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A European in the Orient: Part 3 – Did Marco Polo Really Travel to the Far East?


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Marco Polo died at his home in Venice on January 8, 1324. Before his death, friends and readers of his book visited him and urged him to admit that his book was a fiction. Marco would not relent. He told them:

I have not told half of what I saw!

​Marco Polo has been long regarded as the earliest and most distinguished of European travelers of all times for traversing Asia from one extremity to the other. He surpassed every other traveler of his time in the extent of the unknown regions he visited, as well as in the amount of new and important information he had collected. His description of the Chinese imperial court and the Chinese empire under the most powerful of the Asiatic dynasties, and tales of the adjacent countries in the Far East, forms a grand historical picture not painted by any other traveler of his period.

Authenticity is important in any travel narrative, otherwise it altogether becomes a worthless romance. A profound ignorance veiled  Europe when the Polos returned from the East. Doubts of the authenticity of Marco’s tales arose since most of the regions he had traversed were wholly unknown at that time. And his discoveries far transcended the knowledge of his age. Also, many editions of Marco Polo’s travelogue proliferated in an age when printing was unknown. The narratives varied from one another, often corrupted to a great extent.

Even now, some argue that Marco Polo never reached China, but cobbled together secondhand accounts of what he had heard. They say there are inaccuracies in the tales. They point out that he never mentioned the basic elements of Chinese culture, such as drinking tea, the use of chopsticks, the Chinese characters, or the tradition of foot-binding.

Responders to such skeptics have stated that if the purpose of Marco Polo’s stories of travels was to impress others with tales of his high esteem for an advanced civilization, then it is possible that Polo shrewdly would omit those details that would cause his readers to scoff at the Chinese with a sense of European superiority. Marco lived among the elite Mongols. Foot-binding was almost unknown among the Mongols and was rare even among Chinese during Polo’s time.

Some observers, who have only a cursory view of the history of China, say he never mentioned the Great Wall in his book. These people are ignorant of the fact that the Great Wall, familiar to us today, is a Ming structure constructed, about two centuries after Marco Polo’s travels in China, to keep out northern invaders.

New Evidence

It is odd that Marco Polo never produced a single map to accompany his narrative accounts in the ghostwritten book. Hence, scholars have long debated its the veracity. Now, there is new evidence in favor for this historical puzzle of whether Marco Polo did indeed visit China and the Far East. The proof is in the form of a curious collection of fourteen little-known maps and related documents purported to have belonged to the family of Marco Polo.

In the 1880s, Marcian Rossi, an Italian, immigrated to the United States. He brought along with him a collection of sheepskin vellum he said were of the 13th and 14th century. There were 14 little-known maps and related documents detailing Marco Polo’s journey to the Far East. These  documents bear the signatures of the three daughters of Marco Polo — Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.

The existence of these parchments came to light only in the 1930s, when Marcian Rossi contacted the Library of Congress. He explained that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian Admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family. But the collection did not undergo exhaustive analysis.

Are the maps forgeries or facsimiles?  They created a problem for the historians of cartography. Did Marco Polo’s daughters, whose names appear on some of these artifacts, preserve in them geographic information about Asia as told by their father? Did they inherit the maps created by him? Did Marco Polo entrust the maps to a Venetian admiral who had links to Rossi’s family line? Or, if the maps have no connection to Marco Polo, who made them, when, and for what purpose?

While some historians discounted the 14 parchments as mere fantasy, forgeries, or facsimiles, others wanted a balanced, detailed study of the documents.

Benjamin B. Olshin, a historian of cartography and a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, spent more than a decade studying the artifacts. He translated the Italian, Latin, Arabic and Chinese inscriptions found therein. All but one of the original documents, a map Marcian Rossi donated to the Library of Congress, remain in the possession of Rossi’s great-grandson Jeffrey Pendergraft in Texas. Olshin is the first scholar in decades to see those originals.

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Marco Polo's 'Map with Ship' (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)
Marco Polo’s ‘Map with Ship‘ (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)

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The map donated by Marcian Rossi to the Library of Congress, dubbed “Map with Ship,” is a curious one. It has an illustration of a Venetian sailing vessel and a sketch of what appears to be outlines of Japan, Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, the Bering Strait, the Aleutian Islands and the coastlines of present-day Alaska and British Columbia. The map was not a navigational aid because it lacks longitude and latitude reference lines.

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The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin
The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin

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Olshin has detailed the results of his intensive research in his book, “The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps.” The book is the first credible book-length analysis of these parchments. It is a balanced, detailed, and a non speculative work of cartographic scholarship, not another ‘who discovered?’ sensation. Olshin charts the course of the documents from obscure origins in the private collection of the Italian-American immigrant Marcian Rossi in the 1930s. He describes the investigations by the Library of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI for their authenticity. Olshin describes his own efforts to track down and study the Rossi maps.

After a  thorough tracing of Marcian Rossi’s ancestry, Olshin asserts that Rossi’s explanation that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family was credible.

Olshin describes himself as an “evidence guy” and makes no claims that the document “Map with Ship,” depicts Alaska for certain although there are similarities. Olshin also admits, the authenticity of the ten maps and four texts is not settled. The ink on the parchments remains untested. A radiocarbon study of the sheepskin vellum of one key map, the only one subjected to such analysis, dates it to the 15th or 16th century, making it at best a copy.

Regardless of the origin of the documents, Olshin offers insights into Italian history, the age of exploration, and the wonders of cartography. He then takes his readers on a fascinating journey to the early legendary lands of the Chinese.

Alessandro Scafi said in Times Literary Supplement (UK):

“Olshin plays with the idea that Marco Polo’s relatives may have preserved geographical information about distant lands first recorded by him, or even that they may have inherited maps that he made. If genuine, Olshin argues, these maps and texts would confirm that Marco Polo knew about the New World two centuries before Columbus, either from his own experience or through hearing about it from the Chinese … Fascinating material … Olshin himself admits that there is no hard evidence to support his thrilling speculations. Including translations of every annotation and inscription, Olshin’s study and description of the fourteen parchments are exhaustive. His analysis, however, leaves many questions open … A fascinating tale about maps, history and exploration.”

The parchments in the Rossi collection may not only back up Marco Polo’s claim that he journeyed to the Orient, but also could reveal he might have set foot on the North American continent, 200 years before Christopher Columbus. It is purported that Columbus carried a well-worn copy of “The Travels of Marco Polo” with him on his historic 1492 voyage. It is conjectured that the travels of Marco Polo inspired Columbus to seek a westward sea route to the riches of East Asia, but instead landed in the New World.

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← Previous: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”

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A European in the Orient: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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When Niccolò, Maffeo, and Marco Polo,  arrived in Italy they found the Republic of Venice at war with the Most Serene Republic of Genoa, that had one of the most powerful navies in the Mediterranean.

Marco Polo joined the Venetians in the war. He commanded a galley equipped with a trebuchet, a type of catapult that used as a siege engine in the Middle Ages. The Genoans captured Marco in a skirmish in 1296, off the Anatolian coast between Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta, and imprisoned him.

