15 September 2008

Meenakshi Amman Temple - Madurai, Tamil Nadu, INDIA - Photos 5

Meenakshi Amman Temple - Madurai, Tamil Nadu, INDIA - Photos 4

Meenakshi Amman Temple - Madurai, Tamil Nadu, INDIA - Photos 3

Meenakshi Amman Temple - Madurai, Tamil Nadu, INDIA - Photos 2

Meenakshi Amman Temple - Madurai, Tamil Nadu, INDIA - Photos 1

The Meenakshi Amman Temple structure - Madurai, Tamil Nadu, INDIA

The inner sanctum sanctorum is more than 3500 years old, and the outer walls and external construction are about 1500-2000 years old. The complex is in around 45 acres and the temple is a massive structure measuring 254 by 237 meters. The temple is surrounded by 12 towers, the tallest of which, the famous Southern tower, rises to over 170 ft (52 m) high.


The Shiva shrine lies at the centre of the complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed later. The Shiva shrine also consists of an unusual sculpture of the Hindu god Nataraja.

This famous Hindu marquee and a dancing form of Shiva that normally has his left foot raised, has his right foot raised in this temple. According to the legend, this is on the request of the Rajasekara Pandya king who asked the Lord to change his position, as he felt that always keeping a single foot raised will pose enormous stress on that, based on his personal experiments in dancing.

This massive Nataraja sculpture is enclosed in a huge silver altar and hence called Velli Ambalam (Silver abode). Outside the Shrine, lies huge scultptures carved of single stone and there is a shrine for a giant Ganesh temple, called the Mukuruny Vinayakar. This idol is believed to have been found during an excavation process to dig the temple lake. The Meenkashi shrine is on the left of the Shiva shrine and is of scultpturally less valuable than the Shiva shrine.

The lake Potramarai

Potramarai Kulam, the sacred pond measuring 165 ft (50 m) by 120 ft (37 m), inside the temple is a very holy site for the devotees and people go around the lake before entering the main shrine. The etymology for the word means, the Pond with the Golden Lotus and as the lotus that grows in it has a golden color. According to the legend, Lord Shiva promised to a stork that no fish or other marine life would grow here and thus no marine animals are found in the lake. In the Tamil legends, the lake is supposed to be a judge for judging a worth of a new literature. Thus, authors place their works here and the poorly written works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to float.

Thousand Pillar Hall

Thousand Pillar hall of Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple was built with the oldest Nellaiappar Temple,Tirunleveli as a model. The Aayiram Kaal Mandapam or thousand pillar hall is of very high sculptural importance and contains 985 (instead of 1000) magnificiently carved pillars and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The thousand pillar hall is supposed to have been built by Arya Natha Mudaliyar, the Prime Minister of the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559-1600 A.D.), the founder of 'Poligar System'. An equestrian statue of the Mudaliyar flanks one side of the steps leading to the 'mandapam'. Each pillar is sculptured and is a monument of the Dravidian sculpture. There is a Temple Art Museum in this 1000 pillars hall where you can see icons, photographs, drawings, etc., exhibiting the 1200 years old history. Just outside this mandapam, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note. The kalyana mandapa, to the south of the pillared hall, is where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year during the Chithirai Festival in mid-April.

History - Meenakshi Amman Temple - Madurai, Tamil Nadu, INDIA


According to Hindu legend, Shiva came down to earth in the form of Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi, an incarnation of Parvati. Parvati had earlier descended to earth in the form of a small child in response to the great penance of Malayadwaja Pandya, the ruler of Madurai. After growing up to adulthood, she began ruling the city. The Lord appeared on earth and proposed to her. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Minakshi, was traveling to preside over the marriage from his holy abode at Vaikuntam. Due to a divine play, he was tricked by god Indra and delayed on the way. Meanwhile, the marriage was presided over by a local god Koodal Azhaghar. This angered Lord Vishnu, and he swore never to enter the city, settling on the outskirts at a beautiful hill called Alagar Koil. He was later appeased by other gods, and he proceeded to bless the divine couple - Shiva and Parvati.

Both the marriage and the Vishnu's pacification are still celebrated as the biggest festival in Madurai, called Chithirai Thiruvizha also called as Azhakar Thiruvizha (the festival for the Beautiful Lord). A detailed article on the divine marriage can be found here.

The divine couple are believed to have ruled the region for a long time. It is not clear what happened to the place after they left.Though there is proof that this divine incident was real Another legend says that Shiva's idol, in the form of the lingam, was discovered by the God of heaven, Indra, who built the original temple. This tradition is still followed in the temple - the deity is accompanied by a model of Indra's vehicle, during festive processions.

Modern History

The history of the original structure is not properly known, but Tamil literature speaks about the temple for the last couple of millennia. Thirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Shaiva philosophy, has mentioned this temple as early as the 7th century, and describes the Lord as Aalavai Iraivan. The temple was believed to have been sacked by the infamous Muslim invader Malik Kafur in 1310, and all the ancient elements were destroyed. The initiative to rebuild the structure was taken by Arya Natha Mudaliyar , the Prime Minister of the first Nayak of Madurai (1559-1600 A.D.), the founder of 'Poligar System'. Then came the most valuable contributions of Thirumalai Nayak circa 1623 to 1659. He took considerable interest in erecting the Vasantha

Mythology - Meenakshi Amman Temple - Part 2

According to Hindu legend, Shiva came down to earth in the form of Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi, an incarnation of Parvati. Parvati had earlier descended to earth in the form of a small child in response to the great penance of Malayadwaja Pandya, the ruler of Madurai. After growing up to adulthood, she began ruling the city. The Lord appeared on earth and proposed to her. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Minakshi, was traveling to preside over the marriage from his holy abode at Vaikuntam. Due to a divine play, he was tricked by god Indra and delayed on the way. Meanwhile, the marriage was presided over by a local god Koodal Azhaghar. This angered Lord Vishnu, and he swore never to enter the city, settling on the outskirts at a beautiful hill called Alagar Koil. He was later appeased by other gods, and he proceeded to bless the divine couple - Shiva and Parvati.

Both the marriage and the Vishnu's pacification are still celebrated as the biggest festival in Madurai, called Chithirai Thiruvizha also called as Azhakar Thiruvizha (the festival for the Beautiful Lord). A detailed article on the divine marriage can be found here.

The divine couple are believed to have ruled the region for a long time. It is not clear what happened to the place after they left.Though there is proof that this divine incident was real Another legend says that Shiva's idol, in the form of the lingam, was discovered by the God of heaven, Indra, who built the original temple. This tradition is still followed in the temple - the deity is accompanied by a model of Indra's vehicle, during festive processions.

Mythology - Meenakshi Amman Temple - Part 1


According to Hindu legend, Shiva came down to earth in the form of Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi, an incarnation of Parvati. Parvati had earlier descended to earth in the form of a small child in response to the great penance of Malayadwaja Pandya, the ruler of Madurai. After growing up to adulthood, she began ruling the city. The Lord appeared on earth and proposed to her. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Minakshi, was traveling to preside over the marriage from his holy abode at Vaikuntam. Due to a divine play, he was tricked by god Indra and delayed on the way. Meanwhile, the marriage was presided over by a local god Koodal Azhaghar. This angered Lord Vishnu, and he swore never to enter the city, settling on the outskirts at a beautiful hill called Alagar Koil. He was later appeased by other gods, and he proceeded to bless the divine couple - Shiva and Parvati.

Both the marriage and the Vishnu's pacification are still celebrated as the biggest festival in Madurai, called Chithirai Thiruvizha also called as Azhakar Thiruvizha (the festival for the Beautiful Lord). A detailed article on the divine marriage can be found here.

