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

Monday, May 12, 2003  

The Knanaya Christians - Part 3


We have no clear evidences about the native records, except that of
certain mentions about palm leaf records in the writings of Bp. Ros
and so on. It is already mentioned that our ancestors did not pay
much attention on preserving written records. Moreover, most of the
records were written on palm leaves, which might have perished in the
course of time.

1.5.1: The earliest extant native written record is found in a short
history of the Malabar Church written in Syriac about the year 1720
by Vettikkuttel Mathai Kathanar, a Jacobite priest. It is preserved
in the Leyden Academy library. It narrates how the church of Malabar
was originated by St. Thomas. Then it deals with the sad plight of
the faithful. "After the death of the Apostle, the Malabar Church was
left without a preacher and teacher. After 93 years there were no
priests at all." (Mathiakkathanar in 1720, reproduced by
Kollaparambil, 1986, 1). He then narrates the reason for the arrival
of Thomas of Jerusalem and his reception by the king. This is in line
with the aforesaid tradition.

1.5.2: Another important source is Varthamanapusthakam written by
Paremmakkal Thomakkathanar. A short history of the Malabar Church is
given at the second part of the book. It might have been written
before 1760. There it is written, "By the grace of god, a Christian
merchant called Knaithomman from Syria came, when the Christians of
Malabar were like sheep without shepherd? (Cathanar, 1989, 469). He
then goes an almost as same as the tradition.


We have seen certain of the historical facts from the angles of
tradition and written records. But all of them are not without
refutations. Hence we shall have a brief analysis of some of these


From the written records and tradition, we get many place names
associated with their immigration such as Kinai, Cana, Edessa,
Jerusalem, Uraha, Ezra etc. Kinai, Knai, Kinan, Knan, and Cana are
used as the surname of the lay leaders. The Surname Cana is of a
later origin and is diffused among the European writers from the 17th
cent and the Malayalam tradition calls Thomas either as Thomman Kinan
or as Kinai Thomman (Kollaparambil, 1992, 7). The existence of a city
called Kinai in Southern Mesopotamia in the past is asserted
(Kollaparambil, 1992, 21). But this town does not exist today.

Edessa, Uraha and Jerusalem are attributed to the bishop Joseph.
Uraha might have been the seat of Joseph who had gone to a pilgrimage
to Jerusalem. Since the second half of the 19th century some
historians began identifying the term Uraha - which forms part of the
name of the aforesaid bishop - with the famous Christian centre of
Urahai (the letter "I" at the end of the word is to be noted) called
also Edessa in the Upper Mesopotamian region (Kollaparambil, 1992,
37). This may be the reason why we see the seat of Mar Joseph as
Edessa in the works like "The Syrian colonization of Malabar" by Mr.
Joseph Chazhikkattu and in "Bharathasabacharithram" of Fr. Xavier

There is a doctoral study conducted by Dr. Jacob Kollaparambil, who
situate the seat of Mar Joseph somewhere in Southern Mesopotamia, a
place in between the Rivers of Euphrates and Tigris. It is far away
from Edessa. He surmises the place mentioned as Uraha might be Uruk
an ancient Mesopotamian seat which was later depopulated due to
Geographical down fall (Kollaparambil, 1992, Ch. 3) In the song
Nallororoslem of the 6th edition of the Purathanappattukal we
read "..he got permission arriving at Uraha" (P.5). However, the
prior editions differ from it. They read "he got blessing arriving at
Esra.." The extant Cudjan (Palm leaf) Manuscripts also testify to
this reading. What does it mean? "Pookuka" in Malayalam does not
denote a deliberate action; instead, it means an accidental one.
Getting permission is a deliberate action whereas receiving blessing
(?) is not a necessary action. So they may not have gone to Edesa
which is far off from, instead, might have entered at the tomb of
Esra which was situated on their way to Malabar and have got

They might have a special interest on the prophet Ezra, since he
insisted on genetic purity (Lukas, 1996, XVII). From all these
surmises we conclude that the colonists started their expedition from
southern Mesopotamia which covers an area of not more than 250 km.
diameter (Lukas 1996, XL) and which includes those places mentioned
in the ancient songs such as Kinai, Uraha (Uric) Ezra, Uz, etc.


