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1258 and Calicut

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Most people will veer off in different directions seeing this title. In fact one of the possible linkages that I will introduce is somewhat new and requires to be studied in depth by those interested. As you will see, stars crossed for some in different parts of the world, they proved to be better aligned for Calicut and its people.

The year 1258 was to prove to be of great significance to Calicut. In fact as the Mongol descendants of Genghis Khan roared into Baghdad on their horsebacks, the city of Calicut was perhaps not even well formed. The city was yet to be completed on well understood Vasthu principles. But as you all know, it would soon imprint its name on the world map, thanks to a number of enterprising Karimi traders and the need for spices around the world, not to forget many other lasting contributions by way of the spice trade with the East and the West.

Trade in Malabar and the areas south of Malabar, focusing on ports such as Muziris, Quilon and many others were originally controlled by some guilds notably Anjuvannam and Manigram. The former was composed mainly of Jewish and Christian traders whereas the latter was run by the Chettys of the Coromandel. The western traders had yet to make a large impact, but they were already established at Quilon and Muziris. Soon enough it had moved upwards to Calicut and a number of surrounding satellite ports following the move of the Nediyirippu swaroopam out of inland Ernad and their settling down at Calicut after a tussle with the Porlathiri’s (a story which I recounted earlier). The Zamorin rule quickly stabilized and he soon became the suzerain of the mid Malabar region. Why did the traders flock to the new port city during that time?

Interested readers might come up with questions about the Kulashekara’s of Mahodayapuram. Whatever happened to the famed Muziris and other related ports? How did the Kulashekara Empire disintegrate? Some years back, we looked at the story of the Cheraman Perumal and his leaving for Mecca. Whether he did that or move elsewhere like the mythical Kailasam is mired in historic myths and is not clear in anyway, but we will embark on collecting more details eventually, but before all that, let us stay on the topic of the formation of mercantile Calicut.

Well originally, the trade routed stretched from the Persian Gulf to Quilon and the key control was exerted from Baghdad. Once Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1258, the route heads changed to the Red Sea ports and were controlled out of Mamluk ruled Egypt. The Karimi merchants of Egypt (including the Genizah Jews) gained ascendance and they favored the Malabar ports, paramount among them being Calicut due to the strong and just rule of the Calicut Zamorin and the open trade facilities provided in the region by him. Equally important was the military strength the Zamorin could marshal to keep any usurpers at bay and the resulting stability to business this produced. Calicut as I mentioned in my Pragati article on medieval trade, was a medieval trade hub and soon the trading communities comprised the Karimis, Maghribhis, Bohras, Chettis and Vanias to name a few. Thus the importance of Calicut started with the decline of international trade emanating from the Persian Gulf after the Mongol conquest of Abbassid Baghdad (1258) and the concentration of the Al-Karimi at the port of Calicut.

Now let us move southwards and go to the events centered on the formation of the Cochin harbor, the island of Vypeen and what is called the Puthu Vaippu era. Vypeen (the Portuguese form of writing Vaippu) itself lying between Cochin and Kodungallur (Cranganore) is sixteen miles in length, three miles broad and was known as Puthu Vaippu. The various geographical changes which affected Cochin, Vypeen and Cranganore were apparently commemorated by what is called the Puthu Vaippu Era. Vypeen, also known as Puthu Vaippu (Puthu Vaipu, i.e. new formation or new deposit) and the people there commence an era from the date of its formation A.D. 1341. This phenomenon was responsible for opening a new harbor which is what we know as today's Kochi (Cochin) harbor loosely meaning Kochazhi or ‘small harbor’ (Kochangadi of the Jews is the place where the Jews first resided - clarified by Thoufeek).  As events played out, this new harbor would soon outdo Calicut, but it would take all of 500 plus years and the support of many a foreign nation, notable the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English, not to mention the internal rivalries between the Zamorin and the Cochin king which as we saw, these nation cleverly manipulated for their own good.

