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Pesaha: Family unites around an unleavened bread

When all the family members gather around the table, head of the family says prayer and breaks the bread and gives to each one starting with the eldest. They all receive it with great respect holding the palms together.

Pesaha: Family unites around an unleavened bread

By Joe Palathunkal
On Maundy Thursday there is a beautiful custom among the Syro-Malabar Catholics of Kerala. In the evening the whole family comes together around an unleavened bread called Kurisappam or Pesahappam. This is in memory of the Jewish Passover as described in Exodus 12.

Kurisappam is prepared out of rice flour without using yeast or leaven and a cross is kept on the round bread. The cross is prepared from the tender coconut leaves used on Palm Sunday. No sugar or anything to sweeten is used while the bread is prepared. When all the family members gather around the table, head of the family says prayer and breaks the bread and gives to each one starting with the eldest. They all receive it with great respect holding the palms together.

While they consume the bread Puthen Pana is sung, a lengthy poem written by the German Jesuit missionary Johann Ernest Hanxladen or Arnos Pathiri as he is popularly known in Kerala. Puthen Pana deals with the whole life of Jesus in an extraordinary poetic way. Now in many families they play the album composed by P. D. Thomas and sung by famous playback singer P. Jayachandran.

Along with Kurisappam there is a sweet milk prepared out of coconut juice and molasses in which also a Palm Sunday coconut leaves blessed by the priests are put in the shape of a cross. Along with Kurisappam which is only one, another unleavened bread called Inriappam is also prepared which can be several ones. The Inriappam might have come from the Portuguesse and the name is a derivation from INRI displayed over the head of Jesus on the Cross. The origin of Kurisappam is traced to the Chaldean tradition.

Inriappam reminds the crucifixon of Jesus and only this bread is shared with non-Christians but Pesahappam is restricted to Christians only. After completing Pesaha in one family, they all go to other families of relatives or neighbours and share the Inriappam and the coconut milk. So Pesaha unites not only the family members but it unites all the families among themselves. Fostering this union within families and with other families is a wonderful charateristic of this Passover celebration among the Syro-Malabar Catholics. Worth encouraging this tradition at a time when human unity is being broken in an alarming way.

When I hear the Puthen Pana even today, the image of my father comes to my mind and I see him seated in front of Kurisappam and making a sign of the cross before breaking and giving to all my family members. This is one celebration that educates every one about the life and teachings of Jesus through a beautiful poetry which has woven the fall of man, Annunciation, Nativity, Sermon on the Mount, Last Supper, Crucifixon, Lamentation of Virgin Mary, and Ascension in an enchanting way. And Kurisappam reminds us about the cross each Indian farmer carries to feed his fellow contrymen without even getting the due for his sweat and blood.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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