Nazrani Christians and the Social Processes of Kerala, 800-1500

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Nazrani Christians and the Social Processes of Kerala, 800-1500
Nazrani Christians and the Social Processes of Kerala, 800-1500

[ This article deals with a part of Nasrani history, which was not properly studied by any other historian so far. The study is based primarily on the original Tharisapally copper plate and on the Portuguese primary source material. This article is included as chapter III in the book “Maritime India: Trade, Religion and Polity in the Indian Ocean” by Dr.Pius Malekandathil, published by Primus Books, New Delhi, 2010, pp.38-61 under the title “ Dynamics of Economy, Social Processes and the pre-Portuguese Christians of India, 800-1500”. The NSC team is grateful to the author, Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil, for sending us this article for publication to a wider audience, who do not have access to the book.]

The socio-economic processes of Maritime India began to undergo decisive changes by ninth century, when its vast coastal terrains were considerably influenced by the economic forces emitted by the long distance trade between the ports of Persian Gulf regions and of Canton in China. One of the most significant impact of this trade-route on Indian economy was that the long-distance traders, who had to temporarily break their voyage on Indian coast because of the adverse monsoon winds on the other side of the Ocean, became instrumental in identifying and developing port-sites near the mouth of various rivers, through which commodities held in high demand in other parts of the world could be obtained. Consequently a long of chain of ports of varying degrees of economic importance began to emerge on the east and west coast of India, making many consumption-oriented regional economies located closer to these ports start producing commodities needed by these foreign merchants.

On the one hand the process of production oriented towards market began to get relatively intensified in some of these places, while on the other hand, there was a concomitant phenomenon of migration of mercantile communities to India to take maximum advantage out of the changed situation. The local rulers who noticed the advantages of using these economic changes for their political intentions began to extend support and patronage to foreign merchants and mercantile migrants reaching their ports, who were eventually transformed as their supportive base for the political dreams of expanding their territories. One of the most evident cases of this nature could be traced back to the set of commercial privileges granted by the ruler of Ay kingdom to the Christian migrant traders of Quilon like Mar Saphor and Mar Prodh from the erstwhile Sassanid Persia in the mid-ninth century. Though the purpose of the grant was to generate enough wealth so as to strengthen the hands of the ruler and to realize his political plans, this grant bolstered and legitimized the increasing evolution of Christians as a significant trading group in Kerala out of the economic linkage established between the spice-producing Christians in the hinterland and the migrant Christians from Persia but having far-flung mercantile networks in the Indian Ocean. In this development, these Christians acquired certain traits from the social and cultural processes taking place in their neighborhood that in turn were to form their distinctive marks for the centuries to come.

Christian Mercantile Migrants of Quilon and the Socio-economic Significance of Tharisapally Copper Plate.

Among the different groups of Christian migrants to India at different time periods, the merchant leaders Mar Sapor and Mar Prodh, who reached Kurakeni Kollam (Quilon) in circa 823 AD, (( 1.The Syriac document Anecdota Syriaca states that three Syrian Missionaries (two of them probably Nestorian Persians Mar Sapor and Mar Peroz or Prodh) came to Kollam in 823 AD and got leave from the king Shakirabirbi to erect a church there. K.P.Padmanabha Menon, History of Kerala, vol. I,New Delhi, 1982, p.273. See also M.G.S.Narayana, Cultural Symbiosis, 1972, Calicut,pp.31-2. The word Kurakkeni Kollam was often used in Malayalam for Quilon so as to differentiate it from another early medieval port-town known as Pandarayani Kollam, which actually corresponds to present day Koyilandy. )) formed highly decisive because of the long-standing economic impact they had exerted in deep South. They had erected a church at Kurakeni Kollam, called Tharisapally, which besides being a place of prayer was eventually made to become the centre of economic life of the port-town of Quilon. (( 2.For details Meera Abraham, Two Medieval Merchant Guilds of south India, New Delhi, 1988.)) The migration of these two Christian merchant leaders to Quilon was to be located against the historical background of the expansion of traders from Abbassid Persia and the extension of their commercial networks into the Indian Ocean. It started with the shifting of the headquarters from Damascus of the Umayyad Khalifs to Baghdad by the Abassids(750-870) in 762AD, with a view to having access to the Indian Ocean via Tigris and to controlling its trade. Generally the long-distance trade from Abbassid Persia used to emanate from Oman or Sohar in the Persian Gulf and terminate in Canton controlled by the rulers of T’ang dynasty (618-907) of China. (( 3.George Fadlo Hourani, Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times, Princeton,1951,pp. 61-62;64;70-74; Pius Malekandathil, The Germans, the Portuguese and India, Münster, 1999,p.4)) With the increasing expansion of the political domains and commercial networks of the Abbassids, the Christian merchants who used to conduct trade in the erstwhile Sassanid territories, particularly in the Fars and Persian Gulf regions, had to move over to safer destinations, including Kerala, where they had previous contacts. (( 4.In fact the decisive battle in which the Arabs defeated the Sassanid power took place at Nihavand in 641AD. Though the emperor Yazdirgird III fled and continued resistance, a great part of Persia came under the Arabs with his death in 651AD. Andre Wink, Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World, vol.I Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam 7th-11th Centuries, New Delhi,1999,p.9. The period after the Arab occupation, there started migration of people (including Christians and Zoroastrians) in considerable numbers, who opposed Islam, to different parts of the Indian Ocean region. These Zoroastrians laid the foundation for the Parsi community in Konkan region. See also Pius Malekandathil, “ St.Thomas Christians and the Indian Ocean: 52 AD to 1500AD” in Ephrem’s Theological Journal, vol.5, No.2, October 2001, pp.193-4)) The intensified commercial activities from Abbassid Persia must have prompted Mar Sapor and Mar Prodh to move towards Kerala, which had earlier been an important commercial destination for the Christian merchants from Sassanid Persia. When they reached Quilon, they carried along with them an extensive network of commerce that the Sassanid merchants had earlier developed over centuries and they made use of these mercantile connections for keeping the wheels of commerce move around the Tharisapally of Kollam. (( 5. This fact is evident from the Tharisapally copper plate. For details see T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, Madras, 1916,pp.66-75))

Though these merchant leaders were said to have reached Quilon in 823, the different economic privileges to the Tharisappally were granted only in 849, almost 26 years after their arrival in the town. This suggests that Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal ( ruler of Ay kingdom), the feudatory of the Chera ruler Sthanu Ravi Varma, conferred the various privileges upon this mercantile community and its church not at their very first sight, but having tested the worth and utility of the recipients, both the church and the immigrant Christian mercantile community, in the process of resource mobilization. In fact the various privileges were a reward for the Christian mercantile community for the activation of maritime trade in Kollam and for ensuring the flow of sizeable share of trade surplus into the coffers of the rulers as Kopathavaram ( share of the king- Sthanu Ravi Varma) and Pathipathavaram ( share of the local ruler- Ayyanadikal) . (( 6. See T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, p.68 ))

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These privileges were inscribed on copper plates, which are often known as Tharisapally copper plate for the simple reason that the church of Tharisa of Quilon was the beneficiary of the grants. The most important among these privileges included the right to keep parakkol , (( 7.Parakkol seems to have derived from Bhara-kol or the balance by which commodities and solid materials were weighed. The literal meaning must have been balance to weigh Bharam-units. Each bharam corresponds to twenty thulams or 200 kilograms. Probably it must have been the crude form of vellikol that existed till recently as a weighing mechanism in Kerala. )) panchakandy (( 8.This also seems to be a device for measuring solid articles of trade like para, which was in use till recently. Probably it must have been used for bulk-measurements of rice and pepper. Commodity measured by one panchakandy must have been equivalent to five kandis, another type of weight prevalent in Kerala till recently. Or it could also refer to a type of weights generally spaced out into five(panchakandy as a device with pancha-khandas or five measuring segments)) and kappan ((9.Kappan seems to have been a device to measure liquid items. It must have been the crude form of thudam device with a handle, with the help of which oil was measured till recently. The word kappan must have been derived from “thappu pathram” )) ( different types of weights and measures) of the city of Kollam under its safe custody , (( 10.T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Seiries,vol.II,p.68 )) which the Christians of Quilon enviously held till 1503, when these were finally taken away from them following the malpractices done with them by some of its trading members. ((11.Walter de Gray Birch(ed.), The Commentaries of the Great Afonso Dalboquerque: Second Viceroy of India, New York, 1875, p.15)) That the church was made the custodian of weights and measures of the city shows that Tharisapally was not mere a center of worship alone, but represented an economic institution or a corporate body of traders that was entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring standardization of the weights and measures of the city and of enhancing the integrity of trade.

Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal made a gift of four Ezhava families, ((12.As mentioned in the first plate of Tharisapally Copper plate. Four families of Ezhavas and eight Ezhakkaiyyar T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, p.67)) four Vellala families, ((13. As mentioned in the second plate of Tharisapally Copper plate. T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, p.68)) one thachan (( 14. As mentioned in the second plate of Tharisapally Copper plate. T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, p.67)) and one Vannan(mannan) ((15.As mentioned in the first plate of Tharisapally Copper plate. T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, p.68)) family to the Tharisapally and handed over to it the right to collect a wide variety of taxes from them, which Ayyanadikal used to levy earlier for himself like thalakkanam, enikkanam ( professional taxes from toddy tapers and tree-climbers), mania meypan kollum ira( housing tax), chantan mattu meni ponnu( tax for using the title chantan ( Channan or Shanar evidently to show his high social status), polipponnum(tax given on special occasions), iravuchorum (balikaram or tax collected to feed the Brahmins, refugees and destitutes) , and Kudanazhiyum( collection of a nazhi –a type of liquid-measurement— of toddy as tax from each pot tapped) (( 16.Ibid., pp.63-7)) .

Moreover the church was also given the right to collect eight kasu from each cart that used to take merchandise by land into the market of Quilon( vayinam) and four kasu from each boat that was used to carry cargo to the port (vediyilum). (( 17.Ibid., pp.68-71)) Though apparently the above details would give the impression that the local ruler was giving up many of his incomes for the sake of the church, in fact it was a small loss for the sake of appropriating larger gains by extending attractive atmosphere for overseas merchants in the port of Quilon. The entire development is to be understood as a move to strengthen and empower the Christian mercantile community and probably many others involved in long distance trade that in turn was expected to facilitate easy flow of wealth to Quilon for the purpose of empowering the hands of the ruler.

As Ayyandikal Thiruvadikal prescribed in the copper plate, the merchant guilds viz., Anjuvannam, Manigramam and Arunnoottuvar were entrusted with the right to protect the church and its property, obviously because of their economic importance. (( 18.Ibid., pp.67; 71)) Anjuvannam and Manigramam were also asked to inquire into contentious matters and find solutions, if somebody was to encroach upon the privileges conferred upon the church. (( 19.Ibid., pp. 68;71)) The fact that Anjuvannam, which is generally considered as a Jewish merchant guild and Manigramam of Kollam which is generally considered as a Christian guild , (( 20. M.G.S.Narayana, Perumals of Kerala,Calicut, 1996, p.155; For a discussion on the different types and cultural composition of Manigramam guild see Rajan Gurukkal, The Kerala Temple and the Early Medieval Agrarian System, Sukapuram, 1992, p.92; Raghava Varier and Rajan Gurukkal, Kerala Charithram, Sukapuram, 1991, pp.135-6 )) had by this time assumed power as karalars of the city (( 21. Ibid., pp. 68;71)) would indicate that the merchant guilds had already wielded considerable amount of authority and power, with the help of which they were able to implement the will of the ruler inscribed in the copper plate and protect the church from all types of probable violations in the future. The context against which the Manigramam merchant guild of Kerala was mentioned in the copper plate (as custodian of a Christian church) suggests that its ethnic composition must have entirely been different from that of Tamilnadu, where its members had been predominantly Hindus. In Kerala this guild seems to have by this time evolved into a powerful commercial institution operating among the Christian merchants for long-distance movement of commodities in the Indian Ocean, particularly between Kerala and the economic zones of Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the Levant. (( 22.Pius Malekandathil, “Christians and the Cultural Shaping of India in the First Millennium”, in Journal of St.Thomas Christians, vol.17, No.1, January-March, 2006, p.10))

The various economic privileges and rights which the ruler of Venadu granted to Mar Sapor Iso indicate the desire of the local rulers to keep themselves linked with the powerful Christian merchant groups by keeping them in good honour and by legitimizing their claims and ventures. The alliance between the local ruler and mercantile community became necessary because of the increasing dependence of the local ruler on the foreign Christian traders for the purpose of mobilizing wealth for strengthening his political institutions. The local rulers knew very well that the commercial ventures and the market systems could then be kept active and operational on the coastal pockets only with the help of overseas merchants, and that too by the Christian merchants, against the background of declining trade in inland Kerala following the intensified feudalization process that started with proliferation of land-grants and consumption–oriented production activities. (( 23.The evolving process of feudalization in the low-lying rice cultivating space is analyzed by Rajan Gurukkal. See Rajan Gurukkal, The Kerala Temple and the Early Medieval Agrarian System , Sukapuram, 1992. )) Consequently the ruler of Ay kingdom and his master Sthanu Ravi Varma began to increasingly bank upon overseas merchants for obtaining wealth in the form of customs duties so as to get their hands strengthened particularly at a time when they were to counter the political and commercial challenges of the Pandyas. (( 24. A typical case of this nature for the later period is mentioned by MGS Narayanan in the instance of privileges given to Joseph Rabban by Bhaskara Ravi Varma 974 AD. See M.G.S.Narayanan, “Further Studies on the Jewish Copper Plates of Cochin”, The Indian Historical Review, vol.XXIX, p.69. ))

By this time, in the midst of Chera – Pandya conflicts in deep south, the Pandyas had managed to capture Vizhinjam along with the ruler and his relatives as well as treasures. When Vizhinjam was lost to the Pandyas, the Cheras turned towards Quilon, which the latter developed as the provincial headquarters of their kingdom. It was against this background of political developments that they encouraged the foreign Christian merchants to settle down in Quilon by conferring concessions and privileges upon them and their worshipping place. The attempts for the intensification of the trade of Quilon were necessitated not only for developing a competitor for the Pandyan-controlled port of Vizhinjam, but also for generating sufficient wealth for the political ventures of the Cheras in the south. (( 25.M.G.S. Narayanan, Cultural Symbiosis in Kerala , Trivandrum, 1972, pp.31-3.))