Back to 1341. How did this event take place? The north bank of the Cochin River is formed by the island of Vypeen, which is said to have been created in 1341 A.D. by a cyclone or earthquake. It is said that the island was formed by the deposits of silt brought down by the rivers discharging into the backwaters and sea. Elsewhere, it is said that the Periyar river mouth silted destroying the access from the sea and thus finishing off the trade which the port of Muziris conducted with many a country for eons. The Cochin royal family or the Perumbadapu swaroopm moved from Vanneri to Cochin with the support and permission of the Paliyath family, the real landlords of the region. Perhaps they to saw the opportunity of increasing seaborne trade, spilling out of Muziris and now suffering from the recent events. Some accounts even mention that there occurred a severe earthquake along the Kerala coast in 1341 due to which the Vypeen Island was raised above the sea level, and the Cochin bar mouth was formed. What could have been a more supportable fact?

Let me now veer away to some 100 years before the 1341 event and talk about a massive tropical volcanic eruption which shook the world in 1258. In fact, I was discussing the 1258 eruption and the British mass graves with esteemed blogger Nick Balmer and he asked a simple question as to what would have happened in Malabar at that very same time. This will perhaps be an attempted answer.

January 1258 – One of the largest volcanic eruptions of the Holocene epoch occurred, possibly from a 
tropical location such as Mount Rinjani, Indonesia, El Chichón, Mexico; or Quilotoa, Ecuador. Observed effects of the eruption include the following anecdotal accounts: dry fog in France; lunar eclipses in England; severe winter in Europe; a "harsh" spring in Northern Iceland; famine in England, Western Germany, France, and Northern Italy; and pestilence in London, parts of France, Austria, Iraq, Syria, and South-East Turkey. This event is still being studied and the previous locations as well as locations in Saudi Arabia were finally discounted and the present focus is at the Rinjani Volcano of Indonesia.The eruption was so big that it injected somewhere between 190-270 megatons of ash and other material into the atmosphere (or 300 and 600 megatons of sulfuric acid). This was one of the possible triggers to the little ice age.

The Muziris port reportedly silted up as the result of unusual flooding by the Periyar River in 1341 AD. What if the Tsunami of 1258 started the issue of the silting?? To check the veracity of all this we have to see how the mention of the 1341 flooding get substantiated.

A non-academic account mentions that geographical layout Cochin City as we know it today traces back to the great flood of 1341 CE, caused by a tsunami triggered by a gigantic undersea volcanic eruption (but is not referenced to any source). During this year the river Periyar flooded like never before (or after), and changed its course. The hitherto flourishing port of Cranganore silted up from the mud up-stream. Only that no such recorded volcanic eruption event took place in 1341. Perhaps there was a strong Pacific Rim earthquake and we will get to that soon.

How did 1341 become important in the annals of history? We know that the first synagogue was built by Jospeh Azar in 1344 after the Jews from Shingly arrived at Kochangadi. Many a book mentions the great Periyar flood of 1341. WW Hunter is the first to detail the connection between the flood and the Puthu vaippu era. He states ‘The date at which this island was formed by the action of the sea and river, a. d. 134 1, is sometimes used in deeds as the commencement of an era styled Puttuveppu (new deposit)’. Others mentioned ‘the floods in the river Periyar in 1341 choked the mouth of the Cranganore harbor and rendered it useless for purposes of trade’. Padmanabha Menon mentions this as an extraordinary flood which opened up an estuary. As you delve into the usual Malabar history sources you see mentions that the 1341 year had record monsoons resulting in the Periyar flood and the silting up of the harbor mouth.

The following extract is from Dr. Thomson's paper on the Geology of Bombay (Mad. Lit. Trans.) It bears directly on the subject, and carries us three centuries further back: I have not considered the description specific enough for the text, but fee no reason to doubt the authenticity of the fact:—" The Island of Vaypi, on the north side of Cochin, rose from out the sea in the year 1341: the date of its appearance is determined by its having given rise to a new era amongst the Hindoos, called Puduvepa, or the new introduction. Contemporaneously with the appearance of Vaypi the waters, which during the rainy season were discharged from the ghaut, broke through the banks of the channel which usually confined them, overwhelmed a village, and formed a lake and harbour so spacious that light ships could anchor where dry land formerly prevailed."—Bartolome's Voyage to the East Indies. Borne 1796 ; Translation 1800.

