The Bible and other historical records of the apostolic era confirm that the original Christian Church continued to observe the same festivals Jesus observed. Church festivals are days set apart by the Church either for the remembrance of some special mercies of God or for celebration of feasts.
This article details the Church feast and festivals in Kerala especially in and around Kottayam district.1
The rituals of Nasranis seems to reach it culminating point on the occasion of Church festivals. Not only are the great wealth and vast tradition of the Kerala Church made manifest to those who crowd the streets, but the possession appeal to varying degrees to people of all faiths.Even those who have no well established religious feeling also seem to take a certain measure of delight in the splendor of what they have come to regard as the outward and visible sign of existence. Non Christians also participate in the Church festivals and some of the Churches have historical collaboration with Hindu Temples on sharing resources for festival possessions.
The Moonnunombu and the ship made of wood at the ancient 3rd Century built St. Mary’s church here is famous. The Kappalottam during the second day of munnu nombu attracts thousands of devotees.
Rogation of the Ninevites commemorates the repentance of the people of Nineveh at the preaching of Jewish Prophet, Jonah. In the Old Testament section of the Bible the story of Jonah is written as a prophetic teaching. The historical Johah was one of the twelve minor Jewish prophets who lived sometimes during the reign of the Jewish king, Jeroboam II (783-743 BC).
Jonah’s story is one of the most familiar stories of the Old Testament: God instruct Jonah to go to Nineveh and condemn Assyrians for their “wickedness.” Instead Jonah runs away. He boards a ship bound for Spain, but the ship encounters a storm. The passengers cast Johah into the sea and he is then swallowed by a great fish, traditionally thought to be a whale. After three days in the belly of the fish, Johah is coughed up and travels to Nineveh. The Ninevites repent and God withholds his judgment against a non-Israelite nation, hence demonstrating concern for all humans.
For Eastern Christians especially Chaldeans and Assyrians the Rogation of Ninevite has esteem spiritual significance. In this way they were always reminded of Nineveh throughout the history until the ruins of Nineveh were discovered in early half of the 19th Century.2
Rogation of the Ninevites is the main ritual during the Munnu Nombu festival. A forty feet wooden ship, beautifully built with prow, stern, masts and rigging, having on one side an effigy of Jonah being vomited by the fish as per the orders of the Lord, and on the deck wooden mariners in costume, has been for centuries the centre of attraction in the mid-day procession at Kuravilangadu Martha Mariam Church, a. Amidst the surging mass of humanity the spectacle make one image that the sea is furious, the waves are beating against the sides of the ship and violent winds rip the sails out of control. This ritual show cases the maritime tradition of early Nasranis. This has been celebrated earlier for the safety of Nasrani mariners.These reminds the Nasranis of the spiritual development of Judeo-Christian tradition
The Ship is carried by members from five families namely Karuthedam, Chembankulam, Puthusherry, Anchery and Valiyaveedu.
Some of the rituals have been disappeared gradually from the celebrations in Martha Mariam Church. Earlier Vechuuttu Nercha was part of each day celebrations in Munnunoyambu. Pachor Nercha was also part of every Sunday during the 50 day lent period. It has been conducted by people from Kalikavu, Kuravilangadu, Kadappur, Mannackandu, Kozha, Kurchithanam and Monappally. With the passage of time Pachor Nercha also had the same fate of vechuttu Nercha and has been discontinued.
There is a very interesting history behind with the Thamukku Nercha celebrated in Kuravilangadu connectiong it with Nididhry Mani Kathanar and Manushinku the Police Suprenitendent of Travancore in 1783. It is Manushinku who conducted the first Thamukku Nercha under the influence of Nidhiry for forgiveness against the atrocities conducted.
St.Mary’s church also known as Anakkallu Palli is an important pilgrim centre in the Kottayam district. This 1000-year-old church also features an attractive grotto of Virgin Mary
Sister Alphonsa was born on August 19, 1910 in the parish of Kudamalur, near Kottayam, of parents Joseph and Mariam Muttathupadam. She joined the Poor Clares at Bharananganam, took the veil on 12 August 1928. The mortal remains of the Blessed Sister Alphonsa who died on 28th July 1946 is kept here.She was noted for her suffering, and suffering in silence. Incidents of her intervention began almost immediately upon her death, and often involved the children in the convent school. Hundreds of miraculous cures are claimed for her intervention.
Thousands of devotees gathered at this holy shrine on 28th July every year to pray on her death anniversary.Every year on this day prayers would be held and thousands of devotees come here to pay homage to the saint.
Sister Alphonsa was honoured ‘blessed’ of the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Kerala in 1986. On June 1, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI authorised her canonization which will take place on Sunday 12 October 2008 in Vatican. She will be the first female saint from India .