While spending several months in prison between 1298–1299, Marco became a friend of a fellow prisoner Rustichello da Pisa, an Italian writer of romance. Marco told Rustichello about his time in Asia. Rustichello soon committed his stories to paper in Old French. The romance writer also incorporated into it tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China.

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Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo
Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo

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After his release in 1299, Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa together turned the written notes into a travelogue titled “Livre des Merveilles du Monde” (Book of the Marvels of the World) or “Devisement du Monde” (Description of the World). In Italian the account appeared as “Il Milione” (The Million) or Oriente Poliano and was published later in English as “The Travels of Marco Polo.

Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China.

Marco Polo was the first to leave a detailed popular chronicle of his experience in medieval China to the world, but he definitely was not the first European to travel to the Far East.

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John of Plano Carpini's great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the "Historical Atlas" by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)
Giovanni da Pian del Carpine’s great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the “Historical Atlas” by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)

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During the time of the great Mongol invasion of eastern Europe, the Battle of Legnica on April 9, 1241, proved disastrous. The loss threatened to cast European Christendom under the rule of Ögedei Khan, the 2nd Khagan of the Mongol Empire.

Four years later, with the dread of the Mongols still on the mind of the people in eastern Europe, Pope Innocent IV, dispatched the first formal Catholic mission to the Mongols. It was partly to protest against the latter’s invasion of Christian lands, partly to gain trustworthy information about Mongol armies and their intention for the future. The Pope chose 65-year-old Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine to head this mission.

The mission started on Easter day April 16, 1245, from Lyon, where the Pope then resided. Giovanni bore a letter “Cum non solum” dated March 13, 1245, from the Pope to Ögedei Khan, the Mongol Emperor. Another friar, Stephen of Bohemia, accompanied Giovanni, broke down at Kaniv near Kiev. Another Minorite, Benedykt Polak, appointed to act as interpreter joined Giovanni at Wrocław.

Their journey was perilous. The Papal legate wrote that they were, “so ill that we could scarcely sit a horse; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink.

Friar Giovanni and his companions rode an estimated 3000 miles in 106 days. By the time they reached their destination Ögedei Khan was dead.

On August 24, 1246, Giovanni and his companions witnessed the formal enthronement of Güyük Khan as the Third Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The new emperor refused the invitation to become a Christian, but demanded that the Pope and rulers of Europe should come to him and swear  their allegiance to him.

When Güyük Khan dismissed the expedition in November, 1246, he gave them a letter to the Pope, written in Mongol, Arabic, and Latin. It was a brief imperious assertion of the Mongol emperor’s office as the “scourge of God.”

Later on, other Catholic emissaries followed. In the 1250s, William of Rubruck, traveled east on a quest to convert the Mongols to Christianity. These early missionaries were largely inspired by the myth of Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes), Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and in the tradition of the 12th through the 17th century.

The accounts about this mythical king vary. They are just a collection of medieval popular fantasy. One such account depicts him as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures. Polo mentions the fictional monarch in his book, and even asserts that Prester John fought a great battle against the Mongol ruler Genghis Kahn.

A Lombardian surgeon also had reached the city of Khanbaliq in 1303. A merchant named Petro de Lucalongo, had accompanied the monk John of Montecorvino to Khanbaliq in 1305.

In his work “Histoire de l’Empire Mongol,” Jean-Paul Roux,  a French Turkologue and a specialist in Islamic culture says that a person named André de Pérouse had mentioned that there was a small Genoese colony, in the harbor of Zaytun in 1326. Andolo de Savignone was the most famous Italian resident of the city. In 1336, Toghon Temür, the 15th Khagan of the Mongol Empire and the 11th Emperor of the Yuan dynasty sent him to the West to buy “100 horses and other treasures.

In 1339, a Venetian named Giovanni Loredanoto returned to Venice from China during the reign of  Emperor Toghon Temür.

A tombstone with the name of Catherine de Villioni, daughter of a Dominici, who died in 1342 during the reign of Toghon Temür was discovered in Yangzhou.

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An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo's fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)
An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo’s fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)

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Well-known master artists of the medieval times steeped the manuscripts like the one shown above in enchanting colors.

The Travelogue, “The Travels of Marco Polo” soon spread throughout Europe in manuscript form.  It gave the curious Europeans in the Middle Ages craving to know more about the marvels of the Orient,  the first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan. Rarely have secular topics had such an intense echo.

The Travelogue is divided into four books:

Book One describes the lands of the Middle East and Central Asia that Marco Polo traveled through on his way to China.

Book Two describes China and the court of Kublai Khan.

Book Three describes some of the coastal regions of the East: Japan, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and the East Coast of Africa.

Book Four describes some of the then-recent wars among the Mongols, and some of the regions of the Far North, like Russia.

No authoritative version of Marco Polo’s book exists. The early manuscripts differ much from one another. Also, inadvertent errors and discrepancies crept in during the process of copying and translating.

The published editions of the travelogue either rely on single manuscripts, or a blend of many versions. For example, the popular translation published by Penguin Books in 1958 is the handiwork of R.E. Latham, who blended several manuscripts together to make a readable whole.

A.C. Moule and Paul Pelliot based their  1938 English translation on a Latin manuscript found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50 percent longer than other versions.

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Probable view of Marco Polo's own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)
Probable view of Marco Polo’s own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)

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Some published editions carry notes to clarify, as exemplified in the English translation by Henry Yule.

To date, approximately 150 manuscript copies exist in various languages.

After his release from prison, Marco Polo returned to Venice. He married and raised three daughters. During the next 25 years, he carried on the family business.

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A European in the Orient: Part 1 – The Adventures of Marco Polo


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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A 13th-century travelogue titled Livre des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World) or Devisement du Monde (Description of the World) introduced Europeans to the geography of the Orient and the ethnic customs of its indigenous peoples.

The book described the travels of the Italian merchant traveler Marco Polo between 1276 and 1291, through Asia: Persia, China, Indonesia, Burma, Tibet, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire. The book described Cathay (present-day China) in great detail and its abundance of riches. Though Marco Polo was not the first European to have visited the Far East, he still became famous after the publication of the book.

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Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)

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Marco Polo was born in Venice on September 15, 1254 to a wealthy Venetian merchant named Niccolò Polo. Marco’s father and his uncle Maffeo Polo being merchants had established trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak in Crimea, and in a western part of the Mongol Empire in Asia.

In 1264, the Polo brothers joined up with a diplomatic mission sent by  Hulagu, the ruler of Il-khanate to his brother Kublai Khan, both grandsons of Gengis Khan. They reached the seat of Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, in Dadu (present day Beijing, China) in 1266.

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Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.
Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.

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Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor, received the Polos well and expressed his interest in Christianity. He then sent them back to Italy with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to Pope Clement IV. They carried a letter from the emperor requesting the Pope to send 100 educated people to teach Christianity and western customs to his people. He also requested oil from the lamp of the Holy Sepulcher. The emperor also gave them  the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, to signify certain privileges and authority, allowing them to acquire lodging, horses and food throughout  his dominion.

Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, the Polos sailed to Saint Jean d’Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Pope Clement IV died on November 29, 1268. The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV, and the election of a new pope delayed the Polos from fulfilling Kublai Khan’s request.

In 1269 or 1270, Teobaldo Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt suggested that the brothers return to Venice and wait for the nomination of the new Pope.

Niccolò Polo once again saw his son Marco, now a teenager, who had been living with his aunt and another uncle in Venice since the death of his mother at a young age.

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Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.
Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.

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In 1271, Theobald Visconti was elected as Pope Gregory X. He received the letter from Kublai Khan brought by the Polo brothers.

The Polo brothers left Venice on their second voyage to the Orient along with a 17-year-old Marco. Unable to recruit the 100 people that Kublai Khan had requested to teach his people, the Polos left with only two Dominican friars:  Niccolò de Vicence and Guillaume de Tripoli. They set sail to Acre.

At Acre they joined a caravan of merchants travelling to the Persian port of Hormuz. Soon, bandits attacked their caravan using the cover of a sandstorm to ambush them. The marauding bandits killed many members of the caravan and enslaved the rest, but the Polos managed to escape to a nearby town.

Marco reveled in the adventure, but the two monks after getting a taste of the hard journey ahead of them, soon turned back for home.

When they reached Hormuz they wanted to sail straight to China, but the ships in Hormuz were not seaworthy, so they continued overland through the Silk Road.

The journey was challenging and at times they had to traverse harsh terrain. In what is now Afghanistan, Marco fell ill. He had to retreat to the mountains to recuperate from the illness.

Crossing the Gobi desert, proved long and, at times, arduous. Marco told later: “This desert is reported to be so long that it would take a year to go from end to end. And at the narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.

In 1274, three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, the Polos reached Kanbaliq or Dadu, the capital of the Yuan dynasty (present day Beijing). Kublai Khan who welcomed them into his summer palace known as Xanadu, a grand marble architectural wonder. The Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to the Mongol Emperor.

The Polos spent the next 17 years in China under the patronage of Kublai Khan. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in Kublai Khan’s Court. The Mongol Emperor took a liking to Marco, an engaging storyteller. Marco’s immersed himself into the Chinese culture and mastered four languages. He served as an official in the salt administration and made trips through the provinces of Yunnan and Fukien. At one stage, he was the tax inspector in the city of Yanzhou.

Marco Polo marveled at the use of paper money in the Mongol empire, an idea that had not reached Europe at that time.

Kublai Khan employed Marco Polo as a special envoy.  He sent Marco to Burma, India, Tibet and other far-flung areas hitherto never explored by Europeans. Marco was promoted again and again for his work. He served as governor of a Chinese city. Later, Kublai Khan appointed him as an official of the Privy Council.

The Polos asked permission on many occasions to return to Europe, but Kublai Khan liked them so much that he would not agree to their departure.

In 1291, Kublai Khan entrusted the Polos with their last duty. It was to escort the Mongol princess Koekecin to her betrothed, the Il-khan Arghun of the breakaway state of the Mongol Empire in Persia, ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu.

The Polos departed from the southern port city of Quanzhou with a caravan of several hundred passengers and sailors. They sailed to Sumatra, Ceylon and India. They visited Mylapore, Madurai and Alleppey in India. Marco Polo nicknamed Alleppey as the “Venice of the East.”

The journey was harrowing due to storms and disease. Many perished. By the time they reached Il-khanate in Persia in 1293 or 1294, only 18 people, including the princess and the Polos, were still alive.  They came to know that Il-khan Arghun to whom the princess was betrothed had died. They left the Mongol princess Koekecin with the new Il-khan Gaykhatu. The Polos then moved to Trebizond . From there they sailed to Constantinople and then reached Venice in 1295. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km).  The Polos returned to Venice with thier fortune converted in gemstones. In Venice, the Polos struggled to converse in their native tongue. Above all, they were unfamiliar to their family.

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Map of Marco Polo's travels.
Map of Marco Polo’s travels.

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Next → Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”

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The Recent Incidence of Rape in Pungudutivu, Jaffna, Sri Lanka


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The incidents that happened over the last twelve days in Jaffna have been given ethnic and political hues by the media in Sri Lanka.

Pungudutivu (Tamil: புங்குடுதீவு) is an islet composed of a few villages, west of the Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka.  The Dutch colonial rulers named the islet as “Middleburg” during their occupation of Ceylon.

In 1990, when Pungudutivu came under the control of the LTTE, the rich and the educated inhabitants left the islet for safety and greener pastures. Some shifted to Colombo while others left Sri Lanka.

After the Government forces recaptured Pungudutivu from the LTTE, about one third of its former inhabitants returned to the islet. Many found their abodes in a dilapidated state. As of now, this islet is a paradise for smugglers of Sri Lanka and South India. Many of them indulge in the lucrative trafficking of heroin.

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17-year-old Vidhya, the rape victim (Source: lankaenews.com)
17-year-old Vidhya, the rape victim (Source: lankaenews.com)

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On May 13, 2015, Sivayoganathan Vidhya, a 17-year-old Advance Level student of Pungudutivu Maha Vidyalayam did not return home after school. The worried family members contacted her school and her friends. They learned that Vidhya had not attended school that day.

The family members went to the police station to lodge a complaint. The police told the family to search for the girl on their own.  A policeman in a nonchalant manner blurted out a pithy stock and irresponsible rejoinder, “Don’t worry. She must have eloped with her lover. She will return in a few days.

The following morning, Vidhya’s brother went out searching for her. He followed the route she takes from school to her home. He found one of his sister’s slippers. From there, he followed the trail to a remote jungle area and found the mutilated corpse of his sister. It was a gruesome sight – her hands tied above her head with her school tie, her legs spread apart and tied to two trees, her mouth gagged with a piece of cloth.

Vidhya’s brother shouted and soon some residents gathered at the scene. Police arrived and sent the teenage girl’s corpse for postmortem examination.

According to the police reports, sometime ago, S. Saraswathi, the mother of the rape victim had witnessed a robbery committed in a doctor’s house by three brothers. After that, she had appeared at the courts and testified against them. Suspecting that they might have committed the sordid crime to avenge her, the police arrested the three brothers as suspects.

Based on the statements of the three brothers, the police arrested five others on the following day. One of them worked in the Pradeshiya Sabha office in the area and the other four employed in Colombo.

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Five of the 9 rapists (Source: 247latestnews.com)
Five of the 9 rapists (Source: 247latestnews.com)

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On the day of the incident, the five suspects had arrived in Pungudutivu from Colombo. After the gang rape and murder of Vidhya, they left for Colombo. They came again to Pungudutivu and attended Vidhya’s funeral. After the funeral, before they could return to Colombo the police arrested them.

The nine apprehended suspects revealed that a person named Mahalingam Sivakumar alias Kumar was the leader of their gang that raped, tortured and murdered the teenager. Sivakumar, a resident of Pungudutivu, a heroin baron and one who engages in other illegal activities is a Swiss national of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. He had recently returned to Sri Lanka from Switzerland.