The divine couple are believed to have ruled the region for a long time. It is not clear what happened to the place after they left.Though there is proof that this divine incident was real Another legend says that Shiva's idol, in the form of the lingam, was discovered by the God of heaven, Indra, who built the original temple. This tradition is still followed in the temple - the deity is accompanied by a model of Indra's vehicle, during festive processions.

Modern History

The history of the original structure is not properly known, but Tamil literature speaks about the temple for the last couple of millennia. Thirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Shaiva philosophy, has mentioned this temple as early as the 7th century, and describes the Lord as Aalavai Iraivan. The temple was believed to have been sacked by the infamous Muslim invader Malik Kafur in 1310, and all the ancient elements were destroyed. The initiative to rebuild the structure was taken by Arya Natha Mudaliyar , the Prime Minister of the first Nayak of Madurai (1559-1600 A.D.), the founder of 'Poligar System'. Then came the most valuable contributions of Thirumalai Nayak circa 1623 to 1659. He took considerable interest in erecting the Vasantha Mandapa of the temple complex.

Meenakshi Amman Temple - Madurai, Tamil Nadu, INDIA

The Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located in the holy city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva (in the form of Sundareswarar or Beautiful Lord) and his consort, Goddess Parvati (in the form of Minakshi). The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old city of Madurai, home of the Tamil language.

The temple has a stunning architecture and a significant testimony for Vishwakarma Brahmins for their master architecture in sculpting this temple.This was a frontrunner in the election for the modern seven wonders of the world for its architectural importance. The complex houses 12 magnificent gopurams or towers that are elaborately sculptured and painted. The temple is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, and has been mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature, though the present structure is believed to have been built only recently in the early 17th century.

02 September 2008

Ancient Churches in Kerala - Photos 5

Ancient Churches in Kerala - Photos 4

Ancient Churches in Kerala - Photos 3

Ancient Churches in Kerala - Photos 2

Ancient Churches in Kerala - Photos 1

The Mural tradition of Kerala Churches

The mural paintings remained a major medium of public communication for over a thousand years. Great cycles of religious stories were spread across the walls of ecclesiastical structures almost as Christianity became state religion in west and at a similar period in east. Pope Gregory the Great ( 590-604) is said to have encouraged the pictographic forms as the ideas conveyed are universally communicable. For a long time in history pictures, inscriptions worked together as an explanatory symbiosis of Christianity.

Historical discussions of visual story telling began in the beginning of nineteenth century. This article examines some of the Mural paintings in Kerala Churches.

Many Kerala churches have century old murals to decorate their walls. Most of these are done in Kerala style. There are famous Altar and Madhbaha decorations in Ollur, Kanjoor, Kottayam, Alangad, Koratty, Chengannur, Akaparambu, Paliakkara, Pazhuvil, Thumpamon, Palai, Kaduthuruthy and Mulanthuruthy.

The huge Angamaly paintings of Hell and the Last Judgement are incomparable contributions of Kerala to the world mural heritage. The mural paintings of Cheppad, Piravam, Paliakkara, Angamaly,Akaparambu, Kanjoor, Ollur, Pazhaji and Vechoor deserve world recognition for their artistic excellence and skill of execution.

The centuries old jute panels which decorate the ceiling of the Ollur Church are 300 squre feet each in size. The walls and ceillings of the Chancel and the nave of that church are so fully covererd with exquisite frescos and murals that one is reminded of Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. .

The roots of the extant mural tradition of Kerala could be traced as far back as the seventh and eighth century A.D. It is not unlikely that the early Kerala murals along with its architecture came heavily under the influence of Pallava art.

The churches of Kerala contain paintings which depict characters and scenes from Christian mythology. The paintings of Virgin Mary in the churches at Edappalli and Vechur are of deep religious significance to the devotees.

The Orthodox Syrian churches at Cheppad at Mulanthuruthi contain interesting murals. The outer walls of the Kanjur church have a huge mural which depicts the scene of a battle fought between the armies of Tipu Sultan on the one side and those of the English East India Company, aided by the bare - footed local militia, on the other.

Here is a brief list collected from different sources about Murals.

1. St. Anthony’s Forane Church, Ollur and the Shrine of St. Raphael

There are large numbers of frescoes, murals - both Kerala and western style murals, woodwork, metalwork, ivorywork. Ollur church is also famous for the large number of exquisitely carved sacred images in wood. One of the reputed possessions of the church is the more than thirty- foot tall wooden rostrum or Pushpakkoodu which have sculptures in the round and relief of the evangelists and saints in addition to interesting representations of the flora and fauna of Kerala.
The artistic wood carvings in the church some are to be found on the three altars, the beams, and in the cupola.

The gold and silver crosses, the gold candlesticks, gold kasa and pilasa, gold censers, huge bronze vessels, bells, monstances, tabernacles… are some of the artistic works in the church in various metals.

2. Mar Sabore and Afroth Church.

The centuries old Syrian-Jacobite church is situated at Akapparambu near Ankamali(Eranakulam). The present Church is only a replacement or perhaps and enlargement of the ancient structure. On the upper halves of the walls around the alter are some remarkable beautiful frescoes, surely the best example of church murals of Kerala.

Satan tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden, Prophet Elijah handing over his mantle to Elisha before ascending to heaven, mosses on mount Sinai with the tablet of the ten commandments, Sabore and Afroth engaged in theological arguments with Namboothiri Brahmins are among the interesting murals here.

3. St. Mary’s Church, Kanjoor

There are two large frescoes on either side of the main door of the church. Apart from this there are several oil paintings around the alter. The two frescoes are commemoration of the defeat of tippu’s marauding army when it sought to plunder the church in 1790.

While one mural has captured the fierce and bloody encounter between tippu’s troops and the combined forces of British cannons and native infantry, the other is a victory march of the letter. Grue some details like a corpse of one of the marauders pitch forked at the end of a British bayonet bring out the horror and the mercilessness of war. This fresco is thus significant from a historical perspective also.

4. St. Mary’s Church, Angamaly

The age old painting inside the church is with natural materials. The painting depict Heaven and Hell on either side of the wall. The two altars show the paintings of Gee Varghese Sahada and Behanan Sahada, the fight between David & Goliath and the Arc of Noah. The main alter has paintings from Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

5. St. Mary’s Church Kottayam, Cheriyapalli

The architectural style of the church is European, with galleries, pillars, cornices and pediments. The walls are adorned with beautiful murals made in oriented and western styles on bibical and non bibical thems. The mural paints on the wall depict various Christian stories and are as old as the church itself. The church and surrounding places are steeped in history being in the times of the Thekkumkoor kings.Cheriyapalli has some fairly large comparatively fine murals.

There is a painting of the last Supper, Judas accepting the silver for his betrayal, Jesus’ disciples waiting for him in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus being whipped and dragged publicly. His trial, Pontius Pilate, washing his hands after condemning Christ to the cross, the Crucifixion, the Virgin Mother with the body of Christ on her lap and Christ’s ascension are the other frescoes here.
But here what we cannot help noticing is the color of Christ’s robe, which is ochre rather than white. Ochre in Hindu concept is a color related to mysticism and spirituality.

6. St.George Church, Aruvithura

The Church which was built facing the west according to the Oriental liturgical traditions has many murals in the interior of church.

7. Paliakkara Church

The architectural style seems to be largely based to the prevailing style of Syrian Christian churches of that period in many respects.The “winged” facade of the church and the figures carved on the facade represent a unique style of Church architecture which have all but disappeared from this part of Kerala.

The murals on the eastern wall of the altar has attracted many tourists and continues to be the subject of study for numerous students and teachers of History. These murals which have been reasonably well preserved are of very high quality .They have been painted using natural vegetable dyes with natural components and represent the last few among this generation of murals in Kerala.

