Saturday, January 23, 2010

Photos: A historic Syrian Christian church in Kerala

In Kerala there are several Syrian Christian churches much older than St. Antony’s, Thycattussary which is my mother church. But the importance of this one is that for a century and more it played an important part in the struggle of the Syrian Catholics of Kerala to free themselves from the dominance of the foreign missionaries.

Many crucial events and decisions took place in Thycattussary involving dignitaries like Paremmakkal Governedor, Papal Delegates, Persian bishops, Blessed Chavara, Nidheerikkal Mani Kathanar and Bishop Thondanatt. The Parayil Family which built the church had a major role to play in this saga.

The photographs here were taken by different Parayil Family members at different times. Copyright is reserved. Click on them for enlarged view.

The church after renovation

Front view.

Many historic meetings have taken place and many
dignitaries accommodated in this building.

The bell fry

View from the church towards the lake.

The old chapel near the lake.


Also see

A unique prayer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More on killing the bottle

[My post Kill the bottle attracted some comments which cannot be dealt with briefly. Therefore I am presenting my response by way of this post.]

Like the case of the oldest profession, drinking is not something that can be effectively stopped by law. That is why prohibition has been a failure wherever it was tried. That includes the Soviet Union and the USA. Several States in India (including parts of Kerala) had banned liquor shortly after Independence. But all of them except Gujarat repealed prohibition law after a few years. Sales Tax, if I remember right, was originally introduced to compensate the loss in revenue due to prohibition.

But even after prohibition was scrapped, Sales Tax (including on liquor) continues. As a result of this and other ad valorem levies, every time the government increases the price of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL – whiskey, brandy, rum etc) the revenue earnings of the exchequer increase. Those who cannot afford the higher cost turn to illicit brew.

Let us take a brief look at the ‘total prohibition’ in Gujarat. There have been several liquor tragedies in that State resulting in many deaths due to consumption of illicit concoctions. Last July about 150 people died in this manner. But for people who can afford, there is enough stock of liquor that is smuggled into Gujarat from the neighbouring States. The prices are not too high.

I believe that in Ahmedabad you can place a telephone order with the local bootlegger for the stuff you want and it would be delivered to you in half an hour. Quite a luxury, I must say. Two separate commissions, one headed by Justice MN Miabhoy and the other by Justice AA Dave have concluded that prohibition has not been really effective in Gujarat.

Mr. Narendra Modi, the Cief Minister of Gujarat, did introduce some relaxation of the prohibition rules by making liquor more easily available in SEZs and for visitors and business conventions. But about 25,000 people staged a protest march against the dilution in the liquor laws.

The argument that consumption of alcohol is against Indian culture is incongruous. From Vedic times, the drink Soma, and liquor obtained by fermenting grains and fruits were consumed by the people of India. There is at least one reference to early Christians of Kerala using palm toddy instead of wine for Mass. Even today some deities are believed to like offerings of arrack.

On all counts, ‘total prohibition’ is impractical and would do more damage than good. Telling people not to drink would have no effect. Alcohol is not bad per se, but the abuse of it is. Therefore the objective should be to prevent excessive drinking. Perhaps the only way to achieve this is by creating awareness of the damages alcohol can cause and on how to drink if one wants to go ahead nevertheless. I am not talking about ‘smoking can kill you’ kind of publicity but something more intense and meaningful.

If a man walks into a bar and orders beer by the peg someone is sure to tell him that is not the way the stuff is to be consumed. Different types of alcohol are to be taken in different ways. A simple example is beer and hard liquor – the former can be gulped while the other stuff is to be sipped. I have seen many people drink whiskey in the manner that beer should be taken. Obviously they think that is the way it should be done.

Most Indians start drinking on the sly. They and their companions are equally ignorant of what to drink, when, and how. They are usually guided by what is shown in the movies where macho heroes knock back undiluted liquor. Or they blindly follow the example of others who are equally uninformed.

Let people know how different types of drinks should be consumed and in what quantities. Explain to them the physical and economic damages excess consumption of alcohol can cause. Drive home the fact that a drunk has no macho image. Let them know that sex after heavy drinking can be most frustrating for both partners. Tell them that the capacity to hold alcohol differs from person to person.

Persuade the people to drink in moderation, preferably at home. Wives should be happy to keep the husbands home; pour them couple of drinks and see that they sip it slowly and also ensure that they eat something along with it. Parents should be happy if their grown up children stick to beer or an occasional hard drink instead of turning to drugs.

A properly planned and executed awareness campaign would require large expenditure. How is it to be funded? Surely the liquor manufacturers can be roped in to contribute. In the long run it would only help their business. Part of the revenue from the duties and taxes on liquor that the government collects can be set apart for this drive.

