Lethargic IITian
Musings of a 20-something lethargic IITian on India and Catholicism.

Thursday, May 08, 2003  

The Knanaya Christians - Part 2


The Indians usually transmitted their history through oral tradition.
They did in the forms of legends or in poetic forms and lived through
social customs. In this regard the Knanaites are blessed abundantly.
They have got a much lengthy and strong tradition about their history
and existence.


One of the main sources of history is the traditions of the Community
handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation and lived
through social customs and ancient songs sung at weddings and other
celebrations (Kollaparambil, 1986, Ancient Songs, V). These songs are
very ancient since the early Europeans such as Amdor Correia SJ,
Dionisio SJ, Gouvea etc., testifies to this (Choondal 1986, 7). We
may be able to distinguish these songs at least into five categories,
namely, Penpattukal (songs of the females), Anpattukal (Songs of the
Males), Pallippattukal (Songs about the Churches),
Vattakkalippattukal and Vanchippattukal, Margamkalippattukal and
Pananppattukal also are included in it. Certain ancient songs are
very important since they contain historical references.
Nallororoslem, Munnam Malankara, Innu Nee Njangle, Panan Pattukal
(Lukas, 1996, 5,6,7,21,7), etc., are historically important as the
community is concerned.

Though of a later origin, Pallippattukal also serves a good deal.
Making a song just after the construction of a church was a custom
prevailed here. The whole details of the construction will be
described in that song. These songs which were transferred orally
were later written down on palm leaves. Almost all these songs have
been collected and published by Mr. PU Lukas in 1910 with the help of
Rev Fr. Mathew Vattakalathil. Mr. Lukas collected these songs basing
on palm leaves, which were written at least 200 years before (Lukas,
1996, XIII). The content of those historical songs is very much in
line with tradition.


According to the tradition, St. Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles of
Jesus came to India in AD 52, preached Gospel and converted many Jews
and Hindus to Christianity. Later he was martyred at Mylapore in AD
72 (Koodappuzha, 1998, 57-116). After the death of St. Thomas, by the
fourth century, the church of the descendants of people converted by
the apostle was much weakened for want of ecclesiastical ministers
and due to persecutions from without and dissension from within
(Cathanar 1989, 469). In the song "Innu Nee Njangale". (Lukas,
1996,8). It means, "to enlighten the (weakened) faith of the
descendants of St. Thomas." There were only 64 families and one
deacon. There was no bishop or any priest (Cathanar, (tr.) by
Kollaparambil,1986,II). Such a situation occurred because of the
decisions of the council of Nicea in 325 AD (Karukapparambil,

According to its 6th canon, only a higher authority could appoint and
consecrate a lesser one. Thus only a Metropolitan could consecrate a
bishop. But the church of St. Thomas was not a Metropolitan Church:
and hence there was no Metropolitan to consecrate bishops and thereby
priests or ministers. Thus there was the shortage of ministers. When
this sad plight of the Indian Christians was made known to the
Catholicos of the East by certain merchants the church of the East
organized an immigration of their own Christians to India in order to
help, strengthen and re-invigorate the weakened St. Thomas Christians
of India.

The leaders of this immigration of their own Christians to India in
order to help strengthen and re-invigorate the weakened St. Thomas
Christians of India. The leader of this immigration was Thomas of
Kinai (Vellian and Vembeni, 1991, 18). They include about 400 persons
of seventy-two families of seven clans. A bishop named Mar Joseph,
four priests and a few deacons also were with them. They reached
Cranganore (now known as Kodungalloor) in 345 AD. The Knanites or
Thekkumbhagar had their origin from this colony of Jewish Christians.

These colonists were welcomed with great interest by the then king
Cheraman Perumal, and he gave them land without tax, seventy two
privileges by which they were considered as high graded people. They
were called Rajamakkal (sons of kings), since they were of the
lineage of David, the King (Vellian and Vembeni, 1991, 18).
Knaithomman himself was called Co-cherakon Knaithomman which means
the minister of Cheraman Perumal (Karukapparambil, 1997, 10).

Perumal wrote down these privileges on a copper plate and handed it
down to Knaithomman. According to it, these privileges were given to
Thomas and his colleagues and all of his descendents as long as the
sun and moon exist. These privileges are very important since all
these privileges had influenced the community's social life as well
as the social status in the past years.

