Syrian Christians of Kerala

on Sep 14th, 2009 and filed under Videos.

St. Thomas one of the 12 disciples of Christ set up Christianity in Kerala as early as AD52. A short film showing the still existing similarities in customs and traditions of the Hindus and Christians of Kerala.

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3 Responses for “Syrian Christians of Kerala”

  1. bharatian says:

    British Priest Samuel Mateer of LMS, lived 28 years lived in Kerala. his Book published in 1883 in London by name Native Life in Travancore ISBN 8120605144. on page 158 says Syrian Christians are Paraya converts.

  2. Rajan Rajiv says:

    In Kerala history there is absolutely no evidence of Nambudhiris or Jews being converted by St. Thomas or at a later stage by missionaries coming from Persia. Instead of scientifically proving (not manipulated ) genetic link between Jews or Nambudhiris with Syrian Christians, people like George Menachery are making ridiculous references to colour of dress, building model, customs, rituals and social habits to claim Brahmin and Jewish ancestry. Along with these preposterous comparisons, manipulated DNA tests are being conducted to nullify authentic records of conversion of untouchables by saintly and trustworthy CMS missionaries such as Norton, Fenn, Baker, Bailey, Peet, Dawson and others Hawksworth says that he converted slaves, and how can DNA test show that the descendants of the slaves have Jewish blood? The descendants of untouchable Ezhavas, mukkuvas, slaves and others in Alappuzha, Mallappally, Pallom, Mavelikara, Chengannur, Kottayam, Kochi and other places are now a part of mainstream Syrian Christian community. CMS (now CSI) church marriage registers will show how many Malankara and Jacobites have married CMS boys and girls.
    Missionaries from Persia who came to Kerala in pre-colonial days were not Jews or Assyrians, but Persians. It is not sufficiently realized by racist writers that the immense majority of the members of the Nestorian Church living east of the Tigris were of Persian, and not Semitic or Aramean birth and extraction. Many were born of Christian parents who originally belonged to the Zoroastrian faith, and many others were only themselves converts from Zoroastrianism. So it is sheer absurdity to claim Jewish or Assyrian genealogy through Persians who periodically visited Kerala.
    Another argument of these racists is that tying of thali is a proof that Syrian Christians are descendants of Nambudhiris. But this claim is also not sustainable because untouchables such as Parayas, Pulayas, Mukkuvas, vannans and many others tie thali. Paul Roche gives this account of Paraya Catholic marriage: “The priest, though of higher caste, does not treat the Paraiya couple as untouchables. He blesses the couple and says Mass for them. The symbol of the wedding union is the thali. The thali is a gold medal on a yellow thin string. It is yellow because it is dyed with turmeric (Manjal). During Mass the priest blesses the thali and hands it over to the bridegroom who ties it around the neck of the bride. The priest also blesses two flower garlands and hands one each to the bridegroom and the bride who garland each other.” The fact that Syrian Christians follow Hindu rituals is a clear proof that they were converted from backward Hindu communities. Ezhava, Pulaya and Paraya Christians are having Hindu relatives of their own castes even after conversion and therefore they still retain more Hindu rituals and customs than Syrians who were also lower caste converts. Menachery, instead of pointing out Hindu rituals and manipulated DNA, should give clear evidence about the conversion of Nambudhiris or Jews — the locality of these Nambudhiris or Jews, the number of people converted, the year of conversion and , above all, the person or missionary who converted them. CMS missionaries’ diaries give a detailed account of the caste of the converted people and the date, place and year of conversion. Can Menachery produce such a record of Nambudhiri or Jewish conversion, instead of showing fake DNA or the white dress that even Paraya Pentecost people wear everywhere?
    Quite surprisingly, these racial writers also claim that Church built on the model of a Hindu temple is another proof for their Nambudhiri ancestry. But Paraya and Pulaya temples are also like Nair temples.. Lamp, especially oil lamp, Kuthvilakku, is lighted on all important occasions of Parayas, and this practice is also prevalent in some Syrian houses. Church architecture was modeled on temple architecture because that was the prevalent pattern of buildings in Kerala at that time. Aishwarya has recently constructed a house in Mumbai in American style. Is it not foolish to claim American ancestry for her because of her American model house? What separates Syrian Christians from Nambudhiri Brahmin and links them to lower castes is their lifestyle and food habits. Syrian Christian settlements were seen on the coastal areas and thick jungles. But Nambudhiri settlements were inside villages, near temples and tanks. Syrian Christians like Parayas eat beef and pork. But Nambudhiris are vegetarians. Jews do not eat pork. Christian Jews in Israel and Europe do not eat pork. But for Syrians, pork is a favorite dish. In convents, sisters rear pigs to supply pork to Christians on important occasions such as Christmas, Easter and Anniversaries. Another important factor that separates Syrians from Brahmins is, Nambudhiris wear a sacred thread (poonool) which is conspicuously absent in Syrian Christians. Nairs followed matrinelial system but Syrian Christians like Parayas follow patrilineal system and their surnames are generally inherited from the father and property passes to the sons. To camouflage this, people like George Menacchery claim Nambudhiri and Jewish descent without realizing the cardinal fact that Syrian Christian population is greater than Nambudhiris and Jews. Some Syrians live in a fantasy world thinking St.Thomas converted Nambudhiris to claim ‘nobility status’ without realizing the historical fact that there were no Nambudhiris when St Thomas came in the First century A.D. There is also no reference to the conversion of Chera kings. Nairs were also not converted, for Kerala history has recorded that Nairs used Syrian Christians to do free labour (oozhiyam) in their farmlands. In Jewish records kept by Koder there is no reference to Christian Jews. Menachery has even quoted Kesavan Veluthat and M.G.S.Narayanan confirming the coming of Nambudiris to Kerala several centuries after the