March 27, 2010

Making docu films on Chennai

They call themselves Vanniyakula Christians. A small community which grew in the groves of San Thome, close to Foreshore Estate.

Their forefathers may have headed to Madras from places like Pondicherry and the Madurai region.

One is not sure if they were Christian converts even before the migration took place or if they became Christians after they grew roots in a place which is still rich in the saint Thomas tradition.

Being a close-knit community, they held strongly and proudly to their customs and beliefs and when they had to assert themselves they even challenged the institutional Church of this land.

One lasting legacy has been the celebration of the feast of a saint that is dear to them. Saint Lazarus. A saint who is believed to be the patron of lepers and the sick.

How this saint became a patron of the Vanniyakula Christians, who are commonly referred to as Naickers, is diffused in legends and oral traditions.

Was it because the San Thome grove once used to be the refuge of sick people who had no home of their own and sought refuge in a saint and in the church that the Jesuit missionaries established here?

Or was the saint a favourite patron long before people migrated and he remained in their hearts after they made a new home in Madras?

I have heard stories of the celebration of this feast the past years. And when friend F. J. Vincent, a senior San Thomite, former Bedean and church activist shared with me many stories of the past and of the community he too is part of, we decided to make a docu-film on this feast that is unique in local church history.

We hope to screen this film next weekend at an event that is being organised for all those who wish to produce docu-films on our city.

Films of this nature are few. A shame for a city that has a fascinating history, people and character.

With more and more young and creative people looking at avenues that challenge them, this is the time to get media students and professionals to spare time to make docu-films on our city.

If you are keen, then drop by at Alliance Francaise on April 3, 3 p.m. Three films will be screened and there will be a dialogue on this movement. To correspond use

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