Champakulam Kalloorkkadu Marth Maryam Basilica and Poothara manuscript

Champakulam Kalloorkkadu Marth Maryam Basilica and Poothara manuscript
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1.Champakulam Kalloorkkadu Basilica

Champakulam Kalloorkkadu Basilica is an ancient Syriac-Christian (Nasrani) church situated on the banks of Pamba River in Champakulam, Kuttanadu Taluk, Kerala, India. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in India. It belongs to the Arch eparchy of Changanacherry of the Syro Malabar Church (East-Syriac rite). It was the first church under the Niranom Church which is believed to be founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in AD 54. It is popularly believed that the first church at Champakulam was consecrated in AD 427 on the feast day of Holy Innocents. This ancient church has a unique place in the history of St. Thomas Christians and is the oldest church in the Arch eparchy of Changanacherry as well as the district of Alappuzha.  The  Forane churches at Alappuzha (Est. AD 1400), Pulinkunnu (Est. AD 1557) and Edathua (Est. 1810) were formed from the Champakulam Church. Champakulam and Kalloorkkadu Church rose into prominence under the Chempakassery kings when Kalloorkkadu Angadi (market) was a famous commercial centre on the way to the port of Porcca (Purakkad). Legend has it that Champakulam got its name from “Sambathkalam” – meaning it had huge wealth. On 27-Nov-2016, the Archbishop of Changanacherry, Mar Joseph Perumthottam declared Champakulam St Mary’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church as Basilica. This is the 23rd Basilica in India, 9th Basilica in Kerala, 4th Basilica in Syro Malabar Church and the first Basilica in the Arch eparchy of Changanacherry.

2.Poothara Manuscript

This paper will discuss the history of the Kalloorkkadu Church with a primary focus on the historic events in and around Kalloorkkadu as recorded in the Poothara Tharakan Family History Chronicle (Nalagamam). The Chronicle was started by the renowned Priest Poothara Korah Cathanaar (born ~1675 AD) and later continued by Kurialacherry Valiya Thoma Cathanaar (born ~1825). This chronicle is being referred to as Poothara Manuscript in this paper.

Poothara Tharakan family is a Syriac-Christian priestly family from Champakulam which had many Cathanaar (Syriac-Christian priests) since its founding. The priestly family Kurialacherry is the parent family of Poothara. The family was formed when Poothara Koshy Tharakan moved out from Kurialacherry Tharavadu to Poothara in AD 1540. Koshy Tharakan was primarily a trader by profession and was the recipient of Tharakan title from Chempakassery Devanarayanan King (Ambalapuzha Kingdom).Thumperchirayil family is another main branch of Kurialacherry which was formed few generations after Poothara. Poothara family and its ancestors were involved with Kalloorkkadu Church since the 12th century and played a key role in the periodic revival of Nasrani community and the church multiple times in history (AD 1145, AD 1544, AD 1730, AD 1885). The family gave birth to six Cathanaar during the period between 16th Century and 19th Century. The known branches of Poothara Tharakan family at the time of writing are Amichakary Valiya Kunnel, Champakulam Korathrackal, Champakulam Manathra, Champakulam Thengampally, Champakulam Parapally, Thottuvellil and Nedumudi Pootharachira. The tradition of priests in the family continued during the 20th century with Rev Fr. Philip Poothara (1907 – 1965 AD), late Rev Fr. Philip Manathra and Vicar General Rev Fr. Antony Poothara (1939 – 1989 AD). The tradition is still continuing with many current priests and nuns.

Poothara family also played a key role in India’s Freedom struggle against the British. Joseph Chacko Poothara (1900 – 1974 AD) was an Indian Freedom Fighter and member of the Travancore State Congress Party.  The Government of India honored him with “Tamra Patra” for his exemplary contributions in India’s freedom struggle.

Currently the members of this family are spread out in different areas of Champakulam, different districts of Kerala, different states in India and abroad, in the Middle-East, Europe and North America.

3.Nasrani History

A brief history of Syriac-Christianity and St. Thomas Christians is essential before we dive into Kalloorkkadu Church’s history. The Malabar Coast of Kerala had trade relations with Middle-East and Mediterranean as early as 10th Century BC. As a result many traders from Middle-East settled in Malabar Coast which included Aramaic speaking Jews. Aramaic is the language spoken by Jesus. It is believed that St. Thomas the Apostle travelled to Malabar Coast through the sea-route used for trade in AD 52 and landed at Musiris port (near modern day Kodungalloor, Trichur District Kerala). St. Thomas’ primary intention was to preach the Gospel among the Aramaic speaking Middle-East settlements in the Malabar Coast. As part of his evangelical activities, St. Thomas established seven and a half churches in the Malabar Coast and the first St. Thomas Christian community in Malabar was formed. St. Thomas the Apostle is considered the Father of Syriac Christianity.

Syriac language (Suriyani) is a dialect of Aramaic language. Classical Syriac was a major literary language throughout the Middle-East from the 4th to 8th Century. Syriac became the vehicle of Syriac Christianity and culture and was the language used in the liturgy of Syriac-Christians.