These murals depict the major events in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth. Below these murals there is a huge picture of St.George the patron Saint of the Church.To either side of this picture of St George there is a picture of the twelve apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. The names of the Apostles is seen written in Syriac below this painting.

The construction of the roof of the Church is different and unique. On either side of the big wooden girders supporting the roof , one can see small figures of tigers and elephants.
During the process of renovation of the Church in 2005, inscriptions were found on the wall above the Baptismal Font, and this can also be seen at different places on the walls of the Church.

8.Kadamattom church

The establishment of the Kadamattom church ranges from the 4th to the 10th century. It is believed that in AD 865 Mar Abo, a Persian prelate established the church with the help and permission of a Kartha, the then local ruler of Kadamattom .Kadamattom Church has many murals in the interior of church.

Prelates of Nasranis till the Synod of Udayamperoor

Both history and tradition testify that St. Thomas one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ came to India, preached the Gospel and founded a Church here. The origin of the Indian Church is an apostolic one. There are lot of opinions, views coupled with lack of documentary evidences which creates confusion about the early Nasrani Prelates proceeding the Apostle. This article focus on the prelates and missionaries of Nasranis continuing the Apostle, till the Syond of Diamper (Udayamperoor) convened on June 20, 1599 citing a number of sources.

1. St. Thomas Christians & Church of East

“Doctrine of the Apostles” states that, “India and all its countries . . . received the Apostle’s hand of priesthood from Judas Thomas….”

Due to the common Apostolic origin and a number of socio cultural factors, from a very early period the Church of St. Thomas Christians came in to a life long relationship with the Church of Persia. According to early Christian writings Church of Persia was also established by St. Thomas the apostle. Primate or Metropolitan of Persia consecrated bishops for the Indian Church of St. Thomas Christians.

Church of the East traces its origins to the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, said to be founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle. Other founding figures of Seleucia-Ctesiphon are Saint Mari and Saint Addai as evidenced in the Doctrine of Addai and the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari. Church of Persia traces its origin to the missionary activities of St.Thomas the Apostle.

There are documents which indicate that the Syrian Church of Malabar was dependent on the Church of Seleucia or better Seleucia-Ctesiphon, later on called the church of Babylon or Church of East. We do not know for certain when and how this dependence began. It appears that, through the Church of Persia, the Malabar Church was subject to Seleucia, which was under Antioch, which in turn was under Rome.

Since the relations of the Malabar Church with the Church of Seleucia were done away with, only at the end of the 16th century, it will be useful to refer briefly to that Church, which had its headquarters in Seleucia and Ctesiphon, the chief cities of the Persian Empire.

We shall now briefly examine the history of the Eastern Church, in order to see whether and how far the course of events that affected the history of this Church, produced corresponding results in the Indian Church which was united to it even from early times.

Palm Sunday-Passover ( Pesaha)-Good Friday-Easter among Nasrani Syrian Christians of Kerala

Passover (Hebrew: פסח; transliterated as Pesach or Pesah), also called חג המצות (Chag HaMatzot - Festival of Matzot) is celebrated among Nasrani’s.The breaking of bread, a bread that is broken amidst family members on Maundy Thursday in memory of the breaking of bread by Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago .
Passover commemorates the Exodus and freedom of the Israelites from ancient Egypt. As described in the Book of Exodus, Passover marks the “birth” of the Jewish nation, as the Jews’ ancestors were freed from being slaves of Pharaoh and allowed to become servants of God instead.
This is another surviving Jewish tradition among the Nasranis, the tradition of Pesaha-appam or unleavened Passover bread. On passover night, the Nasrani people have Pesaha-appam along with Pesaha-pal or “Passover coconut milk”.

From the very olden days, Nasrani Christians makes Pesaha Appam and Pesaha Pal in their house. The tradition is making of the Pesaha Appam is the resposnisbilty of Head of family and Pesaha Pal is made by woman of the house.During the process of making Pesaha Appam and Pesaha Pal family members should spend time in prayer.

Pesaha need to be observed in every year. Nasrani’s also has a traditions that Pesha is not celebrated in an year when some one of immediate family dies.

Pesaha Appam Ingredients –1. Rice Flour (not roasted)- – 1 kg 2. Coconut, grated – 3 cup (Blended)2. Urad Dal(Uzhunnu)-200 gm3. Red or small Onion, White Onion, Cumin Powder, Salt - As needed Soak the Uzhunnu for a few hours. Grind the Urad Dal (Uzhunnu). Red or small Onion, White Onion, Cumin Powder separately. Add everything together and make a dough of Idli Maavu consistency. Grease preferably steel plates of medium round shape or on plantain leaf. Make a cross of palm leaf obtained on Palm Sunday on it. Steam till well done.

Pesaha Pal Ingredients – Roasted rice powder-1 cup Sarkkara(molasses)-1 cup Cardamom powder, Chukku- As needed Coconut-1 Mix all together and boil it in Clay vessel. The tradition is to use new clay vessel for preparing Pesaha pal. When it get boiled put small banana pieces and palm leaf obtained on Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday Celebrations among Nasrani’s

Oshana Nhayarazhcha (Palm Sunday) is also called Kurutholapperunnal. A ceremonial procession around the church, with people holding the palm leaves and singing hosanna forms the highlight of the day’s ceremony. On Ash Wednesday (karikkuripperunnal) the blessed palm fronds received the previous year are burnt in every Christian home and members of the family mark their foreheads with the ash. A few sects, however, burn the kuruthola on a different occasion.

Observing Pesaha

Pesaha is observed in the leadership of head of family. After the evening prayer, should recite words from the bible on breaking of bread.Head of the family should do the breaking of bread in to thirteen pieces. In prayers he should give it women of house soacking it in Pesha Pal. It should be distributed to the family members according to the age first to the eldest and then to the younger one. On Pesaha – Maundy Thursday there is a special church service with Holy Communion.

Good Friday among Nasrani’s

Over the years, Christians in Kerala have seen traditions being given the go by - be it weddings, funerals or other ceremonies. But the ritual of drinking choruka (a decoction made of bitter gourd juice and vinegar) and gruel (kanji) on Good Friday continues to be observed without change. Good Friday is observed as a day of prayers, penance and fasting to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Calvary Hills nearly 2,000 years ago. Good Friday is of great significance and church service starts at 9 a.m. and continues until about 3 p.m., when it is believed that Christ was crucified.

In most churches, Good Friday highlight is the `Nagarikanickal’ ritual, where the crucifix is carried through the streets in a procession with hundreds of followers.The `Way-of-the-Cross’, the 14 stations on Christ’s Journey to Mount Calvary from Pilate’s palace, was re-enacted with the worshippers moving to each station singing hymns as the story, which leads to the betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion of Christ, was narrated by the priest.The most solemn moment is the drinking of ‘choruka’. This is made of bitter gourd, vinegar and a mixture of select herbs and is given to every person who arrives to attend the Good Friday service.This symbolises the event which took place when Jesus, while on the cross and just before he died, called out and hearing his cries some of those watching the event took a piece of cloth, dipped it in cheap wine, put it on a piece of stick and lifted it to his mouth and tried to make him drink.Soon after this, the Good Friday service comes to a close in the churches here.Later on, people line up to drink the gruel (kanji) made out of rice, pulses and mango pickle.

