Monday, June 3, 2019

A Syro-Malabar wedding in Atlanta

On Saturday, May 25, 2019, I attended a wedding in Atlanta.  The ceremony was conducted under the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, one of the oldest Eastern Catholic churches.  I am not a Roman (or Latin) Catholic and I know even less about the Eastern Catholic churches, so I did some research.  There are twenty-three Eastern or Oriental Catholic Churches; they belong to the worldwide Catholic Church but they have they own canons, laws and traditions.  For example many of these churches allow the ordination of married men to the priesthood.  The total membership of these various churches comes to about 18 million of 1.5% of the Catholic Church compare to the 1.2 billion members who belong to the Latin, Western or Roman Catholic Church.  These Eastern Catholic Churches have their origins in the Middle East, East Africa, Eastern Europe and India.  Some of my father's cousins belong to one of the Eastern Catholic churches, the Armenian Catholic Church, that follows their own, independent liturgy.  The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is one of the largest and is based in the state of Kerala, in South India.  Their community is made of more affluent members.

India is a federal union comprising 29 states and 7 union territories.  The state of Kerala is on the tropical Malabar Coast and has 375 miles (600 km) of Arabian Sea shoreline.  My son-in-law was born in the US but his parents are from Kochi (also known as Cochin,) a major port and the financial capital of Kerala; the bride was one of his mother's cousins.  I read up on Kerala and Kochi and include some information here.  Large parts of Kerala such as Kochi were autonomous kingdoms rules by Maharajas during the British rule of India.  They were more progressive especially in education and health care.  Now Kerala is considered one of the safest regions of India with a high standard of living and their education, life style and healthcare are on par with developed countries.  It has the highest literacy rate (93.91% in Kerala and 97% in Kochi - the literacy rate in the US is 86%,) the highest life expectancy (77 years - the US is 78 years) and the lowest positive population growth rate in India.  The state has lush green vegetation palm-lined sandy beaches, mountains, tea, coffee and spice plantations, canals, backwaters and more.  Kerala is known in India as God's own Country.  National Geographic Traveler names Kerala one of the "ten paradises of the world."  Below are some photos, courtesy Kerala Tourism.  (click on collage to enlarge.)

Kerala has many ayurvedic spas and treatments, eco-tourism initiatives as well as national parks, wildlife and bird sanctuaries.  The state is home to elephants, langur monkeys and tigers. 

The city of Kochi, also known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, was a spice trading partner with the Arab merchants of the pre-Islamic era.  It was occupied by the Portuguese from 1503 until 1530 when the Portuguese moved to Goa.  Many international tourists visit Kochi; tourism is a major contributor to the economy.  It also has a sizeable expatriate population, mostly European retirees.  International cruisers call on the port of Kochi regularly.  It has the first marina facility in the country attracting a large number of yacht owners.

Kochi is a cosmopolitan city with a variety of temples, churches, mosques and synagogues.  The oldest group of Jews in India reached Kerala in the 10th century BC.  The Paradesi Synagogue was built in 1568 and is the oldest active synagogue in India.  Indira Gandhi, then the Prime Minister of India, came in 1968 to celebrate its 400th anniversary.  Hinduism is practiced by 47% of the Kerala population but with its 35% Christians, Kochi is the city in India with the largest Christian population.  Syro-Malabar Catholics trace their origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, who is said to have come to India in 52 AD.  The adjective "Syro" in Syro-Malabar refers to the liturgical rite that the Christians celebrate and to distinguish it from the "Latin" liturgy, not to Syrian ethnicity.  These Catholics, also called St. Thomas Christians, have a distinct culture, influenced by both Hindu and Jewish customs, with special wedding customs and rituals.  Several hymns in the wedding ceremony were in Malayalam, their native language.  Below are several Syro-Malabar churches in Kerala apart from the bottom right picture which shows the interior of the Paradesi Synagogue.

The families of the bride and groom, the extended family, and most friends were from Kerala and living in various states of the US, from India, especially Kochi or were first generation Americans from Kerala parents.  The ceremony was going to take place at the small church in Gwinnett County where the Syro-Malabar priest officiates, but since there were 300 guests attending the wedding another church was selected.  The ceremony was celebrated at Mary our Queen Roman Catholic Church in Atlanta, a new church dedicated just a couple of months ago.  Three Syro-Malabar priests celebrated the sacrament of matrimony (the usual pastor of this church was away on Memorial Day holiday.)  As you know I do like to research everything and wanted to know more about this new church.  What I found is interesting.  It seems that parishioners in the community had been gathering funds for many years to build a new larger Catholic church.  St. Gerard's Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York, founded in 1902, was closed several years ago.  The initial plan was to dismantly St. Gerard's brick by brick and move it down to Atlanta.  Instead the Atlanta congregation decided to build a replica of the Roman Basilica-style church that was St. Gerard's and buy the century-old stained-glass windows, pews, altar and other liturgical elements of the old church.

