Easter was celebrated worldwide on April 16. This Christian festival, which is actually holds more importance than Christmas, marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his death by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. It also marks the end of 40 days of Lent, which is a period when Christians have a religious obligation to fast, pray and observe penance.
Estimates peg the number of Christians worldwide at more than 2.2 billion. Of these, around 27 million are Indians. Yours truly happens to be one among them.
Christianity in India
The history of Christianity in India is almost as old as the history of Christianity itself. As per ancient Indian Christian tradition, the religion and culture surround it was brought to India by Thomas the Apostle around AD 50 in a region that now forms part of the Southern Indian state of Kerala. It is also said that another Apostle, Bartholomew, disembarked on the western coast of India and spread Jesus’ message.
The number of Christians in the southern state of Kerala who practice the Syrian Orthodox doctrine of Christianity is evidence of the fact that India is home to some of the earliest Christians in the world.
However, Christianity in India spread significantly between the 16th and the early 19th centuries, when Portugal had colonies in India. Erstwhile Portuguese colonies in India, including Goa, Daman, Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli, and even Mumbai are known to be home to large populations of native Christians even today.
Between the 16th and early 19th centuries, Portuguese Missionaries, with the support of the Colonists, were able to convert hordes of natives in their colonies to Christianity (Roman Catholicism to be precise).
It is worthwhile, however, to know that not all of these conversions were done in the right attitude and spirit on the part of the Portuguese Missionaries. In fact, there are many stories of natives being coerced, sometimes with the threat of violence or attachment of property.
History of Mangalorean Catholics
I happen to belong to a family of Catholics who originate from the Mangalore district of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. After a lot of reading and discussions with older generations in the family, I learnt that Mangalorean Catholics were originally inhabitants of the Portuguese colony of Goa.
Apparently, they had migrated out of/fled from Goa at different points in time for reasons ranging from the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa (circa 1560), the occurrence of famines and epidemics and political upheavals/wars. It is interesting to note that most of these Mangaloreans religiously held onto a lot of their Hindu/native Indian customs and traditions.
Language and Dialects
Although the younger generation prefers to speak in Hindi (the national language of India) or in English, in traditional Mangalorean Catholic households the language spoken is Konkani.
Konkani is actually the language used by Goans and has a lot of Portuguese influence, but the Konkani used by Mangalorean Catholics is heavily influenced by the South Indian languages of Kannada and Tulu. Also, interestingly, the Mangalorean Konkani is written in Kannada script.
Traditional Mangaloreans will always have a Christian or a European name, and also a native/Indian middle name. For example, my full name is Christopher Roshan D’Souza. My brother’s name is Ravi Vincent D’Souza. You will also find a tradition of pet names like Pedru for Peter, Ijju for Isabelle, Mettu for Matilda, Gibba for Gilbert, Panchu for Francis, and so on.
History of surnames
Mangalorean Catholics bear Portuguese surnames. This is because our Goan ancestors assumed the surnames of the Portuguese priests who baptised them when they were converted, or their Portuguese godparents.
Hence, you will find surnames like Furtado, Pinto, D’Souza, Pereira, Gomes, Coutinho, Fernandes, and so on in the community. But prod the elders in the community a little and they will tell you the Indian surnames of their ancestors – Prabhu, Shenoy, Nayak, Pai, Kamath, Shet, and so on.
A Mangalorean Catholic Wedding will initially look like a European White Wedding in the Chapel. Later, you will see Indian rituals like flowers being used to adorn brides’ hair, brides being draped with traditional red Indian bridal sarees (known in the community as ‘Sado’).
Bridegrooms tying Mangalsutras around their wives’ necks, farm produce like pumpkins, rice, betelnuts, coconuts, etc. being exchanged between families, and many others.
On the evening before the wedding, a ceremony known as ‘Ros’ is organised. This is for both the bride as well as the groom by their respective families. A symbolic purification and anointing is conducted by way of applying coconut milk on their heads, hands and feet – this is like a traditional Hindu ‘Haldi’ ceremony.
There is also a ceremony at the end of the wedding reception known as ‘Opsun’, which is similar to the ‘handing over’ ceremony called ‘Vidaai’ that Hindus practice, wherein the bride’s parents symbolically hand over their daughter to her in-laws and request them to treat her as their own daughter.
Warding off Evil Eye
There is a very Indian concept known as ‘the evil eye’. There is believed to be a curse cast unknowingly by a malevolent glare. It is believed that it can be caused either when someone looks at you with evil intentions, or envies you, or sometimes even when someone is extremely fond of you.
It is believed that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury. Traditional Mangalorean Catholic households follow the traditional Hindu way of warding off the evil eye with the help of salt, red chilli peppers and some exotic Indian spices.
These interesting trivia are merely the tip of the iceberg as far as the community is concerned.