Easter among Nasrani’s

Christians in Kerala began celebrating Easter Sunday morning after observing a 50-day lent.For many Kerala Christians, the day began with a visit to a church as early as 2 a.m. Sunday morning, while in some churches the Easter mass began along with the sunrise.For Christians, the most important meal on an Easter day is a heavy breakfast comprising of appam, made out of rice powder, mutton or chicken stew, steamed bananas, eggs and cakes.Time was when family members from far and wide used to come to their ancestral home on the Easter Sunday.

They maintain Lent fifty days prior to Easter. Those who do so eat only vegetarian meals and refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages. Easter week is very important with special church services on Palm Sunday and also every evening including Good Friday. Easter is the day when they gulp down less of wine and more of hard liquor.

Historically, the resurrection of Christ occurred at the time of the Jewish feast of Passover (called “Pesach” in Hebrew). In the early years of Christianity, Jewish Christians observed resurrection and Passover together on the 14th day of Nisan, the Jewish month roughly corresponding with April. However, Gentile Christians celebrated the resurrection every Sunday with a special emphasis on the Sunday closest to Nisan 14. To settle this difference, at the Nicene Council in A.D. 325, churchmen fixed the date of Easter on the first Sunday following the Paschal full moon. This is the first full moon after the vernal equinox, 21 March. This system is still followed today. Therefore, Easter Sunday moves between 22 March and 25 April.

Lifestyle of Kerala Syrian Christians

The way of life or lifestyle of the Syrian Christians of Kerala or St. Thomas Christians or Nasranis, as they are called, is best described by the term ‘Margavasis’ or ‘Followers of the Margam (Path)’ used by them, and speaks for their identity as one of the most distinct and a unique community of Christians. The Thomasine connection and their Jewish or Hebraic heritage in a well blended local keralite culture and atmosphere speaks for their lifestyle. It may be recalled that the Nasranis who confronted the Western Christians described their way of life as ‘Marthomayude Margavum Vazhipatum’ or ‘The Way and Traditions of St.Thomas’. They said: “We follow the way of Thomas and you follow the way of Peter” to distinguish themselves from the western christians. The Canon of the Synod of Diamper (1599) bears testimony to this declaration of the community members.

Social Culture and Lifestyle of Kerala Syrian Christians

St. Thomas Christians were classified into the caste system in accordance with the Hindu tradition, with special privileges for trade, granted by the benevolent Hindu kings and were considered at par with the upper-caste Hindus of Kerala in nobility. People in Hindu kingdoms, regardless of religion, were expected to strictly abide by stringent rules pertaining to caste and religion. This is why St. Thomas Christians had such a strong sense of caste and tradition, being the oldest order of Christianity in India and thus shared many social customs in common with their Hindu neighbours.

Many Syrian Christian practices are distinctively eastern and early western missionaries found them primitive and ignorant in their point of view terming them as heretics. The caste consciousness is prevalent till today among the Nasranis. There are many other Hindu traditions followed by Christians such as dowry system, decorations with rice flower, forty-one day observance after a death in the family. The ceremonies after child-birth, like initial feeding of the newborn with powdered gold and honey, solemn rice feeding (Chorunnu ceremony), tying of an amulet around the waist (arannyaanum) are all Hindu customs while those related to child-birth purification and related observances are Jewish and comply to the Mosaic laws. Beliefs such as those in astrology and horoscopes are also rarely prevalent. Nevertheless the Hebraic or Jewish Heritage is also preserved to such an extent that the westerners, especially the Portuguese, termed the Nasranis as ‘Judaizers’ and also have been known to degrade their original Semitic customs and practices to a large extent. What remains today are probably just few remnants of the original Heritage.

Names of Syrian Christians and related aspects

Their names are Biblical names mostly of Hebraic origin like Yohannan or John, Ousep or Joseph, Mathayi or Mathew, Yakob/Chacko or Jacob, Elias, Aharon, etc. for men, and names like Mariamma or Mary, Soshamma or Susanna, Rosa, Anna, Elsy, etc. for women. Some Armenian and Greek names are also used that are prevalent in the Middle East, making them distinctive unlike the other Christian communities. Examples of Armenian and Greek names are Kurian, Cherian, Alexander (Chandy), Jose, Kuriakose, Paulose and Varghese or Varkey or George (Greek: Georgios). Similarly, a person’s full name consists of first/own name, father’s name and to this is added the family name or surname. The naming convention for children is also similar to that of Sephardic Jews. However in recent times there has been a trend of using Indianized or Hindu names also by some.


Their mother tongue is Malayalam same as the local language of Kerala. However many Syriac words are also used eg. e.g., Mishiha (Christ), Eesho (Jesus), Sleeha (Apostle), Mar (holy), Sleeba (cross), Qurbana (sacrifice/mass), Koodasha (sacrament), Mamoodisa (Baptism), sKaasa (chalice), Mad’baha (sanctuary), Ashaan (teacher), Malakha (angel), etc. Until the 1960s the Nasrani Qurbana was sung in the Aramaic-Syriac language. Many of the tunes of the Syrian Christian worship in Kerala are similar to ancient liturgical tunes of Middle-east and Orthodox Jewish chants.

Early history of the community also mentions of the Kerala Nasranis been in possession and well aware of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, indicating that some of the early forefathers of the community might have been well versed in Hebrew and Aramaic in addition to Tamil before the Malayalam language developed fully in about 1000 AD.


Professionally, since ancient times, Nasranis are famous as a community of mercantile traders and agriculturists like the Jews. Many Nasranis, even today, own large estates and engage in trade of rubber, spices and cash crops since as of old. Similarly, many others are hard-working agriculturists and farmers. Some are prosperous and own large masses of land in Kerala. They also take a prominent role in the educational institutions of Kerala and throughout India. Many are also professional money-lenders, financers and in related fields similar to the Jews who took on to such professions in medieval Europe. There are many Kerala Nasranis of renowned fame in almost all arenas like Politics, Media, Literature, Business, Arts and Entertainment, Science and Technology, etc.

Manner of Property Inheritance & Family life

Nasrani society is strongly patriarchal and inheritance is patrilineal. The father is the head of the family and is often called as ‘karnavar’, a title which is also given to the eldest male member in the family.

Property is traditionally divided among the sons. The most notable is the age-old tradition, that the youngest son is given the family house (tharavadu veedu) where he stays with the parents which is in contrast to rules in almost all other communities in Kerala and is strikingly similar to ancient Hebraic/Jewish property inheritance pattern. However, in view of the recent Indian Supreme court decision in favor of equal division of property, the future division of property will change.

Marriage customs

Many local Hindu and Jewish customs are followed. Both the Hindu women and the Nasrani women at the time of marriage have a locket tied around their neck by the bridegroom called Thali or Minnu. The Minnu of the Christians is traditionally in the form of a leaf consisting of 21 beads and a Cross in the centre made of 7 small beads. The minnu is initially put on a string made of seven strands of thread taken from the Manthrakodi.

The ceremony of ‘minnu-tying’ ceremony is/was also practiced by the Cochin Jews and only points to inculturation. The minnu is traditionally tied by the groom around the neck of the bride with a knot and subsequently, another knot may be tied by his sister (if present) to form a reef-knot, a custom shared with the Brahmins in Kerala and also seen among the Cochin Jews. There are also certain Jewish practices and customs related to marriage which are readily seen among the Southists and also in some of the Northists, like the bridal canopy (Huppah), ‘mathuram kodukal’ (giving sweet to the bride/bridegroom), etc. Arranged marriages are common. The position of the bride standing on the right side of the bridegroom, the bridal garment/veil (manthrakodi) and exchange of wedding rings have possible origins from Jewish temple rites and customs as described by Prof. George Menachery.

