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The Paravars: Chapter 2 – The Jewish Lore


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths

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Parvaim 

Today, most of the Paravars live mainly in and around the seaport towns in the Tirunelveli district in south India and in some of the provinces on the north-west coast of Sri Lanka and are steadfast Roman Catholics. To the affluent Paravars, who wish to remove the stigma placed on the occupation of their caste which was considered “low and ritually polluting occupations,” namely, fishing, diving for pearls and chanks, and producing salt, the following information about Parvaim and Ophir ought to warm their hearts.

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Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty ( 1807-1860)
Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty ( 1807-1860)

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In 1873, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 4, Issue 07, January 1837, pp 130-134, a paper submitted by Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty (1807-1860), District Judge of Chilaw and Maniagar of Puttalam, Ceylon, a writer of great repute, says:

“In the classification of the Tamil castes, the Parawas rank first among the tribes of fishermen, and they are generally allowed to have been the earliest navigators in the Indian Ocean, like the Phœnicians in the Mediterranean. They are described in the Tamil dictionary, entitled Nigundu Súlamaní, under the head of Neythanílémakkal, or inhabitants of the sea-coast. In Sanscrit, they are called Parasavas, or Nishadas, and in Tamil, Parathar, Parathavar, and Paravar. The author of the Historia Ecclesiastica (published in Tamil, at Tranquebar, in the year 1735), identifies them with the Parvaim of the Scriptures, and adds, that in the time of Solomon they were famous among those who made voyages by sea; but it does not appear that there is any solid foundation for this hypothesis.” (Art. V.—Remarks on the Origin and History of the Parawas)

Tranquebar is present-day Tharangambadi, founded by the Danish East India Company in 1620.

The word Parvaim occurs only in 2 Chronicles 3:6 in the Bible, as the place from which Solomon obtained gold for decorating his Temple.

He also covered the house with precious stones for splendor; the gold was from Parvaim. (2 Chronicles 3:6)

Some scholars have suggested that Parvaim derives from the Sanskrit word purva, a general term for ‘east’. Whether there was such a place called Parvaim in the East is doubtful.

Ophir

Some scholars have identified Parvaim with Ophir, but it is uncertain whether it is even the name of a place.

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King Hiram's freet brings gifts to King Solomon
King Hiram’s fleet brings gifts to King Solomon

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In the Bible (and the Torah) The Books of Kings and Chronicles tell of a joint expedition to Ophir, a port on the Red Sea, by King Solomon and the Tyrian King Hiram I from Eziongeber. They brought back vast amounts of gold, precious stones and almug wood from Ophir:

They went to Ophir, and obtained four hundred and twenty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. ( 1 Kings 9:28)

Hiram’s fleet, which used to bring gold from Ophir, also brought from there a very large quantity of almug wood and precious stones. ( 1 Kings 10:11)

But now, because of the delight I take in the house of my God, in addition to all that I stored up for the holy house, I give to the house of my God my personal fortune in gold and silver: three thousand talents of Ophir gold, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the rooms for the various utensils to be made of gold and silver, and for every work that is to be done by artisans. Now, who else will contribute generously and consecrate themselves this day to the LORD?” (1 Chronicles 29:3-5)

The servants of Huram and of Solomon who brought gold from Ophir also brought cabinet wood and precious stones. (2 Chronicles 9:10)

In those times Solomon went to Ezion-geber and to Elath on the seashore of the land of Edom. Huram had his servants send him ships and his own servants, expert seamen; they went with Solomon’s servants to Ophir, and obtained there four hundred and fifty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. (2 Chronicles 8:17-18)

King Solomon also built a fleet at Ezion-geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea in the land of Edom. To this fleet, Hiram sent his own servants, expert sailors, with the servants of Solomon. They went to Ophir, and obtained four hundred and twenty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. (1 Kings 9:26-28)

Almug (sometimes rendered Algum) is a type of wood referred to in the Hebrew Bible, however, the variety of this wood is unknown. King Solomon constructed the Temple using almug together with cedar and pine. Almug was also used to craft musical instruments for use in the Temple. Likely the wood brought from the distant country of Ophir was very valuable.

There are references to the ‘gold of Ophir’ in several other books of the Bible:

And treat raw gold as dust, the fine gold of Ophir as pebbles in the wadi, (Book of Job 22:24)

Daughters of kings are your lovely wives; a princess arrayed in Ophir’s gold comes to stand at your right hand. (Psalms 45:10)

I will make mortals more rare than pure gold, human beings, than the gold of Ophir. (Isaiah 13:12)

There are specific possibilities that Ophir is in the Southern part of India – a region well-known for gold, ivory and peacocks. In ancient times, sandalwood came almost exclusively from South India.

