Indian and Syriac Christian cultures meet in an ancient and flourishing tradition.
Indian Christians claim a lineage dating back to the missionary activity of the Apostle Thomas in the 1st century, when there were Roman settlements on the Malabar Coast in southwest India in support of the spice trade. Since religion often accompanied commerce, frequent travel across the Arabian Sea between Mesopotamia and India led to Syriac Christianity taking root in Indian soil. Despite later efforts by Portuguese and British missionaries to efface local traditions and implant western forms of Christianity, this dual Indian-Syriac heritage endured, and today millions of people in India and in the diaspora claim it as their own.
Time, climate, and foreign intrusions have taken their toll on the manuscripts of Kerala. They are written in Syriac as well as local languages such as Malayalam. Much of the history of the community is preserved on fragile palm leaves. HMML partner Fr. Ignatius Payyappilly, archivist of the Syro-Malabar church in Kerala, has been indefatigable in his efforts to gather manuscripts from parish churches throughout the region to preserve and digitize them. Thanks to Fr. Ignatius, scholars are beginning to piece together the mosaic of Christian life in a region of unusual co-existence among Hindus, Christians and Muslims.