Malankara World

General Interest Reading

God's Own Country

by Rev. Fr. T. George, Ireland

Kerala which lies at the tip of the Indian peninsula and protected by the Sea of Arabia in the West and the Sahyadri hills in the East is indeed a beautiful piece of land for living, Isn't it? The serene streams of water run through the thick forests, the quiet back waters, the nicely cut and manicured hilly tea estates, the plantation of the coconut trees, the paddy fields, and the wealth of wild life, all are a feast to the eyes. The panoramic scenery of the landscape heralds the fact that God appears to have carved every nook and corner of this land with care as if with His own hand. Certainly this land is worthy to be called 'God's own Country'.

Nature has been so kind to Kerala with its wide variety of natural resources. It is fortunate that this land was blessed by the footprints of St Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ who braved to come all the way from Jerusalem down to Kerala. It is in this land where, according to legend, Mahabali, an ideal King of humility and magnanimity, ruled. Onam - the national festival of Kerala - is celebrated every year to commemorate and to re-live those good old days. It helps the people of Kerala to foster a sense of oneness, and to inculcate a sense of humility in them and to urge them for a mutual sharing. It is surprising that there was order without law in this land once up on a time. Justice, Peace, Equality, Fraternity, and Liberty prevailed in Kerala in those days of the past.

Gone are those days.........

Kerala has now become almost a mint of monetary monsters and pent of political puppets. Water for drinking from natural springs and tender coconuts are replaced by the bottled pesticides like Pepsi- Cola and Coco-Cola. Deep de-forestation has brought about the draining of the once swollen rivers. Rare species of wild animals and plants have now more or less became extinct. The gutter roads are becoming ghastly death traps and drinking water pipe lines are just turned out to be cesspools.

It is a pathetic plight that this land, once eulogized as the neatest place in the world, is fast becoming a breeding place of mosquitoes, flies and rodents and hence epidemics are all the more rampant than ever before. It is a horrible scene that on many of our roadsides across the country there are heaps of rubbish dumped awkwardly as if they are communal bin bays. These attract stray dogs causing nuisance to the commuters.

Murder and vandalism are not news anymore. The greed for money and lust for comfort, the influx of perverted western and urban cultures into the minds of people, all facilitated this country to change itself to a dull and barren desert. Kerala once popularly known as a land of religious harmony has now become an arena of fundamentalists, bigots and fanatics. Though cent percent literate, it is rated first among all other states in India for suicide and corruption. The five-star bars and brothels are mushrooming enormously. People are becoming more alcoholic than workaholic. Let us pray for a divine intervention to retrieve that past glory of this great land.

Ours is a country which can boast of a unique cultural ethos and social ethics. Let us be proud of our rich and unique cultural heritage and thank God for letting us being part of this wonderful country of God. As we celebrate the anniversary of the formation of Kerala state on 1st of November, let us uphold our mother country in our prayers. Let us pause for a moment and ponder whether we are able to impart our cultural riches to our budding generation or not. We, who care about the present and concerned about the future, are duty bound to preserve our legacies for the posterity lest our indigenous traditions and languages be extinct.

It is history that in search of greener pastures, lots of people from this potential state started migrating to other parts of the globe which made them financially sound over the past few years. By outsourcing, many developed countries have been gaining benefits out of it. As part of seeking better prospects, a multitude of people from Kerala migrated to different parts of the world. Though may be far away from our home land, many of us have a feeling at home, don't we? Being expatriates, we enjoy all the amenities that we had back in our mother country except the life together with our parents and siblings. Keralites can be seen in every nook and cranny of the world.

When we, the Diaspora, were dubious of how we should sing the hymns of God in the foreign countries, God had been so gracious that we were being blessed to enjoy the Christian fellowship and to have the beautiful Orthodox worship done in our own vernacular language. We are now blessed with wonderful places of worship and are able to come together for singing praises to God. It is really a great thing that we are given a chance to bring our children up in the same Christian faith and spirit as we had been brought up in the past.