As shown above, St. Gerard's Church building was sold to the Muslim community in Buffalo who needed a new mosque.  Part of St. Gerard's is now incorporated into Mary our Queen Catholic Church in Atlanta and the old building in Buffalo is now the Masjid Al Salam.  This is what could be called divine recycling (-:)  After all this background information, which I thought would help appreciate the wedding and ceremony, I'll finally get to the wedding!  A booklet "Order of Service" was given to everyone so we could follow the ceremony - and that certainly was helpful.  The church service lasted over two hours and part of it was in the Malayalam language.  First came the three Syro-Malabar priests wearing beautiful vestments, in ivory, red and embroidered in gold.


The groom came in with his parents and sat down, and everyone waited.  I'd say about 99% of the ladies were wearing Indian clothing - sarees, half sarees, anarkali, lehanga, etc.  The colors were exquisite, richly embroidered, heavy silks - a feast for the eyes.  They were some of the most beautiful garments I have even seen.  I took very few photos of them to preserve their privacy but I found similar clothing on Indian catalogs.  I have a couple of Indian outfits but they are for winter wear so I was one of the exception wearing western clothes.  It was very warm, close to 95 F in the shade (35 C.)  One of the guests who came all the way from Kerala, India, for the wedding told me that it was the same temperature over there.

The mother of the bride, in purple and gold, was escorted to the front of the church.  The eight bridesmaids and maid of honor wore long lavender gowns.  A small boy, the ring bearer, was ahead of the 5 flower girls (my granddaughter was one of the flower girls.) 

Music was being played.  Most hymns were different than those usually heard in Catholic or other Christian churches.  The Syro-Malabar liturgical chants originated in the Middle East in the 5th century and the hymns had Middle Eastern-Indian sounds.  The bride walked up the aisle with her father and the groom joined her at the altar.  There was a prayer, then a song - 3 young ladies singing in Malayalam.  Then readings from the Bible were followed by another hymn.  The main priest gave the homily followed by more prayers.  The groom then placed the "Thali" around the neck of his bride.  It is a Bunyan tree leaf-shaped pendant embossed with a cross - the symbol of the Covenant of Marriage.  This was followed by the blessing of the rings and the blessing of the "Manthrokodi."  It is a wedding garment covering the bride's head during the blessing, followed by another hymn and the matrimonial pledge - when the couple places their right palms on the Bible.  Then more prayers, more hymns during the two-hour service.  It ended with the couple presenting flowers to the Virgin Mary then lighting the Unity Candle.  The couple departed followed by the bridesmaids, flower girls, family and friends and so on.

After mingling and talking with guests in the front of the church the newlywed came back to the altar to take pictures with their close family while I was taking pictures of the church.

The reception was at the Hilton.  First we had drinks at an open bar and buffet style hors d'oeuvres.  We then proceeded to our tables in the reception hall.  The main priest did a welcome blessing then the groom's parents followed with the Lighting of the Lamp (a special ceremonial oil lamp that features a cross unique to the Indian tradition.)  The groom thanked the assembly for attending the wedding.  Then it was time for the bride/father dance, followed by the groom and bride dance.  After which the young couple sat on a sofa on the podium and received family and guests and took pictures.

There was an announcement that four dinner buffets were opened with an assortment of western and Indian foods - all excellent.  While we ate dinner there was Indian dance entertainment, two young boys, then two young ladies, then more ladies, then more dances.  I came close to the dance floor to take pictures - my granddaughter was in front of me.

Everyone was enthusiastically clapping, shouting encouragements - it was an exciting atmosphere.  Men came to join the dancers and everyone shouted - they were very good.  Then the groom joined the dance - more shouts.  When the bride came to join the dance, after having changed out of her bridal dress, the crowd went mad!  Music, dancing, shouting, clapping, laughing, lights going from purple to white to pink - it was something else!  The bride and groom thanked all the dancers.  Click on collage to see better - my photos are a bit dark as I did not use the flash.
I tried to find similar dances on youtube and if you click below, you'll get an idea about some of the dancing.




