Pesaha of Mar Thoma Nasranis


Passover is usually considered as a Jewish festival. It is connected to the Exodus of Jews from Egypt after 400 years of slavery under Pharaoh. The story of exodus from Egypt is described in Exodus 1-15. This festival is remembrance of the beginning of their life as a nation. Jews still celebrate this festival at their homes.

Unlike other Christian communities in the world, Saint Thomas Christians of India (Mar Thoma Nasranis) have a festival similar to that of Jewish Passover. Like the Jewish festival this Christian feast is celebrated at Nasrani homes. They consider this day with great reverence. This celebration among them could be considered as a Christian version of the Jewish Passover, perhaps handed over to them through the early Jewish converts among them. This day is a public holiday, declared by the Government of Kerala.

Preparation of Pesaha Meal

The tradition of Nasranis is to make Pesaha appam, (typical bread made only on Passover night and is unleavened as in the case of Jews) and Paal (meaning milk, a drink made with coconut milk, jaggery and some spices). Pesaha appam is also known as Kurisappam (cross bread). The meal also includes banana  (poovan pazham or njalipoovan pazham). The bread is cooked in a steam top cooker or a pan depending on the geographic region. There is either a dedicated cookware for pesaha meal preparation or a new one is bought. In olden days when metal vessels were not popular, manchatti (typical earthenware pottery of the region) was used and immediately after the Pesaha meal preparation, they were destroyed. In some regions this is still practiced. The Pesaha Appam is cooked with a cross (made with the infant coconut leaf blessed by priest on Oshana Sunday) over it. The Paal is also prepared with a cross in it while cooking. Pesaha Appam is cooked without letting it to ferment, which means immediately after preparing the mix.

Prior to cooking it is custumery to clean the kitchen and premises. In some regions head of the family (oldest male member) prepares the Pesaha meal.



Nasranis were celebrating Pesaha from the very olden days at their home. The so-called Synod of Diamper describes the observance of Passover at homes as positive practice; this means that it was an ancient practice and it is not something that came along with European Christians in 16th century. If Latin Church imposed such a practice, this might have been present in the decree, but it would have been an action point to change or modify this practice.

Pesaha Night

On the Pesaha night, all Nasrani family members gather at home, read the Book of Exodus and pray (sing hymns or very short prayers). The head of the family (eldest male) breaks the bread (without letting a tiny piece to fall on the floor) and serve it to every member with Paal. On the next day (Passion Friday or Good Friday), alms-giving and drinking of bitter juice are observed.

If a member of the family has passed away after the previous Pesaha, the sorrowing family does not celebrate the Pesaha. Instead they go to a relative’s home or relatives supply their Pesaha meal. If a family has no male member, the eldest male relative peforms the role of the father during Pesaha.

Comparison of Pesaha traditions with Jews

The Passover of Nasranis is not exactly the same as that of Jews, but there are some similarities noted as below.

  • Both groups make unleavened bread.

  • No leavened (containing yeast) foods or grains are eaten.

  • Paal among the Nasranies may be a representation of wine among Jews.

  • The head of the family serve the food.

  • Meals of both groups include bitter food. Bitter juice among Nasranies and maror among Jews.

  • Singing special songs (may be seen only in some regions).

  • Alms-giving to the needy.

  • Pesaha meal of both groups includes fruits.


Pesaha is a tradition observed by the Nasranis at home on the Thursday of Pesaha. This practice is observed with piety and has been preserved even after centuries of European influence. This is a unique tradition of Saint Thomas Christians. Uniqueness is its nature of celebration, i.e., Pesaha is a family celebration and not Church centured. It is not known to be practiced by any other Christian community in India and abroad.

1) Recent discovery of an ancient harbour in Kerala, India indicates the presence of Roman, Greek and Middle Eastern communities on the Malabar Coast even before the Christian era. This might point to the presence of early Jewish settlements in Malabar and thereby the tradition was handed over through the early Jewish converts among the Nasranis.

2) From literature it is clear that early Jewish Christians, particularly Aramaic speaking Christians, practiced several Jewish rituals including Pesaha up to the fourth century. This means that the tradition was handed over through the Persian emmigrants among the Nasranis.

3) An ancient copper plate (from 9th century) issued to the Nasranis by the local ruler indicates cooperation between Nasranis and the Jews of Kerala. It might be that the tradition was continued by the Jewish adherants who were absorbed into the community and later this was wide spread.

It leads us to the conclusion that the Pesaha of Nasranis could be traced back to an ancient Syriac Christian practice or it might be the influence of early or later Jewish converts in the Malabar Coast.

© Nasrani Foundation

Feel free to use this text anywhere. We are grateful if you cite us. Write your comments to this article on info 'at' nasranifoundation 'dot' org.