After the second century, there was a flow of Syriac-Christian migrants from West Asia in the 3rd century and 8th to 11th Centuries. The immigrant Syriac-Christian Community further strengthened the St. Thomas community in Malabar. Recent genetic studies on Kerala’s Nasrani population are also showing that a significant percentage of the sample is showing middle-eastern (Semitic including Jewish) paternal ancestry. From at least the early 4th century, the Patriarch of the Church of the East provided the Saint Thomas Christians with clergy, holy texts, and ecclesiastical infrastructure. Syriac-Christianity at its peak had dioceses stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Central Asia to China and India. The Eastern Syriac Church experienced a rapid period of decline starting in the 14th Century, due in large part to outside political interferences and persecution. Thereafter the Syriac-Christianity remained largely confined to Upper Mesopotamia and to the Malabar Coast of India. The Malabar Church was not much affected with the decay of the Church of the East in Middle-East. The St. Thomas Christian community of Malabar survived without any major issues with the support of the Local Hindu Kings of Malabar.

However, with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century things were not business as usual. The Portuguese missionaries brought western Christianity (Latin Rite) to India with them and they at first were in good terms with the Malabar St. Thomas Christians. But by the end of the 16th century, they gathered enough power with the help of Local Kings and they wanted to bring the St. Thomas Christians into full communion with Rome under the Latin Rite. They installed Portuguese bishops after the Synod of Diamper (AD 1599) to rule the St. Thomas Christians. This didn’t go well with the Malabar Nasranis and they revolted to restore their East-Syriac rite of liturgy, worship and the Syriac way of church administration. The majority of them broke with the Catholic Church and vowed never to submit to the Portuguese in the Coonan Cross Oath of 1653. In 1661 Pope Alexander VII responded by sending a delegation of Carmelites to pacify the situation and to win back the Saint Thomas Christians to Catholic fold. By the next year, 84 of the 116 communities returned, later forming the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The rest, which became known as the Malankara Church, soon entered into communion with the Syriac Orthodox Church (West-Syriac Rite); from the Malankara Church has also come the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. The Syro-Malabar Church (the largest Syriac-Christian church in Malabar) used Syriac in its liturgy as late as till early 1960s before replacing it with Malayalam.

4.History of Kalloorkkadu

The earliest Syriac-Christian inhabitants at Kalloorkkadu are believed to have migrated from Niranom around 400 AD. The Christian community at Kalloorkkadu had to travel to Niranom for religious services which is 15 miles to the east of Champakulam. As the community grew in size, the need for a local church grew and the first church at Kalloorkkadu was consecrated on 28th December on the Feast of Holy Innocents in AD 427 in a house by the name Kalloorkkadu (as per oral tradition). There was a burial ground of the non-Christian locals near the Kalloorkkadu Church. We don’t have any information regarding which families were at Kalloorkkadu at that time. The church was at the old site during this time (where the present cemetery is). The new church was dedicated to Marth Mariam (St. Mary). The other ancient churches in the region namely the churches at Niranom and Kuruvilangad were also named after St. Mary (Marth Mariam Church at Kuruvilangad and St. Mary’s Church at Niranom). The church at Niranom is believed to be one of the seven and a half churches founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in the first century.

5.Events of 12th Century

Champakulam was part of the Chempakassery Kingdom and the Chempakassery Kings had a broad religious outlook. During the early half of 12th Century, the Chempakassery King used to frequently visit Champakulam to know how the people in his kingdom were doing. The King used to come to Nellpuramadam (situated south of Kalloorkkadu) and Nedumudi Kottaram (situated north of Kalloorkkadu).

The state of Kalloorkkadu Church was not ideal during this time. The church building was still at the old site (where the current cemetery is).  There weren’t any priests who stayed full-time at the Church. Worships at the church were conducted when priests visit (mostly from Niranom Church – which is few miles east of Champakulam). As a result the services at the church were not regular. There were complaints about evil-spirits and ghosts around the Church. The King appointed an astrologer to look into the issue as the complaints grew severe.  The astrologer told the king that the reason for the evil-spirits in the area is the dismal state of affairs at the church. The church building was not in proper shape and regular worships were not done. The astrologer advised to renovate the church building and appoint a full-time priest at the church and to conduct regular worships. The king decided to build a church and to invite Cathanaar to Champakulam.

In those days Cathanaar (Nasrani priests) never stayed full-time at the church. They used to live in their houses and engage in activities like farming and trade like a normal person. They were part of the family itself and stayed in their houses. The King held a meeting of his council (which also comprised of prominent Nasranis) and it was decided to invite Nasrani families with Cathanaar (from Kudamaloor, Kuruvilangad, Kaduthuruthi, Niranom) to come and settle in Champakulam. Many Nasrani families from those places accepted King’s invitation. The King gave them land to settle down and for farming. The invitees included Kuriala (and his family) and his brother Chacko Cathanaar from Kuruvilangad Kaliyangal (Kalikavu) family. Kaliyangal along with Pakalomattom, Shankarapuri and Kali were the four ancient families who were given the right to priesthood as per tradition. With the arrival of Chacko Cathanaar and other priests, the worships and prayers at the church became regular. As per Poothara manuscript, this event happened in ME (Kolla Varsham) 320 (AD 1145).

The inscriptions on the present open-air cross at the church also say that there was a construction of church building around this time. The inscription on the cross reads

“Ea kurishu kalloorkkadu ennu prasidhi petta ea palliyude kizhakku vashathu stapichirunnu. Palli pani cheytha eeerekure 670 valsaram chenna 1821 kalam madbaha polichu pani kazhichappole polichu. 1857 kaalam semithery Pani Cheythappole randamathu vechu.” (This cross was placed on the east side of this church which is famous as Kalloorkkadu church. After about 670 years of building the church, that is in 1821, when the madbaha was refurbished, this cross was taken down. In 1857, when the cemetery was built, it was replaced).

