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KNANAYA HISTORY By Jomy Mathews Sauriammakil

posted Nov 18, 2011, 8:51 PM by Anil Mattathikunnel   [ updated Nov 9, 2012, 1:15 PM ]

As per Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, human history originated with the creation of Adam and Eve and continued through Cain and Seth. The genealogical line of Seth passed through Enos, Cainan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methusaleh and Lamech, reaching Noah. After the great flood only the family of Noah remained on Earth. Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham & Japheth settled in the Caucasian region, cultivating grains, fruits and vegetables and domesticating sheep. Their descendants spread over an area covering today’s Iraq, parts of Iran, Egypt and Turkey, Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Palestine. This area, in the shape of a half moon, was enriched by Euphrates, Tigris, Nile, Jordan, etc, and was called Fertile Crescent. The first town of human history, Jericho, the first city state, Sumer, first civilizations, Mesopotamia and Egypt, first alphabet, Cuneiform, first civil laws, code of Ur-Nammu of Ur and code of Hummurabi of Babylonia, all came up within this crescent. Later, the descendants of Noah successively spread all over the world. Jews, Knanaites and Arabs belong to the genealogical line of Shem. Egyptians, Palestinians, Sudanese, Ethiopians, Libyans, Chinese, Mongolians, Dravidians, Australian Aborigines, etc, to that of Ham. And English, Germans, French, Russians, Aryans, etc, to Japheth. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, major religions of today, were founded by sons of Shem who is known as father of worshippers. A great majority of ancient technological inventions were done by the sons of Ham who is known as father of inventors. And it is sons of Japheth, who is known as father of philosophers, who advanced science and philosophy to today’s level.

The descendants of Shem were called Semites. Semitic genealogy passed through Arphaxad, Cainan and Salah reaching Eber. The descendants of Eber, were called Hebrews, after the language they spoke. Hebrew genealogy passed through Peleg, Reu, Serug and Nahor reaching Terah. In the first quarter of 2nd millennium B.C Terah lived in Ur, an ancient city state in southern Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq. Terah is the father of Abraham, the fore father of Jews, Knanaites and Arabs. Abraham, earlier called Abram, had two brothers, Haran and Nahor and a step sister Sarai. Haran died before reaching old age leaving his son Lot and daughters, Iscah and Milcah. After his death, Nahor married Milcah. Terah, together with Abram, Sarai and Lot, migrated towards Canaan. Canaan was a prosperous place of Ham‘s son, named Canaan. On the way they first settled in Haran, in today’s Turkey. There, Abram married Sarai. After the death of Terah, Abram migrated to Canaan together with Sarai and Lot. There, Abram and Lot became prosperous, separated each other and settled at two different places.


As draught came to Canaan, Abram and Sarai migrated to Egypt, the land of Mizraim, another son of Ham. They lived there for a few years and then returned to Canaan. Even after reaching near old age, Abram and Sarai couldn’t get an offspring. As suggested by Sarai, Abram received Hagar, her Egyptian maid, and they got a son, Ismail.

As Sarai and Hagar started quarrelling each other frequently, Abram took Hagar and Ismail to Makah in Arabia. Abram, together with Ismail built a house and place of worship for them and then returned to Canaan. Ismail got 12 sons and their descendants grew as 12 tribes, called Ismailites. The descendants of Ya’rub, a 3rd generation son of Ismail, came to be known as Arabs, after the language they spoke. When Prophet Mohammad, who belongs to the genealogical line of Ya’rub, founded Islam, the place of worship built by Abram and Ismail became the first masjid, the Kaaba.  


