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Epiphany as the Plantain Trunk Feast

February 09, 2012  by: Paulose  Points: 15   Category: Inspirational Stories    Views: 690

Plantain Trunk Feast or the feast of Epiphany is celebrated by the Kerala Christians of South India in a very grand manner with lights and fireworks. It commemorates the manifestation of Divinity in the humanity of Jesus and the visit of the Magi in search of Jesus.


Most of the Christians begin the New Year with the feast of Epiphany or Denha. During the first week of January most of the Christians celebrate the feast of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the Magi or the three wise men from the east. Most of the churches celebrate January 6 as the Feast of Epiphany. Eastern Churches, including Saint Thomas Christians of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in South India, celebrate this day as Denha (Epiphany). It is an ancient and important feast of these churches from the early days of Christianity. This feast which commemorates the visit of the Magi is also a great feast to commemorate the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

Epiphany as the Plantain Trunk Feast

Syro-Malabar Christians celebrate Epiphany as "Pindipperunaal" (Plantain Trunk Feast) with decorated lights on the trunk of a plantain tree. They keep the plantain trunk with lights and other decorations in front of their houses. They place as many oil lamps as possible on the trunk with colorful decorations.

On the eve of the festival, the members of the family would go around the lighted plantain trunk, singing a song in Syrian language which means, "God is light" and commemorating the words of Jesus who said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12 RSV)

Plantain Trunk celebration is a reminiscence of the ancient practice of showing light to the travelers, commemorating the search of the three wise men from the east following the miraculous star they had seen. Many rituals and traditional practices accompany this festival.

The visit of the Magi

The second chapter of Matthew in the Bible narrates the visit of the Magi in detail (Matthew 2: 1-15). Traditions say that they were astrologers of the eastern world and calculated about a rare human birth and came to see the new born baby. "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.'" (Matthew 2:1-2 RSV)

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh." (Matthew 2: 10-11RSV)

Plantain Trunk Feast as the manifestation of Divine and human Jesus

Denha or Epiphany reminds the Baptism of Jesus at River Jordan. The Syrian Catholics in Kerala call this feast as Rakkuli Festival (the bath in the night). It is an ancient practice of taking a ritual bath in the nearest pond or river. This bath is preceded by a liturgy on the eve of the feast of Denha, commemorating the Baptism of Jesus. Traditions say that it is after this event that Jesus manifested his Divinity in the human form. With this, they say, he opened the gates of heaven and revealed Himself to all men, living in darkness.

Feasting and merry making

The day is celebrated with delicious dinner and colorful activities at home as well as in the church. Special liturgical services also accompany. In some places of the Southern region the decorated plantain trunk is taken in procession.

It is said that this feast was originally celebrated by the Christians in Alexandria and was adopted by all the eastern Churches and finally included in the western Church liturgy. It gives a good start to the New Year to live a pure and friendly life of love.



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