Knanaya History Mor Joseph of Urfa, a Syriac Orthodox Bishop had a startling dream in which he saw the plight of the Christian church in Malabar established by St. Thomas. 400 Assyrian-Jacobite Christians from 72 families of various Syro-Aramaic families boarded three ships from Edessa (or Urfa) in AD 345 and landed in Kodungalloor (Cranganore) on the Malabar coast under the leader ship of a prominent merchant Knai Thomman (Thomas the Zealot). The leading ship called "Babylonia" had three masts. The main mast flew King David's flag, the second mast flew the Roman flag with the cross and the third flew King Abgar of Edessa's flag.The then ruler of Malabr, Cheraman Perumal granted permission to engage in trade and settle down in Kodungallur. The group from seven clans (Bagi, Belkuth, Hadai, Kujalig, Koja, Mugmuth, and Thegmuth) known as Knanaites (Kanahi people) consisted of Bishop Mor Joseph of Urfa and other bishops and deacons with instructions from the Patriarch of Antioch Mor Yusthedius. They build a town in Kodungalloor called Mahadevar Pattanam meaning "town of superiors" with a church and 72 houses. The arrival of Knai Thoma and his people (Knananites) re-established the Church founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in India. Cheruman Perumal bestowed Knai Thoma and his people 72 princely privileges there by elevating them over 17 castes. Until 9th century A.D the Knanaya Community stayed in Mahadevar town in Cranganore and thereafter they slowly began to settle down in the ancient trade centers of Kerala.Â Â During the battle between Kozhikode (Calicut) and Cochin in 1524, churches and the synagogues were destroyed . Christians and Jews moved south to places like Udayamperoor, Mulamthuruthy and Kaduthuruthy. Eventually the Jews settled in Cochin and majority of the Knanaites (Jews) established their colony in Kaduthuruthy. The Raja (King) of Vadakkankoor was very pleased with the arrival of Knanaites to Kaduthuruthy. They built their church in Kaduthuruthy in 1556. By the 16th century they moved to Udemperoor, Mulandthuruti, Kaduthuruthi, Kottayam, Chigavanam and Kallissery where they built churches.
The Syrian Church prospered until the arrival of the Portuguese during the 15th Century. The Portuguese tried to eradicate the Syrian rites and replace them with the Latin rites. In 1599, the Portuguese (Archbishop Menesis of Goa) assembled a synod at Udayamperoor and by force, changed the Syrian teachings existed since the arrival of the Knanaites. Archbishop Menesis and his successors were able to convert some Syrians with their power and money. However, a group under the leadership of a Knanaya priest, Anjilimmoottil Ittythomman Kathanar (Rev. Itty Thomas), resisted the Portuguese during the middle of the 17th Century. Under his leadership, approximately 25,000 Syrian Christians assembled in Mattancherry (near Cochin) and pledged that they will not accept the Latin teachings. The oath, known as bent cross (coonan kurisu), took place in January 1653 when the Syrians heard that their Patriarch, Ahathallah, was drowned by the Portuguese. After the bent cross, the Syrian church split in to two. The group led by Mar Thomas Arkadion of Pakalomattom and Ittythomman Kathanar continued to follow the Syrian faith while the other group accepted the Roman faith. Mor Joseph Pulikkottil's time (second half of the 19th Century) was probably the "Golden Era" in the Malankara Syrian church history. His love and respect for Knanaites were evident in having three Knanaites in his administration.
Knanaya mariage custom
This is an initial agreement and engagement in which are involved not only the spouses, but also their parental relatives. Betrothal itself is called Othu Kalyanam which is indicative of the clasping of hands by the paternal uncles of both the fiancé and of the fiancée in the presence of the priest celebrant in the church. The idea is that paternal uncles take up the responsibility to arrange for the marriage according to the agreement made at that time. It is to respect the responsible elders and to stress the idea of the entering into the family relationship. It means that not just the father but also all the close relatives of the couple are earnestly and whole heatedly involved in the new relationship.
br/> Ichappad Kodukkal
Once the groom re-enters the pandal after bath, his sister brings Ichappad (white rice pudding and jaggery) and an elder in his father’s line will, after having obtained permission from assembly give him Ichappad three times. This is a symbol of sumptuous and sweet life.
