Vincen Mathai says that he belong to the ancient Syrian Christian community of Kerala.
He says members of all the minority community in India are indeed aware of their ancestry.
As an Indian Syrian Christian Vincen has seen the heavy influence of the ancient Hindu traditions in the lifestyle of a typical Nasrani (Aramaic term for ‘Believer of the Nazarene’). He also explains how his community rituals have similarities with Hindu rituals.
“I shall show these similarities and you can see for yourselves as to why my community are proud of our Hindu heritage” he adds.
VIDYARAMBHAM (Start of learning)
Vidyarambhamis a Hindu tradition observed on Vijayadashami day mainly in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka where children are formally introduced to learning of music, dance, languages and other folk arts. It involves a ceremony of initiation into the characters of the syllabary.
The Vijayadashami day is the tenth and final day of the Navaratri celebrations, and is considered auspicious for beginning of learning in any field. The process of learning and initiation on this day is also closely related to the Ayudha Puja ritual. It is usually on Vijayadashami that the instruments kept for puja are taken up again for re-use. This is also considered a day when the Goddess of learning, Saraswati and teachers (gurus) must be revered by giving Gurudakshina. This usually consists of a betel leaf, Areca Nut, along with a small token of money and a new piece of clothing – a dhoti, mundu or a saree.
Priests at Mookambika temple helping the mothers while the child is taught to write
NEW BORN BABY RITUAL:
Both Hindus and Nasranis tie a gold thread called aranjanam around the waist of the baby within a month of the birth of the child.
Hindu dance form Thiruvathira:
Thiruvathirai or Thiruvathira or Arudhra Darisanam is a Hindu festival celebrated in the South Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Thiruvathirai (Arudhra) in Tamil means “sacred big wave”, using which this universe was created by Lord Shiva about 132 trillion years ago.
Nasrani dance form Margam Kali :
Margamkali is a group dance of Kerala practiced by Saint Thomas Christians who trace their origins to the evangelistic activity of Thomas The Apostle among Jews and natives in the 1st century.
There are several opinions on the origin of Margamkali. They are:
- It is traced back to Jewish wedding songs and dance from the diaspora.Scholars have found common origin among Malabar Jewishdance and songs and the Saint Thomas Christians dance form of Margamkali.
- It is derived from Sangam kali, a performance dance form of Brahmins.
- It is derived from the Yathra Kali, a performance art of Nambuthiri Brahmins in Kerala.
In both the cultures, the dance involves women dancing around a lit lamp in a circular fashion of varying speeds and rhythm.
The presence of a lit Kerala lamp in the centre of both circles are evident. In the next point this will be explained.
“Our religious rituals are so similar that we use the same or modified versions of many normal items seen around in Kerala” Vincen says. He also says “We use the percussion drum instrument called Chende just like the Hindus use during the temple festivals.”
A HINDU TEMPLE EVENT:
A NASRANI CHURCHFESTIVAL RALLY:
“We also use the religious Umbrella as well” he says.
“The lamps we use are also the same except for the presence of the Nasrani Cross at the top of the lamp” he says.
The churches even though nowadays look more Gothic than Desi, the old ones look similar to the temples one sees around Kerala.
Both Christians and Muslims call their churches and mosques respectively as PALLI,which means a religious structure in Pali, the Buddhist language used in Ancient India. (Isn’t this another acknowledgement of our ancient Buddhist ancestry?)
Also the presence of the flag mast is another similarity one can notice. Flag masts, which are mostly made from brass, form an important part of medieval local culture as people in the vicinity become aware of an upcoming festival only if the temple or church priests raise the flag before the festival.
Notice the Nasrani Cross on top of the flag mast.
Both Hindu and Christian marriages are similar on so many levels.
Let’s first start with the bridal wear.
Hindu brides get a special sari from her groom on the day of her wedding and that sari is not usually worn during any other occasions.
Similarly, Christian brides too receive this special sari from their grooms.
The most important time in any wedding is the actual marriage solemnization event.
In Kerala, the Hindu grooms tie the golden thread (Mangalsutra/Thaali) whereas Nasrani ones tie a silken thread with a golden cross attached(Minnu).
“With these examples I would like to reiterate that Kerala Christians easily continued the traditions, though after many modifications, that they had before converting” says Vincen Mathai.
This is because Christianity never forces any believer to shun their culture and tradition. My religion doesn’t define the cultural perspective and how our lives must be maintained. We don’t have any religious laws to make us follow a particular Christianculture. Therefore converted Christians didn’t let go of many cultural references that they had prior to their conversion.
Celebration of December 25 as Christmas, Christmas tree and Mistletoe are all examples of pagan cultural references that converted European Christians continued to follow even today after making modifications. Just like that, we too continued to use many traditions, making those our own.
I think the OP believes that there is an underlying Christian culture that is followed by Christians everywhere, like how Hindus, Muslims and Jews have. But Christians are only supposed to believe in Jesus along with his message and whatever changes we make to our cultural lives are immaterial as long as we pursue our faith in Christ.
Hence my ancestors didn’t find it sensible to let go of the rich culture and traditions wehad since ages just because we changed our God of worship.
“So for almost 2000 years after St. Thomas created the first Christian community in India, my ancestors are still acknowledging our Hindu ancestry just by living our lives as normal Nasrani” says Vincen Mathai.
Source and Credit: Vincen Mathai and Vikrant Raj