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 bishop (( 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.)). 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 Judaism ((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.)) , Buddhism ((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.)) , Jainism ((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]. )) , Vedic ((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.)) , other tribal ((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.)) religions of Kerala and immigrant communities ((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.)) (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 records ((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).)) 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 Appam ((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)) 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 drink ((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.)) among Nasranis and maror among Jews.
- Singing of special songs or hymns.
- Alms-giving to the needy (( 11. Passion week is a week of alms-giving for Nasranis needy people are helped with food or money depending on the requirement)).
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 view ((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.)) . 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 Cana (( 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.)) . 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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You have certainly written supporting a Jewish/Hebrew heritage for the Malabar Nasaranis (lol.. not Syrian Christians, as the British named us). May I point out that you have not touched upon two very important points in support, namely..
1) The piling DNA evidences.
2) The worship on the ‘Prohibited day’ as was recorded in the Decrees in the Synod of Diamper. Both of which have been discussed in this forum.
The rest of the world (Family Tree DNA and the like) is very impressed by the large number of Cohen DNAs amongst us and back home, our Dr. Mini Kariappa has independently produced DNA evidences linking the Malabar Nasranis to a Hebrew heritage. Yet this article is silient about this ‘final nail to the coffin’.
Moreover, you have stated that Greeks, Romans, Egyptians etc.. got converted to become Nasranis. Can you please show evidences? It is possible, but it is only a possibillity. 1% possibility or is it a 99% possibility? or is it a 100% possibillity of such a convertion? Your article misleads the reader to think that there is a 100% possibility. When such is your claim, then you must produce evidences, which you have not. Otherwise, you have a generally good article.
Dear Mathai Varghese,
“You have certainly written supporting a Jewish/Hebrew heritage for the Malabar Nasaranis (lol.. not Syrian Christians, as the British named us)”
What Jewish/Hebrew heritage are you referring to? The only thing we have in common with the Jews is the similarities between our Pasaha and a typical Jewish Seder and perhaps our naming system. Other than that, most of our traditions are more similar to Kerala Hindus. (feeding of the infant with powdered gold and honey, Chorunnu ceremoney, arannyannum, dowry system, caste consciousness, tying of the thali and mantrakodi at wedding, 41 observance after the death of a loved one ect ect)
“May I point out that you have not touched upon two very important points in support, namely..
1) The piling DNA evidences.
2) The worship on the ‘Prohibited day’ as was recorded in the Decrees in the Synod of Diamper. Both of which have been discussed in this forum.”
I’m not sure what you mean by “wroship on the Prohibited days” but you went on to say
“The rest of the world (Family Tree DNA and the like) is very impressed by the large number of Cohen DNAs amongst us and back home, our Dr. Mini Kariappa has independently produced DNA evidences linking the Malabar Nasranis to a Hebrew heritage. Yet this article is silient about this ‘final nail to the coffin’.”
Dr. Kariappa and other Syrian Christians have claimed of our supposed “Jewish ancestry” based on the prevelence of the J2 haplogroup in the average Nasrani’s DNA. However, around 80 million people in India (mostly in the Southern regions) possess the J2 haplogroup. Nasranis only made up 18% of Kerala’s population which is around 5.5 million. Therefore J2 is not unique just to the Nasrani population..
J2 is not even an indication of Jewish ancestry either. While it is true that J2 originated in the Middle East, it is more prevelent among Iraqi and Syrian populations than among the Jews. The prevelence of J2 haplogroup among nasranis and caste hindus in southern india can be traced to the early middle eastern settlers in Malabar who eventually intermingled with the local population. They were not necessarily Jewish.
” you have stated that Greeks, Romans, Egyptians etc.. got converted to become Nasranis”
Its a fair assumption that the descendents of Greeks, Romans and Egyptians eventually joined what would be the Nasrani community. These three groups were prevelent in Malabar coast and were intensely involved in the trade. It’s not improbable to assume that they intermingled with the local pop. and left offspring. However, it wasn’t exclusively Greeks, Romans and egyptians who converted to become Nasranis.
DNA studies have shown that the Nasrani population are no different from any other South Indian community. So stop claiming that we have Jewish ancestry and culture. We are cultural and genetically South Indian/Dravidian.
What do you mean by the term ‘Worship on the prohibited day’?
