Raja Thoma Villarvattam – King of the Nasranis

Raja Thoma Villarvattam – King of the Nasranis 4.67/5 (93.33%) 3 ratings

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

References:

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
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Author: Olikara

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18 Comments

  1. i heard about a “mudra mothiram” which used to give at the ordination time of malankara methran from villarvattam raja kudumbam, then this custom shifted to kochi rajakudumbam?

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  2. Dear All,

    The reason I cam to this forum is that its different from others in terms of intellectual discussions..

    Lets stop the heated nonsensical arguments against individuals and denominations and continue our discussions based on heritage/culture/history only.

    Let us continue our cross denominational intellectual fellowship.

    Not intended to anyone but lets stick to the rules of NSC and work towards unity which is the need of the hour.

    Cheers :-)

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  3. Dear John/Jackson,

    I am intrigued by the first 1000 years of Thomasians and I have learned from this forum and other sources that we had Christian kings in Kerala from St. Thomas times.

    The King Perumal got converted to Christianity by St. Thomas as per the tradition.

    1) Did the Perumals ruled Kerala/Cranganoor subsequently were Christians?

    Any of you have done study on this?

    2) What kind of situation was then in terms of religion/beliefs. Was it fluid in terms of wars/power struggles.

    Please post when you have time.

    Thanks

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  4. Dear Skay,

    Firstly thanks for bringing this thread to normalcy with your post.

    I have only a vague idea of such Nasrani kings in our tradition as far as I have read. So also I don’t know if these said Christian kings have a reliable historicity besides finding mention in our legends. King Gondophares and his brother Gad and their family, the Indo-Parthian King are also said have been converted by Thomas as per tradition but again I’m not aware of it’s historicity, though Gondophares is an historic figure proved now. But his conversion is legendary and atleast I have not read if this conversion is historically reliable. Now if this is the King who converted and got translated as a ‘Kerala Perumal’ (as other middle-eastern legends have been localized) been converted or if there is still another converted Perumal I’m not aware besides seen in legends and Thomasine folklore. I may be wrong on this.

    Mr. John and Admin please put forth any historical elaborations on this if u have any information.

    Similarly, Skay I read in your earlier comment that you are interested in the ftDNA Syrian Christian project. See the link below. We simply don’t have to do anything. Just fill in the asked details for name, address, etc. necessary for shipment and other details for the DNA kit. So also in the ‘required Type of test’ to be taken tab, they have many options given. The 12 marker Y-DNA test is the basic test for paternal ancestry and costs 99 $. If you want more resolution on this then there is a 25-marker test and so on. If you want to test your mitochondrial DNA too which says of your maternal inheritance (mother’s mother’s mother’s, etc… line) then you have a combo test of 12-marker Y-DNA paternal + mtDNA test for 179 $. So it’s upto you to choose if you want a test more than the basic test of 12-marker for 99$ (the first u will see in the list of tests available).

    As in India we don’t have to do anything extra. Just fill in the online order form (and of course payment) and the DNA test kit will be mailed to your address by shipment. Then other procedures u may read up on the ftDNA site below and how to give the oral/cheek-swab sample. Then send it back to them and rest all they do. Happy to see another science student/professional here and hence not elaborating since u will easily understand once you go through the link below.

    https://www.familytreedna.com/surname_join.aspx?code=A22299&special=true

    If you have other doubts u can contact the project administrator for other details, Mr. Jacob who is very helpful ( [email protected] ).

    Regards

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  5. Dear Jackson,

    Thanks for your input. I was also thinking that some Middle East legend was behind the Perumal conversion story. But since the discovery of Gonophores coins and the Acts of Thomas mentioning the very same story, I am coming to an understanding that the story of Acts of Thomas got localized in our region. Thank you for explaining the DNA Project in detail.

    John/Admin.. Do you have any thoughts on this?.. I am surprised that being a literate community from the 1st century, we did not keep any records on early days.. may be the community was concentrating on survival.. More surprising is that the priestly families like Pakalamattom do not have anything to offer (first 1000 years history I mean).. Or do they have.. Can somebody throw light into this.. so that we can construct a picture not based on legends but on facts and evidences.

    Any good book on this subject?

    Many thanks

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  6. Dear Skay,

    About record-keeping/preserving, yes our community did have many records (not like the family records today) which were in Aramaic/Syriac and many families also personally possessed some of these records as evidences for our origin and heritage (a mention of which is found in the Portuguese statements by Buchanan in his work with page numbers provided). I had described on this sometime back on another thread ‘defining a kerala syrian xian’…comments section. Here is a piece from the same I spoke about. The ones in brackets are my views on the statements.