St.Joseph’s church was built by the Blessed Fr. Chavara Kuriakose Elias. The mortal remains of this saintly priest is preserved here. Thousands of devotees gather here to pay homage to the saint every day. The feast of Blessed Chavara is celebrated with great devotion and solemnity every year on January 3rd.
St.Mary’s church is one of the most important Churches of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christians. The stone inscriptions found at the church reveal that the church was built more than a 1000 years ago. Archeologists have found out that these stone inscriptions were memorial stones set up at the tombs in 910 A.D. and 920 A.D. and the writing on them are in Malayalam and Tamil scripts prevalent 600 years ago.
The Ettunoympu (eight day fasting) is the main annual event which begins on the first of September every year. The feast falls on eighth and nineth of September. Pilgrims participating in the retreat stay in the Church these days fasting and praying . The church has a tank and a cross which are considered sacred.
Many fast and feasts are celebrated in Manarcadu which includes Ninuve Fast (Munnu Nonbu), 50days fast (Valiya Nonbu), Fast in the name of Apostles (Sleeha Nonbu) ,15 days fast in connection with the Ascension Day Virgin Mary(Sunero Nonbu) and Yeldo Fast in connection with the Incarnation Festival of Virgin Mary (Yeldo Nonbu)
St. George’s Orthodox church is located at the Centre of the famous temples of Vennimala, Kadamuri, Iravinellor and Vazhakkulam. This church is believed to have been built by the Thekkumkoor Raja’s when they ruled Vennimala. The feast of St.George (Geevarghese) in May is the annual event which attracts a large crowd. The golden cross in this Church is well known.
Celebrations start 10 days prior to the perunnal with “Kodimaram Ideel” (hosting of flags) participated by people belonging to all religions of the locality. People from Puthuppally and Ericadu Karas bring Flag posts (aeronaut palms) in procession accompanied with band melam. On the eve of perunnal, the “Virakideel” function is conducted.
Firewood is brought to the church in procession attended by male members of all families. This firewood is used to prepare the food for the “Vechoottu” to be held the next day. On the eve, during night a colourful procession (RHASA) filled with devotion and piety is taken out from the church to Puthuppally kavala. People on either side of the road greet the Rhasa with lighted Nilavilkks (lamps) and candles. Devotees from far and near start to pour in during the night and in the morning the church and the surroundings are thronged with devotees.
St. George church is one of the oldest Churches in Kerala. It is believed to be the half church from one of the seven and half churches established by St. Thomas. This is also one of the Churches in Kerala which collects the largest amount of monetary offerings during the festival days. Irapeli ( ancient name) had a vigorous trade with the Tamil countries lying beyond the Western Ghats.
The first edifice of the church at Irapeli was of granite stone after the manner of Hindu temples. It was rebuilt once or twice before the 16th century as it is reported. The Church was built facing the west according to the Chaldean Oriental liturgical traditions. The reconstruction of this church was done in the 16th Century A.D.
In the 14th century when the church of Nilackal or Chayal, one of those churches founded by St.Thomas was destroyed, several families migrated to Irapeli .They carried with them a statue of St.George .Ever since the advent of the statue, the people began to have unflinching faith in the saint and he has been particularly beneficial in bestowing favours on his clients. Because of the numerous favours obtained through the intercession of the saint, the 16th century church was dedicated to him and his statue was placed in the central niche above the main alter. And in this way St.Mary’s church Irapeli became known as St.George’s Church Irapeli (Later Aruvithura).
The annual feast St George Thirunal is celebrated on the 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th of April. There is also Karmalamathavinte Thirunal (Kallitta Thirunal) during the month of January.
Vimalagiri church (Angathattu Palli) situated near Kottayam railway station is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Vijayapuram. The foundation stone of the Church was laid in 1956 and the construction was completed in 1964. This church built in the Gothic architectural style has a 172 feet tower which is considered as the highest Church tower in Kerala. Vimalambika is the deity here. The feast is celebrated in December.
Valiyapalli St. George’s church situated at Thazhathangadi, two kms. west of Kottayam town. Built in 1550 A.D. This church belongs to Orthodox Syrian community. The Persian cross made of stone, believed to be one of the seven brought here by St. Thomas and the Pahlavi inscriptions of this church are famous. The feast of St. George is on 26th April.
Cheriyapalli St. Mary’s church is situated two kms. from Kottayam town. Built in 1579 by the Thekkumkoor Maharaja. This Church displays out standing architecture which is a blend of Kerala and Portuguese styles. The walls are adorned with beautiful murals in the oriental and western styles on biblical and non biblical themes.
Good Shepherd church situated behind the Civil Station at Kottayam. This is the first Church of the Diocese of Vijayapuram. The construction of this church, which is in Italian style, was completed in 1882 and was renovated in 1964. The feast of St. Sebastian is on 20th January and that of Good Shepherd is from 10th to 12th April.