These developments in the long run empowered the foreign Christian merchants and gave the Christians of Kerala an economic identity of being traders, following which in the evolving process of social spacing they were given the status of Vaisyas. It seems that there was already an attempt to create a trading caste in Kerala out of the foreign mercantile Christians, with the mass migration of Brahmins by eighth century and their consequent appropriation of hegemonic position and this was necessitated not only to fill in the vacuum created by the absence of Vaisyas, but also to weaken the commerce of the Budhists and Jains, who were also their religious rivals. In this process the Christians were kept in the social ladder on a scale equivalent to that of the Vaisyas of the areas north of Vindhya and Satpura. (( 26. Pius Malekandathil, “Christians and the Cultural Shaping of India in the First Millennium”, p.11)) Some crude traces of this phenomenon could be found in the Tharisapally copper plate, where it is mentioned that the koyiladhikarikal Vijayaraghava Devan (( 27. T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, pp.68;71)) (probably a Brahmin minister) also joined hands with Ayyanadikal Thiruvadi( along with Ilamkur Rama Thiruvadi and others) in taking the decision to grant economic privileges to Tharisapally and its members, obviously to strengthen the economic and social standing of the latter. The encouragement given to Christian traders by way of privileges is to be viewed against the larger attempts of the dominant Brahmins to strike at the roots of the Buddhists and the Jains, against whom the Brahmanical religion had already started a crusade from 6th/7th centuries onwards. (( 28.The intensity of this conflict between the evolving Hindu religion and heterodox sects like Buddhism and Jainism , is very ,much evident in the Bhakti literature of this period. See R.Chambakalakshmi, “From Devotion and Dissent to Dominance: The Bhakti of the Tamil Alvars and Nayanars” in R. Chambakalakshmi and S. Gopalan(eds.), Tradition, Dissent and Ideology: Essays in Honour of Romila Thapar, 2001, p.143 )) For them, empowering Christian traders was an alternative device to weaken the trade of the Buddhists and the Jains, as it was the surplus from their trade that helped to uphold the ideology of both the religions in hegemonic position and to raise serious challenges to Brahminism.

Process of Urbanization and the Network of Angadis

The founding of the town ( Nagaram) of Kurakkeni Kollam (Quilon) was attributed to Mar Sapor Iso( Innakaram kandu neeretta Maruvan Sapiriso), as per the information gathered from Tharisapally copper plate. Kurakkeni Kollam, which was known differently as Koulam Male in Jewish Genizza papers (( 29. For details of Koulam Mali mentioned in Genizza papers see S.D.Goitein, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders, Princeton, 1972, pp. 64)) and in Arabic sources (( 30. The earliest Arab source is Suleiman’s account of 841AD entitled Salsalat-al-Taverika. For other Arab sources on Kollam see George Fadlo Hourani, Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times, Princeton, 1951, pp.70-74)) as well as Gu-lin(in the Song period)/Ju-lan (in the Yuan period)in Chinese documents , (( 31. For details on Chinese references to Kollam, see Haraprasad Ray, “Historical Contacts Between Quilon and China”, in Pius Malekandathil and Jamal Mohammed (ed.), The Portuguese, Indian Ocean and European Bridgeheads: Festschrift in Honour of Prof.K.S.Mathew, Tellicherry/ Lisbon, 2001, pp.386-8.)) does not appear in any source prior to 823 AD, which also suggests that the formation of the town must have taken place after the arrival of Sapor Iso only. The Malayalam Calendar, often known as Kollam Era, was started in 825 AD and was attributed to have begun to commemorate the founding of the town of Quilon by Mar Sapor. Probably, the rich astronomical traditions, which Mar Sapor and other Chrisian merchants brought from the erstwhile Sassanid Persia, must have been instrumental in developing this calendar in the inceptional stage. (( 32. Pius Malekandathil, “Christians and the Cultural Shaping of India in the First Millennium”, p.15))

By the time Suleiman visited Quilon in 841, it was already a town, as he writes in his Salsalat-al-Taverika. (( 33. Suleiman’s account titled Salsalat-al-Taverika was written around 841)) Mar Sapor Iso seems to have brought elements of Sassanid urban culture along with him and exteriorized them physically at Quilon. Eventually with the intensification of trade between Abbassid Persia and Tang China, (( 34. George Fadlo Hourani,op.cit.,pp.61-74;Pius Malekandathil, The Portuguese, the Germans and India, p. 4 )) there appeared a port-hierarchy in Kerala with a chain of satellite feeding ports revolving around the principal port of Quilon, which in turn was made to become the main port of call for long-distance traders moving between China and Persia. This process in turn caused immense wealth to get concentrated in the town of Quilon, which by later period the Cholas wanted to appropriate by capturing this port-town. In the midst of intense conflicts between the Cheras and the Cholas, Raja Raja Chola(985-1014) took over Quilon and its satellite port Vizhinjam. However at this juncture, it was a Jewish merchant leader by name Joseph Rabban of Muyirikode (Cranganore), who came to the rescue of the Chera ruler Bhaskara Ravi Varma(962-1020), to whom the former handed over his ships, men and materials for the purpose of conducting war with the Cholas. (( 35. In return he was conferred with seventy-two privileges and prerogatives of aristocracy in about 1000 AD by the Chera ruler. For details see Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, Studies in Kerala History (Kottayam, 1970); M.G.S.Narayanan, Cultural Symbiosis in Kerala ( Trivandrum, 1972),p.82; Pius Malekandathil, “ Winds of Change and Links of Continuities: A Study on the Merchant Groups of Kerala and the Channels of their Trade, 1000-1800”, in Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol.50, No.2, 2007, p.263 )) Despite these political vicissitudes, the trading activities of Quilon, being intensified by different merchant groups with international linkages, accelerated the process of urbanization in this port-town, as was later testified by Benjamin of Tudela (c.1170). (( 36. M.N.Adler, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, London, 1907, pp.63-4)) Foreign Christians from West Asia, Jews (( 37. For details on Jewish traders in Quilon see S.D. Goitein, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders, pp.62-64; S.D.Goitein, “Portrait of a Medieval India Trader: Three Letters from the Cairo Geniza”, in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies,(1987), XLVIII, 457-460)) and the Chinese (( 38. For details on Chinese contacts with Quilon see W.W.Rockhill, “Notes on the Relations and Trade of China with the Eastern Archipelago and the Coast of the Indian Ocean during the Fifteenth Century”, T’oung Pao, vol. XV, Leiden, 1914”, pp. 437-8. 38. Henry Yule and Henry Cordier, Cathay and the Way Thither, vol.III,Nendeln/Liechtenstein, 1967,pp. 63, 133-7, 141, 217)) formed the mercantile elites in the port-town of Quilon, where each segment seems to have had its own separate settlements and quarters.

When the foreign Christians from West Asia were involved in the overseas trade of Quilon, the indigenous Christians engaged in spice-production in the hinterland part of Kerala began to take part also in the regional trade supplying cargo to the Christian overseas merchants on the coast. Along with it, eventually there appeared the culture of clustered living (( 39. C.Achyuta Menon, The Cochin State Manual, Ernakulam, 1911.)) and trading activities around their settlements, symbolized by angadis. Most of these angadis were located around the churches of Christians and formed the nuclei out of which vibrant urban centers developed in later period in central Kerala. The angadis developed as trading establishments with accommodation facilities for the Christian merchants, who conducted trade in the front part of the edifice facing towards the street, while the hinter part of it was used for their lodging as in any normal house. The spice-producers of St.Thomas Christians used to sell their cargo in these angadis located near their churches and commodity movement from hinterland to the port of Quilon meant networking of different angadis through the transportations means of bullock-carts on land routes and boats through riverine channels. The economic identity of the Christians as traders was preserved and maintained in the inland Christian settlements with the help of angadis , (( 40. For a detailed discussion on these angadis as markets see Pius Malekandathil, Portuguese Cochin and the Maritime Trade of India, pp.50-80; For details on the churches having angadis see Pius Malekandathil(ed.), Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Kochi, 2003(henceforth mentioned as Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes), pp.126-462 )) by which the enterprising local merchants linked the inland production centers with the mercantile networks of Manigramam and the wider channels of overseas commerce. Consequently Christian traders linked with Manigramam merchant guild spread to different parts of Kerala in the process of linking angadi trade of the region with the overseas commerce emanating from Quilon. Some of these traders were patronized by the inland local rulers, as is evidenced by the Thazhekkadu inscription(1024 AD) obtained from the premises of Thazhekadu church(near Irinjalakuda), which speaks of king Rajasimhann conferring privileges on the Christian traders like Chathan Vadukan and Iravi Chathan, who were members of the Manigramam merchant guild. (( 41. A.Sreedhara Menon, Kerala Charitram (Malayalam), Kottayam, 1973,p.135. The grant made to these two Christian merchants was recorded in the form of a vattezhuthu inscription on a granite slab, 74 inches by 51 inches, lying at the foot of the open air cross in front of the Catholic church at Thazhekkadu near Irinjalakuda. ))

By the end of fifteenth century the angadis of central Kerala were linked with the leading maritime centres of exchange like Cranganore, Cochin, Quilon and Kayamkulam, where the commercially-oriented Christians began to concentrate in large numbers for trading purposes. In Cochin they were said to have been organized under a merchant guild called Korran(may be Kuŗŗan in Tamil), from which Francisco de Albuquerque bought 4,000 bahars of well-dried pepper in 1503. (( 42. Reisebericht des Franciscus Dalbuquerque vom 27.December 1503, in B.Greiff, Tagebuch des Lucas Rem aus den Jahren 1494-1541:Ein Beitrag zur Handelsgeschichte der Stadt Augsburg, Augsburg, 1861,p.146. Genevieve Bouchon and Jean Aubin identify Korran with a native Christian guild. See Jean Aubin, “L’apprentissage de l’Inde .Cochin 1503-1504”, in Moyen Orient et Ocean Indien, 1988; Genevieve Bouchon, “Calicut at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century”, in The Asian Seas 1500-1800:Local Societies, European Expansions and the Portuguese, Revista da Cultura,vol.I, 1991,p.44)) The economic importance of the merchant group of Thomas Christians for Quilon is also evident from the fact that the leading members of this community were chosen as the commercial emissaries in 1502 by the queen of Quilon for the purpose of inviting Vasco da Gama from Cochin for conducting trade with her port (( 43. Nationalbibliothek inWien, Nr.6948; Christine von Rohr, Neue Quellen zur zweiten Indienfahrt Vasco da Gamas, Leipzig,1939,p.51)) The prominent Christian merchant in Quilon was Mathias, (( 44.Raymundo Antonio Bulhão Pato, (ed.), Cartas de Affonso de Albuquerque seguidas de documentos que as elucidam,tom.II, Lisboa, 1884, pp. 30; 258-259; 268)) and in Kayamkulam was Tarqe Tome (Tarakan Thomas), (( 45.Ibid.,tom.VI, 114;398-399)) from whom the Portuguese used to purchase pepper regularly since in 1503..

Christians as Spice Producers and Fighting Force in Central Kerala

When commercially-oriented Christians and descendants from foreign Christian merchants began to concentrate on the major junctional routes of trade and maritime centres of exchange, the traditional Christians who were often known as St.Thomas Christians and who used to trace back their origins to the apostolic work of St.Thomas, (( 46. For details on the origin of Indian Christians see Mathias.Mundadan, Sixteenth Century Traditions of St.Thomas Christians, Bangalore, 1970, pp.38-67 Joseph C. Panjikaran, “Christianity in Malabar with Special Reference to the St.Thomas Christians of the Syro- Malabar Rite”, in Orientalia, vol.VI, 1926, pp.103-5; Jonas Thaliath, The Synod of Diamper, Rome, 1958; Fr.Bernard, The History of the St.Thomas Christians, Pala, 1916; Placid J.Podippara, The Thomas Christians, Bombay, 1970)) still continued to be predominantly agriculturists and focused on spice production availing cargo for the commerce of the former. With the increasing demand from the revival of spice trade from 9th century onwards, we find Christians specialized in spice-production moving to the hinterland part of Kerala in their attempts to extend spice-cultivation. The increasing inland-movement of the St. Thomas Christians is evident from the establishment of churches in places like Kayamkulam(824), Athirampuzha (853), Kottayam(9th cent.), Nagapuzha (900), Manjapra (943), Mavelikara(943), Pazhuvil(960), Arakuzha(999), Nediasala (999), Kottekad(1000), Kadamattom (10thcent.), Kanjur(1001), Kaduthuruthy Cheriapally (10thcent.) Kunnamkulam(10th cent.),Pala(1002), Muttam (1023), Cherpunkal (1096), Vadakara(11th cent.), Bharananganam(1100), Changanacherry(1117), Thripunithara (1175), Cheppadu (12th cent.), Chengannoor(12th cent.),Kudamaloor(12th cent.), Ernakulam(12th cent.), Kothanalloor(1220), Mulanthuruthy(1225),Kothamangalam Valiapally (1240), Karthikapally (13th cent.), , Kuruppumpady(13th cent.), Alengad (1300), Muthalakodam (1312), Njarackal(1341), Koratty(1381), Poonjar(14th cent.), Alleppey (1400), Kanjirappilly (1450), Kothamangalam Cheriapally(1455), Kudavechur (1463) etc . (( 47. The dating of these Christian settlements and the founding of their churches is done on the basis of information from W. Hermann, Die Kirche der Thomaschristen: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Orientalischen Kirchen, Hütersloh, 1877,pp.673-769; Fr.Bernard, The History of the St.Thomas Christians, pp.296-327. The year of founding of these churches is taken from the respective diocesan directories, which is further cross-checked with the help of field-study, in which the statues, the church-bells, stone inscriptions, church-songs (pallipattu)etc. are used to verify their chronology. See also P.J.Thomas, Malayala Sahithyavum Kristhianikalum, Kottayam, 1961, pp.63-4; Pius Malekandathil, “St.Thomas Christians and the Indian Ocean”, pp.186,194-95, 198-99.)) All theses churches were established during the period between the ninth and the fifteenth centuries along the fertile riverbeds of central Kerala as a development that took place following the expansion of spice-cultivation.

