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It is worthwhile to have a glimpse at the Syrian Christian Community of Kerala and their culture and customs before we go into the history of Kanianthra family.
St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ came to Kerala in 52 AD to preach Christianity. He travelled throughout Kerala and was able to convert many including Jews, Brahmins, Buddhists and Jains to Christianity. He also established seven churches and a chapel in Kerala before he left. The churches were at Palayoor, Kodungalloor, Paravoor, Kothamangalam, Niranam, Quilon and Nilakkal.
Some of the Hindu families who accepted Christianity were : Sankarapuri, Pakalomattom, Kalli, Kalikav, and Maliaekkal. St.Thomas selected some members from these families to become priests. There is an oral tradition that he also ordained the son-in-law of the Raja of Kodungaloor to be the first Methran (Bishop) of the Syrian Christian community of Kerala.
On his travels from Kodungaloor, to the south of Kerala, St.Thomas accidentally met a Brahmin youth belonging to the Maliaekkal family. He accepted Christianity and was among the first to embrace Christianity. When St.Thomas reached Niranam, he planted a stone cross at the temple premises of Thrikapaleswaram. Brahmins around the temple got angry at this. They plucked the cross and threw it into the river. It seems the cross, instead of going down in the water, floated along in the waters of the river and came to a stand still in some bushes. The old Niranam church was built at this place, where the cross came to a stand still.
Eventhough some Brahmin families started settling down in Kerala, 350 years before AD, they came to have socio-economic power only after the 8th century AD.
There is much similarity in the customs, costumes, and culture of the Brahmins and Christians. For example, the thali that is used for marriage, the manthrakodi that is given to the bride at the time of wedding, the naming ceremony of children, the custom of piercing the ears of men, and most of the customs and rituals connected with burial of the dead are more or less the same for both. This may be because either some of the people converted by St.Thomas to Christianity were Brahmins, or other sections of Aryans; or Christianity enjoyed the same super social status as the Brahmins due to the special privileges conferred on them by the rulers. We surmise that at least some of those converted to Christianity might have been Brahmins, because they alone had the learning to comprehend the message of the new religion.
Copper Plate Inscriptions
Christians were respected by the rulers and ordinary people. The rulers conferred many privileges, honours and titles on the Christians. The privileges and honours were all written on copper plates known as “Chembu Pattayam” or “Chepaedukal”. Some of the Chembu Pattayams came into the hands of the Portuguese in AD 1650 and were thus lost to the Kerala Syrian Christians. But copies of these Chembu Pattayams are preserved in the archives of Cambridge University. Some of them are still in the archives of our Churches in Kerala. The first Chepaedu was given by King Veera Raghavan Chakravarthy to Eravi Korthan, a trader, conferring on him certain privileges.
Knai Thommen the famous Syrian trader, with a retinue of 472 families came to Kerala and settled down in 345 AD. It seems that Christian families from Syria came away due to the harassment of the Persian King Sappor II. Cherakon Perumal of Chera Dynasty ruled over Kerala at that time. The King welcomed these Syrians; who landed at Kodungalloor (Cranganoor) and allowed them to settle down on the western side of the Kodungalloor street. They were also given a number of privileges inscribed on copper plates. These are known as Knai Thommen Cheppeedu. Later in the 10th century some of these Knananites came down south and settled down in Kuttanad; Chingavanam, Kallisseri, Ranni and other places.
These Knanai Syrians try to keep up their identity even today. They do not even intermarry with other Christians. Later some of these families became Roman Catholics. They have now a Bishop of their own at Kottayam. The rest of these Syrian families arenow a section of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Kerala. The Knanai Christians are usually known as “Thekumbhagar”.
In 774 AD along with Bishop Thomma another set of Christian families came to Kerala from Persia. Again nearly after 40 years, in 820 AD along with Maruvan Sapeer Easo, another 40 families came from Persia and settled down in Kerala. In course of time these Christians from Persia mingled and merged with the local Christians.
These Christians under the leadership of Sapeer Easo helped to rebuild a new Quilon port and town, as the ancient port of Quilon was destroyed by some natural phenomenon. In gratefulness for the help rendered, the King gave them certain privileges. These privileges and rights were engraved on copper plaques known as the “Thareesapally Cheppaedukal” (820 AD). This Chembu pattayam had three plates. The first one is preserved at the Head Quarters of Marthoma Sabha at Thiruvella. The second plate is at Devalokam, the Head Quarters of Catholicos of the Syrian Orthodox Church, in Kottayam. The third plate is lost.
There was another Chembupattayam given after 820 AD. The first, second and third plates of this are preserved at Devalokam at Kottayam. The fourth plate is with the Marthomite Church at Thiruvella.
All these evidences show that there had been periodical immigration of Christians from Syria, Persia and adjoining areas into Kerala. The Christians in Kerala enjoyed freedom of worship, respect and certain rights and privileges and were an important section of society.
Christians - Elite and Indigenous
Eventhough many Christians from Persia and Syria came and settled down in Kerala, the majority of Kerala Christians were local converts and their descendants. So Malankara Christians is an indigenous Church in spite of the Syrian appellation.
They had prominent positions and played vital roles in society during the time of Kulasekara dynasty. During the 11th century AD the Kulasekara dynasty came to an end. This empire was broken up into many small kingdoms and principalities.
Since there were wars with the Chola Kings and feuds among the small Kingdoms and principalities; military service was compulsory. The military strength of the rulers came to depend partly upon the number of Christian soldiers each of them had. Hence they kept the Christian community happy by giving them special privileges and rights. It was with the advent of Portuguese and Arabs in the northern areas of Kerala, theChristians lost their hold on export trade and their status in society. Many families from these areas migrated to the south and settled down in Travancore and Cochin. These families gradually became prosperous and thrived in the profession of local trade and agriculture; and became prominent members of society.
There is an ancient legend that in the distant past, there was a Christian Kingdom in Kerala called Villiyar Vattam. It is believed that this Kingdom extended to the north and south of Udayamperoor. One of the princesses of Villiyar Vattam fell in love with a prince of Kochi called Rama Varma and married him. The Kochi Raja became very angry at this and banished the Prince from the Cochin state. The Princess Mariam became very perturbed and sad at this development and died soon after. With the princess’s death the Villiyar Vattam dynasty and Kingdom came to an end. One thing we can surmise from all this is, that from ancient times, there were Christians all over Kerala and they held a prominent position in society.
Christians were directly under the administration of the Kings. The local Chieftains did not have any administrative powers over them. All the disputes among the Christian communities were settled by their Bishops or by their own elders.
Just like the Brahmins, Christians had the privileges of travelling on elephants, the right to wear gold ornaments, to construct ‘Padipuras’ (gate house), to sit along with Rajas, to sit on silk cloth, and so on. Christians were entrusted with the task of commanding and looking after the welfare of the communities of craftsmen like masons and blacksmiths. The Christians were also allowed to raise armies of their own. They raised soldiers from the Channar community. The Christians were also allowed to arm themselves with swords and spears and even with guns. It was customary for male members of Christian families to undergo military training from the age of eight. The Christians used to lay down their arms in the Padipura at the entrance of the Church before they entered for worship.
With the advent of the Portuguese traders and their latinisation of Kerala Christians, Malankara Nazranies lost their social status, trade, freedom of worship and their military prowess. During the time of Dutch colonialism there was an attempt to re-establish the lost status. But it was during the British rule, that Malankara Christians regained a part of their lost social superiority. This was due to English education and specially due to the helpful attitude of Col. Monroe – the resident representative of British rule in Travancore.
Foreign Relations of Kerala Church
The Christian community established by St.Thomas in Kerala kept its identity and ethos for centuries. Foreign Churches knew about the existence of this Christian Community in Kerala and came to their help whenever needed. In AD 190 Panthenose, a great learned man came to Kerala, at the request of the Christian Community in Kerala to have discourses with Brahmins about Christianity. So also in AD 205 Bishop of Basra came to preach Christianity in Kerala. In AD 325 Mar Yuhannan represented both India and Persia at the Christian Synod (Assembly) at Nikha.
The languages prevalent in Kerala at the time of St.Thomas’s visit were Tamil, Sanskrit and Prakrit. Syriac was the language of traders and hence it was easy for St.Thomas to preach and spread Christianity in Kerala.
There was inter communion between the Persian and Kerala Churches. The Five Persian Palavi Crosses at Valliyapalli at Kottayam, Kadamattom, Mylapore, and Muttuchira Churches bear witness to the association between Persian and Kerala Churches. Thus Syriac became the liturgical language of Kerala Church.
Roman Catholic Church
There was no connection with Roman Catholic Church of Rome; though records say that Roman Catholic Missionaries visited India in the 14th century. It was only in 1599 AD that the Portuguese Bishop Menezis of Goa Diocese established the over lordship of the Catholic Church over a section of the Kerala Christian Community.