Dressing manners of the Nasranis

The traditional dress of Syrian Christians is more or less similar to the local Keralite style which includes Mundu or loincloth with or without Kasavu, and Jubba or Kurta for men. Similarly another piece of small cloth called may be used called ‘rendaam-mundu’ or ‘thollmundu’ which is put on the shoulder. Syrian Christian women have a peculiar traditional dress in white called ‘Chatta-Mundu’. The Chatta or jacket is used to cover the upper part of the body with full or half sleeved white blouse. The Mundu is a white, seven yards long, one and a quarter yard broad garment for the lower body. The mundu has a number of fringes, forming a fan-like appendage called ‘Njori’ at the back ( hip portion) rendering their dress highly modest as well as artistically elegant. While going out, they throw over their shoulders and bosom another piece of cloth called ‘Kavani’. However this traditional dress is today only used by the elderly women.

Origin of Chatta-Mundu of Syrian Christian women

The white colour of the Chatta-Mundu seems to be due to an influence from the traditional white attire of upper caste Hindus in Kerala. The mundu seems to be of local South Indian origin while the njori is worn by South Indian Brahmin ladies other than Syrian Christian women in Kerala. The Chatta or the V-necked, jacket-type blouse is of a disputed foreign origin which is probably West Asian as it is also worn by Muslim mapilla women of Malabar and the Malabar Jews but not by Hindu women. and the appears to be a modified version of a Jacket worn by early West Asian traders and Syrian Christians were known to be mercantile traders by profession as the Jews and Muslim mapillas. However the women from the latter communities wear coloured or decorated ‘chatta’ unlike the Nasrani women who wear white.


Syrian Christian women wear a variety of ornaments which includes various kinds of necklaces, Pathakamala, bracelets, bangles or Vala, anklets or Thala, loin ornaments like Aelas and girdles or Aranyaanam, Kunukku or Mekkamothiram, etc. Nasal ornaments (Nasabharnam) are considered a taboo by them and not worn, considered to be a characteristic of lower castes.

Mekkamothiram and it’s origin

The Mekkamothiram or Kunukku is the most peculiar traditional ornament worn by Nasrani women. It is a heavy gilt, circular gold ear-ring worn on the upper ear lobes. The origin of the ear-ring is thought to be of ancient Biblical times. Similar kunukku-like, moon/sun shaped circular ear-rings are known to be worn by ancient Israelite or Hebrew women (Gen 35: 4) borrowed from surrounding pagan cultures. These ear-rings were said to be images of Gods and crescent or circular, in honour of the Sun and the Moon-God which was worshipped in ancient pagan Egypt and Arabia.

The same tradition seems to have been passed-on to the Malabar Christians alongwith other Hebraic heritage and customs. A Mekkamothiram-like ornament is known to have been worn by Cochin Jewish women also, in addition to the Nasrani women in a similar fashion.

Picture of the Cochin Jews showing women wearing a Chatta-Mundu-like dress and the Mekkamothiram (Picture from the Jewish encyclopedia)

Ancient attire of Syrian Christians

The attire widely used today by Nasranis seems to be of recent past centuries influenced by local culture. However in ancient days of bygone era there are evidences of Syrian Christians using an attire, similar to those of ancient middle-eastern people of Assyria, Persia, etc., which many seem not be aware of. Evidences of such usage of dress and ornaments which is not seen today is found in Government records and publications.

Deathbed blessing

The blessing given by the father on his deathbed to the children by Jews and Nasranis are similar in text. Among the latter group, this is more prevalent today, among the Knanayas.
For Nasranis: “God gave his blessing to Abraham, Abraham to Isaac, Isaac gave that to Jacob, Jacob…to my forefathers…to my parents….and my parents to me….and now, dear son/daughter, I give it to you”

For Jews: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our Lord, and God of our ancestors, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, and the great mighty and the revered God.”

Dietary aspects and observances of Nasranis

The uniqueness of the community is also reflected in the food observances and certain customs which directly or indirectly point to a Jewish influence on the same. Certain food practices also seem to have originated from and are in accordance with the Jewish ‘Kosher’ (Hebrew: kashrut) food laws as described in the Torah and the Old Testament Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and observed to this day by many Nasrani families. Spices and condiments occupy an important part of any dish. Local food and tastes also form a major part of the diet but the Syrian Christian cuisine is unique in certain respects. It also need not be described that majority of the Nasranis are predominantly non-vegetarians, in contrast to their Hindu neighbours who are either strict or predominant vegetarians.

1). Many Nasranis are traditionally known to be abstainers from pork meat and pork is still considered a taboo in many families which is an important Kosher practice. This practice became less prevalent following the Portuguese era and western influence.

2). Fish without fins and or scales are generally not eaten and considered taboo. Similarly certain varieties of shell-fish, clamps, crab, etc. are also not consumed by many.

3). Dairy products like milk or curd are traditionally not consumed with fish or meat and is a Jewish custom in origin. Instead coconut milk is used as a substitute in preparations.

4). Animals slaughtered for consumption is generally done by the Nasranis as per the Kosher or Halal method and meat obtained in this manner is generally preferred by them.

5). Nasranis are also expert grape-wine makers and widely consume wine in contrast to their neighbours of other faiths. Wine is generally prepared weeks in advance for festivals like Christmas and Easter. It must be noted that wine-making is not an Indian but Mediterranean and middle-eastern in origin.

6).It is believed that the Palappam and Kallappam were derived from an ancient Jewish food. Similarly the Pesaha appam or Kalathappam are also similar to unleavened bread used for Pesaha Vyazham or Maundy Thursday to commemorate the Israelite Passover feast.

Besides the above Jewish influences on the Nasrani diet there are certain casteist practices also prevalent. Nasranis generally never shared or accepted food or water from those of lower castes. This is less prevalent today. During Sadhyas or meals traditionally served on plantain/banana leaves, Nasranis have a custom of folding-in the left end of the leaf to resemble a double-leaf. This practice is due to an ancient royal privilege granted by kings to Nasranis wherein they were privileged to eat on double leaves (placed over each other). Many are unaware of this tradition today. Similarly, vegetarian sadhyas or meals prepared for ‘Chathams’ (day of remembrance of the dead) in Nasrani families is or was done usually by Tamil Iyer Brahmins.

Syrian Christian Art forms: Dance and Folksongs.

Syrian Christians of Kerala had developed their own art forms like the other religious groups in Kerala. However, the art was heavily influenced by local culture and traditions which was interpreted and blended in a Christian scenario to give unique forms of dance or folksongs. They are known to have been developed somewhere during the 15th or 16th cent. AD. These include Margamkali, Ramban pattu and Veeradian pattu. Another form was of Christian theatrical art called the Chavittu nadakam.


Margamkali is a very ancient and the most popular art dance performance prevalent among the Syrian Christians of Kerala. The word ‘margam’ means ‘path’ and it was meant for the propagation of Christian religious ideas. The form of the art was the result of direct inspiration from the indigenous culture. The real source of inspiration for Margamkali was Kalaripayattu and Sangamkali which was very popular when the Christian community had developed the form in later centuries of pre-Portuguese era. The Christian soldiers used to pass free time performing Margamkali and the subject usually was/is the arrival of Mar Thoma and his proselytization activity in Kerala.

Margamkali was performed mainly by men on festive occasions, especially during the time of marriage. But later it came to be performed by women as in Thiruvathirakali style. The dance is performed by 12 members moving in a circle around a lighted oil lamp. The oil lamp denotes Christ and the dancers symbolize his apostles.

The songs of the Margamkali are composed in modern Malayalam. The dancers sing themselves while performing the dance. Unlike other dance forms of Kerala, Margamkali lacks musical accompaniment. The traditional text of the song is an elaboration of the activities and martyrdom of St. Thomas in Kerala. Later many other songs were also added to the original test.