In the Malabar tradition, the surname of Thomas, the leader of the
fourth century immigration into Cranganore is found in three slightly
different forms, namely, Kinai, Knai (Knay) and Kinan (Kollaparambil,
1992, 2). We see these names in the songs Muvaroruvante Kalpanayale
line 14, (p.9) (Kinai), Song of the Kaipuzha church, strophe-6, line-
21 (Knai), (p.95), and second line of the Pananppattukal (Knai)
(P.217), and Ottuthirichavar Kappal Keri line 17 (Kinan) (P.6).

In the writings of many Europeans, we see the surname as Cana while
some just wrote the name as it is got from tradition and many others
wrote it in various ways. E.g. Cana, Canane, Cananeo, Quinai, Chinay,
Canai, Knaye, etc. However the popular surname in English continues
to be Cana, though, it does not go in accordance with the tradition.

According to Kollaparambil, there was a flourishing town called Kinai
in Bet Aramaye about 75 km. to the south East of Baghdad on the left
bank of Tigris, 2 km. from the river and in the neighborhood of the
present town A1- Aziziyah (Kollaparambil, 1992,21). This might have
been the hometown of Thomas, the lay leader of the fourth century


Almost all the tradition as well as history is unanimous in
ascertaining that the immigration was consisting of 400 people of 72
families of seven sects or clans. (Munnam Malankara, Lukas, 1996,6),
(Innu Nee Njangale, Lukas, 1996,7). These include a bishop, namely
Uraha Mar Joseph, four priests, many deacons and the lay leader Knai
Thomman. (Nallororoslem, Lukas, 1996, 6). The names of the seven
sects are Baji, Hadai, Koja, Belkouth, Kujalick, Majamoth, and
Thejamoth(Perumalil, 1983, XII). However there are writers who have
recorded that there were 472 families among the immigrants (Cathanar,
1989, 409).


With regard to the time of the arrival of the community, there is a
widespread discussion and differences of opinion. The local tradition
puts it in the year 345 AD. In the songs of several churches such as
the Kottayam Valiyapalli (Strophe 4 line 13), the Kottayam
Cheriyapally (Strophe 6, line 2), the Kottayam Edakkattu Church
(Strophe 6, line 21), etc., hold this tradition. However these songs
are of later origin and hence lack originality. But in the
immigration song "Muvaroruvante ` (line 13) the year of immigration
is recorded in Malayalam Alphabetical Chronogram by the word sovala,
which means AD 345. (Lukas, 1996,8). However there are authors who
place the time somewhere in the 8th or 9th century. Dionisio puts it
in AD. 825 (Kollaparambil, 1986, 6), Diago de couto in AD 811 (P.22).
Burnell in 774 AD (Kollaparambil, 1992, 98). But according to many
historians, the traditional date is found to be highly probable.

But there may arise a problem. According to Dameo de goes the
Knaithomman Chepped was written in three languages, namely, Chaldean,
Malabar and Arabic. If this Statement is true and if Knaithomman
Chepped was given to Knaithomman himself, this arrival must have been
only after 6th century. This is because Muslims, whose language was
Arabic, came to India only from the 7th century. However we cannot
make a conclusive judgment over this, unless we get the original text
and verify it.


These colonists were known in different names such as Thekkumbhagar,
which is the most ancient, Syrian Christians, Ancharappallikkar,
Knanites and Charamkettikal. Thekkumbhagar (Southists)

Knanites were known as Thekkumbhagar in the ancient times. The
tradition behind such a name is that when they came to Cranganore
they settled in the Southern part of the city. Thus they
distinguished themselves from the St. Thomas Christians who had their
dwellings in the northern side of the city. Hence these two groups
got the names Southists (?) and Northists (...) (Fuller, 1998, 199).

