ShareThe state of Kerala is India’s Down Under, a narrow strip of land overlooking the southern tip of the subcontinent that is monsoon driven; sun drenched; humid; lush green; full of rivers, streams, lakes, backwaters, coconut trees; and teeming with people. The Arabian Sea’s white beaches fringe Kerala to the west, while the Western Ghats, with their impenetrable tropical forests and eternities of grasslands, define its eastern boundary. The distance from the sea east across the state’s midsection—a water world of backwaters merging into the rubber tree-filled farms—to the tea and cardamom plantations of the hills, averages only between 20 and 75 miles. Few areas in the world boast more ideal growing conditions for spices. Long before Jesus’ time Jews, Arabs and other ancient maritime traders settled in Kerala to buy, trade and store spices.
Modern Syrian Christians of Kerala (the majority Christian population here) believe that the Apostle Thomas—the one who so famously questioned Jesus—visited here in a.d. 52 and baptized their forefathers. Historians surmise that the diverse, rich trading center of Kerala may well have drawn this Palestinian Jew of the Roman Empire who wished to preach the Gospel. Thousands of churches today bear his name, their rituals and theology derived from Eastern Orthodox traditions in the liturgical language Syriac, a formation of Aramaic, the dialect Jesus—and Thomas—spoke. For decades now, the liturgical language of Kerala Christians has been Malayalam, the language of Kerala. Thomas’s name remains ubiquitous in Kerala, appearing on everything from baptism registers and the neon signs of jewelry stores and bakeries to the nameplates of dental surgeons and real estate developers’ ads. During the negotiations surrounding arranged marriages, it’s common for both families to make discreet inquiries as to whether the other’s ancestries reach back to the Apostle. A “yes” can prove a big plus—apart from the quantum of dowry, of course. (Read more.)