The Early History and the Christian Origin of the Chengannur Chittoor Family

 

Background

St. Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, traveled and preached the Gospel in the East after the resurrection of Christ.  He initially spread the Gospel at places like Mesopotamia and Persia, and established the early Catholic Throne of Selukia.  He then traveled by ship and reached the western coastal region of Kerala, India in 52 A.D.  He reached the port of Kodungalloor and started his gospel discourses.  He traveled south along the coastal region, performed many miracles and taught the locals the Christian way of life.  He baptized many people, and reached the place called Thiruvithamkod.  Thiruvithamkod is now part of Madras, and the Christian descendants of the early converts from the time of St. Thomas still live in that place practicing the Orthodox belief. 

St. Thomas then traveled north through mid-Kerala and formed local churches in the seven places, Kodungalloor (originally called ‘Maliankara’), Palayoor, Paravoor (Kotakavu), Kollam (Quilon), Niranam (Thrikapaleswaram), Nilackal (Chayal) and Kothamangalam (Kokamangalam).  He consecrated and appointed pastors and provided bylaws for these churches.  He then traveled to the place called Malayatoor and spent some time in meditating.  He passed through the north and preached gospel in Thrisiviperoor, Pattikadu and then went through the Sahyan Mountains and reached the places Aalathoor and Chittoor.  He then walked the narrow mountain pass of Palaghat and reached the neighboring Madras State and was murdered and buried in the place called Mylapoor. 

There are Christians still living now in the Melarkodu village of Aalathoor, who are believed to be the descendants of the early converts from the time of St. Thomas.  This place is now called the Catholica Therivu (R. C. Street).  Although the Christian descendants had lived in Chittoor until mid 18th century, none of these people currently reside there.  Many of those early Christian converts from Chittoor departed from the Christian faith as a result of Muslim invasion and forceful conversion to the Muslim faith.  This conversion primarily took place during the period of 1766 A.D. to 1784 A.D when Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan invaded and occupied the Malabar-Kochi area.  Finally in a summit in 1784 between Tippu Sultan, Thiruvithamcore (the southern half of the present Kerala State) King and the British, the Sultan was forced to leave north without getting a chance to conquer the southern region.

During the Muslim reign, several ardent Christian believers from Chittoor migrated to the Western region and then toward Thiruvithamcore for fear of torture and forceful conversion.  The history of this migration has been clearly recorded in the Kerala History.  One of these people who migrated from Chittoor at that time was Mr. Kunjumman Tharakan, who settled down in Chengannur, Thiruvithamcore.  The Chittoor family members are the descendants of Mr. Kunjumman Tharakan.

 

Kunjumman Tharakan’s migration from Chittoor to Chengannur

Kunjumman Tharakan (#1) was born in 1757 in North Kerala in the place called Chittoor in a Christian family.  At that time Chittoor was governed by the King of Palaghat who was followed by the King of Kochi, and later on included in the State of Kerala.  After his basic high school education Kunjumman took farming and business as his profession.  He was settled in Chittoor with his wife who was also a Christian woman from the same town.  In 1785, Tippu Sultan, a belligerent ruler of the province of Mysore, invaded North Kerala, murdered several local residents and looted their valuables.  Besides, he began to forcefully convert people to the Muslim faith.  To escape the torture by Tippu, several people fled the area and migrated south to the Thiruvithamcore province.  Kunjumman Tharakan and his wife, with their strong Christian faith, were among those who had decided to run away from Chittoor.  They traveled southward and reached Chengannur, Kerala.  They got the permission from the local ruler, the Vanjippuzham Thampuran to buy a small plot of land east of the Chengannur Temple.  They built a small house and settled down there.  He named the house Chittoor based on the name of the place he came from.  His residence was also called by the neighbors ‘Tharakantangu’ (the place of Tharakan). 

 

Kunjumman starting a small business for living

As Kunjumman ran away from his native place and could not inherit any assets from his parents, and as all his folks migrated and got spread around in different places, he was all alone and financially in great difficulty, and therefore he had to build up everything from the scratch.  To meet his daily needs, he started a small grocery business in his house.  As he was known to be a Brahmin descendant and was a very honest and righteous gentleman, the neighbors treated him with utmost respect and supported his business in different ways.

