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History of the Adangapurathu Family - Part I

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The history of the Adangapurathu family is based on a combination of oral history/tradition - word of mouth passed from generation to generation - and documented evidence which still exists to this day.

The authenticity of the oral history - although having limited documentation - does have the advantage that the source of the information - AG Joseph Panicker - was by nature a man not given to tall stories unless backed up with more than a modicum of truth. The bulk of this anecdotal history is outlined in AG Joseph's book "Adangapurathu Kudumbhom" which he gathered in his teens and early 20's and put into writing in his late 70's, and finally published when he was 80. In the last two decades of his life he would narrate some of these anecdotes to his children in conversations which were more akin to monologues since his children, had, at that time, only limited interest in hearing these stories. His youngest son, Eapen Joseph Panicker (Peter) was privy to many of these conversations - being the only son who actually lived close to him during the time of its writing. As he put it: "unlike my father I did not have the same degree of patience or interest to engage in discussion - an irretrievable loss."

Early History - Mainly Anecdotal

Krishnan Bhattathiri & Devu

The story begins around the 15th Century in the region of present day Ernakulam, north of Vaikom in a village called Chempu. There lived an eminent man whose name was Kishan (Krishnan) Bhattathiri, a scholar, learned in the Vedas and also a master in the martial art of Kalaripayattu. He was married to the daughter of the brother of the Raja of Edappally, who ruled over tracts of land, not contiguous, which stretched from parts of present day Haripad and Karthikapally up to Kalloopara. This is probably due to the fact that all the lands that the Edappally Raja possessed was given to the family by Cheraman Perumal, the last of the Chera rulers when he abdicated his throne. The Edappally Royal family are considered to be one of only two ruling Brahmin families in Kerala, and since Bhattathiri indicates he was a Nampoothiri, a brahmin sub-caste it would have been a conventional match.

At the time the Raja was having a lot of problems controlling one of the most important parts of his kingdom, Kalloopara Pakuthy (Region). A group of warring chieftains called the Kovilans had seized tracts of his lands in Kalloopara and were posed to take over much more. Times were hard for the Edapally Raja and he turned to his niece's husband Bhattathiri, in recognition of his martial arts skills, to command an army headed for the region 100 miles south-east of Edappally. This, Krishnan Bhattathiri accomplished with ease mainly because of his guile and understanding of how to cultivate allies. He routed out the Kovilans with the help of some prominent local families who until then had collaborated with the Kovilans in the rebellion against the Raja. For their help, Bhattathiri made sure that these families, all Hindu Nairs', were suitably rewarded with titles and large tracts of property. Those families - or at least the names of those family houses - are still in existence in and around Kalloopara. AG Joseph Panicker has outlined the fate of the families in greater detail in his book.

Krishnan Bhattathiri's wife, Devu or Devukutty, was wealthy being the daughter of royalty, and wished to remain in Edappally rather than join her husband to live in Chempu. This he agreed to do especially since his stature had grown after the Kalloopara triumph and the Raja consulted him on various matters of state.

Sri Devi's Illness & Her Miraculous Cure

Shortly thereafter, a son was born to them, but died when he was two because of a mysterious illness. After a few years the couple had a daughter born to them and when the girl, Sridevi, was eight, she contracted the same illness that had caused her brother's death. Her health got progressively worse by the day, plunging the parents into deep sorrow and despair. They tried all the means they had at their disposal - medicines from far and wide, offerings to various gods and goddesses, mantras - all to no avail, as their daughter was close to death. It was then mentioned to them the existence of a Nasrani (Nazarene or Christian) Munni(sage) who resided in Angamali a town close by, who was rumored to have cured the incurable, performed miracles in healing with prayers to his god.

Christianity at that time was confined to enclaves or communities and a few dedicated men did any proselytizing. This seemed to be Bhattathiri and Devu's last chance in saving their child and so they made the trip to Angamali. The holy man they sought, seeing that Sridevi was very sick placed his hand on her head and invoked the intercessional prayers of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He also inscribed a prayer for them on an Olla (leaf from a palm tree), which he instructed Sridevi to read and pray several times a day. He promised her that this would be her salvation and she would be completely cured of her illness. Sridevi followed the holy man's advice and chanted the prayers as often as she could . The results were miraculous, her illness began to abate and in time it disappeared all together. This also signaled the birth of a Christian family, which has survived several hundred years.

The constant chant to Maria (Mary) began to attract notice in the palace and also to noblemen who were close to the Raja and caused friction between them and the Bhattathiri family. As a result Bhattathiri and Devu became more isolated and were not invited to religious and social functions and as time went by they found it increasingly difficult to continue to live in that community. Even the Raja had to defer to his subjects criticism, because of Sridevi's apparent conversion to Christianity. For a period of time, maybe two years, Sridevi and her parents suffered the hostility and insults of people who lived in and around the palace. It only served to strengthen Sridevi's faith though there is no evidence that she was baptized or joined a Christian congregation of any sort - at least at that time.

Devu, Bhattathiri and Sridevi moved to Chempu the village from where Bhattathiri came from to the house of his ancestors called Kulashekaramangalam Illom. ("Illom" is what a brahmin's house is called). The return was painful since after years of neglect the Illom was in a state of disrepair. Bhattathiri's properties had been appropriated by his relatives. The family who had lived the royal life was now going through times of great need economically and socially. Sridevi practiced her faith and the parents were thankful for their daughter's good health. And so the years went by............

