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The Zamorin and a Padre (1587-1620)

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , , , ,

And Umara Charare, the convert

While we studied the stories of Kunhali IV, the conversion of the King of Tanur and so on, we came across the fact that the reigning Zamorin during those years had allowed building of churches in Calicut and other parts of Malabar, that he had a good relation with some of the Padres and even that he was somewhat influenced by them, especially so in the case of the capture of Kunhali IV. It is also mentioned that the Portuguese tried hard to ensure that this Zamorin did not get any ideas of alignment with the new entrants in the Malabar trade, the Dutch. Were their work purely missionary of was it a combination of commerce, politics and administration? A study of a couple of works throws much light on these questions and so let’s head to the Calicut during the last decades of the 16th century. As we go on, we will come across some very interesting ministers of Christ, a Zamorin who became more inclined towards the Portuguese, perhaps seeking peace on earth, his nephew who went on to convert to Christianity and as we already saw, a Raja of Tanur who converted. So let’s hasten to that Malabar which had just witnessed much turmoil what with the likes of Furtado and the naval warlord Kunhali IV.

We dealt in detail with the Tanur Raja’s conversion and relations with the Portuguese some months ago and saw that Fr Antonio Gomes in 1545-49 was the catalyst behind it. While the fortunes of the St Thomas Christians and the Portuguese church were in disarray with the Synod of Diamper being enacted, important events were underway in Calicut up north in Malabar.

It was in 1597 that the Zamorin met a Portuguese Padre named Francis Acosta purely by chance.  As the story goes, a Father who had been administering to the soldiers in a Portuguese ship which had been captured by the Kunjali’s paros, was made prisoner and turned over to the Zamorin. As Ferroli explains - The Zamorin, having oftentimes spoken with the captive Father, began to plan an alliance with the Portuguese in order to strengthen his arms with theirs, and having prepared letters of peace to the Viceroy, the Archbishop and the Fathers of the Society, gave them to the Father, whom, of course, he freed from captivity. In the letters he gave faculty to preach the Gospel, he promised that Churches would be built at his own expense, and said that the “Fathers of the Society, who eventually would be sent to him, would be treated with all the consideration which men of such faith deserved.” The Viceroy at Goa then deputed Father Roz and Acosta himself to start evangelical operations at Calicut.

He obviously made a good impression on the Zamorin and influenced him not only in seeking peace with the Portuguese, but also allowed the Portuguese to erect churches. It is also mentioned that his cousin or nephew named Umara Charare Eradi (Kumara Eradi?) was encouraged to convert and accept Christian beliefs….or so it seems, for we shall soon find out.

Roz and Acosta were well received in Calicut and as it appears the Zamorin gave them permission to convert (which even the Cochin Raja had not thus far allowed) - he gave letters to the Fathers signed by his own hand, in which freedom was granted to all to become Christians; those who should do so would not be deprived of the honours they might have, they would be free to testate, to inherit, in short they would have the same rights which Christians enjoy among Christians. He also decreed that - the Churches and houses of the Fathers to be an asylum for all, who, on account of their crimes, fearing the punishment of the law should take shelter therein; nor should anyone, in peace or war give them trouble. He ordered his cousin (the above mentioned Umara Charare Eradi), who was most intimate with him, to learn all these things more accurately; and this man, though a heathen, delighted in them so much as to keep only one wife, to abstain from flesh meat on Fridays, and to laugh at their idols and superstitions. He promised to receive baptism at the first opportunity. Subsequently a peace treaty was signed with the Portuguese at Goa with the supervision of Fr Roz. After this, it was decided that Goa would send Fr Antonio Schipani to Calicut assisting Fr Acosta and Fr Roz would go back to administer his Thomas Christians.

A field was chosen outside the city, near the sea, half a league away from the Calicut palace. On the appointed day, the Zamorin with the Crown Prince, many high officials and numerous soldiers came; and the Portuguese fleet was at anchor near the shore. In order to testify his own and the King’s satisfaction, the chief of the Officials promised that he would put up a set of lamps in the Church of the Fathers, to burn there forever. Then, on the same day, in the same field, a place was chosen to build the Church. The Zamorin first dug up some earth to lay the foundations.

