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The Editor of the St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India (ISBN 818713206X, Lib. Cong. Cat. Card. No. 73-905568 ) and the Indian Church History Classics (ISBN 81-87133-04-X, Lib. Cong. Cat. Card. No.98-908360 BX4714.120 ) Prof. George Menachery was born at Kattur on April 2, 1938. After teaching university classes for thirty years he gave up the job as Head of the Department of Post-Graduate Teaching in order to concentrate on research and publication. At present he spends some time every year as Professor of Christian Art at the Pontifical Institute, Alwaye.
Connected with many institutions and organisations interested in the study of history and culture, he was executive member of the Kerala History Association (1975-90), Kerala Government Advisory Board of Archaeology (1975-82), University Senate, University Statutory Finance Committee, Kerala Sahitya Academy...
He was also the national vice-president of the Newman Association of India-Pax Romana (1964-72), founder director of the Institute for Lay Leadership Training (1967-1999), founder director and curator of the Christian Cultural Museum (from 1980), member of the (Arch)diocesan Pastoral Council (from 1978), president of Kalasadan (1984-1992) ...He has to his credit a large number of publications, research papers, articles, radio talks and TV programmes. His research activities and lectures have taken him to more than 20 countries in 4 continents. At present he is engrossed in the work of completing the Christian Encyclopedia, and the Church History Classics, and in setting up a comprehensive Indian Christian Museum. While not traveling in connection with one of these projects he is to be found at the ancestral family seat in Ollur, browsing in his huge library of rare books or pottering around the orchard. Detective stories and Parippu Vada are major weaknesses.
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Syro Malabar Syro Malankara Orthodox Jacobite Mar Thoma
Paper by Prof. George MENACHERY
Mt. St. Thomas, November 2001
Ecumenical Seminar on
The Cultural Heritage
of the St. Thomas Christians -
Our Efforts to Preserve It :
The Syro-Malabar Church
One might justly feel frightened standing before such an august assembly of the most distinguished ecclesiastical dignitaries and scholars of this calibre; but for discussing the particular topic of this seminar Kerala cannot offer any forum more appropriate than this one. Especially, to discuss the topic of this specific paper viz. The Cultural Heritage of the Syro-Malabar Church and Our Efforts to Preserve It there could be no group of people anywhere else, more competent or more earnest, than is present here.
The topic of this seminar, one feels, has been wisely chosen since on the one hand there can be no two opinions about the invaluable nature of the cultural wealth of the St. Thomas Christians, and on the other hand such another topic does not exist with practically no scope for controversy or mutual suspicion or petty jealousy . There is to be found today considerable unanimity of opinion among all the Churches of the St. Thomas Christians and among the sub-groups thereof, both among scholars and the People of God in general, regarding the need to study, research, preserve, and propagate this unique heritage - everyone expressing the strongest desire to earnestly cooperate, actively collaborate, and determinedly work together towards that end without any reservations. As was discovered in the course of more than one seminar held here1 the cultural heritage of the community could be an effective binding force and one of the strongest rallying points - perhaps the chief one at the moment - that could unite all the groups and all the Churches that adhere to the St. Thomas tradition in a meaningful spirit of ecumenism.
What is Kerala culture? Who are the true inheritors of Kerala culture? When one looks at the near consensus among scholars2 that the Brahmins (Nampoothiris) arrive in Kerala only much later than the third century C.E., their dominance decernible only after the 9th-10th centuries, and that the Nairs appear on the scene only after the twelfth century and even then only as Sudras as they are till this date, one might reasonably surmise that Mar Thoma Nazranies were the most influencial community in Kerala in the first centuries. Perhaps upto the year 849 (24 M.E.) when Ayyanadikal confers3 once again the seventytwo aristocratic / royal privileges on the Palli (church) and the Palliyars (Christians) these Christians combined in
themselves all the attributes of the Brahmins (Purohitas), the Kshatriyas (soldiers and rulers), and the Vysyas (traders and entrepreuners)4.
Before proceeding any further let us take another look at this oft-used but much abused term culture. One uses the word culture in different contexts: When we say in English, Shes a very cultured woman, what we generally mean is Shes had a good education and knows a lot about art, music, painting etc. Similarly Shes a person of culture would mean She likes and knows a lot about literature, art, music, etc. But there is much more to culture than all this.