This happened as follows :- Bishop Menezis forced Mar Gee Varughese, Arch Deacon of Kerala to join the Roman Catholic Church. When he refused to do so he was threatened and with the help of the Raja of Kochi the Portuguese Bishop called a Synod of the representatives of the Syrian Church at Udyamperoor and established the over- lordship of the Roman Church. At the synod of 1599 AD the Portuguese burnt all the records and books of the Kerala Syrian Christians. So also forbade all Christians from practising any Hindu customs. They made a new diocese for the new Christian converts at Kochi and another diocese at Angamali for the Syrian Nazranis.
The Kerala Syrian Christians resented the over-lordship of the Latin Roman Catholic Church. So in 1652 AD they sought the help of the Syrian Church in Persia. In response to this, the Syrian Church sent Bishop Ahathulla to Kerala. But the Portuguese imprisoned him, took him to Goa and burnt him alive according to the judgement of the court of Inquisition.
A rumour spread all over Kerala that Bishop Ahathulla was drowned in the Kochi sea by the Portuguese. The Christian community was furious. In 1653 AD they assembled at the place of the old cross at Mattancherry. They tied a long rope around the cross and all the Christians held on to the rope and took the oath, that they would no longer beunder the yoke and suzerainty of the Roman Church and declared Independence. Thus by this oath at Mattancherry the Kerala Syrian Christians re-established their independence. This proclamation of the Syrian Christian community of Kerala in 1653 AD is known in Church history as the famous “Koonan Kurusu Sathyam”. Rev: Mundadan an authority on Kerala Roman Catholic Church history says that the representatives of all Kerala Christians except 400 families participated in this oath ceremony. Thus after 53 years of Roman Catholic suzerainty, the Syrians of Kerala threw the the yoke away. Thomas Archadiokon was ordained as the Mar Thoma I, Bishop of the Syrian Christian Church. His Grace looked after the affairs of the re-established Syrian Christian Church as an independent body.
In 1661, the Pope of Rome sent Bishop Joseph Sebastiani to Kerala to recapture the lost Syrian Christians again into the Catholic fold. The Bishop tried his best and was able to win over Parambil Chandy Kathanar, Panamkuzha Chandy Kathanar and a few others. Parambil Chandy Kathanar was ordained as their Bishop.
Church of Antioch
Even though Thomas Archadiokon was looking after the affairs of the Malankara Church, he was not consecrated as Bishop. So Thomas Archadiokon wrote to the Churches of Babylonia, Alexandria and Antioch to send a Bishop to ordain him as the Bishop of the St.Thomas Church of Kerala. In accordance with the request, the Partiarch of Antioch sent Bishop Mar Gregorios to Malankara (Kerala). He came in 1665 and consecrated Thomas Archadiokon as Bishop Mar Thoma Ist, Metran of Malankara Syrian Church. Thus the Malankara Church for the first time got consecration link with the Church and Patriarch of Antioch. After Marthoma I, four Marthoma Bishops headed Malankara Syrian Church. During the time of the Marthoma VI (1765 – 1808) the Syrian Christians of Malankara Church made an attempt to be friendly with the Roman Church. A delegation consisting of Kariattil Joseph Malpan and Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar went to Rome to negotiate the union; but it did not succeed. A noted Syrian Christian Thachil Mathu Tharakan of Roman Catholic faith became very angry at this failure and tried to harm Mar Thoma VI. But the Kanianthra family spearheaded the movement to protect the Metran and saved him.
During the British rule in India Church Missionary Society of England sent Rev: Norton, Benjamin Bailey, Joseph Fenn and Henry Baker to Kerala. With their help aseminary (Pazhaya seminary) was started to teach the priests of the Syrian Christian Community. The reigning Maharani of Travancore, on the advice of Col. Monroe gave land free of cost to start the seminary. Thus the teaching of English was started in Travancore in 1816.
During the time of Rev. Pete and Rev. Wood Cock, there rose a dispute about the contents of teaching in the seminary. Philipose Mar Dionysius, Cheppad (1825 – 1855) of the Syrian Church of Malankara realised that the teachings at the seminary was against the cardinal teachings of the Malankara Christians and the missionaries foremost aim was to get the Syrian Christians into their fold. The dispute between the two factions increased and at the assembly of the Christians at Mavelikara, the C.M.S. Missionaries severed their link with St. Thomas Church. A few Syrian Christian families also went with them and formed the nucleus of the C.M.S. Church in Kerala. Properties held commonly at Kottayam were also divided between the two Churches.
Mar Thoma Church
The teachings of the missionaries affected the thinking of certain leaders of the Malankara Church. Rev. Abraham Malpan at Pazhaya Seminary was the foremost leader among them. He with the help of the English and the reigning king sent his nephew to Antioch and got him ordained as a Bishop. This Bishop Palakunnathu Mathews Mar Athanasios (1842 – 1877) was proclaimed by the Raja in 1852 as the Bishop of Malankara Church. The Malankara Syrian Christian community got annoyed at this. They sought the help of the Antioch Church and got down Bishop Kurilos to Kerala. Later Patriarch Patrose IIIrd of Antioch himself was brought to Kerala in 1875. He with his influence with the British Government in London was able to cancel the proclamation of the Raja. By that time Bishop Mathews became old and hence ordained his brother’s son Thomas Mar Athanasios as Bishop of Malankara Church. So the real Malankara Metran Pulikkottil II Joseph Mar Dionysius (1865 – 1909) filed a case against Bishop Thomas Athanasios in 1879. This case was decided in 1889 in favour of Bishop Pulikkottil Joseph Dionysius V and is known as the “Royal Court Judgement”. All the properties of the Church were thus restored to Bishop Joseph Dionysius. The faction which lost the case separated from the Parental Church and formed a New Church in 1889 AD. They named the new Church as “Marthoma Sabha”. This faction of the Syrian Christian community was hence forth known as “Marthomites”.
Patriarch Patrose of Antioch wanted to have more temporal powers and control over the Malankara Sabha. He wanted each and every parish church building of theMalankara Sabha to be held in his name. In view of this he formed the Malankara Church Association and Church Managing Committee and their meetings were held at Mulanthuruthi in 1876. Bishop Pulicottil IInd Joseph Mar Dionysius was made its President. Because of the Metran’s objection and opposition the Patriarch could not carry out his wishes. The Patriarch in retaliation reduced the power of Bishop Pulicottil IInd Joseph by dividing the Malankara Church community into Six Dioceses and ordained a Bishop for each. After doing this the Patriarch went back to Antioch.
After the demise of Patriarch Patrose, Mar Abdulla became the Patriarch of Antioch. He came to visit the Malankara Church in Kerala. By this time Pulicottil Joseph Mar Dionysius had passed away and Vattasseril Mar Gee Varghese who was ordained by the Patriarch of Antioch himself became the Bishop of Malankara.
Patriarch Mar Abdulla tried to fullfil the wishes of Patriarch Patrose of establishing the suzerainty of Antioch over the churches of Malankara. Vattasseril Metran and the Malankara Association vehemently opposed it. The Patriarch hence suspended Vattasseril Metran and appointed Bishop Kurilos as the Metropolitan trustee, (1911) and returned to Antioch.
A dispute arose afterwards as to who was the legal authority to receive the interest of the 3000 Poovarahans, (gold coins) loaned by Bishop Pulicottil Joseph Mar Dionysius to the British Government. This dispute is the famous ‘Vattipanam’ case. The verdict given by the Trivandrum High Court in 1925 was that Vattasseril Gee Varghese Mar Dionysius was the legal heir and he alone can receive the vatti (interest). Meanwhile the constitution of the Church was passed in 1934 by the Malankara Association of the Church. In 1938 the Patriarch faction in the Church filed the “Samudaya” case, claiming that they are the ‘legal heirs of the church’. The dispute finally went up to the Supreme Court which gave the verdict in 1958. According to this verdict Vattasseril Thirumeni and his successors were declared as the real heirs of St.Thomas tradition and the 1934 constitution of the Church is a real valid document.
From 1665 the Kerala Syrian Church had recognized the consecration link and the supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch. But the manoeuvres of the Patriarch group to give the Patriarch, temporal powers over the Malankara Church, was opposed by the Malankara Christians. They wanted freedom in the administration of the Church. To achieve this, the Malankara Christians wanted to transfer the seat of the Catholicos of Persia - considered to be on par with the seat of Patriarch- to Kerala. This seat was then vacant with nobody to carry on. So this Catholicos seat was transferred from Persia to Greece, during the supremacy of Nestorians in Persia. After sometime the seat in Greece also became vacant, as there was no one to carry on. Hence Vattaseril Thirumeni and the Kerala Christians sought the help of the former Patriarch of Antioch Abdul Misiha. He was brought to Kerala. The Malankara Association was summoned and in 1912 with the consent of every one concerned the seat and the throne of the Catholicos was transferred and established at Kottayam in Malankara. Thus religious and temporal powers became vested in Catholicos of the Malankara Church in Kerala. In this way the Malankara Syrian Christian Church of Kerala became autocephalus.