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Mahalingam Sivakumar, the Pungudutheevu rapist. (Source: lankaenews.com)
Mahalingam Sivakumar, the Pungudutheevu rapist. (Source: lankaenews.com)

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That night, residents of Pungudutivu seized Mahalingam Sivakumar and tied him to a pillar. After venting their rage by humiliating him, they handed him over to the police. Hitherto, the police had not received any complaints against Mahalingam Sivakumar.

The deputy minister of women’s affairs for the area intervened for the release of Mahalingam Sivakumar.

According to the media, Dr. V.T. Tamilmaran, the Dean of the faculty of law at the Colombo University, is a relative of Mahalingam Sivakumar. Tamilmaran is one of those among the educated who left Pungudutivu earlier. Now, he aspires to contest the Pungudutivu electorate at the next election.

The website lankanews.com reports that that according to information seeping from within the police itself, and according to stories doing the rounds across the whole of the north, Dr. Tamilmaran approached his friend, the senior DIG Lalith Jayasinghe in charge of the North. He told the DIG that Mahalingam had returned only recently to Sri Lanka from Switzerland. He stressed that Mahalingam Sivakumar was innocent. Some sources say that the senior DIG Lalith Jayasinghe had reportedly taken a bribe of four million rupees to release Mahalingam Sivakumar, the prime suspect.

Some media sources say that Mahalingam Sivakumar, the prime suspect was set free by the police.

Some other media sources say that on the instructions of the senior DIG Lalith Jayasinghe, arrangements were made for Sivakumar to escape while taking him to the hospital for treatment for the wounds he had incurred when the residents of Pungudutivu seized and humiliated him. Sivakumar then fled to Colombo.

The people of the North were shocked, provoked, furious and enraged over the escape of the prime suspect even after the residents of Pungudtivu helped the police by apprehending and entrusting him to their custody.

Mahalingam Sivakumar rented a room in a lodge in Wellawatte, Colombo. The lodge owner noticing the bruises on Sivakumar’s body informed the Wellawatte police. So, on May 19, 2015, the police arrested Sivakumar the second time inadvertently and not through efforts initiated by them. If the lodge owner had not informed the police, the rapist-murderer would have escaped from Sri Lanka.

Some media reported that on May 19, 2015, the residents who were in an explosive and justifiable rage, held Dr. Tamilmaran, his London-based daughter who is in Sri Lanka on a holiday, and a few others as captives. They demanded that the police should apprehend the criminal Mahalingam Sivakumar immediately. About five and half hours later, the police informed the people that Sivakumar was in the custody of the Wellewatte police. Though the people did not trust the information, they nevertheless released Dr. Tamilmaran and others.

If we look at the other side of the story, Dr. V.T. Tamilmaran, told Ceylon Today that Pungudutivu  being his hometown, he had gone there to assess the situation over the brutal killing of Vidhya. He said:

“I am very much aware about the misconduct of one of the 10 suspects who returned from Switzerland. The suspect M. Kumar visited Pungudutivu on and off, and whenever he arrived there he created big problems to the people in the area. In fact I sought Police assistance in arresting the suspect. However, the guy had managed to escape while he was in the Police custody.”

Dr. Tamilmaran also added that when he attended a meeting on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, over the incident in Pungudutivu there were some men who were under the influence of liquor shouting in abusive language against him. He said that certain political elements were behind tarnishing his image following the recent speculation of his entry into politics. He also said that he was much disturbed over the incident in his village Pungudutivu , which had produced several eminent personalities in the field of education, and many leading businessmen in the country hailed from his village.

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Protesting students  (Source - Naangal Yaalpaanam on Facebook)
Protesting students (Source: Naangal Yaalpaanam on Facebook)

The news of the sordid crime spread among the people of the north like wildfire.

Students, teachers and staff of the nine schools in Poonguditheevu, the staff of the Department of Education, and the general public from all walks of life gathered on the grounds of the Maha Vidyalaya. There they staged a protest against the rape and killing of the 17-year-old student.

On May 21, 2015, the business community in the North staged a hartal to protest against the alleged rape and killing of the teenager. All shops in the North remained closed and people stayed away from their workplaces.

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Protesters gathered around the court house. (Source - icaruswept.com)
Protesters gathered around the court house. (Source – icaruswept.com)

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Protesters gathered  in the vicinity of the  Magistrate Court and the Police Station in Jaffna.

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The 8 arrested suspects brought to court (Source: 247latestnews.com)
The 8 arrested suspects brought to court (Source: 247latestnews.com)

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Out of anger and hate, people protested. Fearing the Police would let the suspects off the hook, the violent mob attempted to harm the eight arrested suspects while the police escorted them. The mob also attacked the police personnel who tried to save suspects from being assaulted.

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The protesters pelted the court premises with stones. . (Source: bbc.com)
The protesters pelted the court premises with stones. . (Source: bbc.com)

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When the protesters found that the main suspect Mahalingam Sivakumar was not brought to the  court, the mob turned restive and pelted the court premises with stones.

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Police fire tear gas shells to disperse Jaffna mob (Source - icaruswept.com)
Police fire teargas shells to disperse Jaffna mob (Source – icaruswept.com)

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The police responded by firing tear gas shells to disperse Jaffna mob. Around 130 suspects were remanded on charges of unlawful assembly and stoning the Jaffna Courts Complex.

On May 22, 2015, the Jaffna court issued an order banning all demonstrations in Jaffna. The order was issued to Janatha Balaya Organisation, Jaffna Women’s organization and Northern Provincial Councillor Anandi Shashidharan.

The media as usual focussed on the public protests rather than focussing on the reason behind it, namely rape.

 Mahalingam Sivarkumar, the main suspect  (Source: Naangal Yaalpaanam/Facebook))
Mahalingam Sivarkumar, the main suspect . (Source: Naangal Yaalpaanam/Facebook))

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There are suggestions that Mahalingam Sivakumar, the main suspect in the rape cum murder case, is well-connected as can be seen in the following photographs that I came across on Naangal Yaalpanam/Facebook.

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One of the rapists with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. (Source: icaruswept.com)
One of the rapists with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. (Source: icaruswept.com)

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The above photo circulated in the media of Mahalingam Sivakumar, posing with former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse is morphed for political gains. In the original photograph, it was ‘Swiss Ranjan’ an opponent of the LTTE, now residing in Switzerland.

There is always a blessing that springs out of any adversity. Sri Lankans are now reacting to this incident not as Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, Burghers, or Malays, but as one people of a country unified in its disgust and horror on learning about the raping of the 17-year-old Tamil maiden.

On Friday, May 22, 2015, Wijedasa Rajapakshe, incumbent Minister of Justice shamed a racist media person in public by retorting:

… we’re not Tamil, Muslim or Sinhala, but simply human.”

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Do You Have Dutch Courage?


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Sipping off the ‘head’ of a liqueur at Wynand Fockink. (Source: whatsupwithamsterdam.com)
Sipping off the ‘head’ of a liqueur at Wynand Fockink. (Source: whatsupwithamsterdam.com)

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What happens to a person after he or she consumes any form of alcohol?