It was following this that plans were hatched to get rid of the troublesome Kunhali IV though we see from these records that the Zamorin was still wary that the Portuguese might turn against him, after exterminating Kunjali. The first foray was unsuccessful and as the Zamorin was ruminating on these matters, it appears his nephew was secretly baptized. Ferroli states - Now Umare Charare had been secretly baptized by Fr. Roz and acted as a link between the Portuguese and the Zamorin.

The Zamorin, Ferroli says, knew that the Archbishop was passing, he sent to him Fr. Roz together with his cousin, by name Umare Charare (alias Erari). The main reason of his coming, however, was that Umare Charare desired to receive confirmation at the hands of the Archbishop. This, however, had to be done in secret. So when, night came the Archbishop, with great joy, took him to a small room, which had been conveniently adorned, and there, in the presence of Fr. Roz, he put on the sacred vestments, and kneeling down, for he wearing the mitre and the room being very low, he could not stand, instructed him about the virtue of the Sacrament which he then conferred on him. The young man shed so many tears, that both the Archbishop and Fr. Roz were much edified to see such devotion and faith.

The Zamorin and the Archbishop proceeded to discuss the next steps against Kunjali following which the church at Calicut was formally sanctioned and Kunjali’s food route was cordoned off. The Zamorin then hastened off to a new Mamankham at Tirunavaya while the Portuguese blockaded Kunhali’s fort. This time he had the padre Roz to his right instead of the Shabandar as was the practice. Anyway the account goes on to explain the capture of Kunhali, that the many a Nair was very unhappy with the events and even threatened the Zamorin (for having sided with the Portuguese) who had to be rescued by Fr Roz and the Portuguese admiral at hand. Eventually Kunhali was captured and it appears the Zamorin was going to help him escape upon which the admiral Furtado got into a verbal altercation with the Zamorin threatening him with dire consequences should he allow it. Soon enough he agreed that Furtado could take Kunhale and 40 other moors as prisoners, to Goa.

The Zamorin’s converted nephew also accompanied them. We now note that the name has changed somewhat to Uniales Carle. The account continues thus - With the fleet had come to Goa Uniales Carle, nephew of the Zamorin, in order to sign the peace with the Viceroy. As we know, he had been baptized by ours and confirmed by the Archbishop. During the war he had given good examples of Christian observance. Once, while walking with one of ours, he had confessed his sins, not to arouse the suspicions of others, for his conversion had been kept secret. While at Goa he was never tired of staying with ours, and was filled with joy at seeing the multitude and fervor of the new Christians of Salsete.

Once he declared he had been much grieved by his being compelled to leave the church during Mass, in order not to betray himself. One day, being in my room with Fr. Roz, he spoke at length of spiritual things and of the way of converting the Malayalees. I gave him a wax Agnus Dei, which he received on his knees, and kissed and promised he would wear it round his neck till his death. In leaving here he got alms for the Cross erected in Malabar even from his Pagan compatriots. The Archbishop gave them his blessing that they might return safe and sound to their country, for of two ships, one was sunk, and the other that was carrying our Calicut Procurator was so tossed about by the waves that the passengers were saved with difficulty.

This father Roz was born in Catalonia in 1557, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1575, went to India in 1583 where he became Professor of Syriac in 1584. He learnt Malayalam and preached in that language. In 1600 he became Latin Bishop of Angamali, in 1608 Archbishop of the diocese, to which the See of Cranganore was added in 1610. He died at Cranganore on 16-2-1624. So much for Francis Roz who had such a tremendous influence on the Zamorin, but much is not known about the Fr Acosta whose chance meeting with the Zamorin perhaps changed the course of Malabar history.

The next Padre who made a great influence on the same Zamorin and who continued his work through the converted nephew was of Italian origin named Jacob Fenicio. He is better known as the author of the multi volume treatise on Hinduism in Malabar - the Livro Da Seita Dos Indios Orientais.

Father Jacobo (or Jacome) Fenicio (or Finicio) was born at Capua in Italy about 1558. In 1580 he entered the Society and in 1583 set sail for India. Arriving in 1584, he was stationed at Cochin, was made vicar of St. Andrew in Porca in 1587 and kept in that position in the years 1594-1604 and 1619. In the year 1600 he went to the court at Calicut and must have spent some years there; for he is reported to have stayed there in the years 1605-06 and 1608-09. In the meantime he founded the missionary station at Tanur (1606) and afterwards also other missions on the Malabar Coast. He died at Cochin in 1632, aged about 75. He, we are told, used to preach in Malayalam.

