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A holy week for Kerala's Christians to begin Sunday

Posted on Apr 12 2014 | IANS

Thiruvananthapuram, April 12 : Christians, who form nearly a quarter of Kerala's 33 million people, are geared up for the rituals and festivities associated with the Holy Week (also known as the "Passion Week"), which begins this Sunday and will end with Easter next Sunday.

In this period, even the not so devout Christians take care ensure their presence in their local parish church on a few days during the week-long rituals, which begin with Palm Sunday, the Sunday prior to Easter Sunday. It is the most crowded Sunday in most churches and religious authorities have attempted to deal with the issue.

"As the crowds that come for Palm Sunday have been increasing in recent times, we have now placed CCTVs in and around the church compound, for the faithful to see the Mass being conducted by the priests from the main altar," said a priest who did not wish to be identified.

Palm Sunday is celebrated with a lot of reverence as churches distribute palm leaves, freshly cut from coconut trees, to commemorate Jesus Christ's entry into Jerusalem, when palm branches were placed in his path, before his arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday.

"We have ensured that more than adequate stock of the yellowish-green coconut leaves reach our church for distribution during the mass tomorrow (Sunday)," said Punnen Jacob, a local Church leader in Kottayam.

Christians make up around 23 percent of the state's 33 million population and Catholics are the dominant group, comprising 50 percent or around 3.7 million, followed by the Orthodox Church with around 2.5 million. Congregations of the Jacobites, Mar Thoma, the Church of South India and the Pentecostal churches make up the rest.

Another feature in most Christian households is that starting Sunday, non-vegetarian dishes disappear from the dining tables. From Maundy Thursday, the richness of the fare dimnishes further and in very devout Christian homes, from then till Saturday night, the most popular dish is Kanji or rice gruel, eaten along with a mix of pulses and a pickle.

"For ages, we have been strictly following a regime where from Good Friday, after having the gruel in the Church around 2 p.m., the only food item that is prepared at my home is the gruel. Even though my grandchildren make a lot of fuss eating the gruel, I will not budge and they know that too," said Susan Thomas, a 78-year-old grandmother in Thiruvalla, who still ensures that rituals are observed during the Holy Week, with utmost devotion.

Good Friday is another important day when faithful arrive in churches around 8 a.m for the day's service.

The most important event is the 'Way of the Cross' - the 14 stations on Christ's Journey to Mount Calvary from Pilate's palace are re-enacted with the worshippers moving to each station singing hymns as the story of the betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion of Christ is narrated by the priest.

By around 2 p.m the priest pours out a spoon of 'Choruka' (a decoction made of bitter gourd juice and vinegar). This symbolises the cry, a crucified Jesus made just before he died, and how some of those watching took a piece of cloth, dipped it in cheap wine, put it on a piece of stick, lifted it to his mouth and tried to make him drink.

And after that the service ends, and all depart to their homes after only having the gruel, served hot in all the churches. Then comes the big day - Easter Sunday. In most churches, the service ends soon after sunrise when the priest gives a piece of cake and at some places, even wine is given. People rush back to their homes to have the sumptuous Easter breakfast.

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