    From the work of Claudius Buchanan (1811 AD), ‘Christian Researches in Asia: With Notices of the Translation of the Scriptures into the Oriental Languages’. 2nd ed. Boston: Armstron, Cornhill.

    Pg. 107:

    Comments by Kerala Nasranis as said to the Portuguese: “We are of the true faith, whatever you come from the West may be, for we come from the place where the followers of Christ were first called ‘Christians’.”

    (The Nasranis state that they come from another place probably West Asia/Syria/Palestine coz that’s where the early followers were first called Christians not Malabar surely)

    Pg. 126-127 :

    Buchanan says: “In every church and in many of the private houses of the Syrian Christians there are manuscripts in the Syriac language; and I have been successful in procuring some old and valued copies of the scriptures and other books, written in different ages and in different characters.”

    (The answer to ur question is somewhere here)

    Pg. 139:

    Mentions that the Syriac version of the Scriptures was brought to India much before 325 AD and of an ancient date.

    (Proving Syriac language and eastern traditions came to Malabar much before Knai Thoman grp of 345 AD but by whom? An earlier group of Jewish Christian migrants?)

    Pg. 142:

    Talks about the Syrian Christian tablets 6 in number and engravings in Persian or Babylonian language. The oldest of this grant plates is witnessesed by four Jews of rank and with a suffix to their names as ‘Magen’ or ‘Chief’. The names are engraved distinctly in old Hebrew charcters.

    (Why will a Christian Tablet also carry names of Jewish witnesses in Hebrew if they don’t have relations to the Jews ?)

    Similarly some 70 – 80 such Syriac manuscripts were burnt by the Portuguese in Malabar and evidences destroyed, a statement made by them for “erasing all antiquities”. These were all discussed by others too earlier.

    And I also read (frm a reliable source) that still we have some of these Syriac manuscripts or documents existing esp. in Thrissur, preserved. Eg: A Syriac/Aramaic ‘Kashkol’. The following is a extract from the Zinda Magazine article (The official magazine of the Assyrian Church in middle-east) as said by the Assyrian Christians/writers:

    “The importing and copying of manuscripts to and in India became a normal phenomenon. The situation changed when the Portuguese arrived in Malabar. There are many manuscripts in Syriac language copied in Iraq and preserved in India. Although a lot of these Syriac manuscripts were burned, some have survived the fury of the Synod of Diamper held in 1599 A.D.

    Trichur, Pampakuda, Mannanam, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Bangalore and other places have Syriac manuscripts. Most of these Syriac manuscripts were copied in the Syria-Iraq Mesopotamia area. Some were copied in Kerala. A Kashkol preserved in Trichur was copied in Kothamangalam in 1585 A.D. Although the colophon does not mention from which manuscript this book was copied in Kothamangalam in 1585 AD, it is believed that it was from some copy of the Kashkol written in Iraq.”

    Another reason for the scarcity of old manuscripts stated is that the tropical climate of Kerala with high humidity and heat is also responsible for degeneration of such ancient documents and thus making them difficult for preservation then. This has been said by Kerala historians in Editor Bosco Puthur’s book
    (‘St. Thomas Christians and Nambudiris, Jews, and Sangam Literature: A Historical Appraisal’, Ed. Bosco Puthur, LRC Publications).

    I will soon be publishing a Book Review of this book on NSC and u can buy one easily available in Kerala book stores (esp. church book houses). Since u asked for a good book to read from, u shud consider buying this one which is very affordable and an excellent book on our history from research perspective from historians.

    Regards

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  7. Dear Skay,

    I think what you’ve written is very important: i.e., the search for information to create a history based on knowledge and not legend.

    I too have been searching for such information: sadly, my search has turned up the same old sources: Cosmas, Pantaeus, a couple of references by COE prelates, etc. I think a possible good source of info would be the Syriac documents being cataloged by the SRITE project—but at the end of the day, those written sources only go back to the 12th century or so. Certainly not the first millenia goldmine you (and I, and a lot of us) are looking for.

    I think there are grave markers at St. Mary’s in Manarcad that date to the 8th-10th century or so. And Joseph on this site referred to ancient markers in St. George’s Aruvithara (sp?). I don’t recall reading about anything more ancient than those.

    Sorry I can’t be any more helpful!