Edappally Raja's Visit

One year, while Bhattathiri was away from home attending the Vaikom Ashtami festival (Ashtami is a phase of the moon and has significance in the Hindu calendar) the Raja of Edappally was forced to stop over in the village of Chempu. The heavy monsoon rains had caused the river to flood and slowed their progress to Vaikom - in those days most of the long distance travel was done by boat. It was evening and his accompanying noblemen made enquiries as to whether there was a brahmin household where he could spend the night. Someone mentioned the house of Kulashekaramangalam Illom and since this Raja was the son of the benefactor of Bhattathiri, the name struck no particular significance to him. As it grew dark they arrived at Krishnan Bhattathiri's house, Devu and her daughter Sridevi were the only ones present there. He accepted their hospitality with some reluctance, since there were only women folk in the house. The only information about the family that was given to the Raja was that the man of the house was not present and he did not enquire any further, and glad that he could rest after a tiring journey. However, when Sridevi started her chanting and praying they felt that they had mistakenly arrived at a house of a Christian family. Without further ado, they quietly departed to another brahmin house in the village.

This incident triggered remorse on Devu's part since she felt that it was some shortcoming on her part that the guests left abruptly. It also sparked familial ties and loyalty in the Raja when he realized that they were related, Devu was his first cousin coupled with the fact that Bhattathiri had come to this plight despite his services to save a part of the kingdom. Furthermore he did not have the feelings of animosity that the rest of the brahmins did, and considered Sridevi's worship of Mary acceptable. To him Mary was just another manifestation of a goddess, such as Lakshmi or Parvathi. All of which weighed on the Raja and he decided to help them with whatever resources he had.

Around that time the home of a wealthy family called Tharamel Illom in Kalloopara Pakuthy, was left unoccupied because the last surviving member who had lived there had died without a successor and so by default the house and all properties went to the Raja. Word was sent out to Bhattathiri and his family informing them that this, and all accompanying properties was theirs for the taking. Bhattathiri was reluctant to leave Chempu but pragmatist that he was, decided that it was, in the circumstances, the best course of action. The Illom came "packaged", with precious stones, gold and expensive copper utensils, all of which they inherited. The family moved to a place, far from their roots where their destiny was going to take a very interesting turn.

Sri Devi's Marriage & Conversion

As Sridevi reached the marriageable age the search for a bridegroom commenced. The problem was that she could not find a suitable Namboothiri bridegroom who was willing to marry a girl who would pray exclusively to Mary and recite only Christian prayers. Bhattathiri appealed to the Raja of Edappally for help. The Raja made enquiries and found out that there were brahmin converts in Kodungallur, north of Edappally, who traced their antecedents to the time of St.Thomas in 52 A.D. The family who he arranged a match for Sridevi was called the Pakalomittom family who actually had a priestly tradition, again dating back to the time of Thomas the Apostle. They were not willing to marry their son to Sridevi only because Bhattathiri was insistent that whoever married his daughter should move to Kalloopara. He finally found a young man called Avira (Abram) from the family of Sankarapuri. This family too prided themselves in having had at least one person within each generation since the time of their conversion who had become a priest. Devu and Bhattathiri agreed for the wedding to take place in Angamali officiated by the Archdeacon. Sridevi was baptized and took the name of Maria - a natural choice given her faith in Mary. The young couple moved to a house close by to Sridevi's parents called Moolamannil in present day Puramattom, where they lived for awhile.

The fact that Bhattathiri's daughter changed faith did nothing to affect his standing with the Raja of Edappally. His services in securing Kalloppara Pakuthy for the Raja, were further recognized and he was awarded the title of "Senior Panicker" and was considered the head of several Kalaripayattu schools. Also in the Raja's absence he was the de facto ruler, or governor. His friendship and close relationship with the Raja was the reason why whenever the ruler visited Kalloopara he would play chess at the Kullipurra Malika (Bathing Tower) overlooking the Manimala river. In fact, the story goes that it was during one of these sessions that the idea of building Kalloopara Valiapally ("Cathedral" in Western parlance) was conceived.

As time went by, Avirah and Sridevi (or Maria as she was now known) wanted to move to a bigger house with more conveniences and centrally placed. When Sridevi approached her father about it, the matter was taken up with the Raja. They found a place which belonged to a Nair family called Idacheril. Even if there was any opposition from that family or any of the Nair families around since it was the wish of the Raja, the matter ended there. The young couple were moved to a house on a property called Adangapurathu, which was located between the families of Idacheril and Mecheril.

At this point there is a gap in the history of the family. For almost 300 years nothing has been documented as to what happened to Avira and Maria's descendents. One can only conjecture that the Adangapurathu family powerful as they were and given their connections, would have had both an administrative role in local affairs as well as a priestly role in the Kalloopara church. However from around 1400 to 1700 or so the only documents in our possession, which may date from the time of the East India company, are the ones that we have in the Valia Purra (Old House). Recently the images from these inscriptions were copied to disk and from what the historian, Professor Alex Mathew conjectures, they included accounts of timber trading that was carried out during the time. A closer analysis of the Olla (palm leaf) inscriptions may actually reveal their age.

Family History Part II: Documented Past History




Birthdays & Anniversaries

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