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The Paravars: Chapter 10 – Conversion to Catholicism


Myself 

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous The Paravars: Chapter 9 – Seeking Help from the Portuguese

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In 1534, the Malabarian João da Cruz trading in Arabian horses, was in Cape Comorin waiting for payment for the horses he had sold.  The distraught Paravar leaders who knew about his connections with the Portuguese met him and told their woes.

João da Cruz felt sorry for the Paravars who were then fearing atrocities from the Muslims. He told the Paravars that as the past events showed they could not expect help from the Viceroy of Madura. So, to find a permanent solution to their problem he advised them to approach the Portuguese Captain of Cochin who would be willing to help them.

So in 1535, fifteen of the most influential Pattangattis (Parava leaders) led by Vikirama Aditha Pandya, accompanied João da Cruz to Cochin.

Here there seems to be a discrepancy in the name of the place that João da Cruz took the Paravars to. Some writers say that João da Cruz accompanied Vikirama Aditha Pandya and the other Pattangattis to Goa and it had been duplicated by others, but from what I have read I would like to differ.

In Cochin, Captain Pero Vaz de Amaral received them cordially since the Portuguese were waiting for such an opportunity to gain a strategic foothold and control of the pearl fisheries in the Coromandel Coast. He said that the protection would be granted on the condition that the leaders who had come were baptised immediately as Catholics and that they would encourage their people also to convert to Catholicism. To this, they gladly consented.

As part of the arrangement for protection from the Muslims, Vikirama Aditha Pandya offered to manage the pearl diving on behalf of the Portuguese.

Fortunately for the Paravars, Fr. Miguel Vaz, Vicar General of India, was in Cochin at that time and he instructed them in the Christian faith. Some days later they were baptized.

Fortunately for them, Fr. Miguel Vaz, Vicar General of India, was in Cochin at that time and he instructed them in the Christian faith. Some days later they were baptized.

In Volume 6, page 123 of his work “Castes And Southern India“, Edgar Thurston quotes what Philippus Baldaeus, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church said concerning the Paravas:

The Paruas being sorely oppress’d by the Mahometan, one John de Crus, a Native of Malabar, but who had been in Portugal, and honourably treated by John, the then king of Portugal, advised them to seek for Aid at Cochin against the Moors, and to receive Baptism. According‘ly some of the chief Men among them (call’d Patangatays in their Language) were sent upon that Errand to Cochin, where being kindly receiv’d, they (in honour of him who had given His Advice) took upon them the Sirname of Crus, a name still retain’d by most persons of Note among the Paruas.

So, as described by Philippus Baldaeus, the name João da Cruz was appended to the name of all the Pattangattis including Vikirama Aditha Pandya to honour the Malabarian who guided them and brought them to Cochin to be baptized and seek the help of the Portuguese.

When the baptized leaders returned to the Fishery Coast the other Paravars at first did not believe the report they brought back with them; so a larger delegation of eighty-five Paravars was sent to Cochin.

On  getting wind of these negotiations between the Paravars and the Portuguese, the Middle Eastern Arab Merchants who were then trading in the Pearl Fishery Coast dispatched two envoys to Cochin to bribe the Portuguese Captain Pero Vaz de Amaral, to not allow conversion of the Paravars to Catholicism, but Pero Vaz Amaral refused to do so.

Captain Pero Vaz immediately arranged for the baptism of 85 Paravar leaders in Cochin by the Vicar General, Miguel Vaz, probably in December 1535. The Paravar leaders were given Portuguese names as surnames such as Fernando, Pereira, Vaz,  Almeida, Peres, da Cruz and so forth.

In 1536, Peter Goncalves the vicar of Cochin and three other priests came to the Coromandel Coast along with a naval force conveying troops. They found the men of the Hindu Paravar community assembled for the pearl-fishery and then and there baptized them en masse to Catholicism. It is said that 20,000 Paravars were baptized. The women and children who had been left behind in the villages during the fishery were added to the flock later.