The active involvement of St.Thomas Christians in the spice-production was testified by Bishop John Marignoli(c.1346), who visited Malabar on his way back from Cambulac (Peking in China) and referred to the Christians of Quilon as “rich people” and as “owners of pepper plantations”. (( 48.Henri Yule (ed.), Cathay and the Way Thither, vol.III,Nendeln/Liechtenstein, 1967, pp.216-218, 248-257.)) The increasing role of St.Thomas Christians in the production of spices is also attested to by the Portuguese documents which say that ‘all the pepper was in the hands of the St.Thomas Christians and that majority of the pepper that went to Portugal was sold by them’. (( 49. Antonio da Silva Rego (ed.), Documentação para a Historia das Missões, vol.II, pp.175-6. For example, see ANTT, Cartas dos Vice-Reis da India, doc.95. See also E.R.Hambye, “Medieval Christianity in India: The Eastern Church”, in Christianity in India, E.R.Hambye and H.C.Perumalil, Alleppey, 1972, p.34; Samuel Matteer, The Land of Charity: A Descriptive Account of Travancore and its People, New Delhi, 1991, pp.237-8)) Their continued involvement in the expansion of spice cultivation by resorting to clearance of forest is referred to by Jornada, which says that there were several Christian settlements then in the forests. (( 50. Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada do Arcebispo, Coimbra, 1606. See particularly pages 132-133; 192-269 ))

Meanwhile a considerable number of St.Thomas Christians began to be recruited as fighting force for the local rulers, particularly with the disintegration of the Cheras and the consequent fragmentation of central authority in the 12th century. Most of the Christian settlements had their own kalaris( schools for training in martial arts and fencing ) run mostly by Christian panikkars and in places where there was no Christian kalari they had to join the kalaris run by Nairs. (( 51. Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.116-118; 252-3)) Jornada says that some Christian Panikars had eight to nine thousand disciples, both Christians and Nairs, getting trained as fighting force for the local rulers. (( 52. Ibid., p.117)) One of the most famous Christian Panikkars of this period was Vallikkada Panikkar who had his kalari at Peringuzha on the banks of river Muvattupuzha, one of whose descendant was Mar Ivanios, who later got reunited with Catholic Church in 1930, laying foundation for the Syro-Malankara church in India. (( 53.O.M.Varghese Olickal, Vazhakulam:Oru Charithra Veekshanam, Muvattupuzha, 1985, pp.15-16))

The rulers of Vadakkenkur and Cochin banked very much upon the Christian fighting force for their wars of defence and expansion. In 1546 the king of Vadakkenkur offered the Portuguese about 2000 soldiers for the purpose of helping them to lift the Ottoman siege on Diu. (( 54. Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Cartas de Dio a D.João de Castro , fol. 93, Letter of Damião Vaz to Dom Alvares de Castro, dated 6-8-1547; Georg Schurhammer, Die Zeitgenössischen Quellen zur Geschichte Portugiesisch-Asiens und seiner Nachbarländer zur Zeit des hl. Franz Xavier(1538-1552), Rom, 1962, No.3224, p.212.)) Later in 1600 the king of Cochin also offered St.Thomas Christian soldiers to the Portuguese for the project of conquering Ceylon, though the project was not materialized for other reasons. ((55.See Historical Archives of Goa, Livro das Monções, No.8 (1601-2), fol.106. For details on the military expertise of these Christians see Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.252-3)) The military tradition of the St.Thomas Christians was preserved by this community as something integral to it and they even resorted to the usual practice of the fighting force to form chaverpada (suicidal squad) to protect their bishop Mar Joseph from being arrested by the Portuguese by the end of 1550s. About 2000 Christian soldiers organized themselves into an amoucos or suicidal squad to prevent the Portuguese from arresting their bishop. (( 56.Josef Wick(ed.), Documenta Indica, vol.III, Rome, 1960, p.801))

The St.Thomas Christians used to go to their churches along with their swords, shields and lances in their hands, as Antonio de Gouvea mentions in Jornada. ((57.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp. 116-8; 129-35; 165-8 )) Eventually weapon houses(Ayudhapurakal)were constructed in front of the churches for the purpose of keeping of swords, guns and lances during the time of church service, whose remnants are now visible in front of the churches of Ramapuram, Pala and Cherpunkal. (( 58. Pius Malekandathil, “Kothamangalam Roopathayude Charitra Paschatalavum Kraisthava Koottayamakalude Verukalum”, in Anpinte Anpathandu(Kothamangalam Roopathayude Charitram, 1957-2007), edited by Pius Malekandathil, Kothamangalam, 2008, p.38)) However, later when all the smaller principalities of central Kerala were amalgamated into Travancorean state during the period between 1742 and 1752 and with the creation of a standing army under Marthanda Varma, the importance of Christians as a fighting force for the regional political players declined considerably.

Social Spacing

Out of these nuanced developments in the economy and polity, there emerged certain dynamic forces for re-arranging the format of the society of Kerala which also defined the social functions of Christians. It was a time when Brahminical ideology and temple-centered economic activities were re-shaping the social life of the Keralites by constructing and re-constructing new castes out of various professional and artisan groups, particularly during the period from 9th to 13th centuries. All the intermediaries standing between the land-owner (brahmin) and the tiller (sudra or pulaya ) were put into one or another caste in a way that would facilitate and ensure Brahminical hegemony. (( 59. This coincided with the attempts of the Brahmins to create as much distance as possible between the actual tiller (pulaya) and the owner (brahmin)by constructing different types of intermediaries in the social ladder. In the process of gradation, the naduvazhi chief was kept at the top, followed by uralar(land owners and temple trustees), karalar (tenants and intermediary landholders), kudiyar(settled tenant cultivator) as well as adiyar ( bonded service classes ) on the lowest strata. For details see M.G.S.Narayanan and Kesavan Veluthat, “The Traditional Land system in Kerala: The Problem of Change and Perspective”, in Logan Centenary seminar on Land Reforms in Kerala, Kozhikode, 1981; M.G.S.Narayanan, Social and Economic Conditions during the Kulasekhara Empire(800 AD. to 1124 AD), Unpublished Ph.D.thesis, University of Kerala, 1972)) In this process of social spacing the commercially-oriented Christians were made to evolve as a trading caste, almost like the Vaisyas. Consequently the Christians were given a social function in the evolving world and in many places they were used for touching and purifying the oil and utensils to be used in the temples and palaces, but being ‘polluted’ by the touch of the artisans. (( 60. The common saying was “Paulose thottal athu sudhamayidum” . It will get purified if it is touched by a Christian(Paulose). See P.G.Rajendran, Kshetra Vijnanakosam, Kottayam, 2000)) Concomitantly certain Christian families were specially invited offering them land and were made to settle down near the temples and palaces for the purpose of touching and purifying the oil (enna thottu kodukkan) and for purifying the vessels being ‘polluted’ by the touch or use of lower caste people. (( 61. BNL, Reservados Cod.No.536. Noticias do reino do Malabar anteriores a chegada dos Portugueses e ate ao sec.XVIII. Geografia, Clima, Etnais, Linguas, Costumes, Politica, Religões , confronte entre Carmelitas, e Jesuitas e a Cristandade de São Tome, fol.6)) In the new developments following the establishment of brahminical hegemony and dissemination of notions of ‘pollution’ that would help the Brahmins to maintain their dominant position with Nairs subordinate to them, Christians were made to become an inevitable social ingredient in central Kerala who were in turn made to evolve as a bridging social group between the polluting artisan groups and the dominant castes.

The other side of the picture was that the Christians started borrowing several social customs and practices ( like the ceremonies related to birth, marriage and death) ((62.For a details of these borrowed customs that existed till the Diamper synod of 1599 see Scaria Szacharia , The Acts and decrees of the Synod of Diamper, Edamattom, 1994. )) of the dominant castes to present themselves as fitting well into the newly evolving socio-cultural order. The spice-producing St.Thomas Christians as well as the descendants of the foreign Christian merchants together seem to have imbibed a lot of elements from the neighbouring cultural space in this social process. One of the most important social practices that the indigenous Christians imbibed was the practice of untouchability. The Christians believed that by touching low castes they would remain polluted, which would deter them from interacting with the Nairs and Brahmins. (( 63.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada, p.258)) As this would ultimately affect their trading activities, the Christians were keen to observe untouchability rather meticulously in their dealings with artisan groups and lower castes. They also used to wear sacred thread(puunuul), (( 64.Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas, p.177)) kudumi(tuft), but the only difference from that of the Brahmins was that the Christians used to insert a silver cross into their tuft(kudumi) (( 65.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, p.251)). The practice of St.Thomas Christians wearing sacred thread was later quoted by Robert de Nobili for justifying his wearing of sacred thread as a part of his missionary method of inculturation experimented in Madurai in the seventeenth century (( 66.Ines G.Zupanov, Disputed Mission, New Delhi, 2001, pp.58;93-8; D. Ferroli, The Jesuits in Malabar, Bangalore, 1939, vol.I, pp.300-60)). The Christians also keenly observed birth-related pollution as well as pula ( perception of the family as being under pollution after the death of a member) and resorted to pulakuli( the feast usually held on 10th day after funeral) and sradham ( feast held one year after the funeral, when the souls were believed to come back). (( 67.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes,pp. 251,257; Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas, Cambridge, 1982,pp. 205-6 ))

Though some scholars like Placid Podippara argue that these customs entered the social life of St.Thomas Christians because of their Brahminical origins and that a considerable number of them were descendants of Brahmins converted by St.Thomas in the first century AD (( 68.Placid Podipara, The Thomas Christians, Bombay, 1970)), it seems that the Christians of Kerala imbibed these social and cultural practices only during the period between 9th and 13th centuries, when caste practices and norms were being increasingly fabricated and disseminated under the hegemonic supervision of the Brahmins, who assigned different caste identities to the already existing artisans, social groups and communities. The wide variety of social customs and practices that the St.Thomas Christians imbibed from their cultural neighbourhood along with the ritual practices that they borrowed from West Asia eventually came to be collectively called Thomayude Margam or the Law of Thomas, which they did not want to get changed at any cost (( 69.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.57; 124; 212 -14 )). The bitter and long-standing conflicts between the St.Thomas Christians and the Portuguese in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was actually on the question of changing these cultural practices from the former (( 70.Ibid., pp.212-4)). They used to follow the East Syrian Liturgy, which had originally taken shape in Seleucia-Ctesiphon and its ritual content varied immensely from the Latin liturgy introduced in India by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century (( 71.Eugene Tisserant, Eastern Christianity in India, E.R.Hambye, Calcutta, 1957; Placid Podipara, The Thomas Christians, Bombay, 1970)).

Church Architecture and Population

The earliest historical record that speaks of the existence of an architectural structure of church among the Christians of Kerala was the Tharisappally copper plate given to Mar Prodh and Mar Saphor in 849 AD by Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal (( 72.For details see T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, Madras, 1916,pp.66-75.)), which refers to the church of Tharisapally being constructed in Quilon by Mar Saphor(Maruvan Saporiso), during the time between 823 and 849 (( 73.Ibid)). Since the church of Tharisapally was constructed by Mar Saphor hailing from Persia, there is the high possibility that it must have been erected on the architectural theology of Persian Church. However Jornada says that by end of the sixteenth century almost all the churches of the St.Thomas Christians were constructed on the models of temples ((74.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.29; 244)). It is evidently known that the tradition of temple architecture got disseminated in Kerala during the period between 8th and 13th centuries AD. It is highly probable that since the same carpenters and masons who used to build temples were hired for constructing churches in Christian settlements, the Christian churches also seem to have got modeled on temple architectural format, as Jornada testifies. However, the identifying mark for the Christian churches was the huge granite cross being erected in front of them (( 75.Ibid., pp.244-5)). Meanwhile intense theological meanings were also inscribed into the church-space, by structuring it in three levels and keeping the congregation on the lower space for participating in a liturgical celebration that runs progressively from intermediate space(bema) to apex space(madbeha), which was equated with the heavenly Jerusalem. The way the interior of the church-space was structured and the spatial articulation of East Syrian architectural theology into it made the Christian prayer house look different ((76.Pius Malekandathil, “Common Heritage of the St.Thomas Christians”, in Journal of St.Thomas Christians, vol.19, No.3, July- September, 2008, pp.11-2)).

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All the churches of indigenous Christians, though they externally looked like temples, had a huge granite cross in front of them. The Cross of Quilon which Giovanni di Empoli saw in 1503 ((77.Giovanni di Empoli, “Viaggio fatto nell’India per Gionni da Empoli fattore su la nave del serenissimo re di Portugallo per conto de marchioni di Lisbona”, in G.B.Ramusio(ed.), Delle Navigationi et Viaggi nel qual si contiente la descrittione dell’Africa, et del Paese del Prete Joanni, con varii Viaggi, dal Mar Rosso a Calicut, et in fin all’isole Molucche, dove nascono le Spetieri, et la Navigatione attorno il Mondo, Venice, 1550,fol.57)) and the granite cross erected by Mar Thana (Jacob Abuna) and Mar Avu(Denha) in 1528 at Muttuchira (( 78.Kerala Society Papers , vol.I, Trivandrum,, 1928, pp.253ff)) are only a few of this category, to which the crosses of Angamali and Arakuzha could also be added. These crosses used to have decorative basement with space for pouring oil and lighting lamp exactly in the same way as temple lamps were lighted during those days. Devotees used to light the oil lamps of the crosses (vilakkumadams) during the night (( 79.Antonio Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, p.194)), either to get their wishes fulfilled or to express their gratitude for the favours already received. These vilakkumadams also evolved as fire-preserving mechanisms particularly in the rural belts, from where the low caste people with less resource-potential to make fire or preserve fire daily could take fire for meeting their needs. Till recently the St.Thomas Christians, particularly in connection with annual church feasts, used to crawl on knees around this granite cross from the main entrance of the church either as a penitential service or as a part of the vow they had taken for the materialization of certain wishes. (( 80.Pius Malekandathil, “Common Heritage of the St.Thomas Christians”, p.9))

The Portuguese had noticed that at least about 78 churches were already in existence in different parts of Kerala prior to their arrival ((81.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.120-497)). However the distribution of this Christian community was not even: Quilon, Angamaly, Kaduthuruthy and Cranganore had the largest number of St.Thomas Christian population. Giovanni Empoli, who came to Quilon in 1503 estimates that there were more than 3000 St.Thomas Christians in Quilon alone, where they were called Nazareni ((82.Giovanni di Empoli, “Viaggio fatto nell’India per Gionni da Empoli fattore su la nave del serenissimo re di Portugallo per conto de marchioni di Lisbona”, in G.B.Ramusio(ed.), Delle Navigationi et Viaggi nel qual si contiente la descrittione dell’Africa, et del Paese del Prete Joanni, con varii Viaggi, dal Mar Rosso a Calicut, et in fin all’isole Molucche, dove nascono le Spetieri, et la Navigatione attorno il Mondo, Venice, 1550,fol.57; Pius Malekandathil, “The Portuguese and the St.Thomas Christians :1500-1570” , in The Portuguese and the socio Cultural Changes in India, 1500-1800, K.S.Mathew, Teotonio R de Souza and Pius Malekandathil, Fundação Oriente, Lisboa, 2001,p.128)). Same is the number of Christians(3000) in Quilon according to the estimate given by the German artillerist, who accompanied Vasco da Gama in 1502/3 ((83.See the report of the German artillerists given in Gernot Giertz, Vasco da Gama, die Entdeckung des Seewegs nach Indien :ein Augenzeugenbericht 1497-1499, Tübingen, 1980, p.188. For the detailed report of the same see Horst G.W.Nüsser, Frühe Deutsche Entdecker: Asien in Berichten unbekannter deutscher Augenzeugen(1502-6), München, 1980, 126-40)). Tome Pires who wrote Suma Oriental estimates that the total number of St.Thomas Christians of Kerala varied between 60,000 and 75,000 ((84.Tome Pires, A Suma Oriental de Tome Pires e o Livro de Francisco Rodrigues, Armando Cortesão, Coimbra, 1978, p.180. In this connection the recent research works of the Portuguese scholars like João Teles e Cunha, João Paulo Oliveira e Costa and Luis Filipe F.R. Thomaz deserve special mention because of the objective painstaking research.. See João Teles e Cunha “De Diamper a Mattancherry: Caminhos e Encruzilhadas da Igreja Malabar e Catolica na India: Os Primeiros Tempos(1599-1624)”in Anais de Historia de Alem-Mar, vol.V, 2004,pp.283-368; João Paulo Oliveira e Costa, “Os Portugueses e a Cristandade Siro-Malabar(1498-1530),in Studia, 52, Lisboa, 1994; Luis Filipe F.R.Thomaz, “ Were Saint Thomas Christians Looked upon as Heretics?”, in The Portuguese and the Socio-Cultural Changes in India, 1500-1800, K.S.Mathew, Teotonio Souza and Pius Malekandathil, Fundação Oriente, Lisboa, 2001,pp.27-92)). In 1564 ((85.Josef Wicki(ed.), Documenta Indica, vol.VI, Roma, 1948, p.180)) and in 1568 ((86. Ibid., vol.VII, p.475)) the total number of the St.Thomas Christians was estimated to be 1,00,000.