This clearly says a new church was completed by the year 1151 AD (1821 – 670 = 1151) and the cross was re-planted in 1857 at its present position (the southern side of the current church building). However there is nothing on the cross which says when the cross was first built. It is entirely possible that the Cross was first erected even before AD 1151.

The house given to Kuriala by the King came to be known as Kurialacherry.  This house is to the North of Vadakke Angadi. Vadakke Angadi was famous for the business and trade of goods like spices from the Eastern hilly side of Kerala.  Pepper was traded with other countries from the Purakkad Port (Port of Porcca). Syriac-Christians had a near monopoly in the trade of spices in the region. They were also often administrators of tax collections for the King.

Chempakassery Kings were Namboothiris. Champakulam started prospering under Chempakassery King’s rule. It was also a centre of Kerala Brahmins. The Brahmins had a belief that if some items like salt and coconut oil are touched by “low-caste” people, they will become impure. According to their belief, such items can be made pure by having a Nasrani touch it.  Many Brahmin Hindu families brought Nasranis to Champakulam for this and gave them houses to stay closer to them. A famous saying regarding this purification ritual is as follows “Kailasa vasthukkal ashudham aayal, powlosinne kondu thoduvikka venam”. (The name “paulose” is used to refer to Nasranis. If Kailasa (Hindu holy) items get impure, that needs a Nasrani  to touch it to make it pure). In India’s extremely caste conscious society, this particular practice by Brahmins could be showing that the Nasranis were considered as a higher caste and placed next to Brahmins.

6.Events of 16th Century

Few centuries later during the first half of 16th century, there was another father named Kuriala in Kurialacherry and he had three sons. Thomman, Korah and Koshy. Korah was a Cathanaar. Koshy was the youngest son of Kuriala. Koshy later came to be known as Poothara Tharakan is the founder of Poothara Tharakan family.  He was a very wealthy and successful trader by Profession.  Chempakassery Devanarayanan King honoured Poothara Koshy with “Tharakan” title and he then came to be known as Poothara Koshy Tharakan. “Tharakan” title  is an honorific hereditary aristocratic title which was bestowed upon a handful prominent Saint Thomas Christian families or houses of nobility in the Malabar Region. Chempakassery Kings, Travancore Kings and the Kings of Cochin/Edappally used to grant this. The families which held the title had certain specific rights and privileges accorded to them. The word Tharakan literally means the holder of document of Raja. They are so called because they were the recipients of “Tharaku” or writ of social privilege. They also had the authority to collect taxes.  Koshy Tharakan was also a member of Devanarayanan King’s council at his Palace and advisor to the King on trade and military affairs.

Poothara Tharakan’s primary business was the trade of silk. Silk was traded with Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Certain documents show that he did trade with Surat as well.  His trade could be part of the international silk-route through sea (China to Ceylon to India to Middle-East). During this time Purakkad was a famous port (known as Port of Porcca in Portuguese records). He was very influential and had contacts and connections with many Royal families and the Portuguese. The trade of silk was carried over by his descendants as a family business for generations till the first half of 20th century.

The Port of Porcca (Purakkad) was under the Purakkadu Kingdom till 1525. Portuguese defeated the Purakkadu King in a war which lasted for three years (1525-1528). Fearing the attack of Portuguese, Chempakassery King got into a treaty with the Portuguese. Under the treaty, Purakkadu Kingdom and the Port of Porcca became a part of Chempakassery Kingdom. The treaty was made in AD 1541. With the Purakkadu Port now being part of Chempakassery Kingdom, the importance of Champakulam market increased. The golden period of Kalloorkkadu Angadi (market) was just starting.

During this time (around AD 1540) discussions about renovating the existing church were gaining momentum. Poothara Koshy Tharakan along with other prominent Nasranis of the time (which included Porookkara KunjiThomman, Kaniyattu Ittira Unnicheriya Tharakan, Ambalapuzha Kallupurayan, Karumadi Palathingal Papi, Chakkalayil Kunjuchandi, Thamalloor Kuruvilla Itty, Enaykkapalli Kunju Chandy and Kadavingal Mathan) played a major role in influencing the King to renovate the church. They were referred to as Pramanis- prominent people- of the time in the manuscript.  Chempakassery king had a keen interest in the rebuilding of the church as well.

Around year 1544, the church was renovated and a new Madbha was built. Also a “Palli Meda” (place where priests stay- vicarage house) was built with bricks at the northern side of the church building (the place where Nellpura resides now). This building was meant for the priests to stay. The architects, artists and craftsmen employed for the construction of the church were through the referral of the Portuguese at Cochin Fort. The church continued to be at the old site (at the present cemetery site). The church building was 20 koll in length and 12 koll in width. The Madbha was tall. The Haikala was shorter than Madbha. The roof was made of coconut palm leaves. The front of the church was not very high when compared to the Haikkala. The entrance had a Vallavu Vathill (door with round shaped top section). The side-walls of the church had two such doors as well. The door at the front was bigger than the side doors. There was a narrow veranda for each of the side-walls. The Veranda had doors (Vallavu Vathill) to the outside of the building and windows with wooden square grills.

Poothara Koshy Tharakan and Kaniyattu Ittira Unnicheriya Tharakan (both recipients of Tharakan Title from Chempakassery) had great influence on the King. They were able to get permission from the Devanarayanan King to develop the marshy areas along the Kalloorkkadu river bank towards the north side of Kalloorkkadu Church. The King agreed to their request and provided all the necessary help. Poothara Tharavadu house (locally known as Malika) is still situated on this land.