Margamkali is often presented as a stage item today and also for Art competitions at the school and college levels.

Ramban Pattu and Veeradian pattu

There is a time honoured tradition in Malabar which is handed down from generation to generation in the form of the songs of the Nasranis as the Rambanpattu . The other tradition comes from Veeradian pattu which is performed by a Hindu caste on festivals and occasions of the Syrian Christians.

The Ramban pattu and such type of other ballads are using Malayalam language called Vattezuthu, and this type of dialect is known to be used in 15-18th century AD. According to the Ramban pattu, St. Thomas went up the Malayattoor mountain to converse with the Lord and pray.

The Brahmin conversion theory is mainly supported by the above folklore songs, originally composed orally by a disciple of St. Thomas and written by Thomas Ramban Maliekal in 1600 AD or later. Thomas Ramban is considered a descendant of one of the first Brahmin converts to Christianity as per tradition. Literary scholars like Mahakavi Ullor S. Parameshwara Iyer and Chummar Choondal (Ref: Bosco Puthur, ‘St. Thomas Christians and Nambudiris, Jews and Sangam Literature’, 2003) the above folklores were all written in 15th cent AD or later. Hence the folksongs are not considered as historical evidences but only folklore by historians and literary scholars which obviously have influences from indigenous culture and later century oral traditions.

Chavittu Nadakam

An offshoot of theatre, this form of play was prevalent among the Christian community spanning from Kodungallur to Ambalappuzha developed in the 16th cent. AD. Training is provided to performers before staging the play. The master is known as Annavi. The whole play is performed through musicals. The main characters sport broached dress, head-dress and crowns. The soldiers sport hats fitted with quils. The bell and drum are two instruments used as back ground score. Most of the times the stories related to Christianity or Biblical stories are played. This art is largely extinct today.

Religious Lifestyle of Nasranis

Syriac Christianity in Kerala and the Middle-east with which the former has ecclesiastical relations, is older than Rome according to the St.Thomas tradition. It began as an Oriental religion. There are even references relating the Kerala Nasranis to the Essenic Jewish sect due to some similarities in the beliefs and practices of the two communities. However Essenes are non-existent today as a community, to be found only in history pages.

The Nasranis have a special identity. Their customs and manners are different from those of other Christian groups. While the Church in the West is still evangelical, in India the focus of the Main Line Church is social. There is also a strong ecumenical movement. Today Kerala Syrian Christians are a prosperous community commanding extraordinary political clout to an extent. The religious practices of this group were shaped in the place of origin and are dominated by church services which follow traditional Semitic patterns.

Syrian Christians have strong and active religious organizations and a majority of the people attend Sunday Church services. Church services are conducted in Malayalam with some segments often in Syriac. Baptism or Mamoodisa is practiced as the sacrament of initiation. The Episcopal Churches emphasize child baptism and use sprinkling of water in the name of the Triune of God. Believer’s baptism by immersion in water is practiced by Pentecostal groups. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated by various groups and the Aramaic word Qurbana (Hebrew: ‘Korban’) which means “sacrifice” is used for the practice. Women cover their heads while in Church with their garment which is a Semitic practice. The Nasrani Church has a separate seating arrangement for men and women as in Jewish synagogue style.

The mainline Churches also practice Kayyasturi/Kaimutthu (in Malayalam), an oriental custom meaning ‘Kiss of peace’, which enhances the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is done by a form of handshake. The ‘Kiss of peace’ is a sign of respect and friendship and has its roots in the Jewish Temple worship.

The manner of celebration of the Lord’s Supper varies from denomination to denomination. Syrian Christians use several accessories such as the bells, the veil, the altar, the cross the coverings and the candles.

Syrian Christian priests have elaborate dresses used during liturgy and wear cassocks, caps and beards as seen also in West Asia.

Church-centred life and Synagogue-centred life:

The Nasranis and Cochin Jews are two communities grown in parallel in Malabar. The life style of the Jews was synagogue centred. The Nasranis also have similar lifestyle centred in their churches. The clergy-laity relationships are very strong. It is well known that every Nasrani church irrespective of the denominations have committee meeting after Qurbana (mass). It had been the Jewish custom to teach literacy to its followers so that they could read and meditate the Torah scriptures. The Nasranis also made the same custom by making ‘Pallikkoodams’ along with the pally or church with Catechism or ‘Vedupadesham’ as it is called, for scriptural and religious studies. Similarly the archdeacon was the head of the Church and Palliyogams (Parish Councils) were in charge of temporal affairs similar to the Jewish Sanhedrin Council. They have a liturgy-centered life with days of fasting and abstinence. Devotion to the Mar Thoma Cross is absolute and churches were traditionally modelled after Jewish synagogues with local blends.

The age-old Nasrani tradition of offering a part of the first-fruits and grains first harvested, to the church, on certain festive occasions is an ancient Israelite practice of making similar sacrificial offerings. The term used is ‘Kazhchaveppu’ which literally means ‘Offering’.

Syrian Christians celebrate all Christian religious days. The more conservative and orthodox people maintain Lent for twenty four days prior to Christmas and fifty days prior to Easter, the ‘Moonunoyambu’ or 3-day fast of Ninevites, etc. Those who do so eat only vegetarian meals and refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages during Lent. Easter or Passion week is very important. There are special Church services on Palm Sunday and also every evening including Good Friday and Pesaha (Maundy Thursday), there is a special Church service with Holy Communion. Good Friday is of great significance and Church services start at nine o’clock in the morning and continue on to three o’clock in the afternoon. On Easter Sunday Church service starts at around three o’clock in the morning and concludes with Holy Communion. Easter breakfast and family get together is in the traditional manner.

Syrian Christians are also known to have high devotion towards saints like St. Thomas, St. Sebastian, St. Joseph and St. George (Geevarghese) which is found across denominations. There are novenas and special prayers and pilgrimages made in honour of the same. Malayattoor pilgrimage in honour of St. Thomas on Good Friday and Dukhrana (July 3) days, pilgrimage to Edapally church in honour of St. George and chicken-sacrifice are commonly observed. Similarly the feast of St. Sebastian is also celebrated by many Nasrani churches and commonly called as ‘Ambu Perunal’ or ‘Pindi perunal’ in some regions of Kerala and is an integral part of Church festivals other than Easter and Christmas. Church festivals in Kerala are celebrated with great pomp and show and in a grand manner with processions, decorative lamps and umbrellas (pattkuda) and traditional music and drum-beats similar to temple festivals.

The Divine Office and the Liturgy of the ‘Hours’

Traditionally the Nasrani religious day begins after sunset with prayer observances. This is purely an age-old Jewish tradition, wherein a day is counted from sunset to sunset, divided into eight equal ‘Hours’ or ‘Vigils’ and related prayer sessions.

Nasrani prayers are sectionalized as per the ‘Hour’ observed and they are called as ‘Yaama prarthanas’ and include Psalms and other prayers and can be found in traditional Nasrani prayer books. Thus the divine office is organized as Lelya or Nocturns, Sapra/Sapro or Morning prayers (also called Matins) and Ramsha/Ramsho or Evening prayers (also called Vespers). The above pattern is also observed by almost all Churches of Eastern tradition of Christianity which have common Semitic pattern.

The day begins after sunset with the vigil or ‘Hour’ of Ramsha alongwith other prayers, recited in the evenings, generally at individual ‘family units’ (kudumbakoottaayma), in a Church parish, by organizing prayer meetings called kudumbaprarthana. This is followed by the Lelya at night which is today generally observed by the religious and ascetics/priests, followed by rest and then follows the Sapra at dawn of next day. This may be followed by the Liturgy of the Word and Qurbana (Mass) at church. Thus one religious day, from sunset to sunset, is of the above order. These are traditionally observed by the entire community to this day.