Charpentier adds - Fenicio certainly was a clever and intrepid worker in a thorny and dangerous field of mission; and he had made himself well merited of his Society and his converts when at a high old age lie laid his head to rest in the land where he had spent nearly fifty years in incessant labors…

These events must be referred to the year 1600 or to the years immediately following. Du Jarric goes on to tell how Fenicio won converts amongst persons of high standing because of his knowledge of astronomy, and how he refuted the Brahmins in the presence of the Zamorin and the Rajah of Cranganore. Fenicio also seems to have indulged in a lot of political activity, the result of which was that the Zamorin became reconciled to the Portuguese. Du Jarric also mentions the travels of Fenicio to Parur in order to visit the Christians of St Thomas and to the Nilgiris in order to inspect the Christian churches — this last tour being undertaken on the requests of the Bishop of Angamale.

Let us see what Fenicio was upto, in Calicut during those years (1605-1607) a place he calls the citadel of Muslim superstition and Hindu idolatry. His impressions are also clear from a few letters he sent in 1605 and later. He was joined in his efforts by Diogo Goncalves (also a spy of sorts) who wrote the still untranslated ‘Historia do malavar’. Fenicio did not have a good start for an event occurred where a Muslim ship was plundered by the Portuguese and the Moors and Moplahs of Calicut went up in arms, threatening to decimate the Portuguese there. Fenicio managed to pacify them and brokered peace somehow. He was equally on good terms with the Viceroy at Goa, The Zamorin and the Raja of Cranganore.

Malabar map extract - Paulinus
A record from 1610 mentions - “In Calicut”—the letter continues “there are two Fathers, (I am not still very sure if the second was Acosta or Hilaire) one of whom is Fr. Fenicio, who works much both in preaching the Gospel (though very few embrace it), and in preserving peace. On the occasion of a commotion stirred up by the Gentiles against the Christians, the Zamorin protected us and punished them. It also records the Zamorin to be very much in support of them, making it clear to all that he supports them fully. He now allows them to build a church in Ponnani. But it was heavy going when it came to missionary work, they did not have much success even though Fenicio was a very active preacher who took to preaching in public places and conducting debates with Brahmin scholars, often. Fenicio also found it difficult to balance his favors between the Cochin Raja a historic friend of the Portuguese and the Zamorin a new ally, but more powerful. Anyway, he worked off and on in Calicut between 1601 and 1619 and was eventually moved out around 1613 for reasons still not quite clear.

While Fenicio and the Zamorin shared good vibes and much of the reporting above is one sided and perhaps written so and slanted heavily towards the evangelical side (to obtain good favors from Goa), Ferroli explains it aptly. He says - Some have described Fenicio’s Mission in Calicut as mainly political. The Zamorin, however, though genuinely attached to Fr. Fenicio, shaped his policy as circumstances demanded, and allowed himself to be guided by one supreme motive: self-interest.

The very same Zamorin, proving this, signed a treaty with the British Keeling (we studied this earlier) in 1615 where he states his enmity with the Portuguese and proposes alliance with the British to reconquer Cranganore and Cochin. Mullberger who studied these missions wrote - “The Mission was in this respect a failure but it was of great gain to the Portuguese from a political point of view. The Jesuits were so to say the Charges d’Affaires at the court”. Now that makes me feel that Kumaran Eradi could even have been a spy sent to get information about the Portuguese.

So what exactly did Fenicio do and record? His Livro da Seita provides much detail and conveyed the religious propensity of the Hindus for the first time to the European. We see that he worked initially with Fr Theophilio and their main task it looks like, due to the low interest in conversions, was to keep the Zamorin at bay. Fenicio could be found often at the public square (near Mananchira??) with a bunch of bewildered bystanders. He does collaborate with a learned Brahmin along the way, listening, trying to understand and recording the Hindu way of life. Meanwhile the Zamorin’s nephew it seems, is trying to have the queen mother and another son of hers converted and Fenicio writes.