At the entering into the marriage pandal, prepared in front of the house, the mother of the bridegroom solemnly welcomes the newly wedded. The sister of the bridegroom holds a lighted brass lamp in one hand and a bowl in the other. The bowl contains water, paddy and palm leaf pieces, which are symbolic of purification and fertility. The mother makes the sign of the cross three times on the forehead of the newlywed couple with a wet piece of palm leaf (blessed on Palm Sunday) taken from the bowl held by the groom’s sister.
After the blessing the bride’s mother, maternal grandmother, and maternal uncle give the Thazhukal. The ceremony consists of a symbolic embrace, touching with hands below the thighs, giving assurance of continued support and protection by the elders to the newly wed people. It is also a ceremony using a new piece of cloth given to bride's relatives as a gift by the groom's party (Usually to bride's mother, grandmother, and maternal uncle/aunt).
This is one of the privileges granted to the Knanaya Christians by the King Cheraman Perumal. According to the tradition, the bride and groom will ride on the elephant. Playing of various musical instruments like Pancha Vadhyam, and drums, special silken umbrellas (Thazha Kuda); various types of cheering like Kurava and Nada Vili etc. makes the wedding procession a solemn event. Nada Nada Nada given to the bride and bridegroom while going home from the church after the marriage. Mailanchi Ideel
On the eve of the marriage there is a ceremony at the home of the bride in which the bride’s palm of the hand, feet and the nails are smeared with a special yellow ointment called Mailanchi. The ointment is made up of the leaves of henna plant. The Knanaya bride comes to the Pandal accompanied by her elder sister and she is seated in front of her grandmother, who smears mailanchi on her palms and feet. The main purpose of this function is to beautify the girl, the song which accompanies the ceremony gives, a biblical meaning to it. This signifies since Eve plucked the forbidden fruit with her hands, the palms are smeared. With her legs she approached the forbidden fruit to eat it, her feet are smeared. This ceremony of purification of palms and feet reminds us the original sin committed by the first couples, Adam and Eve.
The main symbol of marriage for Christians is the tying of Thali by the bridegroom around the neck of the bride. Thali is a small gold medal with a sign of the cross embossed on it for Christians. Knanaya Thali will have 21 small buds embossed in the form of a cross, and so it distinguishes from Thalies of other Christians and non-Christians. Using of a thread made up of seven yarns taken from the bridal veil, for the tying of thali.
In the pandal, the mother of the bride asks and obtains permission from the assembly to give a blessing to the couple. Then standing in front of the couple, she places her arms crosswise, right palm on the head of the bridegroom and left palm on the head of bride, seated to his left. At this time the ladies sing: “I give my benediction to you, so that you, your husband and your children may live long life....”. The rite of giving God's blessing to bride and groom by the mother/maternal aunt/elder sister of bride by placing her hands in the form of a cross on their heads.
On the eve of the marriage, the groom’s face is ceremoniously shaved by the barber in the pandal in the presence of the assembled. It is called Chantham Charthal which means beautifying. The barber asks formal permission from the assembly reminding them of their protective rights over seventeen castes, a privilege granted by King Cheraman Perumal. “I ask the gentlemen here who are protectors of 17 castes: May I shave the bridegroom? He has to ask this three times. After getting the consent of the assembled the barber shaves the groom’s face and takes him out to apply oil on his head and give him bath. All the time, the assembly goes on singing the ancient songs related to this ceremony. After this ceremony the boy will called bridegroom.
Milk with sliced fruits is brought to the couple in a cup and they both drink from the same. In the context, milk is symbolic of purity and the fruits symbolic of sacrificial offering.
Knanaya dressing has a great traditional background. Women wear a special type of dress called chatta and mundu and men wear another special dress called mundu and thorthu. Even now aged people wear the same. These dresses are wear while playing the traditional festival called Margakali. It is a dance form very famous in kerala. It is played by both men and women. It is now not only played by knanaya but also all christians. There are different traditions on the origin of Margamkali. Few of them are 1. It is derived from the early forms of thiruvathira kali 2. It is derived from Sangam kali and the martial arts dance form parichamuttu kali. 3. It is an art form originated among the Knanaya christians while they were settled in Kodungallur during the 16th century and they used it as a mean of preaching the greatness of Christ and St.Thomas to non-christians in the southern towns such as Kottayam to convert them into Christianity. "Margam" means path or way or solution in Malayalam, but in the religious context it is known as the path to attain salvation. The process of one converting to Christianity was known as "Margam Koodal" till recently in Kerala. Find more music like this on EDAYAN