Other phrases come to mind: phrases like Culture Shock, Culture Gap, Cultural Stereotype, Cultural Cringe, and Culture Vulture.5 Culture has been defined in various ways, but the truth is, so far a universally accepted definiton of culture has not yet been found. Kroeber and Kluckhohn list in their book Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions6 about 250 definitions and even this list is not complete. Not to become too involved philosophically attention may simply be directed to the excellent article Culture at the Service of Evangelisation in India by Stephen Fuchs.7
In order to emphasise the point that in the phrase Cultural Heritage Culture means much more than art, architecture, sculpture, literature, music &c. a few more quotations one may be kindly permitted to be reproduce.
Culture is that complex whole which indudes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, customs and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.8
Culture is everything. Culture is the way we dress, the way we carry our heads, the way we walk, the way we tie our ties it is not only the fact of writing books or building houses.9
The Nature of Culture: Culture is based on the uniquely human capacity to classify experiences, encode such classifications symbolically, and teach such abstractions to others. It is usually acquired through enculturation, the process through which an older generation induces and compels a younger generation to reproduce the established lifestyle; consequently, culture is embedded in a persons way of life. Culture is difficult to quantify, because it frequently exists at an unconscious level, or at least tends to be so pervasive that it escapes everyday thought.
Thus the existence and use of culture depends upon an ability possessed by humans alone. It refers to behaviour peculiar to Homo sapiens, together with material objects used as an integral part of this behaviour. Hence culture includes language, ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, and ceremonies, among other elements.10
The rock edicts11 and copperplate grants12, various Granthavaries, the Ramban Song13, the Margam Kali Pattukal 14, the Pallippattukal 15, and other such songs, the letters and reports of the Portuguese and the Dutch, the Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Diamper16 contain much information for the various aspects of the culture of the St. Thomas Christians. But the most .....3
important source is the collective memory of the people, and the existing customs and traditions, in addition to the extant works of art, architecture etc.17 Works by Ferroli, Schurhammer, and Placid, and the efforts of the three Hs :Heras, Hosten, and Hambye have contributed greatly to our knowledge and understanding of the Thomas Christian cultual heritage.
To understand, appreciate, and conserve the cultural heritage of the Syro-Malabar Church one must study all the aspects mentioned above in detail vis-a-vis the cultural heritage of all the other Thomas Christians and the cultural heritage of Kerala.. These streams are generally quite similar and often identical with each other. In a short paper of this length justice cannot be done to even a single aspect of this heritage. However let us deal with some items at random, knowing full well that the selection is bound to be arbitrary, and the treatment haphazard.
As the documentary video film screened earlier showed a number of examples of the various works of art in the Syro-Malabar churches it is not necessary to go into all that again here. Suffice it to say the works of art and architecture in wood, metal, ivory, stone, colours, plaster, shells, cloth, etc. in Thomas Christian churches and households form a considerable proportion of art objects in Kerala and their position qualitatively and quantitatively in the heirarchy of Keralas art tradition cannot be questioned. Among the objects in these churches which contribute much to the artistic superiority of Kerala may be counted the huge pillarless roofs and roof decorations, the belfrys, the altarpieces, the ceilings, the wooden rostra (Pushpakkoodu), the processional RoopaKkoodu, the wooden candlesticks, the open-air granite crosses, the copper-sheathed flagstaffs, the rock lampstands and the array of rock (chuttuvilakku) lamps on the huge Aanamathil, facades and their plaster images, baptismal fonts, bronze bells and vessels, wood and ivory statues, wooden boxes, gold and silver crosses, colourful processional umbrellas, multicoloured mural paintings, wooden panels, goldcoated woodcarvings, and a thousand and one other items. True some of these are of post-Portuguese origin. But typologically and from the point of view of the techniques used most of these are typically Keralite and often typically christian in origin and use.
