Monday, November 30, 2009

Pothakalan Vilai

Pothakalanvilai is a shining parish in the Diocese of Tuticorin. It is situated in Sasthavi Nallur Panchayat, Sathankulam Taluk, Thoothukudi District, India. The postal code is 628702.

People of this place were Palmyra tapers. While some of the people were primarily Palmyra tapping, some others were processing the juice obtained from Palmyra tapping. They were all Nadar by caste. There were frequent fights between the Palmyra tapers and its juice processors. There were allegations that the Palmyra tapers did the hard works and the juice processors did less works. The juice processors had the control of money flow. They gave less money to the tapers for juice and received high amount from the buyers for their processing.

The present Tamilnadu and Kerala were once united and this undivided region was called Malabar. It is also said that the Tamil speaking area was called Malabar.

Presence of St. Thomas:

St. Thomas, the apostle of Jesus Christ, came to India, via Bolan Pass. The Bolan was the original access into India, until superseded by the Khyber Pass, and provided a trade route to Central Asian merchants and Afghani traders.

There is an interesting story about how St. Thomas came to India. There was a king called Gundaphoros in Punjab area. He wanted a multi talented person who can construct a beautiful palace for him. Hence he sent out a merchant to Jerusalem to fetch a suitable person. Thus Abbanes landed in Jerusalam looking for a suitable person.

At this time the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ were in Jerusalem. They were Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James of Alphæus and Simon the Cananæan; and Judas of James. They portioned out the regions of the world, in order that each one of them might go into the region that fell to him, and to the nation to which the Lord Jesus sent him. By lot, then, India fell to St. Thomas.

Thomas did not wish to go, saying that he was not able to go on account of the weakness of the flesh; and how can I, being an Hebrew man, go among the Indians to proclaim the truth? And while he was thus reasoning and speaking, the Saviour appeared to him through the night, and said to him: Fear not, Thomas; go away to India, and proclaim the word; for my grace shall be with you. But he did not obey, saying: Wherever You wish to send me, send me elsewhere; for to the Indians I am not going

And as he was thus growing angry, there came Abbanes, sent by king Gundaphoros, And the Lord Jesus Christ, having seen him walking about in the market at noon, said to him: Do you wish to buy a carpenter? And he said to Him: Yes. And the Lord said to him: I have a slave a carpenter, and I wish to sell him. And having said this, He showed him Thomas at a distance, and agreed with him for three pounds of uncoined silver; and He wrote a bill of sale, saying: I Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter, declare that I have sold my slave, Judas by name, to you Abbanes, a merchant of Gundaphoros, the king of the Indians. And the purchase being completed, the Saviour taking Judas, who also is Thomas, led him to Abbanes the merchant; and Abbanes seeing him, said to him: Is this your master? And the apostle answered and said: Yes, He is my Lord. And he says: I have bought you from him. And the apostle held his peace

And at dawn of the following day, the apostle having prayed and entreated the Lord, said: I go wherever You wish, O Lord Jesus; Your will be done. And he went to Abbanes the merchant, carrying nothing at all with him, but only his price. For the Lord had given it to him, saying: Let your worth also be with you along with my grace, wherever you may go. And thus the apostle came up with Abbanes,

St. Thomas traveled a lot throughout the Malabar region preaching Jesus Christ. The ancestors of this place were baptized by St. Thomas. They embraced Christianity not because they knew Christ, but because they could see the divine spark in the life of St. Thomas. It was something new and beyond their grasp to put them into words. After St. Thomas, there is a big gap in the church history. It is because of the invasion of Aryans who destroyed the valuable records. Though the people professed their faith in Jesus Christ, they were not aware of the teachings of their structural religion.

Missionaries and Traders:

Then, some priests came preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. The arrival of Portuguese traders paved the way to the preachers of Christianity to go around Malabar region. Particularly the priests of Holy Family Society came and tried to catechize the people. It did not bear fruit up to their expectation.

More People at Pothakalan vilai:

Meanwhile a number of people from the present Kerala region moved to the present Tamilnadu region. They mingled with the people of Pothakalan Vilai as their job was also Palmyra tapping and were Nadar by caste. Their presence enhanced the industry of Palmyra Juice processing. Since the native Palmyra Juice Processors looked cheaters for a long, the Palmyra tapers revolted and the Juice Processors had to flee to other areas for life.

The people from Kerala region had a comfortable living at Pothakalan Vilai. In the course of time revolt erupted again between the natives and the settlers. Some of the settlers had to flee and some others made peace with the natives and remained at Pothakalan Vilai.

Meanwhile the descendants of Juice processors who left Pothakalan Vilai and settled in coastal areas due to in fights, started fish selling business in Pothakalan Vilai. The residents of Pothakalan Vilai welcomed the descendants of Juice Processors very happily. It was like receiving a lost brother into a family. It was surprising to the people of native land to see their brothers coming back with some strange names and habits. When inquired they came out with different stories. They spoke about their enslavement to certain group of people and their liberation and baptism by St. Francis Xavier. It was thrilling information. Since they had better knowledge on Jesus Christ and Christianity due to the preaching of St. Francis Xavier, the native people submitted themselves to the directions of their brothers who have come with new life and vision.

