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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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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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