Kaniyadan, Poothara Koshy Tharakan, Porukkara Kunjuthomman, Kadavungal Mathan were given many properties by the King as a symbol of his care for them (Thiruvadyalam/Viruthi). Kaniyadan presented a Para made of Bronze to the King. This new ‘para’ can measure eight “idangazhi”. Till then the ‘para’ used to measure rice was ten “idangazhi”. The King was pleased with the gift and declared that from now on the standard measurement in his Kingdom will be based on the new eight “idangazhi” ‘para’. This event is later known by the phrase “Pathinnu Ettotha Kaloorkadan” (- the Kalloorkkadu native who matched eight for ten!). The “Para” gifted by Kaniyadan is now displayed in the Kerala State Archives at Thiruvananthapuram.

Thekkumkoor kingdom was another independent kingdom that existed near Changanacherry – to the east of Chempakassery kingdom. Koshy Tharakan had land in Pulinkunnu (Pulinkunnu may have been part of Thekkumkoor Kingdom during that time). While Koshy Tharakan was staying at Pulinkunnu, Thekkumkoor King gifted land to Poothara Koshy Tharakan which included Tharakan Nooru Para, Kuruppan Thuruthu, Thazha Thuruthu, Manaimalakadu, Poothara Nooru Para, Manathra Nooru Para and others. We do not have much information regarding what prompted Thekkumkoor King to give land to Poothara Koshy Tharakan. Since Nasranis played a major role in trade during those times, it was not unusual among the Kings to try to attract prominent traders from the Nasrani community to settle and do business in their kingdom. May be the Thekkumkoor King was trying to bring Koshy Tharakan to his kingdom to improve the trade and other commercial affairs and make Pulinkunnu like Champakulam Angadi – a commercial center. Champakulam was the center of commerce in the region under Chempakassery king and had huge wealth. The price of goods at Kalloorkkadu Angadi was considered the market rate for the entire Chempakassery Kingdom.

Relations between Thekkumkoor King and Chempakassery King were not very cordial. Chempakassery family was part of Thekkumkoor Kingdom centuries before and Chempakassery Kingdom was carved out of parts of Thekkumkoor kingdom at the very beginning of Chempakassery kingdom. The news about Poothara Koshy Tharakan being gifted many properties by Thekkumkoor King reached the ears of Chempakassery King. The King was very disappointed with this. Poothara Koshy Tharakan had a special place in Chempakassery King’s heart and the King was extremely disappointed. Koshy Tharakan wanted to make up for this and he gifted a long gun made of gold to Chempakassery King. The king was pleased and the relation was preserved without any damage. In return the King gifted more land to Koshy Tharakan ( – in particular the 50 para (~5 acres) punja kandam (Paddy field) to the north of Kurialacherry Tharavadu). Tharakan also gave a big “Vaarppu” to Kalloorkkadu Church upon the request by the King. The gun gifted by Koshy Tharakan to the King is believed to be taken from Ambalapuzha to Travancore Kingdom when Marthanda Varma defeated Chempakassery and took all the valuables to his kingdom.  Prominent Historian Dr. Ambalapuzha Gopakumar who has done extensive research and studies on Chempakassery Kingdom is also of the opinion that Travancore King Marthanda Varma took all the valuables from Chempakassery dynasty when the war was lost by Chempakassery. Recent investigations about this gun involving the Director of Archaeology at Thiruvananthapuram (- Director Dr. G. Premkumar) are giving hints that it could be now in one of the Nilavaras at Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram.

Poothara Koshy Tharakan was a great historical person, very intelligent and shrewd and one who had great diplomatic skills, pleasing manners and trade skills. He won hearts of many people which even included kings who were at odds with each other. He played a key role in the development of Kalloorkkadu Angadi, Champakulam Church and his contributions to the region and Nasrani community were remembered gratefully for many generations. He continued to stay at Poothara Malika Tharavadu for the rest of his life. He brought along his father Kuriala to stay with him when he moved to Poothara. One of his sons was named Kuriala.

7.Champakulam Moolam Boat Race

During the 16th Century, Chempakassery King also built a new temple at Amabalapuza – Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna Temple. A new idol of Lord Krishna was built to be used as the Deity in the Temple. However the idol built was termed not auspicious for consecrating as a Deity by Tantri Puthumana Illathu Valiya Namboothiripadu.(the Royal Priest). This made the King drop the idea for this new idol. Instead it was decided to look for a Sree Krishna idol in some other temples since the King wanted to install the new idol at the already planned day and time. The king was informed about the idol of Lord Krishna in Karingulam Temple at Kurichi (near Changanacherry). As per Hindu belief, the idol at Karingulam Temple is a special idol and one among the three idols Lord Krishna gifted to Arjuna. The other two are in Guruvayoor and Thripunithura temples. The King’s men went to Kurichi and discussed the matter with the Temple authorities. Though reluctant they finally agreed. Kurichi was in Thekkumkoor kingdom and it was not easy to get this idol from there to Amabalapuzha. The King’s men took the Idol during night and by boat they started to Champakulam. They stopped at a Nasrani house in Champakulam (Mappillassery Tharavadu) and kept the idol inside Mappillassery house for one night. The next day, the King arrived to Champakulam and the idol was taken to Amabalapuzha in a grand way with celebrations. It was Moolam day in the Malayalam month of Midhunam. The Nasranis at Champakulam were also in great joy and escorted the idol in a colourful ceremonial procession to the Amabalapuzha Temple. The Kalloorkkadu Church provided many items to make the procession spectacular which included Venchamaram, Muthukuda, Aalavattom etc. Fireworks were also done by the Church authorities. Many boats were involved in the procession. The King was extremely pleased with the love and affection shown to him by Kalloorkkadu natives and to commemorate these events he declared that a great water carnival would be held at Champakulam every year, on Moolam day in the Malayalam month of Mithunam. Thus began the famous Champakulam Moolam Snake Boat Race (Moolam Vallom Kali) which continues to this day. Champakulam Church still provides rope and bamboo needed for the Moolam boat race. Moolam boat race along with the snake boat races at Aaranmula and Paayipadu are the oldest boat races in Kerala. The oldest being the one at Champakulam itself. This entire incident is a good example of the harmony that existed between the Nasranis and Hindus and how much the Nasranis of Champakulam loved their King. This event happened in 1545 AD.

