Preliminaries about the Kerala Manuscripts
There are some old manuscripts in Kerala, such as the West Syrian Nomocanon of Gregory Bar Hebroyo, dated to 1290, four years after the author's death (1286) and the East Syrian Nomocanon of Abdisho of Soba (d. 1318), dated to 1291, that is, copied during the author's lifetime. Both constitute the oldest known versions of these two works. However, the majority of the manuscripts are more recent copies. This may partly be due to the fact that after 1599 - the date of the infamous Synod of Diamper (Udayamperur) - the Portuguese condemned a good number of the manuscripts available to be burnt. However, there are good grounds for doubting the actual existence of those pyres, and so even more important seem to be the effects of the extremely humid tropical climate, eventually combined with the inappropriate storage conditions of the manuscripts. There were some that effectively turned to dust in our hands, while we saw others eaten by worms. In fact, it is precisely this state of the MSS that calls for quick action.
Even if the majority of the MSS are of a rather recent date (between the sixteenth and the twentieth century), this does not mean that they lack interest for Syriac or, more generally, for Eastern Christian studies. A good part of the texts contained are late antique or medieval, sometimes translations of Greek, Armenian or Arabic originals, and in many cases they contain hitherto unknown versions, to say nothing of new texts discovered. For our team of particular interest are those manuscripts that were copied or written in India. There is also a large quantity of unique archival documents, such as private or official letters, diaries, notes and decisions.
A comprehensive study of the entire collection of manuscripts, based on not only the copied texts, but also the colophons, the binding techniques, the paper used, the marginal notes and so on, will shed new light on the life, the history and - principally - the contacts with the Middle Eastern Syrian communities that the Syrian Christians of India have maintained during the centuries, up to the present day.