Rev. Dr. Charles Pyngot points out an interesting point on the etymology of the word “Indari appam”, the unleavened bread prepared by the nazranis during their pesaha observance. The word has the same root as “Iddali’, a leavened steamed bread common in South India. ‘Indali’, ‘Indari’, and ‘iddali’ were all variants of the same word. The common ingredient in all these is the ‘urad’ dahl. Some people have tried to derive this word from the “INRI” on the crucifix. This latter derivation defies all logic. [Aaradhana Valsaram (liturgical cycle of the syro-malabr church) by Dr Charles Pyngot CMI – OIRC, Kottayam No. 256].
Dear K.J. Promethius,
Thanks for your response. You mentioned that it is fair to claim that the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians converted to become Nasranis. This ‘fair’ is not good enough. Romans, Greeks and even Egyptian religions are pagan in origin and often highly Hellenized. A Hellenized man does not convert to Judaism (Nazerenism being the fulfillment of Judaism). To me ‘fairness’ would mean that pagan Greeks and Romans would very easily assimilate into pagan Hinduism (or similar) than Judaims. Please just tell me as to how this ‘fairness’ of yours work? Show me the path of commensense that you have taken to arrive at this conclusion.
Mankinds history clearly shows that he is highly prone to paganis. Just soon after the Israelites arrived into Canan, they resorted to paganism. Why? Even when Moses was beeing given the Law, the Israelites were resorting to pagainism. Solomon, the wisest of all humans on earth was resorting to massive paganism and now you tell me that the Greeks and Romans in Malabar abandoned paganism to become Torah Upholding Nazerenes. Let me not go on and on… let me await your ‘fair path’. Let me see your reasoning in print!!
You wrote ‘..However, around 80 million people in India (mostly in the Southern regions) possess the J2 haplogroup. Nasranis only made up 18% of Kerala’s ..”
Nobody is dumb enough to say that J2 means ‘Jewish’. This specific matter has been repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over again in this forum. We are talking about the so called ‘Cohen DNAs’, which are indeed also under J2, but carry unique markers to identify itself to supposedly to Ahron. These unique J2s are present outside Judaism and no one is denying it, but is very restricted. It is certainly present in Semetic people, particularly amongst Muslims. 10000s of Jews/Hebrews/Iraelites were forcibly or willingly converted to Islam and Christianity and these converts certainly included Cohens. The DNAs of the survivors of these converts are being studied at this very moment. Saudi Arabians, Italians, English, Spanish, Portugeese, etc.. today at this very moment (as I write) are tracing there Cohen ancestry and some of these people are genetists by their own right. I know this as I am in the groups ’email loop’ and I am literally flooded with copies of developments. It is interesting for me to imagine as to how a Muslim Arab in Saudi Arabia would take it when he is known to be a descendent of Ahron.
I have been studying this subject for about 10 years and the more I study, the more I know ‘nothing’. For there is so much of history that we do not know. I have learned that to attempt to learn this subject, one must have a very high world view and highly intellectual. Mr. Steven Ring’s casual remark in this forum that many Nazerenes/Christians were deported from Syria to Persia, helped better to understand Cohen DNA in England that can perhaps be traced to the ‘Syrian Regiment’ that invaded Britain during the Roman Empire. Many of the things are not final proofs, but evidences of possibilities.
You wrote ‘..We are cultural and genetically South Indian/Dravidian…”
Nobody is denying the above. We have been in India for many centuries and we are culturally Indian and our forefathers from Israel/Yemen/Ephraim/Persia often came alone, either fleeing persecution or in trade and they took local women (Buddhists/Animists/HIndus/Jains etc..)as wives or concubines. So there is very high local/aboriginal DNAs in us from our mothers side. Since our Nasarani society and community is patriachal, we link our heritage to the Mathai, Yacob and Moshe who migrated to Malabar. The Bible is also entirely patriachal in leaning and it is very clear in the Bible that not one Israelite will be unaccounted for. This is a subject of faith and it is upon this faith our arguments rests.
Ezekiel 37:21 “..and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land…”
You wrote ‘..I’m not sure what you mean by “wroship on the Prohibited days” but you went on to say..”
When the Portugeese came to Malabar, they noticed the Nasranis to worship on the 7th and 1st day of the week. The 7th day is the Israelite Sabbath day and in the Gregorian calender it is Satuday. The first day is Sunday. One of the negative labels placed upon us by the Portugeese was “Sabbath keeping Judaizers’ and I hear it frequently in many writings but unable to locate the source, atleast for the present.
The Nazerenes did not uphold the Sabbath as how the Pharisees did, for we had a far better understanding of the Sabbath than the Pharisees did and do. We howoever worshipped on Satudays along with Sunday as we did have limited ties with the CoE, which considered Sunday as the ‘Lord’s Day’. Further, there were indeed CoE blood assimilation into our community, resulting in Satudays and Sundays being holy days for the Lord.