But in the present fast changing scenario following the globalisation, I doubt whether we, the expatriates, are able to conduct our orthodox worship in tandem with our cultural milieu and in our vernacular language or not. In and outside Kerala, the modern trend is to give more emphasis to English. Of course, one cannot negate the importance of English as a universal language. It is a must, but at same time one cannot ignore one's own vernacular language and cultural heritage which link us to our ancestors. We all know that our liturgy would be more effective only when it is done in all its sincerity and seriousness. It becomes a meaningless perfunctory act and a farce, if it is done devoid of true spirit. Language is a major factor in making the liturgy more effective. The best way is to conduct the liturgy in a language with which the faithful are most familiar -a language in which we are able to think and communicate easily. Then only a full expression is possible.

Our Church is a common wealth of different cultures. We have Syriac as liturgical language (Deva Bhasha), Malayalam as mother tongue (Mathru bhasha), English as the professional language (Vyevahara bhasha). Right from the very first century we started using Syriac as our liturgical language, and hence inherited the title Syrian Christians. I have seen some people frowning at when they hear some Syriac words or sentences used in the liturgy. Syriac is pertinent because it is rather poetical.

Every language is good and has its own beauty. We may be able to grasp anything under Sun through the medium of English but one gets into the roots of their culture only by one's mother tongue. We need not minimize the importance of any language. The language plays a pivotal role in the net work of human relationship and exchange of cultures.

I believe it is the duty of the Church to maintain our cultural heritage including our vernacular language, liturgy, social custom and values for the posterity. See how our Muslim brethrens promote the teaching of Arabic (the divine language of Muslims) wherever they are.

Why can't we stick on to a three language formula of Malayalam, English and Syriac and adapt to the Muslim's style of activity? Giving equal importance to the three, we can make our liturgy more lovely and lively. I opine that our Sunday school curriculum must be re-designed in such a manner as to teach our children the languages like Syriac and Malayalam in addition to the English in our church so as to make them proficient in these languages. Given a chance to learn our Lord's language (Syriac) from their childhood days, I think more effective participation in the liturgy would be there from our ensuing generation.

Though the British had been to India for nearly 300 years, they neither forsook their custom of using spoon and fork, wearing pants, ties, suits and shirts nor their language- English. Instead, they tried to impart what they had to us. Similarly, when the foreign missionaries came to Kerala, they tried to impose their language and liturgy, and our ancestors imbibed it without any hesitation.

The Malayalees have now become a cosmopolitan community who prove their competency and proficiency in every field they belong to including learning various languages like, Hindi, Arabic, and English so on and so forth. Why then we should marginalize our cultural heritage especially our mother tongue, Malayalam, when we are expatriates? Why can't we take a little pain in imparting our children the cultural values and vernacular language of ours? I fear this is one of the reasons for our youngsters who are being brought up abroad, are least interested in attending our Sunday Worships and are reluctant to come back to India even for a vacation.

The peculiarity of Indians is that they give values to the family relationship which has great appreciation among the foreigners. But the present generation do not care about this that much. If things go like this, I fear the modern trend would axe the very roots of our social fabric.

Communication barrier is the main problem. I suggest that the parents should encourage our kids to learn our mother tongue so that eventually they will be able to handle Malayalam with much ease. This will help them acquire knowledge in yet another language in addition to what they learn in their schools and to avoid use of transliteration during Holy Qurbana. We can rely on the famous axiom, "Where there is a will, there is a way".

Blindly following the western life style, our youngsters too prefer to go to church very rarely for Sunday worship and the modern trend of working even on Lord's Day (Sunday) has posed great threat for the future of the church. We have to salvage our young generation from further perish.

"Let the little children come to me; and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Mark10:14). Bringing our children to Him has been what our Lord Jesus Christ wanted and still wants from us all. It is God's will that the children must be brought to the feet of Our Lord for blessings. Denying the basics of one's mother tongue and the doctrines of one's mother church to a budding person is same as denying the breast milk to the new born babies.

Orthodox Church is the only one where infants are privileged to receive the holy sacraments like Baptism and Holy Communion whereby they receive the Lord Jesus Christ. Let the orthodoxy thrive in the soil of the God's own country and let it ramify to the four corners of the earth.

May I conclude this with the words of Malayalam poet Vallathol:

"If heard of Bharat, must our hearts be proud of
And if of Kerala, must the blood boil in our veins".

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