Knanaya Tradition

Knanaya Tradition

The Knanaya community within the St. Thomas Christian tradition in India has several unique traditions and practices:

  • Endogamy: The Knanaya community maintains its distinct ethnic and ecclesial identity by practicing endogamy, only marrying within their own community. This has been a longstanding tradition since their arrival in India in the 4th century.
  • Separate Clergy and Churches: The Knanaya have their own priests and churches, allowing them to maintain their own religious and cultural structures within the broader St. Thomas Christian community. This has helped preserve their distinct identity.

  • Mesopotamian Origins: According to tradition, the Knanaya trace their origins to a group of 400 Jewish Christian families who emigrated from southern Mesopotamia to India in 345 AD under the leadership of a merchant named Thomas Kinai. This connection to Mesopotamia is an important part of their identity.

  • Royal Privileges: When the Knanaya arrived in India, they were granted land and 72 royal privileges by the local ruler, the Cheraman Perumal, which further solidified their status and autonomy.
  • Division into Catholic and Orthodox: Over time, the Knanaya community has split into Knanite Catholics, organized under the Syro-Malabar Church, and Knanite Orthodox, governed by the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. This division reflects the broader schisms within the St. Thomas Christian community.


In summary, the Knanaya community has maintained a distinct ethnic, ecclesial, and cultural identity within the St. Thomas Christian tradition through practices like endogamy, separate clergy and churches, and tracing their origins to a 4th century Mesopotamian migration, all of which have been facilitated by the royal privileges granted to them upon their arrival in India.