The geographic Survey of India Vol 132 mentions a severe earthquake in 1341 resulting in the floods. Bilhm’s paper on Earthquakes in India mentions thus - A storm near Cochin in 1341 caused an island to emerge, but inspection suggests this to be a common accretional feature of storms along the Malabar Coast (Bendick and Bilham, 1999).

Rajendran, Biju, Sreekumari and Kusala in their fine paper on Malabar earthquakes studies this in more detail and discounts the earthquake – Quoting them

Another glaring example is the oft-quoted Malabar Coast earthquake of A.D. 1341. The report by Ballore (1900), one of the earliest studies on seismic phenomenon in British India treats this event as “a severe earthquake” as a consequence of which Vypin ‘Island’, (referred in Newbold’s report as Waypi), was raised above the sea level. Newbold (1846) considers the 1341 catastrophe as a large storm, which brought about remarkable changes in the vicinity of Cochin,including the emergence of the new sand bar known by the name Vypin (see also Bendick and Bilham, 1999, for details),and consequently a new harbour. The critical evaluation of the available data suggests that the 1341 event was not an earthquake but a storm.

We have obtained independent evidence of flooding in the Bharathapuzha River basin that occurred sometime between A.D. 1269 and 1396. This probably represents the 1341 flood – a severe event that probably affected many river basins of Kerala.

Now we move eastwards to the 1258 Indonesian volcanic eruption suspect. We do know that there is a connection between earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. What if the 1258 eruption followed a massive undersea earthquake in the Pacific Rim? An earthquake which created the eruption could create a bad tsunami as we witnessed recently, the effects of which were felt with some severity on the South Malabar coastline. We know that such massive eruptions, especially near the sea level produce large Tsunamis. The question is if the Rinjani eruption produced a cataclysmic tsunami. Quite doubtful and occurring a hundred years before the recorded facts in Cochin. So let us move to Cochin and discount any effect of the eruption on the formation of Cochin

While we see some mention of a massive earthquake off Japan in 1341 we have no real details at hand. Perhaps that caused the tsunami which resulted in the silting events at Muziris and the formation of Vypeen, but then again we can conclude that there was no direct impact of the 1258 volcanic event on Malabar.

VKR Menon (History of medieval Kerala) is a person who studied the Putu vaipu Era and wrote about it. He believes that the start of an era in 1341 has nothing to do with the purported overnight formation of an island, but is related to the founding of the Vijayanagar dynasty instead. He concludes that in 1341, the Cochin raja entered into a treaty with Harihara of Vijayanagar (to keep away the Tughlaqs) and in order to pay the tribute imposed taxes for this purpose on his subjects, all for the first time in 1341. Therefore Pudu Viapu means ‘New foundation’, supporting this theory. What this alludes to is that the island was formed over time, that the silting occurred over time, and that the cause is not necessarily one severe event in 1341. He also makes it clear that such a disastrous calamity was never explicitly mentioned in temple records, or by Ibn Batuta or Feristah and so did not possibly occur.

Nevertheless, let us get back to 1258, the year without a summer. What impact did it have in Europe and the rest of the world? RB Stothers provides a summary of general effects as follows in his interesting paper, He explains - Tropical eruptions in modern times generate globe-girdling stratospheric aerosol veils (dry fogs) that persist for several years, slowly settling out. The aerosols block some of the incoming sunlight and alter atmospheric circulation patterns, and by these means cool much of the Earth’s surface. This temporary disturbance of the world’s climate, often involving increased precipitation, can adversely affect agriculture. Consequences may be a greater human susceptibility to famine and disease, leading ultimately to social and political unrest.

As an example in Britain -  During the four-year period 1258–1261, only the year 1258 fits this criterion of universality. The heavy summer and autumn rains in 1257 and 1258 ruined crops throughout England, western Germany, France, and northern Italy. Severe famine is explicitly attested in many localities, and can also be inferred elsewhere from the high prices of staple agricultural commodities. England was especially hard hit. Famine in the countryside drove thousands of villagers into London, where many of them perished from hunger. Richard of Cornwall, the king of Germany, was able to ship some grain from Germany and Holland into London to alleviate the distress of the poor who could afford to buy (Matthew Paris, 1259). The price of food throughout England rose, nonetheless, and eventually specie itself became in short supply, having been already depleted by heavy tax exactions at the hands of both the church and state. France had a similar situation. In England, the cold winter and spring of 1258 produced outbreaks of murrain in sheep, as well as various famine diseases within the human population, especially among the numerous urban paupers.