Eco-Systems and Patron Saints

The Christian responses to the cultural challenges around them initiated a particular process in the distribution pattern of patron saints in the Christian settlements. The St.Thomas Christians used to venerate chiefly four saints viz., St.Mary, St.George, St. Prodh and Saphor and St.Thomas, till the Portuguese intervention by the end of the sixteenth century and their churches were erected in the name of one of these saints. In the first place was blessed virgin Mary, who was the patron saint for the churches located particularly in the low-lying paddy cultivation zones like Kuravilangadu ((87.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes., p.50, note 65; p.436, note 89)), Arakuzha ((88.Ibid., p. 432, note 83)), Nediasala, Nakapuzha, Manarcadu, Enammavu etc ((89.Paulinus of St.Bartholomew, India Orientalis Christiana, Roma, 1794, p.267; Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp. .50, note 65; 432, note 83; 436, note 89;443, note 104)). These churches had St.Mary as their patron saint, who was considered as the best spiritual refuge and asylum during the times of natural calamities and adverse weather that affected the course of agricultural operations. This spiritual symbol helped to wean the Christian settlers away from the different types of fertility cults and mother-goddess-worship practices prevalent among the indigenous people of the low lying paddy cultivating zones and to get them integrated with the Christian perception of fertility ((90.Pius Malekandathil, “Christians and the Cultural Shaping of India in the First Millennium”,pp.14-5)).

A relatively significant number of Christian settlements like those of Diamper ((91.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, p. 302-3, note 1)), Kothanalloor, Parur ((92.Ibid., p.449, note 108)) etc., located either at the junctional points of trade routes or in areas having considerable number of trading members, had Mar Prodh and Mar Sapor as their patron saints, who were the prominent personalities linked with Tharisapally and Manigramam merchant guild associated with the trade of Quilon. This practice of assuming patron saints from trade-related background in places having commercial importance is suggestive of the fact that it operated as a mechanism that linked spiritual life with the economic order ((93.Pius Malekandathil, “Christians and the Cultural Shaping of India in the First Millennium”,p.14)). Later Dom Alexis de Menezes tried to change the patron saints of these churches and rename them as All Saints’ churches; however believers resented the move refusing to accept the change of their patron saints ((94.Antonio Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, p.302.Later these churches were given the names of St.Protasius and St.Gervasius, whose names sound phonetically similar to those of Mar Prodh and Sapor.)).

The Capadocean saint St.George, who was associated with the killing of a dragon, was the next important saint venerated in the Christian settlements that appeared either in the newly cleared forest areas or on the way to the newly created spice producing pockets infested with snakes like the settlements of Edappally ((95.Antonio Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, p.425, note 75)), Aruvithara ((96.Ibid., p.441)), Muthalakodam ((97.Ibid., p.433, note 86)) etc. Christians, who moved to inland regions for clearing forest areas and for expansion of spice-cultivation began to take St. George as their patron in their combat against the snakes in the newly cleared forest areas. In the process of fight against the physical threats from the snakes, the spiritual symbol of St.George helped to wean the Christians from the practice of worshipping serpents(as their culturally different neighbors continued to do) to the practice of venerating the killer of snakes(the very saint himself). Eventually it turned out to be a cultural symbol that bolstered the ability of man to confront and kill the snakes, if possible, rather than to fall at their mercy by feeding them, a mentally and emotionally empowering process required at a time when cultivation activities were extended to larger areas prone to snake-attacks. ((98.Pius Malekandathil, “Christians and the Cultural Shaping of India in the First Millennium”,p.14))

The fourth category of saint was St.Thomas, whose name was often given to the churches that were linked by oral tradition with the apostolic preaching of St.Thomas in Kerala like Malayattoor, Mylakombu, etc ((99.Paulinus of St.Bartholomew, India Orientalis Christiana, p.267)). Mud from these churches or from the church of St.Thomas of Mylapore, where the mortal remains of St.Thomas were believed to have been kept, was sprinkled on the mother and the child as a part of the initiating ritual for admitting a mother and child after delivery ((100.Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, p.244 )).

Thus the different types of Christian settlements of the period up to 1500 developed equally different concepts of patron saints corresponding to the eco-systems in which they were located. Though apparently there was a uniform cultural homogeneity evolving among the Christians, the rhythm of celebrations and cultural pattern as well as spiritual details evolving around the concepts of each patron saint and the respective eco-system, made each Christian settlement develop separate from the other, which converted them into cultural micro-regions.

Food Culture and Dress Culture

The synthesis between indigenous Christians and the immigrant Christians on the one hand and between non-Christians and Christians on the other hand led to a fusion of foreign and Indian food habits and dress habits. The wide variety of food items of the
Nazarani Christians like neyyappam, kallappam, avalose podi, avalose unda, achappam, ottada, uzhunnappam etc., form important constituent elements of India’s food culture and they seem to have evolved with the movement of Christians into low-lying rice producing zones ((101.Pius Malekandathil, “Christians and the Cultural Shaping of India in the First Millennium”,p.13 )) , where rice and black-gram were used to make edibles similar to the ones they had in their homelands in West Asia. The use of rice flour, coconut milk or powder and adding of toddy for fermentation for preparing toffees gave a different taste to the confectionary tradition they developed in Kerala.

Several dress habits like the use of chatta with long sleeves, mundu with jnori, neriyathu(veil) extending from head up to the feet of the ladies are apparently West Asian in origin. While the womenfolk of this community were made to confine themselves to the conservative West Asian dress culture of chatta, mundu and veil, the men followed a liberal dressing pattern, which evolved as a result of their adaptation to local habits. Women used to cover their entire body with a long veil, which stretched from head to feet. Unlike women, men used to wear mundu around their loin ((102. For details on the dress culture of the Christians till the Diamper Synod, see Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp. 249-259)). The St.Thomas Christians used to grow their hair and beard till the third quarter of the eighteenth century. The hair was tied together with a string or hair locks as to form a kudumi, into which they used to insert a small cross of gold or silver as a visible sign to distinguish themselves from the Nairs, who also had the same type of dress as that of the St.Thomas Christians ((103.Ibid., p.251)).

Format of Administration

The bishops coming from West Asia formed the spiritual heads of the Church, while actual head of the community was jathikkukarthaviyan or Archdeacon ((104.Jacob Kollaparambil, The Archdeacon of All India, Kottayam, 1972)). Archdeacon wielded a great amount of power because of being the administrative head of this Christian community, engaged in trade, agriculture and military activities. The native rulers of Kerala never wanted to antagonize the Archdeacon fearing alienation of the resourceful Christian community from them and when there were occasions of contestations of power like the one between the Archdeacon and Archbishop Alexis de Menezes, all the local rulers stood behind the Archdeacon, despite the invitation of immense amount of wrath from the Archbishop ((105.Antonio Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.162; 164-5;176;190;200-4;220-1)). The priests and the members of the community owed their loyalty principally to the Archdeacon, who was the administrative head and key decision-taking figure in the community, rather than to the foreign bishop from Babylon, who was often not fluent enough in local language. However, the Archdeacon’s decisions were conditioned mostly by the pulse and views of the representative bodies of the community including palli yogams, whose membership then was restricted only to aristocratic families and landed gentry. There was little scope for a matter, which was vetoed by yogam, to get implemented at any level of church activities. However this arrangement infused into the church administrative system elements of democratic practice, making decisions to emerge from the grass-root levels. The local church as a body enjoyed the prerogative as to judge such key matters including the admission of people to priesthood, administration of sacraments etc. The relative uncertainty about the availability of bishops at different time periods for catering to the spiritual needs of the Christians and their equally temporary stay in Kerala with little knowledge in the language of the land, made the Archdeacon to emerge as the key figure in the general administrative system of the St.Thomas Christians and the yogams as powerful mechanisms at the grass root level. As the feudal European notion of episcopacy as a benefice for a noble obtained from the ruler was absent in Kerala, temporality was detached from Episcopal post, which, as per, Oriental tradition was meant to be an exclusively spiritual one. Thus the type of church administration that evolved among this community turned out to be immensely different from the ecclesiological perceptions of Europe ((106.Pius Malekandathil, “Common Heritage of the St.Thomas Christians”, pp.13-14)).

The foregoing discussions show that the period between ninth and sixteenth centuries witnessed the increasing merging of the Christians into the socio-cultural processes of the region, causing them to develop the identity of a trading caste for themselves, although a considerable number of them were engaged also in spice production and military jobs.The maritime trade that brought many Persian Christians to the shores of Kerala also emitted the required amount of energy and forces for the inland movement of the traditional St.Thomas Christians for the purpose of expanding spice-cultivation by way of commodity-demands. The Chera rulers and their feudatories promoted maritime trade by conferring privileges on the foreign merchants, both Christians and Jews, in their attempts to generate wealth for the purpose of strengthening their hands and for countering the southern attacks initially from the Pandyas and later from the Cholas. The foreign Christian merchants on their turn developed a network of trade linking the spice- production centres of the hinterland with the principal sea-port, in which process the inland settlements of the spice-producing St.Thomas Christians were made to develop a quasi-market mechanism in the form of angadis around their churches. Through these circuits there was a constant process of mixing of foreign Christians and the spice-producing St.Thomas Christians, which besides ethnic mingling led to the indigenization of church architecture and regional adaptation of food and dress cultures.

The other part of the story was that the Brahmins, who constructed caste-categories out of the existing professional groups and social classes during the period between 9th and 13th centuries in their attempt to establish hegemonic position for themselves in the society, wanted to promote Christians as a trading caste and this was a part of their strategy to weaken the commerce of their religious rivals, the Jains and the Budhists. By creating a tradition in which Christians were attributed to have the “ability” to touch and purify the polluted oil and utensils of temples and palaces of central Kerala, they were made to become the part of the caste-based social process in which they were to play the role of a social group bridging the gulf between the artisan castes and the dominant castes. The Christians on their turn kept themselves acceptable before the Brahmins and the Nairs by meticulously maintaining caste regulations of untouchability and by adhering to all cultural practices of dominant castes like wearing of sacred thread(thread(puunuul), tuft(kudumi), observance of pollution by birth and death. However, they lived their religion with a world-view shaped by the geo-physical space in which they were distributed in different parts of Kerala and correspondingly they developed a certain type of religious geography in which different categories of patron saints were conceived and developed for the diverse eco-systems of their habitat. In this early process of adapting Christianity to Indian situation, even the core of administration moved away from a foreign bishop to a local community leader, whose power and strength was augmented by the reinforcements provided by the representative bodies of the wealthy elites at different levels. Thus, though the Christians formed only a feeble strand within the cultural fabric India during the period up to 1500, they operated as a leavening substratum in pockets of their interaction through the economic forces that they disseminated and through the identity that they stamped, besides the ideology they upheld.

About the Author

Dr.Pius Malekandathil, Associate Professor at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi hails from Muvattupuzha parish of Kothamangalam eparchy, Syro Malabar Church, Kerala. He has earlier worked as Lecturer in History, St. Thomas College, Pala, Reader in History at Goa University and Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady. He has authored Ten books and more than hundred articles in various international journals, seminars and publications. His areas of specialization include Indo-Portuguese History, Transmarine Trade, Maritime History of India, European Expansion and Urbanization in Asia, Socio-Economic History of Medieval India, Culture and State of South India, Studies in Indian Ocean Societies and Religion and Society in South Asia.

Some of Dr Pius Malekandathil’s publications are: The Germans, the Portuguese and India (1999); Portuguese Cochin and the Maritime Trade of India: 1500-1663 (2001); Jornada of D. Alexis Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar (2003); The Portuguese, The Portuguese and the Socio-Cultural Changes in India: 1500-1800 jointly edited with K.S. Mathew and Teotonio R. de Souza (2001); The Kerala Economy and European Trade jointly edited with K.S. Mathew (2003); Goa in the Twentieth Century: History and Culture jointly edited with Remy Dias (2008).

About the Book

Maritime India: Trade, Religion and Polity in the Indian Ocean by Dr.Pius Malekandathil is published by Primus Books, New Delhi, 2010. The book is priced at Rs.675/-.This volume discusses the various socio-economic and political processes that evolved over centuries in the vast coastal fringes of India and out of the circuits of the Indian Ocean, ultimately giving the littoral zones the distinctive consciousness and identity of Maritime India. The book is reviewed in the national edition of Hindu in May 2010, Journal of Labour History( Germany-July 2010, reviewed by Prof. Dietmar Rothermund, Heidelberg University), Herald ( Prof. Teotonio R. de Souza, Lisbon) and Itinerario ( Leiden University, the Netherlands).

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  1. Prof. Elias Pothan Anjilimoottil says

    Dear All,

    This website is quite informative for those who people who wish to study about the history of Nazrani community. The articles in this site deal respective subjects in depth. But I found a missing part. The Karzoni language (Malayalam written in Syriac script) is a major symbol of historical Syrian presence in Kerala. I could not find much about it here. I am planning to write a Wikipedia article on Karzoni. Can anybody share useful information? Any copyright-free images or Sample texts?