At Diamper (during the Inquisition) we were accused of following wrong Jewish traditions, one of them was ‘Worshipping on the prohibited day’. I infer that the ‘Prohibited day’ was the Jewish sabbath, since nothing else makes sense. Your criticsm on this is welcome! Even as 30 years ago, one used to be reprimanded for studying for school on Saturdays and at the same time, my great grandfather was known to push his parish members to church for Sunday worship. I do know t hat things are very different from family to family and this can be due to that, later history (post AD 1599) of the Nasranis are not the same for all the families.
Please refer to my Post : 275301. The name of the book was wrongly given. The correct name is “Thirunalukal” by the same author and the same publisher.
I do not know the scholastic worth of the below quotes. However, I have made some reading/study and find it presentable, subject to caution.
PERSIA AND MESOPOTAMIA
“The hills of Persia and the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates reechoed their songs of praise. They reaped their harvests and paid their tithes. They repaired to their churches on the Sabbath day for the worship of God.” “Realencyclopaedie fur Protestatische and Krche,” art. “Nestorianer”; also Yule, “The Book of ser Marco Polo,” Vol.2, p.409.
INDIA, CHINA, PERSIA, ETC
“Widespread and enduring was the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath among the believers of the Church of the East and the St. Thomas Christians of India, who never were connected with Rome. It also was maintained among those bodies which broke off from Rome after the Council of Chalcedon namely, the Abyssinians, the Jacobites, the Maronites, and the Armenians,” Schaff-Herzog, The New Enclopadia of Religious Knowledge,” art. “Nestorians”; also Realencyclopaedie fur Protestantische Theologie und Kirche,” art. “Nestorianer.”
Armenian Christians are mentioned above and I am sure that Claudius Buchanan confirms in his famous book ‘Christian Researchers in Asia’ that the Armenian Christians honoured the 7th Day.
“You mentioned that it is fair to claim that the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians converted to become Nasranis. This ‘fair’ is not good enough. Romans, Greeks and even Egyptian religions are pagan in origin and often highly Hellenized. A Hellenized man does not convert to Judaism (Nazerenism being the fulfillment of Judaism). To me ‘fairness’ would mean that pagan Greeks and Romans would very easily assimilate into pagan Hinduism (or similar) than Judaims. Please just tell me as to how this ‘fairness’ of yours work? Show me the path of commensense that you have taken to arrive at this conclusion”
By “fair”, I have never implyed that that the Greeks and Romans joined the Jewish community or “assimiated into Hindu society” (although it is possible). All, I’m saying is that there was a heavy presence of Greeks and Romans in the Malabar Coast, intensely involved in the Muziris trade activity. It’s not impossible to suggest that these Greeks and Roman sailors became “hungry”;) and sought after local girls to have affairs with. The descendents of these affairs may have ended up in the Nasrani community but it is also equally probable that they ended up in the Hindu castes. Kerala is a museum of different ethnic roots. That’s what happans in a tropical coastal area full of spices and other goods.
“Mankinds history clearly shows that he is highly prone to paganis. Just soon after the Israelites arrived into Canan, they resorted to paganism. Why? Even when Moses was beeing given the Law, the Israelites were resorting to pagainism. Solomon, the wisest of all humans on earth was resorting to massive paganism and now you tell me that the Greeks and Romans in Malabar abandoned paganism to become Torah Upholding Nazerenes.
This would be a good time to tell you that I’m a nonbeliever. I don’t adhere to Christian doctrines or the teachings of any other religion. Therefore, biblical arguments concerning the Israelites, the giving of the Law to Moses ect ect are not going to work for this discussion. Please stick to genetic and historical arguments. Thank you.
Also, when did I imply that the Greeks and Romans in Malabar abandoned paganism to become Torah Upholding Nazerenes???
” We are talking about the so called ‘Cohen DNAs’, which are indeed also under J2, but carry unique markers to identify itself to supposedly to Ahron. ”
Yes, I have some articles concerning the Cohen DNA. However, not in one article I read did it mention that Cohen was prevelent in the Nasrani pop. It is prominent in Jews (obviously) and some other MIddle eastern groups (Kurds, Palestinians,Armenians) but not Nasranis. Some Nasranis may possess the Cohen DNA but the frequency is quite low
“I have been studying this subject for about 10 years and the more I study, the more I know ‘nothing’”
I agree with you on this. I have been researching this topic since I was 13 (I’m 19 now). History and genetics are very complicated, because there are so many holes to be filled. Therefore, one can’t make assumptions about anything. We can only make vague speculations regarding the information that is available.