Our Erari told us also that the Queen and one of her sons, twelve years of age, have advanced so far in the understanding of the things of our holy Faith that they manifest a desire of becoming Christians, but as this is an affair of great moment and risk, and is not possible to speak to the Queen but in the presence of the Brahmins, it cannot be settled easily; but the same Lord Who gave them this desire will also provide the means.” Perhaps it came after Fenicio exorcised a devil away from a man possessed with one, using the cross and the gospel.

Fenicio continues - Our Erari and a nephew of the Brahmin Lagna who were then present there related the fact to the Queen and the prince, who, astonished at it, asked how it was that the Father had cast the devil out of the body of that man. The Erari answered that he had done so by making the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the possessed. Thereupon the prince’s began to make the sign of the Cross themselves. Then there was his expedition to the Nilgiris and the meeting with the Todas which CHF had covered earlier.

In the many letters we find that this Zamorin is an interesting person. His reactions when Fenicio tried to justify various things Christian is interesting to say the least. One such discussion ends thus - “the Father wishes now to attack the (Hindu) gods”. Then turning to Fenicio he said: “But don’t you say that the (Christian, word of) God died crucified?”  Finally a Mohamedan old man, quite shrewd and cunning chimed in: "‘Why, Father,” he said, “do you tire yourself? It is already six months that you are turning the same stone; and to what purpose?” It is also recorded that he spent most of the time with the Zamorin, “endeavoring to promote the cause of Religion and to maintain peace with Portugal” which to me reads that he was actually a political emissary of sorts. Fenicio also intervened to broker peace between the Cranganore Raj and the Zamorin in a 1611 conflict.

During 1615-17 another war raged between the Zamorin and the Cochin Raja, and Fenicio was still at Calicut, but he is not mentioned any more after 1619. When Delle Valle visited Calicut in 1623, there were no fathers at Calicut and missionary activity gradually tapered off with the arrival of a new Zamorin after the old Zamorin who lent his ear often to the friars, passed away. By 1619, the peace with the Portuguese broke down and the fathers left Calicut, leaving behind just a vineyard at Calicut. The new Zamorin suspicious of the fathers and perhaps their spying, apparently was involved with the pillaging of a Church in Angamali. Eventually, a new period of peace commenced in 1635 and the church of Calicut was rebuilt.

Another event during a visit by Fr Roz to Bemanate (??) and Palur is significant. The inhabitants of Palur had decided to give the Bishop a grand reception. A Nair, prompted by a Moor, cried out that such reception could only be granted to a king. The Zamorin having heard of this report, was very angry, and gave order to put to death the Nair and the Moor, with their wives and children. The Nair being in a place of safety, the Zamorin had the house of the Moor razed to the ground, and sent his nephew and another principal man, to the Bishop as far as Enamaque, to apologise and offer him a Nair as a slave, with these very words: ‘The Zamorin offers you this Nair as a slave in satisfaction for certain offending words uttered by a Nair. Had the offense been greater, it is myself, his own nephew, whom he would have offered, with the Mangate Achen, the highest personage of his Kingdom’.

Anyway it appears that Fr Roz decided to concentrate on Cochin after the old Zamorin passed away, persuaded so by the Rajah of Cochin, who alluded that he and he alone was a true and lifelong friend of the Portuguese.

Starting in 1603 Fenicio worked with cataloging and understandings the intricacies of the Hindu religion. He mentions - “This winter (meaning probably the rainy season) I have occupied myself with studying the religion of the Malabars with a Hindu who has every day visited my house; and I have already written some two books of paper about the creation of the world, about their gods, and their children, three boys and a girl. Truly they are very fine fellows; one has the head and face and feet of an elephant, another has six faces and twelve hands, the third is an ape, and the lady is as black as coal and has eight faces and sixteen hands. I have written how many times one of their gods came down to earth, sometimes in the shape of fish, sometimes in that of a tortoise, or a bird, a boar, a man-lion, a woman, etc.; and I have written of the idols, the devils, the transmigration of the souls, the heavens, the earth, the oceans, the hells, the paradise, their ceremonies, omens, fasts, etc. And I am very pleased to know it, because it will serve me very well in refuting these Hindus.” That incidentally is the Livro da Seita Dos Indios Orientais, a work (8 books) which when looked at from the period it was composed, by one totally alien to this religion and concept, somewhat erotic and titillating at times, and largely superficial.