In a dictionary of the Bible published by Sir William Smith in 1863, Hurd and Houghton, 1863 (1870), a note on page 1441 says that the Hebrew word for peacock Thukki, is derived from the Classical Tamil word Thogkai referring to peacock. Thogkai is just one of the classical Tamil words along with words for ivory, cotton-cloth and apes mentioned in the Torah.

This theory that Ophir is in Tamil Nadu, India, is further supported by other historians like K. S. Ramaswami Sastri, in The Tamils and their culture, Annamalai University, 1967, pp.16; Gregory James, Tamil Lexicography, M. Niemeyer, 1991, pp.10; Edna Fernandes, The last Jews of Kerala, Portobello, 2008, pp.98.

Some identify Ophir as Uvari, a coastal village in Radhapuram Taluk in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu State, India. It is 59 kilometres towards the South from Tirunelveli and 704 kilometres from Chennai. The main occupation of the villagers is fishing. Many of the men are sailors.

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 Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths

Next:  The Paravars: Chapter 3 – The Pearl Fishery Coasts in the Gulf of Mannar

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The Origin of the Name ‘Fernando’


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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The people belonging to the Paravar caste in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India, and in the west coast in Sri Lanka are coastal inhabitants, fishermen, seafarers, maritime traders. The Paravars are also known as Parava, Parathavar, Bharathar, Bharathakula Pandyar, Bharathakula Kshathriyar and so on.

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the powerful seafaring Middle Eastern Arabs having the support of local South Indian rulers started forcing the under-privileged Tamil Paravars of the caste-ridden Hindu society to embrace Islam. They converted a significant number of Paravars to Islam through preaching and by marrying Tamil Paravar women thus giving rise to a new generation of Muslim Paravars.

From 1532 onwards the majority of the Tamil Hindu Paravar community was converted ‘en masse‘ to Catholicism by the Portuguese and were baptized with Portuguese  names as surnames. The most popular name amongst these was “Fernando.”

Currently, the Paravars in Sri Lanka are an officially gazette-notified separate ethnic community. There are significant numbers of Paravars in Colombo, Negombo and Mannar. In Colombo, most of the Bharatha community members are prosperous traders and are socially and economically active.  Most Paravars in Negombo and Mannar are seafaring fishermen. 

Majority of the people belonging to the Paravar Community in India and Sri Lanka bear the surname “Fernando.” In Tamil Nadu, the question: “Are you a Fernando? is construed as, “Are you a member of the Paravar Community?

In Sri Lanka, many Sinhalese people use the name Fernando irrespective of whether they are Catholics or Buddhists.

First, let us look at the origin of the name Fernando.

There were two main branches of the East Germanic tribe known as “Goths”: the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths. The Romans labelled them as “barbarians. The Romans initially settled the migrating Goths in their realms. Between 376 and 476  these aggressive outsiders dismantled the Roman Empire in western Europe. In 410, a Visigothic force led by Alaric I, the first King of the Visigoths from 395–410 sacked Rome. By 476, the Goths achieved total independence from the declining Roman Empire. The Goths extended their power from the Loire in France to the Straits of Gibraltar that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Visigoths conquered Spain in the 6th century, and as a result, many Spanish surnames are of Germanic origin.

A Visigothic tribal personal name, Frithnanth, composed of the elements “frith”, meaning peace along with “nanth”, meaning daring or brave gave rise to some twenty different spellings ranging from Ferdinand, Fernandez, Fernando, and Ferrandiz, to Hernan, Hernando and Hernandez. In this case, the given name as Ferdinand was introduced into most parts of Europe from the 15th Century. The Hapsburg dynasty took it to Austria where it became a hereditary name and owes its popularity in large measure to King Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon (1198 – 1252), who recaptured large areas of Spain from the Moors and was later canonized.

The Iberian Peninsula also known as Iberia, located in the southwest corner of Europe, is principally divided between Portugal and Spain. The Iberian and Italian name equal to the Germanic name Ferdinand is Fernando and Ferdinando respectively.

Fernando became the Spanish and Portuguese form of Ferdinand. The feminine form of Fernando is Fernanda in both Spanish and Portuguese.

Spanish surnames ending in -ez originated as patronymics denoting “the son of”; thus originated the name Fernández (son of Fernando). And in Portuguese, surnames ending in -es are used as patronymics denoting “the son of” for example Fernandes (son of Fernando).

By the way, I am a Tamil Catholic belonging to the Paravar community and my surname is Fernando. 

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