Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala

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Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala
Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala

Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala: It is obvious that there were multiple players and actors cutting across the boundaries of caste, creed and gender who actually took Kerala to the threshold of modernity and generally speaking no community, party or collectivity can claim exclusive monopoly in taking up its leadership. Kerala got evolved as a model modern state of India thanks to the concerted effort of diverse institutions, people and movements, which were often inter-related and interlinked. The diverse socio-economic , educational and health care projects and programmes that the St. Thomas Christians implemented out of the inspiration from the message of love of Jesus have ultimately contributed to the building up of a literate, healthy and socially empowered state in Kerala. But in the recent historiography and narratives of Kerala’s modernity only the voice of the hegemonic group, dominant community or party is made to be excessively heard peripheralizing and at times swallowing as well as silencing the voices of other players including the minority communities and groups. This is a clever way of manoeuvring the historical past by the “majority” and the “powerful” for the exercise of domination by subverting and silencing what the “minority “ groups had done for the shaping of modern Kerala. It is against this background that now historians are trying to identify the different layers of the historical processes that went into the shaping of modern Kerala. All these layers are as important as the so-called ‘dominant layer’ and the fabric of modern Kerala got constructed out of the collectivity of these layers, the cohesive forces emerging out of which sustain its vitality in a remarkable way. In today’s lecture I would like to concentrate only on one of these layers, i.e., the St.Thomas Catholic Christians, whose contribution added certain unique meanings and content to the type of modernity that appeared in Kerala.

Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala

I. Agrarian Surplus, Banking and the Evolving Christian Middle Class

The St.Thomas Christians, who were often depicted in the Portuguese documents as the principal spice-producers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, emerged as the dominant social group in the agrarian sector of Travancore by the second half of the nineteenth century. During the period between 1850 and 1900, there occurred a large scale migration under the leadership of St.Thomas Christians to the central upland parts of Kerala, particularly to the slopes of small hills and hillocks, which were till then uninhabited for want of sufficient labour force to clear their bushes and trees. One of the major reasons that triggered the migration process was the unprecedented increase in the Christian population thanks to the rise in the birth-rate followed by decrease in the death-rate. In Travancore their number increased from 174566 in 1836 as per the account of William Henry Horsely (( 1.W.H. Horsley, Memoir of Travancore, Historical and Statistical , compiled from Various Authentic Records and Personal Observations, Trivandrum ,1838 reproduced by Achuth Sankar S.Nair(ed.), “William Henry Horsley’s Memoir of Travancore(1838): Earliest English Treatise on the History of Travancore” , in Journal of Kerala studies, vol.XXXI, 2004, p.63. That there were 1,74,566 Syrian Christians in Travancore is derived by adding 56, 184 Catholic Syrians and 1,18,382 Syrians who were said to be then living in the kingdom of Travancore.)) to 287409 by 1891 ((2.This is the figure given in Travancore Memorial. See George Mathew, Communal Road to a Secular Kerala, New Delhi, 1989,p.52 )).

However Travancore did not have enough cultivated land to accommodate and feed the extra population of one lakh St.Thomas Christians. Hence they were compelled to move towards the forest land in the hilly slopes and terrains of mid-upland parts of central Kerala for the purpose of extension of agriculture, particularly spice-cultivation. Because of the relatively thick forest , whose clearance needed labour force other than domestic labour, people did not dare to extend agriculture to these terrains till then. However, by this time there occurred a chain of developments in Travancore, which helped to create sufficient labour force needed for large scale clearance of forest land and hilly slopes of mid-upland parts of central Kerala. This labour class was constructed out of the slaves liberated by Travancorean government in 1855. In fact the slaves were liberated not because of the love towards them, but also for the purpose of ensuring labour force required for plantation sector and for commercially oriented cultivation activities of the British. By liberating the slaves, the labour force till then enjoyed only by a few aristocratic families for generations, was released and was made available in the open market. Using these liberated slaves, the emerging affluent section tried to reclaim backwaters and create paddy cultivating space in Kuttanadu area and spice cultivating terrains in midland Kerala (( 3. Selected Proclamations, pp.296-7; It is being generally held that the aggrestic slaves were liberated through the royal proclamation of slavery abolition so as to get sufficient work-force for plantations. S. Ramachandran Nair, Solcial Consequences of Agrarian Change, Jaipur, 1991, pp.23-4; Pius Malekandathil, “Sabha Adhunika Keralathinte Roopikaranathil”, p.27)).

Since the liberated slaves had no expertise or knowledge to do any other type of job and moreover they found it extremely difficult to get adjusted to the new crisis situation arising out of the sudden deprival of accommodation and food, which they had been enjoying earlier as slaves, made them collaborate with the migrant agriculturists in expanding cultivation to the hill slopes of midland Kerala to overcome problem of poverty and accommodation-deficiency. The migrant agriculturists started setting up a long chain of agrarian villages with the help of the labour force supplied by the liberated slaves.

With the help of freed slaves the Christian agricultural entrepreneurs reclaimed marshy land and portions of backwaters for the purpose of extending rice cultivation in Kuttanadu area and several new Christian settlements were set up in the newly reclaimed land, which soon became major centers of wealth accumulation. On the one hand there were the new agrarian villages that came up in Kuttanadu area like Thayankary ( 1864), Mithrakary( 1869), Puthukary( 1869), Kavalam (1869), Karuvatta(1874), Punnapra( 1892) ((4.“Changanacherry Roopatha-Pallikal”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, Ernakulam, 1937, pp.7-14)) ; on the other hand a large number of agrarian villages of St.Thomas Christians came up in mid-upland parts of Kerala like Arpookara( 1852), Koothrappally( 1874), Ayarkunnam( 1885), Thuruthy( 1885), Payippadu( 1887), Cheruvandoor( 1889), Vettimukal( 1894) (( 5.“Changanacherry Roopatha-Pallikal”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, Ernakulam, 1937, pp.7-14)). The movement of St.Thomas Christians to the bushy upland regions, forests and hill-slopes for spice cultivation led to the establishment of agrarian villages in places like Plasnal( 1848), Vilakkumadam( 1849), Kuruvinal( 1862)Palayam( 1864), Thidanadu( 1865) Edamattam( 1869) , Kanjirathanam( 1869), Mannarappara(1871) Kakkoor( 1881), Edappady(1884) Poovathode( 1887) , Kudakkachira( 1888) Chittar( 1890), Anthyalam( 1891), Maniyamkunnu( 1891) Poovarani( 1891), Mutholappuram( 1892), Kaveekunnu( 1893) , Kunnonni( 1893), Kurumannu( 1893) , Neeranthanam(1897), Pizhaku(1897), Mattakkara( 1898), Ullanadu(1898) and Karur( 1899) ((6.Ibid., pp.7-16)). These places became the major production centres for a variety of spices including pepper, ginger, turmeric and lemon grass .

It is almost during the same period that the agriculturist segment of S.Thomas Christians started migrating to the upland regions near Kanjirappally including Anikadu (1869) , Thamarakunnu (1891), Ponkunnam(1891), Manimala (1892), Elangulam (1896), Kottangal (1901), Elikulam (1908) and Thambalakkadu(1912) on the one side ((7. Ibid., pp.7-13)) and on the other side to Peringuzha(1864), Kaloor(1882), Arikuzha(1889), Vazhakulam(1895), Ayavana(1895), Kaloorkad (1898) in the east near Muvattupuzha ((8.Ernakulam Athiroopatha-Pallikal”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, pp.1-4)).

Most of these tracks of land brought newly under cultivation were not actually forest area from the beginning; but were once upon a time property of various principality chieftains , local rulers, karthas and kaimals, which were attached to the Travancore state as its property (Pandaravaka ) by Marthanda Varma during his northward conquest during the period between 1742 and 1752 after having killed the original owners. These newly attached tracks of land as state property (Pandaravaka) remained unattended to for almost a century causing bushes and trees to grow in these paces as in a forest and it was into these terrains that the St.Thomas Christians started moving from 1850s onwards for extending agricultural activities with the help of liberated slaves. The Pattom Proclamation made by the Travancore state in 1865 conceded that the holders and cultivators of Panadaravaka land (land belonging to Travancore state)could exercise full ownership right over the land they held and cultivated and could buy or sell such land as any private property (( 9. Administration Report, 1864-5, pp.28-30. The Pattam Proclamation enfranchised tenants of the state pattam and converted them into land-owners. However this reform was beneficial only to the upper strata in the society. S. Ramachandran Nair, Solcial Consequences of Agrarian Change, Jaipur, 1991, pp.20, 34)). This in fact gave an unprecedented stimulus to the St. Thomas Christians to move towards the uncultivated state land of Travancore .