H.G. Mar Baselios Paulose became the first Catholicos of the Malankara Church. He was succeeded by Mar Baselios Gee Varghese Ist, Baselios Gee Varghese IInd, then by Baselios Ouagan Ist followed by Baselios Marthomma Mathews Ist and now by Baselios Marthomma Mathews IInd as Catholicos.
After the judgement of the Supreme Court in 1958, the Catholicos gracefully accepted the Patriarch faction and their Bishops as members of his Church. Peace in the Malankara Sabha came with the union of the two factions. After 12 years, the union broke up. Some of the erstwhile Patriarch factions abetted by Patriarch of Antioch again regrouped and consecrated their own Catholicos and Bishops. Again a new case was fought in the courts by the two factions. The Supreme court once again finally ruled in 1996 that Baselios Marthomma Mathews II is the rightful head of the only and single Church and the 1934 constitution of the Church is the valid document by which the whole Church and all Parishes are to be governed. Some members of the Patriarch faction known as the Jacobite Orthodox Church is still not reconciled to this situation.
Even when the civil suits were being fought in the courts, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church was marching forward with vigour and vision in all directions. Hundreds of new parishes were established all over India and other parts of the world. It also established many educational institutions, hospitals, rehabilitation centres for all kinds of disabled persons and charitable institutions. It has also translated its liturgy to other languages to suit the needs of various congregations.
At present in Kerala, there are many off shoots of the Church originally established by St.Thomas. These include besides the original Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, others like Jacobite Orthodox Church, Roman Syrian Catholic Church, Church of South India, Marthomite Church and many others including nonepiscopal congregations.
Niranam Tomb Stone
There are no historical records as to when and where the family originated, or who started the family. The ancient history of the family is all enshrined in legends. But one thing is clear from evidence that the family has been existing for the last five hundred years or more.
The first historical fact we know about the family is from the tombstone of Shri Thommen Chandy of Kanianthra, which has been embedded in the wall of old Niranam church.
In his book “Christianity in Travancore”, the then British resident Mr. G.T. Mckenzie ICS (1899 – 1904) wrote that he found a stone slab embedded in the walls of old Niranam church, on which it was written in old Malayalam “Mepral Thommen Chandy 92 medam, Sunday 9th passed away”. When the Niranam church was rebuilt, this tomb stone was removed from the wall and kept in the underground godown of the church. Kanianthra Dr. Alexander, Rev. K.J. Alexander corepiscopa, and Mr. K.T. Mathew, IFS, saw the stone and took photographs of it. This tombstone is more than 434 years old. The name Thommen Chandy is the ancestral name of the Kanianthra family and is still the prevailing name of the Kanianthra Kudumbam.
Till 1870, all the members of the Kanianthra family were buried in Niranam church. All those who could pay 16 to 64 panams (a silver coin prevalent at that time) were buried inside the church. This practice was stopped only in 1846 AD by Kurilos Bawa. Ordained priests were buried with their heads towards the east, and ordinary people with their heads towards west.
The tomb stone found in the wall of the Niranam church is the tomb stone of the ancestor of the Kanianthra family. Most probably, since he was a prominent member of the Parish, he might have been buried inside the church. Later the tomb stone was embedded in the wall of the church, when it was rebuilt.
Even though the Kanianthra family settled down in Mepral, Kanianthra family priests had ancestral ecclesiastical and vicarial rights in the Niranam church. This right continued till 1917, the time of Kanianthra Rev. Ninan Kathanar, Vathapallil.
Rev. Thommen Chandy Kathanar was the 10th priest in the family hierarchy of priests. He was born in Mepral in 1787. The other nine earlier priests in the hierarchy might have been priests of Niranam church before the family migrated and settled down in Mepral in the 15th century AD. However one thing is known, that one of them was named Thommy Kathanar (priest).
Usually priesthood was conferred in those days, only on members of prominent families of the parish. So to have an hierarchy of 10 priests from the same family meant that it was a leading family of the Niranam parish. Besides, we can also infer that the family might have originated long before its members became priests.
Even though the Kanianthra family is a very ancient one, it has only few members. After the family settled down in Mepral, it seems that there was only one male member left in each generation till the time of Kunjummen Valliappen. Kunjummen Valliappen born in 1820 belonged to the 14th generation of the family after it had settled down in Mepral. Thommy Tharakan, who was born in 1755 was the first member of the family who had more than one son.
Mr. K.N. Koshy Kanianthra has in his custody the “Thaliola Grantham” – a book written on palm leaves – which describes the history of Christianity in Kerala. In it, there is the mention of the role played in the Church by some prominent members of Christian families. Among them, the members of the Kanianthra family are included. This Thaliola grantham was with the Kanianthra family. It is still so.
Kanianthra Thommy Chandy Valliappen came and settled down in Mepral, some time between 1467 and 1537 AD. Evidences show that a family called Kanianthra lived for more than nine generations in Niranam. There were nine generations of priests in that family before they migrated to Mepral from Niranam. They were all Vicars of Niranam parish. Hence we can assume from all these evidences that the family originated at some time between the first century and twelfth century AD. Origin
There is a legend about the origin of the family. Long ago, Iddinjillam, Perunna, Niranam; now hinterland, were all places on the sea coast. It seems that Perunna was a busy sea port at that time. There was a main traveller route passing through all these places to Niranam. There were famous temples at many places along this route. Karunattukauv, Perunna, Thrikudithanam, Muthoor, and Thiruvella were all renowned temples. The famous Neelamperoor temple was situated north-west of Thrikkudithanam. Many famous brahmin illams were also situated in all these places.
Neelamperoor was the capital of Bana Perumal. He was supposed to have been a Christian King. There is a statue of Bana Perumal with a cross mark on it in the Neelamperoor temple. The statue is still there.
There was a dilapidated brahmin illam on a small piece of land on the eastern side of the main central road, on the south of Perunna; hence people named the place “Iddinjillam”. The legend is that the people of this illam came to be associated with Christians passing betweeen Neelamperoor and Niranam. The result was that the members of this illam became Christians. This invited harassments and ill-treatment from the hindu neighbors. Eventually they could not stand it any longer and left the illam and migrated to Niranam where many brahmin christians were staying already. There are three things which confirm this legend.
One is that the Kanianthra family settled down in a piece of land near the church on the western side, on the western bank of the river flowing through Niranam. This property till recently was known as the “Kanianthra Purayidam”. Kanianthra Munsiff, late Mr. K.C. Joseph (1847 – 1912) whenever he went to Niranam church used to go to the well of this Kanianthra property and drink water from this well to quench his sentimental thirst.
Another thing is that the illam at Idinjillam – most probably named Kanianthra illam – which Kanianthra family left, got dilapidated. There was no one to look after it. In course of time, the brahmins who looked after the affairs of the Thiruvella temple manoeuvered to get hold of this illam. They later gave it as a gift to the family of masons, who looked after the repairs of the Thiruvella temple. These masons were known as the Kanianthra masons. The descendants of these masons built all the houses for the Kanianthra family at Mepral for generations, till the middle of this century.
Thirdly, the late Dr. Alexander, who wrote the first edition of the family history said in his book that he personally knew the Kanianthra property at Iddinjillam and that there was a dilapidated building on it.
All these are facts connected with the origin of the family. But there are no evidences to show on which date or year the family got converted to Christianity. What we know is that the Kanianthra family stayed at Niranam till the 15th century.
There is also another legend connected with the origin of the family. Till the end of the Kulasekhara dynasty most of the christians lived in Kodungallor, the capital of the empire, or in its vicinity. When feuds erupted between Chera and Chola dynasties in the 11th century, Chera Perumal moved his capital from Kodungalloor to Quilon. Many families also moved to the south with him. One of these families known as the Kanikulathu illam came and settled down in Niranam. It is surmised that in the course of time, these people came to be known as “Kanianthra,” a twisting of the original family name. It may or may not be correct. There are no historical data to prove or disprove it. So let us leave it as a legend.
Migration to Mepral
Kanianthra family originally stayed on the western bank of a branch of Pampa river, flowing through Niranam. Generally Christians were good traders and agriculturists. Kanianthra people were also engaged in trade and agriculture. Gradually they amassed wealth and became prominent members of society, with the result, that priest-hood was conferred on the members of the family. There were ten generations of Kanianthra Priests at Niranan church. They were vicars of the Niranam parish. There are no other historical evidences about the family at Niranam.
