Dr.Joji Joshua Philipose
Vishu is one of the most popular South Indian festival. It is celebrated widely in the state of Kerala. Many myths have been suggested regarding its origin including Rama killing Ravana who did not allow sun to rise from east, Krishna killing Narakasura.
The origin of Vishu is elusive and obscure as there is lack of literature regarding it. The customs and traditions change slightly from region to region within Kerala itself as per the local values and customs. This makes it even more confusing, not to mention the change in the attitude and lifestyle of the people.
Vishu is considered as the beginning of new-year, an auspicious day to start by seeing the “Vishukkani” for a bright year ahead. But according to Gregorian calendar New year is January 1st and Kollavarsham, its Chingom 1st. How did 2nd week of April or Medom 1 come as New year?
The term 'Vishu' denotes 'Equal' in Sanskrit language. The sun enters the medom rashi or the Aries Zodiac. Between the Uttarayana and Dakshinayana, the Sun rises exactly in the east so that the hours in the day and night are exactly equal. This is called “vernal Equinox”.
Vishu is mentioned in William Logan’s Malabar Manual as follows: Mathematically Vishu is the New Year day. On this day, Sun rises straight from the East.
Chithira Vishu finds mention in the incomplete Trikodithanam Shasanam by Bhaskara Ravivarman who ruled Kerala between AD 962 and 1021. According to scholars, Vishu has become a major celebration by then. It is believed that Vishu celebrations began in Kerala during the reign of Sthanu Ravi Varman who ruled Chera Kingdom between AD 844 and 885. His reign was noted for developments in science, economic prosperity and political stability. The famous astronomer Sankara Narayana (the author of Sankara Narayaniyam, a commentary of Bhaskara's Laghu Bhaskariya) was member of the royal palace of Sthanu Ravi at Mahodayapuram(old Kodungallur). He is believed to have established the first astronomical observatory in Kerala at Kodungallur.
Historically Indian astronomy developed as an"auxiliary disciplines" associated with the study of the Vedas dating 1500 BCE or older. But the oldest records of Astronomy is found in Mesopotamia which included Sumeria, Babylon and Assyria. They passed it on to the Greeks and eventually the Hellenistic astronomy had been the greatest influence to the modern world. Our astronomy and numerology is thought to be based on their Kalpaganita. (Kesari A. Balakrishnapilla- Charithrathinte adiverukal).The independent discovery of Indian astronomy is also debated.
South west coast of India was a well known spice route for thousands of years. Mediteranean migration of Assyrians especially from Ninaveh has been described. N.V.Krishnawarrior mentions semetic Asuras(Assyrians) where Banasura of Ninaveh with his daughter(who loved Krishnas grandson Anirudhan) and family migrated here after the fall of Babylonian civilization. The older Brahma lipi(language) was from right to left like semetic.
Assyrians have been celebrating Akitu or the new year since 4750BC on the vernal spring equinox ie first week of April.
According to Christian philosophy first day of creation is believed to be on this day(Medom 1)
Adam was created on the first friday of Medom. Christ was crucified on the first friday of Medom.
According to A.Sreedharamenon- Kerala Samskaram, we are a mixture of the Indus valley,Mediteranean, Greek civilizations as well as the indigenous Protoastroloid tribe which migrated from East Africa to South Asia 70000-50000 years ago.
Interestingly the 3 legendary wise men who visited Baby Jesus in Bethlehem with the help of the star was Melchior from Persia, Caspar/Gaspar from India and Balthazar from Arabia.
In AD 822, a group of Syrian Christians migrated to Kerala in Kollam, the then capital of VEnad Swaroopam, a feudatory under the Chera Kingdom, including two bishops Mar Sabor and Mar Afroth. They came along with a group of immigrents lead by a merchant named Maruvan Sapir Isho( Some say Mar Sabor and Sapir Isho are one person)
Kollam sea port was founded by Mar Sabor at Thangasseri in 825 AD instead of reopening the inland sea port (kore-ke-ni kollam) near Backare (Thevalakara) also known as Nelcynda and Tyndis to the Romans and The Greeks and Thondi to the Tamils.
Mar Sabor volunteered to the Chera king to create a new sea port town near at Kollam instead of his request for renewing the Almost vanishing Tyndis or Nelcynda inland sea port (kore-ke-ni) at Kollam, lying idle without trade for a few centuries because of the Cheras being overrun by Pallavas in the 6th century AD ending the spice trade from Malabar coast. V.V Nagom Aiya in his state manual states “ In 822A.D. two Bishops Mar Sapor and Mar Peroz/Afroth settled in Quilon with a following .Two years later the Malabar Era began (824A.D.) and was called after Quilon which was undoubtedly the premier city of malabar including Travancore and Cochin”.
