Delectable delicacies are arranged in a luscious display that could resemble an astounding garden on the table with a name board suggesting ‘Easter specialties’ in yellow. The pleasant crowd reached over and picked up the items they needed, though tiny portions of ‘naadan nasrani food’ (traditional Christian food) as they call it, are highly priced, without a flinch. Naadan thaaravu curry, chicken curry, kappa biriyani, meen pattichathu and many others don the naadan menu while the dessert offers chocolate brownies to multi-coloured Easter eggs. Yes, Easter like every other festival in Kerala has become a packaged extravaganza where our little joys come in little packets. Rarely we get to see a family having traditional home-made cuisines on a festival day, especially Easter which falls on a Sunday. Maundy Thursday, a lesser known festival, which marks the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, kickstarts the Easter festivities with its share of traditions and food dishes.
“On Maundy Thursday we make a pancake, resembling the bread Christ offered to his disciples, ‘INRI appam’. Instead of wine, a pesaha paal, (a sweet milk) made with coconut milk and jaggery, is used for dipping the pancake”, says Alice Babu, a retired school teacher.
Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, he had called his disciples to his side on a Maundy Thursday, a Jew festival and shared bread and wine with them. The bread and wine, he said, symbolised his body and blood. Later on, it has become a custom in Christian Mass to give a small piece of appam (bread) and wine during their services. This tradition has been followed in Catholic and Jacobite families on Maundy Thursdays for years now.
“INRI, which means the King of Jews in Hebrew, was written on the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The tender palm leaves given on the hosanna Sunday, remembering the day Jesus was welcomed with olive leaves and was called the King of Jews, will be placed in the shape of a cross on the ‘INRI appam’”, says Sylvie Alex, a teacher.
The hot-cross buns and breads have a market during Easter season as there are many who would rather have the celebrations without spending their holidays in kitchen. Nevertheless, there are others who solemnly celebrate Maundy Thursday with all the traditions and festivities intact.
“You cannot compare the Maundy Thursdays in earlier days with the current ones. Earlier the families were joint and had so much fun during the festivities. Today you can get ‘INRI appam’ and even ‘pesaha paal’ in packets,” says a 95-year-old retired school teacher, K M Philip.
On Maundy Thursday, the members of the family from the grandparents to their grandchildren get together and divide the food among themselves. The oldest member of the family cuts the ‘INRI appam’ and distributes it to his family members.
“As there were many members in the family, the servants and women would start grating the coconut and other preparations the day before. We would go to the church in the early morning and spend the whole day in the church and take the ‘kurisappams’ with us. It was celebration time for us kids, we used to enjoy the rushes and banter going around us.
There were many types of ‘appams’ including ‘vattayappam’, ‘kurisappam’ and ‘appams’ garnished with cashewnuts and dryfruits in the earlier days. Today all I have left with me are some fond memories of those days,” recalls Mary James, a bank employee, of her experiences of Maundy Thursday at her parental home.
For youngsters like Divya Alex, a school student, Maundy Thursday is just like any other day. “We do go to church in the morning and relish the various dishes prepared at home. Still,I do not know the significance of the day”.
The verse ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself ‘ was followed religiously on Maundy Thursday as the various ‘appams’ except ‘INRI appam’ were distributed among neighbours, friends and others. As per tradition, ‘INRI appam’ can only be given to the family members. If a family member had passed away that year, that family cannot celebrate Maundy Thursday. However the neighbours are expected to give a share of their food to such a family.
“I have never made ‘INRI appam’ by myself as I prefer to go to our parents’ place for celebration. Maundy Thursday is also a time for the family to be together, I get to meet my siblings during this time,” says Jincy Sunil, a young housewife.
Sapna Mickey who has a food blog to her credit says, “‘INRI appam’ recipes are different for ‘Knanaya Jacobites’ and Catholics. While we use banana leaves for steaming the appams, Catholics use a round pan just like Vattayappam”.
Traditions are still followed, with little tweaks here and there.