Syrian Christian of Kerala - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Syrian Christians as a community have strong and active religious organizations and a majority of the people attend Sunday church services. The church is divided into various denominations. Those who accept allegiance to the Roman Catholic pope are known as Syrian Roman Catholics. There are Roman Catholics converted by European missionaries known as Latin Roman Catholics. The rest are non-Catholics who are members of the Orthodox Syrian church, Jacobite Syrian church, Marthoma Syrian church, and Church of South India. Roman Catholics which include Latin and Syrian Catholics are 61.4 percent of the Kerala Christians, Syrian Orthodox and Jacobite Syrians are 21.4 percent, Marthoma Syrians 5.7 percent, Church of South India 5.2 percent, and others who are members of various Evangelical churches 6.3 percent. The Church of South India is a Protestant church uniting former Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and others. Syrian Christians, especially Syrian Orthodox and Jacobite Syrians, use the old Syriac Language for their liturgy, as a means of maintaining contact with churches in the Middle East that provided bishops for a long time. Jacobite Syrians still consider the Patriarch of Antioch to be the head of their church. One cannot claim anything special about supernaturals in the context of Christianity. There are some parishes mostly of Roman Catholics, Orthodox Syrians, or Jacobite Syrians where some saints have special importance.
Religious Practitioners. Because the Syrian Christians are divided into several different sects, they have a diversity of priests. Those Catholics who are Romo-Syrians have two bishops assisted by a vicar-general and a council of four. At the parish level they, like all the other sects, have priests. The Latinite Catholics are governed by an archbishop and two bishops. The Jacobite clergy are organized under a metropolitan, and all except him are allowed to marry. The Protestants belong now to the Church of South India, with its own hierarchy of pastors and bishops. The Chaldean Syrians, centered on Trichur, have their own priests.
Ceremonies. Syrian Christians celebrate all Christian religious days. However, among the more orthodox people they maintain Lent for twenty-five days prior to Christmas and fifty days prior to Easter. Those who do so eat only vegetarian meals and refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages. Easter week is very important with special church services on Palm Sunday and also every evening including Good Friday. On Pesaha (Maundy) Thursday there is a special church service with Holy Communion. Good Friday is of great significance and church service starts at 9 a.m. and continues until about 3 p.m., when it is believed that Christ was crucified. On Easter Sunday, the church service starts at 4 a.m. and continues until 6:30 a.m., concluding with Holy Communion. Family members get together for Easter breakfast and break the Lenten fast by eating meat and special bread made for the occasion.
Arts. There are no special art forms at present that are typical of Syrian Christians. However, there used to be singing of folk songs and performance of some folk dances by men. One of them is margam kali, which is a kind of dance drama on a Christian theme. Another is parisa muttu, which is a martial dance from the time when Christians served in the army of the maharajas.
Medicine. Modern medicine has almost completely displaced traditional indigenous medicine, and there are many Syrian Christian physicians. However, there are some people who continue to learn Ayurveda, the Indian traditional Medicine that is still widespread in Kerala.
Death and Afterlife. Many people prefer to bring their critically ill relatives to their family homes where a priest will administer the last rites and last communion. After death, the body is ritually washed, dressed up, and laid on a bed in a large room with lighted candles behind the head of the departed. All close relatives attend and sing hymns and read passages from the Bible. The funeral takes place within twenty-four hours. The body is taken to the church while People sing hymns. After the burial, close relatives and friends come to the house of the deceased for a simple vegetarian meal. In the case of older people like parents, there will be a memorial church service on the fortieth day after death and also an elaborate vegetarian lunch to which all relatives and people in the community are invited.