8.Events of 18th Century

Champakulam has become a very prosperous place and it attracted many Nasrani families to emigrate to Champakulam from different parts of Kerala. The existing church (still at old site) has become too small to accommodate this growing population. Pally Yogam (parish assembly) started discussions about constructing a new church. Soon it was decided to construct a new church, closer to the river bank.  The land near the river bank needed to be levelled. Chempakassery king had a keen interest in building a new church and provided directions and help to make the land ready for the new church.

During this time, four familes namely Chakkala, Puthenpurackal, Karuka and Porukkara were collectively referred to as “Nalu Veedanmar”. These four families had their houses near the Thekke Angadi (southern side of Kalloorkkadu Church). Puthenpurackal and Karuka were rich and had many able men who took care of the needs of the Church and the village. Though Poothara, Kaniyadan, Kurianparamban, Palathingal, Kallupurayan were rich and affluent during the period, the above mentioned four families served the church and the village as the prominent and influential of the time.

The different areas under Kalloorkkadu Church during this time included the Nasrani communities living in Kannamkara and Thaneermukkam in the North till Karthikapally in the south (the whole of Kuttanad). The Vicar and Priests at Kalloorkkadu Church had judicial authority as well. They were engaged in settling the land disputes, family disputes, marriage related issues and other issues among the different families in the area which even included people from other castes and religions. This authority was approved by the King.  This practice was agreed upon by the Hindu leaders as well. If the issue involved only the Nasranis at the church, the issue will be announced at church during the service and the parties will be summoned to a hearing at Pally Yogam. Pally Yogam is presided by the Vicar of the Church. The disputes are tried to be settled in this meeting and if needed the Vicar has the right to punish those found guilty. The physical punishments included lashes. Chooral Vadi , Kuradavum and Varmathery were used for the lashes. The judgment of this jury process was recorded and was called “Pizha Ettu Kazheetezuthuka” (Offences proved were written down). It was also recorded in Nalagamam (chronicle). This was written on palm leaves (ola). The Vicar was responsible for the recordings and the records were kept in the Nikshepa Muri (locker room). The trustee of the church held the key to this room.

Thamaloor Itty Kuruvilla Cathanaar, Poothara Korah Cathanaar, Kadaprakunnel Mani Cathanaar and Vadakke Angadi Puthuparambil Ithakk Cathanaar played a leadership role in the construction of the new church. The new church was built on the present site and it was 83 feet in length, 28 feet in width and 16.5 feet in height. The above mentioned four families (Nalu Veedanmar) along with other families including Valliya Kunni, Pullankulam, Nella Kunni, Kannimekonnil, Thekkum Thara, Puthuparamban, Payikadan, Thattupurayan, Chooravadi, Pullangadi Muttel, Vadakkethalaykkal, Aambakadan, Thamalloor, Edanadan, Kadaprakunni were in the forefront, worked together in union and unity and financially supported the new church’s construction.

Thamalloor Itty Kuruvilla Cathanaar built and donated a beam which is still present in the current church building. An inscription on a beam across the Church reads:-

“Mishiha Piranna 1730, Thamalloor itty Kuruvilla Cathanaar ee cheelaanthy paniyichu. Ee kollam 905 meena matham”- This beam was built by Thamalloor Itty Kuruvilla Cathanaar in AD 1730. This is in ME (Kolla varsham) 905, the month of Meenam.

Thachill Mathoo Tharakan (timber merchant and the lone timber contractor of Tranvancore and later the commerce minister of Travancore Kingdom) had a ware house in Champakulam. Mathoo Tharakan played a key role in the church’s construction. The construction started in 1720 and was completed in 1730 AD (ME 905). Thachill Mathoo Tharakan along with the priests Thamaloor Itty Kuruvilla Cathanaar, Poothara Korah Cathanaar, Kadaprakunnel Manichan, Vadakke Angadi Puthuparambil Ithakk Cathanaar went to Kodungallor to invite Metrapolitha  Anthony Pimnetel S.J for the blessing of the new church.

The statue of Pushpa Rosa Mathavu (St. Mary with a rose flower in her hand) is believed to be installed in the Madbha during the 18th Century. The feasts and festivals at Kalloorkkadu Church were a time of great joy and celebration for Kalloorkkadu natives. Just like the 11 day festival in Amabalapuzha Temple, the feast of ‘Pushpa Rosa Mathavu’ was for 11 days. This was upon the instruction from the Chempakassery King. Many of the instruments and decorations needed for the feast were given by Amabalapuzha Temple. Except for the religious and liturgical events, all other celebrations were in traditional Kerala style (fire-works, Ottam Thullal, Njaninmel Kali, Thottiyattam, Mayilattam etc.)