One of Indias most celebrated festivals is the Pooram festival of Thrissur. This festival was planned, organised and established by Shaktan Tamburan of Cochin just two hundred years ago. Perhaps the most attractive item of this festival is the celebrated Thekkottirakkam with the heavenly sight of the changing of the colourful umbrellas. It is this changing of the umbrellas that brings to the Thekkinkad Maidan large numbers of visitors from India and abroad every year. Although even the smallest Syro-Malabar church has a dozen colourful Muthukkudas in its possession from the time of its establishment, it being an item of the 1500 years old 72 privileges of Kerala christians. These churches or their festivals are not very famous compared to the two centuries old Pooram. It is not having these art objects that matters, but using ones cultural wealth to the best advantage for the greater glory of God and man.
Adi Sankaracharya in his 64 so-called anacharams made white cloth compulsory for Brahmin men and women. He made nasal ornaments taboo for Kerala Brahmin womenfolk (i.e.the Antharjanams). Today the njori forms part of the costume of aristocratic Nampoothiri women. Brahmin women everywhere else use dark-coloured dresses. Elsewhere they always use nasal ornaments. In Kerala only Mar Thoma Nazraney women have these two customs. Did
Sankaracharya who lived in Kalady at the centre of christian communities in the 8th/9th century borrow these customs from the aristocratic Nazranies to promote Brahmin acceptability? In any case white dress has always been a part of christian culture in Kerala as also the taboo concerning the use of nasal ornaments. Here one might also make mention of the large number of similarities found between nampoothiri and nazraney customs regarding ornaments, marriage, birth, and death related ceremonies and observances, costumes, daily utensils and food items etc.
Kerala christians have their own customs and traditions regarding many other matters, as f.i. in the names chosen for their children or in the type of Palaharams they make for Holy days and festivals. There are even some Curries and side dishes which are peculiar to the christians of Kerala.
Institutions like Palliyogam and Pallikkoodam prospered under christian aegis.
Liturgy, liturgical art and architecture, music, musical instruments, vestments, gestures and celebrations all formed another important part of the cultural richness of the Syro-Malabar Church.
Down from the first century we find Kerala christians almost invariably open to all the sections of world christianity and willing to give a warm welcome to fellowchristians irrespective of their nationality or allegiance. For the Kerala christian Christianity was always the same whether it was of one brand or other. It was only much later that lack of unity and divisions become permanent features of Kerala Christianity.
Kerala perhaps is the part of India which has come into contact with the maximum number of different cultures from all parts of the world at least from the first centuries B.C.E. Kerala also came into contact with almost all world religions at an early stage. This exposure to world religions, and world cultures was maximum in the case of the christians of Kerala as they were having a monopoly of sea trade from time immemorial. Hence Kerala christians became world citizens before other parts of India became even aware of the existence of other cultures and other religions. This had had its positive and negative effects on the character and conduct of Keralites in general and Kerala christians in particular. This is well reflected in the cultural heritage of the Kerala christians. While this has helped the Thomas Christian to absorb some of the best things from all cultures, it has also led to their changing too fast and discarding the ways of their forefathers without much hesitation. This is best seen in their attitude to their cultural heritage.
In spite of Rome setting up various commissions and other bodies for promoting the .....5
protection and preservation of the cultural wealth of individual Churches and for the promotion of better methods in the preservation of old records very little progress has been made by the Syro-Malabar church in these matters. The writings and speeches of the Holy Father regarding these matters appears to have had little impact on the this Church. This negligence is visible in the attitude to all aspects of culture, although here and there one could see some solitary efforts being made to remedy matters. The leadership being given by the ecclesiastical dignitaries it may be hoped will bear fruit in the not too distant future.
Perhaps this is the place to sound a much needed warning to our own people to preserve their cultural and historical heritage. Anyone who has worked in the field knows the neglect and even vandalism of Kerala Christians towards their cultural heritage. Old churches and monuments are demolished and replaced with ugly concrete structures, ancient paintings are rubbed off, and copperplate grants are sold for metal value; valuable records perish without being copied. And the general outrage to history and antiquity borders on the criminal. And it is high time this is stopped.
We may conclude with Goethe:
Men are so inclined to content themselves with what is commonest; the spirit and the senses so easily grow dead to the impressions of the beautiful and perfect, that every one should study, by all methods, to nourish in his mind the faculty of feeling these things. ...For this reason, one ought every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.
Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship. Bk. v, ch.1 (Carlyle, tr.) [source: Stevenson]
1. Cf., f. i., Questions 2 and 3 (p.226) on universally / commonly acceptable artistic / architectural features in the St. Thomas tradition and such features of the Palliyogam along with the answers (pp.226, 227) given during the Group Discussions and the general recommendations (p.229 et.sq.) of the seminar on The Life and Nature of the St. Thomas Christian Church in the Pre-Diamper Period, in Bosco Puthur (Ed.), LRC Publication No.1, LRC, Kochi, 2000. The different papers reproduced and responses thereto also may throw considerable light on this aspect.
2. The views of Dr. M. G. S. Narayanan and Dr. Veluthattu Kesavan who have exhaustively studied the question of the arrival of Nampoothiri Brahmins in Kerala and their early settlements in Kerala may be read in their papers for the LRC Seminar on some of the Historical Questions related to 1.the Nampoothiris, 2.the Jews, and 3. the Samgham Literature held here in September 2000. Prof. Rajan Gurukkal and Prof. Scaria Zacharia gave prepared responses to the paper on the Early History of Nampoodiris in Kerala.
3. It is especially stated [in the copper plates] that Vijayaragadeva the kings representative, Ayyan Atikal the governor, Rama Thiruvatikal the governors heir apparent, Prakriti (chief citizens), Adhikarar (officers), Arunnurruvar (The Six Hundred), and the Patis (local chiefs) of Punnaittalai and Polaikkuti were present on the occasion of this gift and this in itself conveys its importance. - M. G. S. Narayanan, Cultural Symbiosis in Kerala, Kerala Historical Society, Trivandrum, 1972, p.36.
4. Because the 72 privileges have more rights and freedoms and authority incorporated into them than enjoyed even by Azhvancheri Thamprakkal, both a ruler and top Nampoothiri. (Read the Tharisappalli plates along with the Jewish plates for some eleven of these privileges or Viduperus: Earth and water on elephant-back, day lamp, spreading cloth, palanquin, umbrella, northern drum, bugle, locked gate, arch, arch-decoration, and arrow.) Vide M. G. S. Narayanan, op. cit., ibid.
5. Cambridge International Dictionary of English, p.334.
6. A. L. Kroeber and C. Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions - Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge, Mass., 1952, Vol.XLVII, No.1.
7. The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, Vol.I, Ed. G.Menachery, Trichur, 1982, pp.198 ff.
8. Sir E. B. Tylor
9. Aime Cesair .....7
10. Encyclopaedia Brittanica
11. Like the Thazhekkat rock inscription and the later foundation stones and tomb inscriptions of many churches.
12. Like the Tharisappalli plates and the Palayur plates.
13. An English translation of the Song of Thomas Ramban sent by T.K.Joseph dated 6-7/3/1926 to Fr. Hosten s.j. may be seen in the Indian Church History Classics, Vol.I - The Nazranies,Ed. G.Menachery, Ollur, Jan. 1998, pp.520-525.
14. P.U.Lucas, Kottayam, 1910. A reprint, Ed. J. Vellian, is available (1980). In his Anthropology of the Syrian Christians L. K. Anatha Krishna Ayyar has given English translations of many songs (which is available in the ICHC, Vol.I, The Nazranies, pp.500-506.
15. Vide supra f.n.14.
16. Gouvea, Antonio de, O.E.S.A, Jornada do Arcebispo de Goa Dom Freyn Aleixo de Menezes, Coimbra,1606. In English: Geddes, Michael, The History of the Church of Malabar...Together with the Synod od Diamper...London: 1694 (fully reproduced in Hough II and in The Nazranies). In Malayalam: Scaria Zacharia, Edamattam, 1998.
17. See the separate articles in the ecumenical St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, Ed. G. Menachery, Vol.II, Trichur, 1973. Vols.I (1984), and II (1982) of the History of Christianity in India (CHAI - Ed. A. M. Mundadan) and the Malayalam Kraisthava Vijnana Kosham (Alleppy, 1976) also have much useful material. The STCEI and The Nazranies together have nearly one thousand photographs dealing with the cultural heritage of the Thomas Christians. A collection of articles by this writer entitled Pallikkalakalum Mattum in Malayalam (Trichur, 1984) has given as appendices a number of rather exhaustive lists of objects of art of the St. Thomas Christians gathered from churches and households for the various exhibitions organised by the STCEI from 1971 onwards and for the Christian Cultural Museum of Trichur (1980).
