Nasrani History, Palm Sunday, Pesaha, Thomas Christians, Traditions - Sunday, November 11, 2012 13:48 - 27 Comments
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.
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. Continue…
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- The Story of Joseph, the Indian; A Historical Appraisal of the Affairs of St Thomas’ Christians in the Pre Portuguese period
- Lifestyle of Kerala Syrian Christians
- Kerala Nazranee Pesaha Receipes
- The Syrian Christian Church – An Architectural Overview
- A Syrian Christian Family Portrait – Circa 1620 A.D.
- St.George- Geevarghese Sahada traditions and rituals among Nasranis
- Hindu Traditions of St. Thomas –Thondacchan and the Four Silver Coins
- Names, Middle Names and Last Names among the Syrian Christians
- The Mural tradition of Kerala Churches
- Church feast and festivals in Central Kerala-Kottayam
- Palm Sunday ( Kuruthola Perunnal), Maundy Thursday( Pesaha), Good Friday (Dukha Velli) and Easter among Saint Thomas Christians of India
- Some of the traditions and rituals among the Syrian Christians of Kerala
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