There were games, then most everyone - the young crowd - went to the dance floor.  The DJ placed some very loud and trendy music - I might call it Indian hip hop...  I watched while eating my piece of wedding cake.  I took a picture of the dancing floor - you can see the backs of my eldest and youngest grandsons, my daughter in the pink sari and my granddaughter.  My son-in-law and middle grandson joined me in another part of the reception hall away from the loud music and we watched at a distance.  It was easy to see my daughter with her bright coral-pink sari and with her high heels she is about 6 ft.1" tall (1 m 85.)

My daughter and granddaughter finally came back as the music stopped.  It had been quite a memorable and fun wedding! 

Best wishes to the happy couple !



37 comments:

Cloudia said...

What a beautiful and informative post

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you so much for yet another informative AND beautiful posts.
I join you in wishing the newly weds my best wishes.

Christine said...

I was interested in the Kerala and Catholic information as there are several families who attend our local Catholic Church and I did wonder.
Love the photos from the wedding. We have attended several wedding receptions of our neighbours' children and I so agree with you as to the colours and dancing. So pleased for you that you were invited and had such an enjoyable time
Thank you for sharing.

Colette said...

Lovely post! I learned a lot.

Jeanie said...

This is fascinating and so very beautiful! I have to say I learned a lot from this one and truly admired the beautiful church and gowns.

David said...

Hi Vagabonde, Another informative post. I learned a lot about Kerala and Kochi. I'm a stamp collector and I do have stamps from the era of British rule. I knew that there were Christians in India but now I know that these different Christian sects exist...very interesting. Finally, I love your comment about divine 'recycling'.! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Thérèse said...

Que de détails! Je suis toujours épatée par tous les détails que tu donnes.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I had no idea there were so many different kinds of Catholic churches, but maybe I should've. My husband and I were married in a Polish National Catholic Church in Maryland. Our priests there could marry.

What a gorgeous wedding! Very exotic. Thanks for sharing the pictures and info about India, too. My knowledge of that country is very outdated.

Al said...

That sounds like a wonderful experience. One of my former coworkers is from Kerala.

Marja said...

wow First of all Kerala is absolutely beautiful. I had a blogging friend from Kerala for a while and saw some pictures before. Would love to go there. Very interesting information about the churches and love your expression "divine recycling" and than the wedding I am in awe with the sarees and the amazing wedding

DJan said...

What a wonderful and informative post. I knew nothing about this part of the church before your post, and I loved learning and seeing all the wonderful pictures and elaborate dresses. Your daughter is beautiful in that sari. :-)

Tanza Erlambang said...

I love reading your post....
Thank you for sharing series of wonderful photos...

Have a great day

Unknown said...

Like your daughter sari and the color is awesome. Hip-hop is the best song for a wedding ceremony.
Sara recent posted
mehndi hairstyles

Jenny Woolf said...

WHat a completely enchanting post, and what an amazing occasion. I wish I could have been there and heard it all too. That is a most beautiful happy bride! I have often heard of Kerala, but had not realised it was so interesting. Your granddaughter and daughter are both beautiful, lovely photo, if I were you I would have it framed!

Ginnie said...

Because you are an expert researcher, Vagabonde, your posts are always so educational, so thank you. I can just imagine how much fun you had. I can also imagine how EXPENSIVE this entire celebration must have cost. But who's counting, right??? :)

DUTA said...

How very interesting and colorful!
Dancing seems to be the strongest feature at this wedding.I've greatly enjoyed the dance in the red outfits displayed in the video. Great coreography! Nice accompanying music!
Your lovely daughter and grandaughter are a fit ending to your detail-rich post!

Kay G. said...

That certainly is a memorable wedding! Very beautiful and I enjoyed the great details you have along with the background information. Now, this makes me wonder what an Armenian bride would be like? Our son's girlfriend is from Armenia and she has shown me pictures of weddings she has attended in Armenia and I am astonished! It is all so elegant! The women are dressed as if they are going to the Oscars. And I sent a video to her and her sister (who is now engaged to son's good friend) of a Lindy Hop dance and told her I would love to see them dance that at their wedding. Was my face red when she told me she was teaching her fiance some Armenian dances! I looked it up, they have been dancing for over 2000 years in Armenia!

Friko said...

A very interesting post indeed. These customs pertaining to a particular branch of a particular faith are fascinating to learn about. I love the magnificent church interiors, the colours of the ladies’ attire, the description of foods and dances. I am not religious at all but attending a wedding like that would be an experience of a special kind.

I also had a read of your previous post with the endless coincidences. Spooky or what?

bill burke said...