At their old age Abram and Sarai got a son, Isaac, and from this time onwards, they were called, Abraham and Sara. Later, Abraham married Ketura who belongs to the genealogical line of Japheth and got six sons. Their descendants grew as six tribes. As Isaac reached the age of marriage, Abraham sent his servant to his brother Nahor in Ur, to find a suitable girl for Isaac from his own tribe. The servant, traveling weeks and months, brought Rebecca, daughter of Bethuel who was the son of Nahor and Milcah, and Isaac married her. This marriage can be considered as the origin of Knanaite’s endogamic tradition. Isaac and Rebecca got twin sons Esau and Jacob. Esau married two Hittite girls. Hittites belong to the genealogical line of Ham. This can be considered as the first exogamic marriage of Knanaites’ ancient tradition. Since life was not peaceful with Esau’s wives, Rebecca requested Isaac to send Jacob to Ur, to find a suitable girl from their own tribe. Jacob went to his maternal uncle Laban and married his two daughters, Leah and Rachel. He got seven sons from Leah and two sons from Rachel. Also, he got two sons each from his concubines, Bilha and Zilpah. Abraham was the fore father of 30 tribes, 12 tribes of Ismail, 12 tribes of Jacob and six tribes of Ketura. Abraham’s wives, Sara belongs to the genealogical line of Shem, Hagar to that of Ham and Ketura, to Japheth.


Being the youngest of 12 sons, Jacob loved Joseph the most, and because of this all his brothers were jealous. When one day Jacob sent Joseph to enquire his brothers who were gracing sheep at a distant place, they caught him, removed his coat and dumped in a dry well, for him to die hungry. Then, as suggested by one of them, they picked him up and sold to Medians, merchants going to Egypt. Medians were a tribe descended from Median, a son of Abraham and Ketura. They then killed an animal, socked the coat in its blood, took to Jacob and told, wild animals killed Joseph. By intelligently predicting years of severe draught coming up in the fertile crescent area, while explaining a dream the pharaoh of Egypt had seen in his sleep, Joseph first became an adviser of the pharaoh and then the governor of Egypt. As draught befell on Canaan Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy food grains, and Joseph recognized them. Joseph invited Jacob and all his brothers to Egypt. Jacob died in Egypt and his descendants multiplied as 12 tribes, to a very large population. As Jacob was called Israel also, his descendants were called Israelites, and since they spoke Hebrew, were also called Hebrews.


Being afraid of the rapidly increasing strength of Hebrews, a new pharaoh started suppressing them as slaves, forcing to do hard labor. He told Egyptians to throw every newborn Hebrew boy to the Nile. Moses was born during this period. Moss’s father belongs to the genealogical line of Levi, son of Jacob and Leah. Moss’s mother put him in a basket and kept, between bushes in the water, along the bank of Nile, with his sister watching from a distance. Pharaoh’s childless daughter picked him up, and on recognizing that he is a Hebrew boy, asked Mosses’ sister to bring a Hebrew mother to nurse him. She brought his own mother. As he grew big, pharaoh’s daughter adapted him as her own son. Adult Mosses killed an Egyptian whom he found killing a Hebrew slave. Before this news reaching the palace, Mosses escaped to Median, the land of descendants of Median, son of Abraham and Ketura. He lived there under the care of Jethro, the priest of Median, married his daughter Zipporah and got a son Gershom.


As ordered by God, Mosses went to Egypt to save Hebrews from slavery. He met Aaron the Hebrew priest who also belongs to the genealogical line of Levi. Together they met the pharaoh but he refused to free Israelites. As calamities befell on Egypt, one after another, ultimately, the pharaoh freed Israelites. Mosses and Aaron guided them towards Canaan, crossing the Red Sea and wandering through the Sinai desert. At Mount Sinai, Mosses received the Ten Commandments from God. On the way, at Mount Hor, Aaron gave his priestly rites to his son Eleazar and died. Israelites marched towards Canaan, defeating Sihon and Og, kings of Ammorites, who resisted their passage. Before reaching Canaan, Mosses handed over leadership to Joshua, son of Nun, went up Mount Nebo, east of Jericho, saw the wide expanse of Canaan far away, and later died. Joshua continued the march capturing the lands of Hittites, Canaanites, Hivites, Perizzites and Jebusites, divided it and gave to 12 tribes of Israel. The land given to the tribe of Judah, forefather of Jews and Knanaites, son of Jacob and Leah, was between Dead Sea, boarder of Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. Joshua and Eleazar died, after successfully establishing the nation of Israel in around 1250 B.C.


