History, Nasrani History, Thomas Christians - Monday, January 28, 2013 0:44 - 3 Comments
Varthamanapusthakam1, which was written in 1785 by Fr.Thomas Paremakkal as an account of his travel along with his friend bishop Mar Joseph Kariyattil to Madras, Africa, Brazil, Portugal and Rome and often hailed as the first travelogue in an Indian language, has been immensely used as a literary medium by the author to ventilate his dissent and anger against the hegemonic attitude and the colonial fabric which the European religious missionaries set up for the Church in India, particularly for the St.Thomas Christians of Kerala. Arguing vehemently that India should be ruled by Indians and not by foreigners, he goes on demanding as early as 1785 that Indian Christians should be ruled not by European religious missionaries but by Indians. Within the larger format of a travelogue detailing meticulously the socio-economic and political processes of the several countries he had visited in Africa, South America and Europe, he argues his case by showing how the foreign missionaries fearing reduction of the span of their power and authority did not want to have an Indian bishop for the St.Thomas Christians.
Fr. Thomas Paremakkal and Fr.Joseph Kariyattil made their travels to Portugal and Rome on the decision of the general body of the St.Thomas Christians taken at Angamaly for the purpose of informing the Pope and the Queen of Portugal of the various discriminations, sufferings and difficulties that this community experienced over a considerable period of time from the foreign Carmelite missionaries working in Kerala. As the general meeting of the representatives of this community at Angamaly was dominated by feelings of anger and animosity against the European religious missionaries and the European bishop working then in Kerala, the travelogue has anti-Europeanism as its basic thread, critiquing the hegemonic and colonial fabric of the Church set up by the European missionaries. Stressing the need for going back to the pre-Portuguese days when democratic institutions of yogams(representative body at the grass root-levels) mahayogams(representative bodies at higher levels) with jathikkukarthaviyan(head of the community) existed among this community for their administration, instead of one-man centered or European notion of bishop- centered administration, the travelogue challenges the notion of authority that the European missionaries had set up within the colonial fabric they newly created for the Church of the St.Thomas Christians.
Interestingly the narratives of this book, with copious accounts of hardships that the St.Thomas Christians had to face from the Church fabric set up by the European missionaries in Kerala, soon formed an inspiring literary device for this community in their later clamour for having Indian Catholic bishops for them instead of European bishops and also for reviving their age old liturgical traditions, customs and ritual practices. In the nineteenth century several copies of Varthamanapusthakam were made in hand-written form and circulated among the members of St.Thomas Christian community on a large scale inspiring them to work for their heritage preservation against the background of tamperings done by foreign missionaries. In the council of Verapoly that took place in the second half of nineteenth century, the missionary Church authorities even made an attempt to put this book on the Index in order to prevent the anti-missionary insinuations this book was then spreading2. However somehow it escaped their wrath and continued to be read on a large scale almost as a precious literary corpus comprising the magna carta of this community.
- 1. Paremakkel Thomakathanar, Varthamanapusthakam(Malayalam), edited by Thomas Moothedan( An English translation of the book was brought out by Placid Podipara as a publication from Oriental Institute, Rome, 1971), Ernakulam, 1977. [↩]
- 2. It is being told that some of the pages containing highly critical comments about the foreign missionaries were removed from the book by the then church authorities. [↩]
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