Syrian Christian of Kerala - Orientation

Identification. Syrian Christians live in Kerala State in the southwest corner of India and speak Malayalam, one of the four major Dravidian languages of south India. They can be considered a caste and are endogamous.

Location. Kerala State lies at the southernmost extremity of the peninsula between 8°18′ and 12°48′ N and between 74°52′ and 77°22′ E and stretches along the shores of the Arabian Sea for a distance of about 576 kilometers. It is a relatively narrow strip of land varying from 120 kilometers at its broadest to around 32 kilometers at certain points in the north and south. Kerala is only 38,863 square kilometers in area, forming distinct regions separated from the adjoining states by the Western Ghats, mountains that run parallel to the sea. The average elevation is 909 meters, with peaks soaring up to 1,800 to 2,400 meters in certain places. The plains are very humid and warm with an average temperature of 85°C. There are two monsoons providing adequate precipitation: the southwest monsoon from mid-June to early September and the northeast monsoon from mid-October to the end of November. The rest of the year is dry with occasional showers.

Demography. The population of Kerala according to the estimate for 1987 is about 27.6 million, with Christians comprising about 21 percent of the population. In Kerala about 93 percent of the Christians are Syrian Christians; the rest have been converted by European missionaries.

Linguistic Affiliation. Ninety-six percent of Kerala people speak Malayalam and about 2.37 percent speak Tamil. The latter reside mainly in the border areas adjacent to the state of Tamil Nadu. Those who are on the border of Karnataka State speak Tulu and Kannada. Malayalam was the last language in the Dravidian Group to develop a distinct form and Literature. Until the ninth century AD., Kerala was a part of Tamilakam and the language of the Kerala region was Tamil. Gradually Malayalam came under the influence of Sanskrit and Prakrit with the spread of Aryan influence. Sanskrit words and sentences are freely used in Malayalam. Kerala had its own scripts ( lipis ) from early days. The modern Malayalam script is adopted mainly from the grantha script (book script). Malayalam with its fifty-three letters perhaps expresses by proper marks the most extensive phonology among all the Indian languages. With more than 74 percent literacy, the highest in India, Kerala has developed a wealth of Literature unmatched in any other region. The more than forty newspapers are read by intellectuals as well working-class farmers and factory laborers. The best known is Malayala Manorama (first published in 1888) with a readership of close to a million, the largest in India.

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