A beautiful post. The wedding photos are lovely.
Enjoy your weekend.

Arti said...

What a beautiful and informative post! As always, your post is well researched and personal. Thanks for sharing! BTW, just coincidentally, I watched the movie "A Passage to India" on TV yesterday. Now I want to read the book by E. M. Forster. Also, I've recently finished reading a novel by the Indian writer Anuradha Roy, All the Lives We Never Lived. Have you read any books by Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje? (the most famous probably is The English Patient). He was born in Sri Lanka. I enjoy reading Indian authors very much.

Pam said...

The wedding and dance is great! What beautiful clothes for an exciting day. Your daughter is quite tall wearing her gorgeous sari. I enjoyed reading this, an informative, interesting post.

Anonymous said...

Merhaba harika bir bloğunuz var.

Sizi takip ettim , bloğuma beklerim

BeachGypsy said...

I'm so glad to see you stopped in and that you enjoyed the post about the old plantation. I would love to see a post about the ones you have visited too!!---you said in New Orleans I think? I have not been there but I have sure enjoyed reading about the old plantations on the old River Road I think it is? I am loving this post about the wedding you attended....it was absolutely beautiful! Lovely bride, well, everyone looks amazing. I love that collage you did of all the beautiful dresses, think they are called saris, not sure? But love all the colors and trims, etc. Very colorful and pretty. Sure a wedding to remember! I love the elephant pictures too.

Gattina said...

Very interesting post and such beautiful clothes !

DeniseinVA said...

I loved reading your post, so very interesting with super photos included. Congratulations to the happy couple.

Glenda Beall said...

What a great post! I love the geography lesson at the beginning as I know very little about India. The wedding photos are marvelous and sounds like you had a great time at this wedding. I am going to share this blog post with some friends who will enjoy it.
Thanks for educating me with your blog.

claude said...

Quelle magnifique publication Vagabonde !
Toute en couleur !
L'inde est certainement un beau pays.
Les robes sont somptueuses y compris celle de la Mariée des des Dames d'honneur.
Il semble y régner une bonne ambiance, tu as du te régaler à tout point de vue.
Merci pour ce joli partage.
Je t'embrasse.

Mae Travels said...

What a wonderful wedding! I love the fact that Indian families traditionally expand to include the relatives of each person who marries into them. As a result we now have some Indian relatives, just as you do.

All your background and detailed photos were really interesting, and I've just enjoyed catching up on your most recent blog posts. It's good to see you active and involved again.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Jeff said...

a wonderful and informative post and what a delight for you to experience it!

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, always---ALWAYS---your postings teach me so much and broaden my world. You, yourself, are such a global villager, a woman who embraces all cultures and I so enjoy all the research you do. While you are educating yourself, you are educating me and helping me become a world citizen. Thank you. And thank you, too, for that video. I was just sitting here for the whole of it smiling with my upper body moving to that special beat of the Indian music. I hope all is well. I'm so glad you that you back blogging. When I have more time---I need to visit all the blogs I've neglected for three months--I plan to come back and see what I've missed on yours! Peace.

Shammickite said...

What a memorable experience to go to this colourful and joyful wedding! Thank you so much for the geography lesson. I would love to visit India one day. My husband worked with a man from Kerala for many years and he introduced us to quite a few delicious recipes!

Nadezda said...

I have nothing known about Syro-Malabar church, thank you Vagabonde for your story on. I see many happy people , women dressed in colorful sari. By the way your daughter looks like an Indian woman. The kids are happy too, dressed in white. I'm glad you have had a nice time, having tasty food and drinks.

Carola Bartz said...

What an interesting and colorful wedding! The garments must have been such a sight, I would have loved to see that. I actually did get a glimpse of them in some of your photos.

Linda P said...

Thank you for sharing your experience of this joyful wedding celebration and for all the background information. You capture the atmosphere so well that I felt as if I was there enjoying the ceremony and reception. I have been to similar weddings in the UK but only to the receptions before and after the weddings so your detailed descriptions and photos are very interesting.

Kay said...

Oh my gosh! I love weddings. Thank you for sharing this beautiful culture. Your photos are absolutely gorgeous. I love all the outfits. Wow! Totally awestruck.

Terra said...

I found this post fascinating, and the wedding, saris, and church beautiful. I would like to visit those areas of India that you described. The wedding must have been incredibly costly, well, a lot of people do have fancy weddings; this one looks like fun.

Vintaze Entertainments said...

Excellent Post, Vintaze Entertainments is glad to read your post. Thanks for sharing this admirable post.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...