Tradition - Syro Malabar Christian Identity

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Thoma margamwas the term used for the typical traditions practiced by the St. Thomas Christians. By the preaching of the Apostle Thomas the people received Jesus according to their religious, linguistic, cultural background.In the early times of the Church, faith was handed down, from one generation to the next, mainly through family-centred catechesis and customary practices. Spirit of tolerance, friendly relations and peaceful co-existence with other religions were important life styles of Marthoma Christians.MARTHOMA CHRISTIANS

MARRIAGEFixing the Marriage, engagement, and crowing ceremony were the three most important steps in a marriage. At the residence of the woman in the presence of the parish priest, the fixing of the marriage was done by holding the hands by the fathers or guardians of the couples. The guests used to put rings in the fingers of the couples and avirunnuwas given on that occasion. Fixing of the marriage was done sometimes in the Church also. The share of the father to be given to the daughter was fixed at this time.

Engagement was a function conducted in the Church. The boy used to entrust a ring to the parish priest to be given to the girl. On a fixed day, the girl used to come to the church, and four virgins take the ring and put it on the figure of the girl saying this particular boy wants to marry you and has entrusted the ring to be given to you. If the girl denies it, the marriage remains cancelled and if she was to keep silence which is a sign of acceptance, they proceed with the marriage ceremony.ENGAGEMENT

CROWNINGCrowning ceremony was the real marriage. In the chalice half filled with water, the ring that was accepted by the woman was to be dipped. After long prayers, the couples drink water from that chalice and then the groom puts the ring in the fingers of the bride. Then took place the crowning ceremony and the crown was made up of red, white and blue flowers. Sometimes both man and woman wore crowns was made up of gold.


In an arranged marriage, while the meeting of the spouses is arranged by family members, relatives or friends, the spouses agree of their own free will to marry.

The marriage was usually on Sundays; but the celebrations lasted four days.

After the death of one partner, the other was permitted to get married after a year. Divorce was unheard among them.

Arranged marriages were very common throughout the world until the 18th century and this is increasingly common in the Syro-Malabar tradition till today including in migrant families.


The wedding processions to the church and from the church were royal and very important part of themarriage ceremony. For this occasion, the Thomas Christians made use of the high privileges of using palanquin (antoolam), elephants to ride on (ambri), royal silk umbrellas (muthukuta), day lamps (pakalvilakku), walking clothes (pvta), band (panjavdyam), people for shouting (nataviliby men andkuravaby women), body guards, fore-runners to clear the way, carpets, ornaments, slaves and many others. This procession is not practiced now-a-days.

TALIThe most important rites found exclusively in the marriage celebration of Thomas Christians are the rites of tying thetliand offering theMantrakoti. The Christiantliorminnuis made in gold, has 21 minute balls embossed on it in the form of a tiny cross. It seems that 21 balls are calculated to be 3 persons in Holy Trinity and 7 sacraments (3x7=21). For the Thomas Christians, thetli, is a sacred symbol of the strong bond and intimate union between the spouses. When she died, thetliwas deposited in the treasury box of the parish church. On the eve of the marriage the twine with which thetliis tied is prepared in the house of the bridegroom. Usually threads are taken from the wedding garment, themantrakoti. Three threads were twisted into one and out of seven such composite strands the final cord was prepared. For the Christians, three may represent the Holy Trinity, and seven may stand for the seven sacraments.

MANTRAKOTIThemantrakotiis the nuptial vestment for the bride presented by the bridegroom. Even though the East Syrian tradition has the rite of the blessing of the nuptial vestment, the St. Thomas Christian custom of mantrakotiseems to have originated from a Hindu custom.Mantrakotiis the symbol of the intimate union of life between bridegroom and bride. To vest someone shows the intimacy between the persons.The groom adorns the bride with themantrakotias if it were clothing for both of them. Adorning the bride with themantrakotiis understood as the couple putting on Christ.