“Nobody is denying the above. We have been in India for many centuries and we are culturally Indian and our forefathers from Israel/Yemen/Ephraim/Persia often came alone, either fleeing persecution or in trade and they took local women (Buddhists/Animists/HIndus/Jains etc..)as wives or concubines. So there is very high local/aboriginal DNAs in us from our mothers side. Since our Nasarani society and community is patriachal, we link our heritage to the Mathai, Yacob and Moshe who migrated to Malabar. The Bible is also entirely patriachal in leaning and it is very clear in the Bible that not one Israelite will be unaccounted for. This is a subject of faith and it is upon this faith our arguments rests.”
I can agree with you that many immigrants from the Sassinid Empire(Iran/Iraq/Syria) fled to Malabar to escape persecution from Shapur II and they took the local Malabar women as their wives and concubines (as indicated in the degrees of the Synod of Diamper, polygamy was quite common…). Their offsprings probably mixed offsprings from other Malabar castes.
Genetics studies have indicated that, for the most part, that genetically, our commonity barely has any differences with any other community in South India. So it would make more sense to identify yourself as South Indians rather than embracing your, rather vague, middle eastern roots.
Btw, we’re not the only ones with possible middle eastern roots. Hindu castes, especually the Nairs, are said to have a prominent number of Persian ancestors. In fact, Vishu has similar ritual compared to the Persian new Year, Nawroz. Similarly, our Pesaha is similar to a Jewish seder. Now, whether all Nairs have Persian ancestors or all Nasrani have Jewish ancestors is up to speculation. Its unknown how our rituals have similarities with middle eastern ones. We can speculate all we want but lets not be quick to assume anything about our actual ancestors.
” Since our Nasarani society and community is patriachal, we link our heritage to the Mathai, Yacob and Moshe who migrated to Malabar. The Bible is also entirely patriachal in leaning and it is very clear in the Bible that not one Israelite will be unaccounted for. This is a subject of faith and it is upon this faith our arguments rests.”
“At Diamper (during the Inquisition) we were accused of following wrong Jewish traditions, one of them was ‘Worshipping on the prohibited day’. I infer that the ‘Prohibited day’ was the Jewish sabbath, since nothing else makes sense.”
Ok, Thank you for clarifying that. I was confused on what you meant by “Prohibited Day” in the previous comment. I can accept that we followed certain Jewish traditions (although we were more condemned by Archbishop Menezes for following Hindu customs as well) That dosen’t necessarily mean we are of jewish descent if we follow a few Jewish customs. South Indians follow Vedic teaching which originated in the North, dosen’t mean all South Indian have North Indian Brahmin ancestry. Goan Catholics follow numerous Portuguese cultural custom, dosen’t mean all Goan Catholics are Portuguese (although FEW probably have some Luso ancestry).
Nasranis have historically lived in the Cochin, Kodungallur area in close proximity with the Cochin Jews. Its’possible that the Nasranis borrowed a few cultural customs from the Jews, especially sence their religions are so related.
The DNA literature you are reading in the various web sites are pretty old and not by people who are directly involved with Malabar Nasrani DNAs. There are people spending lots of time in our DNAs for we are a new find of Jewish heritage to the Western World (as you are in the States, you must be knowing that the vast majority of the Americans have no idea who we are, just as we have no idea as to who we are…. ha, ha, this is very funny!!).
Let me with the hopeful approval of the moderators of this site copy paste a very recent descussion about us by DNA experts.
Date: Sun, 4 Nov 2012 20:14:20 -0800
I thought I’d pipe up here to toss my perspective into the mix….
Based on historical events and my estimation of their likely times to common ancestors with the substantial cohanim Jewish component of my match group, I have deduced that Syrian Christians (Nasrani) like Jacob Manakalathil and George Mathew are much less likely descended from “white Jews” from 17th century Portugal (who overall came over as families) but rather are “black Jews” descended from Levantine refugees (who overall came over as single males who married native Indian women) arriving on the Malabar coast after being kicked out of Judea by the Romans in the first few centuries AD.
BTW, I use “black” and “white” in regard to Indian Jews because these are the terms associated with Jews from these two sources (originating because of the more European, lighter skinned look of the Portuguese Jews). Neither group was actually black or white. For that matter, nobody really is. (-; Many of the early Jewish arrivals ended up converting in the era of St Thomas and their Jewish identity was lost….until the DNA spilled the bupkes. (Yiddish for “beans!”)