Parumala is a small stretch of land on the shores of the river Pampa. It is the resting place of Gregorios Geevarghese, popularly known as Parumala Thirumeni, the declared saint of The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The ormapperunnal celebrated on the first and second of every November, is very famous , as a large number of people flock to this place for worship
St. Mary’s church is situated 10 kms. north of Kottayam town. Though dedicated to Mother Mary, it is the feast of St. Sebastian which attracts a large crowd. The statue of St.Sebastian installed here, is considered very ancient. During the days of the Portuguese, three figures were brought to Kerala. Legend says that the smallest of them has brought to Athirampuzha by local traders.
This is known as ‘Adiyelpicha Roopam’ (the tortured figure). The original church, is said, was constructed in 1680 A.D. The feast in January lasts for five days. Display of fire works in connection with the celebration is most attractive. The annual feast here celebrated in honour of St. Sebastian is a big event with fireworks and illuminations. Votive offerings of gold and silver arrows set this event apart from other festivals.
Pala is situated about 39 kms.from Kottayam town. It is generally accepted that this St.Thomas Church was built in 1002. The church was destoryed by the muslim invaders in the 17th century and was reconstructed in the next century. The important festival of this church is the Rakkulithirunal which is celebrated on 6th January every year.
Rakkulithirunal is the terminology of Common parlance to denote the feast of Epiphany celebrated every year on the 6th January in the St. Thomas Cathedral Church at Pala.
The festival symbolises the Bibilical account of the three wisemen from the East, being led by a new born star to infant Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem.
This is a general Eastern Christian celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and included the commemoration of: his birth; the visit of the Magi, or “Wise Men” from Persia Magi’s being Persian priests, who arrived in Bethlehem; all of Jesus’ childhood events, up to and including his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist and even the miracle at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee. The date of the feast was very early fixed on January 6.
Situated 12km from Tiruvilla town, the famous St. George Church which celebrates its feast during the month of May is an important location for the Christian Pilgrims. During this month between the 1st to the 7th people from throughout the state as well as from the neighbouring states visit it. Edathuva is situated in Kuttanad. People earlier used to go to Niranam Church believed to be established by St. Thomas the Apostole. Later on in 1810 the Edathuva Church was established. There is an interesting tradition accounted with obtaining the St. George statue from Edappally Church. The Church has a very old Golden cross in possession. The feast of St. George is attended by thousands of People from all regions and many from Tamil Nadu.
The annual feast here starts on the 27th of April with the hoisting of the flag and concludes on the 7th of May. During the feast, the statue of St. George, decked in gold regalia, is carried out and placed on the dais in the centre of the basilica.
All the prayers and related rituals are conducted here during these days. Devotees from all parts of the state attend the festival. It is a very important pilgrimage for the people especially from the trivandrum side of kerala. During the 10 day feast, devotees prepare sacred food for the church and take part in the ritual bathing. The colorful illumination is indeed a feast for the eye.
The fifth century built ( AD 425), St Mary’s Forane Church, Kalloorkad is 18 km from Alappuzha It is one among the 180 parishes that had representatives at the Synod of Diamper (Udayamperoor) in 1599. It was famous for the “choroonu” (lunch festival) on March 19 in celebration of St. Joseph feast.
This church has an interesting historic connection with the boat regatta (Vallam Kali) held in Pamba river every year . When the Lord Krishna idol was brought from Kurichi in Kottayam by the men of Chempakassery Raja for installation at Ambalappuzha, they are said to be rested for the night in a Syrian Catholic home. It is said that the dignitaries of the Syrian Christian church as well as the local Christians actively participated in the procession of boats in which the deity was taken to Ambalappuzha. Even now the flag and coir rope required for the regatta ( Vallam Kali) are given by the Kalloorkad Church
Picture 1- Kuravilangadu Martha Mariam Church Munnu Nombu festival.
Picture 2- St.Mary’s church also known as Anakkallu Palli Bharananganam
Picture 3- Sister Alphonsa Chappel, Bharananganam
Picture 4- St.Joseph’s church, Mannanam
Picture 5- St.Mary’s church , Manarcadu
Picture 6- St. George’s Orthodox church, Puthuppally,Virakideel Ceremony
Picture 7- St. George’s Orthodox church, Puthuppally,Vechoottu
Picture 8- Aerial flower showering at St. George church,Aruvithura
Picture 9- A mural painting of Cheriyapalli St. Mary’s church Kottayam
Picture 10- St.Marys Church, Athirampuzha Celebrations
Picture 11-St. Thomas Cathedral Church at Pala
Picture 12-St. Geroge Church, Edathua Celebrations
Author can be reached on admin at nasrani dot net
- Acknowledgment- Collected from multiple sources.Many thanks to Joseph George and Xavier Kalangara for the additional information and corrections.We would like to expand this to cover all the prominant Church festivals in Kerala.Please contribute further. [↩]
- The sign of Prophet Jonah and its Modern Confirmations P-630-642 [↩]