Tuesday, March 5, 2013

new Pope and thoughts of my Nazrani heritage

New Pope in the offing for the Catholics. Again, the Nazranis are forgotten. No candidate from the Syro-Malabar Church. It is fascinating to see the invisibility of these people. In spite of the fact their faith is over 2000 years old. In spite of all the earnest traditions and strict followings of the Church doctrines, more than any other Catholic group in the world. Why, the priest and nuns in my community back home wield more power -- for good or bad -- than any monarch, over their flock. All that exaltation of virginity in our women, demands of covering our heads (in shame for being born as women?) in Church, of compulsory removals of our slippers in the not very clean Church floors, of strict fastings and confessions, public humiliations and ostracizations of sinners, and manic Charismatic retreats,, making girls wear plain sarees, to college -- none of that helped, sadly.

I had written previously, that my ancestors' belief that we were high caste Brahmins converted into Christianity by St Thomas the Apostle, was erroneous. I based it solely on hearsay , and on Nehru's statement that there were no Brahmins in Kerala in 52 A.D. Now, I had thought Nehru's ulterior motive may have been a unified India, without the North-South divide. But I had also read about the Apostles' first mission of getting the news of the Messiah to those places where there were Jews already. According to historians, Jews from Kerala sent gifts to King Solomon, who, we know, ruled before the times of Jesus. Musiris, the present day Kodungallur, was a famous port from ancient times.Combined with the fact that people from the Middle East were called Mappilas in Kerala, I deduced that my ancestors were Jews, not Hindu Brahmins. Of course they must have intermingled with the other local people too. As for Nehru's motive, now I think it may not have been that benevolent. It must have been an urge to perpetuate that British-influenced myth of the superiority of the North Indian "Aryan" race.

But now, after  DNA analysis for my ancestry,  I realize that there may have been something to my ancestor's belief about their Brahmin ancestry. I should not have dismissed it so callously as due to simple vanity. I learn that there was a strong  reformist movement in Kerala --by  Buddhists and Jains. One of the factors that the newer movements opposed was the Hindu caste system. So it stands to reason that there were Brahmins in Kerala then. There are other clues too in history -- one of which is the fact that Chanakya/Kautilya, the brainy Minister of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya( Ashoka's predecessor), who ruled a large empire extending to parts of Central Asia, long before the times of Jesus, was a Brahmin  from Kollam, Kerala. It is all more complex than I thought, obviously. Thus, according to 23 and me, apparently my ancestors spread out from the Central Asian area towards eastern Europe, up to Finland. Then, surely, at some point,  some groups returned to India. Or, a group stayed put, while a part of that group migrated northward. And we are the descendants of that group, Brahmin or not, Jewish or not. More has to be known to find out exactly how and when my ancestors got to be in Kerala, (Silk Route?)incorporating all the above details, and more, I am sure, about Jewish and Hindu history.

And according to the 23andme results, I have Hindu relatives, and I share my paternal ancestry with my husband, whose gene pool, I had thought,  was very different from mine, (even though he is a Nazrani from Kerala too, he belongs to the Latin Catholic community, and we Trichur Syrian Christians think of them as different. yep! that's how focused we are on "difference"!). And now I see that he has .2% native American ancestry, and a bit of Neanderthal too! How amazing can this get!!! We are all related really. :) Along with Hindu relatives, I seem to have connections with Indians from the North and South. and I share my paternal  haplogroup with Ukkrainian, Polish, and Finnish persons! The people of the world are not as different from each other as some would want to make it.

Anyway, we Nasranis were under the Eastern Orthodox Church for a while. Then with the advent of the Portuguese to Kerala in 1498 A.D. after many splinterings, one big chunk came under the largely  white Roman Catholic Church. Now, if we have any pride left, in our heritage, our story, or just plain pride like any of those practicing Princes of the Roman Church in the West , we would start our own Church, and select our own Pope, and canonize our own saints galore. just sayin'!