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Nilackal Church Of St Thomas

And Chayal Ahram of Mar Sabor Easow

(by Mr. P.E. Easo)


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   Mr. P.E. Easo, Alackal, and Ranny whose ancestral house in Ranny itself is more than 200 years old write this article on Nilackal and Chayal Church. Prior to that, the great grand parents had migrated from Niranam. Ooram velil, Polackal, Polachirackal, Thalakod, Karimparampil, Kanikunnam, etc are some of the known branches of the families who could trace out their family history more than 1000years. They form a major chunk of the Syrian [C]hristian Population in Central Kerala in Niranam, Chenganoor, and Ranny etc.  Hence the tradition in the family particularly from parents is more authentic. Some families might have written records on Palm Leaves in Tamil/ Malayalam. I must confess that I do not have anything except the memories of what is told to me. I would welcome any body collecting/sending copies of any document more than 200 -500 years old. I still remember my grand father (more than 100 years as on 2002AD) talking about Nilackal and the search he and his grand parents had made from the period they had settled down in Ranny from 1780 AD had made to locate Nilackal Church. I was lucky to see it in my lifetime.

One Mr. George who was in charge of the investigation Division of Sabarigiri Project of the KSEB was responsible to locate the Nilakal -Church - site early in 1950 AD. I had also visited this site along with Rev Fr Thomas OIC from Bethany Ashram, Perunad. Though he stayed for sometime at this site on an ERU-MADAM due to objections from forest authorities he had to shift from the forest to the nearest populated area.

My father, late Mr. P.E.Easow had given half an acre of land for a church in Angimuzhi around this period. But no church was constructed since the whole chunk of his property was sold to some family belonging to Marthomma Church who did not part with the possession of the land to others. Any way I am mentioning it as a record for the future generations.

Nilackal Church founded by St Thomas is situated on the side of the pond opposite to the present Nilackal Ambalam as per the tradition of St Thomas Christians. This Church is also referred to as ARA- PALLY. The present day Christians believe that ARA PALLY is half-completed church. This however does not satisfy any body searching for logical meaning. After a long search the meaning for ARA in Tamil language before Malayalam came to existence is traced out to mean important or head quarter. Suffixes like ARA- MENA still exist in [C]hristian usage. This means Head Quarter or important House. One can therefore believe that ARA PALLY in fact was the head Quarters of Syrian Christians. To support this conclusion there is a place close to Nilackal known as Thalapally, which means the head Church. This place is also called Plapally, which does not convey any meaning in Malayalam or Tamil.

The readers may note that the Kerala Government allowed to construct the St. Thomas Church at the present site near Nilackal is far away from the traditional site believed to be across the Nilackal Pond. As Christians, one has been contented with what we have today than to have nothing. The present Church is on the side of Thever- mala. Thever and Devar were used in old Tamil to refer to respected people. These names fortunately have not changed from olden times.

We see on the top of these hills remnants of old houses, wells, pounding stones, tombs etc definitely to say that those were sites where people used to stay. Excavation in this and surrounding areas would definitely reveal the history of the lost tradition of the population particularly the Nilackal Christians who had migrated from this area to Kanjirapally, Thumpamon, Ayroor, Niranam and surrounding areas. To maintain the traditional unity of the Church and the Temples close to each other, as in the past, let us hope that the future generations would establish a Church on the very same site where it existed from St Thomas time.

Christians in Kerala know that two Bishops by name Sabor Easow and Porth along with many families migrated to Kollam in AD 822. They ruled over Syrian Christians by keeping their Head Quarters at Kollam (Mar Sabor Easow) and Kodungalloor (Mar Porth). In the year 880AD Mar Sabor Easow and the Christians in Kollam were given two separate Copper Plate Cheppeds known as Tharisapally Chepeds.These are one of the oldest records of the Syrian Christians in Kerala now available on record.

Sabor Easow had an Ahram in Nilackal known as CHAYAL-AHRAM. This word in Hebrew means people who stay alone. The Jews even today use it to refer to soldiers who stay apart from families. Towards the end of his life Mar Sabor spent most of his time in meditation in this Ashram. He was buried in this Ahram. Being a saintly person he was respected and loved by all Christians. After his death people particularly Christians used to go on pilgrimage to his tomb to pay homage. The Nilackal Christians who had migrated from this area cannot forget the founder of this Ahram and its location, Chayal.

The past history of this place is obscured for want of records. Fortunately, we have many families who had migrated to various places in central Kerala who have lot of traditions recorded in their family histories. Some of the facts known to me through these records are reproduced below. Three powerful Kingdoms in South India known as CHERA, CHOLA, and PADIYA ruled the present Kerala and Tamil Nadu. There were also some traditional important Kingdoms like VERL, CHITTARACHAR, within the Chera Kingdoms. The area comprising Bay of Bengal on the East, Gokarnam on the North (now in Karnataka), Sri Lanka on the South was known as Thamizhakam.