    I think a good idea, though, for anyone with the finances and interest to do so would be to conduct ground penetrating RADAR studies of the various old Syro-Malabar and Orthodox Churches of Kerala to investigate whether there are any things (graves, structures, book depots) buried beneath. Or (and I don’t know if this is not allowed by Church doctrine or not) perhaps the Church can open some old graves to see if there’s anything were can learn from buried antifacts, vestments, etc.

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  8. Dear John,

    Me agree with the ‘outside the box’ thinking of yours. Radar, opening graves etc.. Good suggestion but will take many many years to materialize. A consorted approach by all Syrian Churches will be helpful.

    Today I partly saw a serial on St. Thomas in ‘Asia Net TV. Lots of spices in the serial. Constumes and makeup were certainly of poor standard. St. Thomas is shown with light hair and is on the obese side. Now based on this serial on Asia Net, stories will begin………Ultimately, the owners of Asia Net will go laughing all the way to the bank.

    If the producers specify that the stories are mere legends, then it is okay, otherwise the public will be misled.

    To All,
    Someone in this forum once remarked that Arabs have a long face. That is not true. Some Arabs do have and many Arabs are similar looking to Dravidians/Indians. I met an Arab whose face/head is almost round as a ball. In color they are more lighter skinned than South Indians.

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  9. Dear All,

    The recent suggestions of Mr. John are very good, for conducting archaeological surveys, etc. RADARS are very useful in this matter and hence here both geologists, historians and scholars will have to work together and the Church and lay members co-ordinate keeping aside the ‘taboos’ if any. issues can be dealt with later. Here I guess we should be a 21st cent. community indeed, based on knowledge and not legends derived from TV serials (as George described) and story books, since it’s high time as Skay remarked. Excellent method for further unravellig our mysteries of history.

    The regions in and around Kochi and Kodungalloor and those in and around the ancient 7.5 churches/communities will be right targets to start with. Then areas in Kunnamkulam-Arthattu, Palayur, Angamali church and other places around the coastal areas of Kerala like Alapuzha, Kollam, etc.. which were earlier Syrian Christian trade hotspots could be explored. Surely something helpful will come out of Mother earth no doubt ! Kerala archaeology doesn’t end with just Roman coins and some broken earthernwares.

    And since I believe we have many readers in constant touch on this forum who may be experts and having good contacts, could please take note of this and let this reach the ‘ears’ of our Historians for gaining momentum in this direction ! Hope somebody is listening to NSC and let’s take this forum and the Nasrani community officially ahead !

    Post a Reply
  10. Dear John / Jackson / All,

    Completely agree with you all regarding archeological study using modern instruments. Makes sense. But unless somebody (scholars/universities) from US or Europe does not take interest, we will not be able to proceed on this. I can’t see any body from Kerala doing this due to lack of political will/funds/co- operation etc. Hopefully this site will open such doors for us as many learned men and women out there are reading this and making plans for their expeditions/ researches.

    I am planning to go to Kerala this summer and visit Edappally Church which is quite old (from 1st millennia as per tradition). The old church is still there I believe or was it razed down? Anybody from Edappally Church (St. George) on this? Can we visit the old church/part of old church and have a good look around and possibly take pictures to share with our readers? From where do we get permission or can somebody arrange permission for such a visit. Another church of interest will be udayamperoor church.

    Please let me know what to look for specifically (we should eye for inscriptions on stones and dates etc etc) if the above wish comes true.

    Another this which I am curious about is the marriage/baptism registers. From which century we started keeping these records? Which is the oldest register available today (in paper or thaliyola). Will this help us study about our community in a significant way. We need to brainstorm this. Any historian /scholar /social scientist in our community.. Please contribute.

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  11. When Vasco Da Gama arrived at Cochin in 1502, the St. Thomas Christians sent to him representatives. They informed Gama that they had a king of their own in former times and showed him the sceptre of the last king. It was a red rod, tipped with silver, having three small bells at the top. They presented the sceptre to Gama and sought protection against the Muhammadans. Gama solemnly accepted the sceptre and promised protection in the name of the King of Portugual. (Travancore State Manual, vol. II, p.147; 150-1; Chapman, p.159).

    The Christian dynasty seems to have lasted from the fourth to the fourteenth century. Giraud (Bibliotheca Sacra. T. II, p. 176) and Le Quien (T. II, p. 1276) seem to favour the view that the Christian dynasty was ruling in Diamper in the ninth century during the time of the two Bishops, Sabor and Proth.