By the end of the year 1537, most of the Hindu Paravars of the seven Paravar villages – Manapadu, Alanthalai, Virapandiapattanam, Punnaikaval, Thoothukudi, Vembar and Vaipar – were baptized and were accepted as subjects of the King of Portugal. Some, however, did not receive baptism till the arrival of Saint Xavier at the end of 1542.

On June 27, 1538, the Portuguese proceeded to destroy the Arab fleet when they met fortuitously at Vedalai in the present Ramanathapuram district.

The Portuguese then firmly settled the rights and privileges of the Paravas and the Rajas no longer dared to interfere with the Paravas or attempt to impede or abridge their prerogative on the Pearl Fishery Coast. The Rajas were then compelled to allow separate laws for the Paravas from those which bound their own subjects.

The Portuguese kept for themselves the command at sea and exercised their sovereignty over the Paravas, their villages, harbours and the pearl fisheries.

Thus the Paravas dwindled into subordination to the Catholic priests and the Portuguese and had to forego having their own chiefs and their own laws. Though the Catholic Paravar community as a whole enjoyed renewed prosperity from that point in history, they became a client community of the Portuguese.

In reality, the declaration of acceptance of the Catholic faith by the Paravars did not prevent them from continuing to worship their old deities of the Hindu pantheon in the manner they had done before being baptized. There were no translators to spread the Catholic message from Latin and Portuguese to Tamil. Also, the conversion was seen by the Paravar people as being merely a convenient arrangement to obtain protection from the atrocities of the Muslims. In fact, the Paravas became a “Christian caste in Hindu society“, whose distinctive Catholic rites and doctrines came to reinforce their place in the Hindu caste structure.

The Portuguese first settled in Tuticorin in 1543, and the port began to expand until it eventually became the hub of the pearl fishery.

In 1543, the Portuguese rewarded Vikirama Aditha Pandya alias João da Cruz for his bartering with the elders of the Paravar caste to convert the community to Christianity since 1535. They offered him the management of the pearl fisheries on their behalf. He became known as Senhor dos Senhores Dom João da Cruz (“first among notables Dom João da Cruz”). The Portuguese recognised him as jathi thalaivan (head of the caste) and also as their official intermediary from 1543 to 1553.

The Portuguese also recognised the caste elders in the various villages perhaps because they were the first to be converted. In the eyes of the Paravars and non-Paravars alike, this led to a formal system of hierarchical control, based on religious authority and economic standing that extended from the jathi thalaivan to the elders and then to the villagers.

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To be continued…

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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The Paravars: Chapter 9 – Seeking Help from the Portuguese


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 8 – Arrival of the Portuguese in India

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Afonso de Albuquerque (1453 – 1515), Captain-Major of the Seas of Arabia, second governor of Portuguese India, First Duke of Goa. (Source – Palácio do Correio Velho)

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In 1509, Afonso de Albuquerque was appointed the second governor of the Portuguese possessions in the East. In 1510, he defeated the Bijapur sultans with the help of Timayya, on behalf of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, leading to the establishment of a permanent settlement in Velha Goa (or Old Goa). From then on, the Southern Province, also known simply as Goa, became the headquarters of Portuguese India, and the seat of the Portuguese Viceroy who governed the Portuguese possessions in Asia.

A new fleet under Marshal Fernão Coutinho arrived with specific instructions to destroy the power of the Zamorin of Calicut. The Portuguese captured Zamorin’s palace and destroyed it and set the city on fire. Zamorin’s forces rallied to kill Coutinho and wound Albuquerque.

In 1513, the wounded Albuquerque relented and entered into a treaty with the Zamorin of Calicut to protect Portuguese interests in Malabar. The Zamorin and the Portuguese signed a treaty giving the Portuguese the right to trade as “they pleased“.

At this point in history, one of those curious figures,  unimportant in themselves,  by whom at a given point the course of history would be changed stepped on to the stage.

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Dom João da Cruz

In 1513, as part of the treaty, the Zamorin sent a fifteen-year-old young Chetti as his agent to the court of King Manuel in Lisbon. Some writers claim that this youngster was a Nair and a relative of the Zamorin. The young man spent three years (1513-1516) in Lisbon and learned to read and write Portuguese. He became popular with King Manuel. and he got baptised with the name Dom João da Cruz. On March 12, 1515, he was knighted, made a fidalgo (a noble), and along with the title of nobility received the habit of the Order of Christ and a life grant that went with it.