    1. Kunjethy says

      Watch some NAZRANEY TALKS of Prof. George Menachery (You Tube) on

  2. John Mathew says

    As far as I’ve seen, Garshuni MSS in India (i.e., Syriac letters being used to write Malayalam, mainly for the benefit of West Asian clerics who had to communicate, deliver sermons, etc., with Indian laity) are very late.

    If you want to find a wealth of info on this, you can read the various catalogues of Syriac MSS (available online for free: google books, the BYU/CUA Syriac Studies pages, etc.) to see descriptions of Garshuni MSS from Malabar. Perzcel’s SRITE project must have digitized images … but that is not open. I think they are disseminating their results via (… the infamous cabal of parasitical profiteers known as…) Gorgias Press.

    I was interested in this a while ago for similar reasons as what you described (i.e., trying to attest the relationship between India and West Asian Churches) and I came to the realization that Garshuni is not the way to go — everything I saw was of a late (i.e., post 16th c) date.

    Perhaps (hopefully?!) someone else here has seen earlier MSS?

  3. John Mathew says

    Another note on Garshuni:

    As far as I recall, the majority of Syro-Malayalam Garshuni is from the Puthenkoor,and coincides with the “Antiochianization” of that group by clerics who likely only knew Arabic and Syriac, and so needed a mechanism to further their work at “converting” the Nestorians/Chaldeans of Malabar to the West Syriac creed.

    But note another interesting Garshuni in Malabar is the Syro-Latin Garshuni used by the Pazhayakoor whereby new orders of the Latin Rite were re-written in Syriac. Most of that was translation, but I imagine that some of the more important Latin terms and sentences probably made their way directly into Syriac via transliteration (which is what a Garshuni really is) as opposed to translation.

  4. Prof. Elias Pothan Anjilimoottil says

    Dear John,

    Thank you for your reply. I now understand correct name is Garshuni, not Karzoni. I think the fact that this writing system is of recent origin does not diminish the importance of it. As we know, today’s Malayalam language was developed only after 16th century. So we cannot expect earlier Syro-Malayalam. Syro-Tamil of earlier centuries may be present. In addition to the Grantha-derived Malayalam script of today, Malayalam was written using many other scripts such as Arabic (Arabi-Malayalam), Syriac (Garshuni), Vattezhuthu, Kolezhuthu, Roman, etc. Among these, our contribution is Garshuni. So it is valuable to know more about it. As I dont know to read or write Syriac, I cannot distinguish Garshuni MSS from Syriac MSS. Therefore someone (proficient in reading Syriac) please post links of Garshuni MSS images (copyright free).

  5. John Mathew says

    Yes, it would be interesting to see some Garshuni Syro-Malayalam MSS. Conventional Garshuni (Arabic in Syriac letters) is extremely easy to spot by eye, the copious sprinkling of “al-” is readily perceivable.

    With respect to earlier examples of Syriac MSS in India, I wouldn’t hold my breath. MSS of Syriac in India goes back to the 13th C at the earliest. Pahlavi has an older demonstrable presence (c 6 to c 9th), followed by Hebrew (12th c).

  6. jaysree r.k. says

    I am looking for the earliest attested reference to the Peshitta Bible in Kerala/India. can anyone help?

  7. Johncy Panicker says

    Whenever speeking about encient hystory of st. thomas christines everybody will mention the name of Vallikkada Panicker as a famouse christine panicker of that time. But nobody tells abot How / Why did Vallikkada Panicker get famouse over other Panickers of his time? No users are ther who asked this question….

    Vallikkada Panicker got famouse because of the war between Vadakkumkoor and Marthanda Varmma.. Many hystorians mention that Marthanda Varmma coqured Vadakkumkoor without any battle. But they are trying to hide the result of the first battle between the two countries. Here comes the role of Vallikkada Panickers. Vallikada Panickers were given the authority to train and provide warriors for king during war as like other panickers. Along with that he was the captain or chieftain of the Vadakkumkoor armi. Also he is very famouse among other panickers because of his fighting skill and most probably the only christine panicker with the above mensioned authority. His fighting style was Thulunadan Kalarippayattu and he got mastered in Spear Fighting. Now come to the war…. In the first legendery war, the Vadakkumkoor armi lead by Vallikkada Panicker won and they made thiruvithamkoor’s armi to ran away from the battle field..This event made marthanda varma to rethink about how to capture Vadakkumkoor.. He know that this is a very difficult task since they have a fantastic captain and his disciples were very much skilled in fighting…Finally the Divan Irayimman Thambi found a solution… He came and camped in Koothattukulam of Vadakkumkoor and he offered the Vadakkumkoor Raja’s brother the kingdome..But for that he and his supporting soldiers to stand with thiruvidamkoor… Unknowing about this situation the Vadakkumkoor’s armi once again went to battle field. But there they fased a situation that half of the armi started to support opposition party. By the time the news regarding the bond between irayimman thambi and the kings brother came in to the hears of the king and he thought he will got defeat..He left his country with his familly… When the news regarding this came to Vallikkada panicker he decided to surrender since nobody is there to control them…. In the Marthanda Varma’s Darbar Vallikkada Panicker presented and the king gave his life since he is a greate master in kalaripayattu… But it was a shock to the panicker and he was feeling great humiliation in mind… After that Marthanda Varma banned all the kalarippayattu kalaries of his kingdome…

    One more event is there which shows the breavoury of the Vallikada Panickers… It was at the time of Balarama Varma(or Swathithirunnal) the successor of marthanda varma.. When balarama varma became king he got to know about Vallikkada Panicker… He wished to see him and he invited Vallikkada Panicker to his darbar.. in the darbar the king started to ask about the panicker’s cast .. Panicker again feel great humiliation.. because in his time most of the panickers are nairs or eazhavas… So he thought that the king is trying to make a racial abuse on him infront of other nair or eazhava panickers inside the darbar… Also he felt that they will make fun on him if he said that he is a without any fear and mentally prepare for facing the result he replied that ” Nair Mootha Panicker” that is I am a panicker who is in topeclass than a nair..and he left the palace atonce… King felt humiliated..but knowing about his wonderfull skill and breavery he didnot try toharm him…. In the official guesset of Govt. of Kerala if you checked the hystory of kerala you can find that there mentioned about Vallikada Panicker and his the answer to the king.. Later Nair mootha panicker became a falk frace in the village vallikkada where vallikada panicker lived…

  8. Prof. Elias Pothan Anjilimoottil says

    Very interesting information, Johncy. Do these Panickers have any connection with the Kollipuraikons whom the Travancore kings tried a number of times to burn alive with their family? I think most of our historical researches simply revolve around the liturgy and church prelates. More serious attempts should be made to understand the social life of Nazranis and their impact on the common society.

  9. Abraham says

    Vallikkada this village is on the banks of river thodupuzha. this village is situated around 5kms from Muvattupuzha. There are Kalaris in this region although most of them are closed. some claims Vallikkada panikkars are warrior nadar christians who came from thanjavoor ,tamilnadu who worked as kooli pattalam. there bravery got appreciated. they were amalgamated into syrian christians later on. vadakkumkoor rajyam borders with kochi at mamala,NH49. vadakkumkoor are SAMANTHANs of Kochi. culturally closer to kochi region. until marthanda verma captured this kingdom, vadakkumkoor was different to other parts of travancore. thiyyas were prominent in arakuzha region. arakuzha unnyaadiri was the ruler of the local region. mappila syrian christians moved freely irrespective of kerala’s divided countries and provinces. vallikkada panikkars relations are supposedly moved down to alappuzha later on.

  10. John Mathew says

    Dear Admin/All:

    Here’s a link to an excellent article on the copper plates. You’ll see a very high quality photograph (the best I’ve seen), will translations of the witnesses.

    I’m particularly interested in this because these witnesses are quite likely the earliest references to our ancestors *by name*.

    Please confirm if this link works for you. It should take you to the article by Carlo Cereti (Rome) “The Pahlavi Signatures on the Quilon Copper Plates”

  11. John Mathew says

    Further to the above post:

    the copper plates are very interesting, bearing the signatures of:
    a) Christians
    b) Zoroastrians (termed the “the Good Religion” in the plates)
    c) Jews
    d) Muslims

    Thus the earliest examples of Zoroastrians in India were in Kerala … it would be interesting to learn what happened to all of them! There was an article I saw online in which a possible Persian origin for the Nairs was proposed, and others that discuss the similarities of Nawruz and Vishu, and yet others that claim the Pallavas were ethnic Persians. Criticism of such theories (which are sometimes posed by less-than-credible people) are that there is no other example of Persians in the South.

    Well, we’ve heard of “Persian Christians” in the South from the time of Cosmas, (at least). Now, examples of bonafide Zoroastrians.

    After all of this, reading the book of Tobit hits much closer to home! Some of our forefathers may indeed have been people like Tobit, exiled to Nineveh, moving further East to Media, Persia. And now we see whether their Judeo-Persian and Persian Christian descendants ended up!

  12. rp says

    i been observed some of the nasranis compared them to nairs. some experts pointed out that nairs are perisan influences rather a oriental indian subcast orgin, I think it because there were nasranis persian or babloyonian reached as chritians may because persian jewish orgin and some of these zoroastarian people reached india part of their religion. so both seems persian orgin. But nasranis may intermarried with antiochean group woman,or brahimn woman. or any westasian imigrated group woman. i think most of the patrneal side of nasranis can be persian while other westasian patrneal sides among us. Nowday it seems more like syrian culture to the community and intermarriage with them. Also persian people not that worried to make an identity as syrian groups.

  13. Johncy Panicker says

    Thanks Mr. Abraham for your response..

    But Mr. Abraham seeing on the title Panicker it is wrong if you just conclude that Vallikkada panickers where thamil nadar community.. Because there are many records that not only the pandyas but also the cheras and cholas giving the title Panicker as a doctorate to the people who were expert in kalaripayattu, jyodisham (kaniyan panickers) etc. Another thing is that we came to kerala while the chola invansion over cheras .. My familly, that is Vallikada Panickers familly, first lived in kodungalloor in trissur district.. after the cheras deffeated the cholas and re established their kingdome again we left kodungaloor and sailed towards vadakkumkoor since vadakkumkoor has a thamil ancestry of pandyas… and we got the title of panickers much before be a part of vadakkumkoor…
    Another thing which shows that we are not nadars… The Vallikkada Panicker’s familly used to give feast to three seperate sections, that is, to the upper caste people like brahmins and kshatriyas, to the christine mapilas and to the lower class people like eazhavas, parayas,pulayars,etc. In kerala by the 8th century the class system arrived and the brahmins and kshatriyas take the controll over others.. There are writen proof that the nair and eazhava kings who were once the naduvazhis of chera kings and who turned over kings when the last chera king divided his kingdome to his local chieftains, done yagas to turn their cast to kshtriyas…any how in a place where the cast system went much worst situation it is hard to believe that the upper cast people like a brahmin and kshatriyas attended the feast if he is a christine panicker who got converted from nadar cast which is considering as a lower cast or a cast equivilant to eazhavas.. second thing is that his dressing was like a upper cast brahmin… But yes there are christines who used to dress like that … but not all…it was only those christines who have a higher status by ancestry used to dress like that… third thing is that he was called as Vallikkada Panicker achan in vallikkada and arakkuzha which you can see in the palm leaves of st. mary’s forona church , arakkuzha… if he is just a nadar panicker then why did all the people including the upper class called him vallikkada panicker achan instead of vallikkada panicker… it is only enough to add the post along with the name…In those days the word achan was used to title a much respectfull person and who has a higher social status like brahmins…
    Another thing is that his brothers and syster got married from socially respected famillies… His syster got married from a person from a tharakan familly.. If he is a christine got converted from nadar caste then atleast during the case of marriage the upper cast people will not ready to accept the relation… They willthink many times before making such a decission… You just think now it is 60 years over after getting indeppendence and in keralamost of the people are educated…then also the upper cast people will think a lot when it comes to his daughters marriage and the groom is a eazhava or pulaya or something like that… even though he is highlly educated there is something which will make a block in our mentality…we will think that still he is from a lower caste or scheduled caste…then just thing what will be the condition then 250 years back where the cast system is much more worst than this….the historians say that we have a thamilback ground and thats why our kuladevada was godess valli…even after getting converted into christines we had worshiped valli as our paradevatha…some historians say that we were brahmins from bangal…anyhow i dont have much information to state that…one more thing..the way of journey to kerala is like top to bottom..its not like bottom to top since most of the nadars were lived in pandya dinasty…

  14. Abraham says

    dear johncy panicker, i’ve nothing against you.
    nadar community still claims vallikkada panicker as a nadar warrior who got assimilated into syrian christianity. nadars are experts in adi murai in southern travancore,tirunelveli etc and they have worked as soldiers for travancore king marthanda varma(remember bhrandan channan-anandapadbhanabhan nadar). they served as protectors in many small kingdoms in kerala. local chietains brought fighters from nadar community in south and from bunt community(Shettys) from south canara region as paid soldiers
    nadars are seen as coconut climbers in southern kerala. but they are a strong community in tamilnadu afaik. but, contrary to these claims I put forwrd, social status of Vallikkada Paanicker was surely high.

    regarding, vallikkada panickers history, “Madhathumchalil Kudumbacharitram”(Peringuzha,Arakuzha) written in 1980s including family members like Fr.Adappoor etc includes some notes about vallikkada panicker and they claim to be related. I’ve read it 2 decades back but still remember Vallikada Panicker was the Local Head. His family members have “Mun Kudummi” and “Poonool”. Qurbana starts only after Vallikada Panicker comes… panickers bravery, fight with unniyadiri etc if you may find it interesting. get a copy, contact Fr.adappoor,lumen institute,kaloor,ernakulam…

    Regarding Nadar claims, read this:
    The family of Vallikkada Panickers were from Tamil Nadu. They were of Kshatriya caste who later embraced Christianity. Its members were experts in astrology, traditional medicine and martial arts. Even before they settled down at Avoli (now in Ernakulam district), they had become famous on account of their exploits in martial arts. They were not land lords, but tenants of Pazhoor Vadakkan Mana. However, owing to their abilities, they were well known and more influential than many local chieftains.

    They followed many Hindu customs and dressed like high caste Hindus. In fact, Christians of Malabar coast followed many Hindu customs until the arrival of Portuguese in the Sixteenth Century. (It is likely that he belonged to the Nadar community of Tamil Nadu, many of whom had converted to Christianity. The preceptor of maritial art in the community had the title of Panikkan in ancient Tamil Nadu).