    There are two papal letters addressed to the Christian kings of Malabar. In 1328, Pope John XXII, in a letter to the chief of the Christians in Malabar, addresses him as the noble lord of the Christians and recommends to him and to all his Christian subjects in Quilon, Bishop Jordan whom he had recently appointed as the Bishop of Quilon for the Latin converts there (Jordan’s Mirabilia; Rae, Syrian Church, p. 194). In 1439, Pope Eugene IV sent envoys to the Christian king of Malabar with a letter which commences as follows:

    “To my most beloved son in Christ, Thomas, the illustrious Emperor of the Indians, Health and 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” (Travancore State Manual,
    vol. II, p. 147).

    Towards the close of the 15th century the royal family became extinct and the kingdom was annexed by the King of Cochin to his dominions.

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  12. If there is one thing we Nasranis are good at…it is making up preposterous claims to support the validity of a false religion and a false identity.

    First, it was the story of “Mar Thoma”, then it was our Namboothiri, then it was our “Jewish Ancestry”, now apparently there are a Christian kingdom in Malabar ruled by the Nasrani!

    This is nothing but an effort to prove the our fraudulent “royal” identity. There is no literary, sculptural or numismatic evidence concerning the Villarvattom. Even smaller kingdoms including Ilayadathu Swaroopam, Pandalam, and Kayamkulam have literary and historical evidences. If Villarvattom supposedly existed in the Kochi area, there would be records in the Cochin royal family. There are none.

    Also, I find it hilarious that the Pope of the Catholic Church would establish contact through a letter to a much of Nestorian in Southern India. Our ancestors, before the Synod of Diamper in 1599, were looked upon at heretics. There is no way the Catholic pope would want anything to do with our people.

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  13. Dear all,
    I hail from Chennamangalam, the land of Thoma Raja. As I am born and brought up here I am convinced that Thoma Raja is neither a myth nor a legend but a true story. You are welcome to visit our village Chennamangalam nearby Kodungallur and Kottakavu. You can also visit the tomb of Thoma Raja at the Diamper Synodal Church, Udayamperur. Come, see and believe.
    Francis Kodiyan

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  14. Hi Dr. Francis Kodiyan,

    I have been to Chennamangalam twice in three years. I only go there to visit the old synagogue – it’s my place to be. There is so much peace and tranquility to be found around the Chennamangalam synagogue. It’s a great place to think about the history of the place! Chennamangalam is an absolute gem! I loved the ambiance of the place – kind of hilly, thick vegetation, the narrowest roads…I keep coming back to it every time I visit Kerala and I am already thinking about visiting it again, when I am in Kerala next!

    On the way to the Chennamangalam synagogue, I did notice a lot of Kodiyan houses, having also visited the Kodiyan church. I couldn’t help but notice that the Kodiyan family name was the only apparent presence in Chennamangalam – are you a Syrian Christian family? How long have your people been in Chennamangalam? I don’t think I noticed a very strong Syrian Christian presence about the place…

    So nice to hear from a member of the Kodiyan family!

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  15. Dear Mary,
    Yes I am a Syrian Christian from Chennamangalam. Our investigation on the history of Kodiyan family in Chennamangalam has not yet come to its conclusions. We have documents to prove that Kodiyan families existed in Chennamangalam even before 17th Century. in 1790 Tipu Sultan invaded Vaipikota Seminary and its surroundings and our people were forced to flee from Chennamangalam. In 1850 my great grandfather came back to Chennamangalam. Many other family members settled in Kundur, Kuzhur and other places.

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  16. Dr. Kodiyan,

    When I passed by those Kodiyan houses, I wasn’t sure if you were a Nasrani family (or not) but it’s nice to know that you are.

    Do you know of any other Nasrani families, who are also native to the Chennamangalam area? Was there, for instance, a community (or village) of Nasranis at some point?

    Thanks.

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  17. I have made a small 15minute video documentary called knanaya of Kerala and uploaded it in youtube. Can the Nasrani.net link it in as a resource. I have made it as objective as possible.
    Regards
    Paul abraham

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  18. Paul,

    Watched your ~15min video documentary “The Knanaya of Kerala (English Documentary) Part 1” on YouTube. Good effort.

    In the documentary mention is made of the Copper Plates given to Knai Thommen and that these were “supposed to have been given to the Portuguese for safe keeping from where it is supposed to have gone missing…”. But the copper plates shown at 10.35 min (with writings in Syriac and Hebrew) and the “top” one at 10.45 min are not lost or missing copper plates; I understand they are in the possession of the Mar Thoma Church and is kept at the Church Museum in Thiruvalla. (See: http://marthoma.in/heritage). I also understand that some other copper plates may be in the possession of the Orthodox Church at Devalokam/Kottayam.

    Kuruvilla

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