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

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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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