But first of all let us be aware of a basic fact of life – prohibition is big business for some people. For that matter, even pricing the liquor high is inviting the moonshiners and bootleggers and smugglers to enter the hooch trade.


Also see Drunk on a wasted road

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Random thoughts on the procedure to become a Christian, Syrian Christians

I have two granddaughters. Both had been baptized shortly after birth. The Confirmation (a sacrament of the Church) of the elder one was last month and the First Communion of the younger girl last Sunday. It was while attending these functions that the question came to my mind – when does a person really become a Christian?

At the outset I must explain that I am a Syro-Malabar (the second largest Rite in the Catholic Church) Christian from Kerala and this writing could be influenced by the practices and teachings of that denomination. There are, however, similarities among the major organized Churches in the matter of accepting members into the fold.

In several non-Christian communities, birth decides the religion of a child. It is assumed that the baby belongs to the religion of its parents. In Christianity, only when a child receives baptism it is accepted into the community as a Christian. In the modern Church this function is held when the baby is a month old or so. Of course, at that point of time the infant is unable to realize the significance of the function.

But the godparents who would be present and undertake the responsibility of being the child’s spiritual guardians answer, on behalf of the baby, the questions the priest asks at the baptism. These include queries like ‘Do you renounce Satan?’ The answer by the godparents is of course, ‘Yes’ irrespective of whether they understand the theological aspects or not. Once the baptism ceremony is over, the infant is brought up as a Christian.

The next major step in the spiritual ladder of a Christian is receiving the Eucharist or the Holy Communion. This is a sacrament where consecrated bread is consumed in commemoration of the Last Supper. This has to done with purity of body and mind. The Church teaches that confession absolves one of the sins committed and thereby cleanses the mind.

Normally a child is given the Holy Communion for the first time when he about seven to ten years old. The Church considers that to be the age of reason or moral responsibility. Whether the child understands its implications or not he has to confess to a priest before receiving Communion. And once the Eucharist is received, the boy or girl concerned is bound to obey all the rules of the Church.

But it would appear that even after receiving the Eucharist the person is still not a full-fledged Christian. There is one more Sacrament, ‘Confirmation’, before one becomes ‘a true soldier of Christ’. At this ceremony, according to the teaching of the Church, the Holy Spirit bestows on the recipient several gifts that would help him to lead a true Christian life. This Sacrament is given when a person is around 15 years of age by either the Bishop or a senior priest authorized by him. Surprisingly, Confirmation does not seem to be taken very seriously these days.

In the original Malabar Church the procedure was different. What is referred to as ‘Malabar Church’ is the community that is believed to have been founded by the Apostle St. Thomas, and its descendants. After the Portuguese practically subjugated it starting from the 16c CE, the unified Malabar Church became truncated and today there are several denominations - Syrian Catholics, Jacobites, Orthodox, Mar Thoima etc. They are generally referred to as Syrian Christians of Kerala, or St. Thomas Christians, or Nazranis.

In the Malabar Church Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation were held when the recipient was well past puberty, say, at the age of 16 or 17. Usually the person’s wedding too followed shortly thereafter. Here the obvious difference was that in this system one accepted Christianity as an adult. It was with the Portuguese intrusion that infant baptism was introduced in the Malabar Church.

Child baptism was permitted by the Universal Church only from the 6c CE. What is interesting here is that when the Church policy changed in other parts of the world, the Malabar Church continued with the original practice of adult baptism till 16c CE. In my opinion, this is another proof of the antiquity of Christianity in Kerala. The Malabar Church remained an isolated community with hardly any meaningful interaction with the churches elsewhere.

Nevertheless, it had a sound theological basis. Unlike the Churches elsewhere, from the early days the Malabar Church believed that there was salvation outside the Church, that a man who lived according the rules of his religion would attain ‘moksha’ (salvation). That was why there was hardly any missionary work by the Malabar Church. It effectively led to a position that being a Syrian Christian was a matter of birth.

Here the question arises why did then St. Thomas travel to India and convert people to Christianity. The Apostle is claimed to have landed in Kerala in 52 CE. He would have left on this journey a few years before that. It would appear that his departure for Kerala was before gentiles too were accepted into Christianity; originally only Jews had the privilege Therefore his initial target for spreading the Word would have been the Jewish communities which, according to historians, were in Kerala long before Christ.

It is possible that later on local gentiles were also taken into the fold. This could explain the claims that the Apostle converted some Brahmin families. It is doubtful whether 2000 years back there was a sizable Brahmin presence in Kerala. But there could have been an elite set of local people sufficiently educated and knowledgeable to engage St. Thomas in debates. After all, they were involved in trade with many nations. Quite possibly, some of them accepted the new religion. That was a period when Kerala was a haven to all communities.

