Over the years, Christians in Kerala have seen traditions being given the go by - be it weddings, funerals or other ceremonies. But the ritual of drinking choruka (a decoction made of bitter gourd juice and vinegar) and gruel (kanji) on Good Friday continues to be observed without change.
Good Friday is observed as a day of prayers, penance and fasting to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Calvary Hills nearly 2,000 years ago.
And irrespective of the denomination of the Church, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, Good Friday is one day when most Christians (even those who are not regular churchgoers) make it a point to be a part of the prayers. <b1>
"I'm happy that while many churches have modified their services for other occasions, the Good Friday service continues in the same way as I've been seeing it for nearly 80 years," said Thankamma Kurian, 87, who is getting ready to be in time for the Good Friday service along with her great granddaughter Susan Thomas, 10, in Kottayam.
Christians account for 23 percent of Kerala's 32 million population. A large percentage of Christians live the central Kerala districts of Kottayam, Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam and Trissur.
In most churches the Good Friday service begins around 8 a.m. and in the Syrian Christian Orthodox churches the service ends last by around 3 p.m.
"This year too, the number of faithful attending church has been higher than usual. It is certainly a good sign that the religious fervour of this holy day is observed by people in a most solemn way," said Kuttiychayan, 70, a senior parish member of the Mar Gregorios Orthodox Church at Vakathanam in Kottayam.
In the capital city too, the number of people attending church could be seen overflowing on to the streets.
In most churches, today's highlight is the `Nagarikanickal' ritual, where the crucifix is carried through the streets in a procession with hundreds of followers.
The `Way-of-the-Cross', the 14 stations on Christ's Journey to Mount Calvary from Pilate's palace, was re-enacted with the worshippers moving to each station singing hymns as the story, which leads to the betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion of Christ, was narrated by the priest.
The most solemn moment is the drinking of 'choruka'. This is made of bitter gourd, vinegar and a mixture of select herbs and is given to every person who arrives to attend the Good Friday service.
This symbolises the event which took place when Jesus, while on the cross and just before he died, called out and hearing his cries some of those watching the event took a piece of cloth, dipped it in cheap wine, put it on a piece of stick and lifted it to his mouth and tried to make him drink.
Soon after this, the Good Friday service comes to a close in the churches here.
Later on, people line up to drink the gruel (kanji) made out of rice, pulses and mango pickle.
"The only change since my childhood days is that then the kanji was prepared in select homes and brought to the church. But today it is prepared in the church itself," said Punnoose Kurian.
After drinking the kanji, people depart and eagerly wait for the Easter mass which begins immediately after Saturday midnight.
Unlike previous years, this Good Friday is a dry day in Kerala, with all liquor shops and bars remaining closed