We should have an idea of the topography of Niranam and adjacent places and a knowledge of the governments and rulers of the kingdoms that existed at that time to understand the circumstances which led the Kanianthra family to migrate and settle in Mepral.
Niranam is on the bank of a branch of the river Pampa. It is one of the important rivers of Kerala. It flows through Kuttanad and joins the great back water lake Vembanad. This river made its estuary very fertile by bringing the alluvial soil from western ghats. In the course of time many villages came up on the banks of the river, especially in the delta area. Some of the important places here are Parumala, Veeyapuram, Niranam, Thalavadi, Edathuva, Peringara, Mepral, Chathenkeri, Muttar, Ramankeri, and Kavalam. Waterways were the only mode of transportation, in this area, in those days; as the whole area was criss-crossed with rivulets and canals.
In the 11th century the Kulasekhara empire disintegrated into small kingdoms, and principalities ruled by small rajas and chieftains. The chief kingdoms after the break up of the empire were Venad, Elayidathu swaroopam, Designanad, Kayamkulam, Chempakassery, Perumpadappu, Thekumkur, Vadakumkur, Kolathiri and Mangad. Besides these, there were small principalities ruled by Nair chieftains like Moothaedathu Kaimal, Elayidathu Kaimal and others.
In the last part of the period during which the Kanianthra family lived in Niranam, the place was part of the kingdom of Chempakassery. The northern boundary of this kingdom extended up to the southern boundary banks of Pampa river at Pulikeezh. Chempakassery Rajas were brahmins and were sympathetic towards christians. Ambalapuzha and Kuttanad were parts of Chempakassery kingdom.
At this time, there was a notorious bandit called Purakkat Arayan. Under his command, there was an army with a fleet of country boats. This army used to fight for Chempakassery kings. This army under the command of Purakkat Arayan was a terror in the region. They used to collect tax from all the ships that entered the Purakkat sea. The descendants and followers of this Arayan were the Parayans or Pothans and Palians. These pirates used to go around in their boats in Kuttanad and Vembanad lake and capture and ransack all the people and boats that plied in these places. People were afraid of these sea pirates.
One of the descendants of these bandits was one Ittiyathi parayan. He used to burgle houses in Mepral village even during the beginning of the 20th century. The parayan’s routine was to go around in a small boat at night and threaten people and extract whatever was found. He was a terror. Later he was caught by police and put behind bars.
Raja Marthanda Varma\'s Conquests- 1750 AD
Pulikeezh, which was on the north bank of the river Pampa, belonged to the Thekkumkur Rajas and the southern bank, to the Champakessery Rajas. South of the kingdom of Chempakassery was the kingdom of Kayamkulam. River Kollakadavu separated the kingdoms; Champakessery and Kayamkulam. The southern bank of the river Kollakadavu belonged to the Kayamkulam kingdom and the northern bank and its hinterland to the Chempakassery kingdom.
In the armies of all these kingdoms, there were christian soldiers and officers. They were trusted and respected by the rajas, and had great influence in the courts of these rajas. In short, Christians were leading members of society. This was the state of affairs till Raja Marthanda Varma conquered these petty kingdoms and annexed them to his kingdom of Venad.
Members of the Kanianthra family were well versed in the use of arms and according to the custom prevalent at that time, moved about fully armed. The military training was imparted at Kalaris by Asans. Nedumpalli Nairs conducted the Kalari at Niranam. They were well renowned and respected by all. At one time in the 15th century there were no adult male member in this family to conduct the Kalari. There was only a young boy as the heir of the family. One day this boy was returning home after a bath in the river. Kadapra Pallickel Panicker, who was adept at the use of arms and very proud of his feats, saw the boy putting his tuft of hair to the back. Panicker with a single stroke of his sword cut off the tuft of hair within a split second. He was boastful about his feat; but the boy felt very sad and humiliated at this wanton action of Panicker. He ran crying to his mother and told her, what had happened. The mother was deeply pained and lamented that there were no male member in the family to take revenge for this heinous action and insult to her son. Just at this time, one of the members of the Kanianthra family passed by her. As he had been a student and disciple of her husband, she told him about the shame and suffering this action had caused them. He at once went searching for Panicker. When he met Panicker he asked him to apologize for his mean actions. The war of words that followed ended up in a fight of arms and Panicker was killed.
Killing a person was a great offence. To escape punishment the Kanianthra brothers left Chempakessery kingdom immediately and crossed the boundaries and went over to the adjacent kingdoms. One of the brothers crossed the Kollakadav river that separated Chempakessery from Kayamkulam and went over to Kayamkulam kingdom. He went over to his wife’s place at Mavelikara and settled down at Thumbumkal. The other brother with his lame brother crossed the Pampa river at Pulikeezh, where it separated the Chempakessery from Thekkumkur. They came and settled down in Mepral, whichwas in Thekkumkur kingdom and under the rule of Chieftain Azhiyidathu Kerala Prabhu. The law prevalent at that time was that one cannot prosecute a person who had left the country and went over to another kingdom. Thus the Kanianthra brothers escaped punishment from Chempakassery Raja by crossing the boundaries of Chempakassery and settling in other kingdoms.
One of the brothers who came to Mepral settled down at Palamittam and the other brother at what came to be known as Kanianthra Padinjarae veetil. Thus Palamittath family is an off shoot of the Kanianthra family. They stayed at Mepral for generations. But at present most of them have settled down in Trivandrum, Malabar, Coimbatore and other places.
The other Kanianthra family member who went over to Mavelikara, amalgamated with the Thumbumkal family.
No evidence is now available to show or prove the time or the names of the brothers who settled in Mepral. But a very powerful tradition is that the Kanianthra Kunjummen Valliappen who died in 1885 at Mepral belonged to the 14th generation of the family which settled down in Mepral. So by calculating backwards we can more or less assume that the family settled down in Mepral between 1475 and 1525 AD. Besides these, there are evidences to show the time of one of the ancestors of the Kanianthra family as 1467 – 1537 AD. This Valliappen Kanianthra Thommen Chandy might have been the first person who migrated and settled down in Mepral.
Let us have a look at the land, which has been the abode of several past generations of our family. No reliable documentary evidence is now available as to the origin or the very early history of the Kanianthra family. But from 15th century onwards, some prominent members of the family are seen mentioned in the socio-political history of our land. For over 500 years this family with the name Kanianthra has been in existence. A knowledge of the land and its socio-economic and political background, particularly of the 16th century AD, is essential to get an insight of our habitats; Idinjillam, Niranam, Mepral and other places.
Location and Legend
The emerald green Kerala with its lush vegetation is a beautiful strip of land at the tail end of the sub continent of India. This land is bounded on one side by the awe inspiring dark green forests of the Western Ghats and on the other side by the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. The very pleasant climate, landscape, greenery, the innumerable lakes and rivers, the wild life in the hills, make Kerala a paradise. It is nicknamed as “God’s own land”. Besides, Kerala was known all over the world for its exotic spices and timber.
The legend about Kerala is that Rishi Parasuraman in order to atone for all his sins, which he committed during his many conquests, threw his axe from Gokarnam (Goa) to the south into the sea. The axe fell somewhere near Cape Comorin and a strip of land rose from the sea; from where he stood, to the place where his axe fell. This land he gifted to the Brahmins. There is no historical evidence for this legend. But according to geological evidences and research it seems that once there was a long fresh water lakeextending from Cannanoor to Cape Comorin. Due to some natural phenomena like an earth-quake or movement of the earth plates, the land separating the lake from the sea sank. It is considered that the islands of Mala dweep and Laksha dweep are the peaks of mountains of the land that sank into the sea. After centuries due to another such phenomenon part of the sunk land came up over the sea again.
It seems that as late as first century A.D, the sea extended eastwards upto Kottayam, Changanacherry, Vazhapalli, Perunna, Niranam and other interior places. When St.Thomas came to Kerala it was possible that he came upto Niranam, Perunna, Quilon and other; now interior land, by ship.
There is also no historical evidence as to when Kerala came to be inhabited by people. But there are evidences of burial stones to show that Kerala was inhabited by people from at least a thousand years before the 1st century B.C. The people then were nature worshippers. Later Buddhism and then Jainism came in; but most people remained worshippers of nature represented by Sun, Moon, Wind and Snakes.
Kerala was renowned all over the world for its “black gold” Pepper–and other rich spices and exotic timber. It was these rare commodities that lured traders and people to Kerala.