18. Yet when the local churches brought forth all their Muthukkudas in 1983 for the Holy Year cultual rally it was a wonderful sight indeed that left the onlookers dumbfounded with joy. From that time onwards more and more processions in the State and even abroad are displaying the Muthukkudas and Historico-cultural floats to advantage.
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HERE ARE SOME MORE PICTURES OF KERALA!!!
Pictures of Kerala & Christianity
Granite objects in Kerala Churches
Prof. George Menachery
Indigenous advances in archaeology, numismatics, anthropology, epigraphy, geography, geology, ocean studies, art, architecture, culture, literature, folk arts, place name studies,etc. in recent years have shed considerable new light on the origins and situation of early Christianity in Kerala and as such serve scholars as meagrely used but excellent resource tools for Syrian Christian studies .This is an attempt to survey the rock-work in the art and architecture of the churches of Kerala.
The St. Thomas Christian Encycloppaedia (STCEI), Vol.II, and the Indian Churh History Classics (ICHC), Vol.I (i.e.The Nazranies), may be consulted for illustrations. In those volumes there are scores of pictures of rock objects from churches. Rock art in churches, viz. the Nazraney Sthamba or rock obelisk cross, the rock Deepa Sthamba, or lamp-stand, the copper-sheathed Dwaja Sthamba or Kodimaram/flagstaff, are all found in front of the typical early Nazraney churches, and the baptismal font or Mammodisakkallu in the baptistry, often situated at the west end of the nave, immediately after the portico or Mukhamandapam, and the Aanavathil. However in the west-Syriac tradition the baptismal fonts are today to be seen near the altar. True, this will only cover the front courtyard of the church and just take us beyond the threshold of the nave into the baptistry. But we must stop with that for the present.
Places of worship in Kerala as in many other climes were generally constructed on hilltops or the highest available spot in a locality, except of course those on the sea-coast and river banks. People reached the place of worship climbing the steep slopes, afterwards replaced by granite steps. The Thrissur Vadakkunnathan temple of Pooram fame is still reached by climbing the slopes, but most churches today have steps and side roads leading to them, as at Ollur, Kuravilangad, Uzhavoor, Parappur, Ramapuram, Kaduthuruthy, and Changanassery.
Festival related and liturgical processions in Malabar are of at least four kinds : certain pradakshinams or processions starting near the altar end at the mukhamandapam or portico of the church, many others, importantly, enter the courtyard and go round the rock cross, others go round the church, still others wind along the valley-roads surrounding the church-hill, commencing and concluding at the foot of the rock-cross.
There are three striking objects of significance in front of the typical Malabar churches, either inside the courtyard or just outside it: the open-air granite(rock) cross which the present writer has christened Nazraney Sthamba or flag-staff made of Keralas famed teak wood (e.g. at Parur), and often enclosed in copper sheaths / hoses or paras (as at Changanassery, Pulinkunnu, or Chambakkulam), or made out of some other wood or other material.Stambas or pillars of some type or other are to be found among the Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, etc. in India. Such pillars and structures were part of the Christian heritage of Kerala much before the ascendancy of Vedic Hinduism in these parts , although James Fergusson did not know or care about these.
The ubiquitous cross of Malabar churches is best represented by the rock crosses, mostly outside the churches.The open-air rock-cross of Malabar is an obelisk, a tall stone column, with four, sometimes decorated, slightly stapering sides. Rome has many obelisks (from Egypt and the East) which have been sometimes made into cross-bearing structures decorating the piazzas and squares); London has one on the banks of the Thames (Cleopatras Needle); Paris has one at the place d la concorde; and even New York has one in the central park. Many memorials like the Washington Memorial are obelisk-shaped. The Asoka Pillar and other such Indian pillars must have been inspired by the Graeco-Parthians, under Egyptian-Persian influence. The Nazraney sthamba is a direct descendant of the obelisk.,and much closer to it than the other Indian pillars - in shape, method of constuction and transportaion, method of erection, function, and solar symbolism. The Roman obelisk, bearing crosses today, have been converted to Christianity, while Keralas cross-shaped obelisks were born Christian.The obelus and the double-dagger reference marks in printing may be profitably recalled here.