I realize it may appear at times I am trying to prove everyone in L-24 descends from the Hebrew tribes in the Levant…but I do not have a religious agenda…I just perceive that it is turning out a huge number of these folks are descended from early Jews…especially if you keep in mind that the Hebrew tribes formed, ca 4,000 years ago out of a mixture of Levantine peoples. For example, there was, uh, how shall I put this?, a significant genetic flow from the Hebrew tribes into the Arabic tribes, hence many who think of themselves as Islamic Arabs today match pretty darn closely to those who think of themselves as Jews today—as is the case with my corner of the L-24 world.
Los Alto CA USA
Some in the above group are very familiar with us for a long time, knowing some of us on a personal level, unlike the authors of DNA studies which you have read. Remember, only this group where Debra Katz and Alfred are involved is knowing and interested in us as none others. Debra herself is the daughter of Cohn and Alfred is possibly a Cohen too. These people are way way deep into this subject.
Your view that the Greeks, Romans etc.. became dexually hungry and hence fathered ‘half breeds’ with local women, who in turn later became Nasranis is too far fetched. Ah! you call this fair intellectual reasoning of the origin of the Nasranis.
I must not look down upon age, but you admit that you are 19 years old. I think you are far too young to understand matters of religion, history, heritage etc… You hold promise, but for the present you are too young. Please do not be discouraged, tommorow is yours.
To be a jew or gentile, salvation from Jesus is first to jews, then to greek and all other people. When it comes to end times Rev 7 genetic israel all 12 tribes are marked by God”s seal on the fore head.God only knows whom He may select as the elect for Him.
So now about the end times, scientists are working for he last 10 years to open a hole into the core of earth [ CERN] at geneva. It is to be opened on sep 23, 2015. ie they are working with collider to make anti matter or black matter rebelling against GOD. Rev 9 states about star fallen down — key to abyss — opened— smoke from furnace — darkened sunlight and air. Stone hitting the idol in daniel book may correspond to it. It may be against a world of sodom & gomoroa
Again 2 witnesses mentioned in Rev 11 has also appeared on the scene i believe, almost finishing their testimony. Their address in the web site. thanks
You wrote ‘..Its’possible that the Nasranis borrowed a few cultural customs from the Jews, especially sence their religions are so related…”
Passover or Pesach is uniquely Israelite. No other people other than the children of Israel would partake in Pesach. It is given only to the children of Israel. This holy sombre occassion is to commemorate the delivarance of the people of Israel from Egypt. Not relevant to Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Corinthians, British, Japaneese etc.. only Israel. The presence of Passover amongst us, is possibly the greatest proof of our Israelite heritage. Please do not confuse Passover with Good Friday. Passover is Isarelite and Good Friday is Christian.
Hello Mathai Varghese
Thank you for your comments.
1) About comments on DNA test. I am not an expert to comment about DNA tests. What is your background? Are you a biotechnologist?
2) About Dr Mini Cariyappa’s work. I have not seen a good quality paper from her so far. I have gone through the paper she wrote for the CHAI conference last year, but the paper does not give any new information and it also misleads a naive reader. Moreover the statistical plots in the paper and the way of presenting the content are of high school standard. So please avoid quoting such a work. I don’t mean to say that that Dr Cariyappa hasn’t done any good work, but my comments only mean that her papers are of poor quality and therefore I would wait until I get a properly written paper before coming to some conclusion about her work or quoting it.
3) About the worship on prohibited day. I have briefly touched this point in 6.8 and I already stated that the scope of my paper is beyond this.
4) About the Yavanas coming into Christian fold, I repeat that it is highly probable. Muziris Papyrus and Sangham literature are the best evidence to prove the presence of Yavanas in Malabar Coast. Since they were involved in trade I don’t see why they should be excluded from the list of probable settlements who accepted Christianity from the Apostle.
5) I don’t know whether you have noticed, I referred only books, encyclopaedia or journal papers written by scholars in their respective fields. Websites and blogs are okay for collecting peripheral knowledge, but I would not use them as means to come to any conclusions.
6) About the Family Tree DNA project, being a person who was involved in statistical analysis, I can say that it is too early to come to a conclusion about the ancestry of a 5.5 million strong community with the help of less than 100 samples!
Prometheus: We know from the work done at the RGCB, Trivandrum that the Malabar Muslims and Nasranis have greater influence from the Mediterranean gene pool. This is not news to us but it is scientific evidence to the characteristics of Nasrani gene pool. Please see this paper for more details. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16948643.