    The Panickers faced problems with the Church when the Church started shedding Hindu customs under influence of the Portuguese missionaries and Rome. The Panickers refused to follow suit. This subsequently developed into an identify crisis as they were strictly not Christians and belonged to no Hindu caste. So, the men of the family decided not to marry “as they had no caste”. It is possible that they would have faced difficulties in getting brides of equal status or solemnisation of the marriage in a Church or temple. They would have found marriage under such circumstances below their dignity. However, two girls of the family were married off. The successors of one of those girls could be living today.


  15. Johncy Panicker says

    Thank you Mr. Abraham,

    Its true that we reached kerala from thamilnadu. we are brought here by the chola kings. In kerala My family settled in Kodungalloor first and after the second chera invansion we left Kodungalloor and migrated to south to Vallikada, which was under Vadakkumkoor, Because Vadakkumkoor Kings were Pandya descents. The vallikada panickers were very much skilled in kalaripayattu, but it was not the adithada method which comes under southern style of kalaripayattu. It was Thulunadan Method because in our kalari danger fight has more important . Only thulunadan method gives importance to danger fight where as northern styles give importance to urumi and southern gives importance to sword fight.

    We never served the thiruvidamkoor. We fought against thiruvidamkoor for vadakkumkoor and after the surrendering also we never accepted any of the thiruvidamkoors offer. Vallikada panickers answer to the thiruvidamkoor king is the best example. He answered the King ” Nair mootha panicker” when the king asked his cast.

    We got the panickership from the chola kings and they brought us to kodungalloor. It is common that in that time all the chera, chola and pandya kings used to give the degree of panicker on various aspects.

    Also it is notable that it is during the chola time the brahmins and other ariyan invansion of kerala started.

    The link you given is actually based on a familly website called Pallikyamyalil Familly.

    If you searched the ST. Mary’s Forone church, arakuzha’s website you can find another story that my family is from thulunadu.

    the only thing which can show our connection with Thamilnadu is Our kuladevada godess Valli. You can find the valli concept only in thamilnadu. and it is after my familly reaching there the place got the name vallikada. Vallikada is a shorten form of Vallikadavu, because we landed there with the idol of valli and we settled there near the river bank and we are authorized to collect tax from the boats as it is the final point in the river where a boat can reach. so the trading were happened like the things charkku came to vallikada by land and from there it will send to kodungalloor by boat.

    Also one more thing which is not much important ..It is an old saying from my familly members that we were brought to kodungalloor for the tax collection which was our familly job.

    Leave all these junks.. but one thing is there..That the Social Status of Vallikada Panicker is very very high which is not rechable for any lower cast person. Also i mensioned earlier that he was called as vallikada panicker achen where the title achen is used to denote upper caste persons like brahmins in those times. If you make a visite to the musium set there in the St. Mary’s Forone Church, Arakuzha you can find these details from the old palm leaves writings.

  16. Johncy Panicker says

    If you find a copy of the Karakkunnathu Kudumbacharitram which is published last year you can find that the familly of vallikada panickers was from somewhere in orissa who were left orissa around 360 AD due to the increasing invansion of budhist religion. The karakunnathu familly is actually a part of the vallikda familly. It was one of the brother of the panicker who faught with the marthanda varmma who started to live in karakunnam near kothamangalam popularilly known as karakunnathu panicker. This book was a research made by the karakunnathu familly. Actually there are hystorians are there who claims that the familly of vallikada panicker is from encient bangal ( that is east bangal or present day bangla desh). They claims that we were brahmins who left there village due to some reason with their godess’s idol. Also some claims that we were not brahmins but kshatriyas who were from the banks of bay of bangal near encient bangal. Some claims that we were from some village in andhrapradesh which lies on the shores of bay of bangal. Another claim is based on the panickership which says us as nadars since the title panicker was mostlly used by the nadar casts who were converted to christianity ( that also to latine catholic rite and to CSI ) by portugees and british respectivelly. But there are many evidences in the christine community itself that shows panicker doesnot represent any cast or it is not used with in a single caste since the syrian christines who done military service to the kings used to get the title panicker as a honour given by the king. Also the upper castes like nairs and kurups and lower caste like eazhavas who is skilled in war art and serving king in warfare are also used to get the panickership in north kerala. in south it was nadars and eazhavas who used this title. There is vettungal panickers who was the samoothiri’s army captain was a nair caste also dharmothu panicker who came to samoothiri and fight with vettungal panicker was from thulunadu. Here my only intension was to clarify that the panicker is a honourable title provided by the kings not only pandyas but all the three dynasties ( chera , chola and pandyas). During the portugees the portugees hystorians mentioned that “there are armies present in kerala who are ready for fight anytime under their captains known as Panickers”.

  17. Johncy Panicker says

    About the nativity of vallikada panickers, there are many claimings about it. Some hystoriyans states that he was a brahmin who left encient bangal (specifically east bangal or present day bangladesh) due to some reason with the idol of his godess. Some says he is brahmin from orissa. Another statement is that he is from andhra pradesh a vilage on the shore of bay of bangal. another statement is that we are from thamilnadu and was a nadar kshatriya since the title Panickers were used to call the teacher of sothern kalaripayattu system called adithada in which nadars are very much skilled. The nadar caste mainlly in the southern part of thamilnadu and in some parts of kanya kumari who were served the pandya dynasty. If you find out a copy of “Karakunnathu kudumbacharitram ” which portraits the familly of vallikada panickers from orissa who left their village arround AD 367 due to the increasing invansion and conversion of budhism at that time in that area.The karakunnathu familly is a branch of Vallikkada familly only. It was one of the brother of the vallikada panicker of vadakkumkoor thiruvithamkoor war who settled in karakkunnam a place near kothamangalam and known as karakunnathu panicker. This is the Vallikkada Panicker familly which joined the Roman Catholic that also syro-malabar reeth. Another person who joined with the roman catholic is Geevargees Mar Ivanios or geewargees Panicker of panickeruveetil who started the syro-malankara reeth. If you looked carefully you can easilly identify that the familly members of Vallikada panicker always standing with the syriyac christine tradition ( either with syrian reeths of catholic section or with malankara orthodox section). The nadar caste converted to christianity by both portugeese and british, but they were under the latine right of roman catholic or under CSI. But Vallikada Panickers always stood with syriac right. This clearilly shows that the conversion of vallikda panickers not happened during the portugeese period. If it was so then the panickers should join the latin right catholicsm. But he stood at the arkadeakon’s side or at the side of malankara orthodox side. Only the karakunnathu panickers familly adopted the syro-malabar reeth.

  18. Johncy Panicker says

    In olderdays the Panicker is a honour given by the kings in thamilnadu and kerala. It was not belonging to any caste. It was given to the people who were very much skilled in the place of martial arts , astronomy,etc. There are many Panickers from nair , kurup , eazhavas and nadars. Eventually some namboodiris also got the Panikkerships. Most of them are skilled in kalaripayattu. In northern kerala the kalaripanickers are the captain of the army. It is mentioned by several portugees travellers of 16-17 th century. They said ” there are armies of many skilled men who are ready to take any war under the controll of captains known as Panickers”. The Vettathu panicker of kozhikkodu was a nair and the dharmoth panicker or thamman panicker was a thulu native. So it is wrong that all the people who have panicker title belonged to nadar caste of pandya kingdome. You can find the panickers in syriyan christine community also since they served for the kings of kerala in war. And you can trace it from the hystory of christines who were the only community or religion allowed to carry weapon whereever they gos, even in church also which shows christines used to recruited into army in very encient time itself .

  19. Johncy Panicker says

    Also regarding the valli concept of Vallikkada panickers. If you analysed the hinduism in south india you can clearilly see that the valli murugan concept was there in very old time itself and also most of the godesses of south india have names ending with valli ( example, ananda valli is lakshmi, karpora valli is parvathi or shakthi, nagavalli is also parvathi or shakthi) . That means the names of the godesses are used to end with valli is common during sngam period and later times. You can find these kinds of names for godesses in all over south india. These names are used to represent the various forms of shakthi or sometimes shakthi is considered as kali. The kavu concept where bhadrakali is worshiping is very old before the brahmin arrival in kerala. So we cannot completelly trace out the valli comes in the vallikkada panickers. I visited our paradevatha temple recently and i found the idol is in the form of a godess carrying weapons . Anyhow i am not sure about it since it was almost ruined after we left the place and it was recentlly only the natives reconstructed it.
    Apart from that if you see southindia clearilly there are many encient places which starts with Valli is there from the sangam erra itself. There is a very old sangam erra place whose name is still vallipuram which underlies in thanjavoor thalook. there are many simillar places in karnataka, andhra predesh and thamilnadu. even in srilanka also one vallipuram is there in jafna islonds which is considered as the peaople from the vallipuram of thamilnadu migrated there during 1-2nd century BC. So the possibilities for a place having valli in its name is possible from where most probabily we entered in to kerala along with the cholas.

  20. Johncy Panicker says

    As I said before there are two aspects with the name valli in Vallikkada Panickers ( In that valli is associated as the house name in vallikkada and in kozhippilli also where we setled after leaving vallikkada and we are called as valli kunjachanmar by the local eazhavas and nairs). One thing is that we came from a village called vallidesam . another aspect may be the name of the paradevatha which is either valli or may has a name ending with valli.
    The claiming of most nadars as he is a nadar caste is not true since their claimings surrounded on the title Panicker and while searching in goolge about nadars or nanjil nadars you can see the vallikkada panicker of cochin which is linked to a familly site called palliyamakkil familly which claims that he is from nadar caste based on the Panicker title as others. Also you can see that Vallikkada panickers have a very much importance given in the christine hystory of kerala and in kerala hystory also.
    So without analysing from various angles nobody can clearilly study about any hystorical topic. Anybody who is trying to study about the Vallikkada panickers , first try to think from then present social and racial system in kerala and analyse. try to imagin the social status he or his familly has for centuries that is at least from 13-18th century AD. and the social situations present those days and study.

  21. Johncy Panicker says

    Mr.Abraham, I want you to just go through this website.
    Two days back I accidentlly went through this site

    It is speeking about the matrikas (or mothers) who were worshiping through out india (or we can say ancient greater india). These matrikas are normally seven and in eastern regions like napal its nine. Out of this nine or seven the name of the fifth matrika is Kumari who ic considered as the power of Kumara or Skanda and she is having four or twelve hands which carries weapons like spear, sword,mase,etc. It is believed that these matrikas stood behind durga devi during the fight with sumbh and nisumbh. I am not saying that it is as evidence for we are not from thamilnadu or nadars or our godess is not valli. But as I said before the chances for identifying her as Valli in thamilnadu is more because kumari is the consort of skanda and in south or in thamilnadu it is valli.Also remember my statement about the idol of godess i found in our temple is having four hands each carrying weapon with the expression of love in eyes…So it is also possible that its the same kumari only (i said it as a possibility only). In the site it is also says that the concept of matrikas may be pre brahminical but adopted by brahmins and used to worship them in villages and temples. Also gupthas and kushans encouraged the belives of matrikas and allowed their army to worshiping them and they made various sculptures of matrikas in the army camp. Anyway I am say a possibility of being the actual godess be kumari or as north indian tradition shashti( who is also considered as consort of skanda in some regions) or devasena,etc.
    So if it is true that We are from somewhere in encient bangal ( which includes orissa, east bangalor bangladesh and west bangal) it is possible that kumari (or somebody like her) may be our diety who is considered to be the consort of skanda during that period and we came to south with her idol. I am not saying that its shows we are savarnas of that time. I am saying it as a possibility since the consept that we came from somwewhere in northindia( The north here i am saying for both east and north including) is there for the past five generations atleast. Atleast three or five hystoriance who were studying about vallikkada panickers also says that we are from east india. Any how its a topic which need indepth study since he is the most famous panickers from syriyan christines.

  22. The Rev. Dr. John T. Mathew says

    I would enthusiastically want to own a copy of this significant work by Dr.Pius Malekandathil when I return home for a visit next time. My own field of research focused on some of the areas I happened to note in here. This is handy to all of us and many others in this {Europe & North America} part of the world with an academic interest in our Apostle Thomas heritage.

  23. Steve says

    I have recently came across a claim that the word ‘Sahyan’ (which is another name of Western Ghats in India) has a Syriac origin. It says the Syrian Christians who were the earlist settlers in this mountain range, called it ‘Sahyoon’ which later became ‘Sahyan’ in Malayalam and other languages. Can someone with knowledge in Syriac comment on this? Is there a word in Syriac that sounds like ‘Sahyoon’? If so, what does it mean? Thanks in advance.

  24. Zack says

    Sahyun (Arabic: صهيون‎, Ṣahyūn or Ṣihyūn) is the word for Zion in Arabic and Syriac.[9][10] Drawing on biblical tradition, it is one of the names accorded to Jerusalem in Arabic and Islamic tradition.[10][11] A valley called Wâdi Sahyûn (wadi being the Arabic for “valley”) seemingly preserves the name and is located approximately one and three-quarter miles from the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate.[9]


  25. John Mathew says


    Interesting claim. “Tur” is the word for mountain I’m aware of, but there are others. I haven’t seen Sahyoon, or variants, in the lexicon I quickly checked.

    By the way, there is a mountain in Mesopotamia — Tur Sahya — which means Dry Mountain (tur). But I don’t see how that could be connected to the Ghats — Sahya has the meaning of dry, thirst, etc.

    Could you reproduce the claim you found, and found where you found it?

  26. varghese mani says

    Dear Johncy Panicker,

    Just came to read your posts about Vallikkada panicker. Nice to learn that you belongs to that family. Vallikkada Kavu and Kalari are still there in vallikkada (anickadu side).

    The church website says “The Panickar family of Vallikada (Pallikadavu) which had migrated from Thulunadu used to conduct a kalari in Aarakuzha. ….Aarakuzha church was pulled apart and rebuilt several times. The present church was erected in about 1780.Vallikada Panickar family had provided considerable aid for the construction of the church. The descendents of that family are staying at Rakkattu and Karakkunnam now…….Unnyathiri offered pachor with 18 para (a measure) of rice to Aarakuzha muthi as atonement. Then it rained. Panickar donated enough land and paddy field to the church so that the required rice and coconut for the annual pachor nercha could be had without any hindrance.”

    But as per the local traditions it was the vallikkada family who used to offer pachoru. As per the folklores when there was a big draught ‘Pachoru’ offering from the Vallikkada family was taken to the Church and they had to return in a boat”.

