A History That Lays Forgotten

Written by Supratim Barman and Issac Thomas Joy.

The story of the Koonan Kurishu Sathyam or the, Leaning Cross Oath, and it takes you into the depths of a Forgotten Chapter in Indian History. It goes straight to the year 1653 AD and the struggle of the Saint Thomas Christians. It is, in essence, the story of India’s first Independence Movement to rid Herself of the yoke of European Domination and it took place 200 years before the Sepoy Revolt of 1857, (which is considered by Historians to be the First Armed Resistance to European Colonial Occupation).

A point that remains overlooked by many is that the Portuguese were the first to arrive in 1505 and were the last to leave India, in 1961, when they had to be forcibly removed. (Overstaying their welcome by nearly 520 years). India and Portugal severed diplomatic relations until they returned to normalcy in 1974.

Here in 1653, History became witness to what was the first Indian Struggle for Independence against European Colonial Powers, which in essence, was a Declaration of Independence against them.

Now let us focus our interest on The Saint George Orthodox Church at Mattancherry where the Koonan Kurishu Sathyam or Leaning Cross Oath took place, to get a glimpse of the history that lays forgotten.

This Church is one of the oldest Churches in India and holds paramount position among other Orthodox Churches as it is home to the holy remains of Saint George.

Saint Thomas Christians

The Indian Church or (Malankara Church) was established by Apostle Saint Thomas (Mar Thoma), who was one among the 12 Disciples of Jesus Christ in AD 52. The Throne of Saint Thomas is the Apostolic tradition of the Christian Church in India.

Saint Thomas Christians were administratively under the single native dynastic leadership of an Arkadiyokan (Jaathiku Karthavyan or Arch Deacon) a native Ecclesiastical Head with spiritual and temporal powers. Arkadiyokans presided over the Assembly (Synod) and were responsible for overseeing the welfare of the Church. Their fidelity to the Law of Thomas (Thomayude Margam) was the touch stone of their authenticity and Orthodoxy. The Saint Thomas Christians remained in communion with the Church of the East until their encounter with the Portuguese in AD 1599.

The Second Portuguese – India voyage under the command of Alvares Cabral arrived in Calicut, Kerala on the 13th of September, 1500. During another expedition in January, 1501, Cabral and his team met the well established native communities of Malabari Jews and Saint Thomas Christians at Kodungallur Kingdom for the first time. The Portuguese were surprised to find the presence of Saint Thomas Christians, also known as Mar Thoma Nasranis, in Malankara (Malabar), but they were annoyed that native Indian Christians were not under Rome and had never heard of the Pope.

The Franciscan priests who came with Cabral also started to propagate their Latin/Roman Catholic rites within India during this period. Since the local Kingdoms permitted trading with the Portuguese, traders amongst Malankara Nasranis also began to trade with the Portuguese on the same terms as they did with other communities. In AD 1505, the King of Portugal appointed his own Viceroy in India, and, it is this event which is considered to be the beginning of the Colonial Era in the Indian SubContinent.

Udayamperur SunnahadosJune 1599

The Portuguese then subsequently began to interfere with the administration of the Malankara Church, so as to take absolute control of the pepper trade and also of the pepper farmers.

Portuguese Bishop Menezes visited the main pepper trading centers before the Synod of Diamper at Udayamperur. With the same motive, the Portuguese Bishop then visited the parishes of Saint Thomas Christians and lured the parishioners with money and gold. He appointed priests ordained by him as Vicars at various parishes and initiated a parallel administration against Arkadiyokan.

By 1597 Menezes started to pressurise Arkadiyokan Geevarughese to accept Roman Catholic Supremacy over the Malankara Church. Arkadiyokan resisted and Menezes arranged to convene a Synod at Udayamperur. This Udayamperur Sunnahados (Diamper Synod) took place on the 20th of June,1599; led by Menezes and armed Portuguese soldiers with the full support of the Raja of Kochi.

The King of Kochi had signed a Treaty of Friendship with the Portuguese to defeat King Samuthiri of neighbouring Kingdom Calicut. This notorious meeting at Udayamperur enforced Decrees to accept the faith and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and the authority of the Pope.

Many of the Diamper Synod’s Canons were aimed to wipe out the Malankara-East Syrian relation and to place the Malankara Church under Rome. The Malankara Nazranis (Syrian Christians/Saint Thomas Christians) signed the Decrees, as they were afraid of Portuguese opposition and of their own King. They accepted Rome’s authority, but with dissent.

The Portugese, nd their proxies, now formally began the Latinisation of Saint Thomas Christians who were Christians in Malankara well before Christianity had arrived anywhere else in Europe. Through the aegis of Latinisation propaganda; total control of merchandise transfer reached the hands of the Portuguese. Until the Synod of Diamper, Nazranis never had hierarchical relationship with Rome nor any other Church.

Koonan Kurishu Sathyam (Coonan Cross Oath) – January 1653

Saint Thomas Christians started their efforts to get a Metropolitan from the Eastern Church for re-establishing their freedom. The Portuguese who were masters of the sea in those days, many a time intercepted their Letters of Appeal for Syrian Prelates and there were occasions when attempts of Middle Eastern Clergy to come to Malankara were physically thwarted.

During this time Mar Ahatulla Bava, who was coming to Malankara, was killed by the Portuguese Archbishop Gracia by drowning him in Kochi harbour.