Soon the mass burials that were resorted to became the norm and until the 1258 eruption mystery was solved, historians accounted it to a plague epidemic, calling these burial pits as the plague pits which numbered upto some 18000 skeletons at Spitalfields.

But interestingly, the problem was equally severe in the Middle East. Stothers explains - Finally, in the Middle East the historian Bar-Hebraeus (1286) reports a famine during 1258 in the general region of Iraq, Syria, and southeastern Turkey. Nevertheless, this disaster may have been just one of the side effects of the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in that year, which brought about the end of the Abbasid caliphate. But what else other than the 1258 eruption could explain the arrival of pestilence in the Middle east. In the Middle East, there was also reported a great pestilence in 1258, affecting Iraq, Syria, and southeastern Turkey (Bar-Hebraeus, 1286). It was called ‘plague’ by the 14th century Syrian chronicler Abu l-Fid ¯ a’ (Dols, 1977), and was said to have been especially severe in Damascus; it is also mentioned by the 15th century Egyptian historian al-Maqrızı (von Kremer, 1880). Because the Middle East has been historically prone to epidemics of bubonic plague, possibly that is what it was.

Anyway the habitants of Baghdad were soon to see the ‘scourge of god’ or the khans of the Mongol. At around the same time as the eruption occurred in Indonesia, the Mongols led by Hulagu Khan swooped down astride their swift horses into Baghdad, sacking the city and pillaging it, to bring to an end the Islamic golden age. That Mongke, Hulagu’s brother planned this siege carefully since 1257 is clear, and the resulting massacre was so macabre that Hulagu himself moved his camp upwind of the city, due to the stench of decay from the ruined Baghdad. Tigris waters were red from the blood of the massacre, and the city of the Arabian nights was no more one.

"They swept through the city like hungry falcons attacking a flight of doves, or like raging wolves attacking sheep, with loose reins and shameless faces, murdering and spreading terror...beds and cushions made of gold and encrusted with jewels were cut to pieces with knives and torn to shreds. Those hiding behind the veils of the great Harem were dragged...through the streets and alleys, each of them becoming a the population died at the hands of the invaders." (Abdullah Wassaf as cited by David Morgan)

The Ayyubid head An-Nasir Yusuf at Damascus then sent a delegation to Hulegu asking for peace. Hulegu refused to accept the terms and so An-Nasir Yusuf called upon Cairo for aid. As it happened, this plea coincided with a successful coup by the Cairo-based Mamluks against the remaining symbolic Ayyubid leadership in Egypt. The Bahriyya Mamluks were soon in power in Cairo which became more prominent as a result and Cairo remained a Mamluk capital thereafter. As KM Mathew explains - Eventually the entrepreneurial activities of the Arab/Al-Karimi traders of Cairo, who were commercial allies of the Mamluk Egypt and gradually settled down in the city for the furtherance of their trade, favored the rise of Calicut as a prominent exchange center in the Indian Ocean region.

In summary, the events in the Middle East of course was a reason for the emergence and resulting maintenance of the trade links with Calicut. The Periyar floods that occurred around the same time resulted in the necessity of the move of trading ports northward from Muziris to a more stable area geographically and politically, thus resulting in the choice of Calicut. As this was happening, I would come to the conjecture that the worrisome situation in Europe and the Middle East owing to the 1258 volcanic eruption, resulted in increased export volumes and profitability, speeding up the maritime passages and numbers, which at one time were forays by smaller groups of Jewish traders like Abraham ben Yiju.

As you can imagine, Europe was in recovery mode - coming out of the horrible effects of the 1258 dry fog. This recovery needed larger amounts of spices, not just as a possible cure for pestilence but also to enhance preservation of smaller supplies of meat.