The process of carving out of agrarian villages with the help of freed slaves out of the uninhabited terrains by the Christian entrepreneurial agriculturists happened in the kingdom of Cochin as well. Thus we find many new Christian agrarian settlements emerging in places like Chakkarakadavu( 1862),Melur(1865), Thuravoor( 1874), Kadukutty (1876), Nedungattu( 1880) , Chunangamvely (1880), Kuzhippilly( 1881), Mukkandoor( 1884), Kaippattoor( 1886), Kuttipuzha( 1899) , Mattoor( 1900) and Pulluvazhy(1905) ((10. Ibid., pp.1-3)). Meanwhile the attempts to reclaim backwaters and low lying water-logged areas for cultivation by the St.Thomas Christians led to the formation of such agrarian villages like Ezhupunna(1859), Kavil( 1865), Kothavara(1870), Kulasekharamangalam(1877), Panavally( 1878), Uzhuva( 1879), Chaly( 1891), Kunnumpuram( 1892) and Kokkamangalam (1900) ((11. Ibid., pp.3-4)). The liberated slaves who supplied considerable labour force to the St.Thomas Christians in their attempts for extending agriculture, principally spice cultivation in these places, were eventually absorbed into these evolving agrarian villages by giving them small plots of land (often ranging between 5 to 10 cents) and getting them converted into Christianity or even otherwise. This in fact served as the crude economic base of the developments that finally took the liberated slaves to mainstream societal processes of modern Kerala. By 1936 there were about 5734 Christian families with 25, 446 members, formed out of the liberated slaves in and around Pala, Changanacherry and Kanjirappally ((12.Changanacherry Roopatha-Pallikal”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, pp.7-16)).

The mid-upland terrains near Trichur like Mullasserry(1854), Engandiyoor( 1856), Kandannoor( 1856),Cherppu( 1855), Eranellur(1861), Chengaloor(1870), Mundoor(1871), Chittalayam (1871), Kaloor( 1874), Puthusserry( 1875) Varantharappally(1875), Ayyanthole(1876), Pavaratty( 1877), Thiroor( 1878), Arimboor( 1881), Kanjani(1882), Vayilathoor(1882), Edakkulam( 1882), Trichur( 1885), Porathoor(1886), Chowannur(1892), Erumapetty ( 1893), Peramangalam(1894), Manaloor( 1894) and Vadanappilly( 1896) also experienced the formation of agrarian settlements thanks to the entry of St.Thomas Christians for extending agriculture over there. (( 13. “Thrisivaperoor Rooapatha –Pallikal” in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, pp.2-19)) . The central part of the erstwhile kingdom of Cochin located along the banks of river Chalakudy and its branches also witnessed the emergence of several Christian agrarian settlements during this period corresponding to the increasing participation of the Christians in primary production. The newly formed Christian agrarian pockets like Kallettumkara(1861), Oorakam (1867), Kaipamangalam(1871), Mathilakam(1872), Aloor(1872), Karanchira(1873), Avittathur(1878), Cheloor(1880), Irinjalakuda(1881), Poyya(1890), Chendraponni(1895) and Kundur(1897) soon became the principal centers of wealth accumulation during this period.

It is interesting here to note that most of these Christian agrarian settlements eventually became centres of immense wealth accumulation. The Church leaders of the St.Thomas Christians resorted to various economic programmes under the aegis of parish churches by which a considerable chunk of this wealth was to be kept aside and channelized for further productive ventures like chitty and kuries without letting it to be spent in these villages. The members of this community were taught the lessons of thrift and the necessity of investing in profitable ventures for the purpose of generating enough resources to sustain the community against the background of its ongoing resistance to the Lusitanization and cultural colonialism thrust upon them by the Portuguese and the European form of Church administration. Fr Thomas Paremakkel, the governor of the diocese of Cranganore, had instructed as early as 1787 that all the churches should invest their surplus wealth in productive and profit-generating ventures so that the churches might remain self-reliant without depending on foreign help (( 14. Paremakkel Thommankathanar, Varthamanapusthakam., edited by Thomas Moothedan , Ernakulam, 1977, pp.324-6)). The long and stiff resistance of this community to the cultural colonialism of the Europeans was realized only because this community did not often depend on the money and resources provided by the Europeans; but instead generated enough resources from within using the economic institutions of chitty and kuries run under the supervision of parish churches of the St.Thomas Christians. In many places banks of different character and nature evolved out of such economic institutions.

Thiruvalla and Trichur became the heartland of banking business for the St.Thomas Christians. The Kandathil family of Thiruvalla( Manorama group), belonging to Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church had about 15 banks and the among the 42 scheduled banks of India, only Central Bank of India and Bank of India exceeded the Travancore National and Quilon Bank of Kandathil family in the volume of business in 1937. The Ambalapuzha Christian Bank founded by Chandy Vaidyan of Edathua was another leading bank of the St.Thomas Christians in the south. The Lourdes Catholic church in Trichur was the pioneer to introduce the church sponsored kuri in the kingdom of Cochin. The Chaldean Christians of Trichur started the first bank called the Chaldean Syrian Bank in 1918. The Catholic St.Thomas Christians of Trichur under the Chakolas started the Catholic Syrian Bank in 1920 and later South Indian Bank (1929), which are even now the leading small-scale banks of India. Catholic Orient Bank(1922), Catholic Bank(1929) Malabar Bank(1929), Indian Insurance Banking Corporation (1933) and Kshemavialsom Bank were the other leading banks started by Chakola group and other Catholic St.Thomas Christians of Trichur. Pala Central Bank (1927), Forward Bank( 1929), Federal Bank (1931), Orient Central Bank, Cochin Bank, Travancore Midland Bank(1944) formed the other leading banks of central Kerala , which were founded or sustained by Catholic St.Thomas Christians for a long period of time. The wealth flow from the newly formed agrarian villages of the St.Thomas Christians of mid-upland Kerala and the surplus from their commercial activities kept banking sector vibrant and active. In 1953 Trichur having 19 registered offices of banks stood second in position in India, while Calcutta, which had the largest number of registered offices had only 21. Majority of these 19 banks of Trichur were started and managed by the St.Thomas Christians of different denominations (( 15. M.A.Oommen, “ Rise and Growth of Banking in Kerala” , Social Scientist, vol.V, No.(October 1976), pp..24-46)).

Meanwhile some enterprising St.Thomas Christians under the leadership of Vallikkattil, Karikulam and Murikkummoottil families moved towards coastal areas for reclaiming backwaters for extending rice-cultivation. A large space of backwaters having the depth of about 7-8 feet was encircled by bunds and piles made of coconut timber and mud, and the water inside the bund was pumped out with water wheels and then cultivation was done on a large scale under the leadership of Murikkummoottil Thomman Joseph. About 17500 acres of land was thus reclaimed by these Christian families in Kuttanadu for the sake of rice cultivation, when the entire nation was starving because of the dearth of provisions caused by first and second world wars (( 16. K.V.Joseph, Nazranikalude Sampathika Yatnangal, Kottayam, 2009, pp.66-8; Joseph Mathew Vallikattu, Kuttanadan Kayalnilangal, Trivandrum, 2008. )).

The active participation of this Christian community in the commercial and banking sector fetched for them immense wealth, which they ably invested in further productive ventures. In 1925 when the Nair Act was passed by Travancore state allowing the Nair taravad property to get fragmented, divided and sold, it was the St.Thomas Christians who purchased a major chunk of land from the Nairs when they fragmented their property and sold it ((17.For details see S.Ramachandran Nair, Social Consequences of Agrarian Change, pp.60-71; Census of Travancore (1931), pp.192-3; 489; Robin Jeffrey, The Decline of Nayar Dominance:Society and Politics in Travancore, 1847-1908, New Delhi, 1976, pp.240-60)). Thus during the period between 1920 and 1930 when Nairs sold land worth Rs.8, 40, 10, 717, the St.Thomas Christians bought land worth the value of Rs. 6,06,97,547 ((18.S.Ramachandran Nair, Social Consequences of Agrarian Change, p.71; Enquiry into the Sub-division and Fragmentation of Agricultural Holdings,Travancore,1941, p.27)). A good many of the St.Thomas Christians also moved towards plantation sector and eventually they turned out to be a significant moneyed middle class in the evolving capitalistic economy. In 1931 when economic census was taken along with demographic census, it was Meenachil taluk, having greatest concentration of St.Thomas Christians, that stood first in Kerala on the basis of per-capita (Rs. 3259), while Kottayam, Thodupuzha, Ambalapuzha, Thiruvalla, Changanacherry and Muvattupuzha, which are the other core areas of St.Thomas Christian settlements, occupied the other succeeding positions (( 19.K.V.Joseph, Nazranikalude Sampathika Yatnangal, pp.60-1)).