Sometime between 1515 and 1518, hostilities were renewed when the Portuguese attempted to assassinate the Zamorin.

João da Cruz returned to Calicut from Lisbon in 1516. The Zamorin dismissed him from his service as he had changed religion and appropriated some properties of da Cruz.

At that time, private trade was thriving in the Portuguese settlements. To earn his livelihood by trading, da Cruz obtained a loan of 7400 pardaos from the Portuguese feitoria of Calicut. Since he occupied a privileged position as a knight of the Order of Christ, he received the necessary licences to export pepper and ginger to Portugal for three years till the Portuguese crown officially monopolized spice trade in 1520.

In 1521, the ship carrying his cargo drowned and he was unable to repay his loans.

In 1525, the Portuguese crown gave João da Cruz permission to send 100 quintals of pepper and 30 quintals of ginger to Cambay.

From 1516 until this time the Zamorin had extracted 35,000 pardaos from  João da Cruz for becoming a Christian in Portugal.

João da Cruz shifted his residence from Calicut to Cochin probably against the background of the strained relationship between the Portuguese and the Zamorin. In Cochin, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Portuguese for not having paid back the loan, which then came about 4000 pardaos.

However still hopeful he placed certain requests before the Portuguese crown that would safeguard his entrepreneurial activities, and which would ultimately help him to improve his financial position. In one of his letters, he expresses a variety of desires:

  1. The post of captain and factor of Quilon, which, if conferred upon him, would enable him to prevent pepper-smuggling to Vijayanagara kingdom;
  2. The monopoly right of selling horses to Rey Grande (king of Cape Comorin), to the king of Travancore, to the kingdom of Tumbichchi Nayak and to the kingdom of Vettumperumal who resided in Kayattar and the neighbouring principalities which were involved in wars with Vijayanagara and Bijapur;
  3. The office for collecting the tribute of the Pearl Fishery Coast which was lying in the territory of Rey Grande (king of Cape Comorin).

The Portuguese crown granted João da Cruz only his second request.

In the first quarter of the 16th century, the Paravars of the Pearl Fishery Coast paid a small tax to the state for permission to scour the deep for pearls. This contribution which was paid to the Pandya kings till then came to be shared by the two powers between whom the coast was divided namely King Chera Udaya Martanda, the king of Travancore who annexed the southern half of the coastal territory and the Vanga Tumbichi Nayak, who possessed himself to the north.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, the Paravas had to contend with the demands of a variety of rulers. Both the Chera and the Pandiya kings were not far away. The king of Vijayanagar still claimed a rather shadowy sovereignty as far as Cape Comorin, though effective power was exercised by Visvanatha Nayakar, who from the city of Madurai claimed dominion over the northern villages of the Paravas. A new crisis appeared on an already complicated scene with the arrival of a race of Moors (Arabs) who made the ancient port of Korkai their headquarters. These Moors who had considerable experience in pearl-fishing started monopolising the traditional pearl harvesting trade of the Paravars. They converted many Paravars to Islam and married Paravar women.

In 1516, the tax dues for the Pearl Fishery were farmed out by a Muslim who became the virtual master of the coast. This personage must have been a descendant of Takiuddin Abdur Rahman (See The Paravars: Chapter 5 – The Pre-Muhammadan Period). Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese factor at Cochin in the early sixteenth century mentions in Volume II of his book “The Book of Duarte Barbosa“:

A wealthy and distinguished Moor has long held the farm of the duties levied on seed-pearls. He is so rich and powerful that all the people of the land honour him. as much as the King. He executes judgment and justice on the Moors without interference from the King.

The fishers for seed-pearl (the Hindu Paravars) fish all the week for themselves save on Friday when they work for the owner of the boat, and at the end of the season, they fish for a whole week for this Moor, whereby he possesses a great abundance of seed-pearl.

The Portuguese managed to wrest out a share of the profits by way of a tribute from the local kings against threats of attack.