Gnanaprakasiyar Church and Kurusady:

As the community grew big, they felt the need of putting up a hall for worship. They dedicated the church to St. Aloysius. In Tamil St. Aloysius is known as Gnanaprakasiyar. In front of the church they constructed a “Kurusady” to honour St. Joseph, husband of mother Mary.

The native Christian Nadar community and the Christian Nadar community that had made reentry after receiving baptism from St. Francis Xavier were very enthusiastic in the church related activities.

Pulls from Protestants:

Mean while some Protestants came and tried to win over the Catholics to their side as they had put up a new settlement towards the north of Pothakalan Vilai. That settlement was known as Muthalur as it was the first Protestants settlement of newly converted people to Christianity. This settlement was made by Mr. Sundaranantham David. Their attempt to get the people of Pothakalan Vilai to their side was strongly resisted.

Meaningful Celebrations:

In order to keep the people united and happy the people of Pothakalan Vilai wanted to have a big car “Their Sapparam” to celebrate the feast of the Betrothal of Holy Mary to St. Jooseph.

More people from the coastal area came in. Due to the increase in population, they converted the church dedicated to St. Aloysius to a Car Shed and constructed another church. This church was dedicated to our lady. Right from the beginning, the church was called in memory of the betrothal of Mother Mary. Hence later on the church was known as in Tamil "Kalyana Matha Church" The word "Thiru" is an adjective that is used before the name of a person who is respected. Thus Kalyana Matha is called now "Thirukalyana Matha" (Our Lady of Matrimony).

People were happy. They continued to be ardent Catholics gathering in the church for worship. They had a common ground to bury the dead and eructed monumental structures over that. Even now it could be seen in the burial place those old monuments. They bear the names received after their baptism from St. Francis Xavier.

Occupations :

Agricultural activities were their main activities. Works like Palmyra taping, Palmyra juice processing, goat rearing and farming were flourishing. Some were involved in construction works too.

People Scattered :

Economically they were sound. But trouble started again. Those who received baptism from St. Francis Xavier and had a taste on fish aligned works left their properties in Pothakalan Vilai and went again towards coastal areas due to some in fights.

In 17th century Thommai Antony Nadar left Pothakalan Vilai and settled at Puliyampatty where he planted a worshiping place in honour of St. Antony. And this has now grown into a Shrine where people from everywhere flock and receive God’s grace.

New Parish Pothakalan Vilai:

Then came priests from the Society of Jesus on the footsteps of St. Francis Xavier. In 1914 Pothakalanvilai, with 800 Catholics, was one of the 9 substations of Sokkankudiyiruppu. In 1935 it was made an independent parish with Navamudalur, Kolunthattu and Valathur as its substations. Fr. Pancar became the first parish priest.

Even before the inception of the parish, on the 23 rd of January 1924, Bishop Roche laid foundation for a new church. Fr. D. Mascaranhas took effort to complete the construction works as early as possible as years were passing just like that. Since some people, who left Pothakalan Vilai long back, were in Manapad, Fr. Mascaranhas considered it worth to get some help from the people of Manapad. They were very happy to do this help. But they put forward a condition. “Since our ancestors were from Pothakalan Vilai, we are ready to construct a church at Pothakalan Vilai. But it should be a monument of our origin at Pothakalan Vilai. Hence it should bear our names.”

Fr. Mascaranas could not subscribe to this idea. He was of the opinion that a place of worship should not be a place to advertise any human aspirations. So, Fr. Mascaranas with his people from Pothakalan Vilai returned trusting in god’s guidance. Hence the construction works continued during the period of Fr.Siluvai Antony. Due to unknown factors there appeared some cracks on the walls of the church building and there was no hope of continuing the construction works. Miraculously Fr. Lourdumani took a bold step of batching up the cracks and continued the construction works. With his architectural knowledge he built the dome and almost completed the construction works. During the time of Fr. Alphonse Maria Kagoo, Bishop Thomas consecrated the church on the 23rd of January 1971.

Pothakalanvilai has given three priests to the service of God and humanity. Fr. John Bosco is the first priest from Pothakalan Vilai. He was ordained priest on the 21st May, 1984. Then came Fr. Siluvai Thangam and Fr. Denzil Raja. There are number of religious nuns from Pothakalan Vilai serving in different places. They are Sr. Lukas, Sr. Ponipas, Sr. Mercy, Sr. Flora, Sr. Jesintha, Sr. Josephin Pokisam, Sr. Catharin Nirmala, Sr. Pemila, Sr. Mallika, Sr. Megella, Sr. Gabriel Lisinal, and Sr. Victy. The following nuns are already with the heavenly Father. Sr. Deva Nesam who is the first nun from Pothakalan Vilai. Sr.Micheal, Sr. Alija Mary and Sr. Susanna are also with the heavenly Father.

Fr. Stalin Joseph is the fourth priest from Pothakalanvilai. He was ordained on the 26th December 2011 at Pothakalanvilai. The Catholic Church welcomes him with great expectation and pray for him for his fruitful ministry.

Fr. John Bosco.