Indigenization of the Church and Educational Endeavours

Along with the material reorientation happening among the members of the St.Thomas Christian community, we find this community undergoing radical social and institutional changes from within. It was only by the end of the 19th century that the Catholic St.Thomas Christians started getting their own dioceses as well as indigenous bishops. With the erection of two Apostolic Vicariates (Trichur and Kottayam)for the Catholic St.Thomas Christians in 1887, this community got a chance for the first time to move towards an independent Church structure under Pope. It is interesting to note that the seats of these two Apostolic Vicariates were located in Trichur and Kottayam , which happened to be the core areas where wealth from the newly formed Christian agrarian villages in Central Kerala flowed in an unprecedented way, which in turn sustained the multi-layered activities that Church took up in the succeeding period.

Bishop Adolf Medlycott and Bishop Charles Levinge , the Apostolic Vicars of Trichur and Kottayam respectively, chalked out several programmes for channelizing the wealth accruing in Christian agrarian villages for socially and educationally empowering the community. One of the important areas that they focused on was the sector of education. Till then the authorities of the Church administrative systems of Padroado and Propaganda Fide, under whose rule the members of this community were subjugated for centuries, did not allow the Catholic St.Thomas Christians to go for English education fearing that through English education protestant ideas would get disseminated among the members of this community. However the Jacobite segment of the St.Thomas Christians had established several educational institutions thanks to their connections with the Anglican (CMS) missionaries and several of them got good employment and governmental positions, which the Catholic St.Thomas Christians unfortunately missed for a long span of time. It was Chavara Kuriakose Elias, the founder of CMI order who took initiative to introduce modern English education among this community in 1863. In 1891 while CMS had 164 schools with 3879 boys as well as 1031 girls and LMS had about 438 teachers to teach in their educational institutions, the Catholics had only one college , one high school and 54 parish schools for entire Kerala (( 20. Nagam Aiya, Report on the Census of Travancore, Madras, 1894, pp381ff )).

When Bishops Charles Levinge and Adolf Medlycott sent circulars to establish schools under parish churches , the response was highly positive. Many parish churches that could mobilize resources from agrarian and commercial sectors came forward to erect schools of different grades and levels. The most important among them were Enammavu( 1885), Elthuruthu( 1886), Kottapady( 1887), Trichur( 1889), Chevoor( 1890), Palliserry(1890) , Manaloor( 1892) and Valappadu( 1893) in Trichur area ((21. “Schools”, in Directory of the Archdiocese of Trichur,Trichur, 2005 )) and Changanacherry( 1891), Edathua( 1895) and Pulinkunnu( 1898) near Changanachery area ((22.“Changanacherry Roopatha- Schoolukal”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, pp.45-56 )).

The indigenous bishops of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry , who started leading this community from 1896 onwards gave utmost importance to educational activities ((23.It was by the papal Bull Rei Sacrae issued on 28th July 1896 that the dioceses of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry were erected and indigenous priests were made bishops for theses sees.)). Consequently during the period between 1900 and 1935 about 192 schools were established under the diocese of Changanacherry, besides the TTI of Vazhappally(1911) and St. Berchman’s College of Changanacherry(1922) (( 24. “Changanacherry Roopatha- Schoolukal”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, pp.45-56. Some of these schools were later upgraded while some others stopped functioning. The list includes al types of schools including primary , upper primary and high schools.)) . During this period Kottayam diocese had established 36 schools (( 25. “Kottayam Roopatha- Schoolukal”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, pp.3-5 )), while its number in Pala region was 93 ((26. These 93 schools are already included in the list given in supra no. 110. The figure is quoted as to have an area-wise picture of the developments )). In the present-day diocese of Kothamangalam about 52 schools were started during this period out of which the schools of Nedungapra (1925), Mudappannnoor (1926),Thazhavumkunnu (1929), Madakkathanam (1929), Chilavu(1929) and Ramalloor (1934) were started even much before the establishment of parish churches in these places ((27. “Ernakulam Athiroopatha”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, pp.1-5;10-19)). During the period between 1900 and 1935 about 106 schools were started in the diocese of Ernakulam ((28. “Ernakulam Athiroopatha”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, pp.10-19)), while the number of schools started in the diocese of Trichur during this time was equally significant.St. Thomas College of Trichur(1919) was the first higher educational institution set up by the Catholic St.Thomas Christians ((29.“ Thrissivaperoor Roopatha”, ”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, pp.2-21))

Soon the leadership of this community passed from the European missionaries to Indian bishops, who issued circulars that there should be at least one school under every parish church. The wealth generated from the agrarian expansion and stimulated trade was collected at the level of parish churches and primary schools were erected in every smaller agrarian villages and upper primary schools in semi urban areas and finally high schools in centres of intense Catholic concentration. It was in these schools that the children of the freed slaves had their education, as in other schools caste discrimination still continued. Most of the dalit leaders of Kerala of these days had done their education in such schools. In some places schools were erected much more before the establishment of parish churches, which is suggestive of the priority that this community gave to education at this point of time.

With the establishment of Syro-Malabar Hierarchy in 1923 this community got a concrete institutional and ecclesiological format ((30. See the Papal Bull Romani Pontifices issued by Pope Pius XI on 21st December 1923)). Most of the bishops who led this Church from 1896 happened to be from an agrarian background, as a result of which they could address effectively the agrarian segment of this community and get the agrarian surplus of their major centres easily channelized for erecting educational institutions with the purpose of empowering this community. Interestingly the religious women congregations that were founded during this time, like Congregation of the Mother of Carmel(1866) , Franciscan Clarist Congregation( 1888), Sisters of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament(1908), Sacred Heart sisters(1914) had developed teaching as one of their major charisms and activities. Most of these congregations either started their own schools or got their members trained for teaching apostolate, which in turn is indicative of the importance that the Church leaders had then given to the mission of educating the poor and the peripheralized ((31. All the Religious Congregations started during this period for women, except the Holy Family Congregation founded by Bl.Mariam Thresia, took education as their main apostolate in the Church. Later Holy Family sisters, who had family apostolate as their primary concern, started resorting to education as their secondary apostolate. )). The elements of enlightenment and the radiance of knowledge that got disseminated from these schools played not an insignificant role in the shaping of modern Kerala.

Hospitals and Health Care

Health care sector form an important area where the St.Thomas Christians made sizeable contribution. The establishment of dispensaries in medium size settlements and relatively bigger hospitals with treatment facilities of English medicine in larger centres became regular feature after 1920s. By 1920s there began increasing availability and use of English medicine, experimented, tested and found effective in the First world war(1914-18) and the Catholic Church of Kerala ably carried these medicines and medical knowledge to the interior parts , particularly to the newly formed agrarian villages. The English medicines were used as effective remedies in most of the newly formed agrarian villages not only to prevent but also to fight against many of the fatal diseases. Soon health care and medical service became the second most important activity of the Church in Kerala. Even the newly started women Religious Congregations like Sisters of the Destitute(1927), Sisters of St .Joseph( 1928), Medical Sisters of St.Joseph(Dharmagiri-1944), Sisters of Charity( 1944), Assisi Sisters of Mary Immaculate(1949) have medical care and nursing of the sick and the destitute as their principal activities. Many hospitals like Lisie (Ernakulam), Jubilee(Trichur), Pushpagiri(Tiruvalla), Dharmagiri(Kothamangalam), Little Flower(Angamaly) etc .,were started in Kerala during this period either by the members of these congregations or by diocesan authorities with the help of religious sisters who got trained in health care and nursing. Out of them Jubilee and Pushpagiri have now become medical colleges with Post graduate study centres. Many of the dispensaries and hospitals thus started in central Kerala by the Church, as centres of English medicine, helped a lot to save the lives of thousands of poor and marginalized people, particularly those of the agricultural migrants at a time when malaria and other tropical diseases were rampant in the region ((32.Most of these congregations established dispensaries and hospitals either in the newly migrated settlements or in places lying adjacent to the migrant villages. Many of the dispensaries have eventually evolved into full-fledged hospitals in later years, while some others were wound up recently with the mushrooming of super-specialty hospitals that made the existence of dispensaries redundant. See for details Pius Malekandathil, “Sabha Adhunika Keralathinte Roopikaranathil,” pp.41-43 )). In fact it was these medical institutions that have sustained the health of Malayalees in central Kerala, causing them to evolve and operate as the foundational base of the famous Kerala model of Development.

