There are huge wooden doors and spacious door-ways at the front and side entrances to the naves and in the gate houses in Kerala Churches. To protect the front and side doors from inclement weather there are pillared porticoes, which have benches inside to sit down. The three sided gabled roof of the portico has a Monthayam in front at the junction of the three sloping sides which often has exquiste wooden carvings. The porch Columns, rafters, and beams display the skill of Kerala’s carpenters. The Mammoth pillar-less roofs of the churches are skillfully crafted from Kerala’s renowned timber varieties like Teak and rosewood.
Many Churches are vertiable museums of old glass lamps, Chandeliers, Candelabras, Colourful mercury globes and prisms. There are also many varieties of bronze lamps in the churches such as the bird lamp, the Peacock lamp, the Hanging lamp, the many-storeyed floor lamp, the Kuthuvilaku, the Kolvilakku and the Kindivilakku. The Elephant Lamp of Kanjoor and the hanging lamp of Ramapuram are famous.
The four lions of the Asoka Stampa are to be seen again on the pedestals of the baptismal fonts at Edappally and Kanjoor. The huge stone baptismal fonts of Kaduthuruthy, Changanassery, Kadamattam,Kalluppara, Kottayam, Chengannoor, Mylakombu and Muthlakodam have depictions of leaves, flowers, creepers and biblical scenes in addition to basket and coir patterns.
The balconies have huge gold coated beams supported by highly realistic wooden Elephants. The Wooden railing separating men from women in the nave and the Bhandarams in wood, metal or stone have remarkable artistic distinction.
The wooden pulpit or rostrum is called Puzhpam meaning flower. The wooden stem or Stalk of the flower-like pulpit proceeds from the mouth of a Lion, an Elephant or a Dragon. There are interesting Puzhpams at Ollur, Thrissur, Chungam, Palai, and Kanjoor. The 40 foot wooden pulpit of Ollur is perhaps the tallest in Asia. The Evangelists and Saints carved on the pulpits are both beautiful and inspiring. Heaven is represented by the chancel or Madbaha where the Altar is located.
There are 3 Altars inside the Madbaha in the West Syrian tradition of Kerala while in the East Syrian tradition the 2 side Altars are found outside the Madbaha. The Altar, the reredos or Altarpiece, and the ceiling of the Madbaha are glorious examples of wooden Sculpture. To prevent the ceiling panels from bending they are coated with mud and some herbs. The Mammoth Altar-pieces are made of wooden blocks joined together without the use of metal nails. They have gold encrusted carvings of Flowers, leaves, plants and creepers.
There are also apostles and Saints in wooden relief, in addition to pillars, pilasters, and groups of angels. There are also many tabernacles in Kerala which are remarkable examples of wood carving.The wooden Candlesticks, Ramshethis or bouquet, and crosses are also excellent achievements of the wood carver. There are many ceilings which illustrate heaven as such. There is at least one church in Kerala displaying more than 5000 angles in Murals, Frescos, Wood and Plaster.
Hundreds of mural picturers decorate the walls of old Kerala Churches which excel the Rajput and Mughal paintings in artistic merit, Indianess, and antiquity. As the biblical Scenes and the 15 Mysteries and notable personalities have been painted using basic colours obtained from nature, they have lasted many centuries and enjoy a high place in the mural tradition of the land.
There are famous Altar and Madhbaha decorations in Ollur, Kanjoor, Kottayam, Alangad, Koratty, Chengannur, Akaparambu, Paliakkara, Pazhuvil, Thumpamon, Palai, Kaduthuruthy and Mulanthuruthy.
The huge Angamaly paintings of Hell and the Last Judgement are incomparable contributions of Kerala to the world mural heritage.
The mural paintings of Cheppad, Piravam, Paliakkara, Angamaly,Akaparambu, Kanjoor, Ollur, Pazhaji and Vechoor deserve world recognition for their artistic excellence and skill of execution. The centuries old jute panels which decorate the ceiling of the Ollur Church are 300 squre feet each in size.
The walls and ceillings of the Chancel and the nave of that church are so fully covererd with exquisite frescos and murals that one is reminded of Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.The thousands of Images and statues in wood, metal, stone and ivory are another attraction of Kerala Churches.
In many churches there are 25 to 75 wooden statues which are not in daily use. The gate-house, the priests’ house, the house for explosives, the bell tower, and the Drummers’ hut are the main subsidiary structures. Domes, Outdoor Crosses, 4 & 8 tongued coconut Scrapers made of a single block of wood, granaries, canoes and boats, boxes of different sizes for various uses, lamps, Chinese jars and measuring utensilss made of wood, stone, metal, ivory or ceramics are found in these structures.
A few old books and palm leaf Granthas of Pre-Portuguese origin are to be still seen in some old churches.
There are many old inscriptions yet to be fully deciphered and studied in many Churches including the Thazhakkat and Edappally rock inscriptions, the Tharissapally and Palayur copper plates, the Kanjoor and Chowara tomb stones, and the Kanjoor and Kundra beam writings. At least from the beginning of the 2nd Millennium a 3 tierd roofing pattern is obtained in churches, the Madbaha or Garbhagriham having the tallest roof and the portico at the other end having the lowest roof. Outside the Church many plaster and rock monuments of a historical nature are seen at Palayur, Ramapuram and Kuravilangad.
Generally the Cemetery is found to the South of the church. The body is buried with the head to the west facing the rising sun sympolising Christ and the hope of resurrection. From the distance the bell beckons the faithful to the House of God.
There are huge bells and tall bell-towers at Muttuchira, Chalakudy, Ollur, Mylakombu, Palayur, Pazhuvil, Changanassery and Kuravilangad
The inspiring call of the bells and the towering belfries announce the presence of the church to the people spread far and wide in all directions.
a) First three pictures are of Twin Church at Ramapuram which is in demolition line
b) The picture of Giant bell with undeciphered code is of Kuravilangad Martha Mariam Church.
NB- Guest Contribution for NSC Network
Source- Prof. George Menanchery Articles – 1.Indian Church History Classics (ICHC) 2.The Thomapedia 3. SARAS