There are interspersed observations for example - This year, the Zamorin of Calicut killed with his own hand a brother-in-law of his with two slashes, for appearing in a drunken state before him. ''A prince of the royal family of Cochin used to go about in disguise, killing Nairs found drunk''. On Onam day when Maveli comes to Malabar, the feast should have five curries. And on betel leaf chewing - Arjuna happened to chew the betel-leaf when he was in heaven for a time, and enjoyed it so much that he stole a branch and showed it to Krishna who, in his turn finding that he had never eaten anything so tasteful in his life, planted it on earth. And the Pandavas - After remaining some time in Paradise and not being satisfied, Dharmaputra said. "This does not suffice for me, I will be born again in Kaliyuga; and he was born as Ceraman Perumal Emperor of Malabar. Bhima was born as Kulasekhara Perumal; Nakula as Chola Perumal and Sahadeva as Pandi Perumal. All of them lived lives of Dharma, died and reached Paradise''. No mention of Arjuna though, it appears he stayed away from Malabar! He was also aware of the works of Pakkanar and used them in his arguments.

But more on this topic, another day.

In conclusion we see that the period 1600-1619 witnessed the stay of Fenicio and his cohorts at Calicut and witnessed their attempts at creating a more permanent relationship with the Zamorin, who by all accounts tolerated them, as a good host and made sure their stay was peaceful. Regrettably for Fenicio it amounted to nothing by way of missionary success, but then again as a Portuguese emissary, he maintained a regular flow of information to his political principals at Goa on the ground situation, during a critical phase. That must have been the real purpose. Fenicio moved away as the winds changed and passed away somewhere around Cochin in 1632.

Of the converted nephew Umara Cherare or Kumara Eradi, nothing more is known.

References
Jesuits in Malabar V1 – Ferroli SJ
Livro Da Seita Dos Indios Orientais: Brit. Mus. Ms. Sloane 1820 of Fr Jacobo Fenicio SJ - Chapentier, Jarl
Missionary Topics – Innes Zupanov
An old Portuguese work on Kerala Beliefs – LV Ramaswami Iyer


My thanks to Sumathi Ramaswamy (Professor of History - Duke University, President of American Institute of Indian Studies), who during an evening’s conversation some years ago, told me about the relationship between Fenicio and this Zamorin and shared some research notes. She authored an interesting book ‘Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe’ where Fenicio’s trip to Malabar is briefly covered. 

3 comments:

  1. jayan

    Sir,. Nice ,,very open as you also sammothiri clan, open and candid ,kudos to you

    , ,, It is strange to note in Kerala history , persons at the helm of affairs continue to keep such postions and indulge in petty politics and finally end up slaves of British or Portuguese or silent slaves who heed their sermons

    It is so strange sammothiri s who has such years of history stooped down to Portuguese having known that Portuguese, have aligned with kolathri raja and Kochi king allowed conversion to beat them allow his or make them convert ,.way of chanakya or Machiavelli

    But it is proud to note that succeeding sammothiris understood foul play of of Portuguese and saw that Portuguese wiped out of Malabar ,they did valiantly costing their Nair forces life








  1. Maddy

    thanks jayan

    perhaps you may have missed the point, as Ferroli notes....

    The Zamorin, however, though genuinely attached to Fr. Fenicio, shaped his policy as circumstances demanded, and allowed himself to be guided by one supreme motive: self-interest. (Note - not Portuguese interest!)

    Also made me feel that Kumaran Eradi could even have been a spy sent to get information about the Portuguese.

  1. jayan

    Right , I haven't noticed ,it . perhaps sammothiri was that time was playing the role of spy, acting as if in favour of conversion, to source information

    The input he got was used for retaliation against Portuguese ,finally they end up in goa for trade and conversion

    It is to be noted ,.the gowda saraswaths bramins in Goa fearing conversion find solace in kerala, having understood that Portuguese ploy seldom work in Kerala as they been crushed by sammothiri

    If our assumption is true ,all intelligent agencies of the world like mossad, cia,.KGB and raw ,. all must salute him, for being the pioneer in spy work that too using conversion as a tool