Social Assertion Movements and Freedom Struggle.

The St.Thomas Christians formed an important social segment that often took lead or active part in social assertion movements and freedom struggle in Kerala. The leaders of this community played a vital role in the preparation of Malayalee Memorial of 1891 ((33.The spirit of Malayali Memorial was that Travancore for Travancoreans and the movement was led by G.P.Pillai, an English educated Nair youth. G.P.Sekhar(ed.), Select Writings and speeches of G.P. Pillai, pp.100-110, 180-4; P.K.K.Menon, (ed.), The History of Freedom Movement in Kerala, vol.II, Trivandrum, 1972, pp.1-16)). The St.Thomas Christian leaders like Nidhirikkal Mani Kathanar and Nidhirikkal Cyriac took lead role along with K.P.Padmanabha Menon and G.P.Pillai ((34.The Malayali Memorial with signatures of 10,037 persons was submitted to the Dewan on July 2, 1891 by a six-member delegation with K.P.Padmanabha Menon as the leader and G.P.Pillai, Cyriac Nidhiry Vakil, M.K.Padmanabha Pillai, Sivan Pillai and Kavalam Neelakanda Pillai as members. See P.S.Velayudhan,”Sri Narayana Guruvum, Kshetrasthapanavum”, Vivekodayam, March, 1978, pp.41-2; Abraham M.Nidhiry, Father Nidhiry, A History of His Times, Kottayam, 1971; V.C.George , Nidhirikal Mani Kathanar, Thevara, 1950.)). Malayalee Memorial was a petition signed and submitted to the ruler of Travancore by the members of Nair, Christian and Ezhava communities against the over-preference being given to Tamil Brahmins in the appointment for Governmental jobs and the discrimination being meted out against the members of other communities. The Tamil Brahmins who formed less than 2% of the total population, occupied the principal jobs of Travancore since the northward expansion of Travancore in 1740s and 1750s. In 1891 the non-Malayali Brahmins held 1035 Governmental jobs in Travancore having the salary between Rs 10 and 50 and 101 jobs above Rs.50 . While the Christians of various denominations in Travancore, in spite of their demographic strength of having more than 20% of the population got only 95 jobs with the salary between Rs.10 and 50 and 21 jobs with salary above Rs.50 ((35. Census of 1875 and 1891 and the List of Public Servants of the Travancore Government for the years of 1872-73 and 1893-94)). It was Nidhirikkal Manikathanar and Cyriac Nidhirikkal who mobilized the St. Thomas Christians with the demand for equal share in the governmental jobs, the struggles for realizing which are often equated to be the beginning phase of freedom struggle in Kerala. For the purpose of mobilizing support for these struggles, Nidhirikkal Manikathanar started two dailies Nazrani Deepika(1887) and Malayala Manorama (1888); however later Malayala Manorama passed into the control of a trust related to Kandathil family ((36. Pius Malekandathil, “ Sabha Adhunika Keralathinte Roopikaranathil”, Mathavum Chintayum, vol. 90, Issue 6( November-December )2007, p. 30 )).

Meanwhile the St.Thomas Christians also joined the Muslims and Ezhavas for fighting for equal job opportunities and representation in democratic bodies. Following the establishment of large number of Christian schools in different parts of Travancore, the number of Christians having better education and knowing English language got increased. In 1911 among the Christians who formed 31.51% of total population of Travancore, about 10129 were literate with knowledge in English language (( 37. Robbin Jeffrey, The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore 1847-1908 (New Delhi, 1976), pp,5-9)). Meanwhile the Nayars who formed 17.13% of the population had only 5446 English literates. In 1921 the number of the English literates among the Christians rose to 24059, which further went up to 27196 in 1931. Meanwhile the number of English literates among the Nairs was only 24059 in 1921, which rose to 18606 in 1931. Even though the Christians were numerically large and educationally far advanced they got only 3537 Government jobs(17.36% of the total appointments) by 1932, while the Nairs had 10585 government jobs (51.94% of the total jobs). The Ezhavas who formed 17.13% of the population had only 3.86 % of the Government jobs(787), while the Muslims who formed 6.94% of population had only 2.14% of jobs(436) ((38.P.Chandramohan, “Christian Middle Class and their Fight for Civic Rights in Travancore”, in K.J.John(ed.), Christian Heritage of Keralaq: Grand Chevalier L.M.Pylee Felicitation Volume, Cochin, 1981, pp.267-271. These were the major issues discussed in the editorials of Deepika on May 28 1918 and January 16, 1919. )). This was the background against which the St. Thomas Christians started clamouring for equal civic rights and equal job opportunities, for which they also sought the help of the Ezhavas and the Muslims.

The leaders of the St.Thomas Christians, Ezhavas and Muslims formed a League in 1918 for Equal Civil Rights to struggle for opening up all branches of Government service to all castes and communities. As Land Revenue Department, that provided the maximum jobs in Travancore, had also the responsibility to look into the matters of Devaswam, only Hindus could get jobs in this department. Hence the St.Thomas Christian leaders demanded the separation of Devaswam from the Land Revenue Department, so that non-Hindus might get selected for jobs in revenue department, as well. The separation of Devaswam from Revenue finally took place in 1922, following which Christians, Muslims and untouchables started getting jobs in Revenue department. It was against this background that for the first time a Christian , that too a Catholic – Morris Watt by name- was appointed as the Dewan of Travancore(1925) ((39. M.M. Varkey, Ormakalilute (Malayalam) , Kottayam, 1974, pp. 74 – 83.; P.Chandramohan, “Christian Middle Class and their Fight for Civic Rights in Travancore”, pp. 265ff)).

It was during the period between 1920 and 1936 that the St.Thomas Christians began to enter on a large number into Kerala ‘s politics. One among them was Barrister George Joseph, who as the convenor of Anti-Untouchable Committee of Indian National Congress, initiated Vaikkom Satyagraha in 1924. Under his leadership the satyagrahis demanded that the temple of Vaikkom should be kept open for lower castes. However later he was compelled to keep a low profile in the movement because of the intervention from Gandhi, who told him that Christian participation in issues related temple entry might be misinterpreted ((40.Barrister George Joseph organized the Vaikom satyagraha as convenor of the Anti Un-touchability Committee. For details see T.K.Ravindran, Eight Furlongs of Freedom, New Delhi, 1980; P.K.K.Menon, The History of Freedom Movement in Kerala, vol.II, Trivandrum, 1972:K.P.Kesava Menon, Kazhinjakalam, Calicut, 1986: P.K.Madhavan, T.K. Madhavante Jivitacharitram, Trivandrum, 1926)). The leadership of Vaikom Satyagraha taken away from Barrister George Joseph was later given to T.K.Madhavan and K.P.Kesava Menon, for which T.K. Ravindran later criticizes the attitude of Gandhiji ((41.T.K.Ravindran, Eight Furlongs of Freedom, New Delhi, 1980)). Despite this development, it must be specially noted that many Christians continued to participate in the Vaikom Satygraha along with Muslims. ((42. S.Ramachandran Nair, Freedom Struggle in Colonial Kerala, Trivandrum, 2004, p. 98))

It was principally through their participation in Abstention Movement often known as Nivarthana Prasthana that the St. Thomas Christians entered the domain of political leadership of Kerala. It was the feeling that the members of this community, who were intellectually enlightened through advanced education and economically empowered by way of their participation in the sectors of agriculture , plantation, banking and business were not given due representation in the Legislative Council of Travancore and due share of governmental jobs in Travancore that took them to active politics and freedom struggle. By 1935-6 there were about 514 graduate and post-graduate Catholic candidates in the St.Thomas Christian pockets of Changanacherry, Pala and Kanjirappally ((43. “Changanacherry Roopatha- Sarvakalasala Bhirudadharikal”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam, Ernakulam, 1937pp.57-75 )). The number of graduate and post-graduate Catholics in and around Ernakulam, Kothamangalam, Thodupuzha and Muvattupuzha was 249 for this period ((44. “Ernakulam Athiroopatha- Sarvakalasala Bhirudadharikal”, in Rakshaniya Valsaram 1937 le Vaidika Panchankam , pp.31-41)). The fact that these highly qualified Catholics did not get the jobs they deserved nor due representation in the democratic bodies of the state which they were eligible for made the St.Thomas Christians resort to the chain of strikes and to fight politically against the Travancorean state, which in fact formed the matrix of freedom struggle in Kerala .

