|Marth Mariam Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church, (999) Arakuzha, |
Marth Mariam Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church, Arakuzha,
In the southern state of Kerala, where the literacy rate is way high, Christianity is the third popular religion and it came to this part of India long ago - with the arrival of St. Thomas, the 12th disciple of Christ, in the ancient seaport of Muziris in AD 52 - the present day Pattnam. St. Thomas, it is said, converted many Brahmin families into Christianity, many historians question this event. However, the earliest known source connecting the presence of apostle in India is the Acts of Thomas, possibly written in the early 3rd century, perhaps in Edessa. Cochin Jews are known to have lived since AD 52 or earlier period. It is said St. Thomas also converted the Jews to Christianity. Any way, the Christian community in Kerala has been around here for a long span of time.
Arakuzha is a serene village about 6 km south east of Muvattupuzha in Kerala, India is historically an important place in Kerala. Located on SH 41 towards Koothattukulam, Arakuzha has a unique history related to growth and development of catholic Syrian in Kerala. It has a large population of Saint Thomas Christians who have been living here for more than 1500 years, a well documented history. The tradition and origin among Saint Thomas Christians is closely related to the arrival of Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus on the coastal Malabar in AD 52. That is long before the construction of the Big temple at Thanjavur by the Chola king Rajarajan, more than 1000 years. Likewise, long before the arrival of Portuguese in India and the Muslim invasion into India from the NW region. Places such as Nagapuzha, Muthalakodam Kothamangalam, Vazhakulam, Arakuzha, Mylakompu, of erstwhile Travancore kingdom have very old Syrian churches.
The moot question here is why does the village Arakuzha get importance as far as Syrian Catholics are concerned and what is so unique about it? This village has been a cultural hub of Syrian Catholic Christians for several centuries. Their peaceful coexistence with other communities was not at all affected until the invasion of Tipu Sultan from the neighboring place. When Tipu Sultan of Mysore raided this part of Kerala in mid 1700s, his army persecuted the Christians - Nazranis, et al and also the Hindus, besides damaging numerous temples and churches. The cutural center in this village gave asylum to scores of migrant Syrian Christians and Nasranis during the tumultuous period who fled to this part of Kerala for safety and sustenance.
Marth Mariam Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church had played a key role in the lives of the people whose families were uprooted. There was no way to go with bleak future and pangs of hunger and pain.Those were the dark days. The church and people associated with the church helped them turn a new leaf and showed them to start their life afresh and keep moving forward.
It was Ratha pallimuthi who erected the Marth Mariam Forane Church at Aarakzha. The church was pulled down and rebuilt several times. Servant of God Mar Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly, the parish priest of Marth Mariam Church in Arakuzha (1920-22) played a major role during his tenure in Arakuzha in the starting of St. Mary's School there and the construction of famous St. Joseph's Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, on a plot of 12 acres (49,000 m2 ) on M.C.Road, Meenkunnam.
.. Nazrani Christian men in the by-gone years used to attend Sunday mass with pony tail in head (in Tamil Kudumi or tuft), carrying daggers in their hips - perhaps for safety purpose. Men also wore one ear ring called “kadukkan” and priestly sacred thread across the chest called “poonool” like Brahmins.
.. As for women, they went to church, wearing cloth around their waste and covering upper body with the white cotton dress called “chatta” and “mundu” and head cover called “Neryathu”. .
.. Arackuzha, in Ernakulam district near Muvattupuzha was like a small kingdom in ancient times where one could find a proud combination of Hindu customs and Christian culture.
Aara+ kuzhai means a vast area and according to another version it refers to Arya + Kuzhai meaning Land of Aryans.
Major Christian community had migrated to Arakuzha for cultivation in the farm lands in 9th century AD.
It is believed that the early Christians were converted Christians from high class Hindu community and they continued their family tradition of matriarchal system till this day. It is common among many Hindu communities as well.
The majority of Christians, have never given up their old Hindu traditions and practices and in this regard the church authorities across India show maximum flexibility and one can see the influence of Hindu culture and tradition in festivals, the way they conduct the masses, festivals, offering, etc.