 

The myth behind the virtue of having a Christian family near a temple

At the time of Kunjumman, there existed the custom of untouchability in Kerala (an ‘untouchable’ is a person belonging to the lowest castes such as ‘Pulayar’, ‘Parayar’ etc).  Although it may sound weird now, at that time, there existed many myths based on caste and religion.  There was this one belief among the Hindus that if an untouchable happens to touch or even come close to an offering being taken to the temple, that offering would become impure and unholy.  One could then sanctify the offering defiled by the untouchable by having a Christian touch it.  The existence of this myth is supported by an ancient Kerala proverb saying “sacred belongings if becomes unholy, a touch by Poulose (St. Paul, who is symbolized here as a Christian) sanctifies them”.  The reason for the local ruler to allow a Christian family to settle down so close to the temple was said to be because of the insistence by the local people around the temple, based on this myth of Christian cleansing of a temple offering.  Nonetheless, there are no recorded historical evidences available to support the truthfulness behind the existence of this story.

 

Kunjumman’s membership in the local Syrian Christian Church

Kunjumman joined the local Syrian Christian church in Chengannur.  However, among the church members, he considered himself as an ‘Inangar’ or ‘Murikar’ in order to make a distinction from the other members of the church.  The reason or advantage of choosing this distinction is not evident, but it is possible that he wanted to be considered as intellectually and morally superior.  Even now the ‘Inangars’ or ‘Murikars’ are considered independent entities of the church, just as the people belonging to the ‘Knanaya’group who consider themselves as an independent body of the Catholic Church.  Because Kunjumman was an ‘Inangar’ with lots of demonstrated virtues such as his admirable humility and courteousness, his intelligence and hardworking nature, a man of only a few words, he had received ample respect as well as great appreciation from the church members.

Kunjumman fathered five male children, who were all born in Chengannur.  He went to be with the Lord in 1833 at the age of 76 and was buried in the Syrian Orthodox Church, Chengannur, Kerala. 

 

The descendants of Kunjumman and their Church membership

The descendants of the five children of Kunjumman are now hundreds of families spread all around the world.  It can be said with great pride that a majority of these people have excelled in many fields such as business, agriculture, science, medicine, law, education, politics, athletics, national defense, industry, and in multiple other fields.  At present there are probably over a 1000 members belonging to the Chittoor family spanning 8 generations, and many of these people hold envious and commendable positions.  Majority of these people are doing extremely well financially.

Until 1940, all the members of this firmly followed the Syrian Orthodox belief.  Then, for unknown reasons, a few joined the Catholic Church.  In addition, although until 1980 most of the members attended service at the Old Syrian Orthodox Church, due to the convenience and proximity to their residences, several families became members of local churches, such as the Bethel and the Perissery parishes.

 

The different family names of the descendants

The five children of Kunjumman Tharakan took up their family names as Chengazhath (#11), Panavelil, (#12), Kailath (#13), Kottapuzhakal (#14), and Chitoor (#15).  The descendants of these people chose additional family names and tags at different downstream branches, as shown below:

 

1. Chengazhath:

            Ettuvallil (#111).

            Amruthurpadinjareth (#11211); Patterumadathil (#11212); Vadakeparampil (#11213); Kacheriparampil (#11214).

            Chengazhath Puthenpurayil (#112111); Chempakasseril (#112122); Kalakat (#112152); Sathyanil (#112153).

            Gamaliyath (#112,112,1); Patterumadathil Thundiyil (#112,121,5); Grace Cottage (#112,131,1).

 

2. Panavelil:

            Panavelil Malayil (#12311); Panavelil Modiyil (#12314)

 

3. Kailath:

            Altharamoottil (#132); Muttathu (#133).

            Poovanneth (#1311); Parayaruparampil (#1312); Kalathrayil (#1321); Idiyanath (#1331); Poongottumadathil (#1333); Kadavilemadathil (#1334).

            Powaleth (#13111); Kailath Punthen Banglavu (#13112); Kulangarakal (#13121); Kailath Malayil (#13132); Kailath Banglavil (#13133); Mary Villa             (#13233); Mullelil (#13312).

            Kailath Hill View (#131122); Kalathra Padinjarethil (#132111); Kalathra Puthenpurayil (#132213).

 

4. Kottapuzhakal:

            Maniparampil (#142).

            Palavilayil (#1411); Maniparampil Puthenveettil (#1412).

            Marottivilayil (#14111); Palavilayil Valuparampil (#14112); Palavila Puthenveettil (#14113); Palavilatharayil (#14114).

 

5. Chittoor:

            Kadanthottil (#151); Vazhooreth (#152); Vadakedath (#153).

            Padinjare Vadakedath (#1532); Mavilithara (#1533); Kadakethuparampil (#1534); Idatharayil (#1535).

            Nadalikal (#15311).

            Thitharayil (#151111).