First, it gives the drinker the gift of the gab if he is not dumb. Then it gives him ‘Dutch courage’ also called ‘liquid courage’ or potvaliancy  that makes him feel brave enough to become boisterous and violent.

Dutch courage may also be used as a synonym for Jenever, the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which Dutch gin evolved. Even now, Jenever is famous in Holland as an “old man’s drink”.

Jenever became popular in England during the time of King William III, better known as William of Orange (1650-1702), who also governed as Stadtholder over Holland, Zeeland, Gelderland, Utrecht, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic.

A few entomologists claim that the term ‘Dutch courage’ was first referred to in Edmund Waller’s Instructions to a Painter (1666):

The Dutch their wine and all their brandy lose,
Disarm’d of that from which their courage grows.”

During the Thirty Years’ War, the English soldiers  noted Jenever’s bravery-inducing effects on Dutch soldiers and dubbed it “Dutch Courage”. In turn, the English soldiers believing Jenever’s warming properties on the body in cold weather and its calming effect drank it before going into battle. English speakers knew the famous spirit as “Dutch gin”.

According to some other entomologists, the origin of the phrase “Dutch courage” dates to 1805-1815 almost two centuries after the relevant wars.

But no matter the level of intoxication that alcohol induces, most people would not dare to pick a fight with an elephant unless Dutch courage sets in.

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A tusker in the  Kruger National Park in South Africa (Source: gardenwebs.net)
A tusker in the Kruger National Park in South Africa (Source: gardenwebs.net)

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The Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in South Africa. The following video shot there shows a drunkard challenging a wild elephant with Dutch courage. Surprisingly, the tusker retreats.

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But, this was not the case recently when a drunkard consumed by Dutch courage ignoring the pleas of the horrified onlookers infuriated an elephant in the Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka. That is pure Dutch courage. See what happened!

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A Sinhala – Tamil Hymn to Commemorate Saint Joseph Vaz


Myself 

 

 

BT.V. Antony Raj

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Saint Joseph Vaz
Saint Joseph Vaz

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Saint Joseph Vaz was born on April 21, 1651 in the village of Benaulim, Goa, India.

In 2012, Rev. Fr. Anthony Hemantha Peiris of the Diocese of Badulla, Sri Lanka, wrote the Lyrics in Sinhala and also composed the music of the hymn sung in the following video to commemorate the birth of the Saint of India and Sri Lanka.

Rev. Fr. Michael Rajendram Pillai of the Diocese of Galle translated the lyrics were Tamil.

The hymn is sung in both Sinhala and Tamil languages in the same Melody.

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Here are the lyrics and the music sheet.

Hymn to St. Joseph Vaz in Sinhalese and Tamil

Music Sheet Page 1

Music Sheet Page 2

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 18 – The Last Days and the Death of the Apostle


Myself. 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com.

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During the last months of 1709, Joseph Vaz suffered from a peculiar kind of  fever, which subsided for a short time and then recurred with renewed force. Though  weak, during the periods when the fever subsided he visited the Mission. He went even as far as Kottyar on the southern coast. He had no proper lodging there. Years of continuous work and hardships fatigued him and broke his constitution.subsided he visited the Mission. He went even as far as Kottyar on the southern coast. He had no proper lodging there. Years of continuous work and hardships fatigued him and broke his constitution.

In January 1710, Joseph Vaz became seriously ill and there was no physician to attend to him. As soon as he felt a bit better, sent him off on a bullock cart. After eight days, he reached Mahanuwara.

In the capital, he was given good medical attention. After careful nursing, infections and fever left him, but he was found himself weak. Though he regained a bit of strength, his legs were partly paralyzed.

He asked Father Jacome Goncalvez to come to the capital and entrusted him with the care of the Catholics.

Inspite of partial paralysis, Joseph Vaz never ceased to work. He could no longer go on distant excursions as before. People saw him daily on the streets of the capital, dragging himself in extreme pain with the help of a stick. He visited the sick in their houses.

Every morning sitting in front of his door, he taught children Catechism. When his sufferings did not allow him even to do that, he spent the whole day in prayer.

Though Joseph Vaz recovered, he was weak. From then on, he was unable to leave the Church premises again, but whenever a call came to attend the sick and if Father Jacome Goncalvez or any other priest was not there, then he would immediately set out, but carried in a dooly (a kind of litter suspended from men’s shoulders, for carrying people or things; a modified stretcher).

On one occasion, when the bearers were descending a hill, he fell off the dooly. He was unconscious when the bearers picked him up. They brought him back to the church. He suffered body pain for about four months. He bore his illness with great fortitude.

In spite of his illness, Joseph Vaz undertook eight days of spiritual exercises prescribed by the Oratorian Rule. He considered himself a great sinner. He received the Sacrament of Penance every day as well as Holy Communion.

Joseph Vaz realized that it was time to resign from office, both as Vicar General and Superior. From then on, he spoke of death only.

On January 15, 1711 Joseph Vaz wrote the order of change of charge from him to Father Jose Menezes.

On the morning of January 16, 1711, Joseph Vaz wanted to make his confession. He dragged himself to the church as usual, attended Mass, received Holy Communion and went through his daily spiritual exercises. That day, he requested a stunned Jacome Goncalvez to have the holy oils ready for the last anointing.

When Father Goncalvez anointed him, Joseph Vaz made all the responses to the prayers for the sick and the dying. He kissed the crucifix which Pope Clement XI had sent as a gift to him through Monsignor Charles Thomas Maillard de Tournon, the Papal Legate. He requested Father Jacome Goncalvez to send the Crucifix to the Oratory in Goa.

Fathers Goncalves and Miguel Francisco Ignatius de Almeyda asked Josep Vaz to give them a message that they could etch on their stricken hearts. After a few moments of thought, the dying priest said in Sinhalese:

“Remember that one cannot easily do at the time of death what one has neglected to do all his life. Live according to the inspirations of God.”

Just before midnight on Friday, January 16, 1711, Joseph Vaz expired with Fathers Jacome Goncalves and Miguel Francisco Ignatius de Almeyda, beside his deathbed.

The young King Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha, greatly affected by the death of his friend, the saintly priest Joseph Vaz declared a three-day mourning. He ordered all Catholics of his Court to attend the funeral. Many Catholics came from Colombo and other parts of Ceylon to attend the grand funeral.

After a solemn funeral ceremony, the body of the great Missionary was laid to rest in front of the high altar in the church he had built on the shore of the Bogambra lake.

Later on, a rumour spread that the Oratorian priests had exhumed the body of Joseph Vaz and had taken the remains to Goa. This distressed the King. However, Father Jacome Goncalves opened the tomb in the presence of a few nobles of the Court and show them that the body was still lying there.

King John of Portugal bestowed the highest praises on Joseph Vaz  in a letter dated April 11, 1726. He called him:

“The model of Missionaries, a great servant of God, and founder of a truly apostolic Mission.”