Saul, son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin who was a son of Jacob and Rachel, became the first king of Israelites. King David, son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah, succeeded him and expanded the Kingdom. When Solomon, son of King David became the king, Israel was a large and prosperous kingdom. During this period Israel had trade with Indian ports and King Solomon’s ships regularly visited Kodungalloor, the famous port of south India. Jews were continuously living in Kodunglloor from this time onwards. King Solomon built the first Jerusalem temple. Rehoboam, son of King Solomon succeeded him but all tribes except Judah rebelled against him under the leadership of Jeroboam, an official of King Solomon and made him their king. Later, the tribe of Benjamin aligned with Rehoboam. Kingdom of Israel got divided into a northern country, Israel, with capital Samaria of 10 tribes of Jacob, and a southern country, Judah, with capital Jerusalem, of 2 tribes, in 928 B.C. People of the northern country were called Northists and that of the southern country, Southists.

Assyria, a neighboring country of descendants of Asshur, another son of Shem, grew stronger around this time and fought wars with Israel. In B.C. 720, Assyrian king Shalmaneser invaded Israel and took Northist Jews to Assyria as slaves. Few Northist Jews escaped and settled at Kodungalloor this time. In B.C. 580, King Nebuchadnezer of Babylonia, a descendant of Ham, invaded Judah, destroyed the first Jerusalem temple built by King Solomon and took Southist Jews to Babylonia as slaves. This is known in history as, “The Babylonian captivity of Jews”. Few Southist Jews escaped to Kodungalloor this time. In B.C. 520, King Cyrus of Persia invaded Babylonia and freed all Jews. A large number of them returned to Judah and built the second Jerusalem temple in B.C 515. Later, another large group of Jews migrated to Jerusalem lead by Prophet Ezra. Prophet Ezra removed all those who inter-married with non-Jews during the Babylonian captivity, from the membership of Jerusalem temple. In 332 B.C. Macedonian King Alexander the Great, who belongs to the genealogical line of Japheth, invaded Judah. After the death of Alexander, Judah came under the rule of Greek Seleucids. In 198 B.C, Antiochus the Great, king of the Syrian based Seleucids tried to impose Greek culture and religion on the Jewish people. In B.C. 168, Jews led by Judah Maccabaeus and his brothers invaded Jerusalem and set up a ruling dynasty. In B.C. 63, Romans, descendants of Japheth, annexed Judah. Under Roman rule, Hellenic Jew priests, sons of Greco-Judean parents, controlled Jerusalem temple. Jesus, son of God, was born during this period, in the family of Joseph and Mary. Joseph belongs to the genealogical line of King Solomon and Mary to that of Nathan, brother of King Solomon. Jesus introduced a new religious philosophy of love and forgiveness but Hellenist Jew priests interpreted it against Judaism. They, with the help of Roman rulers conspired against Jesus and crucified him. Jesus resurrected and founded a new religion, Christianity, and thereby, a new race, Judeo-Christians. In A.D. 66 Jews revolted against Roman rule. In A.D. 70, Romans ejected Jews out of Jerusalem and destroyed the second Jerusalem temple. In A.D 132, based at Bar Khoba, Jews revolted again, and were ejected out of all Judea in A.D 135. As Jews shattered all over the world one group landed at Kodungallor. When all Jews leaved out of Judea, majority of Judeo-Christians migrated to Syria and Mesopotamia.


