Syriac Christianity in India

Authored by: István Perczel

The Syriac World

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  December  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138899018
eBook ISBN: 9781315708195
Adobe ISBN:


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This essay on the history of Syriac Christianity in India offers a general introduction into the names of the currently eight-million-strong community of native Malayalam speakers with a Syriac culture: ‘Saint Thomas Christians’, ‘Syrian Christians’, and ‘Māppiḷḷa Christians’. Treating these names, it assesses the Saint Thomas traditions, the role of Syriac as a liturgical and literary language, and the early formation of the community through intermarriage between West Asian merchants and local Indian women, expressed by the word Māppiḷḷa, meaning ‘bridegroom’. The essay attempts a reassessment of the mediaeval and early modern social and political history of the community, based on the available documents and their recent study by historians of Eastern Christianity and of South India. It examines the evidence for an early Persian mission and the successive arrivals in the ninth century AD of Persian merchant communities, remembered in the collective memory of the community and witnessed by royal grant letters and inscribed crosses. After a survey of the scanty information on the later mediaeval period, it gives a concise summary of the main events during and after the arrival of the Portuguese colonisers and their missionaries, acting in competition with West Asian missionary bishops. The community’s history after the decline of the Portuguese maritime empire is briefly treated.

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