The Phoenicians during the time of Solomon, the Syrians under Selucids, the Egyptians under Ptolemies, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Chinese, all came to Kerala in search of its rare wealth. Many of them even settled down in Kerala to carry on this lucrative trade. There were pockets of these foreign settlers in many parts of Kerala. There was a thriving community of Jews till recently in Kochi.
St.Thomas an apostle of Jesus Christ came in 52 AD to preach Christianity to the Jews and others in Kerala. He converted many to the Christian faith.
Aryans in their southward movement from North India trickled into Kerala even perhaps before first century AD. But their considerable movement to Kerala happened more particularly in the fifth and sixth centuries. With the coalition of Dravidian nature worship and Aryan Gods emerge Hindu religion. Aryans also introduced the caste system in Kerala. The idea that education and learning are the privileges of only the higher castes also came in vogue. They also suppressed the high social status enjoyed till then by the women of Kerala.
The Arabs from the Middle East had been trading with Kerala for many centuries. They brought Islam to Kerala, even before it came to North India. The Muslims built their first Mosque at Kodungaloor in the life time of Mohammed himself. (570-632 A.D.)
The Chinese under Tangs’ came to Kerala in search of black pepper – the king of spices – and established a trading post at Quilon. They in turn helped the Keralites to design the roof of buildings; to build river crafts and chinese fishing nets. Cheena Chatty, Cheena Jars, Cleavers, Plates, Mugs are all souvenirs of their connections with Kerala.
Thus Phoenicians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Jews, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Dravidians, Aryans, Chinese, Muslims; all lived together amicably. Keralites inherited a cosmopolitan culture, tolerance for one another, and a life of communal amity and peace.
Kerala was ruled by Ayya, Chera and Nanna rajas till the 5th century AD. Vanchi was the capital of Chera Rajas; Ayyakudi was the capital of Ayya Rajas and Eazhimala was the capital of Nanna Rajas.
Kerala was ruled by the Kulasekhara dynasty from 800 to 1102 AD. There were much cultural, social and religious progress during this time. Sankaracharya was able to rejuvenate the Hindu Religion. So also Kollam Era was started during this period in 825 AD.
The last century of the Kulasekara dynasty saw wars between the Cheras and Cholas. The result was that the Kulasekara dynasty was destroyed and Kerala was divided into many small kingdoms and principalities of petty rajas and chieftains. These chieftains and brahmins became very powerful; Brahmins, because they were the owners of Brahmaswam and rulers of Devaswam lands.
It was during this period, that in 1498 AD the Portuguese adventurer Vasco-da-Gama anchored his ship at Kozhikode. Kochi Raja helped him and the Portuguese traders in many ways. This prompted them to establish trading posts in many places in Kerala and slowly able to establish their supremacy. Even though the Zamorin of Calicut and his naval commander Kunjali Marikar, resented these intruders and tried to check them, the Portuguese remained in Kerala till the Dutch captured Kochi in 1663.
The Dutch tried to establish their supremacy in Kerala during the 17th and 18th centuries; but it was thwarted by the famous Travancore Raja; Raja Marthanda Varma. Marthanda Varma between 1729 – 1758 conquered all the small principalities andexpanded his kingdom upto Vadakumkoor. Sakthan Thampuran of Kochi made his kingdom strong. But in Malabar due to the conquest of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan, the native kingdoms were all destroyed. Later, the English defeated Tippu and Malabar came under British rule.
The British traders who came to Kerala in search of spices and other commodities established trading posts at Vizhinjam in 1644, Anchuthengu in 1684 and Tellicherry in 1694. Gradually with treaties with kings and chieftains and conquests, they became over-lords and ruled India till we got Independence in 1947.
Modern Kerala as a political entity emerged at the close of the British regime. After Independence, when linguistic states were formed, Malabar, Cochin, and Travancore were joined together on 01-11-1956 to form the present Kerala.
Kerala is comparatively very advanced in education, newspaper circulation, standard of living, longevity, and other achievements. The physical quality of life of Keralites is today on par with many developed societies in the world. But it is deficient in food crop production and backward in industrial development. This is a paradox. The state has a very high level of unemployment. Hence educated people go outside Kerala seeking employment for their livelihood and send the money to Kerala.
The universal literacy, high physical quality of life, high level of educated unemployed, developed mass media, a high level of political insight, a continuous process of grouping and regrouping of left and right wing political parties and formation of their ad-hoc governments are the features of present day socio-political fabric of Kerala.
Before the advent of Aryans there were no caste distinctions in Kerala. It was only after the 8th century under the powerful influence of Aryans that caste distinctions were created on the basis of the nature of the traditional work of each person and family. Namboothiris and Brahmins formed the top rung of the hierarchy – the intellectuals; Kshatrias formed the warrior class; Vaishyas were the traders; Sudras were temple dependants and subservants of Brahmins. The tillers of the soil were the Ezhavas, and the scheduled castes.
Namboothiris and Nairs exercised complete control over the land, the former being the land lords and the latter rulers and warriors. In the caste society of Kerala, the Nairs remained a dominant caste. They followed the matrilineal system of inheritance. Under the system all wealth belonged to women and their children. The members of a family are the descendants of a female. The family unit is called Tharavad. The oldest malemember would become the Karanavan, that is; he would be the manager of the Tharavad. His own wife and children are not members of this tharavad; but of his wife’s tharavad. This system was followed by the chieftains and Rajas too. This made the Nair woman relatively more powerful than women in the other classes. Men practised polygamy and the women, polyandry. But the brahmins and others followed the patrilineal system.
The Tharaward as a joint family system slowly disintegrated over time and was replaced by nuclear family system. It was the passing of the Nair Act of 1925, which enabled each member to claim share in the Tharawad. So youngsters after having got their shares began to start nuclear families. But children still belonged to the family of their mother.
In the old days, the respectable dress for Keralites for all occasions was white. Princesses and peasants and even temple priests used to wear only white dress. While the Christian and Muslim women wore blouses, the women of other communities went about bare breasted, or wore briefs, or tied a long piece of cloth over the shoulders.
The Namboothiri women practiced purdha, by holding a big umbrella made of palmyra leaves to cover them, while going out. So also the Muslim women practiced purdha by covering their heads with a piece of cloth.
Bonded labour (Adians) was prevalent in Kerala, even in the 19th century. These persons were associated with the agricultural land. When a piece of agricultural land was sold, the bonded labourers connected with the land were also transferred to the new owner. Men fetched 100 panams (silver coins then in use) and women 70 panams. Even Christians practiced this system. Kanianthra family had many bonded labourers. This system totally disappeared because of the pressure exerted by Christian missionaries. The Government of India passed an Act in 1843 abolishing slavery in British India. In Travancore the pressure of the missionaries continued and finally the Raja issued a proclamation liberating all slaves on June 2nd 1855. But bonded labour system continued for another 100 years and came to an end only in the 1950’s.
Thus the theocratic feudalism with Brahmin and Jenmi supremacy, caste system, child marriage, purdha system, slavery and polygamy were some of the important socio-economic features in the 16th century AD, when Kanianthra Christian family thrived in their original habitat at Niranam.
Festivals of Kerala
Certain festivals are considered as ethnic or regional festivals and celebrated even today by all irrespective of caste or creed. Onam is the most important of all of them. There are many other festivals in Kerala like Vishu, Christmas, Easter, Ramzan etc. But Onam is considered as the Kerala festival and celebrated by all. It goes on for ten days and culminates on Thiru Onam day. It falls in some time between August and September.
The legend is that once an Asura king called Mahabali ruled over Kerala. He ruled well and people were very happy and everything was in plenty. The Gods became jealous and feared him. So they appealed to Brahma to destroy him. Brahma agreed to their request, and came as Vamanan; a brahmin sage to the court of Mahabali and requested him to give three steps of land to build a house. The king graciously consented. Then suddenly Vamanan changed into a huge person and measured the earth and heaven with two steps. There was no place for the third step. So to honour his word, the king showed his head and requested Vamanan to measure the third step on his head. Vamanan put his foot on Mahabali’s head and pushed him down into the nether world. But before he was pushed down, the king requested Brahma to allow him to visit his subjects once in a year. This request was granted. So people believe that on Thiru Onam day Mahabali comes over to see how his subjects are faring. Hence on Onam day everyone is happy and wears new clothes and enjoy feasts and games.
Another important festival in Kerala is Christmas. On Christmas day Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas is celebrated with pomp. Many delicious dishes are made for this occasion. It is a time when most of the family members and relations try to gather in their ancestral homes. All have good food, and a happy time before they disperse.
The Muslims of Kerala, celebrate Id with pomp and gusto. These are some of the most important festivals of Keralites.
