Doubting Thomas makes his mark
9.2.10 0 °F
The southern Indian state of Kerela is unique for a number of reasons, most of which will be addressed in future entries. One of these unique aspects is the sizable Christian population that lives here, members of numerous churches many of which have some connection to the apostle Thomas (the doubting one) who landed in India in 53 AD and established a number of early Christian churches. One in five Kerelites is a Christian, an unexpected number considering the better known Hindu majority and large Muslim populations - most people don't associate India with Christianity. There's a lot to the history of the Christian church here and it's best to leave to leave an accurate account of this legacy to those who know - a nice summary can be found at http://www.ananthapuri.com/kerala-history.asp?page=christian.
Because of the traffic after the snake boat races, so our driver suggested that we take a longer route home that would avoid the backup. In doing so, we were able to get off the main highways a bit and see a little more of how people were living. Our route home took us through small towns and villages and we were very surprised by the number of Christian churches that were passed along the way. These churches are quite ornate with very stylish, three tier facades that are quite ornate. On some stretches of road, there might have been one every quarter mile and some of them were immense, ornate buildings that sometimes dwarfed the neighboring structures. We asked the driver to stop at one of them along the way and Jenn and I quietly slid in the back (Jenn on the right, the women's side and me on the left while a lineup of seven women chanted in Malayalam in response to prompts from an alter boy (or maybe her was a junior priest) up front. After removing our shoes, we stood near the back but were quickly noticed by everyone in the near empty, cavernous church - all of the folding chairs were neatly stacked in the back of the sanctuary. A plainly dressed man who apparently had some influence in controlling the church space smiled at us, repeatedly but unsuccessfully tried to tell me something, and moved forward to the front to whisper something in the ear of the lead alter boy who glanced at us over his shoulder, grabbed a long staff with a wick for lighting candles, and then disappeared behind the immense red curtains that obscured our view of the front of the church. A minute later, the curtain was drawn open and a large, ornate alter appeared fully illuminated by candles freshly lit for our viewing. The ladies continued to sing, slightly distracted by our unusual presence, and soon after, a fully robed priest entered the sanctuary and took over for the alter boy in leading the vespers. It was Friday night, all proceedings were happening in Malayalam, and despite my best efforts with the friendly custodian, no one was available to clarify in English just what was going on. Other churches that we passed along the way seemed full of people and were very active as if Friday night were an important evening for worship. However, in the church that we stopped by, despite its rather new construction, a somewhat crowded cemetery, and massive three tiered edifice typical of this style of church, was occupied only by a priest, an alter boy, a friendly custodian, seven chanting faithful, and a couple of curious foreigners trying to understand what we experiencing.
Here are a few photos - I wanted very much to capture the singing church ladies, but our presence alone seemed such a distraction - aiming a camera their way would have exacerbated our intrusion.