    Clearly vallikkada family had a Hindu heritage, wealthy. It is with out doubt that the vallikkada family enjoyed a high status which wouldnt have been possible if they were of Nadar caste. Another proof could be the fact that Mar Ivanios is from the family. Until very recently descendants of converts (no matter 5-10 generations) were not allowed to become priests in the Syro Malabar Church (no matter whether they were truly devote and faithful followers. They would normally be discouraged and often sent away for small mistakes even after 10 years of rigorous training – Racism/Jewish customs ? dont know).

  27. Dr. John T Mathew says

    Sahyan might have something to do with “Sehion”!

    Yes, Sahya -ghat is also Sahya -parvatham.

  28. Paul Xavier says

    The word Sahyan does not have any connection with ‘Tur Sahya’ mountains. It seems like to have come from ‘Sahyûn’, which is the Syriac name for Mount Zion. There is also a tradition that the name was given by St. Thomas himself. This may be probably a myth and the name could have been given by Nasrani explorers of these area. There is a wide-spread misunderstanding that this is a Sanskrit word and many people make the mistake of interpreting it as “benevolent mountains”. But this theory is totally absurd and there is no traditions justifying such an interpretation. In fact, the correct word for ‘benevolent’ in Sanskrit is “Saha”, not “Sahya”. It should be noted that this mountain was not known as “Sahyan” before the emergence of Nasrani community in Kerala.

  29. John Mathew says

    I wasn’t proposing that Tur Sahya has anything to do with the Western Ghats.

    Rather, I was proposing that perhaps the creative fiction writer who was trying to propose a Syriac origin for the Western Ghats was sloppy, and the following occurred:

    1. he/she saw this name “Tur Sahya” on the internet as the Syriac name for a mountain in Mesopotamia
    2. he/she saw that the meaning is “Dry Mountain”
    3. not knowing Syriac, he/she thought Tur=Dry and Sahya=Mountain (whereas the opposite was true)
    4. due to the slight morphological resemblance between that and the Sanskrit name for the W Ghats, this ridiculous theory was born.

    Is there any evidence as to what the name of the Ghats were over the ages? Is there any correlation to the colonization of the Ghats by the Nasranis?

    Also — what colonization? I though the Nasrani centers, except for Nilackal, were all within 40 km of the ocean. Apart from Nilackal and the recent migrations to Malabar and Rani, etc., what evidence is there that Nasranis ever colonized the mountains?

    And now, people are proposing that Mount Sion is the origin of the Sahyādri mountain range, even denying the Sanskrit origin of the given name, ignoring that there is very little similarity between Sion and Sahyādri.

    And Mount Sion was a single mountain; the Ghats are a range. How does that correspond?

  30. Dr. John T Mathew says

    A very useful exegesis. that is why I stated at the beginning that it has ‘something’ to do with Sehion ( Zion) – a common name for local parishes; for example, Sehion/Sehyon Mar Thoma parish. On the other hand Sahyaparvatham or Sahyaghat helps ( sahayam =help) abundant rain falls in Kerala unlike neighboring states in southern India.

    It is good to be truthful and accurate but not unbendingly dogmatic about something we all are guessing at this stage of our examination. Too bad, some of our older church historians didn’t investigate into it.

    Jewish people have been around the hilly regions of Malabar/Kerala since 587 BC – perhaps they had a role in naming the mountainous regions of northern Kerala or Malabar as Sa/ehia ghat!

  31. Johncy Panicker says

    Dear Varghees Mani…
    Thanks for the information… The arakkuzha church still claims that it was unniyathiri who offered the pachor nercha to arakkuzha church as it was due to his fault that the drain occured in arakuzha..the story says that it was unniyathiry who killed a local untouchable person inside the church and due to that the drain came and as an confession he offered this pachor nercha…upto now i dont have much idea or information about that… But i heard many stories about the many competitions and strikes occured between unniyathiri and vallikkada panicker… both unniyathiri’s land and vallikkada panicker’s land were on the both sides of the river shore and there was always a struggle made by unniyathiri to diffeat vallikkada panickers because of his popularity and control over the entire arakuzha area…

    its true that the Paradevatha kshetram is there in vallikkada and its located on the rivershore..but the kalari is not existing…even parts of our house (once uppon a time) is still exists even after the house was distroyed in a fire…the kalari was infront of the temple..there is a vallikkada kshetram samrakshana samiti who done the “kshetra udharanam” and they kept a rememberence stone on the place of kalari…

    Also its correct that the vallikkada panickers social status was very high as they were used to do arrange feast with all the three categories that is local brahmins , kshatriyas and nairs and with the lower caste people… and it was also true that in his kalri low caste people also got trained.. the style followed in the kalari was thulunadan ( it was in thulunadan the techniques with spear is more)…
    If his social status was less or if he is from a nadar caste its not at all possible that he will enjoy those privilleges since the racism was many times more in kerala during those times….

    The people who just claims that we are from nadar caste, they are not trying to feel or think from that old times.. they were just look into the panickership and starts claiming…some says that we got converted to christianity during portugees..but they are not saying if it was like that then why didnt we are latine catholics since they converted the local non christines no latin right only and the syrians were not ready to accept those converts those times…the main familly stood with the arkadeakon fraction only.. yes its there that the karakkunnathu panicker (brother of vallikkada panicker) was with syro-malabar side, but not with latin…and it was also says that during the synod of diamper the arkadeacon attenede the synoy of 100 christine soldiers and this army was leaded by two brothers having panickership and they were enjoying the commanderships…it was vallikkada panicker’s forefathers ( since each male in vallikkada familly was known as vallikkada panickers it is very difficult to identify the famous panicker)…that means the panicker familly was already christines and was ready to saerve the arkadeacon as other nasranis…

    There are hystorians claiming that my familly (vallikkada panicker familly) were from encient bangal and they were brahmins, some claims that they were from orissa (even orrissa also was part of bangal in old times), some claims that we were from andhra and some claims as we were from thamilnadu and belonged to nadar caste… “the karakunnathu kudumba charithram” states that we were from orissa and we migrated to the south due to the increesing popularity and population of budhism…any how all these claims show that the we were from some place near the shores of bay of bangal….

  32. John Mathew says

    The use of Sehyon (Zion) for local parishes doesn’t tell much: Mar Thoma parishes are (except for 3) are very young, build within the last 150 years (after their inception). Are there any Churches named after Zion among the older Catholic/Orthodox Churches? No.

    To say Jews were in Kerala since a specific date requires at least a slight amount of evidence. Where do you get this from? There is some hypothesis that Solomon was aware of Kerala — is that how you get this? Perhaps not: Solomon was from an earlier era. Where is this specific date from? As far as I’ve seen the oldest Jewish monument in Kerala (apart from a purported Cheppad reference) is the 12th century Hebrew tombstone. This is a far cry from the 6th c bc you claim.

    Where did you learn that Jews were in the hilly areas of Malabar? I believe the commonly understand story is that the Jews frequented and colonized the sea ports, like the Christians. Any examples of Jewish or Christian forays into the hilly areas are recent (500 years) at best, with the single exception of Nilackal.

    Or am I wrong? Are there ancient Nasrani settlements in the hills that I’m unaware of? If so, please share.

    It is disturbing to see Christians in India (whether Syriac or not) make claims to diminish the Dravidian/tribal/Vedic role in India in favor of foreign ones. Examples include Menacherry’s claim that “Christianity is older than Vedic Hinduism in Kerala” (which is far from provable), attempts by Christians in Cape Comorin to rename Kaniyakumaria after the Virgin Mary, and now this silly Seyadira as a variant of Sehyon theory. Much of this comes from, as far as I can see, a very sloppy approach to things.

    Or am I wrong? Is there a strong case for these seemingly outlandish hypotheses?

  33. varghese mani says

    Dear Johncy,

    The temple is at the riverside, just where the road ends. Locals still call it Kalari (I dont know whether it was the Kalari or not). Thanks for your post.

  34. The Rev. Dr. John T. Mathew says

    there is another ‘John Mathew’ in the Dominion of Canada!
    I’d love to locate that person; I live in Mississauga, ON
    Please try my email: [email protected]
    Take care,

  35. Paul Xavier says

    I agree that the Dravidian/Tribal/Vedic tradition has a major role in India. But these cultures themselves have borrowed many things from outside. For example, Brahmi, the oldest writing system in India is believed to have originated from Aramaic writing system. Vedic Sanskrit has close resemblance with Ancient Iranian language. Many people argue that the concept of ‘Brahma’ and ‘Saraswati’ are Abraham and Sarah of Jews. Similarly the resemblance of Ramayana with Homer’s epics also were studied. India was never been an isolated region, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Jews, Scythians, Arabs etc came here time to time. Therefore there is nothing unusual if a mountain range in India has Syriac/Aramaic name. After all, the term ‘Hindu’ is from Persian and ‘India’ is from Greek.

    There is no point in examining the geological similarity between mount Zion and western ghats. It will be like comparing biblical Philadelphia with Philadelphia county in USA.

  36. The Rev. Dr. John T. Mathew says

    Thanks for your good observations that make sense.

  37. John Mathew says


    Sorry but what you’ve written is based on partial facts taken in reverse order.

    1. Brahmi *may* have been influenced by Aramaic, but this influence is from long ago in the deep BC era. The Phoenecian alphabet influenced almost all alphabets, so this is no surprise.

    It is also not the oldest writing system in India — the Indus valley script is older, and that has no claimed influence from Aramaic, since the Indus Valley Civ *predates* the Aramean civilization. And some claim that Bahmi, etc., have descent from the Indus script (if it was one).

    To claim that the purported Aramaic ancestry of the script is some basis for Mt. Zion as the origin of the Sahyadri mountains is a stretch. Note this very well: there is no major (if any) Aramaic influence on the Indian languages. The influence was the invention of the script, not the language itself. These are two totally different things.

    2. Vedic Sanskrit and Avestan were close to being identical languages. So what? Both of those predate Aramaic. This has absolutely nothing to do with anything. At the time of Persian-Jewish relations, the language of the Iranians evolved to Old Persian. This has nothing to do with the claims at hand so lets skip this “fact” that you’ve presented.

    The relationship here was not one of “influence” as you claim, but rather that the Vedic Aryans and the Avestan-era Aryans of Iran were basically one people. So they shared the same language. LIke the British and the colonial Americans were one people, and shared English.

    3. Brahma/Saraswati as Abraham/Sarah is a ridiculous bit of Internet speculation. If you claim that, then I can also claim the inverse. Both claims are insane, seeing as how the NW Mesopotamians and the Vedic Aryans didn’t have any connection.

    4. A Syriac/Aramaic name for an Indian mountain range wouldn’t be unusual if it was true that there were Syriac/Aramean speaking peoples who lived near those mountains. This doesn’t seem to have been the case.

    Rather there is a bonafide Sanskrit name for the range.

    5. FINALLY: If you claim a PreChristian-era naming of the W Ghats as deriving from the Syriac name for Mt. Zion, then you are totally off base: the Syriacs only cared about Mt Zion after they became Christians and were speaking Syriac not, Aramaic. This would have been one to a few centuries post-AD. If you claim a Post-Christian era naming, then why would they use Mt Zion, which has no special significance for Christians.

    If it was from the Jews, then why use a Syriac version of the Hebrew name? The Jews spoke Hebrew.

    If Jews, why name a range after a single Mountain: do you even know what the significance of Mt Zion is for the Jews? Read Psalms and then come back. Mount Zion is a special *one* mountain, not a range.

    6. Your Philadelpha claim is meaningless. The settlers of the US were not from the original Philadelphia and so had no special relationship with it. They could have named a boat after Philadelphia, it wouldn’t have mattered to them.

    The Jews and Mt Zion are a far different thing. Mt Zion is a *holy* mountain.

    Finally: Your claims are all elementary, and easily dissolve under further consideration. Try again.

  38. Steve says

    Interesting developments. I never thought about this possibility that the word ‘Sahyan’ could have come from Mt. Zion. Bible’s symbolism of Zion is as a ‘Safe place’ where one can resort for asylum and yes, significant to Christians as well. I have read that the old name of Kerala state’s capital Trivandrum is something like Syan-andorem. Can we relate anything to this? Btw, I don’t think Indus valley writing system can be called an ‘alphabet’, Wikipedia says,

    “The term Indus script (also Harappan script) refers to short strings of symbols associated with the Indus Valley Civilization, in use during the Early Harappan and Mature Harappan period, between the 35th and 20th centuries BC. In spite of many attempts at decipherments and claims,[1] it is as yet undeciphered. The underlying language has not been identified, primarily due to the lack of a bilingual inscription.”

    Like to read more from you. Thanks.

  39. John Mathew says


    I’ve studied the liturgical material of the Syriac Churches (East and West) and have a pretty good grasp of it. There is very little — if any — mention of Mount Zion.

    Moreover, the significance of Mt. Zion for the Jews is not merely one of a safe haven: it is a holy mountain. Please consider some deeper study before presenting such simplified ideas in support of these extraordinary claims.

    The claim about Trivandrum is utterly ridiculous. Did you not know that Trivandrum is merely the English approximation of a Malayalam city name? The original city name has absolutely no similarly to what you proposed. Is this some Christian fundamentalist website aiming to convert ignorant Indians that you’re getting this stuff from?

    FInally, I don’t think I claimed the Indus script to be an alphabet. I said it’s a script. The nature of the script has not been identified, but there are some serious scholars who believe the Indic scripts may have their origin in the Indus valley civilization. The mechanics of the Indian writing systems for Sanskrit-derived languages and Malayalam are certainly not of the abjad nature of Phoenecian-derived scripts.

    Speculation is best had when there is solid theory underlying it. This “that-word-sounds-like-this-word-to-my-ear” is bogus junk speculation. Your Trivandrum example is ample proof.

    Someone in another post decried Narayanan’s skepticism about the Nasrani claim of St Thomas’ founding of the Kerala Church. Well, the Nasranis only have themselves to blame. First, our preservation of history, artifacts, Churches, etc, has been horrible. Second, we encourage the writing of bogus history to amplify our past (most of which is unknown). And finally, we allow extremely sloppy, uncritical thinking to infect our telling of history, making extraordinary claims (“Christianity was very influential to Kerala civilization” — a very bogus claim) without a shred of even ordinary evidence.

    Sorry, the British writer Innis (of the Gazetteer) said it best, that the Nasranis were a community of no particular significance. That’s basically the essence of our past: we are composed of a mixture of various communities — primarily various Indian races, and a minor mix of various foreign ones — and survived and thrived in Kerala as traders, farmers, etc. There doesn’t seem to have been any great scholars in our people, no great mathematicians, no great rulers (our only example of a kingdom was a short lived one, and a vassal of another greater Hindu one), no great architecture, no great literature, etc. That doesn’t mean our ancestors were not great people: the fact that we have survived and thrived as a minority community is a testament to our forefathers ability to live as productive, useful members of society (as well as a testament to our Hindu rulers).