AmongtheEastern Catholics, the exchange of rings is not technically part of the wedding service, but rather is exchanged at thebetrothal.It is always a two-ring set given to the bride and bridegroom by the priest after the blessing and the couples exchange the rings placing them into each others finger. The bouquet formed part of the dcor worn by both the bride and groom. It was considered a symbol of happiness. Originally bridal bouquets were made of herbs, which had magical and meaningful definitions for the couple's future life. Ancient uses included herbs, not flowers, in bouquets because they felt herbs -- especially garlic had the power to cast off evil spirits. Later, flowers replaced herbs and took on meanings all their own.

BRIDE TO THE HOUSE OF GROOM AND WEDDING BANQUETReceiving the bride to the Grooms house is a very meaningful ceremony practiced by the families. The bridegrooms mother in the traditional Kerala style with a bell metal lamp with a metallic handle (nilavilakkuorkuttuvilaku)and a bushel heaped up with grain welcome the bride. The couple stand facing the entrance and are welcomed with sprinkling of nellumnirum, which are symbols of light and prosperity and fertility cum coronation rite.Awedding receptionis apartyheld after the completion of amarriageceremony.Asumptuous feast served on folded leaf which is symbolically of the royal way of eating out of double leaf.

MADURAMVEKKALOn the occasion of the marriage, traditionallymadhuram vekkalwas practiced two times. The first ceremony is held in the respective homes of the bride and the groom, a day prior to the church wedding.On the previous day of the marriage, where all the relatives, neighbours and friends come together, they celebrate the single status of the person for the last day and say good bye to the single status.The secondmadhuram vekkalis done at the reception of the bride and groom which is given to both of them in a very solemn way by the eldest person of the family.This ceremony reminds that the life they begin together should become sweet as themadhuramthey accept.

PIOUS CUSTOMS RELATED TO CHILD BIRTHThe word, Maraan Iso Misiha (Our Lord Jesus Christ) and the childs name were whispered into its ear (nmakarama). The father of the child used to mix a little honey or milk with gold andvayambu(an ayurvedic medicinal plant) and put this mixture into the mouth of the child 36 hours after its birth. After 6 months, the child was taken to the church, with fine dresses for giving hard food, which was feeding the child with boiled rice (choruttu). The child was placed in the lap of the mother and the priest used to give three times the blessedpalchoruin the mouth of the child. At the age of 4, the children were placed at the lap of the teacher (shan), who initiated the children for writing the alphabets for the first time in a plate of rice (Ariyiliruttu or ezhuthininuthu).

SACRAMENT OF INITIATIONIn the early centuries, the baptism was on the 8thday remembering the dedication of Jesus in the temple. Now-a-days the children were baptised on or after the 40thday after the birth according to the East-Syrian formula.Close relatives of the child such as the grant parents or uncles and aunties were the God- parents.The children were given biblical names with modifications suited to the Malabar tastes, in particular those of the paternal and maternal grandparents for the first and second child respectively.On this occasion, people used to offer money to priests and to the church.

RITUALS TO THE DYING Tying palm leaves with biblical verses to the body of the sick, drinking of water mixed with the soil taken from the tomb of St. Thomas at Mylapore by the sick and the dying are some of the traditional practices performed by the St. Thomas Christians.Till the moment of death, the relatives and neighbours used to accompany the person, chanting or reciting the prayers sometimes in the in the ears of the dying (chevittorma).As soon as the person breathed his last, the toes and thumbs were tied with a piece of cloth. Usually, the dead body was placed facing the East at home and also at the graveyard.After a few hours of the death, his body was washed, dressed with fresh cloth (kodithuni)and anointed with perfumed oil and was exposed before the community to pay due homage. During the time at home,puthenpna,thomaparvam, and other prayers were recited by the relatives and neighbours.

COMMEMORATION OF THE DEADAfter the burial service, the members of the family would gather in the house in the presence of the parish priest and say special prayers for the dead and sprinkle holy water to purify the house. The priest used to bless a tender coconut (karikku) and drink from it and distributed among the relatives. After the liturgical prayers of the occasion, the priest would blessjirakam(cumin seed). Then all people one after another would come and accept the peace (Kastuuri) from the extended hand of the priest and take a few seeds ofjirakamto eat. Thus they break the fast after burial.The relatives and friends of the deceased used to pray and eat together at the house of the


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