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← Previous: Part 17 – The Apostle of Ceylon and the New King of Kandy

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 17 – The Apostle of Ceylon and the New King of Kandy


Myself. 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Saint Joseph Vaz,  the first saint of  of Sri Lanka (Source: birminghamoratory.org.uk)
Saint Joseph Vaz, the first saint of of Sri Lanka (Source: birminghamoratory.org.uk)

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During the Portuguese rule in Ceylon, the attitude of the rulers towards non-Christians had been oppressive and destructive. The concept of the time was that all religions except Christianity were wrong and had no right to exist.

The Portuguese forces pillaged and plundered Buddhist and Hindu temples and converted a few into Catholic churches. They gave the Franciscans all the lands of the Buddhist and Hindu temples.

Although Joseph Vaz desired people to convert to Christianity, he followed a policy of tolerance, co-existence and friendliness towards the adherents of other faiths. When nursing the sick during the smallpox epidemic or distributing alms to the poor, he treated both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He never resorted to the destruction of their temples nor offered favours and privileges to converts. He convinced the non-Christians by his self-sacrificing charity, service to fellowmen, and by leading an exemplary saintly life.

Joseph Vaz demonstrated to the Church of his time an alternate way to approach the non-Christians, different from that followed by the Church in alliance with the state.

In the olden days, people in India and Ceylon considered their kings divine. Hence, the rulers rarely appeared before their subjects. Even great dignitaries and nobles of the land prostrated on the ground when they approached the king.

Buddhism is an ancient and tolerant religion. It never obstructed the dreams and passions of Joseph Vaz. He revealed this aspect of Buddhism in his communication with the Kings. He never made any distinction of faiths while serving the people on the hostile Island of Ceylon. The unbounded charity of Joseph Vaz was one of the reasons, why King Vimaladharmasurya II respected him. The King considered the priest as an awesome supernatural being. For him, the priest was an enigma.

The way the King conversed familiarly with Joseph Vaz and taking him to his private chambers for chatting astonished the nobles, dignitaries, and the people.

Father Emmanuel de Miranda was stationed in Colombo, the most dangerous and exposed place. He had organized the Catholics of that town so well that they came out openly and even protested against the Dutch penal Laws.

In 1706, when Joseph Vaz wanted to visit Kottiyar on the eastern coast with Father Jacome Gonsalves, he fell mortally sick and was unable to walk. Yet, placing his full trust in God, he continued the 14 days long journey on foot until he arrived in Puttalam.

King Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha of Kandy

King Vimaldharmnasurya II of the Kingdom of Kandy, patron of Joseph Vaz died in 1707. His 17-years-old son Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha succeeded him and reigned for 32 years. He was the last Sinhalese King of the Kingdom of Kandy.

Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha was a pious monarch, and like his father lived in peace with the Dutch invaders. He devoted himself to the furtherance of literature and religion.

The young monarch proved to be an even greater supporter of Joseph Vaz and his Missionaries than his father.

A few days after the death of Father Joseph Carvalho, the young King passed before the church with a large retinue. He ordered his elephant to stop in front of the church. He then sent one of his courtiers with his condolences to Joseph Vaz, saying that he would like him to bring more priests of such great virtue as his deceased nephew to Kandy.

According to the law of the land, the dead ought to be buried outside the towns and villages, but the King allowed Joseph Vaz to entomb the body of Father Joseph Carvalho  in the church. Later on, the King extended this privilege to all the Oratorian Fathers. Such instances of royal favour made a great impression on the people. It helped to boost the Apostolate of Joseph Vaz and his Indian Catholic Missionaries from Goa.

However, persecution of the Catholics by the Calvinist Dutch raged outside the Kingdom of Kandy. Without the protection given to the Missionaries by the Buddhist Kings of Kandy, it would not have been possible to establish the present flourishing Catholic communities in Ceylon.

Having now resident Missionaries in all the principal towns of Ceylon, Joseph Vaz was continually on the move. In 1708, the health of Joseph Vaz began to decline, and yet he visited his Missions.

In 1709, there was a rebellion against the young King Narendra Sinha headed by his own uncle. At that time, Father Manoel de Miranda and Jacome Goncalvez were with him in the capital. Sensing that there would be inevitable robberies and sacking of properties, the priests distributed beforehand everything that was in the Church to the poor, without keeping anything for themselves. Keeping the doors of the Church open, the three priests committed themselves to prayer and sung the office of the dead during the rebellion.

None of the rebels or looters attacked the Church and its properties. After the rebellion was over, a great amount of help from unexpected quarters came to them, which was more than what they had distributed before the rebellion.

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Next → Part 18 – The Last Days and the Death of the Apostle

← Previous: Part 16 – The Return of the Apostate Sparks Accusation of Baptism with Blood

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 16 – The Return of the Apostate Sparks Accusation of Baptism with Blood


Myself. 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in
Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in

Joseph Vaz carried his mission to the main centres of the island with his group of Goan Bammon (the Roman Catholic Brahmin) priests. As their Superior, Joseph Vaz directed the work of all the Missionaries. The priests under his leadership and inspiration moved about undercover and served the persecuted Catholic population in Ceylon. Joseph Vaz paid them frequent visits, encouraging them with his indefatigable zeal. He was cherished and venerated by all.

As there were resident Missionaries in all the principal towns of Ceylon, Joseph Vaz was continually on the move. He visited the Missions along with one or two priests and a few devoted Catholics. He went from village to village wherever there were Catholics or the hope of converting the Buddhists and Hindus. Sometimes, he went out of his way to visit a single Catholic.

Many former Catholics, who under compulsion or for worldly interests apostatized, returned to the Catholic Faith after performing required penance.

Joseph Vaz had taught the Christian Faith to a young man from an influential family. He was a page at the Royal Court and was bound to go wherever the King went. As the lad wished to become a Christian, it was not always possible for him to avoid going to the temples along with the King.

Seeing the precarious position of the young man, Joseph Vaz advised him to withdraw from the Court. Following the advice of the priest, the lad went to a remote village to live. Sadly, because of the idle life in the village, the young man, now living far from the saint, lost his innocence. By and by, he plunged into vice. Eventually, he got married.

When Joseph Vaz came to know the fate of the young man, he prayed to God for him, and hoped that he would one day become an instrument in the hand of God for the salvation of many.

One night when the young man tried to sleep, he  remembered his early youth, of the saintly priest and of his pious instructions.The thoughts  tormented him. Struck with remorse at his apostasy, and at the wicked life he had led since, he spent the rest of the night in prayer. At dawn, he along with a Catholic neighbour went to the capital.

Since Joseph Vaz had gone to visit the Missions, the young man found Father Pedro de Saldanha whom he did not know. So, without revealing his identity to the priest, he humbly begged the priest to admit him  among the catechumens.

After a few days, Father Saldanha on observing the young man’s piety and knowing he was perfectly instructed in the Christian Faith wished to baptize him. Then, the young man prostrated himself at the feet of the priest and told him his story. He made a general confession and resolved to expiate his crime by working for the glory of God and left.

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Infant baptism, in stained glass (Source: lonelypilgrim.com)
Infant baptism, in stained glass (Source: lonelypilgrim.com)

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Some days later, Father Saldanha went to his place, baptized him and his family, and blessed their marriage. The once recalcitrant young man now brought over to the Catholic Faith forty more people.