It is interesting and worthwhile to have a glimpse of the history of Mepral church. The belief is that the Syrian Christian church of Niranam was established by St.Thomas himself. He converted many people of Niranam also to Christianity. Their descendants fanned out to neighbouring places like Kalloopara, Thiruvella, Changanachery, Chengannoor and so on. During the course of time people in all these places built their own churches. The rulers favoured the Christians, because they were traders who brought wealth to the Kingdoms and Rajas. So the Rajas helped them in building churches, by giving the land free and even conferred special privileges on Christians.
Till the demise of Vathapallil Kunjuthommi Ninan Kathanar in 1917, Kanianthra family priests had the privilege of being one of the vicars of Niranam church.
Kolan, Plamoodan and Panangodan were the three christian families of Mepral at first. Later, Kanianthra, Poothicodan and Panacha families migrated and settled down in Mepral.
Even though Kanianthra and Poothicote families had priests like Kanianthra Ouseph Ninan Kathanar and Poothicote Idycheria Kathanar, Mepral did not have a church of its own. Due to the practical difficulty of attending the Niranam church every sunday, especially during rainy seasons and also for conducting marriages and burials, the families at Mepral decided to build a church of their own. They started looking for a suitable site to build the church, so that it will be convenient for the neighbouring places also. Eventually they located a property on the bank of “Pallithod”, a canal of Pampa river, where the church now stands. This property called “Kuppaedath” purayidam belonged to Puthenpurackal, Kuruvilla Cherian and Kunjakonda. But one Ezhava family was staying in that property. They were persuaded to shift to another property purchased for the same.
Azhimukhothu Karnavar, Elavirahil Kochoonju, Plamoottil Chummar and Kanianthra Kizhakaeveettil Kunjuthommi Kunjoommen were entrusted with the task of getting permission for a church from the Government. They got the permission and a temporary shed was erected for the church at Mepral. The first holy qurbana was offered in this temporary shed by the Metropolitan Maramon Palakunnathu Mathews Athanasios on 19th of Vrichikam 1861.
At that time the Kanianthra family had Padinjaraeveettil Ninan Kathanar as priest and Poothicote family had Puthenpurackel Deacon Thomas to conduct and assist in the holy qurbana. But the task of offering holy qurbana for the first 41 days in the new church was entrusted to Kottayam Edavazhickal Achen, Niranam Pallimuckil Achen, Vennikulath Kakkuzhiyil Achen, and Pulikeezhil Achen. The local members of the church were grieved at this. They went to Yuvakim Kurilos, a foreign bishop residing in Malankara and complained about the deeds of Palakunnathu Metran. They then invited him to lay the foundation stone of the Mepral St.John’s church on the 7th of Makaram, 1861AD and the Methran entrusted Kanianthra Ouseph Ninan Kathanar to conduct the qurbana regularly. Thus he became the first Vicar of the Mepral church and its parish.
One might wonder why Palakunnathu Mar Athanasios did not ask Kanianthra Achen to offer the qurbana for the first 41 days in the church. At that time there was a feud between Palakunnath Methran on one side and Mar Yuvakim Kurilos and Cheppad Mar Dionysius Methran on the other side, as to who was the Malankara Metrapolitan. Both had put forth their claims to this position. So Palakunnath Thirumeni might have been afraid that if the Kanianthra Achen who was inclined towards Mar Dionysius was allowed to conduct the qurbana at Mepral church, he might swing the church and its members to the side of Mar Dionysius.
Later in 1883, parish members built the present St. John’s Church made of bricks and roof tiles. In those days Syrian Christians from the neighbouring places like Chathenkery were all members of this nearby church. Further down in history they also made their own churches.
The two prominent families of Mepral are Kanianthra and Poothicote. Kanianthra family came from Niranam and the Poothicote family came from Kuravilangad. There is a story that Poothicote Valliappen from Kuravilangad first settled down in Changanachery. Later one member of that family migrated to Thiruvella and became the founder of the Chalakuzhi family. Another person of the family came to Mepral and started the Poothicote family.
Both Kanianthra and Poothicote families were on good terms and there were many inter marriages between them. But as far as church matters were concerned, they were on opposite sides. These differences still continue. Kanianthra family are Orthodox Syrian Christians with Catholicos as the head of their Church; but Poothicote family belongs to a faction which accepts the Partiarch of Antioch, a foreigner as the head of their Church. This difference in view has caused many feuds between the two families.
We must know the history of our parish church to understand this feud. During the time of Pulicottil IInd Joseph Mar Dionysuis,(1865-1909) he became suspicious of the activities of Poothicote Puthenpurackel Thoma Kathanar. He had reasons to believe that Poothicote Kathanar was a follower of Palakunnath Thirumeni and his reformation. So in 1904 he suspended Poothicote Kathanar. This led to many skirmishes at Mepral between the two families. Pulinthara Shri Mammachen was the leader of the Kanianthra group. These skirmishes finally ended up in a court case. The magistrate ordered the church to be closed. Kalathil Ouseph Valliappen conducted the case on behalf of the Kanianthra family. In the end the court decreed that both the factions can worship in the church on alternate sundays.
Again in 1907, Poothicote Thomma Kathanar tried to offer Holy Qurbana according to the reformist rituals of Palakunnath Abraham Malpan. This led to a still another confrontation between the two families. Kanianthra Ninan Kathanar and Valiaparambil Kalathil shri Ouseph Ouseph as plaintiffs filed a new case against Poothicote Kathanar. The gist of the case was that since Poothicote Achen had been suspended from the Orthodox church, he had no right to offer qurbana in the church.
Later this case was amicably settled by both the parties. In the meantime Poothicote Thoma Kathanar and some of his relations, prompted by Konat Malpan tried to bring the Mepral church under the Patriarch of Antioch, Mar Abdulla. Kanianthra Achen opposed this move. Patriarch Abdulla who was in Malankara at that time suspended Kanianthra Ninan Kathanar from offering Holy qurbana. This led to another case in the court and Mepral church was closed again. This case ended in 1910 and the church was re-opened. The verdict was again, that both the factions can offer services on alternate sundays.
Kanianthra Vathappallil Ninan Kathanar was getting old and he wanted to be relieved from active service. At this juncture the family and parish members insisted Deacon Kanianthra Pullucat Alexander to become a priest to take up vicarship of the church. Respecting the wishes of the family and parish, Deacon Alexander discontinued his studies in Calcutta Bishop’s college and came. On his way he stopped at Mangalore and was ordained as a priest by Methran Mar Julius Alwaris of our Church. Thus Rev. Fr. Alexander came to Mepral and conducted his first Holy Qurbana. He officially took charge of the church and became vicar for two sundays of every month.
After the demise of Poothicote Thoma Kathanar, Poothicote Chathanthara Fr: P.M. Abraham became the vicar of the Patriarch faction at Mepral. During the time of these two priests, they co-operated in conducting the affairs of the church amicably. So the church and parish prospered.
In 1912, the head quarters of the Catholicos of the East was transferred from Tigris to Malankara. Kandanad Methran Paulose Mar Evanios became the first Malankara Catholicos.
There arose a case in 1938, as to whether the Patriarch faction or the Malankara Catholicos and his people were the rightful heirs of St.Thomas tradition. This was the “Samudaya” case. In 1958, the Supreme Court of India gave a verdict in favour of the Catholicos faction. This had its repercussions on the Mepral church also. It came under the Niranam Diocese of the Catholicos and the priest for the Mepral church was thus being appointed by the Niranam Metropolitan. By this time the two Achens of Kanianthra and Poothicote passed away.
About this time Poothicote Paikandathil Shri George’s son Deacon George Kurian got ordained as a priest by Kandanad Methran Paulose Mar Philexinose. He was appointed as Mepral parish priest by the Bishop of Niranam Diocese, H.G.Thoma Mar Dionysius. Since there was peace between the two factions at that time he offered service at the church on all Sundays. But Kanianthra Shri Thomas K. Cherian, the trustee of the church for the Kanianthra parish kept their accounts separately. Paikandathil Achen took an active interest in the development of Mepral.
By 1972 the rift between the Catholicose and a small smouldering Patriarch faction in the Church widened. In 1974, without being selected by the Malankara Association and even without the knowledge of any one, Paikandathil Achen, who was a part of this small group went secretly to the Patriarch of Antioch and got ordained as Methran Kuriakose Kurilos. Then in the early hours of a day he came to Mepral, opened the Church by force and offered Holy Qurbana. He also occupied the parsonage of the church without the permission of the Bishop of Niranam Diocese. This episode once again disturbed the peace of the Mepral church. Confrontation between the two factions started again. Eventually Methran Kurilos was prevented from entering the church.
During this time Shri Thomas Cherian shifted his residence from Mepral to Malabar and in his place Vadakaeparambil Shri Joseph Punnen became the new trustee of the parish.
