Friday, April 10, 2009

Maundy Thursday and Indriappam

I have always loved the Maundy Thursday. While it is not all about Indriappam (Kerala version of unleavened bread) and the pesaha paalu (Passover milk), it is also about them. A Maundy Thursday without them is unthinkable to me.

For this pesaha, my maid was on leave. I know many nazarane families have given up this practice of making appam and paalu – but not for a moment did I think of not making it. My eighty plus ammachi (mother-in-law) with poor eyesight and a weak heart and I, still treated like cut glass after my brush with cancer, decided that maid or no maid, appam and paalu we shall make. How can you think of Maundy Thursday without them?

Why is it so, I wonder.

My earliest memory of the Indriyappam and paalu goes back to the days in DARE HOUSE, where I lived from the age of four to ten. The Maundy Thursdays have always been the same. Ichayan (my father) at the head of the table and amma and eight children sitting on both sides of the big dining table. A short prayer and then Ichayan symbolically cuts the first made Indriappam which has a cross on it from two small pieces of palm leaf received on Palm Sunday. Then amma takes over; cuts that appam into as many pieces as there are people seated at the table and staff in the house. Ichayan then dips each piece in the Paalu and gives to each of us and the staff of the house.

The practice is identical in my husband’s house too. I suppose it is the same in all Nazrane houses.

To come back to the question, why is it that I am so particular about this practice? Why is it that I am filled with a sense of guilt? sadness? whenever I have remotely contemplated skipping this custom just for once?

I suppose nostalgia has something to do with it. Sitting around the table for this ritual always takes me back to the many many years we’d done this before. As we children grew up and flew away one by one, the number around the table dwindled. On some Maundy Thursdays, our little nephew and nieces would come home for the breaking of the unleavened bread. Their young bright faces and enthusiasm and chatter would make up for the missing siblings. There were times when my brothers’ friends joined us for this ritual. Yes. There was plenty for the mind to wander and linger over. Nostalgia is certainly not innocent of complicity in creating that compulsive need to perpetuate the practice.

But that is not all. There is something more to it, something more compulsive than nostalgia, something which admonishes the mind when it toys with the idea of skipping the practice. That something has a deeper appeal, but I cannot put my finger on it. The emotions evoked by it defy clear definition but I will try to analyse them here and now.

I think it has something to do with the shared knowledge in the collective consciousness of the nazranes who, for generations have been fed on the Biblical story of Jehovah’s protective arm over the chosen people in slavery, which the feast of the Passover commemorates. Equally if not more important is the fact that it is a reenactment the Last Supper. The text is translated into action year after year in the family on Maundy Thursday, and the whole ritual brings with it a complex interplay of tradition, myth, shared knowledge and spiritual experience which constitute the sense of nazrane identity.

And thus it was that we got the neighbour's maid to grate coconuts. The rest, the two of us managed.

By one thirty indriappam and pasaha paalu were ready.

Once again achachan (my ninety four year old father-in-law) cut the indriappam i.e. broke the bread -unleavened one on this day.


  1. This post makes me miss home a lot..The tradition of Maundy Thursday is very nostalgic to me..Unlike other christian celebraitons like Christmas which was usually at native with relatives and all, this day was mostly family...and since this was probably the only day when a strict custom was followed it added a lovely feel to it...Infact I can rememeber Maundy thursday only myself as a kid....thanks for rekindling the memories...though it left me with a tinge of sadness too...

  2. oops..I forgot to say..
    Happy Easter to you and your family!!:)

  3. Oh so agree with you.It's been many years I have been out of kerala, but I can not pass a Holy Thursday without making Paalu and Kurish appam ( as we call it in the Thoupuzha side of kerala). Hope you ahd blessed and joyous Easter. youc an catch up my piece at my place.

  4. I know its late but belated Happy Easter!
    Kurachu appavum, tharavu curryum, ithiri veenjum kittuvaayirunnengil EASTER aakkaamayirunnu.
    I miss that so bad.
    Nowadays its all cake (yuck!)


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