In 1523, Joao Froles, appointed as the first captain and Factor of the  Pearl Fishery Coast was sent to Tuticorin to take control of the area. All dwellers on the Pearl Fishery Coast became aware of the new power that had emerged in their midst.

Joao Froles succeeded in farming out 1,500 cruzados as the tax dues for the Pearl Fishery for a year. The Muslims who couldn’t farm out that much retaliated by attacking the poor Paravars. In consequence, the Portuguese had to maintain a flying squadron to ward off the attacks of the Muslims.

From 1527, the Hindu Paravars were being threatened by the privateers of the Zamorin of Calicut aided by the offshore Arab fleets, the local Tamil Muslim Paravars, and by the Rajah of Madurai who wanted to wrest control of Tirunelveli and the Pearl Fishery Coast from the hands of the Rajah of Travancore. In due course, the Rajas themselves joined the Moors, anticipating great advantages from the pearl trade which they Moors carried on, and from their power at sea.

In 1528, following a defeat of the Moors by the Portuguese, retribution had to be paid to the Portuguese. The Muslims coerced the Hindu Paravas to pay additional tributes during the pearl fisheries. Soon the oppressed Hindu Paravars were reduced to virtual slavery, and for the first time in history, the Paravars lost their right over the pearl fishery.

In 1532, during a pearl fishery near Tuticorin, a Muslim man taunted a Parava woman selling homemade savouries. She went home immediately and told her husband of what happened. The enraged husband accosted the Muslim. During the ensuing brawl, the Muslim cut off an earlobe of the Parava who wore large ornaments on his ears.

This incident provoked the Paravars who felt that the honour of the entire Parava community compromised. After some days of secret plotting, the Paravars without warning attacked the Muslim quarters of Tuticorin. The rest took off from the city for their lives and committed themselves to their little boats. These events sparked off a civil war between the Paravars and the Muslims.

According to a report dated December 19, 1669, written by Van Reede and Laurens Pyh, respectively Commandant of the coast of Malabar and Canara and senior merchant and Chief of the sea-ports of Madura:

“they (the Paravars) fell upon the Moors, and killed some thousands of them, burnt their vessels, and remained masters of the country, though much in fear that the Moors, joined by the pirates of Calicut, would rise against them in revenge.”

The revenge of the Muslims was terrible. The Muslims of the neighbouring towns joined the fracas. The rich and mighty Muslims then swore to exterminate the Hindu Paravars. They collected an army, made an alliance with all the petty rulers of the neighbouring areas who were dependent on the Viceroy of Madura, and advanced against Tuticorin by land and sea. The Nayaks of Vembar and Vaipar, far from joining this confederacy with the Muslims, defended the Paravar territories.

The Muslims offered a bounty of five panams per Paravar head to the mercenaries most of whom belonged to the Maravar caste.

The gold coin called panam was of light 15-carat gold. It was the main monetary medium used for exchanges in Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin, where 19 panams formed one Portuguese cruzado.

The Paravars of Tuticorin and its vicinity were pitilessly massacred on this occasion. The persecution lasted for some considerable time. As the heads of Paravars piled up, the bounty paid to the mercenaries was reduced to one panam.

The Hindu Paravas had nowhere to go and were in a dire situation with no hope for the future. Some writers feel that a little exaggeration can be seen in these accounts since the Muslims who had the pearl fisheries under their control needed the Hindu Paravars to eventually go out to sea and continue with their occupation and pay them the taxes for harvesting pearl oysters.

The Hindu Paravars were much in fear that the Moor pirates of Calicut might help the local Paravar Muslims to take revenge on them. In this situation, the Paravars thought of the Portuguese, the new power that had mushroomed amidst them, and seek their protection.

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Next: The Paravars: Chapter 10 – Conversion to Catholicism

Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 8 – Arrival of the Portuguese in India

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The Paravars: Chapter 4 – The Paravar Caste


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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

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In South India beaches are very much the preserve of Parava fishermen
In South India beaches are very much the preserve of Parava fishermen

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In Chapters 1 and 2, I dealt with the Hindu myths and the Jewish lore respectively that were readily accepted and endorsed by the affluent Paravars, who wish to remove the stigma placed on the occupation of their caste namely, fishing, diving for pearls and chanks, and producing salt which were considered “low and ritually polluting occupations.” From this chapter onwards I will be writing about what we know historically and from ancient Tamil literature about the origin of the Paravar community.