As apostles of Jesus moved all over the world to spread his word, St. Thomas landed in Kodungalloor in A.D. 52. He first converted Aramaic speaking Jews who had settled here earlier, and then many Hindus, to Christianity. He built 7 churches, at Muziris (Kodungalloor), Paravur(Kottakkavu), Palayur, Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Kollam. But, before establishing a self sustainable Christian Church, St. Thomas was martyred at Coromandel Coast, near Mylapore, in A.D. 72. In the absence of a bishop who can ordain priests and also because of the enmity of surrounding people, the number of St. Thomas Christians shrank generation after generation. In early 4th century A.D, a Mesopotamian Judeo-Christian merchant, Thomas of Kinai, visited Kodungalloor with a trade mission. He happened to see some bare breasted St. Thomas Christian labors wearing Cross. Kinai Thomas joined them in their annual pilgrimages to Malayattoor and Mylapore. On returning to Mesopotamia, Kinai Thomas reported his meeting of Malabar Christians to Bishop Joseph of Uraha, and the bishop reported the same to Mar Sahadose, the Catholicose of Selucia-Stecifone. The Catholicose authorized Bishop Joseph and Kinai Thomas, to lead a large migration of Judeo-Christians to Kodungalloor.


In A.D 345 Kinai Thomas and Bishop Joseph organized 72 Judeo-Christian families of 7 different tribes, Bagi, Belkuth, Hadai, Kujalik, Koja, Mugmth and Thegmuth, 4 priests and a few deacons. They assembled at the tomb of Prophet Ezra, kneeled and prayed, and took a pledge to follow endogamic tradition strictly. Mar Sahadose, the Catholicose of Selucia-Stecifone, and a large group of kith and kin assembled at Ezra port to bid farewell to, their own blood that will not meet again. The Catholicose told, my heart is breaking that we are missing you all forever, keep strong relationship one another, follow 10 commandments and seven sacraments always, and I will send you bishops, every 12 years.  Tears rolling down from all eyes, embracing one another, around 400 Judeo-Christians bid farewell to Mesopotamia and boarded three ships owned by Kinai Thomas, anchored at Ezra port. They struggled through the Gulf and Indian Ocean depending on the flow of wind flows. With deep sorrow and prayers, they buried the one who died on the way, in the ocean. Traveling weeks and months they landed at the port of Kodungalloor, on 7th March 345 A.D. Thomas sent a messenger to Chera king Cheraman Perumal, with whom he had good business relationship. The king enthusiastically sent a cordial invitation, with his brother Rajavarman, Minister Vettathu Mannan, army chief Chempakasseri and a large contingent of officials and soldiers. Knanayites, led by Kinai Thomas, a descendant of King David and King Solomon, were lead to the palace as a procession, and received a royal reception.


Cheraman Perumal gave Kinai Thomas, the title “Co-Cherakon”, meaning the lord of  Chera King, 72 higher privileges, authority on fellow Knanaites and 17 tribes of Chera Kingdom, and tax free land, all written on a copper plate. Knai Thomma built a township of 72 houses on the southern side of Cheraman kovil, for Knanaites, and built another township on the northern side of the kovil for St. Thomas Christians. Because of this Knanaites were later called Thekkumbhagar and St. Thomas Christians, Vadakkumbhagar. The township of Knanaites was later called, Mahadevar Pattanam, meaning “City of great men”. Knai Thomma and Bishop Joseph built three churches in their township, named after, St. Thomas, Mother Mary and St. Kuriakose. Knanaites lived a prosperous life in Kodungalloor. For bringing back people of ‘Nalkudi Parishakal‘, Aasari, Musari, Kollan and Thattan, who ran away to Srilanka, following a dispute, King Cheraman ordained a golden crown, “Vendhan Mudi” meaning royal crown, on the head of Knai Thomma. It is preserved in the locker of Chunkom Forona church, still today.  


