Blessing of the Grapes, Festival of Calcutta Armenians
Blessing of the Grapes
Holy Trinity Armenian Church, Tangra, Calcutta (Kolkata)
Also see: Armenians of Calcutta (Kolkata)
Held on the Sunday closest to the 15th August, the Grape Blessing Ceremony is one of the most important festivals of the Armenian calender.
Although a Christian festival the Blessing of the Grapes originally dates back to the days of Paganism. Mid August was harvest season in Armenia and it was also the new year for pre – Christian Armenians.
During the Pagan days the first harvest was offered to the Gods. Grapes, which has been been considered as noblest of fruits, has always been in the top of the offering list.
With Armenia adopting Christianity as the official religion in 301 AD (the first country to do so) the ancient pagan custom of blessing the grapes were absorbed into the folds of the Armenian Church.
In the early days of Christianity on a mid – August Sunday a solemn ceremony used to take place in the vineyards of Armenia. A priest, with a clipper in the right hand and a cross in the left would walk down the vineyard blessing the vineyard and the grapes.
He would ask God to bless the vines on which grapes have ripened and keep the vineyard protected from natural calamities like hail, frost, high winds and pests.
The ceremony ended with the distribution of the blessed grapes along with the exchange of best wishes.
With the passage of time the solemn festival of the blessing of the grapes would turn out to be one of the major feast days of the Armenian Church and came to known as the “Assumption of the Virgin Mary.”
The story of assumption concerns Virgin Mary, who has a primary place of honor in Armenian Church doctrine because it was of her and by the Holy Spirit that God became incarnate.
She is seen as the image of humanity fully obedient to God and ultimately sanctified by doing God’s will.
Grapes have been the chosen fruits as Jesus himself have been linked to the grape vines.
At the Last Supper, Jesus drank wine, and gave it to his disciples by saying, “This is my blood.” Wine was made from grapes, and it became the suitable choice for a fruit to be presented to church.
Today the Armenians world wide celebrates the Feast of Assumption of Virgin Mary, along with the blessing of the grapes, on the Sunday nearest to the 15 August and the Calcutta (Kolkata) Armenians are no exceptions.
The Armenian Community in Calcutta (Kolkata) have a long and illustrious history and they claim to have settled in Calcutta (Kolkata) much before the arrival of Job Charnock.
A vibrant commercial community they wanted to reestablish their socio – cultural activity in Calcutta and Bengal.
This was one of the reasons that urged them to build churches in their settlements and invite priests. The Church was considered as the centre of all community activities. In India, wherever they build settlements, they constructed churches. Today, all over India, one can find many beautiful Armenian churches, chapels and historical monuments standing as mute witnesses or silent sentinels of a once-flourishing Armenian community.
Today West Bengal houses 5 Armenian Churches, excluding the one at Dhaka, Bangladesh. Three of the Armenian Churches are located in Calcutta (kolkata). The small and dwindling Armenian community takes turn in celebrating their festivals and conducting their Sunday Services in different churches to keep them active.
For the other two Armenian Churches in West Bengal they are opened only once a year. The St. John the Baptist Church in Chinsurah is opened on the 2nd / 3 rd Sunday of January for the Annual Pilgrimage of Calcutta (kolkata) Armenians while the St. Mary Armenian Church in Saidabad is opened in mid August for the Blessing of Grapes Ceremony.
In 2014 the Armenian Community in Calcutta (Kolkata) decided to shift the Blessing of the Grapes ceremony from St. Mary’s Armenian Church in Saidabad to the Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Tangra, Calcutta (Kolkata).
The Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Tangra was inaugurated on 1st March 1867. It has an adjoining graveyard and the oldest grave dates back to 19th March 1867. The church was restored in 2007.
The blessing of the grapes ceremony was led by Fr. Zaven Yazichyan, the pastor (priest) of Armenians in India and was assisted byalong with the boys of Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy (ACPA) while the girls of the college sang the choir.
It was short but mesmerizing ceremony and ended with the two priest blessing the graves. After the grapes were blessed the devotes kissed the Holy Bible before being offered the grapes. Packet full of grapes were distributed to be taken home for friends and relatives.