There is an interesting tradition cherished by the Syrian Christians that they possessed their own king at Valeyadattu or Villarvattom near Udayamperur.
Tradition records that the first king was named Baliartes or Beliarte, which may be a corruption of the Malayalam Valeyadattu.
The kingdom of Villarvattom comes into prominence twice in the course of Nasrani history. While the first is a part of our folklore the second instance has been documented with some concrete evidence.
The Villarvattom Estate was a vassal of the Chera kings and extended from the coastal islands of Chennamangalam, Maliankara and others to the north of and south of Udayamperoor. The capital of this kingdom was at Mahadevarpattanam in the island of Chennamangalam and later it was shifted to Udayamperoor when the Arab invaders attacked the island.
The Udayamperor Church was built by in A.D 510 during the time of Mor Abor and Prodh but it is also believed that the Raja of Villarvattom was instrumental in getting it constructed.
It may have been the fame of this christian dynasty that caused Pope Eugene in 1439 to send envoys to this king with a letter, which in Wadding’s Annales Minorum commences as follows:
”To my most beloved son in Christ, Thomas, the Illustrious Emperor of the Indians, Health and the Apostolic benediction. There often has reached us a constant rumour that Your Serenity and also all who are the subjects of your Kingdom are true Christians”
The envoys bearing this letter did not reach India, though. It is believed that at the death of the last king without issue, the kingdom lapsed to the Cochin royal family. However the local christians preserved the royal sceptre, which was a red rod probably made of wood, tipped with silver, having three small bells at the upper end. The sceptre was presented to Vasco da Gama when he came to Cochin for the first time. There has been no trace of this sceptre since then.
When Archibishop Alex de Menezes sailed to Cochin in 1599, he deplored the inability of the catholic clergy to baptise at least one of the Rajas of Cochin to Christianity inspite of the temporal might of the Portuguese over the local Rajas for over a century. He also visited Udayamperur, Chennamangalam and the Syrian seminary at Vapicotta.
On his way to Udayamperur, he was jeered at by a few Nasranis who obviously took offense to the Portuguese interference in their lives. Enraged at this, Archbishop Menezes stopped at the Cochin fort and visited the Cochin Raja who was in his palace at Calvetti adjacent to the fort. He held the Raja responsible for instigating this incident and also discussed religion with him while urging him to be a christian.
To escape from this delicate situation the Cochin Raja pointed Bishop Menezes to his vassal principality of Villarvattam suggested that they could be induced to turn Christian again. Archbishop Menezes was later enlightened about the Villarvattom family by the Jesuits at Chennamangalam.
Archbishop Menezes held an interview with the Villarvattom Raj in the seminary and found him to be highly cultured and religious-minded. The Raja was also keen to accept Christianity at this time. This may have been on account of two reasons, one being the superiority of the Portuguese in the power play of that period and a crypto-discrimination being practised against the Villarvattom family by the other Hindu noblemen and Kings on account of one of their ancestors having been Christian once, 900 years ago.
Within a few days, in March 1599, the Raja was baptised at the Chennamangalam Seminary by the Archibishop Menezes himself and christened ‘Thomas’. He was henceforth known as Villarvattom Thoma Rajavu.
He had no heir to succeed him and did not or could not adopt a nephew from his family. He adopted his vassal, the Paliath Achan with the sanction of the Cochin Raja. Very soon Paliath Achan became the overlord of the whole of Vypeen and became the Prime Minister of the Cochin Raja. However the Paliath Achan remained a Hindu Kshatriya and did not accept Christianity.
King Thoma breathed his last on 9th February 1701 and was interred at his request in the ‘Pazhe Palli’ built by his ancestors at Udayamperur. With him ended the line of the last Christian kings in Kerala.
Posted by Olikara on NSC
The Travancore State Manual, Nagam Aiya, Vol. II
K.L. Bernard, Kerala History
Author Nidhin Olikara can be reached on olikara at gmail dot com