The news of such the mass conversion infuriated the anti-Christian mob. They were afraid that the conversion of the young man would induce others to follow his example, and that he  would use his influence to help the priests in their Apostolate.

The Buddhist mob knew from their past encounters with the King that neither political considerations nor their threat of rebellion could move him from his sincere affection for the Catholic priests. So, they sought to rouse his religious and his superstitious sensitivity.

At that time, as even now, the Buddhists of Ceylon were imbibed with all the superstitions of the Hindus. For the Hindus, the cow was most sacred. In many countries in India, killing a cow was the greatest and heinous crime that one could ever commit. It was equal to murdering three Brahmins on the shores of the sacred Ganges. And, the punishment decreed for the crime of killing a cow was death.

The mob told to King that Father Pedro de Saldanha had baptized the young man, once a page of the King and all his companions with the blood of a cow. As such, it was clear that his Superior Joseph Vaz and his Missionaries too were killing many cows. The Buddhist King, in dire indignation, ordered the last six converts, whom Father Saldanha had baptized, thrown into prison and to confiscate their properties.

This was a great setback for Joseph Vaz. Fearing a renewal of persecutions, he prayed to God to avert this new danger from His Church. Fortunately, there were then two factions at the Royal Court: one opposed to the Catholics and hostile to the Catholics, and the other enlightened, or indifferent, and hospitable to the Catholics. The latter faction approached the King and proved to him that the Catholic Missionaries had been slandered; that the Catholic Missionaries never killed cows; and that they baptized the converts with water to which they added a little oil with balm.

The King, realizing his folly immediately ordered the release of the six prisoners and restored their properties. The released men went straight from jail to the church to thank God for their liberation.

It was the last persecution that the Catholics of the Kandy Kingdom had to suffer during the lifetime of Joseph Vaz. From then onwards the saintly priest was able to spread the Catholic Faith in peace in the whole kingdom.

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The chained cross the Saint Joseph Vaz wore around his neck (Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in)
The chained cross the Saint Joseph Vaz wore around his neck (Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in)

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The Pectoral cross worn by the Saint at the ancestoral house of Saint Joseph Vaz in Sancoale, Goa. (Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in)
The Pectoral cross worn by the Saint at the ancestoral house of Saint Joseph Vaz in Sancoale, Goa. (Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in)

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Next → Part 17 – The Apostle of Ceylon and the New King of Kandy

← Previous: Part 15 – Six More Missionaries Come from India

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 15 – Six More Missionaries Come from India


Myself. 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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.In 1668, after the smallpox epidemic ceased entirely, life turned back to normal in the capital. Leaving Father Joseph Carvalho to take care of the Catholics of the capital, Joseph Vaz went visiting the Missions and the villages.

In 1699, Joseph Vaz went to Gurubevelle, a village to the east of Colombo. There he met Father Jose Menezes, appointed by him as the missionary of Puttalam, Negombo and its districts up to Sitawaka and Colombo. Despite the vigilance of the Dutch, Father Jose Menezes and the Catholics there had instructed their Buddhists brethren in Christianity in and around Gurubevelle. In the short space of 13 days, Joseph Vaz baptized more than a thousand.

The Dutch Governor of Colombo, on knowing what was taking place in Gurubevelle, ordered the arrest of the two priests. A company of Dutch soldiers came to the village and surrounded the house in which Joseph Vaz was staying. At that time, Jose Menezes was not there.

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Dutch soldiers do not see Saint Joseph Vaz (Source: blejosephvaz.wix.com)
Dutch soldiers do not see Saint Joseph Vaz (Source: blejosephvaz.wix.com)

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The soldiers then barged in and searched the house, and although Joseph Vaz remained all the time among them, they did not see him.

The anxious Catholics who had assembled outside the house saw Vaz in the midst of the Dutch soldiers. They expected the arrest of the priest at any moment. But the soldiers could not see him. Joseph was invisible to them. Joseph Vaz, with the box containing the requisites for Mass, passed among the soldiers, but they did not see him.

The Dutch soldiers were sure that the priest was hiding somewhere in the house and searched every nook and corner. But they did not find him nor did they find any incriminating evidence to prove that people had assembled there for a Catholic service. However, in one room, they saw a lady and were bewildered. The lady asked them whom they sought. But the officer and the soldiers seized with terror fled from her sight and found themselves outside the house.

Ashamed for having run away from a woman, they once again entered that particular room and found nobody there. And, they saw on the spot where the lady had been standing a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Filled with awe, they went away without touching the statue. The infuriated soldiers returned to Colombo and reported the failure of their expedition to the Governor.

At once the news spread throughout the region that the Blessed Virgin had appeared in that house, and people came in haste to venerate the statue.

The infuriated soldiers returned to Colombo and reported the failure of their expedition to the Governor.

Joseph Vaz left Gurubevelle on a boat on the Kelani River. He went to Seethawakapura (now known as Avissawella), the capital of the Kingdom of Sitawaka. Though the Dutch territory was only a few miles away, Vaz established his headquarters there.

On knowing that Joseph Vaz had gone away from the capital, a group of Buddhists decided to take strong measures to prevent the progress of Christianity in the kingdom. They approached the King and asked him to arrest Father Joseph Carvalho and also forbid Joseph Vaz to set foot again in the Kingdom of Kandy. When they saw that the King would not give in to their demands, they threatened him with rebellion.

Since the leader of this Buddhists faction was a powerful Kandyan Chief, the King out of fear of being the cause of a rebellion yielded to their demands. He agreed to exile Father Josep Carvalho from Kandy. However, the King sent one of his Catholic officials to the priest to assure him that he would suffer no harm and that he was free to take along with him whatever he possessed.

Yet in spite of the King’s assurance, the Buddhist mob manhandled the priest. Carvalho took refuge in a country-house that belonged a Catholic named Anthony de Herta, a few miles from the capital, on the other side of the river.

Twenty-five days after Carvalho’s departure, the Buddhist mob led by their Chief, razed the church to the ground.

On learning about the events in Kandy during his absence Joseph Vaz wept.

A few days later, a dreadful malady afflicted the Chief. He was unable to move his legs. A hideous ulcer appeared on his tongue, and putrid pustules covered his entire body. People considered his fate as a just punishment from God for driving away the priest and demolishing the church after desecrating it.

At the end of 1699 Joseph Vaz returned to Mahanuwara with Father Joseph Carvalho, who had been expelled from the capital at the instigation of Buddhist Bhikkus. The two priests constructed a new church. Joseph Vaz then went into service for the king, translating Portuguese books into Sinhalese. From this vantage point, Vaz intensified his ministry and converted some Sinhalese nobles to Catholicism.

Joseph Vaz declines the office of
the Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon
Saint Joseph Vaz, Cong. Orat., Priest and missionary. The Apostle of Sri Lanka.
Saint Joseph Vaz, Cong. Orat., Priest and missionary. The Apostle of Sri Lanka.Orat., Priest and missionary. The Apostle of Sri Lanka.

