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Good Friday: A Sombre day in the Christian calendar

By saba-Thambi

Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Church near Kilinochchi-Sri Lanka North, pictured in Jan 2010-courtesy: indi.ca

People in general query the meaning of the name “Good Friday” when it was in fact the darkest day in the liturgical calendar. Some argue that the word ‘Good’ derived from the old English synonym for “holy” and the others state that it has been altered from the word “God” to ‘good’ as in the derivation of the word “Good bye” from the origin of the phrase “God be with ye”.

However the Christians believe that Christ was humiliated and sacrificed on the cross and his resurrection meant a victory over death and sin for all mankind, hence it meant good. However the Eastern orthodox churches refer to this melancholy day as ‘Holy’ or ‘Great’ Friday. In Tamil it is remembered as Periya Vellikizhamai (பெரிய வெள்ளிக்கிழமை)

The cross & crucifixion

The cross is a structure of an upright piece and a traverse beam fixed at right angle where condemned are formally put to death. It is referred to as crucifixion and it was practised even before the pre-Christian era. The origin is traced back to the North African region of Carthage, now known as Tunisia and its surroundings. The act was later adopted by the Romans as a capital punishment to intimidate the public.

The Romans introduced this brutal form of execution and reserved it only for the non-Roman citizens and perfected the execution to maximise the pain and suffering of the condemned. Flogging or scourging also was induced on the destined with a whip consisting of many throngs loaded with pieces of metals or sharp sheep bones. The whip pinched the flesh of the victim to induce excruciating pain and loss of blood. Following the flogging, the victim is ordered to carry his own cross to the crucifixion area and which was generally outside the city walls where the citizens could view the execution.

The cross will be laid horizontally at the crucifixion area and the fated will be stretched upon the cross and nailed to the cross. Many historians believe that the 10 – 12 inch nails were driven through the space between small bones of the wrist but not the palm of the hand as depicted in paintings. The feet will be overlapped and the heels will be nailed to the cross or put on a pedestal. Then the cross will be raised vertically and dropped into a prepared hole on the ground.

The death on the cross is ultimately by asphyxiation and the death occurs from a few hours to a few days. The centurion or the Roman guards would watch over the victim until his death. The physical suffering of the condemned goes beyond what anyone can imagine.

The history’s darkest hour occurred in Israel in the year A.D 33 – 34 under the Roman rule and the condemned was the 33 year old Jesus. John, the youngest disciple of Jesus, believed to be Jesus’ first cousin has given his eye-witness account on his gospel in the New Testament. Chapters 18 and 19 of the Gospel of John carries most details of the sufferings of Jesus’ route from the garden of Gethsemane to the Calvary.
Siluvai, chiluvai

After the death of Jesus, the figure of the cross became a Christian emblem. The cross was not widely used until the 3rd century A.D., when it was publicly acknowledged by the Roman Emperor Constantine as a symbol of Christianity. In Tamil the cross is known as the word ‘siluvai’ or ‘chiluvai’. The origin of the word siluvai is well explained in the thesis of D. Rajarigam, Principal of Gurusala, Tranquebar, South India titled “The history of Tamil Christian literature”.
It was printed in 1958 as:

“Cross: The Syriac word, “slibo” was transliterated into ciluvai, to mean cross. This word is found in Ziegenbalg’s translation; but the origin of it is to be traced back to the first century A.D, when the cross was brought into South India. This word ciluvai, is found in the Tamil Lexicon, University of Madras, 1936. It has also become a well known word throughout the Tamil country”.

The movie “annai vellankanni “(1971) directed by K.Thangappan carries a song sung by TM Soundrarajan portrays the procession of Jesus to Calvary. The music was rendered by Devarajan and the apt lyrics were written by the late Kavignar Kannadasan:

mp3: Devamainthan pokindran:

The condensed version of the song is as follows:

தேவமைந்தன் போகின்றான், தேவதூதன் போகின்றான்;
ஜீவநாடகம் முடிந்ததென்று, தேவமைந்தன் போகின்றான்,
தேவமைந்தன் போகின்றான், தேவதூதன் போகின்றான்;
தேவபூமி அழைத்ததென்று, மேரிமைந்தன் போகின்றான்

உலகை சுமக்கும் தோள்களிலே, சிலுவை சுமந்து போகின்றான்
ஒளி வழங்கும் கண்களிலே, குருதி கொண்டு போகின்றான்,
குருதி பொங்கும் வேளையிலும் கோபமின்றி போகின்றான்
கொடிய முள்ளால் மகுடமிட்டும் கொடுமை தாங்கி போகின்றான்

சாட்டையெடுத்தார் யூதரெல்லாம், அவன் தர்மம் விதைத்தான் பூமியெல்லாம்
ஆணி அடித்தார் மேனியிலே அவன் அன்பை விதைத்தான் பூமியிலே,
கண்ணை இழந்த யூதர்களே, கர்த்தர் உம்மை காத்தருள்வார்,
பாவன் தீரும் என்கின்றான் பயமில்லாமல் போகின்றான்.

தேவ மைந்தன் போகின்றான், தேவ தூதன் போகின்றான்
ஜீவ நாடகம் முடிந்ததென்று, தேவ மைந்தன் போகின்றான்.

There are many songs written in Tamil, describing the suffering and reflections of Jesus on the cross. Here are some of those songs sung by various artistes.

Post script:

Nearly 700 years before the Death of Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah has prophesised as below

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b]

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
(Isaiah 53: 7 -9 ) written between 700 – 681 B.C

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