Xavier Kalangara: Thanks for the comment about Idly and Indary.
“The DNA literature you are reading in the various web sites are pretty old and not by people who are directly involved with Malabar Nasrani DNAs. There are people spending lots of time in our DNAs for we are a new find of Jewish heritage to the Western World”
The only people who have spent a lot of time on our DNA are people like Dr. Mini Karippa, and her works. as sungeo pointed out, are flawed and not reliable.
“Your view that the Greeks, Romans etc.. became dexually hungry and hence fathered ‘half breeds’ with local women, who in turn later became Nasranis is too far fetched. Ah! you call this fair intellectual reasoning of the origin of the Nasranis.”
You’re misinterpreting what I’m saying. The Greeks and Romans came to Kerala and had sexual affairs with local Malabari girls. They contribued to the gene pool of not only the Nasrani community but many other communities as well (Nairs, Ezhavas, ect ect) What Im saying that its fair to assume that Greeks and Romans contibued to our gene pool, in addition to the gene pool of other communities. The origins of the Nasranis however, probably began with Syrian Nestorian and Persian immigrants migrating to Kerala.
“I must not look down upon age, but you admit that you are 19 years old. I think you are far too young to understand matters of religion, history, heritage etc… You hold promise, but for the present you are too young. Please do not be discouraged, tommorow is yours.”
Please don’t act condescending based on my age. I realize that I’m young but I am still interested in being involved in this discussion. You are free to correct me if I did make a factual error but don’t act condescending.
“The presence of Passover amongst us, is possibly the greatest proof of our Israelite heritage”
Ok, that’s a bit far-fetched. Now, Im not going to deny that at least many members of our community have part-Israelite ancestry (just like some have part-Greek and Roman ancestry). But saying that the presense of a certain cultural custom is the greatest proof of our ancestry with a certain ethnic group is far-fetched. Yes, we (at least some of us) have partial Israelite ancestry but Pesaha custom is more likely attributed to the fact that our ancestors lived in closer proximity with the Malabar Jews, as opposed to other Christian communities in the Mideast and Europe. Its probably why our customs were closer to Jewish and Hindu culture than the Mideast Christian or Roman Catholic culture.
Interesting reading of who we are
The Haplogroup H is largely confined to India in both north and south and to a lesser extent north to the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. The larger incidence in the south indicates that it was there before the Aryan invasion. If this is a Semitic Haplogroup we have to identify the Semite nation that mutated into this Haplogroup in isolation in India.
The Semitic tribe that would qualify is the tribe of the sons of Lud. They are not to be confused with the Ludim who are sons of Mizraim or Egypt. Josephus identifies these people with the Lydians that occupied the area of the Ionian coast in Anatolia or modern Turkey. That makes sense as they were then west of Aram and south of Asshur and Arphaxad among the Semite tribes and north of the Hamites. More is known of this section, but they and their descendants are not Hg H.
There was a tribe called the Lullubi in the area north-east of what is now Iraq that made war on the Akkadians. They are thought to be a clan of what are now the Kurds called the Lullu, but that would not be the same people as the body of the Kurds are sons of Madai of Japheth or the Medes – but they may well have been absorbed over that length of time.
Others, however, identified the sons of Lud as moving east of Elam. That might put them in the area of the Indus. The ancient city in the Punjab is Ludhiana, seemingly named after Lud. The explanation would thus be that the majority split and went east and established the cities of India.
It would also explain why the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro in the Indus basin had contacts with the Assyrians ca. 1750 BCE and adopted their systems of worship. The C Haplogroups we would expect to find there with the sons of Cush are outweighed by the other H, L and J groups in the south with the larger Aryan elements in North India of R1a, with the more ancient RxR1 of the Dravidians in greater numbers than R1a in the south. India is thus a combination of all three lineages, with the sons of Cush moving north and east.
You may call me an Accountant (presently non-practising in Canada). I am no scientist and no DNA man, this is not to mean that I do not understand science or take things at its face value.
Pt. 1) You wrote ‘..Since they were involved in trade I don’t see why they should be excluded from the list of probable settlements who accepted Christianity from the Apostle…”
The Greeks can be only probable’s in the list. Mar Thoma was after the ‘Lost sheep of Israel’ and not after the Greeks. This is based upon literature that we have read so far. I think we can agree on this.