Soon larger convoys of merchant ships sailed the oceans, men and states became all the more richer, wars were fought and soon enough after Europe had recovered, brought in even bigger and greedier players like the Chinese, Portuguese, Danes and the English to the equation. It was as if nature itself had deemed that trade had to be conducted where the winds stopped and as we know, the monsoon winds stop at Malabar. The little spot on the world map named Calicut thus became the spice capital of the world. Soon the city and its trade areas were  teeming with Tamil Chettiars, Gujarati Vanias, Tunisian Jews, Karimi traders, Maghrabhi Arabs and Jews, Italians, Turks, Persians, African slaves, Chinese, various half castes, Malabar Moplahs, black Jews and Syrian Christians.

Interesting eh? How events from a particular year had so much to do with the people of a distant land- a place somewhat equidistant between the location of the catastrophic event and the locales teeming with sufferers, diametrically across! Mt Rinjani on Lombak Island these days is a picturesque site, and some adventurous visitors do climb up the mountain to take a look at this sleeping dragon. What next??

But then again these are perhaps the curious ways of the world or the mysterious ways by which it works…

Maritime Malabar and the Europeans 1500-1962 - edited by K. S. Mathew
Climatic and Demographic consequences of the massive volcanic eruption of 1258 – Richard B Stothers
Reassessing the Earthquake Hazard in Kerala Based on the Historical and Current Seismicity - C.P. Rajendran, Biju John, K.Sreekumari and Kusala Rajendran
History of Medieval Kerala – VKR Menon

Arnos Pathiri (Fr. John Earnest Hanxleden) in Malabar

Posted by Maddy

I started out on this subject some months ago, but drifted away into other topics. In the meantime, I got some great research material on the subject from my friend Bernard and finally after months of procrastination, got a little deeper into this subject covering yet another person who came to Malabar as a missionary and who then decided that to live here and to complete his mission, he had to learn the life, ways and the language of people so alien to his culture. In fact so deep did he get to it that he even created the very first dictionary of the Sanskrit Malayalam language in the early 18th century!

Some years ago I wrote about Robert Nobili and his contributions. He was certainly not the first for Beschi and Paulinus had worked with Sanskrit and had written some lengths of prose in it, with or without assistance. However the works of the person we will get to know in the succeeding paragraphs are still fondly remembered by a cross section of humanity living in Kerala. They are the works of Arnos Pathiri or Johan Ernst Hanxleden, a person of German origin.

How did he get to India and carry on with his mission? It all started in 1699 for the 18 year old Hanxleden, after his completion of philosophical studies. Fr William Weber was at that time touring Germany to find the right candidates for the new Jesuit mission planned at Calicut.  Weber was impressed with the earnest man, justly named Earnest and took him for further tests at Augsburg where he was provisionally accepted into the Society of Jesus. Little were the missionaries to know how difficult the days ahead were going to be. They set out for India in Oct 1699 by ship to Turkey, then by land through Persia and by sea from Bandar Abbas to India, all of which took a full year. His mentor Weber and a companion Fr Mayer died during this voyage and Kaspar Schillinger a barber was the only one left with Earnest when they reached Surat in Dec 1700. Hanxleden moved to Goa shortly thereafter and we come to know of many of these events from the diaries of Schillinger.

At Goa, Hanxleden joined the St Paul’s college for Jesuits and after completing his novitiate (period of training and preparation that a member of a religious institute has to undergo prior to taking vows, in order to discern whether he is indeed called to the religious life) proceeded to Kerala, the place he was destined to serve at. Proceeding to Ambazhakaad, he got formally ordained and started out with religious teaching of his subjects. But his real interest was language and literature and he soon moved to Pazhur, with an intention to learn Sanskrit.

During that period there existed a famous Sanskrit college in Trissur. That he learned Sanskrit at Trichur is clear and it was a center for such studies at that time. The Chovvannoor "Sabha Madam" was the seat for such studies, but Ernst had no admission there as a non-Brahmin. Somehow a couple of Brahmins were enticed with presents and brought to Pazhur and from them Hanxleden learnt Sanskrit and Malayalam off and on for a long period of 10 years. The Brahmins were perhaps named Kunjan and Krishnan according to PJ Thomas.