The three-tier gabled indigenous architecture of Kerala churches, which lacked facades until the coming of the Portuguese, immensely gains in richness, symmetry, and beauty because of the open-air rock crosses, some of them more than 30 feet in height including the intricately carved pedestals, and monolithic shafts. No other community in Kerala has such a huge monumental stone structure, and no other Christianity has such a universal and huge emblem in front of the churches. The indoor counterparts of these crosses have the earliest carvings in Kerala of the national flower lotus and the national bird peacock. Perhaps even the national animal tiger is first depicted in Kerala art in church sculpture. There was no rock carving in South India prior to the period of these indoor crosses. The motifs, message , and images on these crosses and their pedestals display a remarkable degree of Indianness and Malayalee Thanima or identity. Vedic Hindu Gods and Goddessess like Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva, Sapthamathas , Jeshta etc. appear in the art of the central Guruvayoor/Palayoor-Quilon part of Chera country only after the 11th-13th centuries, and even in the Salem-Erode section, and the Trivandrum-Cape Comorin section Vedic Hindu deities appear in art only as late as the 9th century A.D.
The base with a socket, the monolithic square and slightly tapering shaft with cylindrical terminals, the horrizontal piece forming the arms with a double(hole) socket in the middle, and the capital with a cylindrical bottom end are the four members of the open air cross.They are so well chiselled and proportionate that when put together the socket and cylinder arrangement enables the cross to stand by itself. However for the bigger crosses, pedestals in the form of sacrificial altars or Ballikallus are found, often carrying exquisite reliefs of the flora and fauna of the land in addition to scenes from daily life and biblical scenes.The cross representing the supreme Bali (sacrifice) or Mahabali appearing on the Balikkallu most appropriately represents the Calvary/Bethania events and sheds plenty of light on the ideological, historial, cultural and technological bent of mind of the forefathers. Compare with the base of the Obelisk of Theodosius, Constantinople, A.D.390.
The obelisk is a ray of the sun - here a ray of Christ (of Horus -Xt. the sun-God). This ray helps the lotus near - universally depicted on such crosses to blossom forth representing in a typical Indian poetic conceit the grace received by the sin - bound human soul(panka jam) from Christ. Lotus, representing the sun is found in other early Indian art also. The Buddhist Padmapada concept also comes to mind. The half dozen interior Pehlavi inscribed crosses, some of them surely of pre 7th century origin, which were mostly tombstones before they were put up on the altars, have generally the dove (Holy Spirit) depicted on top of the clover or flowertipped equal-armed Greek cross, in addition to the lotus at the bottom.
In this three piece (Thri-kanda) cross one might, perhaps, with considerable effort read the lotus represented Brahma (Father), Vishnu, and Shiva. The arrangement to hold wicks found on the open air crosses may be related to the preservation of fire, and the effort to make it available to the common people in the dim past, when Homakundams were rare in Kerala or beyond the reach of the common folk. It is perhaps in connection with the need to preserve fire that the oil-Nerchas and oil Araas of the churches, and the compound -wall rocklamps are to be evaluated. The oil related objects in the churches also indicate the connection of this christianity with the trade of the land, especially oil-trade.The bell like arrangement on some crosses also are noteworthy. Veneration of the cross, angels, Adam and Eve... and of course the Indian Cross itself are some of the religious carvings on these structures.
The square or polygonal shape of the individual pieces in the granite or rock lampstands at Kallooppara, Kundra, and Chengannur indicate the antiquity of such lampstands in the churches.Unlike in the churches, in the temples, the tradition of these lamps continued and thus developed into the present-day round shape of the pieces. In art history generally the simpler forms make their app-
earance first , and refinements and complications indicate a later date. Even when the tradition of
lampstands declined in the churches, many open-air crosses had wickholders incorporated into
them, with the advantage that wind and rain do not put off the flames. Church walls still display
rows of rock lamps. Inside the churches the tradition of bronze lamps continued many churches still displaying rows of rock lamps. Inside the churches the tradition of bronze lamps continued vigorously, representing a variety of shapes and types, and some lamps having even hundreds of wickholders, e.g. the Aayiram Aalila lamps at Arthat or Angamaly.