In the 13th century A.D, a sudden flood in the Periyar River brought large mass of dirt and soil to the Kodungalloor port, causing the river to trifurcate, opening two new river mouths. This caused Kodungalloor, later to be called Muziris, a changed version of Muchiri (3 mouths). This made the Kodungalloor port unusable for large ships, ruining the economic prosperity of Chera Kingdom. The trading hub shifted to Kozhikode port and this economically and politically empowered the Kozhikode Samudiri. He invaded Kodungalloor in 1524 A.D with the help of Arabs and destructed and looted the city and burnt down churches. Since Knanaites had earlier developed trading points in the new port of Kochi, all of them migrated there. Before leaving, with burning hearts, many of them collected ashes of their holy churches in clothes and brought to Kochi. They might have mixed these ashes with concrete when they built new churches. Seeing these ashes, people of Kochi sarcastically called Knanaites, “Charamkettikal”. Later, for making a living through agriculture, Knanaites moved to Kaduthuruthy, Piravom, Kottayam, Kallisseri, Udayamperoor and Chunkom, along the rivers, and then surrounding areas through land. They built five churches at Kaduthuruthy, Udayamperoor, Kallisseri, Kottayam and Chunkom and had half right on few churches of St. Thomas Christians, where Knanaites didn’t have their own church. Because of this, Knanaites were once called “Ancharappallikkar”.


Bishop Uraha Mar Joseph established the Christian Church of Malabar based on Syriac liturgy. After him, Knanaites successively brought bishops from Mesopotamia. In 5th century A.D, Bishop Jacob Baradaeus of Edessa established Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in Syria, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. As its theological doctrine was against the Chalcedon Council of A.D 451, the Pope declared it heretic. Few bishops, Knanaites brought from Mesopotamia after this period, were aligned with Jacobite theology. In the 16th century, Portuguese defeated Kochi and made it their colony. Catholic missionaries who accompanied them were authorized by the Pope to enlarge the Latin Church. Portuguese soldiers arrested Bishop Ahatalla whom Knanaites had brought from Mesopotamia. Portuguese Arch Bishop Menezis of Goa called a Soonahadose at Udayamperoor Knanaya church in 1599 A.D, declared Jacobite theology heretic, banned Syriac liturgy, enforced Latin rite, banned bishops from Mesopotamia and burned down all Syriac language books and documents. This severly hurt the sentiments of Knanaites and St. Thomas Christians. Around this time a false rumor spread that Portuguese soldiers killed Bishop Ahathalla by drowning. Emotionally blind, Knanaites and St. Thomas Christians assembled in front of a church at Mattancheri in Kochi on Friday 3rd January 1653, tied ropes in different directions from a Cross, and holding the rope took pledge, that, will never obey Portuguese priests. The Cross bent, and this event became known in history as the “Koonan Kurishu Sathyam“. When Knanaites and St. Thomas Christians were desperate without bishops, few priests published a document saying that, as per Cannon Law, 12 priests together can ordain a bishop. They assembled at Alangattu and 12 priests jointly ordained Fr. Thomas Arkadiakon, a bishop, naming him, First Mar Thomma Metropolitan, by placing their right hands jointly on his head.


Later, when Knanaites and St. Thomas Christians realized that both the rumor and document were false, a majority of them assembled in 1653 and declared allegience to the Pope. Pope Alexander 7th sent a congratulatory letter to them, sent Fr. Joseph Sebastiani, an Italian Carmelite priest to Kochi to address their grievances and allowed Syriac liturgy. In 1661, Fr. Sebastiani was ordained a bishop by Vatican. In 1663 Dutch defeated Portuguese, made Kochi their colony and ordered all foreign missionaries to leave India. Before leaving, Bishop Sebastiani ordained Fr. Chandy Parambil, a St. Thomas Christian, the first indigenous bishop of Malabar Church, at Kaduthuruthy Knanaya church. It is Pachikkara Punnoose Tharakan, a Knanaite from Thodupuzha Chunkom Parish, who provided organizing leadership to this great event. After Bishop Chandy Parambil, again forign bishops ruled Malabar Church for two centuries. In 1665, those Knanaites and St. Thomas Christians who refused to follow Latin Church, declared allegiance to Syrian Orthodox Jacobite Church of Antioquia. These events divided Knanaites as Knanaya Catholics and Knanaya Jacobites. In 1778 Fr. Joseph Kariattil Malpan, a St. Thomas Christian led a deligation to Rome requesting for indigenous bishops. Neendoor Poothathil Ittikkuruvila Tharakan provided leadership in organizing this delegation, bore a great part of its expenditure, traveled up to Madras with them and sent his nephew Malayil Chacko, a deacon, as a member of this delegation. Fr. Kariattil was ordained a bishop at Lisbon, but died on his way back home, at Goa.