coming of St. Thomas. .And yet, a racist claim is propagated that five Brahmin families in Kodungalloor were converted to Christianity by St. Thomas in the first century, when there were no Brahmins at that time. .Another phony claim is that Nambudhiri Christians migrated to Kuravilangad, Angamaly, Pallipuram, Niranam etc.and founded Christian settlements. Probably at the time of persecution of Christians by one Manickavachagar some backward Christian converts would have fled from Kodungalloor to jungle areas. But how could Nambudhiri caste could be attached to those fugitives, when there is no record in Kerala history about Nambudhiri conversion or about the flight of some Nambudhiri families to jungle areas? Another laughable claim of Menachery is that Christianity is older than Hinduism in Kerala ignoring the fact that Hinduism in Kerala can be traced to the Indus Valley religion. Research studies suggest the possible relationship with Indus Valley Civilization during the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. Rock engravings in the Edakkal Caves (in Wayanad) are thought to date from the early to late Neolithic eras around 5000 B.C. M.R. Raghava Varier of the Kerala state archaeology department identified a sign of “a man with jar cup” in the engravings, which is the most distinct motif of the Indus valley civilization. It is rank foolishness to claim that there was no religion in Kerala before the Nambudhiris came and introduced their own religion. Nambudhiris did not destroy any god or goddess of Keralites. All the gods and goddesses of pre-Nambudhiri Kerala were declared various incarnations of Nambudhiri gods. Another racial and offensive argument of Menachery is to claim phony superiority status for untouchable Syrian converts along with Nambudhiris and Jews by referring to the similarities in (to quote his words)“ the customs and traditions of the Namboothiri Brahman, Jews and Syrian Christians in the matter of their attitude to pollution, untouchability, or the idea of “Clean and Unclean”.. It is only after the coming of the colonial powers that Christians were instructed to lead a clean and hygienic life. According to early Portuguese and British writers Syrian Christians were in a very pathetic condition when they first met them. Abbe J.A. Dubois, a missionary in Mysore, in his letter dated August 7, 1815, writes: “The Jesuits, on their first arrival in India, hearing of them, in one way or other converted the greatest part to the Catholic faith. Their liturgy is to this day in the Syrian language, and in the performance of their religious ceremonies they use this ancient dead tongue. There remains still among them large congregations, consisting of 70 or 80,000 Christians, of whom two-thirds are Catholics, and a third Nestorians. They are all designated under the contemptuous name of Nazarany, and held by the pagans in still greater contempt than the Christians of this part of the country. The Nairs chiefly keep them at a greatest distance, and they form a separate body in society.” (Dubois, Abbe J.A., Letters On The State of Christianity in India, New Delhi:Associated Publishing House, (1977),p.12).European missionaries trained Christians to live in cleanliness and to dress properly. Some decisions of the Synod of Diamper refer to the untidy lifestyle, superstition, and unhygienic environment of Christians.. .An eye witness account by Samuel Mateer when he visited Syrian Christian (not Protestant CMS Christians) settlements as narrated in his book, ‘Native Life in Travancore,’ is given below:
    The Syrians appear to be in the lowest condition in the
    northern and mountainous districts in Muvdttupulay direction….
    Between Cottayam and Trichoor, a distance of about 70 miles,
    a great field for Christian labour lies open, for which the
    Alwaye Itineracy has been established. At Mdvdttupulay
    and Todupulay there are large numbers of Syrians, poor, hard-
    working, and kind people, renting lands from the Nambiiri
    landlords, for which they pay four or five times the seed sown,
    and cultivating areca palms and the fruits, roots, and grains on
    which they live. They have no Scriptures or other books, and
    few schools. Nor is there a Sirkar District school at either of
    the two district towns just mentioned. The priests conduct
    service and go off to their houses ; sometimes indeed there is
    no one to hold worship in the churches. The surrounding
    population have very little idea as to what God the Syrians
    worship, or how
    The ignorance and spiritual darkness of these poor nominal
    Christians is very great. On a tour in that quarter not long
    ago to see the country, I very carefully and cautiously examined
    those whom I met, or stayed with, as to their knowledge of
    Christian truth. It was heart-rending to learn of the criminal
    indifference and negligence of the priests, and to find old men
    and young quite ignorant, not only of the Scriptures, which they
    never read nor hear read, but even as to who Jesus Christ
    was. ” I know nothing of it ” said an old man with whom I
    conversed. A youth with handsome open countenance could
    not tell what kind of person or character Jesus Christ was —
    whether a Brahman, a government officer, a carpenter, or what !
    He “could not say.” One could hardly credit that such
    Ignorance was possible ; but a native friend, who accompanied
    me, also repeated the queries in various forms to make sure
    that they were understood, and both of us used their Syriac
    terms. The old man could mumble over the creed, but did not
    know the meaning. “What then do you go to church for? ”
    “To do the appointed things, and worship the cross. The
    priest shows us God.” But he could not tell why the cross was
    worshipped. Another said he went to worship the Apostle
    Paul, but did not know who he was, or what he did. ” Why
    are you baptized ? ” ” For the religion and for the soul ; to
    make me a Mapillay,” were the answers. ” Why do you attend
    the holy communion ? ” ** Because it is the custom. We are
    told to do it, but do not know the reason why.” ” Is it the
    same as eating your rice } ” ” Oh no, something quite different,
    but I do not know what.” Scarcely any knew who the first
    man was, and such like things. I found that the Syrians were beneath the Roman Catholics of the neighbourhood, both in knowledge and in morals” (Native Life in Travancore, 1883 Book digitized by Google from the library of New York Public Library)

