The SRITE Project: The Saint Thomas Christian/Syrian Christian Community in South-West India
Sritē means “manuscripts” in Syriac. The original aim of this project was to survey, digitize, and catalogue the manuscript collections of the Saint Thomas Christian community of South India, to lay the foundations for a new history of the community. The native Christians are called “the Christians of Saint Thomas” because, according to their traditions, their ancestors were converted by Saint Thomas the Apostle, whose missionary itinerary brought him as far as South India, where he suffered a martyr’s death. Another name for the community is “Mappilla Christians.” The word māppiḷḷameans the “son of the maternal uncle” and, thus, the ideal bridegroom for the matrilineal exogamous castes of the Kerala Hindu society. This designation shows that the Mappilla communities were formed through the intermarriage of West Asian merchants and women of the local matrilineal castes, eminently the Nayars, which was the land-tenant and warrior caste of Kerala. They are also called “Syrians” (Suriyāni) because of their liturgical and literary language, Syriac, although their mother tongue is Malayalam, shared with the neighbouring Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim communities.