After many petitions and delegations, in 1887, Pope Leo 13th, through the decree, Quod Jam Pridem, liberated Syrian Catholic Church from the administration of Latin Church, created two vicariates at Trichur and Kottayam and ordained Dr. Medalikode and Dr. Carlos Levigne respectively as administrators. In 1889 Bishop Levigne appointed Fr. Mathew Makil, as the Vicar General of Knanaya Catholics. In 1896 through the decree, Quae Rei Sacrae, Pope recreated the vicariates as Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanaseri and ordained indigenous bishops Yohannan Menacheril, Luis Pazheparambil and Mathew Makil, respectively. Accepting  a petition signed by the above three bishops and submitted by a delegation of Bishop Mathew Makil, Fr. Chandy Choolaparambil and Fr. Mathew Vattakkalathil, through the decree, In Universi Christiani, Pope Pious Xth declared Kottayam vicariate exclusively for Knanaya Catholics, and Bishop Makil, the first bishop, on 29th August 1911.


On January 1882, with the blessing of Mor Joseph Pulikkottil, 11 Knanaya Jacobite priests assembled at St. Stephen’s Knanaya Jacobite church at Veliayandu, and formed “Malankara Jacobite Syrian Knanaya Committee”. This committee codified rules and guidelines for the administration of Knanaya Jacobite churches. In 1910, up on this committee’s petition, Patriarch Ignatius Abdulla declared the creation of a Knanaya Diocese for Knanaya Jacobites. On August 1910, the Patriarch ordained Fr. Geevarghese Edavazhickal (Mor Severious), as the first Knanaya Jacobite bishop.


In 1987, Fr. Dr. Jacob Kollaparambil, former Vicar General of Kottayam diocese, while reading a book named, Atlas of  the Early Christian World, in the Pontifical Oriental Institute at Rome, found a place named Kynai, near Selucia-Stecifone, on an ancient Mesopotamian map. On further research, he found all other places mentioned in Knanaya purathana pattukal, Uraha, the place of Bishop Joseph, Huse, the trading point of Kinai Thomma, Ezra, the place of tomb of Prophet Ezra and Selucia-Stecifone, the place of Catholicose Sahadose, all within a 400 km area. In 1990 Dr. Jacob Kollaparambil, together with Bishop Kuriakose Kunnasseri, Fr. Dr. Jacob Vellian and Fr. Cyriac Thevarmannil, made a research tour to these places and confirmed that these are the ancient places of Knanaites. Kinai was a small town with a Christian seminary and a university, where the tomb of Prophet Marri existed. The tomb of prophet Ezra is preserved still today, at Al Uzair, near Basra in Iraq, and is revered by many local tribes (picture).


Today, Knanaites live as two mutually endogamic communities, spread all over the world, displaying the essence of millenniums old common traditions, “THANIMAYIL, ORUMAYIL, VISWASA NIRAVIL“.

 Complied by Jomy Mathews,

Dammam, Sauriammakil House, Monippally. Tel: +966557303080.

jomy_mathews@yahoo.co.in, jomym@ymail.com