the following or a combination of both.
- It might be the influence of early or later Jewish converts in the Malabar Coast.
- Or an ancient Syriac Christian practice transmitted through the Christian migrants from Persia.
Pesaha has its origins from the early Jewish converts – the question is only about geographic location of those converts – whether it is Malabar or Persia. There is no doubt that Pesaha of Nasranis is the remnant of one of the early apostolic traditions, which somehow survived in Malabar Coast due to the lack of frequent contacts or interaction with other parts of the Christendom.
6 Appendix: Other Cultural Similarities that point towards Jewish Heritage of Nasranis
6.1 Naming conventions
According to Koonammakkal [2012b] the naming convention of Nasranis, “The eldest boy is named after paternal grandfather; the eldest girl receives the name of paternal grandmother; the second boy and girl get the names of maternal grandfather and maternal grandmother respectively. Thus four names were always inherited in the family with great pride and joy. One could choose the name of the fifth child, though the choice was often that of an uncle, aunt, parent, etc. Thus we can say that most of the names among St Thomas Christians are inherited from generation to generation. Even in modern times they rarely break this naming tradition. Often pet names are developed from baptismal names, but need not necessarily.” These rules are similar to that of Sephardic Jews according to Katz . According to the decree of the so-called Synod of Diamper, the names were chosen from the Old Testament only. The Synod proposed to accept New Testament names as well.
6.2 Musical characteristics in the liturgy
Eminent musicologist Ross  studied the musical characteristics of liturgical music that is used by the Nasranis. He studied various aspects such as chant accentuation, mode, rhythmic and melodic motives and organum. According to the study, chant accentuation system of Nasranies is similar to the Palestinian dot system of Jews. Mode among the music of Syrian Christians is similar to Arabic maqamat, a system prevalent in Middle East at the beginning of Common Era.
In music theory, augmentation is the lengthening or widening of rhythms, melodies, intervals and chords. An augmented second is a major second raised a half step (or a semitone, or half a tone). Thus, if two notes are an augmented second apart, there are three semitones (one an a half tones) separating them. It is a frequently used interval in Arabic maqamat and Indian Raga. It is interesting that augmented second is not seen among Syrian liturgical music. This is also true for liturgical music of Cochini Jews. The solo recitation of the precentor (one who helps facilitate worship) is the melodic motives used in responsorial (an anthem consisting of short verses sung or spoken by the officiant and responses sung or spoken by the choir, especially after the lesson in a church service) and antiphonal song (a hymn or psalm performed by two groups of singers chanting alternate sections). The units of chant melody derive from initial melody, the recitation tone and cadential motives. These characteristics together with some others are similar to some Hebrew cantillation and prayer motives.
Syrian Christian music rhythm is logogenic, the melody has little or no tonal syntax independent from that of the words. Syrian Christian solo chant is in the flowing, free rhythmic, non-metrical manner termed ‘punctuation style’. The orthodox Jewish tradition does not allow decorated music. Orthodox Rabbis wanted chanting words only. So author believes that the music of Syrian Christians still have this characteristics of Orthodox Jewish music.
Organum in Syrian Christian music occurs in congregational singing of responses, antiphons or hymn tunes. This is seen among three isolated groups of Jews viz. Yemenite Jews, Cochini Jews and Hebrew Samaritans.
It is probable that a number of melodies that were once part of the common repertory of the Syrian churches in the Middle East and India are now extant only in Kerala.
6.3 Church centred life and Synagogue centred life
Ross  and Katz  mentions that the Nasranis and Cochin Jews are two communities grown in parallel in Malabar Coast. Ross mentions that the life style of Cochin Jews was synagogue centred. The Nasranis also have similar life style centred in their churches. It is well known that every Nasrani churches irrespective of the denominations have committee meeting after Qurbana (mass).
6.4 Kiss of peace
There is a custom called Kaimuthu among the Nasranis at the conclusion of forty days mourning period after someone dies. This is similar to ‘kiss of peace’ (kaikkasthoori), a custom that is seen in some Nasrani churches at the conclusion of Qurbana, which is passed from Bishop to Priest to worshiper. Kiss of peace is a sign of respect and friendship and has its roots in the Jewish Temple worship [Ross, 1979].
6.5 Restrictions in mixing milk and milk products with meat or fish
Nasranis do not mix milk and milk products with meat. This is particularly true during festival occasions such as wedding. The origin of Kachiya moru (cooked butter milk) might have origin from this custom. It is a tradition among a number of vegetarian communities to use curd or butter milk during parties. However, it may also be noted the Ayurveda also puts such restriction for mixing milk and meat products.
6.6 Presentation of babies in the Church after their birth
Decrees of the Synod of Diamper describes that Nasranis followed an exact tradition of Jews while presenting their children in the Church after their birth. Like Jews, Nasranis used to present their male children on the 40th day and female children on the 80th day after their birth. The Synod instructed Nasranis to abolish this practice because Jews also followed the same tradition.
6.7 Origin of Palappam and Kallappam
Palappam and Kallappam represent the cultural identity of Nasrani food. According to Gil , Palappam originated in the southern tip of south India (Kerala) and is the traditional food of Kochini Jewish community. This is an indication that some food habits might have continued by the Jewish converts even after they have accepted Christianity or assimilated into the Nasrani community.
6.8 Indication from the Decrees of the Invalid Synod of Diamper
A number of action points imposed on the Nasranis by the so-called Synod of Diamper indicate that many of their customs and lifestyle was similar to that of Jews. Discussing them here is beyond the scope of this paper, but some mentioned below. Decree 15 of the Action VIII commanded the Nasranis to avoid of practice of abstaining from eating meat on Saturdays to be free from the pain of mortal sin. Further, the decree 16 of the same action asks to abolish the practice of observing the beginning and end of the day in the typical Jewish fashion, i.e., change the practice of counting day from “evening to evening” to “midnight to midnight” [Geddes, 1694]. These indicate that the Portuguese were aware of the presence of at least some Nasranis who followed the some laws of the Jews.