M.G.S.Narayan in his paper on Chera_pandya conflict in the 8th–9th centuries which led to the birth of Venad writes, “ It is not surprising that the Chera king who was contemplating the development of the new harbour town at Kurakeni Kollam welcomed the Monks and permitted him to introduce Syrian liturgy in worship other than Sanskrit liturgy following the shivite revival. This was the period when the Cera-Pandya conflict was developing in the south.The foundation of Kollam in 825 A.D. must have coincided with this victory of Chera in the Vel province.Therefore it is easy to understand the anxiety of the Chera king to please Vaishanavites and allow the Assyrian Monks to settle at Kollam so that the harbour might grow quickly and compete effectively with Nillakal further south which had passed under the control of the Pandya. This incident reveals the practical wisdom of the rulers and throws light on the economic –political motivations of men who promoted ideas of religion and culture. The Syrian Christian Monks who took advantage of the situation were equally clever and resourceful
Narayan M.G.S.,writes in Cultural Symbiosis that “ By the time of the Syrian Christian Copper Plates of the 9th century the foreign Christians and the Christians of Kerala who were just Nampoothiri Vaishnavites and Nairs had become part and parcel of the local village community.” This means that they did not remain as a separate group but rather they intermarried with the Christians of Kerala, and accepted the local cultural idioms. “The deity of the Tarsa Church was referred to the tevar. An important offering to the tevar was the sacred oil lamp as in the case of contemporary Brahmanical temples, is an indication to the fact that their conception of religion was shaped by local culture.”
Mar Sabor and Mar Proth came from the Middle East on the invitation of the Kollam King as an Authority for the Doctrine of Trinity on the background of a Shivate Revival of Advaita Vedanta propounded by Adi Shankara. The start of the Malayalam era(ME) is associated with Kollam. It is believed that the era was started by these Asyriac Saints who settled in Korukeni kollam, near to the present Kollam. The ME is also referred as Kollavarsham. The origin of Kollam Era has been dated to 825 AD, when the great convention in Kollam was held at the behest of King. Kollam was an important town in that period, and the Malayalam Era is called 'Kolla Varsham,' possibly as a result of the Tarish-a-palli sassnam. It also signified the independence of Malabar from the Cheraman Perumals. Ayyan atikal Thiruvatikal granted the copper plate grants in 849 AD to Mar Sabor Iso whom he invited to Kollam from Assyria (present Persia & Syria) with Constantinople as the spiritual seat (the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire), and transferring to the Tarasa Church and Vaishnavite Nambuthiri community at Devalokakara (Thevalakara-(Tarsish)) in Quilon, lands near the city with hereditament of low caste.
Tharisappalli Copper Plate (Tharisappalli Chepped) is a copper-plate grant issued by the King of Venadu (Quilon), Ayyan Atikal Tiruvatikal, to the Syrian Christians in Malabar Coast in the 5th regnal year of the Chera ruler Sthanu Ravi Varma in AD 849. The inscription describes the gift of a plot of land to the Syrian Church near Quilon, along with several rights and 72 privileges to the Syrian Christians led by Mar Sabor Iso.
The Tharisappalli Copper Plate is one of the important historical inscriptions of Kerala, the date of which has been determined with accuracy. The grant was made in the presence of important officers of the state and the representatives of trade corporations or merchant guilds. It also throws light on the system of taxation that prevailed in early Venad, as several taxes like profession tax, sales tax, vehicle tax, etc., are mentioned in it. It also testifies to the enlightened policy of religious toleration followed by the rulers of ancient Kerala.
There are three sets of plates as part of this document,second one was lost and other two are incomplete. These plates are in the possession of Malankara Orthodox Church in Kottayam and Mar Thoma Church in Thiruvalla.The first set documented the land while the second set documented the conditions. The signatories signed the document in Hebrew, Pahlavi, and Kufic languages.
Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal ( ruler of Ay kingdom), the feudatory of the Chera ruler Sthanu Ravi Varma, conferred the various privileges upon this church not at their very first sight, but having tested the worth and utility of the recipients.