The All Kerala Catholic Congress(AKCC), which had evolved by this time as the voice of the community , took up the leadership of this chain of struggles in the major settlements of the St.Thomas Christians. The roots of AKCC can be traced back to Nazrani Jathi Aikya Sangham which was started in 1866 at Mannanam; but later it began to operate using the platform of the print media Nazrani Deepika and around its readers ((45. V.C.George, Nidhirikal Mani Kathanar, pp.184-209)). In 1905 Nidhirikkal Manikathanar founded Katholica Mahajanasabha out of Nazrani Jathi Aikya Sangham and gave shape to an organization out of which the present-day AKCC later got evolved. From 1907 onwards it came to be called Samooha Sammelanam and in 1918 it was renamed at Changanacherry as Keraliya Katholica Mahajanasabha ((46.John Pallisserry, “Catholic Congress Oru Sannadha Sangham”, in AKCC Bulletin Silver Jubilee Souvenir, Kottayam, 1973, pp.140-5)). In the session held at Chertalai in 1930 its name was again changed into All Kerala Catholic Congress(AKCC). The AKCC, which mobilized people for the struggles against Travancore state during the time of Nivarthana Prasthana, served as a platform for many St.Thomas Christians to get into the Indian national movement. Since 1918 , when Equal Civil Rights movement was launched , both the Catholic and the Jacobite segments of the St.Thomas Christians used to make their political struggles and ventures jointly. The working committee president of Civil Rights League was John Chandy. Adv.E.J John came to the forefront of politics and freedom struggle of Travancore as a member of this political body ((47.The deputation led by E.J.John in 1920 to present a memorial to the Dewan consisted of fifteen St.Thomas Christians , two Ezhavas and one Muslim as members. See for details P.S.Velayudhan, Sri Narayana Guruvum Kshetrastapanavum”, March, 1978, pp.187-98)).

One of the topmost leaders from the St.Thomas Catholic community mobilizing its members for the freedom movement of Travancore during this period was M.M. Varkey. From 1924 onwards the St.Thomas Christians , particularly the Catholic segments under the inspiration of M.M. Varkey visited frequently both the king Sree Moolam and later the regent Queen demanding that Catholics should get equal job opportunities as the Nairs were then having and that they should get due share of representation in the democratic bodies. The four page news bulletin by name Kerala Dasan was the main literary weapon that Varkey resorted to for reaching out to the larger Catholic population preparing them for the chain of political struggles against the Travancorean government. . In 1924 , when the first issue of Kerala Dasan was published there was no Catholic employee in any of the highest key governmental positions ((48. M.M.Varkey, Kerala Dasan, April 12, 1924)). With the increasing demand from the Kerala Dasan for governmental jobs for Catholics, the Travancorean government forbade the publication of this news-letter. However with the ban on Kerala Dasan , Varkey did not sit quite; in its stead he started two publications by name Dasan and Yuvabharati reiterating the same demands. He exhorted the Catholics, Ezhavas and the Muslims to join hands together and to fight against the Brahminical and Nair domination in the governmental jobs of Travancore. The political and social leaders like T.K. Madhavan and N. Kumaran extended liberal support to the demands of Varkey. In 1926 Varkey was arrested and put behind the bars by the Travancorean government for having written and circulated the article titled “Live and let live”. Later Varkey wrote in his autobiography Ormakaliloode that it was the Nairs, who got upset on his arguments for equal governmental position for the Catholics, that maneuvered behind the curtains for his arrest and imprisonment (( 49. George Mathew, Communal Road to a Secular Kerala, New Delhi, 1989, pp.72-4; M.M. Varkey, Ormakalilude, Kottayam, 1974, pp.40-60)).

The moment M.M. Varkey came to know of vacancies in the public service of Travancore, he demanded that the share of the Catholic community should be immediately given. During this period the pamphlet titled “ The Public Service of Travancore and the Catholic Claims” and authored by Varkey was distributed all over the kingdom and the Dewan Morris Watt was surprised to see the amount of discussion this pamphlet had then generated in Travancore. He says” wherever I go I see only the book ‘Catholic Claims” and whoever I meet they talk about the ‘Catholic Claims’. Who is the author of this ‘Catholic Claims?” ((50.George Mathew, Communal Road to a Secular Kerala, p.74)) One of the major results emerging out of the chain of struggles initiated by Varkey and the like minded people was the appointment of a St.Thomas Christian (Catholic) – Barrister Joseph Thaliyath- as the Judge of Travancore High Court ((51. Ibid.)); thanks to these developments many other Catholics were also eventually absorbed into the governmental services of this kingdom.

It was in continuation of this chain of struggles, which ultimately merged into freedom struggle that one has to look into the Nivarthana Prasthana (Abstention Movement) started in 1932. ‘The Legislative Council’ that Travancore introduced in 1888 was the first democratic legislative institution in India set up with the backing of a law. Later in 1904 Sree Moolam Popular Assembly was also established . The events leading to the Nivarthana Prasthana commenced in 1931 , when the new ruler BalaramaVarma introduced new voting criteria for both the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly and Legislative Council, consequent to which the Christians and the Ezhavas did not get adequate share of representation in the Legislative Council ((52.Pius Malekandathil, “ Sabha Adhunika Keralathinte Roopikaranathil”, p.37)). The Travancore State Catholic Congress submitted a memorial to the ruler of Travancore in 1932 requesting him to reserve seats to the Legislative Council on the basis of demographic strength ((53. P.K.K.Menon, The History of Freedom Movement in Kerala, vol.II, p.355)).

Though the Christians formed 27% of the people who then paid an amount of more than Rs.100 as tax, they were given only 4 seats in the Legislative Council of 1931, while the Nairs were given 15 seats ((54.For details see S.Ramachandran Nair, Social Consequences of Agrarian Change, pp.104-145: George Mathew, Communal Road to a Secular Kerala, pp. 86-112)). The Christians, who had by this time amassed sizeable wealth and evolved as a significant middle class by way of their participation in agricultural activities, banking business, chitties and kuries, felt that it was a discrimination against them and denial of political and civil rights that they deserved. The Travancore Latin Christian Mahajana Sabha and the Travancore State Catholic Congress submitted separate “memorials” to the king to redress their grievances. They demanded apportion of seats in the legislature on the strength of population and adult franchise ((55. P.K.K.Menon, The History of Freedom Movement in Kerala, vol.II, p.336; George Mathew, Communal Road to a Secular Kerala, pp.91-2)). All the Christians of Travancore joined hands together to give a shape to political scheme of actions under the banner of All Travancore Christian Political Conference and ensured the support of Ezhavas and Muslims for their chain of struggles initiated in 1932. E.J.John , who was the spokesperson of this association and N.V.Joseph who was the president of Travancore State Catholic Congress started arguing that denial of due political representation to the Christians in Legislative Council was done with a communal agenda ((56. George Mathew, Communal Road to a Secular Kerala, pp.92-3; P.K.K.Menon, The History of Freedom Movement in Kerala, vol.II, p.340)).

On 17th December 1932, the representatives of Christian-Muslim and Ezhava community organizations under the leadership of A.J. John gave origin to All Travancore Joint Political Conference , which was the precursor of present-day Congress party of Kerala ((57. P.K.K.Menon, The History of Freedom Movement in Kerala, vol.II, pp.336-42; K.K.Kusuman, The Abstention Movement, Trivandrum, 1976; P.S.Velayudhan, “Sri Narayana Guruvum Kshetrasthapanavum”, pp.291-319)). The leaders of All Travancore Joint Political Conference decided to abstain from the elections and resort to non-co-operation till their grievances were redressed. This movement that started in 1932 and continued till 1936 is called Abstention Movement or Non-Co-operation movement and to indicate its distinction and difference from Gandhian non-Co-operation movement I.C.Chacko called it Nivarthana Prasthana. Abstention movement led by Christians was one of the most important political developments in Travancore that ultimately was made to become an integral part of freedom movement in Kerala ((58.George Mathew, Communal Road to a Secular Kerala, pp.93-94)). In fact the major leaders of freedom struggle of Kerala like A.J.John, T.M. Varghese , M.M. Varkey , N.V.Joseph , A.C. Kuriakose , Ezhava leaders like C.Kesavan, P.K. Kunju evolved out of the long chain of struggles connected with Abstention Movement.

