The Christians of Kerala: History, Belief, and Ritual Among the Yakoba

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Oxford University Press, 1993 - Christian communities - 279 pages
Christianity in Kerala must be understood as a unique cultural configuration arising out of two kinds of situations. The first is its historical dimension: it is believed to have come to Kerala in AD 52, when St Thomas, the apostle of Christ, landed on the shores of Malabar. On anotherlevel, Christianity has existed within the framework of the dominant regional culture of Hinduism. This book is an attempt to understand the practice of Christianity in a small neighbourhood in Kerala.The author explores the relationship between Christianity and Hinduism by using the categories of time, space, architecture, and the body, and examines the ways in which Hindu, Christian and Syrian strands have woven together to form a rich cultural tapestry. Of these, the Syrian element is perhapsthe most problematic, for Syrian Christians have felt the influence of the Middle Eastern churches since early times. Over the years, colonial interventions by the Portuguese and the British brought about a series of schism, leading in the late nineteenth century to a situation in which therelation of one denomination of Syrian Christians to the Patriarch of Antioch (the head of their church) was troublesome enough to be taken to the lawcourts.This book is about the Yakoba who are now divided into two groups: the Orthodox Syrians and the Jacobite Syrians. Their quarrel over ecclesiastical jurisdiction is recorded here, using people's voices to express the importance of understanding the past's relation to the present, and the ways inwhich the 'church quarrel' affects Syrian Christian life and experience. In this context, the relationship between the people and their priests is an uncertain one.A third question discussed in the book relates to the ritual life of Syrian Christians. Life-cycle rituals - marriage, birth and death - are seen to be not merely 'markers' of transition in the passage of life, but become statements of a moral and theological nature. There is a clear demacationbetween domestic and canonical rituals of life crises: while the former are in consonance with Hindu ritual, canonical rituals are rigidly structured within the language of the Syrian Christian rite. Here, then, is presented most clearly the weave between Hindu, Christian and Syrian elements whichgive Syrian Christianity its cultural distinctiveness.The problems raised in relation to the annual rituals of the Syrian Christians show that while these liturgical enactments confirm and consolidate given structures, in certain specific instances they also allow for the possibilities of transformation. People's interpretations of Christianity arethus a powerful mode of cultural expression and societal flexibility.

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Morphology and Legends of Origin

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About the author (1993)

Susan Viswanathan, Teacher at Hindu College, Delhi University; Fellow, Centre for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum, Delhi.

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