Mr. Joseph Chazhikkattu brings before us a new hypothesis refuting
the traditional one (1961, 5-33). The Knanites trace their origin to
Jews in the lineage of Judah. There was a division among the Jews
into Southern and Northern kingdoms after the death of Solomon. The
tribe of Judah was in the Southern Kingdom. Later the Northern
Kingdom was destroyed and the people entered into mixed marriage and
were later known as Samaritans. The Knanities are from the lineage of
Judah and hence they were called Southists from their very homeland
itself. The term "suddisticas" (southerners or southists) is used in
the papal Bull erecting the Diocese of Kottayam to denote this group.
(Chettiyath (tr.), 1997, 1). Syrian Christians

Thekkumbhagar were Christians and they had brought with them their
liturgy. They were speaking Syriac and their liturgy was in the
language Syriac (Vellian and Vembani, 1991,22). Moreover, they came
from a land which was popularly known as Syria. Because of all these
factors they got the name Syrian Christians. Ancharappallikkar

They were also known as Ancharappallikkar because they had five
churches of their own, namely Diamper, Kaduthuruthy, Kottayam,
Chunkom and Kallissery. They had half privilege in all other churches
also. Thus they were called Ancharappallikkar (owners of five and a
half churches). Knanites

The term Knanites is of a later origin say in the 19th century. It
had its origin in the Jacobite Southist Community. However, this term
has got much popularity and today it functions as the most common
term to denote the community. It had its origin from the surname of
its leader Knaithomman (Knan, Kinan, etc) (Jose, 1983, 3). Charamkettikal?

This term was used as a word to ridicule the community by the others.
Etymologically this term means, ?keeping ashes lied with them." But
in fact, it is a story of inspiration for the Knanites. While the
city of Cranganore was burned in 1524 by the Muslims, the Knanites
had to face from the place (Melandassery, was burned in 1524 by the
Muslims the Knanites had to flee from the place (Melandassery,
1997,27). Before leaving the place they took a little bit of ash of
the burned city and kept with them. This shows their affection to the
land where their ancestors lay buried. It is interesting to note
Hindus have a special attachment to ashes of their dead ones.


According to the tradition, they organized this as a missionary
expedition. Many writers testify to this. The fact that the group
included a bishop, four priests and some deacons points to this fact
(Nallororoslem, Lukas, 1996, 5). The continuation of bishops from
Syria by the Knanites efforts is an added proof for it (Polackal,
1976, 14). The members preached Gospel mainly through their life.

The second purpose of their arrival was said to be commercial. Knai
Thomman himself was a great merchant who had his own warehouses and
other establishments in one of the harbor towns of Bet Huzaye
(Kollaparambil, 1991, 36). The Perumal received him with great honor
and granted 72 privileges. This might have to safeguard the
commercial interests of his country.

A further reason is said to be the persecution in the Persian Empire
in the fourth century especially under the king Sapor II. This may
also have prompted them to leave their native land. But the argument
that this is the only reason of their immigration is untenable. If
one has to leave one's patronage and native land due to persecutions,
that persecution should be much bitter. But in such a very difficult
situation it is more likely impossible to have such an organized
fleet to a far off land with a bishop, four priests and deacons.
Will anyone give a warm welcome with honors and properties to such a
group running for their life? Moreover with all possibility they
would have gone to the Roman Empire where Christianity has already
become the official religion of the State by the Edict of Milan in
313 AD. It is improbable that oppressed people move towards a place
where they have no security at all. We have already seen that at the
time of their arrival the condition of the St. Thomas Christians was
very pathetic (Cathanar, 1989, 469).

Furthermore, certain of those who stick on to this theory of
persecution place the arrival of Thomas of Cana to the 8th or 9th
centuries. Due to the persecution of Sapor II, a fourth century
Emperor there took place immigration to Kerala in the 8th or 9th
century!! It itself shows that such a theory is an artificial one to
safeguard their vested interest. If at all we admit this theory of
persecution for argument's sake, it will not do any harm to the
existence of the community. Instead, it will be an added feather on
their hat if they opted to run away rather to give up their faith in
Jesus Christ.


The Southists among St. Thomas Christians of Malabar trace their
origin to the tribe of Judah of Israel. Their history starts
particularly from the fourth century when they arrived at Cranganore
in 345 AD, under the leadership of Knai Thomman. All these are mere
surmises chiefly got from the tradition alone. Very few written
records are with us, which also do not help us to reach to a
conclusive conclusion. At any rate, we are quiet sure of their
existence as a separate ethnic community at least from the 15th
century. Several European as well as native writers testify to this
fact. Hence even if we forget the whole past, at least from the 15th
century they have their own independent existence which we have to
admit and admire.

posted by Kensy | 3:44 AM
Comments: Post a Comment
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)
Mail me! (replace the [AT] with an @)