Aryans were not the only tribes that migrated to India, but also Semitics from Sumeria, Sakas, Phoenicians (today’s Lebanese) etc.. who were also in the path of the missionary journeys of Mar Thoma. Do we know about any of these people being converted by Mar Thoma? Practically no! But theoretically yes!
Pt. 2) I too have heard negative reports on Cariappa’s presentation, but not negative to show that she is ‘off the mark’. Poor scores, but not garbage. She should come out better with better presentation/study, according to a Western critic. I am certain Cariappa would have ‘other views’. Bottom line, we need criticism for improvement. I suspect that she (being one of us) lacks the professionalism of seasoned Western scientists who have vast resources/funds at their disposal.
Pt. 4) You wrote ‘..Muziris Papyrus and Sangham literature are the best evidence to prove the presence of Yavanas in Malabar Coast…”
Remember, that the Jews from the Red Sea route would also be knowledgeable in Greek, for this language simply dominated that part of the world. Jews conversant in Aramaic and Greek is also a possibility. Greek papyrus in Muzuri need not be equated to Greek ethenicity.
If you can show me references of substantial Greek settlements in Malabar, then you win the case, The Greeks, Romans etc.. may have been there and I do agree that there was good trade between Malabar and the Red Sea ports. I am also aware of a statue of Roman gods/Caesar found in Malabar and thousands of Roman coins found all over Tamil Nadu and Malabar. But does all this mean that there were significant Greeks or Romans in Malabar, because there was trade with Rome/Red Sea ports?
China is today’s largest trading partner of India. Does this mean that there are Chinese in significant numbers in Mumbai or Calcutta? Middlemen connect the port of sale and the port of purchase. The Israelites were such middlemen, considering their solid presence in the Silk Route and the Malabar-Red Sea route. Greeks need not be in significant numbers in Malabar for trade to take place with the Mediterranean world. What would they speak? Greek language to ivory/ pepper traders in Malabar? Greeks would need translators, which mean overhead costs would go up and this can not be sustained in the long run.
Pt. 6) I do agree that the 100 plus in the DNA study is not good enough to represent 5 or 6 million Nasranis. But what is interesting is the Cohen DNA found concentrated in the Kuruvalingad pocket, which is so to say the ‘head place of the Syro-Malabar, Jacobites, Marthomites etc.. many of the so called ‘leading Nasrani families’ trace their known origins from Kuravilangad. FTDNA has not understood (so I think) the high importance of Kuravilangad to the Nasranis, but we know otherwise. FTDNA sees this only as a place where many to all of the tested persons trace their known history. If Kuravilangad is Cohen, then the body and tail is Israelite. I understand that Jewish researchers rely heavily on the same logic for studying Jewish-non-Jewish populations all over the world.
The first thing you and me study in Statistics is that ‘ There are lies and great lies, but the greatest of all lies is Statistics’. 100 people out of 6 million are an insufficient population base, but Kuravilangad tested positive for Cohen is another story. Kurvavilangad can not be quantified to give it a numerical value. In this case /issue, regular Statistics as a tool of study fails.
Prometheus: We know from the work done at the RGCB, Trivandrum that the Malabar Muslims and Nasranis have greater influence from the Mediterranean gene pool. This is not news to us but it is scientific evidence to the characteristics of Nasrani gene pool. Please see this paper for more details.
Please would you show us where I can locate it in the above site. I tried by failed. Thanks!!
On an earlier occassion, I had said that there is no record of Mar Thoma having converted pagans/non-Hebrew people into Christianity/Nazerenes. I have to correct it.
The Acts of Thomas, does state that Mar Thoma did convert non Hebrews into Christians. But it is silient as to whether such converts survived as a ‘church’ as is commonly understood.
There are records of Nazerene/Christian churches to have existed in Afghanistan, which was very possibly initiated by Mar Thoma.
I wish somebody can take up the job of doing a scholastic research on this and publish a book. We need to know more of this. Understanding Afghanistan, will help us understand ourselves better.
if anybody wants to get a dna test done you can order geno 2.0 from national geographic ..i have ordered it already .
PESAHA CELEBRATION OF NASRANIS:: A SOCIO-CULTURAL ANALYSIS
I found this informative article while searching for Easter food traditions of Kerala Christians. You had written that ” . According to Gil , Palappam originated in the southern tip of south India (Kerala) and is the traditional food of Kochini Jewish community”. I was not able to find Gil 2010 under the references listed at the end of the article. Is this reference to a research paper, website, blog or book. I would very much appreciate a reply.
The Jews and the Syrian Christians basically had the same middle eastern traditions as they were the people who were escaping the destruction of Judea in 72 AD and found refuge in trading settlements across Asia to escape Roman persecution.