Conclusion :

The St. Thomas Christians of Kerala blended well, the ecclesiastical world of the Oriental Syriac Church with the socio-cultural environment of their homeland. Their social and religious lives are not much distinguishable from each other and thus the community and it’s members are some of the most conservative and religious people. Thus religious views largely govern the daily lives of most Nasranis as observed in their religious and social lifestyles. However it remains to be said that much of the rich heritage is fast degrading which can be contributed to factors like lack of awareness or disinterest in preserving the same and also due to migrations of many of the community members to places far from their homeland. Thus the preservation and continuation of the Nasrani heritage has become the urgent need of the day, lest this almost two millenia old identity of the community is wiped-off only to be found in pages of history.

The Stone crosses of Kerala

Kerala has many churches of antiquity. It is recorded that before the arrival of Portuguese there were more than 150 ancient churches in Kerala.

The Synod of Diamper conducted in 1599 had a representation of more than hundred churches of the St. Thomas Christians. Though not all of these churches are preserved, many of them gave indication to the importance stone crosses had in early Kerala Christian life.

Christian art and architecture in Kerala in the pre-European periods are developed by nourishment from two sources. From the countries in the near-east including Greece, Rome, Egypt and other Middle East countries from which ideas and practices were imported by missionaries and traders, and secondly from the indigenous forms and techniques of art and architecture that existed in the land. The nourishment of these two sources can be seen in the Stone crosses of Kerala.

There are two types of rock crosses in Kerala Churches broadly classified as St. Thomas cross and Nazraney sthambams.

1. St. Thomas Cross
The small interior type rock cross is called St Thomas cross or Nasrani Menorah or Syrian Cross. This crosses are found at St. Thomas Mount, Kottayam [ 2 nos ], Kadamattam, Muttuchira, and Alangad. This has been venerated by all St Thomas Christians from ancient times. They have inscriptions in Pahlavi (Middle Persian) and Syriac which indicate that they date to before the eight century.

These older carved crosses are located inside the churches and are considered particularly sacred and worthy of veneration by the St Thomas Christians. These crosses are very decorative and are not typical crucifix. These are plain crosses which doesnot show Christ on the cross. In Eastern Christianity and Syrian Christianity, the plain cross is the symbol of the triumph of Christ’s life over death. It is of symbolism in Eastern Christianity.

These crosses are also sometimes called Leaved Crosses or Persian crosses as they symbolise at the bottom a set of leaves. The leaves usually flow upwards either side of the base of the cross symbolizing the cross as the tree of life. But some of these crosses from Kerala the leaves are downward pointing. This is indigenous and this symbolism and tradition is not find in Persian or Middle East or even in Byzantine art.

2. Nazraney Sthambams
The giant open air rock cross are called Nazraney Sthambams. The plinth of these crosses represents lotus petals and lotus flowers and has a square base. It also has a variety of iconographic motifs, including elephants, peacocks and various other animals, depictions of the Holy Family and of the Crucifixion, to name a few.

These crosses are found in Kottekkad, Enammavu Mapranam, Puthenchira, Parappukkara, Veliyanad, Kalpparambu, Angamaly, Kanjoor, Malayattoor, Udayanperur, Kuravilangad, Uzhavoor, Chungam, Kaduthuruthy [2 Nos.], Muttuchira, Kudamaloor, Niranam, Kothamangalam, Chengannur, Thumpamon, Chathannur and many other places.

These crosses are very large, freestanding crosses found outside the churches. They are usually aligned to the west end of the church. On festival days and during processional days when people process around these crosses. People also burn coconut oil as an act of offering and reverence at the base of these large crosses on their pedestals.

The plinths represent lotus petals and lotus flowers as the cross is sitting on top of a lotus flower. There is a square base, it’s a circle on a square with a cross on top. The circle as the lotus flower represents the divine, heavenly aspect, on the square which represents the earth.

There are depictions of the holy family. There are imags of Mary and the Christ Child, also of the Crucifixion in these crosses. There is a variety of iconographic motifs including fish, various animals, elephants. The elephants are very much part of an Indian context.

There are even archway’s in older churches which shows two elephants either side of the cross on a plinth. The elephants are coming to venerate the cross. And on the other side of the archway, there are peacocks sitting either side of the cross. This represents the indigenisation of stone crosses and Christian symbols in India.

There are depictions of the holy family, images of Mary and the Christ Child and also of the Crucifixion.


Ancient Kerala Christian Art- Prof. George Menachery

Stone crosses of Kerala- Dr Ken Parry, Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University, Sydney

Rock Crosses of Kerala- Prof. George Menachery

Names, Middle Names and Last Names among the Syrian Christians

syrian christian takes his own name which is the name of his paternal grandfather, the name of his father and his house or ‘tharavad’ name.

He may make any of these his surname and hence he may be G.J. Olikara, ‘G’ for Gevarghese (name of paternal grandfather), ‘J’ for John(name of father) and ‘Olikara’ for name of his ancestral house from where the line of his paternal family descends. He may be the son of O.G. John, ‘O’ for Olikara(name of the house), ‘G’ for Gevarghese (name of father) and ’J’ for John(name of paternal grandfather).

It was customary that the eldest son be given the name of his paternal grandfather and the eldest daughter the name of her maternal grandmother. The second son bears the name of his maternal grandfather and the second daughter bears the name of her maternal grandmother.

This naming convention is also seen among the Sephardic Jews, whose customs may have been imbibed by the Syrian Christians in kerala.

As a general rule, the Syrian Christians bear names which are biblical. It is interesting to record that despite Decree XVI of the Synod of Diamper of 1599, which forbade the use of old testament names, for 400 years after this date the Syrian Christians still continued using such names, though through usage they became Indianised.

Some common Syrian Christian names are:

For Men: (Thomma, Thoman, Mamman, Oommen) from Thomas, (Chacko, Yakob) from Jacob, (Pathros, Pathe, Pathappan) from Peter, (Yohannan, Lonan, Ninan) from John, (Mathai, Mathan, Mathu, Mathulla) from Mathew, (Yesoph, Ouseph, Ipe) from Joseph, (Koshy, Easo) from Joshua, (Abragam, Itty) from Abraham, (Ittack) from Isaac, (Lukose) from Luke, (Philipose, Pothan, Pothen, Poonen) from Philip, (Paulose, Piley) from Paul, (Chandy, Chandi, Idichandy) from Alexander, (Iyob, Iyoben, Eapen) from Job, (Cheriyan, Kurien, Kuriakose) from Zachariah, (Verghese, Vargisa, Varkey, Varied, Geverghese) from George, (Kuruvilla) from Korah.

For Women: (Mariam, Maria, Mariamma) from Mary, (Akka, Rabka, Raca, Akkamma) from Rebecca, (Rahel, Rahelamma) from Rachel, (Susanna, Sosa, Sosamma, Achi, Achamma) from Susan, (Saramma) from Sara, (Elspeth, Elisa, Elia, Elacha, Eliamma) from Elizabeth.

This ‘nativising’ of root Greek, Latin and Hebrew names can be seen in all the ancient chrurches like the Ethiopian, Slavic as well as the Armenian ones.

In kerala, the Syrian Christians are known by the distinguishing nomenclature of ‘Nasrani Mappilas’. They also shared with the Nairs some honorific titles. The word ‘Tharagan’ or ‘tariff collector’ is a title that some families bear. Similarly, ‘Panikkar’ which denotes proficiency in arms is a title borne by certain Nasrani families. In and around Quilon, there is a group of families claiming descent from the fourth century Syrian immigrants and this group has the title ‘Muthalaly’ in common among them.