6.9 Other Practices
Koonammakkal [2012b] reports a number of other similarities such as the traditions of funeral Practices (ceremonial bath of dead body, mourning of seven days etc.) and purification practices of mother and child after child birth. During the wedding ceremony of Nasranis, the bride stand on the right side of the bridegroom and a bridal veil (manthrakodi) is used. This might also have originated from Jewish customs.
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- 1. This is a topic of debate as factions of Nasranis create their own versions for justifying their allies or obedience with the external Churches. Syro-Malabarians claim that it was against the Jesuits only and portray that their Church was always in communion with the Church of Rome through the East Syrian Church. Churches derived from Puthenkoor faction (new party) holds the view that the oath was against the Church Rome and thus Pope. This topic is beyond the scope of this paper and the author leaves it for the discretion of the reader. [↩]
- 2. Since there are indications for trade links between South India and Israel from the time of King Solomon, the possibilities for the existence of Jewish communities in Kerala cannot be ruled out. See Section 4.1 for detailed discussion. [↩]
- 3. [Menon 1967] discusses that Buddhism was the primary or one of the major religions of Kerala in the first century. After the Kalinga war of Emporer Ashoka the Great in BC 260-218, Buddhist religion has spread within and beyond kingdom of Ashoka. Kerala is mentioned in one of the edicts of Ashoka as Kingdom of “Kerobotra”. Therefore it is reasonable to believe the missionaries of Ashoka might have propagated Buddhism in Kerala and we could assume that that there were people who followed Buddhism in Kerala in the first century. The traditions of Hindu communities in the present in the Kerala attributes a lot to the old Buddhist traditions which were prevalent before the Arianisation of Kerala (circa between 5th to 9th century). An example is the cult of Ayyappa in Sabarimala, which is believed to have been a Buddhist temple. [↩]
- 4. Jainism also like in the case of Buddhism had deep root in Kerala in the early centuries. Koodal Manikyam temple is considered as one of the several Jain temples converted later into Hindu temple [Menon 1967]. [↩]
- 5. Vedic religion here refers to the religion of Brahmins. There is a tradition among Nasranis that St Thomas converted Nampoothiris near the pool in Palayoor while they were conducting sun-worshipping rituals. According to MGS Narayanan  and many other scholars the migration of Nampoothiris to Kerala happened by 6th century or later. Considering this, author proposes that it might not the ancestors of current Nampoothiris community who accepted Christianity in the first century, but
some other community who worship sun, whose importance was not significant like the present-day Brahmins. It could be the traders from Persia who in fact followed Zorostrianism or another branch of a sun-worshipping religion. The word Nampoothiri might have been added at a later time. Further Malekandathil  is of the opinion that there were micro communities of Brahmins, who conducted in religious rituals for Kings. Based on this, author proposes that a number of Vedic religions or some forms of sun-worshipping communities were present in Kerala in the first century, which later might have called themselves as Nampoothiris. [↩]
- 6. In the first century, the caste system was not established in Kerala. Considering this, there is no reason to rule out the possibility of St Thomas to converting people from tribal religions of Kerala. [↩]
- 7. Existence of Yavanas can be found from Sangam liturature. The word ‘Yavana’ refers to Greeks or Romans. The traditional belief is that St Thomas arrived in the ancient port Muziris. The existence of Yavana communities can be proved with the help of archaeological evidence. Since a number of ancient Christian centres of Nasranis were located near Kodungallur (Muziris), it is not logical to think that St. Thomas excluded some communities during his missionary work. Further Malekandathil  proposes that possibility of Yavanas accepting Christianity in the first century could not be ruled out. [↩]
- 8.The invalid Synod of Diamper does not mention anything about the Pesaha celebration. This is probably due to its private nature. The Latin missionaries or the Portuguese might not have had any information about the Pesaha since it was always celebrated at homes. Fearing the inquisition chambers of Portuguese, Nasranis might have celebrated the Pesaha in secrecy. Portuguese introduced several action points in the Synod to wipe of the practices that are similar to that of Jews (see Section 6.9 for further details). [↩]
- 9. The word “Appam“ probably derived from Syriac verb Apya (Apo in West Syriac). Interestingly, all traditional breads used by the Nasranis end with the word Appam (Kallappam, Paalappam, Achappam, Cheppappam, Neyyappam, Unniyappam etc.), whereas the most popular traditional food of South India is called Dosa, Iddaly, Upma, Puttu etc [↩]
- 10. The Pesaha meal of Nasranis does not include a bitter drink, but on the Passion Friday at the Church, drinking of bitter juice is still observed. [↩]
- 11. Passion week is a week of alms-giving for Nasranis needy people are helped with food or money depending on the requirement [↩]
- 12. Many scholars pointed out similar words in Tamil and Hebrew (for peacocks, apes, ivory etc.) and this argued that Ophir even might have located in South India. Mundadan  has recently criticised the parallel existence of these words and thus the possibility of Jewish settlements in the Malabar Coast in the first century. He opposed the hypothesis with the help of Jerome Biblical Commentary. Author thinks that this topic needs further study by a linguistic expert with the help of authentic references written in Hebrew or Aramaic. [↩]
- 13. The arrival date of Thomas of Cana in 345 AD is questionable. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss this topic here. Refer the works of Kurmankan (1944), Thomas (2008) and Appassery (2006) for more details. [↩]