It was a practice among the syriac-christian churches that during its main feast days, the priests from the different families in the Parish (Deshathu Pattakar) will come to the Parish and take part in the feast. The local priests had their own set of duties and responsibilities and certain privileges during the feast. Carrying the Reliquary during the procession, arranging the valuables on idols, the care and custody of gold and silver were all the responsibilities of the local priests. In one of such feasts at Kalloorkkadu, when Bishop Florence from Poland was reigning as Vicar Apostolic of Propaganda in Verapoly, an argument arose between the local Nasranis and the European Padres at the feast as to who should carry the Reliquary during the procession. The European padres wanted to carry the Reliquary which was opposed by the local priests. This led to an unpleasant scene at the church. Poothara Korah Cathanaar and Puthenpurackal Ikkako Cathanaar were the main local priests during this incident. Puthenpurackal Ikkako Cathanaar was in the forefront and argued strongly to preserve the right for the local priests. Finally a compromise was worked out to ease the tensions. European Padres were then allowed to lead the procession. After the procession, it was time to remove the valuables from the Reliquary and other gold and silver ornaments and keep it back in safe custody. Ikkako Cathanaar and Korah Cathanaar, along with the trustees, were entrusted with their safe-keeping in secure rooms. During this event, a group of men who accompanied the European Padres tried to steal some valuables. This was caught red-handed and a large crowd gathered. More unpleasant scenes arose. The stolen things were recovered. The European Padres were accused of bringing thieves among them. This was a huge embarrassment for the Europeans. Ikkako Cathanaar was in the forefront of all this. Again other priests, elders at church all intervened and tension was eased. But the public disgrace was unbearable for the Europeans. They wanted to seek revenge for the disgrace they suffered. Puthenpurackal Ikkako Cathanaar later became the target of their fury. Years later, Padre Francis Sales and his men took Ikkako Cathanaar by force to Verapoly, shut him up in a room and tortured him severely after alleging a false case. After exhausting torture methods the Padres condemned him to die by starvation, and he was left without food and drink for several days. When he was close to dying Ikkako Cathanaar begged the Padres for the sacraments of confession and communion. He was denied that as well. He eventually died in 1771. Puthenpurackal Ikkako Cathanaar was a great and brave priest who gave his life for protecting the rights and customs of Nasranis. His departure was a great loss for the community. Priests like Ikkako Cathanaar who stood up against the arrogance of certain European padres and against their lack of regard for Nasrani traditions were persecuted during those times.

9.Fall of Chempakassery Kingdom

The Chempakassery Kingdom came to an end when Travancore King Marthanda Varma defeated Chempakassery. Two famous commanders of the Chempakassery army namely Velloor Kurup and Mathoor Panicker were from Champakulam and Nedumudi respectively. Chempakassery Army also had many Syriac-Christian soldiers. The first war between Chempakassery and Travancore happened in AD 1746. It was not easy for Travancore to win against Chempakassery. Travancore had many setbacks at the beginning of these wars. Later Chempakassery King’s chief minister Thekkadathu Bhattathiri and commander of army Mathoor Panicker defected to the Travancore side during the final war at a very crucial time and Chempakassery lost the war. Travancore soldiers stormed into the palace and took the King as captive to Thiruvananthapuram. The King was later released. Returning back, Chempakassery King could no longer trust the soldiers of his own kind. The King made a final attempt to recapture his lost Kingdom and comprised an army of Syriac-Christians who remained faithful to him till the end. It is claimed that Kallukulam Thomman Panicker who served as one of the body guards of his Antharjanam (wife) was appointed as head of his new army. The army led by Thomman Panicker fought against Travancore without success. The King was taken as captive again. But he was released again. It is being said that since the Chempakassery King was a Brahmin who dedicated his Kingdom to the Thrimoorthi (Holy Trinity), the Travancore King was afraid to harm or kill him. Chempakassery King spent his remaining life in spiritual matters only. He lived in Kudamaloor and spent the evening of his life reading Bhagavad Geetha and doing Pooja (worship) in front of every idol in the Kumaranalloor temple. The last Chempakassery King did not have any direct descendants. The demise of the Chempakassery Kingdom and later the promotion of Alappuzha as a major port by the Travancore Kingdom had a negative impact on Kalloorkkadu Market.

10.Events of 19th Century

After almost 150 years after the construction of the new church, around year 1880 discussions about renovating the church were slowly starting. The Kalloorkkadu Church has become a major Catholic church in the area and the priests at the church wanted to make the church architecture more in line with the Portuguese architecture of the churches. The priests Porukkara Thoma Malpan, Kuriyakko Elias Achan, Kurialacherry Valiyathoma Cathanaar, Poothara Geevarghese Cathanaar, Kandankalam Ignatius Cathanaar, Chakkalayil Alexander Cathanaar introduced this idea to the parishioners. The parishioners welcomed the idea and wanted to make the church bigger and one which reflects the prosperity, prestige and the heritage of the Champakulam Nasranis.  It was soon decided in Pally Yogam (parish assembly) to go ahead with the renovation. The Vicar Ignatius Cathanaar Kandankalam made Poothara Geevarghese Cathanaar, Kurialacherry Valiyathoma Cathanaar and Chakkalayil Chandy Cathanaar in charge of the construction. The responsibilities were also shared by prominent parishioners Mundackal Varkey Mapila, Puthenpurackal Ousep Mapila, Karukayil Chandy Mapila, Koyickari Oomen Mapila and Chakalayill Chandy Mapila. Mundackal Varkey Mapila’s hardwork, sacrifice and financial help during this time need special mention. The church re-construction started in 1885 AD.