Hanxleden was a short and sickly person, and apparently inarticulate in speech, but was a master with his pen. We know a little bit of his life actually from Fr Paulinus’s (the famous Carmelite scholar) writings.By1708 he had associated with Archbishop Ribeiro of Cranganore and started his missionary work in the Trissur area and Calicut and by 1712 he had retired to Veilur. Around 1729 he moved back to Ambazhakad and Pazhur and in 1732, he breathed his last at Pazhur. Riberiro himself had a lot of problems establishing himself in Cranganore, for that was in Dutch hands at that time and so he had to operate from the Zamorin controlled Puthenchira area.

Various factions were then in existence and the St Thomas Christians were in the grip of the Padroado Propaganda rivalry. Interestingly the Propaganda supporter Ernest was still accepted by the Padroado Portuguese at Goa! At that point in time, the Jesuits under the Padroado and the Carmelites under the Propaganda were vying with each other for the control of the Christians of Kerala. Hanxleden naturally took the side of the Jesuit Archbishop of Cranganore and worked as his secretary. Hanxelden’s task was to wean the Malayalee Christians to the Ribeiro Catholic fold. To make matters worse, an East Syrian - Mar Gabriel landed on the scene. But let us get to the rivalry so as to understand it better.

When the Portuguese were the principal European colonizers in India their King accepted the burden of supporting missions in the East and received a Padroado monopoly or the patronage of these missions. As time passed and the power of the Portuguese in India was shaken, this arrangement became no longer suitable and the Dutch refused to tolerate a Portuguese priest within the Dutch territories and their various spheres of influence in India. The papal Propaganda was therefore compelled to send to India, missionaries of nationalities other than Portuguese. The Portuguese resented this and even disputed the power of the Pope. This dispute lasted for more than two hundred years and as historians detail, did much harm to Christian missions in India.

Visscher, in his Letters from Malabar, says:— "At present there are two Bishops, Mar Gabriel, and Mar Thomas, who do not agree well together, as each of them, especially the latter, claims authority over the other. Mar Gabriel, a white man and sent hither from Bagdad, is aged and venerable in appearance, and dresses nearly in the same fashion as the Jewish priests of old, wearing a cap fashioned like a turban and a long white beard. He is courteous and God-fearing and not at all addicted to extravagant pomp. Bound his neck he wears a golden crucifix. He lives with the utmost sobriety, abstaining from animal food. He holds the Nestorian doctrine respecting the union of the two natures in our Saviour's person. Mar Thomas, the other bishop is a Native of Malabar. He is dull and slow of understanding. He lives in great state; and when he came into the city to visit the Commandeur, he was attended by a number of soldiers bearing swords and shields, in imitation of the Princes of Malabar. He wears on his head a silken cowle, embroidered with crosses, in form much resembling that of the Carmelites. He is a weak minded rhodomontader and boasted greatly to us of being a Eutychian in his creed, accusing the rival bishop of heresy. According to his own account, he has forty-five churches under his authority the remainder adhering to Bishop Gabriel."

It appears Hanxelden was not too successful in his evangelization efforts. He moved on to Chetuva, Muthedath, then to Calicut finally returned to Velur where he built a chapel and took up residence and eventually started writing. Hanxleden, then became the vicar of St. Francis Forane Church Velur, which, according to many, was established by him. As per the legends it was while here that some hostile fellow Christians tried to assassinate Hanxleden. He was believed to have been tipped-off by a woman in the area about the plot to kill him. Ernst made a dummy of himself and positioned it on his cot with the priestly gown on. The assailants hacked the dummy and fled thinking that they had actually killed Arnos Padre, who was in fact clandestinely watching the whole scene. He, however, decided to leave Velur that night itself and spent his remaining years of life at a church in Pazhuvil. His cot can still be found at the church there as reported in the Hindu.

Let us now take a look at Ernst's dabbles with literature and lexicology. He wrote in Latin grammar text covering Sanskrit on the lines of Kerala’s Sanskrit grammar text called Sidha-Rupam, and as a companion volume, he added a Sanskrit-Portuguese Dictionary. He was a great scholar in Malayalam and also composed a dictionary and a grammar in that language. Father Johann Ernst Hanxleden of the Malabar Mission was, as far as we know, the first European to write a grammar of Sanskrit(It is likely that Roth, who died at Agra in 1668, had compiled a Sanskrit grammar before Hanxleden: it has never been found, although it could perhaps be recovered in the Vatican archives). Vezdin Paulinus brought back Hanxleden's manuscript covering the Sanskrit grammar to Rome and made use of part of it, in fact Paulinus pronounced Ernst as the best Sanskrit scholar of his time.