    These are the facts; there’s no reason to be inventing alternative histories to amplify what isn’t there. Or if we write such alternative histories, we should at least get solid evidence that perhaps those histories are correct. Make crude simple approximations of facts serves no one, and rather makes us look like a bunch of lying idiots.

  40. Johncy Panicker says

    Dear Vargeese Mani,

    That was the location where the kalari existed. YYou can see the remainings of the kalari infront of the temple. That temple is known as Vallikkada Kalari Paradevatha Temple and that purticular location is still known as kalari only… Are you from Arakkuzha area?

    Thanks for the reply

    1. Renjith George says

      Dear Johncy Panicker,

      Just came to read your posts about Vallikkada panicker. Nice to learn that you belongs to that family. Please help me in my doubt about the timing that he lived in vallikada. When was Vallikkada panicker and his family shifted from Vallikkada to the southern parts of Kerala. Is there any historical events happened in vallikkada or peringuzha related with Vallikkada panicker or christian churches. Is there any reference about peringuzha church in your kudumba charithram?

      Renjith George

  41. Paul Xavier says


    The old name of Trivandrum or Thiruvananthapuram is Syananduram (also Syanandura Puram or Syanandura Nagari, “Puram” & “Nagari” both mean “City”) In past, the term was used extensively to refer this city. Presently, the “Capital City Development Council” of Kerala is publishing a periodical about the city, titled ‘Syananduram’. There is a literary work titled “Syanandura Varnana Prabandham” by Sree Swathi Thirunal, who was the King of Trivandrum and a great poet as well as a musician. Apparently, the present name of the city “Thiruvananthapuram” has evolved from ancient ‛Syananduram’ and therefore has no connection with Anantha Padmanabha, as many claim. The present temple was erected much later and it was dedicated to Lord Padmanabha after the city name. (Not vice versa.)

    I don’t know whether ‛Syananduram’ has any connection with ‛Sahyun’ or Zion. If so, the suffix ‛-anduram’ may have some meaning. There are many Malayalam words that sound like this. For example, ‛adharam’ (Lips) ‛antharam’ (gap), etc. Anyway further studies are needed on this. I believe the historical researches in India is going through a revolutionary phase.

  42. varghese mani says

    Dear Johncy, I am not from Arakuzha area, but well connected to there, especially Vallikkada/Peringuzha.

  43. Mathai Varughese says

    the orthodox people of muvattupuzha,kunnathunad,piravom,kothamangalam area has a surname “Pilla”. anyone knows how this came into practice?
    some examples are “Ittan Pilla”,”Mathai Pilla” etc, is it just a respectable title?

    one among these “pilla” titled is “Pottas” family. recently they turned out to be converted christians who were actually the members of “Azhvanchery Mana”,Palakkad.

    What percentage is converted christians, ie so called “nasrani” groups contain? it is reported that a lot of conversion happened in idukki district and kottayam by bible society,dutch calvanists etc during 19th century from ezhava and other tribal communities. there was another revisionist author who claims that whole of muvattupuzha taluk got mostly ezhava converts. but, the demographics does not say so.

    all in all, what percentage is the converts? syrian christians were a minority before portugese,british came here. aren’t this 70lakh nasrani the hindu converts ? I am interested to know more about this.

    and regarding syrian catholics in muvattupuzha taluk, are the majority came from thrissur district? many of them claims to have reached during tipu’s padayottam. what is the truth?
    are nasranis racially dravidians beyond doubt? facial characteristrics sometimes bordering veddoid?

  44. Paul Xavier says


    I don’t know from where did you get this information. “Pottas” family does not have any connections with “Azhvanchery Mana”. Neither they are Syrians. They are converted Christians from “Pattusaliya” community, which is a backward Hindu caste. These people use title “Pillai” and “Mudaliyar”. They have Tamil roots.

    Regarding Nazranis, they are not Hindu coverts. In Kerala, castes like Ezhava, Nair, etc were not there before 7th century. Instead ethnic groups like Villavar, Meenavar, Nagar, etc were here. Chera people are the descendants of Villavar. Nazranis are most probably converts from these Cheras. Most of the Hindu communities today in Kerala came here between 7th and 14th century. Btw, who told you ”
    syrian christians were a minority before portugese” ? In fact Nasranis were a major community traditionally. Travancore was a Christian-majority nation with Hindu rulers. Most of today’s Muslim population of Malabar are Mappilas (those who were forcefully converted from Nazrani Mappilas to Islam during the conquest of Tipu Sultan.)

  45. Paul Xavier says


    I don’t know from where did you get this information. “Pottas” family does not have any connections with “Azhvanchery Mana”. Neither they are Syrians. They are converted Christians from “Pattusaliya” community, which is a backward Hindu caste. These people use title “Pillai” and “Mudaliyar”. They have Tamil roots.

    Regarding Nazranis, they are not Hindu coverts. In Kerala, castes like Ezhava, Nair, etc were not there before 7th century. Instead ethnic groups like Villavar, Meenavar, Nagar, etc were here. Chera people are the descendants of Villavar. Nazranis are most probably converts from these Cheras. Most of the Hindu communities today in Kerala came here between 7th and 14th century. They are not Cheras. So we, the Nasranis are the true descendants of the great Cheras. Btw, who told you ”
    syrian christians were a minority before portugese” ? In fact Nasranis were a major community traditionally. Travancore was a Christian-majority nation with Hindu rulers. Most of today’s Muslim population of Malabar are Mappilas (those who were forcefully converted from Nazrani Mappilas to Islam during the conquest of Tipu Sultan.)

  46. Mathai Varughese says

    but, pottas family traced their connections with a namboodiri family, i think it is azhvanchery. it is not like other fake claims. the conversion was recent. the namboodiri family actually found the missing link which is pottas family?

    what are the proof/claims regarding “pillai” title is used by mudaliyar community is the same with jacobites of muvattupuzha/kunnathndu taluk?
    pillai can be a title also, if I’m not mistaken.

    and, I forgot the author, but some tamil sounding named author(somasekharan?) from kollam district wrote a book that claims 90% of present syrian christians are converted from adhakrita(backward) communities of kerala like ezhava,pulaya,parava by bible society anglican missionaries,dutch calvanists etc. if fair colour and caucasoid facial characteristics are syrian claim, then the latin catholics of nagerkovil,kanyakunwari or mangalapuram-goa catholics can claim syrian christian title, perhaps they are more fair and tall good looking than the dravidian ezhava looking average syrian christian.

    the malayarars from idukki thodupuzha muttom looks very fair and caucasoid looking because of the mixing with britishers. almost all of them are “CSI” church followers. they are slowly penetrating into syrian christians through marital relations.

    this syrian christian identity seems fake to me, telling myself a syrian christian. syrian christians are hybrid dravidian people.

    among syrian christians, why kottayam,pathanamthitta,idukki have fairer people? why thrissur christians are comparatively different looking? are they more recent converts.

    1. Jacob says

      There’s nothing like the Syrian Christians of Kottayam-Pathanamthitta side are fairer than the ones from Trissur. Being a Kottayam Nasrani, i myself can say with all surety that the Nasranis of Trissur – Angamaly side are fairer and have sharper facial features than us Travancoreans. Well, this is a fact, and you find many Travancore Nasranis preferring marital alliances from Trissur side mainly because of their good looks.

      And about the historic background of the Trichur Syrians, they were the first Syrian Christians of Kerala, as Kodungallur (located in the Trichur district) is the gateway and cradle of Indian Christianity. In fact, many Nasrani families of Travancore (mainly those from Kuravilanagad – Kottayam – Tiruvalla belt) are the descendants of migrants from Trichur, who fled the region following Tippu Sulthan’s invasion in the late 1700s.

  47. dennis says

    hi mathai ,probabaly you should have a more thorough understanding of our syrian christian history,we are called mapillas,a name which is given only to migrant people like arab muslims ,jews and nasranis mainly because all these communities accepted wives from the local community mainly dravidians who were present at that time in malabar.That is why we see a dark and fair coloured people among is to be noted that no other hindu communities are called by the name ‘mapilla’in kerala.the syrian liturgy that we follow is testimony to our middle east connections,otherwise we would have been following tamil ,or kannada liturgy like the present day converts to christianity.

  48. Royal Nasrani says

    Dear all ,
    I have a doubt ,please clarify??? Are Knanayas considered as St.Thomas Christians ???? Is Vallikada Panicker family St.Thomas Christians???Is the Muthallaaly Family of Kollam a St.Thomas Christian???? I want to know that if an elite hindu accepts christianity (not baptized by St.Thomas )and follows the syrian church rite ,is he a Saint Thomas Christian????I am not getting the point.Is Saint Thomas Christianity only referring to the elite caste conversions or the one who got baptized by st.Thomas??? If “Saint Thomasine Christianity ” was strictly about the “Saint Thomas Baptized” then how come “the new elite converts” accomodated into this fold??And Y a low caste convert is reffered to a non St.Thomas Christian ,even if he is a member of the Syrian church ???

  49. The Rev. Dr. John T. Mathew says

    The Knanaya, or the Southists or Tekkumbhagar, an endogamous group maybe considered as a distinct apostolic group that chose to share common traditions with the Saint Thomas Christian community of Kerala, India.
    This group of over 50,000 faithful traces its origin to Thomas of Cana, a Syrian merchant who led a group of 72 immigrant families from the Middle East to settle in India approximately between 3rd to the 8th century.

  50. Mathai Varghese says

    Hello Dennis,

    You wrote ‘..we are called mapillas,a name which is given only to migrant people..’

    Abraham Benhur in his book has different views. He says tht Mapillas mean ‘Maha Pillas’, that is great or high caste/people’.

    I find his book extremely challenging. It has challenged my basic thinking of Indian and even world history. I suspect that we have been fed too long with a lot of garbage. I have earlier rejected the possibility of Mar Thoma visting Chennai or even Malabar for lack of historical evidences. But this book has taken me to view things from an entirely different perspective, which I thought never existed, yet sounds very logical and reasonable.

  51. Raju Cherian says

    Abraham Benhur is wrong here. Mappila comes from Syriac-Persian-Arabic word “Mehfil” which means a council or community.

  52. Mathai Varghese says

    Dear Mr. Raju Cherian,

    You have given a possibility of the origin of the word ‘Mapillai’. But can you please show evidence that it is derived from the Syro-Persian-Arabic word Mehfil. We never called ourselves Mapillai, but others, mainly the Hindus called us so.

  53. Royal Nasrani says

    Mappila from “Mehfil” doesnt have any connection,mostly the hindu neighbours termed us by this specific name .All Abrahamic communities in Kerala was referred to as “Mapilla”.For Muslims ,it is a caste name meaning “brother in law” but in Nasrani and Jewish community it would have been a honourific title bestowed by the kings referring as “Super Pillai amongst the pillais” ie Mahapillai.Ma-ha-pillai is the correct expansion of Mapilla ,a similar case is that of the “Marathas” which is a contraction of “Ma-ha-ra-tta” or Maveli is “Ma-ha-ba-li”.

  54. Ammini Ramachandran says

    Professor Malekandathil:
    I have referred to your various publications on Kerala history and it has been valuable for my research on the subject. I chanced upon you piece Nazrani Christians and the Social Processes of Kerala, 800-1500 only recently.

    The paragraph in the above article with the sub title Food Culture and Dress Culture, states that “The wide variety of food items of the Nazarani Christians like neyyappam, kallappam, …. etc., form important constituent elements of India’s food culture and they seem to have evolved with the movement of Christians into low-lying rice producing zones”.

    This statement contradicts what I have seen in other research works. Neyyappam and a variety of appam made with rice, toddy, and coconut were prevalent in India since very ancient times, even before Christianity was established in India. In Rice and barley offerings in the Veda (Orientalia Rheno-traiectina V.31.Leiden New York E.J Brill 1987) Jan Gonda describes how appam (she calls it rice cakes) were cooked as food offering during Vedic sacrifices. According to eminent Indian food historian K.T. Achaya neyyappam was established as a popular temple offering in South India by the eleventh century A.D and Basic ingredients – grains (mostly rice) jaggery and ghee have remained the same as from the Vedic period. In the Sangam period palappam (also called vellayappam) made with rice, toddy and coconut was cooked in clay pots. Sangam poem Maduraikachi has detailed description of restaurants and street vendors who sell these food items.

  55. Pius Malekandathil says

    Dear Dr.Ammini
    Thank you very much for your comments. Your observations are absolutely true with regard to Neyyappam and palappam. Thanks for the comments. What I meant in that article was that a wide variety of appam culture like kallappam, ( in the way Syrian Christians are making it, which is different from palappam) , achappam , uzhunnappam got evolved among the St.Thomas Christians. Neyyappam is not typical of Syrian Christians, though they also had Neyyappam as part of their food culture. Besides palappam , the St.Thomas Christians have got another variety of appam called kallappam, which they eat often with meat curry. What seems to have happened was that some of these food items like Neyyappam, they borrowed from their cultural neighbourhood, while some others they modified( like kallappam) , still some other culinary traditions they reformulated with the acquisition of new knowledge of using rice flour and coconut milk. Probably these details would have solved your confusion. The other food items are typical of St.Thomas Christians.
    Once again thank you very much for your comments, which gave me an opportunity to explain the matter still further.
    Pius Malekandathil

  56. jacob says

    @ Ammini Ramachandran:

    Your statement on ‘Palappam’ not being of Nasrani origin is wrong. Palappam (also called Vellayappam) has always been hailed as a Syrian Christian speciality. This is also evident from the fact that this dish has always been popular in the Syrian Christian pockets of Kerala such as Central Travancore (Kottayam side) and Trichur.

  57. Rajesh George says

    /////Palappam (also called Vellayappam) /// In our place kottayam- changanacherry , kallappam is known as vellayappam . and palappam is different

  58. Jacob says

    @ Rajesh George,

    Yes, you are right. Vellayappam is another name for Kallappam, which is different from Paalappam. This is true with all Syrian Christian pockets – both Kottayam & Trissur. Anyways, Sorry about the mistake.

  59. xavier chenginimattam chalakudy says

    chalakudy puzha one the waterway in kochi parallell to periyar the spices thek annakobhu and other forest products stored in chalakudy and trasport to kochin chalakudy puzh touch with amazhakkad puthen chira and crangannor arch dioceae from 15 the centray but in your report only mentioned koratty only not mentioned mala chalakudy amzhakad puthenchira unfortnately no archological monument seen chalakudy