From the earliest recorded times, the Paravars were an independent, seafaring people, involved in sea-related activities such as fishing, specializing in the seasonal harvesting of pearl oysters and chanks, navigation, boat building, and production of sea salt. In ancient times, being seaborne traders, they were occasionally given to piracy and smuggling.

In the Madras Census Report, 1901, it is noted:

… there are in reality three castes which answer to the name Paravan, and which speak Tamil, Malayalam, and Canarese respectively. Probably all three are descended from the Tamil Paravans or Paratavans. The Tamil Paravans are fishermen on the sea coast. Their headquarters is Tuticorin, and their headman is called Talavan … The Malayalam Paravans are shell collectors, lime burners and gymnasts, and their women act as midwives. Their titles are Kurup, Varnkurup, and Nurankurup (nuru, lime). The Canarese Paravans are umbrella-makers and devil- dancers.”

It has been further speculated that the splitting of the latter two groups from the first may have been as a consequence of a desire to flee from the ancient tribal areas in Tinnevelly to avoid the oppression by the Muhammadans.

In the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 4 in Art. V, “Remarks on the Origin and History of the Parawas” Simon Casie Chitty wrote:

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 Phoenicians in the Mediterranean. They are described in the Tamil dictionary, entitled Nigundu Sulamani, under the head of Neythanilémakkal, or inhabitants of the sea-coast. In Sanscrit, they are called Parasavas, or Nishadas, and in Tamil, Parathar, Parathavar, and Paravar.

Little is known about the Paravars from the 5th to the 15th century.

Robin Arthur Donkin (1928–2006), an English historian and geographer who in 1990 served as a reader in Historical Geography in Cambridge University’s Department of Geography has argued that with one exception, “there are no native literary works with a developed sense of chronology, or indeed much sense of place, before the thirteenth century”, and that any historical observations have to be made using Arab, European and Chinese accounts.

Pandyan king Arikesari Maravarman (r. c. 670–710 AD), also known as Arikesari Parankusa, ruled parts of present-day Kerala and Tamil Nadu. According to the Velvikkudi grant (stone inscription), he won battles at Pali, Nelveli, Uraiyur and Sennilam. Except for Uraiyur, the identity of these places is not certain. E. Hultzsch identified Nelveli with modern Tirunelveli. The larger Chinnamanur grant states (stone inscription) that Arikesari Maravarman won battles at Nelveli and Sankaramangai, and also defeated the Pallavas. The inscription further states that he ruined the Paravar (a southern fishing community).

Though works in the Tamil Sangam literature such as Ettuthokai, Paththupaattu, Ahanaanooru, Madurai Kaanchi and Pattinappaalai refer to the lives of the Paravars, there are different views regarding events up to the early 16th century among the investigators of the Paravar history.

Madurai Kaanchi (Tamil: மதுரைக் காஞ்சி), a Tamil poetic work in the Pathinenmaelkanakku anthology of Tamil literature, belonging to the Sangam period (spanning from c. 3rd century BC to c. 3rd century AD) contains 583 lines of poetry written by the poet Mankuti Maruthanaar in praise of the Pandya King Nedunjeliyan II on the occasion of his victory at the battle of Talayanankanam. In this work, the Paravas are described as being most powerful in the country around Korkai:

“Well fed on fish and armed with bows, their hordes terrified their enemies by their dashing valour.”

Madurai Kaanchi describes Korkai as the chief town in the country of Parathavar and the seat of the pearl fishery, with a population consisting chiefly of pearl divers and chank cutters. When the Pandyan kingdom was powerful. the Paravas had grants of certain rights from the monarchy, paying tribute from the produce of the fisheries, and receiving protection and immunity from taxation in return.