Finally in 1937 the movement found results: A Public service Commission was constituted to ensure fair representation for backward communities in the public service and 40% of the jobs in the intermediate divisions were reserved for backward communities. Moreover the number of seats in Legislative Council was increased on the basis of the demographic strength of the community ((59.George Mathew, Communal Road to a Secular Kerala, pp.90-8)). The second result was that the franchise was widened and communal representation was introduced in the legislature. In the first election held in 1937 after the Abstention Movement the Travancore Joint Political Congress headed by the Christians obtained the absolute majority and T.M.Varghese was elected as the Deputy President, the highest office of the legislative Assembly ((60. Ibid., pp.96-9)).

The relatively dominant Christian presence in the leadership of the evolving State Congress made C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer, the Dewan of Travancore to accuse freedom struggle in Travancore as an effort of the communal party of Travancore Christians. His efforts to divide the people on communal grounds between the Christians and other communities intensified the heat of the last phase of freedom struggle in Travancore. The Christian leaders of State Congress like Mrs. Annie Mascarene, Akkamma Cherian, Rosamma Cherian, A.J.John, R.V.Thomas, P.J.Sebastian E.John Philipose, Elenjickal Thariathu Kunjithommen, P.T.Chacko, Elizabeth Kuruvilla , K.J. Varkey, K.M.Chandy etc.,were arrested and their entire property was confiscated by C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer for the purpose of nipping the bud of expanding nationalist movement in the state. Parallel to the mobilization done by State Congress, mammoth gatherings were organized all over Travancore by All Kerala Catholic Congress to put pressure on the autocratic state and to facilitate the introduction of democratic processes in Travancore and in one of such meetings in the ground of St.Thomas Church of Pala, about 3 lakh people participated ((61. Pala K.M.Mathew, “ The Role of Christians in India’s Freedom Struggle”, in Silvester Ponnumuthan , Chacko Aerath and George Menacherry(ed.), Christian Contribution to Nation Building : A Third Millennium Enquiry, Cochin, 2004, pp.31-3)).

The foregoing discussion shows how the St.Thomas Christians, while defining their ecclesial character and ministries after the evolution as an independent Church under Pope, developed a set of activities and programmes that in turn helped to usher in various elements of modernity in Kerala. Though these Christians have got a historical past going back to the first century AD, their crystallization as an independent Church happened with the formation of different dioceses on the basis of ritual traditions to cater to their spiritual needs in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the consequent ecclesiastical formatting that happened in the twentieth century. The indigenous bishops heading these dioceses ably channelized the surplus getting accrued in the Christian agrarian villages to a variety of educational programmes and health-care projects, whose chief beneficiaries often were the peripheral and marginal segments of the society, besides the members of own community. The new Church leadership besides catering to the spiritual needs of the community took up educational activities and medical care endeavours as central mission of the Church and the schools, colleges , hospitals and dispensaries set up by the Church revolutionized the sectors of knowledge dissemination and health care in Kerala. The educational and medical advancements made through these institutions provided base for the famous Kerala model of development, which took new meanings and dimensions after independence. Meanwhile because of the long conflicts that this community had with the ecclesiastical institutions, devices and personalities thrust upon them from Europe, this community developed a very strong anti-European attitude and sentiment since 1520s, which in turn augmented the scale and intensity of national consciousness and pride among its members. These anti-European sentiments were intensely stimulated later and were eventually made to get merged into the mainstream National movements through their active participation in the social assertion movements and freedom struggle of Travancore. Any discourse on modernity in Kerala becomes unintelligible if the strand of educational, medical, economic and political activities of the St.Thomas Christians within the larger context is ignored and their role in the freedom struggle and the political making of Kerala is kept outside the range of study.

About the Author

Dr.Pius Malekandathil, 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).

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  1. jjacob says

    Fascinating article, I had no idea the extent of the involvement of christians, portrayals have usually been less than complimentary. One thing of note that I had no idea, was that Gandhiji had asked Barrister Joseph to step asside of leadership Vaikkom Satyagraha as well I had not idea he was the covenor of the anti-untouchablity committe. We need to look at the nuances of history to get the who picture, or our people, especially our youth will be subject to hindutva type revisionist history.

  2. LUKE TONY says

    Dear Mr. Pius
    I chance to read your excellent article “St. Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala” which was copied verbatim by some other person in his blog.
    I would like to point out some errors that I have found on your views on Kuttanadu agriculture.
    It was mentioned that Thommen Joseph of Murickumootil had lead the reclamation activities in Kuttanadu. Which is incorrect. Thommen Joseph’s reclamations of QS & T blocks were made only in 1942. These three blocks were the last 3 tracts of land reclaimed from the lake.
    At least two decades before QS& T reclamation itself more than 90% of the kayal lands were reclaimed.

    The first kayal reclamation activity (Venad Kayal) was carried out in 1865 by a Syrian Christian family named Pallithanam of Kainady village. They subsequently reclaimed Madathil Kayal, Pallithanam Kayal & Cherukara Kayal totaling an area of 1100 acres. But in 1904 Travancore Govt banned further reclamations.

    One of the members of this family Pallithanthu Mathaichan (Pallithanam Luka Mathai) led the reclamation of more than 1/3rd of kayal lands from 1898 to 1922.Pallithanam Luka Mathai and his contemporary in Sree Moolam Praja Sabha Cunnumpurathu Ulahannan Kurian were the leading force behind most of the major reclamation happened before 1922.
    But some fallacy has been spread about legacy of Kayal reclamation. Thus some books were wrote on this subject (Land Reclamation in Kerala, V. R. Pillai and P. K. G. Panicker) contrary to the true history of Kayal reclamation and assigning its patronage to a Nair family named Chalayil of Kavalam. In order to strengthen their views they conveniently ignored the contribution of Pallithanam & Cunnumpuram and used Murickens name to generalize other reclamations.
    The same view were copied by A Sreedharamenon in Kerala Gazetteers (Governement of Kerala), Trivandrum, 1975.
    They claim that “Attumuttu Kayal” is the pioneering kayal reclamation. It’s an irony that you will not be able to find a kayal land in that name in Kuttandu. Chalayil family though very affluent have entered into kayal reclamation as a partner of Pallithanam family while reclaiming the Rajapuram Kayal. They eventually depicted themselves as pioneers of Kayal reclamation.
    Murciken’s name would not have even come to prominence unless his lands were acquired by communist govt.
    I have mentioned some links which may give you some more idea about this subject.

  3. Pius Malekandathil says

    Dear Luke Tony,
    Thank you very much for your compliments and observations. In fact this article originated out of a paper presented by me at Mangalapuzha Seminary, Alwaye in 2007 and later published in Malayalam in Mathavum Chintayum. A modified version of this paper was later presented as a special lecture under Bishop Mar George Punnakottil Silver Jubilee Memorial Lecture Series of Pavanatma College , Murickasserry , Idukki, in 2011 and was later published in English by the College in 2012 under the title ” Catholic Church in the shaping of Modern Kerala”. When there was more demand from various quarters for these publications, which are now out of print, I sent it to NSC-Network for the wider use of scholars interested in this part of Nazarani history. I am glad that many are finding this article to be interesting . I did not yet come across the blog that you mentioned in your mail. I hope that people who put this information in their blogs will acknowledge at least their source of information.
    I am thankful to you for having brought to my attention the different Christian families involved in the reclamation of marshy land, kayal and backwaters for the purpose of extension of cultivation. Though I had traced the reclamation process back to 1860s ,( which led to the creation of paddy cultivating villages in Kuttanadu Thayankary ( 1864), Mithrakary( 1869), Puthukary( 1869), Kavalam (1869), Karuvatta(1874), Punnapra( 1892), I could not give details of these families , as I was not aware of them. Thank you very much for having given me such precious pieces of information .. I look forward to such informative interactions in the future , as well
    Pius Malekandathil, Professor in History, JNU, New Delhi.

  4. abraham chaly says

    Very interesting write up . Thank you you have enlightened me . Wondering whether you have done any research on the CHALY FAMILY of Mulanthuruthy and their contribution to society …

  5. joy thomas plathottam says

    dearabrahamchaly, plese contact me. iwill try to study your family roots.

    1. abraham chaly says

      How do I contact you ?