    It is quite evident from Samuel Mateer’s account that the Syrian Christians of the pre-British period in Travancore were not Nambudiri converts but lower castes working as farm labourers of Nambudiri jenmis. Churches were managed by local, uneducated priests having Nestorian belief. No wonder Syrian Christian converts of that period went to neighborhood Hindu temples. There were also wealthy and elite groups of Syrian Christians living in urban areas. They were elevated to that status by the Portuguese by employing them as Army officers, soldiers, police officers, brokers, planters, traders, accountants, cooks, teachers, priests and messengers. They were not Nambudiris but from various sub castes. But they even controlled Nambudhiris and Nairs because the Raja of Kochi was a loyal and obedient vassal of the Portuguese. This may be the probable reason for them to assume Nambudhiri and Jewish status, although they came from untouchable stock.
    Despite an avalanche of irrefutable evidences that Syrian Christians cannot claim Nambudhiri or Jewish ancestry, why these racists are inventing lies to usurp the identity of others by referring to temple architecture, colour of dress, phony DNA ,tying of thali and cleanliness?

    It has been a general misconception that Thomas of Cana brought with him 400 Jews or 72 families. In those days only men could travel by ships, especially in long voyages to unknown lands. Long before the arrival of Thoma there were Jewish colonies in Kerala. If Thomas of Cana were a Jew, he would have reported at the Jewish settlements. Jewish records do not mention anywhere that this Thomas of cana came to Kerala.

    Another misconception is that immigrants from Syria were Jews. The Bible says in Mark 7 about a woman from Syria whose daughter had an evil spirit in her . “The woman was a Gentile, born in the region of Phoenicia in Syria.” Mark 7:26. As such, if at all Thomas of Cana had come, he could not be regarded as a Jew but only as a Gentile. Portuguese and Armenian records say that Thoma was an Armenian, a Gentile.

    According to tradition, the first group of immigrants of 400 laymen led byThomas of Cana arrived at Cranganore in 345 A.D. Alexis de Menzes, Roman Catholic Archbishop, arrived at Kochi early in 1599 which subsequently led to the Synod of Diamper and the oath of Coonen Cross. The Portuguese estimates placed the number of Syrian Christians as high as 200,000 when Alexis de Menzes wanted to reform the Syrian church. How did the Syrian Christian population increase betrween 345 A.D. to 1599 A.D.? In a caste-ridden and conservative society, no Nair or Brahmin woman would have ventured to mar.ry the foreigners. In the first instance, some immigrants would have married lower caste women when they decided to settle in Kerala. Like Anglo-Indians their families would have lived in the areas allotted by the rulers. Later they would have converted lower caste people such as fisher men (mukkuvas), slaves, barbers, washermen and other labourers (Ezhavas) with whom they had daily contacts in managing the routine affairs of their settlements. These converted untouchables and offspring of immigrants would have married among themselves to increase the Syrian Christian population. So when the Portuguese met the Syrian Christians for the first time they were all like local Keralites.

    There was population explosion of Syrian Christans from the time CMS missionaries launched a spirited campaign to convert as many untouchables as possible. Bailey, Fenn and Baker openly accommodated the Ezhavas and outcastes in the Syrian church. In Alappuzha Norton converted a wide range of untouchables, especially Ezhavas. Hawksworth baptized Ezhavas and other outcastes in Mavelikara, Poovathoor and Kodukulanji and constructed churches for them. Hawksworth is remebered for the large sccale conversion of slaves in Mallappally. The first slave was baptized with the name of Abel. Although Ezhava converts who had become Christians opposed the conversion of slaves, as years rolled by slave were also regarded as regualr members.
    Concealing all these historical facts, some conceited members claim Namboodirii descent when there were no Namboodiris in Ist century A.D. when St. Thomas visited Kerala and they are also taking DNA sample to claim Jewish descent ignoring the facdt that Thomas of Cana was a Gentile. DNA sample of Syrian Christians of Mallappally will show descent from slaves and Mavelikars descent from untouchables.

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