Stephen Neill in his work, “A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707” says:

The Paravas lived in a number of villages, perhaps about twenty in all, strung out over a narrow strip of land about a hundred miles in length, from Cape Comorin to Vembar. A hardy race, they live by the sea in two senses of that expression. For most of the year their livelihood is fishing; because of the association of this trade with the taking of life, they are not reckoned by the Hindus as belonging to one of the higher castes. They have developed astonishing skill in the management of their catamarans, each with its single lateen sail. This stern and exacting labour gives them immense physical hardihood and a strength of character which at its best is courage but may take the form of a rather rough aggressiveness. For the most part, the boats remain not far from the shore and return with the off-sea breeze in the evening. But violent tempests can arise and sweep the boats far out of sight of land; every year a number of lives are lost.

What gave variety to Parava life, and importance beyond the local scene was the annual pearl-fishery. The collection of oysters begins in March and lasts for twenty to thirty days. The oyster beds lie at a distance of five to six miles from the coast. Fantastic tales are told of the length of time that a diver can remain underwater; observation shows that the time is usually not more than a minute, and in no case exceeds a minute and a half. The work is extremely exhausting; by midday, the diver has done his work for the day and is ready to return to shore for the sorting of the catch. In a good season, the profits can be very high; but the man who does the hard work is far from being the only beneficiary.

Isaac Rajendran and Freda Chandrasekaran have said in their work “History of the Indian pearl banks of the Gulf of Mannar”. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India, that up to the 16th century the Paravars had held almost a monopoly of the rights to exploit the pearl fisheries, having negotiated with successive kings to achieve this.

The Pandyan kings allowed the Paravars to manage and operate the pearl fisheries because of their ancient skills in that activity, which required specialist seamanship abilities, knowledge of the location of the oyster beds and the art of tending them. The Pandyan kings exempted the Paravars from taxation and allowed them to govern themselves in return for being paid tribute from the harvested oysters.

Theodore Maynard in his work “The Odyssey of Francis Xavier” has claimed, the south Indian coastal areas around Kanyakumari were “the greatest pearl fishery in the world”, and that the Hindu people who fished for oysters there “… were known as the Paravas, a caste sufficiently low, although not of the very lowest.”

Although Robert Eric Frykenberg, in his book “Christianity in India: from beginnings to the present” has described them as a “… proud and venturesome seafaring folk engaged in fishing, pearl diving, trading, and piracy,” Adrian Hastings in his book “A World History of Christianity” has pointed out that the piracy (and some smuggling) was only an occasional activity and that their more normal occupations demanded courage, strength and stamina, which made them “hardened adventurers”.

During the reign of the Pandya kings, the Paravars had their headquarters at Korkai harbour and were spread out into several fishing hamlets in the pearl fishery coast of Gulf of Mannar and adjacent Comerin coast:

Alanthalai, Chethupar, Idinthakarai, Kanyakumari, Kootapuli,  Kovalam, Kumari muttam, Kuthenkuly, Manapad, Mookur,  Muttom, Palayakayal, Periathalai, Periyakadu, Perumanal, Pozhikkarai, Pudukarai, Punnaikayal, Puthanthurai, Rajakamangalam Thurai, Thalambuli, Thanumalayan Pillai Thoppu, Thiruchendur, Thoothukudi, Uvari, Vaippar, Vembar, Virapandianpatnam.

In some villages, Karaiyars, a sub-sect of Paraiyars, and Mukkuvars also lived along with the Paravars. The Mukkuvars were found mostly in Kanyakumari and in the villages west of it. Members of these three castes – Paravars, Karaiyars and Mukkuvars – on the Fishery Coast were illiterate fisherman and divers who harvested pearl oysters and chanks.

The Paravar fishermen, with dark-brown complexion, wore only a kovanam (loincloth) and a white scarf around their head. Most of them were poor and addicted to intoxicating brews such as coconut toddy and arrack distilled from the juice of the palmyra palm.

Adultery was rampant among the Paravars.

The affluent males Paravars pierced their earlobes and wore heavy pearl-studded gold ear ornaments. Some writers say that a few prosperous Paravars had slaves.