  6. josekutty mathew says

    Dear Pius ,
    The article is very informative and interesting. Regarding slavery in Travancore, it is said that the slaves could be bought from the famous market ( Chantha) of Changanacherry, (the price varying from Rs.6 to Rs.15 per person ) . Well, I am interested to know, whether slavery existed in Travancore, before the arrival of the Europeans or it was introduced by the Europeans.
    St. Thomas Christians had every reason to hate Lusitanization and some of the policies of the Portuguese. However, they should also try to appreciate the good things done by the Europeans . If Changanacherry today is “The Camebridge of Kerala”, due credit should also be given to Charles Lavenge (French), the first Bishop of Kottayam vicariate (Changanacherry), who had the foresight to buy a bushy scary hill, which was used only to bury the many who died due to the epidemic – smallpox, for starting the first College in Changanacherry, which today is the famous St. Berchman’s College.

  7. Jacob says

    Excellent article on the Contribution of the St Thomas Christians to Kerala society and Economy. It is exciting to see how a previously ordinary group of peasants strove and evolved to become the most advanced community of Kerala, within a few decades.

    The indomitable spirit of the Syrian Christians, particularly of the Catholic Syrian Christians, is often likened to that of the industrious Punjabi Sikhs, who climbed to the top most level of the socioeconomic ladder through sheer hard work, discipline and dedication. The Two groups are known for their aggression in expanding agriculture to places outside their historic presence. Many notable writers have mentioned this fact in their works, hailing the ‘Sikhs of Punjab’ and the ‘Syrian Christians of Travancore’ for their commendable spirit of diligence and enterprise!

    I’m really proud to be a Catholic Syrian Christian!

    1. Duh says

      Hahah, Catholic Syrian Christians are wannabess. I am a Marthoma ;).You loose!!!.

      1. Jacob says

        Really?? You need to find out for yourself about who the real wannabies are!

        The Catholics (the Pazhayacoors who constitute the present day Syro Malabar Catholic church) account for over two-thirds of Kerala’s Syrian Christian population. Unlike the Puthencoors, the Catholics are clearly the numerical majority in the regions of their traditional presence. Eg: Meenachil, Kanjirapally, Thodupuzha, Kuttanad and Changansserry Taluks of the erstwhile Kottayam district, Mukundapuram, Angamaly, Irinjalakkuda and Thrissur taluks of the erstwhile Thrissur districts. Being the biggest landlords, agriculturalists and traders in the region, the Catholics are the socio-economically dominant community of Central Kerala. They have a culture of their own, depicted in Malayalam movies since the mid 20th century. The Cinema viewing Kerala knows the Catholic traditions, lifestyle, religious ceremonies and culture as the only representative of the Collective Syrian Christian identity!!

        The Puthencoors on the other hand, especially the Marthomites of the South (erstwhile Kollam district, covering Pathanamthitta, Kollam and Southern Alappuzha districts) are not only a minority in these regions (The Hindus constitute the majority), but they also lack a cultural identity unlike the Catholics. Their lifestyle, family set up, language and attitude towards life has been largely shaped by the White protestants who influenced them in the 19nth century. No Malayalee knows what Marthomite culture is like!

        1. Dr.Abraham p sam says

          it is a fact that the catholics constitute the majority in Christians of India .
          when the Portuguese came here from Vasco de gama onward all attempts were done to put all the Christians of Kerala under bishop Menezes .and the Raja of Kochi helped them to occupie churches also .the Thomman and Chandy story is the part true story. and combined strength of power ,money and population most of Christians of Kerala came under the Pope . But a minority wanted to keep the old identity they decried the pope and stood separate..even the name of puther coor is also a misnomer.because of power and population puthen coor s are actually pazhayakoors and vice versa.and the old church again split into many fractions and still two of them are fighting court battles endlessly .it is again a fact that power is weilded by the catholics in Kerala and films all show the catholic way of christianity because the people involved are catholics
          there is nothing to argue or criticize in that because this is history and the truth.

          dr.abraham p sam

          1. Jacob says

            @Dr. Abraham P Sam, I disagree with you. The Catholics are legitimately the “Pazhayacoor” Nazranis because of 2 valid reasons:

            1. The original liturgy of the St Thomas Christians was the ‘Divine Liturgy of Addai and Mari’ or the “East Syrian Liturgy”. This was followed by the community for several centuries prior to the arrival of the Portuguese. Following the Coonen Cross oath of 1653, Rome modified its policy so as to accommodate the ancient rite of the Nasrani Christians, and thus the majority of the Nasranis (84 out of 116 congregations) returned to communion with Rome, and gladly continued with their original rite – i.e, the East Syrian Rite. It is this rite that is followed by the Syro Malabar Catholic Church to this day. Because they continued in their original rite, they are called the “Pazhayacoors”. The rebel faction (the remaining 32 out of 116 ) on the other hand, rejected the old liturgy and accepted a new and alien liturgy – the “West Syrian Liturgy” or the ‘Liturgy of St. James’, which they continue to use to this day. The liturgy is followed by the Jacobite, Mathomite, Orthodox and the Syro Malankara Catholic churches. This is why they are called the ‘Puthencoors’.

            2. Following the Synod of Diamper in 1599, the entire Nasrani community was brought under the Roman Catholic Church. And they continued to be Catholics for the next 54 years until the revolt of Coonen Kurish at Mattancherry in 1653. So those who remained Catholic after the Coonen cross oath were rightfully referred to as the Pazhayacoor, and those went out of it, as Puthencoor. So this proves that the term Pazhayacoor used for the Nasrani Catholics is never a misnomer as you allege!

  8. Jacob says

    Dear Pius,

    Congrats! This is an excellent work on the contributions of the Nasranis in shaping modern day Kerala!

    I have a doubt which i wish to get clarified. It is a known fact that it were the Catholic Syrians (The Syro Malabar Catholics) who cleared forested areas in the mid-up land regions of Kerala (particularly of Kottayam-Idukki-Ernakulam districts) and also reclaimed land from backwaters (in Kuttanad, Cherthala and Vaikom regions) and expanded agriculture, leading to creation of capital for commercial banks, institutions etc. Now, why is it that the Jacobite Syrians (by Jacobites, i mean the Orthodox, Marthomite, Malankara Catholic etc etc) were not at all involved in the agrarian expansion of the late 1800s?

    For example, In Kottayam district, where the Catholic Syrians are the unquestioned dominant community, there exists no forest cover anywhere in the district (barring a negligible extension of the Ponthampuzha forest south of Erumely), implying the agrarian expansionist activity undertaken by the Catholic Syrians in the early years of the century. Where as, in the neighboring Pathanamthitta district where the Jacobites/Puthencoor dominate, there seems to be no agrarian expansion -the proof of it being more than half of Pathanamthitta district is under dense forest cover! And whatever land has been cleared for agriculture (in places around Mukkoottuthara, Pampa valley and Vechoochira – places in the Northeastern Pathanamthitta district) are areas where Catholic Syrians from Erumely- Kanjirapally side have colonized decades ago!

    Please explain!

    1. dennis john says

      dear jacob i guess your comments on syrians other than catholic syrians arise because of poor understanding .The puthencoor had made migrations much earlier than the great migration to malabar, from kottayam and thrissur districts and that is how they settled in hiily areas of pathanamthitta and kollam.pathanamthitta was a forest area and so was kollam.pathanapuram was called ‘kattu pathanapuram’before.The main reason why they did not participated in the great migration was because they made significant advancement in education than the others and they did not felt the need for the migration.Remember the migrations happened not because of greed but because of poverty.and again it is incorrect to say that there are no puthencoor in the great migration,as wayanad has many puthencoor pockets and so is palakkad and general feeling of only catholic syrians happens only because the number of catholic syrians are more in kerala and nothing else.

      1. Jacob says

        Dear Dennis,

        I’m sorry to say that you are giving wrong information in your post. You say are saying that the Malabar migration refers to the occupying of land in the hilly areas of Kollam and Pathanamthitta. Malabar clearly refers to the northern districts of Kerala such as Kannur, Wyanad, Kozhikkode etc

        Secondly, the occupation of the hilly terrains of the southern districts (places such as Ranni, Kozhencherry, Konni, Punaloor etc) weren’t from Kottayam and Trichur, as per the church documents of Syrian churches in the Pathanamthitta area. People migrated from ancient Syrian Christian centers of the region such as Niranom, Mavelikkara, Kadambanad and Mallapally. Kottayam town, instead stood at the receiving end of migration, as many Puthencoors migrated from Thiruvalla – Pathanamthitta side at the turn of the last century. The Malayala Manorama group (Kandathil family from Tiruvalla) is an example for such families.