From Nagarkovil in South to Sahyadri in East and Thiruvalla in North was ruled by a Kingdom known as AYi(Recorded by Ptolomy as Aioi) by the Vel kings with their Head Quarter at Kollam (Quilon).[ayiroor;ayoor;ayimanam etc are some of the place names still existing in ayi kingdom area of central kerala] This Kingdom in later years was called VELNADU or VENADU Flowing in the east west direction with Thiruvalla on the north, records river Pampa. When St.Thomas visited Nilackal, this Kingdom ruled this area. The Copper plate Chepped given to Sabor Isho was witnessed by one Vel Prabhu. The Nilackal hills, and planes of Pampa were connected to Pandi [TAMIL NADU]by well-established trade routes. These places were connected to Muzris port [ANCIENT PORT AT KODUNGALLOR] via Sea and Kayal. Nilackal was a centre for spices and timber.
They established churches in Kollam, Kayankulam, Udayamperoor, Akapparambu. The Church at Akapparambu is believed to have been established in AD. 825. It is said that they were granted the land to build a church after successful theological debate with the local religious leaders. Around 825 AD, Maruvan Sapir Eso built the chayal asramam, Nilalkkal near the chayal St. Thomas Church planted by St.Thomas during the first century.CHAYAL in Hebrew means people who stay alone. Towards the end of his life he spent most of his time in meditation in this Ashram and was buried in this ashram. The hill where he was buried is known as Sabor Mala that is the present Sabarimala as per christian beliefs
Mar Sabor moved to Kadamattom, Akapparambu, Niranam Diocese (St.Thomas orthodox church) and Kayamkulam (Kadisha church-earlier known as Mor Sabor Mor Aphroth Church) then finally to Thevalakkara (Marthamariam Orthodox Syrian Church Thevalakkara) where he died and was buried. On both sides of the cross in the altar of Kadamattom Church which is 76cm long and 51cm wide is written in Pahlavi script two sentences and on the centre a small sentence. Pahlavi linguist, Jamshed Modi translated it as follows, “I have come to this nation from Ninevah as a bird. Mar Sapor writes ,the forgiving Misheha( God Jesus) who saved me from persecution”.It was Mar Sabor who adopted and raised young Poulose and ordained him as Fr Poulose or the famous legendary “Kadamattathu Kathanar”. Mar Ephroth had moved to Kodungallor.
1. The Malayalam Calendar, often known as Kollam Era, was started in 825 AD and was attributed to have begun to commemorate the founding of the port town of Quilon by Mar Sabor. Probably, the rich Chaldean astronomical traditions, which Mar Sabor brought from the erstwhile Sassanid Persia, must have been instrumental in developing this calendar in the inceptional stage.
2.Vishu celebrations began in Kerala during the reign of Sthanu Ravi Varman who ruled Chera Kingdom between AD 844 and 885. The Tharisappally Plates were given to the Assyrian saints in AD849.Sankaranarayana who built the first observatory in kerala could have had influence from the Assyrian Astronomy. The Assyrian immigrants might have influenced to celebrate the New Year on spring vernal equinox. Inspite of the caste and religion Vishu would have been celebrated by everyone including the Nazranis of Kerala during olden days.
3. The Syrian Christians used to go on pilgrimages to Nilackal Church and Chayal Asram on the festival days of the churches till the place was completely destroyed by AD1341 due to floods and frequent attack by the Pandians from Tamilnadu. The present church constructed at Nilackal is quite away from the actual spot where the original church was existing. This was done so to avoid dispute and confrontation with Ayappa followers in Sabarmala.The existence of the old Nilackal Church on the side of Nilackal Kulam (pond) was known to many of our forefathers.It is believed that there was one more church little away from the Nilackal Church. This could possibly be Chayal church constructed by Mar Sabor Isho. Could Mar Sabor Isho be the Shabarishan and Sabor-mala where he was buried be the Sabarimala? Some claim that it was a Buddhist monastery also. Since the remnants of the churches were seen by many who had visited this place till end of 19th century, it was most likely to have found a place in the Great Survey of India Records. Further research and excavations in this direction is required.
1. Indian Orthodox Church. History and Culture. (Church History). By. Rev. Dr. JosephCheeran. K. V. Mammen, Kottackal. Adv. P. C. Mathew, Pulikottil.
2. A. Balakrishnapilla, Charithrathinte adiverukal
3. A.Sreedharamenon, Kerala Samskaram
4. V.V Nagom Aiya., state manual
5. William Logan, Malabar Manual
6. Narayan, M.G.S, Cera-Pandya conflict in the 8th–9th centuries which led to the birth of Venad:Pandyan History seminar, Madurai University, 1971
7. Narayan M.G.S., Cultural Symbiosis
8. P.E. Easo, Syrian Christian Tradition March 2000
9. Wikipedia and other internet sites.