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 Christ) people 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.
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.”