The funeral custom of Sati where a widow immolates (burns) herself on her dead husband’s pyre existed among the Hindu Paravars since they believed that the women who committed Sati would live along with their husbands when reborn. Those women who refused to (immolate) themselves were forced to leave their home and become public women. And those who opposed the custom of Sati, male or female, were killed.

The Paravars were superstitious and the soothsayers and necromancers played a significant role in their lives. They sought the shark charmers to ward off shark attacks during fisheries.

Surprisingly, the Paravars did not slaughter cows for meat.

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The Rajagopuram of the Murugan Temple at Thiruchedur (Author: Vickyavw; Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

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The Paravars believed the unsubstantiated myth that god Kartikeya, also known as Murugan and Subramanian married a Parava lass named Deivanai and so they had a special affinity to the Murugan Temple at Tiruchendur which is considered as one of the six holy abodes of the deity. During the religious festivals of the temple, the inhabitants of the seven Paravar villages – Manapadu, Alanthalai, Virapandiapattanam, Punnaikaval, Thoothukudi, Vembar and Vaipar – took an active part along with the people of Tiruchendur. The Parava headman of Virapandianpattanam was given the first honour of pulling the vadam (Tamil: வடம்; rope) attached to the ther (Tamil: தேர்; festival car) of the deity during festivals.

Some writers say that the palanquins of the prosperous Paravars of Virapandianpattanam were borne on the shoulders of Idayars (shepherds) who bore the idols of the deities during festivities at the Murugan Temple in Tiruchendur.

The Paravars had a succession of chiefs among them, distinguished by the title ‘Adiarasen‘, later, the leaders were known by titles such as: Thalaivan, Pattankattiyars, Araiyars and Adappannars.

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Next:  The Paravars: Chapter 5 – The Pre-Muhammadan Period

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

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 4 in Art. V, “Remarks on the Origin and History of the Parawas” Simon Casie Chitty, Maniyagar of Putlam, Ceylon, M. R.A. S. &c., &c., &c.
  • Isaac Rajendran and Freda Chandrasekaran, “History of the Indian pearl banks of the Gulf of Mannar”. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India. 18 (3): 549–550,
  • Donkin, Robin A. (1998). “Beyond price: pearls and pearl-fishing: origins to the age of discoveries”. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society. American Philosophical Society. 224. ISBN 978-0-87169-224-5.
  • Maynard, Theodore (1936). The Odyssey of Francis Xavier. Longsman, Green.
  • Frykenberg, Robert Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from beginnings to the present (Reprinted ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-19-826377-7.
  • Hastings, Adrian (2000). A World History of Christianity. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 166–168. ISBN 978-0-8028-4875-8.
  • Stephen Neill F.B.A., A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707. CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS.
    Library of Congress catalogue card number: 82-23475 ISBN 0 521 24351 3 hardback, ISBN 0 521 54885 3 paperback.

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 5 – Travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Map - Goa to Jaffna
Map – Goa to Jaffna

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In March 1686, Joseph Vaz left Goa secretly and set out on foot to go to Ceylon without informing anyone. However, he obtained the blessings of his Prefect and the Cathedral Chapter of Goa.

Father Paulo de Souza, Brother Stephen, accompanied Joseph Vaz along with his loyal domestic servant John.

They traveled to Tellichery where people told them that the Dutch were ever vigilant and might deem Father de Souza to be a European because of his fair complexion. Moreover, Vaz noted that it would not be possible for them to land in Ceylon as a group without arousing suspicion. So, Vaz sent his two companions, Father Paulo de Souza and Brother Stephen back to Kanara.

Vaz proceeded to Cochin (now Kochi) with his servant John carrying a bag that contained sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass.

From Cochin, they traveled on a Moorish ship to Quilon (now Kollam). The ruthless captain of the ship demanded more as fare. Since they had no more money to pay the extra sum, the captain started scolding them. With great patience, they bore the affronts and the insults. The captain then seized their only possession – the bag containing the sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass. A Christian from Quilon was about to help him, but the Episcopal Governor of Cochin who was there  paid their fare.

