Kurisumala, The Noisiest Trappists in the World? or How to be a Western Plonke: Post XIV - Travels Amongst the Saint Thomas Christians of Indiar


Loud Monkey

Alas, the spell is broken.

Kurisumala is known the world over for its silence and tranquility. So it is just my luck that the Catholic parish church at the bottom of the mountain has started what, some brothers have told me, will be a week-long festival. What this means is that starting at 5am I am subjected to extraordinarily annoying singing by nuns. I mean really, really annoying. If you don’t believe me -

5am Annoying Nun Song

Did you really listen? Then as the day progresses they blare ‘devotional’ music at volumes that would make any self respecting Heavy Metal band bleed from the ears. The sound travels straight up the valley and when the wind is in the right direction shakes the hermitage I am staying in.

Parish Festival

Yesterday I walked four miles to the other side of the next mountain over to escape the noise. Today I went to the other side of the mountain the ashram is on to get away from it. Still, I have to come back eventually.

Whilst I am in the hermitage I have taken to using earplugs. Still the noise is so persistent and excruciatingly irritating that I find myself close to tears and paralysed with frustration.

I have tried to explain the situation to the monks who, because they are located between two hills that somewhat block the noise, do not get the complete blast and so do not seem to understand the full magnitude (literally) of the situation. They make vague sounds about other places on the mountain, ask you to wait, and then just wander off and do not come back (probably the best way to deal with agitated Westerners). I am never really quite sure I understand what they are saying or if they understand what I am saying. What I do know is that they do not seem to understand that the noise is a problem. The guest brother said to me when I tried to explain the problem “you like the music, yes?”

Really Loud Cow

At the moment the whole  universe seems to have taken against me. To add to the irritating catholic music I think the milking is behind schedule this evening as the cows will not stop bellowing.

Cows Bellowing

Louder Bird

Now some ungodly piece of machinery, hitherto unheard, has been fired up to compete with the cows, not to mention an absurdly loud bird that has just decided to sit on the hermitage and join in the acoustic chaos.

Dairy Machine

I also think that the cow herds might be going to the church festival in town tonight as they are now blaring their radio and shouting incessantly down their cell phones at all their stone deaf friends. Wait, no -  now they are yelling to their friends down the valley like monkeys. And they’re getting a response! Heaven knows what is being communicated that cannot be achieve by yelling into their cell phones. Then again I might very well be completely wrong and there are actual monkeys in the trees beneath me.

Farm Hands or Monkeys

ARKive image GES063266 - Red-handed howler monkey

Just when I though it could not get any worse one of the young Syro-Malabar priests has decided to pour out his love for Christ in song just beneath the hermitage – no doubt in total ignorance that it is here (or that there might be obnoxious monkeys in the branches above him). It would be rather sweet if it were no so loud, went on so long, and weren't somehow a bit embarrassing for a westerner. It is like hearing the people in the room next to you engaged in sexual relations. You just feel you shouldn’t be hearing something so private. He starts low and then gets really worked up!


This evening I would rate Kurisumala as the noisiest monastery I have ever been in (and I have spent more than half my life visiting monasteries). This is painfully frustrating when you see how beautiful and quiet is it once you get just a short distance away from the ashram. However it is now dusk and I really cannot go out walking the mountain at night (in case you are wondering why I can answer very easily - King Cobras live on this mountain!).

King Cobra

In the monasteries' welcome booklet they quote Ghandi’s admiration for Trappists:

“I once stayed with Cistercian monks. They are votaries of divine love, of poverty and chastity. Their monastery was a veritable garden. There was a sweet silence pervading the whole atmosphere. I still live under eh charm of their cells. It would be my ideal to found such an institution.”

More importantly in the guest rooms and hermitages the welcome card contains the following:

“IN SILENCE AND QUIET WITH WORDS OF LIFE: Experience has taught me, wrote Mahatma Gandhi that silence is part of the discipline of the votary of truth. Our sadhakas keep perpetual silence. …Then ashram life is all peace, and quiet. These are both the source and the fulfillment of the inner growth and spiritual realisation.”

Yeah. Right.

How can you have a community whose spirituality is so deeply rooted in profound silence tolerate this amount of noise without a fuss? If it is one of their spiritual priorities why do they seem so unconcerned when their silence is so violently broken (especially by a neighbouring Catholic community)? I would have taken up arms against the parish church by now, marched upon it, and assailed its towers to rip the offending loud speakers from their poisoned nests of chaos.

As an aside it seems to be part of the religious culture in Kerala to try and drown out rival services with excessively loud sound systems. Sometimes you will find three of four different services directly trying to drown each other out. His Beatitude has told me there have often been riots when rival denominational or religious communities hold festivals at the same time and use the loud speakers like sound canons to blast each others services to smithereens.

I am only here for a short time and do not have the time to discover if my impressions are valid or not.  However, in charity, I will give the brothers the benefit of the doubt and assume that  the noise this evening is out of the ordinary and the exception rather than the rule.

However, like St Theresa of Avila and the nun who sat next to her in choir loudly clacked her rosary beads, the way we deal with these frustrations are the very fodder of the spiritual life. The mountains are still beautiful and peaceful and quiet, so if the ashram is not quiet tomorrow I shall wander out onto the mountains by day and treasure the times of quiet in the late evening and early morning when all at the hermitage is peace and quiet. I shall not flee from the mountain.

Ashram Tea Bushes

POST SCRIPT (The Following Day):

The festival is over. The cows are happy. The cow herds have had their excitement for the week, the blasted machine has not been heard again, and the young priest has successfully contained his exuberant devotion in prayer. Peace and quiet resumes. I thought I should probably not post this as it shown me as a typical Westerner frustrated in failing to impose order and control over their environment. Well…what can I say? That’s correct. I sometimes wonder why I have to keep learning the same lesson over and over again to be patient and give things time before making judgements. I guess it is because I still have not learned it. Oh well, back into the silence to try again.


Shanti, Shanti Shanti.