Knanites were basically merchants. For commercial purposes, many
shifted their residences to Diamper, Kaduthuruthy, Chunkom, Kottayam,
Kallissery etc. All these places are accessible through rivers. Later
when they were attacked by the Muslims in the 16th cent, they left
Kodungalloor (Kollaparambil, 1986,2) completely and inhabited the
place where their brothers settled long before.

During the Coonan Cross Tragedy in 1653 some of the Knanites also
took part in it and thereby there happened a division among the
Knanites. Later this group adopted Jacobite faith while the others
continued the Catholic faith. Together with the St. Thomas
Christians, the Knanaya Catholics fought to end up the foreign rule
and in 1887 two vicariates were erected exclusively for the Syrian
Christians, namely of Kottayam and Trichur (Perumalil, 1983, XVI).

The whole Knanites were included in the Kottayam Vicariate (Mackil,
1997,9). Later in 1896, these two Vicariates were re-arranged into
Trichur, Ernakulam, and Changanassery and native bishops were
appointed. Menachery, Pazheparambil, Mackil were the Vicars
Apostolic respectively, In 1911, a new Diocese, Kottayam, was erected
exclusively for the Southists. Mar Mackil, the then Vicar Apostolic
of Changanassery, was shifted to Kottayam. Meantime in 1910, the
Knanaya Jacobites got a separate bishopric, which was called
Chingavanam Knanaya Bhadrasanam and their own bishop. At present,
there are more than 75,000 faithful in that diocese and 1.3 lakhs in
the Kottayam Diocese (Directory of the Eparchy of Kottayam-1999). So
the total number of the Knanaya Community is more than 2 lakhs.


We find many valuable records of their history in the writings of
Europeans. The term "modern" is used in the subtitle in order to
separate the ancient period before the 16th century. These records
are very valuable because the authors have made use of the tradition
which was prevalent at that time and the "olas" (palm leaves) on
which lie their history (Dionisio, in 1578, (133) quoted by
Kollaparambil, 1986, 6). Since these reports were made some four or
five centuries before, they deserve special mention. Though there are
many writings, I produce only three.

1.4.1: Mar Abuna, a Chaldean bishop, after narrating the ministry and
martyrdom of St. Thomas, the Apostle, writes the following, "A
Christian merchant came on a pilgrimage from the land of Canane to
this city of Mailapur. He then went to Cranganore and bought from the
king of that country a piece of land and built on it the church which
is still standing. He was called Thomas Canane." (Abuna in 1533
quoted by Kollaparambil, 1986, 3).

1.4.2: Fr. Francis Dionisio S.J., the Rector of the Jesuit College at
Cochin sent a report to his general on "the Christians of St. Thomas"
on January 4, 1578." After that came a Christian by name Quinai
Thoma, native of Babylon, a merchant who disembarked at Cranganore
and began negotiating his merchandise. Being rich and known in the
country he became a friend of the king of Cranganore who gave him a
plot of land of 500 square yards to build a Church, in honor of St.
Thomas, which is the one the Portuguese now have." (Dionisio in 1578
(136), quoted by Kollaparambil, 1986, 7).

1.4.3: Fr. Antonio de Gouvea was the secretary to Archbishop Aleixo
de Menezes in his visit to Kerala in 1599. He narrates the arrival of
Thomas Cana, the granting of privileges recorded on copper plates,
the story of the legitimate and illegitimate children of Thomas Cana
and the Southist? Northist distinction among the St. Thomas
Christians. This description is found in his famous "Jornado do
Arcebispo de Goa Dom Frey Aleyxo de Manezes" in 1603 (Kollaparambil,

Source: Knanaya Yahoo! Groups

posted by Kensy | 9:43 PM
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past blogs of interest
Hinduism as a religion
Pederasty and the American Church
Caste in Indian Christianity
Syro-Malabar engagements
Syro-Malabar weddings
Divine Retreat Centre
Varsha Bhosle and Ideological Relativism
Anti-Conversion Ordinance and the Church stance
Self-Righteous Rightism
The Hindutva Attack on St. Francis Xavier
Varsha Bhosle and the Church (U-turn)
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