Many Syrian Christian families followed a unique custom that they shared with the kerala Hindus of adopting a male member into their family on his marrying a girl from theirs. The boy would then carry the family name of his wife. This would mostly happen when a family had no male heirs to carry on the family name.

The most popular name among the Syrian Christians was George. This was on account of the popularity of this name in Asia Minor where the tomb of George exists in Jaffa, Palestine. He was revered as a ‘Punyavalan’ in kerala.

However in recent times it is normal for the child to take the surname of his father or to use the family name as his surname. The discarding of Biblical names to be replaced with Sanskritised names is also being seen in increasing frequency.

Reference: The Syrian Christians: S.G. Pothen.

Seven Churches and Divisions among St.Thomas Christians

A brief article about the Seven Churches which are belived to established by St. Thomas and the divisions exist between different denominations of Syrian Christians or St. Thomas Christians.

1. Seven Churches established by St. Thomas

In Kerala we have strong traditions about seven locations where churches or christian communities were established by Apostle St. Thomas himself. Six of these seven churches are very near the sea or a backwater.

Unfortunately nothing much perhaps remains or could be precisely deciphered today of the churches at Kodungallur, Chayal / Nilakkal, or Quilon. While St. Thomas himself had a share in the re-erection of the Cross at Niranam - the Cross that was thrown into the river at Thrikkapileswaram, the Kokkamangalam Cross thrown into the backwaters was re-erected by a local christian at Pallippuram.

Hence only three of the original seven churches viz the Parur church in the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam, the Palayur church in the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Trichur, and the Niranam church under the Orthodox Syrian Church (Devalokam Aramana) could claim a continuous existence from the time of their establishment by the Apostle in the middle of the first century after Christ. [1]

There are traditions about half church. The church just with the Cross or Sleeba is called Half Church. The main contenders for half church are Malayattor and Thiruvithancode. Tradition associates that on the way to Mylapoor St Thomas installed cross at Malayattor.

The Thiruvithancode tradition associates the installation of cross by St Thomas on the way to China. There are local traditions at Aruvithura and Mylakombu, two old centers of Christianity in Kerala about St Thomas installing cross there.

2. Divisions among St.Thomas Christians

Despite their geographic isolation, the Church of St Thomas Christians retained the Chaldean liturgy and Syriac language and maintained fraternal ties with the Babylonian (Baghdad) patriarchate; their devotional practices also included Hindu religious symbolism.

Several mass migrations of Syrian Christians to the Malabar Coast (9th century) also strengthened their ties with the Middle East.

Direct contact with Rome was infrequent until the arrival of Portuguese missionaries in the early 16th century. The Portuguese, after initial professions of friendship, started a concerted effort to subject the Church of St Thomas Christians to their obedience, replacing the Chaldean bishops with Portuguese ones and Latinizing the Malabar liturgy.

Portuguese started a Latin diocese in Goa (1534) and another at Cochin (1558) in the hope of bringing the Thomas Christians under their jurisdiction. In a Goan Synod held in 1585 it was decided to introduce the Latin liturgy and practices among the Thomas Christians.
The Portuguese refused to accept the legitimate authority of the Indian hierarchy and its relation with the East Syrians and at a synod held in Diamper ( Synod of Diamper ) in 1599, the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa imposed a large number of Latinizations.

The Syrian Chaldean patriarch was then removed from jurisdiction in India and replaced by a Portuguese bishop. The Syrian liturgy of Addai and Mari was “purified from error” and Latin vestments, rituals, and customs were introduced to replace the ancient Syrian traditions They latinized the liturgy and introduced the Inquisition.

The Portuguese succeeded in appointing a Latin bishop to govern the Thomas Christians. The Portuguese padroado was extended over them. From 1599 up to 1896 these Christians were under the Latin Bishops who were appointed either by the Portuguese Padroado or by the Roman Congregation of Propaganda Fide. Every attempt to resist the latinization process was branded by them heretical.

Under the indigenous leader, Archdeacon, the Thomas Christians resisted, but the result was disastrous.The first solemn protest took place in 1653 with the Koonan Cross Oath. Under the leadership of Archdeacon Thoma, a major section of the Thomas Christians publicly took an oath that they would not obey the Portuguese bishops and the Jesuit fathers.

Consequently, the majority of the Christians of St. Thomas left Portuguese rule in 1653, swearing never to submit to Portuguese domination. When the news of the rebellion reached Rome, Pope Alexander VII sent the Syrian bishop Sebastiani at the head of a Carmelite delegation to Malabar in 1661 and established a hierarchy of Chaldean rite under Rome. [2]

By 1662 majority of the Christians of St. Thomas had returned to Catholic fold (the Syro-Malabar); the rest joined the Syrian Jacobite (Monophysite) Church in 1665.
In 1665 an Antiochean bishop Mar Gregorios arrived in a Dutch ship and the dissident group under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him. This was the starting point of division among the Syrian Christians in Kerala who till then were one Church.

Though most of the Thomas Christians gradually relented in their strong opposition to the Western control, the arrival of the Bishop Mar Gregory of the Syriac Orthodox Church in 1665 marked the beginning of a formal schism among the Thomas Christians.

Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of Mar Gregory became known as Jacobites (Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church (Syriac Orthodox Church). The Jacobites adopted the Western Syrian language and Antiochene liturgy in their church.

Those who continued with East Syrian theological and liturgical tradition are known as Syro Malabar Church in communion with the Catholic Church. The Syro Malabar Church kept the East Syrian liturgy but increasingly latinized it. The Holy Qurbana was celebrated in Syriac language till 1962 July.3.

St Thomas Christians by this process got divided in to East Syrians and West Syrians in liturgy.

In 1772 West Syrian’s under the leadership of Kattumangattu Abraham Mar Koorilose, Metropolitan of Malankara formed the Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thozhiyur Sabha).

In 1874 a section of East Syrians from Thrissur came in to communion with Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East in Qochanis ( Melus / Rokkos schism in Syro Malabar ). They follow the East Syrian tradition and are known as Chaldean Syrian Church.

In 1845, exposure to the doctrines of the Church of England inspired a reform movement led by Abraham Malpan in the West Syrian community. This led to the formation of the Mar Thoma Church.

However, in 1912 there was another split in the West Syrian community when a section declared itself an autocephalous church and announced the re-establishment of the ancient Catholicosate of the East in India. This was not accepted by those who remained loyal to the Syrian Patriarch. The two sides were reconciled in 1958 but again differences developed in 1975.

Today the West Syrian community is divided in to Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion), Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion)

In 1926 a section of West Syrians under the leadership of Mar Ivanios came in to communion with Catholic Church retaining all of the Church’s rites, Liturgy, and autonomy. They are known as Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.


Portuguese caused the division among Nasrani’s. Dutch and Bristish colonialists also added oil to the divisions of Nasrani Syrian Christians for their own benefits.

From the days of the unfortunate division among the St. Thomas Christians in 1653, there have been attempts at reconciliation between the Churches.

But due to the negative attitude of the western missionaries, who were generally afraid of losing their authority in Malabar and sometimes the scrupulous attitudes of the Orthodox Church leadership, these attempts were mostly futile.

Joseph Cariattil, Thomas Paremmakkal, Mar Thoma IV, V, VI (Dionysius I), Nidhiry Mani Kathanar, Thachil Mathoo Tharakan, and Mar Ivanios are some of the great souls who tried for re unification and unity among various Nasrani denominations.

Though a complete reunification reviving the old traditions looks a distant possibility, there are many people among the communities who shares this vision.

[1] Articles of Prof. George Menanchery
[2] Encyclopaedia Britannica