Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Evolution of a Nazrani

Wonder how many people in this world have heard of Syrian Christians aka nazranis. Well I guess not very more than the nazrani’s themselves and a few more who have had anything to do with them. But the way these nazranis swagger about with inflated chest, one would think they have a pair of horns(ooops! manglish?) and are among the seven wonders of the world!.

Actually they come in all shapes and forms – jacobites, orthodox, catholics, marthomites, malankara, chaldeans, knanayas( this last type swear they are a better breed but nazrani’s pooh pooh that claim).

I am a nazrani myself. I became conscious of my Syrian identity, probably during that blissful period spent in my mother’s womb. I too have gone around for more than a quarter of a century of my life strutting around like chanticleer – all because I was a nazrani!

I think even as a toddler, I knew I was a Syrian-whatever that might have meant to a child of that age. I really don’t remember when I acquired that proud knowledge that my ancestors were namboodiris(that Brahmin of brahmins –yes that very caste into which Adishankara was born!!), and they were converted by none other than St. Thomas, the apostle himself. And I grew up thinking, that in this God’s own country, nazranis were the almighty’s favourites, the aristocrats and the nobility. We were a superior race, the inheritors of a proud parambaryam .

Then something changed – or did it? I don’t know, ‘cos identity is not something that can be sloughed off like the skin of a snake. It’s more than skin deep. It’s in that shared thing somewhere deep in the mind, called collective unconscious? So there is no escape from it. nevertheless, at some other level(the rational level?), I realized the existence of a huge grey area in this body of ‘knowledge’ I had inherited.

And I realized that this nazrani pride is not about being converted by that revered Apostle, or about a long tradition of Christianity practiced by our ancestors or about the jewish/Syrian heritage. It is all about laying a claim to the upper caste. Caste is at the bottom of it all.

More about nazranis later


  1. casteism is ubiquitous. I used to wonder how many of the socalled high caste proponents of meritocracy in iims are ready to say 'caste -no bar' during their marriage...

    irattathaappu thanne,..

  2. ancestors were namboodiris(that Brahmin of brahmins –yes that very caste into which Adishankara was born!!), and they were converted by none other than St. Thomas....

    That was new to me. Tx.

    I grew up studying in convent institutions all my life, but never got to know more about the various Christian sects.

    You have rightly pointed out that, all the hoopla about caste 'is laying a claim to the upper caste'! It's all in the ego isn't it?

    But then the ego takes a nose-dive when it comes to admission to renowned colleges. That is when, I am sure, everyone (except those who get in through merit) would have fantasised for a moment that they belonged to the lower caste.


  3. The Pope said in 2008 that St. Thomas never came to India. Historians now agree that the Syrian story of Thomas is a twisting of the Knanaya Thoma matter.
    But do these things matter? India is a big big place where such matters are of transient relevance only. People, ideas and things come to us from everywhere and we sort of take them all in, like a Black Hole.

  4. Hi hi.. I was about to post the same thing but "A Stoic" posted that.

    Moreover adding to what he (she?) says. Vatican subsequently took that comment of Pope back when there were protests from churches in Kerala.

    According to Acts of Thomas, Thomas did reach Western India but the Western India that is now Pakistan where he was killed by a Hindu ruler.

  5. Ok. Back to the topic. People will find it hard to forfeit something if it gives them an elite status.


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