An Indian church’s colourful tribute to Mother Mary

August 17th, 2010 - 7:32 pm ICT by ANI  

West Sayville (New York), Aug.17 (ANI): People from all walks of life lined the sidewalks of this town on the outskirts of New York to see the St. Mary Malankara Indian Orthodox Church’s annual Assumption Day Parade, which began here on Sunday with the usual blowing of the kumbu horn and the dancing of the koladi by the congregation’s teenage girls, dressed in saris and banging sticks.

According to the New York Times, none of St. Mary’s 100 or so parishioners live in West Sayville, a predominantly white, middle-class community on Long Island’s South Shore where in the last few decades a surfeit of empty church buildings has attracted various religious communities on wheels.

Indian congregants drove in from Queens, Brooklyn, western Nassau County and even New Jersey and Staten Island, to worship in a former Dutch Reformed Church building they bought in 1992.

Inside, they spoke in Malayalam, the dialect of the Indian province where most have their roots, and they worship according to an Orthodox Christian liturgy that traces its origins to the teachings of the apostle Thomas.

In West Sayville, the congregation and its parade have assumed a mysterious, almost mythical status, despite the procession’s official permit and the three Suffolk County police cars assigned to traffic control.

On Sunday, people watched with a mixture of fascination and neighborly nonchalance as the procession made its way around the block, marking the annual observance of Mary’s ascent into heaven.

At the front was a float with posters of Mary and Thomas and other saints perched on cottony white clouds. Then came the men playing the Indian kumbu horn and chemda drums, the women keeping time with little brass cymbals called Ilathalam, then the littlest girls in angel wings and then the teenagers dancing.

The congregation’s women followed behind, pastel-colored saris billowing in the breeze as they flung paper flowers of red and blue. Bringing up the rear was a car carrying the Rev. Paulose Adai, the parish priest, whose plaintive singing of the devotional hymns was greatly amplified from a loudspeaker on the vehicle’s roof.

Malankara Christians trace their origins to the first century A.D., when St. Thomas is said to have taken the heavily traveled trade route from the eastern Mediterranean to Kerala, a province on the southwest coast of India where today about 20 percent of the population is Christian.

They have had churches in the United States since the early 20th century, but have grown significantly since the 1970s, when immigration policy opened the doors to many nurses trained in the Christian hospitals of Kerala. Nationwide there are about 100 parishes. (ANI)

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