In the meantime Kanianthra Arumapettiyil Shri Job Thomas, a member of Thabor Dayara was ordained as a priest. Catholics Ougen Ist made him the vicar of Mepral church. Poothicote Methran and his family members were still trying to insist on their privileges in the church. Meantime they made a temporary chapel and started offering holy Qurbana. The feud continued. After sometime by a police mediation Poothicote Methran wrested a right to offer qurbana in the church on all sundays. Both factions are now thus allowed to offer services in the church on all sundays; one faction offering it first on alternate sundays. Thus two qurbanas are conducted on every sunday.
It is more than a century, since we have established the church at Mepral. It is dedicated in the name of St. John, the Baptist. The “Church Day” is celebrated on the 20th of January every year. It used to be a very big and important day for the whole community and was celebrated with piety and pomp.
Kanianthra Kudumbam Day
Kanianthra family members decided to have 20th of January as their Kudumbam Day.
The Mepral church is dedicated in the name of St. John, the Baptist. January 20th is the perunal or festival day on which we all pray for intercession of this saint. Since St. John is the Patron saint of our church, he is the Patron saint of our family too. So we decided that 20th of January in every year shall be celebrated as our
“Kudumbam Day” by all the members of the family. Wherever they are, our family members are expected to assemble in a house, or common place or church in their respective locality or region to thank God for all His blessings on all of us including our forefathers. We are also expected to treat this day as a fraternity day and a day for re-union.
The family day gives the members of the family an opportunity to meet together and renew their acquaintances and relationship. Besides it inculcates the feeling that all of them belong to the same family and the members can depend on one another in times of adversity and prosperity.
We want the family members to be proud of being a member of the Kanianthra family and of its traditions, and be thankful to God for His concern and care for each and every one of us, throughout our history. So it is our duty and responsibility to organize the Kudumbam Day without fail.
In several centuries of their early history, Kanianthra family members were primarily agriculturists. They were small land owners, engaged in paddy and coconut palm cultivation. But as time passed, the land owned by the family was not adequate enough for ensuring the well-being of the later generations. Hence, eventually members of the family migrated to other places for better forms of cultivation or turned to other professions. Some turned to plantation of rubber and other cash crops. Others, educated their children to become professionals.
With the advent of western education in India, especially at Kottayam, many members of the family became keen on learning English. Eventually this led many members to acquire higher education and proficiency in different professions. In the present generation there are experts in diverse professions.
Though some members have become successful planters of commercial crops, it is in the service sector that the Kanianthra family members have gained recognition for their commendable performances. Mr. K.T. Chandy is an outstanding example. So also, late Air Vice Marshal Mr. K.A. Joseph, P.V.S.M; the first Indian officer to command the Signals’ branch of the Indian Air Force. In the ecclesiastic field His Grace Job Mar Philoxenos, Bishop of Delhi Diocese is an eminent figure. The family is very proud of the many scientists, doctors, engineers, architects, educationists, administrators, chartered accountants, and legal experts it has produced. But this family cannot claim to have made any significant contribution in the field of arts or in building up business firms. It is true that there were and are minor exceptions. Bankers like Chodiaparambil Varkey, Valiyaparampil brothers, Puthenparambil. Thomas K. Cherian, Mr. K.T. Oommen and George Kutty Paippad, Chevaliar K.T. Alexander in property business and Mr. K. Sushil Joseph - a highly qualified electronics engineer with an MBA - running his computer firm, and transport company, are examples of exceptions. But our contribution is mainly in the service sector. Whatever their career, over successive generations, they have shown their concern for the upliftment of the weaker members of the family, friends and dependants.
Many members of our family were or are holding eminent positions in government service, companies, multinational companies and international research and scientific organizations.
Kanianthra family is one of the ancient Syrian Christian families which ventured into English education from the beginning. This may be one of the reasons, why our members are professionals and are not so much involved in business. However, whatever the reasons may be, they wholeheartedly and honestly carried out the duties and responsibilities they shouldered and were able to make the time they served a golden era in the respective institutions they worked.
Among the professionals, the earliest was Kovoor K.C. Joseph Munsiff; followed by engineers, Puthenpurayil Kunjena Overseer, his son Oommen engineer of Tatas, and Vadakaevilayil Thomas engineer. In the present generations there are a number of engineers, and architects. Thomas Mathew, Director, Guest Keen Williams and G.K.O. Philips, Sr. Vice President, Crompton Greaves, K. Joseph Alexander (Jose) and Thomas George (Silpi) are persons who have made a mark in their fields. The family can be proud that it has produced many doctors also.Late Kovoor Dr. Alexander leads the list followed by late Pullucat Dr. K.J. Oommen. In the present generation there are successful and eminent doctors and researchers. The family is blessed with eminent lawyers too. In the earlier generation we had Pallathu Kanianthra Alexander Vakil, Vadakae parampil Joseph Vakil, and Pullucatt Thomas Vakil. In the present generation we have eminent legal experts like K.T. Chandy, Pothuvathu Barrister K.T. Joseph and Pullucat Barrister K.T. Alexander. We have also a number of Chartered Accountants. Late Mr. J.K. Thomas of Puthenparampil leads the list. We are proud to say that Alexy Jose, FCA is the one and only woman Chartered Accountant in our family and is a credit to our family. There are a number of educationists also in our family. Prof. Joseph K. Alexander leads the list. In the administrative service too, we have a number of eminent personalities from our family. Valiaparampil K.J. Joseph and late Mr. Abraham Mathew Kovoor J. Alexander of the Tata Administrative Service are mentionable. Pullucat Dr. Joseph Kanianthra, Pulinthara late Dr. Mammen Koshy, Dr. A.K. Thomas (Chandy Kunju) Vadakaevilayil, Dr. Thomas Chandy, Dr. Mani Chandy, and Dr. George Chandy are internationally known scientists and researchers. We are also not backward in serving in the defence of our country. Late Air Vice Marshal K.A. Joseph, P.V.S.M leads the list. We have also in our family journalists, hoteleering experts, pharmacists and others.
Once the Illustrated Weekly of India published a series of articles on the different communities of India. In the article on “Syrian Christians” Mr. K.T. Chandy and late A.V.M. K.A. Joseph were mentioned as eminent members of the community.
In the ecclesiastical field also, the family had often a priest in each generation. One of the eminent personalities among them was Late Rev. Fr. K.J. Alexander Cor episcopa. In the present generation, the family can be proud that one of their members is a Methran; His Grace Job Mar Philoxenos is the Bishop of the Orthodox Diocese of Delhi.
Another field the members of the family chose was plantation. The income from paddy and coconut cultivation was limited. They were becoming unprofitable. So the adventurous of the family entered into plantation. Pullucat Chandy Ouseph Valliappen was the first one to experiment in this new field. Afterwards Pullucat Rev. Fr. Alexander Cor episcopa and Dr. Oommen followed the path. In 1920 Rev. Fr. Alexander bought 52 acres of land in Naranganam and planted rubber. Dr. Oommen bought Panal property and experimented with rubber cultivation. Afterwards Maliyil Onnoonni Appen bought a rubber estate at Mundakayam and another at Pamala, Paipad. In 1940 Dr. Oommen started planting rubber in his estate at Channapetta.
So also Puthenparambil Shri K.T. Cherian bought land in Malabar and planted rubber and made it into a profitable concern. His sons Mr. Thomas Cherian and Mr. Issac Cherian have managed to expand it. In 1940 Dr. Oommen and his younger brother Mr. K.J. Ninan bought land at Chadayamangalam and started rubber plantation. Mr. J.K. Thomas also bought land in Malabar for rubber plantation. Roy, his son was in charge of the project. Kizhkaeveettil Ousepachen started an estate at Vandiperiyar when other members of the family found that their cousins and nephews are making a success of this venture, many others followed. Kovoor Kunjan and his brother Oommen of Kanganam velil, migrated to Malabar and started developing estates. Similarly Arumapettiyil Thomas K. Oommen has his own estate at Makiyad in Malabar. In this way many members of the family became planters.
One of the outstanding characteristics of the family members, whether agriculturist, professionals or planters, is their determination to put their heart and soul into the work they do, and thus make a good job of what they have undertaken.gt;Kanianthra family is one of the ancient Syrian Christian families which ventured into English education from the beginning. This may be one of the reasons, why our members are professionals and are not so much involved in business. However, whatever the reasons may be, they wholeheartedly and honestly carried out the duties and responsibilities they shouldered and were able to make the time they served a golden era in the respective institutions they worked.
It is nice to know one’s family history and how time and circumstances have brought about changes, in it.
In the beginning there was the joint family system. All the members of the family, comprising multiple generations lived together as one unit. The members never thought of moving out when they got married. Later came the extended family system, where members of a family tried to have their own residences near their original family house. As time passed the nuclear family system emerged; where husband, wife and children formed one unit.