In front of the church the third interesting object is the flagstaff, sometimes covered with copper
paras. Every festival is announced with the Kodiyettu or flag-hoisting, a tradition going back to
early Buddhist times at least. All these three objects in the courtyard of the church have a variety
of liturgical functions associated with them.
Let us now climb and go across the portico and enter the Haikala or nave beyond the Aanavathil to
look at the rock baptismal font in the baptistry.
The Architraves and doorposts in many churches are good examples of south Indian rock-carving.
(e.g.old Kayamkulam, Chengannur, Kanjoor). But the rock-baptismal fonts are the real pride of
many an old church.
There are interesting rock baptismal fonts at Edappally, Kanjoor, Mylakkombu, Muthalakkodam,
Changanassery, Kothamangalam, Kadamattom etc. The similarity of these baptismal fonts with
illustrations of the fonts used for the baptism of Constantine (4thC.) and Clovis (RheimsC.496) is
All the old baptismal fonts are of granite or very hard laterite. They are all huge in size indicating
that baptism by immersion must have been the order of the day. Most of the old baptismal fonts
depicted in the STCEI II & the ICHC I were probably of a date prior to or very near the decree of the Synod of Diamper which made permanent fonts more or less compulsory. Although most of the old baptismal fonts/ baptistries are found near the west end or middle of the nave on the northern side - Kaduthuruthy(Big), old Edappally, old Kanjoor, Changanassery (Southern side), in many churches, mostly Jacobite/Orthodox they are found close to the sanctuary e.g. Angamaly (Middle-church), Kallooppara. They are exquisitely carved with reliefs of the baptism of Christ, Mary feeding the Child, angels, Indian
crosses, etc. There are also wonderful motifs of leaves, the basket pattern, coir pattern, etc.
engraved on these stones. By the way the very Malayalam word Mammodisakkallu indicates
a font made of stone. Another term is mammodisath-thotti. The Holy Water Font is called
Alexander the Great and his general Selucus both westerners were in Takshashila or cut stone
(Taxila) in Gandhara, the land of Gandhari and Shakuni on the banks of the Indus, before the architect and builder Thomas arrived in those parts. The daughter of Selucus supposedly married Chandra Gupta Maurya. Their (?) son Bimbisara was the father of Ashoka the Great. Was Ashoka a foreigner?
Until James Pincep deciphered the writings on an Ashoka Pillar in the 19th century, our knowledge even of this great Indian emperor was minimal. Compared to this our knowledge of Apostle Thomas Indian sojourn must be considered quite adequate. But that is another story.
The national emblem of india is derived from one of the Ashoka pillars.One can see this emblem of four
lions and the wheel on any Indian currency note in ones pocket.Those lions of Ashoka roared not in hostility but in love.The roar of these four lions for love we next hear from the amazingly attractive ancient rock baptismal fonts of Malabar, at Edappally, Kanjoor, and elsewhere.These four lions support the hemispherical basin of the font, as the Ashoka lions were supporting a globe, in the very same manner in which the Egyptian obelisks were supporting the shining disk of the Sun. But in the midst of our other interests we failed to give our ears to these voices and to preserve these great Malabar lions , an endangered species , indeed , in our own midst.
For at Edappally e.g. the stone baptismal font was dismantled into three pieces and strewn about the courtyard of the church, at the mercy of the innumerable, pilgrims and pick-pockets freqenting the spot .
At Angamaly one could still see the old baptismal font in many pieces near the priests kitchen. In Punnathra the font is used to collect rain-water, an euphemism this writer has been using for a salty human out pouring.At Kudamaloor the font once used to baptise the Blessed Sr.Alphonsa, had to be rescued from the layers of plaster on the wall.This list it is not necessary to prolong. Cry, the beloved country. (Adapted from a paper presented by the author at the Societas Liturgica Congress, Kottayam.)
Here I might add an entry whenever I make an update to my web site. Where appropriate, I'll include a link to the change. For example:
1/1/00 - Added new photos of my most recent vacation to Italy to the "Vacation Photo Album" page.
Unknown Gem Type: tlx.tlxinv.guestbook