When I lived in Chicago, I did a fair amount of research into the liturgical practices and spirituality of the Syro-Malabar Rite Catholic Church, which has a diocese (the first Syro-Malabar Catholic diocese outside India) located in one of the near western suburbs. Syro-Malabar Rite Catholics are Indians who trace their Christian heritage back to St. Thomas the Apostle’s evangelism in India. (The Apocryphal Acts of Judas Thomas, a 3rd-century Syriac document, suggests this trip. Documentary and archaeological evidence in Kerala — #13 on this map — traces Christianity back to at least the early 3rd century.) St. Thomas, “Mar Thoma” in Syriac and Malayalam, is their patron (and the patron of many of their parishes).
Their liturgical language, historically, has been Syriac, though their liturgy suffered much Latinization due to Portuguese influence during the colonial period. They adopted the vernacular with enthusiasm. In the Chicago diocese, worship is in Malayalam and English; the English translation, which is used by the youth and students of the church, has been painstakingly prepared by very liturgically knowledgeable laypersons and youth leaders, in consultation with Syro-Malabar clergy. I have written several papers on their liturgy, but that’s not what I’m here for today — and I’ve done a few presentations on the exceedingly complex history of the Thomas Christians, but I’m not going to do that here either.
The Syro-Malabar Rite Catholics I met have a saying, adapted from Fr. Placid Podipara: they are “Indian in culture, Catholic in religion, and Syriac in worship.” Just this morning I discovered a new instance of the truth of this saying. A Hindu friend of mine commented on Facebook about seeing a white woman wearing a mangalsutra. Since I didn’t know what that was, I looked it up. It’s a necklace that’s put on the woman as the central element of a Hindu marriage ceremony — and, I see, the Thomas Christian marriage ceremony as well. In Malayalam, it’s called a thali or thaali (താലി). Whereas many different designs can be used on a Hindu mangalsutra, the Holy Spirit is apparently the preferred design on a Christian thali.