The label ‘Nazrani’ also indicates the antiquity of the Malabar Church. The name ‘Christian’ was coined by the Apostles at Antioch in the seventh decade of the Christian Era. Till then the followers of Jesus Christ from Nazareth were known as ‘Nazrani’. When St. Thomas established the Malabar Church, its members also were called Nazranis, in all likelihood initially by the Jews and the Arabs who were present in Kerala.

The Western missionaries who reached Kerala with the Portuguese and subsequently too, unfortunately, did not understand the ethos of the Apostolic Malabar Church. Their endeavour to westernize the Nazranis went on for three centuries and, in the process, much was lost. The once unified Malabar Church today lies divided into several denominations.

Related posts:

History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview

Vedas, Syrian Christians

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Some recent photographs

Open doors

Gold & white beauties.

Ice blue glassware.

Green leaves in the light

Red stars in the dark (Ixora flowers)

Bamboo necklace.

Coconut palms against an overcast sky.

Empty glass.

Jingle bells.

A green canopy.

All photos by me. Copyright reserved.
Click to enlarge.

Also see:
Pastoral Kerala: Photos from Olavipe

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kill the bottle

A club bar. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.Click to enlarge.

Onam Rs.34 crores (1 crore=10 million)

Christmas Rs.44 crores

New Year Rs.53 crores

These are the approximate figures of liquor sales in Kerala through the State Government stores during the last three festive occasions. They do not include the considerable quantities of alcohol sold through bars, illicit/smuggled liquor, sales by the Defence Services Canteens to serving and retired personnel and intoxicant toddy tapped from the palms.

Every year the turnover of the liquor outlets keeps increasing. This is not because of any escalation in prices. More quantity is sold. Even when the prices are hiked the quantity of spirit sales is on a high. And according to one report the demand for premium brands is growing in Kerala.

Why is the liquor consumption so high in Kerala? During normal days the average sales are reportedly Rs.15 crores. What would be the money outflow during festive seasons? We have only seen here the expenditure on spirits. There is so much more – new clothes, special food, presents, and so on. Where do the funds for all these come from?

Gulf money sent home by those who work there? Tainted or black money? Or do people of Kerala earn that much? If so, does such income reflect in the Income Tax returns/collections? Or is most of it debt financing? It is perhaps a combination of all these.

A former Director General of Police, Kerala said a few months ago that some men in the State are attracted to terrorism more for economic gain than by religious fundamentalism. This is a very pertinent point. Make money by whatever means so that there is enough to spend. A pattern has been set and people blindly try to follow that. Beg, borrow or steal to keep up with the crowd.

The State Beverages Corporation says that the record shows more quantity of liquor consumption because the number of ‘dry days’ has been reduced. The people who used to take illicit drinks on those days now buy from the official outlets.

Some blame the police for the heavy intake of alcohol in the State. To prevent driving under the influence of alcohol, police patrols are stationed near bars and clubs in the evenings. Because of the nuisance of being checked by the cops, many people keep away from such outlets. The bar owners complain that their business is drastically affected by the highly visible police presence. Some clubs have a pool of job drivers available to drive home members who drink more liquor than legally permitted.

In good clubs one rarely sees heavy consumption of spirits. Members drop in, meet friends, have a couple of drinks with some snacks over a period of time and go home. To a large extent, I suppose, it is the same pattern in bars. But now, for fear of police checking, many people buy bottles and take home where the drinking is neither measured nor controlled and probably gulping down quickly to avoid detection by family members.

Then there is the case of families where women object to alcohol being brought into the house. This restriction drives the men to bars where they quickly knock back a few pegs and rush home. That is not normal drinking. Such drinkers might consume much less if they could peacefully take limited quantities at home.

A few decades back when the constitution of The Lotus Club, Cochin was re-drafted, one of the changes suggested was that the members’ children who attained the age of 18 and were not themselves members should not be permitted to use the club facilities. This was objected to, and rightly so. The argument against the move was that the youngsters would go to who knows where if they were denied the club facilities. The age limit was raised to 25.

The point is that when there is some sort of supervision, though silent it might be, hopefully the drinker is likely to have an extent of self imposed control. It may also possibly banish the ‘kill the bottle’ or ‘finish the bottle’ instinct which seems to be the bane of many drinkers. For them, once a bottle is opened, it has to be emptied.

A better way of killing the bottle is not to buy one. But no amount of persuasion or counseling would help unless the person involved has a strong will to control or stop his drinking.

Also see:

A Vodka Story.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year Greetings

Wish you a Very Happy & Prosperous


(Photo by me. Copyright reserved. Click to enlarge.)