By March 1732, he was gone. Fr. Hanxleden, apparently died of a snake bite at Pazhuvil in March 1732.His name is held in benediction among the Keralites mainly for his Puthenpana (a Life of Christ in 10,000 couplets and Parvangal (Treatises on the four last things).

The Puthenpana is one of the earliest Malayalam poems scripted around a Christian theme and is held dear by the Malayali christians The `padams' (or cantos) of `Puthenpana' are recited by Kerala Christians on various occasions. It has 14 `padams'. The 12th padam, portraying the lament of Virgin Mary at the Crucifixion and death of Jesus, is considered to be the most important of them all. The other padams centre on Fall of Man (second), Annunciation (fourth), Nativity (fifth), Sermon on the Mount (seventh), Last Supper (10th), trial and Crucifixion (11th), Resurrection (13th) and Ascension (14th). The poem is believed to have been composed just before Arnos’s death or the preceding year.

Hal and Vielle explain the literary work of Ernst - Hanxleden copied, introduced and annotated several manuscripts of Sanskrit lexical and grammatical works. He also commented on Sanskrit poetical works, esp. the Yudhiṣṭhiravijaya (Paulinus 1799: 6). Moreover, he authored grammars and dictionaries of Malayaḷam and Sanskrit. Several manuscripts are now preserved in different European libraries (although a complete inventory is still to be made). Hanxleden composed two dictionaries. A (high or Sanskritized) Malayaḷam - Portuguese dictionary which is the ‘Hanxleden’s dictionary’ referred to by Paulinus. Apart from his Sanskrit grammar Hanxleden also authored a Malayaḷam grammar text, a copy of which is preserved in the Carmelite Archives in Rome and remains to be published. Remarkably, Hanxleden chose Latin as the metalanguage for his Sanskrit grammar, whereas he uses Portuguese for his (lexical and grammatical) work related to Malayaḷam language. While the Grammatica Grandonica based on the Sidharupam deals with Sanskrit, his Arte Malavar is a Malayalam grammar work compiled in Portuguese. However I am not so sure yet if it was a revision of the original done by Fr Henriques working on the Parava coastline. And then again, I will get to the evolution of Malayalam, another day.

‘According to the traditional method of studying Sanskrit in Kerala, pupils have to study Siddharūpa containing all the representative forms of declensions and conjugations, along with Bālaprabodhana [by Putumana Nampūtiri, which deals with all preliminary grammatical rules with examples in simple Sanskrit mixed with Malayāḷam] and Samāsacakra [of unknown authorship, general treatment of compounds].’ As a missionary working in the South-West of India (Kerala), Hanxleden wrote Sanskrit in Grantha Malayāḷam characters.

Paulinus undoubtedly introduced Hanxelden and his work, but also suppressed it to a certain extent. His own most precious manuscript was the Sanskrit grammar written by Johann Ernst Hanxleden. When it was suggested that he had plagiarized Hanxleden’s work, he responded in his De manuscriptis codicibus indicis printed in Vienna in 1799, that they both used the same Sanskrit sources. He said - ‘Hanxleden far surpassed all other foreign missionaries in elegance of poetic composition, in the profound knowledge of Sanskrit. The incredible diligence he showed in pursuing studies and in writing books which are widely admired. John Ernest was most proficient in Sanskrit; no European scholar was ever equal to him’.

Hal and Vielle continue - We could cautiously conclude that Paulinus had always intended to publish a Sanskrit grammar, but that after his return he found out that Hanxleden had done a better job. This being the case, he decided to merge Hanxleden’s grammar and his own versions into one grammar, in which he probably deliberately failed to mention the name of his ‘co-author’ who authored the very bulk of the book’s contents.

Padre Ernst or the Malayalee Arnos Padiri is indeed the father of the Christian literature of Kerala having composed the Puthen Pana (the ‘New Ballad’ on the life of Jesus Christ), which is still received enthusiastically by readers even today, after almost three centuries. His other poetic works include Genoa Parvam, Ummade Dukham and Chathurandyam, and a Malayalam version of the Latin hymn Ave Maris Stella.