Poothara Geevarghese Cathanaar (1817 – 1889 AD) was the last of the six Cathanaar from Poothara family during the period between 16th century to 19th century. He served in many northern parishes under Varapuzha for the most part of his priesthood. He later came back to Champakulam and lived at Kalloorkkadu Pallimeda (house within the church compound where priests stay) for the rest of his life. The church construction started during his return period. The church we see today at Champakulam was rebuilt in 1885. Poothara Geevarghese Cathanaar gave 30 para (~3 acres) paddy field for the construction of the church. He also donated the “Vadakke Thronose” (northern side-altar). This side-altar was built in Goa. This side-altar is still present in the current church building. Kurialacherry Valiya Thomma Cathanaar donated 50 para (~5 acres) paddy field and built the “Thekke Thronose” (southern side-altar) and gave to the church. “Vadakke Thronose” had a statue of Vyakula Mathavu and “Thekke Thronose” had a statue of St. Thomas. Both Poothara Geevarghese Cathanaar and Kurialacherry Valiya Thoma Cathanaar used to celebrate holy Qurbana from the “Vadakke Thronose” and “Thekke Thronose” respectively until their death.

In 1887, Pope Leo XIII created two new Vicariates for Kerala Syriac Christians – One at Kottayam and the other at Trichur. Bishop Charles Lavigne, S.J. was appointed the first Bishop of Kottayam. A reception was given to Bishop Charles Lavigne at Mannanam, Kottayam when he took charge. Poothara Geevarghese Cathanaar led a team from Kalloorkadu to receive the new Bishop at Mannanam. Boats heavily decorated went from Champakulam to receive the Bishop.

Poothara Geevarghese Cathanaar baptized Kurialacherry Valiya Thoma Kathanar’s brother’s son. The kid baptized was named Thomas and he later became the Bishop of Changanasserry – Servant of God Bishop Mar Thomas Kurialacherry.

Venerable, Servant of God Thomas Kurialacherry was the first Bishop of the Diocese of Changanasserry which later became the Archdiocese of Changanacherry. Thomas Kurialacherry, fondly called as Kunjuthomachen was born on January 14th, 1873 at Champakulam to Chackochen and Accamma. As a child, he grew up with extra ordinary goodness and piety. His childhood friends used to call him “Kunju Malagha” (Little Angel). During his childhood days at Champakulam, Poothara Geevarghese Cathanaar and Kurialacherry Valiya Thoma Cathanaar were residing at Kalloorkadu church and the rebuilding of the church was going on. The presence of these two famous priests was a great motivation for Kunjuthomachen to become a priest. He had his seminary education in Propaganda College, Rome and was ordained on 27 May 1899. He served as vicar in the parishes of Chennamkary, Kavalam, Edathua and Champakulam.

11.Events of 20th Century

In 1911, Fr. Thomas Kurialacherry was elevated as the Vicar Apostolica of Changanacherry. Bishop Thomas Kurialacherry started several educational institutions including St. Berchman’s College at Changanacherry in 1922. He founded the religious Congregation of the Sisters of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in 1908. After one of his visits from Rome, Bishop Thomas Kurialacherry came to Poothara Malika and gifted two dinner plates, two saucers, two side plates and two crystal chalices (glassware) which he got from Rome for Poothara Chacko. These items are now given to be displayed at the Bishop Thomas Kurialacherry Museum at Champakulam. Poothara Chacko’s son Kochouthachan (Freedom fighter Joseph Poothara) and Chackochen (Jacob J. Kurialacherry – Author of the book Kalloorkadu Palliyum Suriyani Kristyanikalum) grew up together and they used to stay at Kurialacherry during childhood days. It was a desire of Kurialacherry Bishop to make the two young boys priests. But life had other plans for them. However both of their younger brothers became priests – Fr. Philip Poothara (1907 – 1965 AD) and Fr. Dr. Antony Kurialacherry (1920 – 2001 AD). Fr. Antony is the former principal of S.B College Changanasserry (1970 to 1977) and is the founder and first director of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Ministry in Chicago which later become the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago in 2001.

Bishop Thomas died while on a visit to Rome during the silver jubilee year of his ordination. Reaching Rome, the seminarians from Changanacherry studying at Rome, invited him for Holy Qurbana at Propaganda College, which he readily accepted. Though tired, he offered Qurbana, but fainted after that. Thus he offered his first Holy Qurbana and his last Qurbana at the same altar. He was called to eternal reward on June 2nd 1925 at the age of 52. His body was buried in Rome itself. His mortal remains were brought back to Changanacherry in 1935 and interred in the Metropolitan Cathedral Church.  His cause of canonization was taken up in 1983 and he was declared Servant of God on Dec. 13, 1991. On April 2, 2011, the Holy Father, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI approved a statement saying that Bishop Kurialacherry had lived a life of heroic virtue. This gives him the additional title of “Venerable”.

12.Freedom Struggle

The history of Kalloorkkadu is never complete without mentioning the efforts of Kalloorkkadu natives in India’s freedom struggle. After the demise of Chempakassery Kingdom, Champakulam was part of the Travancore Kingdom. The special privileges and tax exemptions given to Kalloorkkadu Church by Chempakassery King were also honoured by Travancore King. In the early 19th century, the Travancore Kingdom became a princely state of the British Empire.