Circumstances forced the families to change with the times. As the family members increased in number the inherited assets became inadequate to support the growing family. So also the economic and social situation in the traditional centre of the family did not offer satisfactory opportunities for augmenting wealth or ways to get it. So many left their ancestral homes and went out into the wide world in search of greener pastures and better opportunities. But eventually a number of them used to come back to their native village to spend their old age. As time passed on; this too changed; and people started settling down in the places where they had worked. Thus the family became scattered. Still, the members of the family owed great allegiance to their parental family. Despite this loyalty, as time passed, they were not clearly aware of their roots and details of their family history extending into a distant past.
These are the days when people feel the need to establish their identity and long to renew their bonds with their ancestral family. They are eager to trace their cultural roots. Just as the goodness of the fruit depends on the tree, which bears it, so also the behaviour of the members of a family depends to a certain extent on the inherited them did well in different parts of the world. There are hardly a few Kanianthra families just now left at Mepral. characteristics of the ancestral family to which they belong and the historical setting in which the family has grown. Hence it is important to have an insight into the evolution of one’s family and its traits against the background of its historical setting.
There are certain unwritten codes, laws and regulations which govern the behaviour and outlook of the members of a family. Every member of an old family is inclined to be proud of his or her family and its inherited codes and prestige and tries to uphold it, as far as possible. Usually members of a family will think twice before they break or mar those unwritten laws and traditions; which have been accepted and time and again revived, as the foundations of one’s family.
When you read Kanianthra family history, you can come across certain predominant traits running through generations. First among these traits is that they were and are all, God-fearing people. A member of the family practically in most generations opted for priest-hood and endeavoured to serve God and society. The successive generations of priests belonging to the Kanianthra family from Ninan Kathanar to His Grace Job Mar Philoxenos of our time, bear witness to this.
The family played a prominent part in the affairs of the Malankara Church and were ready to undergo many sacrifices for the Church. The Malankara Church history written in palm leaves in the early 19th century known as Niranam Grandhavary, which is in the possession of the Kanianthra family have a few references about the services rendered by Kanianthra family members on crucial occasions of Church history. They still take a keen interest in the affairs of the Church to which they belong; in building churches and parishes wherever they work or settle down. They were and are strong supporters of the church and do their best to uphold the Church and Society.
Another admirable trait which distinguished the family in the earlier period of our social history has been the generous, kind and just treatment extended to the erstwhile untouchables and agricultural labourers, who suffered various deprivation in the past. An interesting anecdote about Kanianthra Ninan Chandy Tharakan bears testimony to these qualities. Ninan Chandy Tharakan’s household was served by his large “Vaduka” retinue – depressed class people – who had accepted Christianity. In desperation, his wife, Pallikadavil Annamma, who did not approve of this arrangement, left her husband and went back to her home; saying that she would not come back, unless he got rid of these people from the house. Shri Ninan Tharakan, to ensure the well being of these dependants, moved them by stages from his home, and within a period of two years he succeeded in settling them well. Afterwards he persuaded his wife to come back home.
Pullucatt Chandy Ouseph is another example of kind and generous treatment of his dependants in the under privileged sections of society. He was so lavish in his generosity, that his wife often protested, because of the financial strain due to it. His son, Dr. Oommen of Channapetta was also another example of large heartedness and lavish generosity towards the under privileged, as well as the sick who came to him for treatment. He spent a lot of his time and money in alleviating the sufferings of the poor. Whenever he saw a poor sick person on the road side, he used to take him to the nearest hospital for treatment at his own expense. At one time, there were eleven orphans living in his house along with his own children. These are only a few outstanding instances of the value set by the family on being kind and generous towards others.
Still another outstanding feature of our nature is the social commitment and concern for others. Many of the family members during their life time tried their best to uplift the society by building up the infrastructure for economic, social, cultural and educational development. A very good example of such a committed life was that of Pullucat Rev. Fr. K.J. Alexander Corepiscopa. There were and are many like him in the family.
The respect, honour, and obedience given to parents is another valuable trait we see amongst us. This is one side of the coin. The other and more important side is the sacrifices rendered by our parents in vesting human resource development qualities in their children. Many of them in the past underwent very many privations for educating and equipping their children, who readily recognized this selflessness of parents. It was our parents who groomed us to live as law abiding citizens and in communal harmony in the pluralist Mepral society; a balancing act, that trained us to live in any part of the world amicably with every one else.
Another important feature is the respect given to women. Our parents are partial even to a fault of their daughters. This equality the girls enjoy at home with boys enable our girls to develop their potential. No wonder they become valuable and respected assets in the families they go as brides.
Our forefathers were far sighted and were ahead of many in recognizing the importance of education to their children. They readily availed the emerging educational facilities for learning modern science and technology, even though they had to undergo many hardship for the same. The second Syrian Christian to graduate in the new University system was Munsiff Mr. K.C. Joseph of the Kanianthra family. His parents and uncles had to sacrifice many things to send him to Madras for higher education in those days. Thus we see the Kanianthra family paid great importance to education. Later Puthenparambil Valliappen sent three of his sons for higher education to England. So also Munsiff Valliappen sent his son to U.K. for Medicine. Many of our youngsters of the present generation are highly educated and are holding high posts all over the world. We are proud of the contributions they are able to make in their fields of endeavour.
The members of the family from very early times recognised the importance of being mutually helpful for achieving economic and social progress and tiding over the many hazards of life. This readiness to help one another is clearly seen in the elders of the family who used to welcome their needy young relatives into their homes, till they could find jobs for themselves. Thus the members of the older generations established a tradition of helping each other for the upliftment of the family.
Kanianthra Kudumbam is relatively a small family, but is noted for its unity and sense of belonging that binds them together. This tradition of the family has been commended upon by members of other families.
Among the present generation there are at least some members of the family who never have been to Mepral, even to India. So a knowledge of our family history has become a matter of vital importance to enable the members to know their roots and be proud of their ancestors and help them to imbibe the high values by which the earlier generations endeavoured to live
Mepral belonged to the principality of the Azhiyidathuchira Chieftain, Kerala Prabhu. The place has an area of 1.9 square miles. The Punja paddy fields are in the west and north of Mepral land area; but these paddy fields extend upto Vembanad lake on the north-west.
The main occupation of the family was agriculture. Their main sources of income were the paddy and coconut from the landed properties. ay and night during harvest. The paddy
It was like a festival season from the time of sowing to the time of harvesting of paddy. During this time people were all busy, and all had work and money. There were plenty of fish from the fields to eat. Once the harvest was over, all the fields were flooded with water. Thereafter there was hardly any work except manuring the coconut trees. People spent most of the time, catching fish and entertaining themselves with games. The most common games among men were cards, chess and pakida.
When there was water in the fields, fresh water fishes like Karumeen, Varal, Tiger prawns, and many others were in plenty. Everyone had their own nets for fishing. The rich used to fish as a past time, while the not so well off used to catch fish for their livelihood. Mepral prawns were renowned all over central Travancore. Some of them used to weigh half a kilogram. These prawns were often sent as presents to one’s relations in other places.
In course of time, due to political and trade union activities, many changes took place. The wages were increased so much that it was not profitable to cultivate the paddy fields. This affected the life style of the land owners. They gradually turned to other means for livelihood. But even today life in Kuttanad is more or less the same as in those days.
The animals usually found in Mepral are dogs, cats, squirrels, frogs, crabs and water snakes. As for birds there were ducks, fowls, mynahs, parrots, crows and teals that used to come all the way from Siberia, every year during the sowing season.
There were three Christian families in Mepral, when the Kanianthra brothers migrated. The families were Kolan, Plamoodan, and Panagodan. The prominent Hindu families at that time were Ericatt Pillais, Puthupally Nairs, Vechur Nairs, Kailath Kurups and Vallathu Nairs. Besides these, there were two prominent Ezhava families at Mepral. They were Valiaparambil Panickers and Pullucatt Panickers. There were also two Brahmin Namboothiri families at Mepral. They were the Kizhakae Illam and Padinjarae Illam. Though most of the families are still at Mepral, in the course of time, Kanianthra family members bought most of the properties from the former settlers. This can be made out from the names of the properties that are with the Kanianthra family. The Kanianthra people were honest in their dealings with others. All the families lived amicably in Mepral.But as time advanced, agriculture in Mepral became not a profitable occupation. So the families at Mepral, including the Kanianthra family members went out into the wide world.
Post 2010 period
With the emigration of the existing families, new comers emerged mostly from the former dependant families. The new generations of them eaned money especially from foreign employment in the Gulf Countries and purchased the households of the earlier settlers
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