Pope Clement XI received news of the Apostolate of Joseph Vaz conveyed to  from Goa. The Pope, sent a Papal Legate, Monsignor Charles Thomas Maillard de Tournon, Patriarch of Antioch (and afterwards Cardinal), with instructions to make inquiries about the work of the indefatigable Joseph Vaz in Ceylon and the Mission he founded, and render him every assistance.

In December 1703, Maillard de Tournon arrived in Pondicherry, India. Deputed by the Bishop of Mylapore, Father Paulo de Sa, the Parish priest of Kodulur, welcomed him. The Papal Legate inquired from the priest about Joseph Vaz and his Apostolate work in Ceylon. Impressed by what he gleaned, the Papal Legate proposed to make use of his extensive powers to appoint Joseph Vaz the Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon.

The Papal Legate sent a letter to Joseph Vaz through Father Francisco da Cruz, an Oratorian priest stationed in Tamilnadu. The latter sent a courier to Joseph Vaz along with a beautiful crucifix inlaid with silver sent by the Papal Legate as a present to Joseph Vaz.

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The ebony cross with the image of Christ of ivory and the crown of thorns and nails of silver is presently exposed for public veneration in the Oratory Room of Saint Joseph Vaz at Sancoale, Goa, India. The only relic in India. The Oratory Room (over 400 yrs old) is being visited by thousands of devotees from all over the world. (Source - joegoauk.blogspot.in)
The ebony cross with the image of Christ of ivory and the crown of thorns and nails of silver is presently exposed for public veneration in the Oratory Room of Saint Joseph Vaz at Sancoale, Goa, India. The only relic in India. The Oratory Room (over 400 yrs old) is being visited by thousands of devotees from all over the world. (Source – joegoauk.blogspot.in)

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The Oratory room, Sancoale, Goa (Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in)
The Oratory room, Sancoale, Goa (Source: joegoauk.blogspot.in)

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Being a humble person, Joseph Vaz had not taken pains to describe much about his Apostolate work and had avoided taking the credit for himself. So, he deliberated over what this appointment could lead to. He had seen enough of the ecclesiastic squabbles that resulted from the appointment of the Vicars Apostolic in the Padroado regions. Since his Mission in Ceylon belonged and had its seat in Padroado territory of Goa, he feared that accepting  the Papal Legate’s nomination would mean the ruin of the Church in Ceylon, which he had planted and nurtured with great personal sacrifice.

Replying to the letter of the Papal Legate, Joseph Vaz said he was confused when he received the letter, which in his humility he felt unworthy of, and signed his reply as unworthy servant. He excused his delay in replying saying that he was not worthy of corresponding with persons of so high dignity and submissively thanked him for the crucifix.

On receipt of the reply from Joseph Vaz, Monsignor Maillard de Tournon wrote to the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide that he had proofs of the virtues the humble priest and the “modesty with which be brushed aside some miracles which are said to be operated by God through him“.

This explains why Saint Joseph Vaz is commonly portrayed in a simple surplice with a bishop’s mitre and crozier beside him.mitre and crozier beside him.

Six more Missionaries come from India

In 1705, the Superior of the Goa Oratory sent six more priests to Ceylon. They were: Pedro de Saldanha, Manoel de Miranda, Joseph de Jesu Maria, Miguel Francisco Ignatius de Almeyda, Basil Baretto and Jacome Goncalvez.

After reaching Ceylon and meeting Joseph Vaz, Father Jacome Goncalvez wrote to his Perfect in Goa:

“That ejaculation ‘Oh my Jesus‘ which he used in his sermons in Goa to excite fervour in our hearts, I have now heard many times repeated by him by day and night…

He always carries with him a piece of white cloth to wipe his face for he often sweats due to fatigue or has tears of compunction…

He is always absorbed in God and forgets himself…

At the first sermon we heard from him in Tamil, we saw the people crying because they understood him. Even though we could not understand him, we felt also like crying because the way he was preaching he was moving our hearts..

During the journeys, he always holds fast to the beads of the rosary and recites it alternately with his companions with great devotion.”

Of these six priests, we have more information about Father Jacome Goncalvez than the other five priests.

Father Jacome Goncalvez
Father Jacome Goncalvez (Source - sundayobserver.lk)
Father Jacome Goncalvez (Source – sundayobserver.lk)

Jacome Goncalvez was the eldest son of Thomas Goncalvez and Mariana de Abreu. They lived in the parish of Our Lady of Piety (Piedade), Divar, Goa. Though the Goncalvez were Konkani Brahmins, they had been Christians for more than two generations. They were among the first converts at the beginning of Portuguese rule in Goa.

Jacome studied at the Jesuit College of Goa. He enrolled in the University of Goa, probably Collegio São Paulo, and obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts. In 1696, he joined the Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Goa to study theology. He also held the post of an organist, and this led him to appreciate poetry, prose and music.

In 1700, Jacome Goncalvez was ordained a priest of the Oratorian Order in Goa, India.  On January 1705  he was appointed to the chair of philosophy at the Collegio São Paulo,  but he relinquished it the same year to go to Ceylon.

Father Jacome Goncalvez left Goa on May 9, 1705 and arrived at Talaimannar, Ceylon on August 39, 1705. At the time, he knew Konkani, Portuguese, Latin and Spanish.

Ola leaf (Palm leaf) manuscripts
Ola leaf (Palm leaf) manuscripts

During the long journey from Goa to Talaimannar, he studied Tamil. He improved his knowledge of Tamil by reading Tamil classics written on ola leaf (palm leaf manuscripts).

There were now ten Oratorian Missionaries in Ceylon, all natives of India. Joseph Vaz was now able to organize the Catholic Mission in Ceylon. He divided the Ceylon Mission into eight districts and appointed a priest to each, to serve the needs of the Catholics. Soon, the number of adherents to Catholicism grew rapidly.

Father Jacome Goncalvez mastered the Tamil language during his first assignment on the islands of Mannar, Arippu, Musali and other places in the Mannar district. He also learnt Dutch. Joseph Vaz then sent him to Mahanuwara to learn Sinhalese in the Malwatta Chapter, known for their high and elegant mastery of the Sinhalese language. He also studied Sinhalese under the tutelage of educated laymen like Gaskone Adikaram.

Joseph Vaz and Jacome Goncalvez worked on the creation of Catholic literature comparable to that of the Buddhist literature.

Jacome Goncalvez, became a specialist in Tamil and Sinhalese languages. He won name and fame in the literary history of Sri Lanka, as a classical poet in Sinhalese and as a writer of about forty books. He is rightly called “the creator of Catholic literature in Ceylon”. He wrote many of his works at Bolawatta, near Negombo. Since there was no printing press, he employed 12 Sinhalese clerks to copy his works.

S.G. Perera, in his book “Life of Blessed Joseph Vaz Apostle of Sri Lanka” says:

“[Jacome Goncalvez has been called] the most successful missionary that this island [Sri Lanka] ever had, the creator of Catholic literature in Ceylon, whose name is still held in benediction and whose literary works in Sinhalese and Tamil are still in daily use in the church of this island.”

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Next → Part 16 – The Return of the Apostate Sparks Accusation of Baptism with Blood

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