>Christianity in Kerala For the new generation...
                                  (Nazraanies of Kerala) - by Molly Varghese, New Jersey

A strong base or foundation is very important when we start the construction of a building. The knowledge of our past, heritage and history is just as important to the formation of our personality, character, self-respect, self-confidence and pride (swabhimaan). Our younger generation who are growing up in this country do not have much of an opportunity to learn about themselves. They see their parents quite proud, very strict and practice a disciplined life. Often they hear the rules and orders from their parents, criticisms from uncles and aunts; but do not understand the rationales of them. Especially because,they are growing up in a country which is known as a "Christian" country and is supposed to be rich financially; and in a society where prejudices and discrimination are parts of life and crimes and sins are glorified even via the media. I have learned that a lot of our youngsters suffer from inferiority complex and lack of self-confidence, which lead them to feel embarrassed to even be known as "Indians" and encourage some of them to join cults and gangs to feel empowerment.

Let me tell you one of my experiences. It was in 1982, the year in which I had migrated to the United States and I did not know as much as I know now about my 'new' environment. As I was waiting for the train in a sub-way station in Brooklyn, an old White man came over to me. He asked, "Are you an Indian?" I answered, "Yes." He asked, "Is the situation in India still the same?" I asked him, "What do you mean?" He mused, "Oh! Are people still poor, living in small huts and all." So my next question was, "Have you ever been to India?" He said, "Yes." Then I Asked him, "When?" He said, "I was in India during the second world war." My next comment was, "Oh! Then you know, who made India that poor!" The guy just looked at me surprised and walked away quietly. This story demonstrates that I am very proud of my heritage and since I know my history, nobody can put me down for my background because I know who I am and what I am.

By writing this article, I hope that I will be able to give a small glimpse of our history to our young Indian-Keralite Americans of Christian origin.

We do know that the early settlers of India were Dravidians and that the famous "Indus Valley Civilization", which was flourished during the period of Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Babylonian civilizations, belonged to the Dravidians. Even though they worshipped many different powers of the nature, their main goddess was "Mother Goddess" a kind of "war goddess". During the excavations in Mohan-jo-daro and Harappa, they discovered a well built city and among many other things, was a statue of Mother Goddess (2500 BC). (Her dress was very similar to the 'sari', the national dress of the Indians.) It was one of the proofs which indicated that women had a respectable place in that society. Later when Aryans, a militant group from the Asia-European area, invaded India from the north, the Dravidians who were peace loving and hard working, moved to the southern part of India. Later the Aryans and the Dravidians got mixed. Hinduism, the religion of the Aryans, became dominant where ever they went. To make it more popular among the people, they converted the 'war goddess' to "Durga", the Hindu Goddess of power, strength, courage, sacrifice, etc. Hinduism practices caste-system and the main casts are Brahmins (priests & had high level of knowledge), Kshatriya (royal families, warriors, etc.), Vaisyas (people who engaged in trade, etc.) and the Sudras (workers, laborers, etc.) The present Indians are a mixture of Aryans, Dravidians, Negratoids, Mongolians, etc., etc. and that is why we are unique and special in our own way.

By the 1st century BC, Buddhism (originated from Hinduism, founded by Sree Gautama Buddha in 500 BC) became wide spread through out India and in countries around India, like China, Ceylon/Sree Lanka, Japan, Korea, etc. by the hard and conscious works of many Buddhist monks and rulers such as Emperor Ashoka. Jainism (Propagated by Mahavira in 500 B.C.) also was very popular all over India. Both these religions preached and practiced non-violence.

Kerala is a small state in the sub-continent of India, surrounded by Arabian sea and Indian Ocean in the west and south, Karnataka in the north and Tamil Naadu in the east, respectively. Even though Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were our neighboring states, Kerala is separated from them by mountains. Because, Kerala - in a way - was isolated from the main land, she always had a culture of her own.

Even thousands of years before the Christian Era, Kerala had a comfortable economy and people lived in tolerance and peace with each other.

Because of the seas on both sides, ancient Kerala had many ports such as Mussiris (Kodungalloor), Kochi, Nelkanda (Niranam), Kollam, etc. The waters near the shores of Kerala has something special called "Chakara" (mud-banks). These are hard mud-rocks, but when ships hit them, they (ships) do not get broken or sunk. Instead they are helpful for the ships to anchor nearer to the shores/ports. This is very unique to the shores of Kerala. (May be a proof that Kerala is a land born out of the seas, by some force like earth quake!) Kerala was very famous for the spices like, cloves, cardamoms, nut mug, cinnamon, etc. and Kerala was the only place in the ancient world where black pepper (known as 'black gold') used to grow. So, people from many different countries such as, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, Arabs, Jews, Romans, etc., used to come for trade and many were living in Kerala for convenience. Rome had their wear-houses guarded by their soldiers in Kerala. (It is known that it was in fashion among the Romans to keep black pepper on the dining table.) Jewish contact with Kerala dates back to 973 BC Historians say that the first Jewish settlement in Kerala was soon after the Babylonian conquest of Judea in 586 BC and was under the leadership of Joseph Rabban. The Jewish temples in Kodungallor, Mattancherry near Kochi, Kollam, etc. are some of the silent proofs of this.

We see from different history books, (some of them are in the British library in London, the government libraries in Germany, etc.) that keralites were very good naval people and could build strong and long lasting big ships in their own style. They even invented that by eating a mixture of rice, sugar and butter people could survive for a long period of time, if they got lost in the sea. The remains of an ancient temple in southern Rhodesia, an African country, proves that Keralites had reached there and had cordial relationships with them. The pictures of Indian elephants and lotus seen in the walls of the Mayan temples in South America and the discovery of 'pulinga' - a special stone found only in the High-ranges of Kerala, (which were used to make ear-rings) from the same area declares that Keralites had some kind of relations with them too.

Part 2


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