I am also participated/participating in the ‘National Georgraphic Geno 2.0 Project’. It is a little pricy for Indian residents but will be very interesting (adventure?). Do share your test findings!
The website where we can get details are in,
‘Buy the kit’ would be the place where one actually gets started.
Ammini Ramachandran (Post 396935):
I believe the reference you are looking for, would be the book titled “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food” By Gil Marks (Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, 2010; ISBN 0470943548, 9780470943540, 672 pages)
Pages 17-18 has a section titled “APPAM”, in which there are references also to kallappam, idiyappam, neyyappam and kuzhiappam….!
For availability of the book, see:
Some of your readers might be interested in this blogpost with an audio of the Jerusalem Pattanam song:
The very title of this article is “Pesha celebration of Nazranis” and from there it goes on to trace the DNA ancestry of Nazranis to Jews! First of all, tell me what the meaning of all holy mass celebrated in Churches across world of all denominations of Christianity? It is the remembrance of ‘Christ’s Pesha celebration”. How is it celebrated? With bread and wine – similar to Jews.
So what is really distinguishing our – Nazranis – celebration?
It is a celebration done in individual houses where the family head is presiding the function! And this is the real route to unlock the key of our “Pesha celebration” to reveal our hidden ancestry tracing to Christ’s very own population. Our ancestors learned the celebration directly from Christ/Disciples as they belonged to same community and they retained it without many alterations! Actually, in our – Nazranis – Pesha celebration, the family head takes the role played by Christ and in a way performs the holy Mass. Organized Church system made doctrines and decorations on top of it and after 20 centuries, now the look and feel of this celebration in Church is entirely different from what Christ did! However, as our family system, kept the ritual without allowing many alterations, in all probability our “Pesha celebration” could be the most close form of “original Pesha” celebration by Christ and his disciples. For us, it is full bread that eliminates hunger (no more dinner that night), it is most pure vegetarian form of food that imparts health and life – the key concepts of Christ’s Pesha. As the apostle says, “if we observe it with clean body and mind it will impart us health and life; for others it may cause ill health and even death”;
To my view, all our meals should be Christ’s supper and it will give us life and the best health.
Our modern day examples for ill health and death are mainly due to “poisoned vegetables” and “banned Nesley Magi Noodles” etc..
I learnt recently that in Kuttanad families there is a tradition to prepare Puttu with cross on Pesaha Thursday. Can anyone share more details?
Both my parents are from Kuttanad and I lived with them in Kuttanad till I left after marriage, in 1989. Our tradition was that to make appam, called “Indriappam” in the steam with Rice powder as the main ingredient, without fermentation. A small cross made of tender cocoanut leaf blessed in the church on the previous Hosana day will be placed on the centre of it befor it is steamed and when prepared it will be cut and supplied among all members in the family assembled in one room after prayers on the night of Pesaha Thursday. The special drink made on that night will be called “Paal”, which is made of cocoanut milk, rice powder, roasted and powdered Jeerakam, banana fruit pieces and Sarkkara. (A piece of the blessed cocoanut leaf will be included while preparing). Rice Puttu is also an item supplied along with these, but without cross as stated. I am not sure whether this is the same custom followed in other Catholic families in Kuttanad area.
The timeline is itself very wrong.
And the journal is not upto the mark
Rino Mathew: What’s wrong in the timeline? Why do you think that the journal is not up to the mark? Which Church do you belong to? This has an impact how you see the timeline.
Because Syrian itself got branched out only after 8th century into east and west syrian.
Syraic itself is formed west region of kerala beyond the seas and is an imported language. So whatever dialect ina same language should not be the difference of classification.
The Romo Syrians were actually folowing latin rite liturgy after their formation by Portugeese.Rome accepted East syrian language later Latin rite was translated to East Syriac although its usage was less. But During that time Malankara church followed the St james Liturgy in East Syrian and later in West syrian from the middle of 19th century.
The timeline is wrong because it shows how the Mother Church got Split into 2. When Chaldean Syrian Church is broke out from Syro malabar , nobody call it a split in Syro malabar church.
Similarly when Parampil chandy priest broke out of Malankara Church with little people,Its not a split.
The next mistake in the timeline is that Jacobite syrian christian church is the patriarch faction of Malankara Orthodox Chuurch still acoording to Honourable supreme court.It is not a seperate church.And Marthoma Curch and Thozhiyur Church is a broke away church just like Romo Syrians from he Mlankara Church.So the Timeline is very Wrong.