AD 345 ancestry


Intriguing as the title of this post is, so is the history that takes me back in time. When we were kids, I remember my parents telling me that we had jewish ancestry. Of course, we gawked at it then. This was mendacious propaganda that got carried down through the ages. They tried, albeit unsuccessfully. We were dragged to all the get togethers, rituals and ceremonies that surrounded this thing. Years have passed since my parents first dropped those words on us. The past somehow becomes more relevant and urgent when you have offsprings of your own. What my parents tried telling me all those years ago has suddenly become terribly important to me. So I began my quest to understand my history.

Known as Knanaya Catholics, our history goes back to AD 345.  Under the leadership of Thomas of Cana, a total of 400 Bagi, Belkuth, Hadi,  Kujalig, Koja, Mugmuth, and Thegmuth.
the 7-tribes representing 7-Sacraments, and the 72-families representing the 72-disciples of Jesus Christpeople migrated from Southern Mesopotamia to the Malabar ( present Kerala ) Coast of Cranganore ( Kodungalloor ). St. Thomas christians at this point already lived in the Malabar region. Being an endogamous community, the Knanaya’s kept their traditions and culture alive, but lived harmoniously amidst the St. Thomas christians. The ruling king, Cheraman Perumal, gave the knananites permission to settle down in Kodungalloor, and bestowed upon them 73 rights and privileges etched onto copper plates.

( Typing this out is giving me the goose bumps. I love the fact that I can go back in time and trace some part of my human existence.)

I had the grand opportunity to visit the very first church built by the Knanaya catholics in Kottayam district during my visit to Kerala. The church is beautifully preserved and the curator knew so much about its history, architecture, artefacts and its people, which is a tad uncommon in historical places. You either find nobody to guide you, you are left to the mercy of leaflets or you are at the mercy of an over enthusiastic tour guide.

The church was built-in 1550 AD by the descendants of Thomas of Cana. The church still retains the baptismal font carved out of granite from 1550. This church is also famous for its two granite crosses known as Persian crosses. One is situated inside the church and the other at the entrance to the church. Both crosses have inscription

in the Pahalavi language, which was the language of the Sassanian dynasty in Persia.

Many scholars and researchers have visited this church and tried

to decipher these inscriptions in Pahalavi. The interpretation of Dr. Burnnel (former Archaeological Director of India) is regarded as the closest translation:

“In punishment by the cross (was) the suffering on this one; He who is true God and God above, and Guide ever Pure.”

How does it matter what my ancestry is? Who cares, right? I care.  It is important to know how I belong in the grand scheme of things. I feel grounded when I know there is something tangible I can go back to. My existence is not an imagined one and that life has meaning and purpose. It is a tribute and a reminder of a generation of people who braved oceans for the promise of new life. I can draw meaning from their stories to inspire mine. I don’t have to look to legends and folk tales to teach life’s lessons to Neil. I have a repository in my backyard 🙂

“Distinguished ancestors shed a powerful light on their descendants, and forbid the concealment either of their merits or of their demerits.”


11 thoughts on “AD 345 ancestry

  1. How fortunate that you can trace your roots to that far back!! As a self-confessed history nut, I’m envious :).

    Thanks, Sharoon, for sharing a not widely known facet of the ever-assimilating India! It being so personal makes it that much precious.

    • Balmy and beautiful? I really cannot wait for the rains, Hema! The heat is a killer, and for the first time in my life, I shamelessly admit that I miss air conditioning. So generous of you to post a msg…It did get me thinking about my next post 🙂

      • Glad to be of assistance! And I realize you must be perched on another chunk of the globe than I am right now, because where I live currently, a temperature of mid-50s (Fahrenheit, of course) is nothing to thumb your nose at ;-).

  2. i would always wonder why we called ourselves Knanaya Catholics , to be honest i didn’t like the idea why our community acts all “we are differnt soughts” , and the fact that Knanaya Catholics only marry amng themselves and have different churches. hence i decided to do some research on our comunity and thats how i came through this blog ..and i am actually happy to see another fellow mate going through same ….. it seems that u have more access to resources than i have , would really appreciate if u could clarify some of my un resolved doubts .like
    1) why did our ancestors leave southern Mesopotamia and came to India
    2) something about the current knanaya comunity in kerala
    3) I had read that there had been a dispute in the comunity , which lead to formation of 2 kinds of knanaya community into catholics and jacobites
    4) why do we follow a strict marriage policy, are the people aware of the limited gene pack we have due this strict policy and the what it may result to . which greatly urges the need for a re unification of knanaya jacabites and catholics
    5) what language did our ancestors speak and why wasn’t it carried forward in the community
    6) i read abt the persian croses in ur blog .please elaborate more
    7) are there ny scriptures or written record back in the place where our ancestors came from regarding there movement
    8) did ny of tribes decided ever to go back to their place of origin

    • Thanks for stopping by Jimmy. I sure will not be able to answer all the questions you have, but I will try:

      1. I think they left to find a place that would give them more opportunities in business and trade.
      2. The Kananaya community in Kerala (both Jacobites and Catholics) are very strong and big in number. They celebrate their traditions and rituals with great pride. You must visit the Kottayam diocese when you can.
      3. I am not sure about the dispute, but yes, they do have two sub-sects.
      4. People do marry outside the community now. This is something I have not understood as well. So you might want to find someone authoritative enough to answer that one for you 🙂
      5. The language must have been a mixture of Persian and Jewish…they probably did not carry it on because they would have wanted to assimilate into the local area. This is just my guess, but there might have been other reasons.
      For the last three questions, I do not know the answers. I do wish there was a library of sorts we could all reach out to. I wish you great adventures in discovering your ancestry. Thanks for stopping by.

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