A kingdom was known as Konkanam ruled by North of Chera Nadu. Their Head Quarter was Ezhamalai (7 hills). Nandan, Konkanam was a famous King described in Tamil writings. From Nagarkovil in South to Sahiyadri in East and Thiruvella in North was ruled by a Kingdom known as AYI (Recorded by Tolomy as Aioi in his writings). Tolomy as BARIS, flowing in the East West direction with Thiruvalla on the North side, records river Pampa. The Nilackal hills, Sabarimala and planes of Pampa were connected to Pandi by well-established trade routes. These places were connected to Muzris port via Sea and Kayal. Nilackal was a centre for spices and timber. The Vel kings ruled the Ayi Kingdom with their Head Quarter at Kollam (Quilon). This Kingdom in later years was called VELNADU or VENADU. When St Thomas visited Nilackal, this Kingdom ruled this area. The Copper- Plate- Chepped given to Sabor Easow was witnessed by One VEL prabhu. The places from Thiruvalla to Gokarnam were directly under the Chera King. These places were known as Kottanad, Kudanad and Puzhinad. (Up to Trichur only).

The teachings of St Thomas Christians are mentioned in one of the oldest Tamil Book, Thirukural. The CHERA- CHOLA war of 100 years starting from AD 985 up to1085 was the end of Chera Rule. Mostly all the male population in the country was killed in this war. The last Chera king, Cheraman Perumal escaped to the Persian country by sea. He died there and was buried at a place near Muscat. His tomb still exists near this place.

The Temple Authorities and Poojaries declaring them, as owners of the land and properties became Rulers after the Chera rule ended. The Chera Kingdom was without any body to protect from external aggression. It was during this period that the Pandian Kings from Madurai attacked plundering of Temples, Churches, and Houses in the High Ranges of Kerala. Popular among those groups were Para-pattam and Vikram-puli-thevar.They were nicknamed, Perumpatta and Vakrapuli by our elders.

 After the Pandy kings conquered the high ranges, two of their representatives from Pandy were sent to Rule this area. They are today known as Pandalathu Thampuran and Poonjattil Thampuran respectively. They came to Kerala when Udayamarthandavarma from AD1175 to AD 1195 were ruled in Kerala. (Vellayani Sassanam and alsoSarvaVinjyani -kosam are evidences). The Kovilanmar, who were till that time representatives of Chera kings, did not accept the authority of these representatives. They were mainly Malamkovil in Karimalakotta in Sabarimala, Thalaparakotta, and Ingiparakotta, all these areas are now forest .To suppress the Malakovilakam people, the Pandalam Thampuran sent two soldiers brought from Pandy. They were two brothers by name CHAKKI and Vikkiran. They were offered half the kingdom if they could suppress the Kovilakam people. This they achieved. Ranny was given to them as promised. The Pandalathuthampuran also gave the title Sakthivikramar. This family ruled this area till India became independent. The history of Iy-appa is linked to the Pandalathu-thampuran i.e. in the 12th century where as that of St Thomas Christians in Nilackal from St Thomas time from 53 AD.
(Syrian [C]hristian Tradition published by Mr. P.E. Easo)

Demolition of Nilackel [C]hurches

The Chera- Chola war of 100 years towards the end of 12th century, followed by plundering of houses, Temples and Churches by Para -Pattam and Vikram- Puli- Thevar culminating in the greatest ever flood known in the history of Kerala in 1341 AD were the reasons for the migration of people from Nilackal.

This source is from the book on Syrian [C]hristian Tradition published by Mr. P.E. Easo in March 2000. . Destruction of Nilackal is referred to on pages 21,22,23,25.

 After the end of Chera Chola war of 100 years in 1100AD the Pandalathu Thampuran and Punjattil Thampuran were sent to this place to rule over the High Ranges of Kerala by the Pandian kings to look after their booty in Vel-nad i.e. Kerala. Sri Iyappa is connected to the legendary story of Pandalam Raja.

Sabor Easow, the Bishop who got the copper plate chepped from the Chera king in 840 AD had estalished his Ashram in Nilackal.This Ashram is known, as Chayal.This is a Hebrew word meaning people who stay alone. Sabor Easo was buried near this Ashram. The hill where he was buried is known as Sabor Mala that is the present Sabarimala.

People from all over Kerala used to go on pilgrimage to his tomb till Nilackal and the war and subsequent looting by the Madurai kings known as Pandiyans destroyed other high range area. Majority of the male population of Nairs and Christians were killed in fighting the war of 100 years.

Who will build up this unique tradition of Nazrani Christians? Donít we have a history before Malayalam came in to existence prior to the Kollam Era or Malayalam era? If so what are the evidences. There are so many such questions. The traditions of Nilackal Christians are lost in the foothills of Nilackal. Can we not even today collect some evidences?  But how can we bring it out. Is Nilackal the only church in that area which had existed there till 1341 AD? . The copper plate Cheppeds of Sabor Easo in 840 AD is still available even today for verification. These happened centuries before the Pandalam Raja was installed here. The Nilackal Christians cannot forget MarSabor Easo .Let us make a record of what we have today.