In the 17th century, the Portuguese maintained their power in Kerala with their settlements and trade centers. They concentrated mainly on the port towns of Cochin, Calicut, Cannanore, and Quilon. In 1663 due to the Dutch Invasion Portuguese Empire declined. The Jesuits in Kerala transposed their Vaippicotta Seminary to Ambazhakad (Sambalur). The Jesuits started a house of Jesuits, Vidyapeeth (St. Pauls’ College) and a seminary for Christians of St. Thomas.

When Joseph Vaz and John reached the Jesuit College, the Jesuit priests received them cordially. They advised Vaz that if he wanted to enter Ceylon he should put aside his torn, threadbare soutane, and dress like a “coolie”. The Jesuits offered them coarse loincloth like the ones used by the slaves of the Dutch. Vaz humbly accepted their advice and the loincloth.

After reaching the Coromandel Coast, Vaz studied the Tamil language assiduously for that was the language spoken in the Northern part of the Island of Ceylon.

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View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672.  'Tutecoryn' by Philip Baldaeus, from 'Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon', Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)
View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672. ‘Tutecoryn’ by Philip Baldaeus, from ‘Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon’, Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)

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By the end of March 1687, Joseph Vaz and John reached the Coromandel Coastal town of Tuticorin captured by the Dutch in 1658. The harbour in Tuticorin was even then well known as a pearl diving and fishing centre of the Paravar community.

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'Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni' from 'La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.', published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)
‘Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni’ from ‘La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.’, published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)

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The Paravars used the thoni, one of the oldest known indigenous country sea vessels for pearl fishing. The thoni was also used to transport goods and people between India and Ceylon in the Palk Strait. So, Vaz envisaged to board a thoni from Tuticorin to go to Ceylon. But, the town of Tuticorin and the harbour were under the control of the Dutch.

In Tuticorin, Vaz met a Jesuit priest who had been his companion in the College of St. Paul in Goa. On knowing the reason for Vaz’s disguise as a coolie and to maintain the camouflage, the Jesuit priest treated Vaz like a bondservant. Whenever Vaz ventured out he went about disguised as a mendicant.

A hawk-eyed Dutch officer in charge of the harbour area suspected the furtive ways of Vaz. He presumed that, Vaz in disguise, was waiting for the opportunity to travel to Ceylon by sea. He ordered his subordinates, not to allow anyone to embark for Ceylon without his permission. However, the Dutch officer died shortly. The new officer who took charge, not knowing the reason for the order given by his predecessor allowed Joseph Vaz and John to board a thoni that set sail to Ceylon.

The thoni met with a storm and drifted away from the normal course. After several days of drifting, the vessel reached the island of Mannar. Joseph Vaz, John and the others on the vessel were reduced to skeletons for want of food.

There were many Catholics in Mannar, but Joseph Vaz was not aware of this fact. He and John begged to sustain themselves.

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Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)
Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)

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Two months later, Joseph Vaz and John were taken in a kattumaram (catamaran)  by local fishermen to the town of Jaffna, located at the Northern tip of Ceylon.

When Joseph Vaz and John landed in Jaffna, they were famished and almost half dead. Since they needed food and a place to rest, they knocked on many doors, but were chased away by almost all the Tamil households there.  Finally, a woman allowed them to spend the night in a dilapidated hut near her house.

As a result of fatigue, hunger and thirst, Joseph Vaz suffered from an acute form of dysentery. As dysentery often led to epidemics and death at that time, any form of dysentery was much dreaded by the people both in India and Ceylon. When the neighbours saw that Vaz was not even able to walk, they carried him on a litter to the nearby forest. They left the ailing man there exposed to the intemperate weather and to the mercy of the wild animals.

John looked after his master, day and night. During the day, he went to the town and begged for food to feed the sick man. Eventually, John too contracted the disease.

Without any other alternative left for them, they prayed to God and awaited death.

Their faith was rewarded in the form of a lady who had come to the forest to gather firewood. Out of pity, she supplied them daily a bowl of kanji (broth). After some days, thanks to the kind-hearted woman, their health was restored.

However, Joseph Vaz knew that greater trials and tribulations were in store for him on the island.

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Next → Part  6 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam

← Previous: Part 4: Persecution of Catholics in Ceylon by the Dutch

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