Christianity in Travancore - Gordon Thomson MacKenzie
An unknown oriental scholar – Ernst Hanxleden – A Mathias Mundadan
Grammatica Grandonica - The Sanskrit Grammar of Johann Ernst Hanxleden S.J. (1681–1732) Introduced and edited by Toon Van Hal & Christophe Vielle

The Padroado propaganda rivalry

BerchmanKodakal explains - The Padroado (Portuguese) or "patronage" (English), was an arrangement between the Holy See and the kingdom (and later republic) of Portugal, affirmed by a series of treaties, by which the Vatican delegated to the kings of Spain and Portugal the administration of the local Churches. The partition of missionary zones between Spain and Portugal led to some bitter rivalry. Wherever the two nations met, as for example in East Asia, there was open hostility between the Spanish Patronato and the Portuguese Padroado. The missions were also tied to the government of kings who claimed rights and privileges that encroached upon the spiritual domain. Spanish and Portuguese missionaries were often regarded by the local people as mere agents of white penetration rather than as harbingers of Christ, so much so that in India conversion was described as "turning Parangi".One of the steps the Propaganda envisaged to advance the cause of the missions independent of the colonial patronage was to promote indigenous vocations. The clergy who worked under the Padroado, even with the de Nobili Movement, were mostly foreigners. In the early decades recruitment of local vocations was not very much encouraged. So when Propaganda thought of starting an ecclesiastical unit under its full control in India, namely, the vicariate of Idalcan or Bijapur outside the Goan jurisdiction, the Congregation chose Matteo de Castro, a Brahmin Christian of Goa. The relations between Padroado and the Propaganda became tense during the Matteo de Castro episode and continued to be so for a long time. An attempt to resolve these tensions resulted in the establishment of the double jurisdiction system, whereby churches and clergy were established by the Portuguese Padroado separate from Propaganda. This unfortunate system lasted until 1928, although the Padroado system was previously annulled by the Pope Gregory XVI in the early 19th century, but restored with the Concordat of 1886.

Thomas Koonammakkal in his fine paper ELEMENTS OF SYRO-MALABAR HISTORY states - Troubles for Nazranis began to abound under the Carmelites and Propaganda. A series of reunion efforts between Puthenkur and Pazhayakur were thwarted by Carmelite missionaries. In 1778 the Pazhayakur sent Kariyattil Yausep Malpan and Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar to Lisbon and Rome for reunion of Puthenkur. Their miseries, adventures and achievements are recorded in Varthamanapusthakam written in 1786. Kariyattil was consecrated as archbishop in 1783. But he expired in Goa under dubious circumstances and foul play. To pacify the anger of Nazranis, Paremmakkal was tolerated as Administrator. These two heroic and saintly sons of Pazhayakur wrote a glorious chapter towards reunion and identity of the Church. A noble layman Thachil Mathu Tharakan did his best for Nazrani reunion. Though a reunion took place in 1799 it fell apart due to the apathy and intrigues. (If you recall I introduced Mathu Tharakan in the Veluthampi story)

To see pictures of the Velur church, check out this link.

To listen to Puthenpana – click this link

Who is Toon Van Haal? In Nov 2010, the Grammatica Grandonica was rediscovered in an Italian monastery after having been lost for many decades. Authored in the early 1700's by the German Jesuit Johann Ernest Hanxleden, the Sanskrit grammer text was found by the Belgian scholar Toon Van Hal of the Center for the History of Linguistics, K.U. Leuven, the Katholieke University, Netherlands. Toon Van Hal rediscovered the lost manuscript by retracing the previous inquiries of Luxemburg scholar Jean-Claude Muller in and around Rome, uncovering it at the Convento di San Silvestro, a Carmelite monastery in Montecomprati, Lazio, Italy.

Grammatica Grandonica is the earliest known missionary grammar on the Sanskrit language and had a great deal of influence on the emergence of the first published Sanskrit grammar ever printed in Europe, in 1790. This first published grammar, by the Carmelite missionary Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo, is thought to have been taken directly from Hanxleden's original work.