Jesus once told “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”. This phrase is widely considered as the direction from Jesus not to mix politics and religion together. Syriac-Christian Churches of Kerala followed this literally. The Church as an organization didn’t engage in any political activism during the freedom struggle. However the Syriac-Christians as individuals participated in India’s freedom struggle. Many Champakulam natives irrespective of their caste and religion were part of this historic freedom struggle. The non-violent Indian Freedom Struggle under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi had the values of Jesus’ messages.

One of the important leaders of this movement in the Travancore-Kochi region was Joseph Chacko Poothara (1900- 1974 AD) from Champakulam. Growing up he took an active role in organizing many cultural and social events in Champakulam. He acted in many dramas at Kalloorkkadu Church. He was well versed in Sanskrit and Hindi. Well-built and athletic, his personality, crisp sound and physique were the first things that get noticed. One of the statues of Jesus (Christ as Parihasa Rajavu) at Champakulam Kalloorkkadu Church was built based on his measurements by artist Chacko Sir. He worked together with many other well-known freedom fighters of the time viz.  Sreekandan Nair (former M.P), M.N. Govindan Nair (Former Minister), T.M.  Varghese (Former Minister), P.T. Punnoose, Pattom Thanu Pillai, Kuttanad Rama Krishna Pillai, Freedom Fighter Varghese Joseph Edathua etc. During one of the protests at Marina Beach, Madras, British Soldiers ran horses over the protesters and his leg was badly damaged. Years later during his old-age, his injured leg had to be amputated. At the height of his political activism, British Police wanted to imprison him and a reward was promised for anyone who helps. He had to stay away from his mother for several months and was underground mostly. Irrespective of the dangers involved, Joseph Poothara at times comes to visit his mother under the cover of night. He had to swim all the way from Ambalapuzha for almost a full-night to come to Champakulam. During one of such journeys, it got late and he had to hide in the “Asthi Thara” (place where the skeleton bones are stored in a cemetery) at Kalloorkkadu Church’s cemetery for a full day. Later while delivering a speech at Kidaganparambu Maithanam, Alappuzha he was arrested. He was taken to the Alappuzha sub-jail first.  The court sentenced him to Prison and 500 rupees fine as penalty.  He served the prison sentence at Poojapura Central jail, Trivandrum. The prison sentence was for one year and one month. After Indian Independence, Joseph Poothara was honoured with “Tamra Patra” by the Government of India. He was instrumental in bringing Post Office and Government Primary School to Champakulam. The first post-office was in Poothara Malika itself and he served as the temporary post-master for few years. He also worked as the Editorial Desk member for Pouradhwani newspaper and was Alappuzha DCC (District Congress Committee) member. Tamra Patra recipients can recommend congress volunteers for Freedom fighter pension. Joseph Poothara recommended freedom fighters Thomas Kurialacherry (Pulikassery), Aashan Chellakalam, Sreedharan Nair and Michael Chettan.  At the age of 46 he married Teacher Annakutty Joseph. They had three sons. James J. Poothara, Film Producer George J. Poothara and Jose J. Poothara. He died on June-26-1974 at the age of 74.

13.Conclusion

Champakulam Kalloorkadu Church played a major role in the economic and social development of Kuttanadu region. The presence of this mighty church was a factor for many Nasrani families to emigrate to Kuttanadu. Land was a scarce resource in Kuttanadu. Land needs to be made from low-lying areas first before you could do anything on it. Levelling the land and making it ready for housing, paddy cultivation and coconut farms needed a lot of hard work. The hard working Nasranis were tough and they fought against the odds and made Kuttanadu the granary of the Malabar Coast. No great things can be achieved without focus and discipline. The church has played a phenomenal role in maintaining such an environment. Many times the people would have found it tough to get by but the strong community centered around the church helped each other. The Nasranis were exceptionally good in trade as well. Champakulam became a centre of commerce and trade through Purakkadu port. A lot of revenue was generated from the trade with foreign countries. It has become an economic power house in Malabar by the 17th Century. Chempakassery King’s vision to attract Nasranis by building and renovating the church multiple times was a great success. With changing times, changes in modes of transport, opening up of new ports, shifting away from traditional jobs of farming and spice trade, Champakulam may have lost its economic importance now when compared to the glorious past it had. But it’s simply just not another remote village in Kerala. The recent announcement and elevation of the church as Basilica should create an increased interest among its natives spread across greater Kuttanadu region and in different parts of the world to know more about their roots and the church of their ancestors.

References

  1. Poothara Manuscript by Poothara Korah Cathanaar and Kurialacherry Valiya Thoma Cathanaar
  2. Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna Swami Temple by Dr. Ambalapuzha Gopakumar
  3. Kalloorkadu Palliyum Suriyani Kristyanikalum by Jacob J. Kurialacherry
  4. Diary notes of Freedom fighter Joseph Chacko Poothara

 

Author: Joseph G. Poothara

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you Joseph G Poothara for this article. This is a very comprehensive write up covering the socio political milieu of Champakulam besides the religio cultural aspects in the history of the Nasranis of Chamnpakulam. There are lot of previously unknown information highlighted. Thank you very much for introducing the Poothara Korah Cathanaar’s manuscript to the readers.
    It is a very appropriate time to upload this as Champakulam Church has been honoured to the status of a Basilica recently.

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