    2. Toms says

      I agree with Dennis John. Non Catholic Syrian Christians gave more importance to education and not farming. Also, having a lot of marsh or hilly land, with now the rubber price going down the drain, is not a big achievement. You will have to employ Biharis and Bengalis to get a small profit out of any cultivation these days. Also destroying forest and removing the rain causing flora is not at all good for the environment. Getting a good education is a big achievement, though I’m not saying that farming is any inferior.

      1. Jacob says

        I disagree with you Toms! You can never say that the agricultural expansion of the late 1800s, by the Catholic Syrian Christians of Kerala wasn’t a big achievement! Come on, Dr Pius Malekandathil’s article is all about how agriculture and its expansion played the central role in shaping Modern day Kerala.

        It is an accepted fact by all that LAND IS WEALTH! The Catholics were fortunate enough to amass more land and extend agriculture in the district of Kottayam, Alappuzha, Idukki, Ernakulam and Trissur, in the late 1800s/early 1900s. As the result, the Catholic Syrians are presently the largest land owning community in Kerala. Today, They are as good as the Non Catholic Syrians in the field of education – thanks to the advancements they made in the last century owing to the establishment of schools, colleges etc by visionary leaders of the church. You need to understand that Education is something one can achieve any time! But land and solid assets aren’t so. So, owning lands is definitely a big achievement! (I’m talking about the achievements of a community as a whole).


      Dear Jacob, I would like modify the second part of your argument. From AD1552, the entire Nasrani community was under the Catholic Church bishops. And all of them continued to be Catholics for the next 110 years until Marthoma I was excommunicated ceremoniously in AD 1661 at Kaduthuruthy St Michael’s Church from the Catholic Church. So those who remained Catholic were rightfully referred to as the Pazhayacoor, and those went out of it, as Puthencoor. So this proves that the term Pazhayacoor used for the Nasrani Catholics is never a misnomer as you allege!. Dear Jacob, Please note that the coonan cross oath was not the turning point of the schism. It was not against the Catholic Church, but it was against the Padroado rule of the Portuguese King through the Paulists (Jesuits). The oath was unanimous. Only very few churches and laymen did not accept this oath. Even the election of Archdeacon Thomas at Edapally Church as governor of the Church was unanimous. Also the false consecration by 12 priests of the Archdeacon as Bishop also was unanimous, but later the good people who understood it was an invalid consecration, abandoned the false Bishop Marthoma, who later accepted consecration from a Patriarch of the Antiochean Church in AD 1665, which completed the schism in the Church. So it is the false bishop consecration, the unwillingness of the false bishop to abandon his usurped dignity and his acceptance of reconsecration from a Bishop from the Antiochean Church that has split the Church.

      1. dr.abraham p sam says

        My dear brothers in christ
        .and before 1552 ?.they are the pazhayakoors not those who ruled after 1552 that is my query?

        1. JOHNY KURIAKOSE says

          Dear Sam,

          From 1552 to 1597 ALL Nasranies were ruled by Chaldean Catholic Bishops. So those who ruled before 1552 (Bishops of Assyrian Church of the East) did not exist any more. No Bishops came from the Assyrian Church of the East afterwards. So, that allegiance became extinct. The main body of that Church became Catholic in 1552, which we call as the Chaldean Church of the East. in 1701 there was a Chaldean Bishop in Kerala Mar Simon Adana, who was brought to consecrate Angelo Francis a carmelite as Bishop, and was taken away by the Carmelites to Pondicherry and died there in captivity. There was another Chaldean Bishop Mar Gabriel in Malankara from 1701 to 1731 who was active among the Puthencoor. He died in 1731. In 1798 three Cathanars from the Pazhayacoor were sent to the Chaldean Patriarchate in Mosul and one of them called Paul Pandari was ordained as a Bishop. He came back and was accepted by many Pazhayacoor Churches. His influence was neither great or lasting. It is he who accepted the Jacobite Bishop Marthoma VI to Catholic Church. Then another Chaldean Bishop Mar Elias Mellus was here from 1874 to 1884, but by the time both Puthencoor and Pazhayacoor were not enthusiastic about the Chaldean relations. A small group in Trissur got seperated from the Catholics due to his influence. He was forced to return to Babylon due to pressures from Rome. Read more at

  9. Vivek George says

    The main aim for “migrating” is for the betterment of life and to provide for the family. Despite of the high social status and the rich culture of the St.Thomas Christians (Both Catholics and Jacobite-Orthodox) , poverty plagued many families.

    Brahmins, Nairs etc avoided migrations. Most of them (at that time) were wealthy enough and hence had no urge to take part in the agrarian expansion of the late 1800s.

    Before the introduction of rubber and other cash crops, Niranam Church and its congregation was the richest among the St.Thomas Christians. Even though many members of the congregation were poor, the attitude of the church influenced the attitude of its followers (Jacobites/Orthodox). I personally know many jacobites from Kothamangalam and Moovattapuzha who participated in the agrarian expansion. These places are far away from the Niranam congregation.

    1. Jacob says

      The Niranom congregation did not constitute a completely agrarian society. The biggest landlords of the region were Hindu Nair families, who still are a major social economic in the Thiruvella – Pathanamthitta area. The congregation, being the seat of the Puthencoor faction, benefitted from the Anglican missionaries based in the Kottayam – Mallapally – Kaviyoor – Chengannoor belt. They were educated by the protestant missionaries from as early as the 1820s and this helped them secure white collar jobs. That’s the story of how the Niranom congregation (as well as the other Puthencoor ones in the erstwhile Kollam district that includes the present day Pathanamthitta and Kollam districts got wealthy).

  10. Councillor Tom Aditya says

    “St. Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala” is an excellent article. The author brought to light many interesting aspects of the developments in Kerala history. There may be few inaccuracies, but that is quite normal.

    An interesting point I noticed is the variance in the percentage of religious communities in Travancore and Kerala. Christian population came down from 31% in 1911 to 18% in 2011. On the other hand the Muslims grew from 6% in 1911 to 25% in 2011. I stand to be corrected, if I am wrong.

    On the political scenario, many of our historical links are missing. I am interested to know what happen to the Christian King in Kerala to whom the Pope sent a letter in the 11th century. What happened to the Christian principality of Vettathunadu in Malabar?

    As a solution, I feel that the Church should document its contributions by collating proper information from the parish level itself. I know that it is quite late, but better do it than never.

    Thanks to the author for producing this extraordinary work.

  11. Antony ( Prince) says

    Very good article. Why St.Chavara Kuriakose Elias is left out?

  12. JACOB says

    The Travancore National & Quilon Bank was formed by the amalgamation of two separate banks , namely, The Travancore National Bank founded by K.C.Mammen Mapillai of the Kandathil family and the QUILON BANK founded by C.P MATHEN of the CHALAKUZHY family, both from Tiruvalla. The dewan of Travancore C.P.Ramaswamy suspected that the Bank was supporting the civil rights movement for equal legislative representation for all communities .He also singled out the Management of the bank for supporting the Indian National Congress and deliberately engineered a run on the bank . He had the directors of the Bank imprisoned and liquidated the assets of the Bank in an act of revenge. Justice and the truth prevailed in the end. C.P.Ramaswamy had to leave Travancore after he was attacked and injured. He spent the rest of his days as a relic of the British Raj , a man of little consequence in Independent India.
    K.C.Mammen Mapillai continued to head the Malayala Manorama which grew from strength to strength and emerged as a giant in the modern communication industry.
    C.P.MATHEN was a Member of Parliament in the first Lok Sabha representing Mavelikara constituency and was later appointed the Indian Ambassador to Sudan. He passed away in Paris while he was returning after attending the meeting of The World Council of Churches in Amsterdam as the delegate of the Indian Malankara Orthodox Church.

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

    Sure, we may agree to disagree on many of the narratives being shared by scholars ; the more we encourage such novellas the better; before embarking on my theological training, I was totally unaware of our ancient heritage. Most of the clergy with absolutely no theological scholarship in my backyard were clueless and I attended seven seminaries on both sides of the Atlantic. Without a formal training in my own Nasarani identity, still my theological training is deficient. Hopefully, more helpful articles like this one would be written, shared by many in the global church. We need to transcend the European tutelage; especially Hellenistic hegemony. Fundamental terms such as faith, God, Jesus, Holy Spirit – all need to be identified, interpreted, accepted and believed through the right “Made in Kerala” lens. Either theologies prima facie are contextual or all are universal emerging from one original Palestinian setting.