The Koonan Kurishu Sathyam refers to the action of thousands of Saint Thomas Christians led by Arkadiyokan Thomas (successor of Arkadiyokan Geevarughese), assembling at Saint Thomas Church at Mattancherry on 3rd January 1653 and taking an oath to preserve the traditions that were followed by them since AD 52 and to reject the Roman Papal Rituals imposed on them by Portuguese Invaders through the Synod of Diamper.

Since not all the people could touch the stone Cross simultaneously, they held onto ropes that were tied to the Cross in all directions. They took the historical oath to break free from the clutches of Rome’s supremacy by pledging, “till the end, neither the Thomas Christians nor their generations will obey the Church of Rome or the Portuguese Bishops, but only obey their traditional leader Arkadiyokan”.

The cross bent under this immense strain and hence the name ‘Koonan Kurisu Sathyam’ (Leaning Cross Oath). Like Moses liberating the Israelites from slavery, Arkadiyokan Thomas liberated and protected the Malankara Church from the atrocities of militant Roman Catholicism, through the Coonan Cross Oath.

Mattanchery Padiyola May 22, 1653

With the unanimous consent of the whole Church, on May 22nd, 1653, the Malankara Nasrani Christians issued a Proclamation called the “Mattanchery Padiyola” and Arkadiyokan Thomas, the descendant of Apostle Saint Thomas was elevated to the status of Bishop with the title Mar Thoma I. The meeting also agreed to form a Council of Four Senior Kathanars (Priests) willing to support His Holiness ArchDeacon Thomas over the administration of the Malankara Church.

Anjilimoottil Itty Thommen Kathanar, Kadavil Chandy Kathanar, Palliveetil Parambil Chandy Kathanar and Vengoor Geevarghese Kathanar were the Members of this Council. The Coonan Cross event was a Great Victory for His Holiness Mar Thoma I and his indigenous Malankara Church. The Koonankurishu Oath (Leaning Cross Oath) is the First recorded Mass Revolt against European Colonialism in Indian history.

All historians agree that, due to the Oath, practically the whole body of the Thomas Christians joined together against Roman Catholic supremacy under the leadership of Arkadiyokan Thomas. Even amidst a savage Portuguese blockade in both sea and land, Malankara Nasranis were able to consecrate their own native Bishop. This was an unimaginable blow to the Portuguese and they spread rumours against MarThoma’s consecration in order to confuse Nasranis.

Troubled by the effects of the Coonan Cross, Portuguese Authorities requested Direct Intervention of the Pope to eliminate the Authority and Status of MarThoma and thereby Dishonour the Status of his Ancient Church of Malankara. Rome sent two batches of Carmelite Missions headed by Hyacinth and Joseph Sebastiani. This mission arrived at Malankara in 1661. Nasranis refuted the Carmelites, just the same as they did the Jesuits, since Carmelites are a wing of the Roman Catholic Church.

“When even Lord Jesus Himself promised Twelve Thrones to the Twelve Apostles and none of them were deprived of having the authority by Luke 22:24-30 and Mathew 19:28, even then the Carmelite wing of the Portuguese rulers exerted pressure on native Kings and spread Anti-Biblical teachings among Syrian Malabar Christians that; ‘Throne of Saint Thomas’ of MarThoma is inferior to ‘Throne of Saint Peter’ of the Papal Regency”.

MarThoma I and his predecessor Arkadiyokan Geevarughese survived many murder attempts instigated by, and, from Colonial Bishops for upholding Saint Thomas traditions of India. On 9th of October 1661, Portuguese Bishop Sebastiani, ordered Portuguese Military General Ignatius Sarmento to capture His Holiness MarThoma I from Mulunthuruthy Church, but His Holiness MarThoma I and his party cleverly broke free from the Portuguese Military by wearing munds (loin cloths) and special hats, thus disguising themselves as soldiers.

To stop MarThoma from guiding his followers, the Portuguese ordered Kings of Cochin, Vadakkankur and others to prohibit the entry of MarThoma into their territories. Sebastiani then forcefully entered the Churches of the Thomas Christians and took control of them by gifting huge sums of money to the local Kings.

Colonial Rulers realised that East Syrian Rituals and Traditions have deep rooted influence among Malankara Nazranis which they had banned in the Synod of Diamper and had even stopped Middle Eastern Priests from reaching Malankara, one of the many reasons for the Coonan Cross event.

Having learned from the past, the Carmelite Mission introduced a new impersonated East Syrian Church Hierarchy sponsored surreptitiously by Rome to distract the followers of MarThoma.

To take advantage of the loyalty of the Saint Thomas Christians to their native Dynastic Leader (Arkadiyokans) of the Pakalomatam family, Bishop Sebastiani trapped PalliVeetil Parambil Chandy, the cousin of MarThoma, (He was also one among the four Counselors who were assisting His Holiness MarThoma), by offering him the position of Bishop.

Two Council Members of His Holiness MarThoma had shifted their allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church, both, unable to resist the tempting offers. Before the Consecration, Counselor Chandy was pressed to curse his Nephew ‘The MarThoma’, publicly so that he would not be able to rejoin MarThoma in future.

On February the 1st, 1663, Alexander de Campo (Parambil Chandy) became the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Indian origin. As a result of these Dishonest Teachings and Persecutions by Portuguese, one faction of Saint Thomas Christians disowned their Oath, betrayed Arkadiyokan and succumbed to the Catholic traditions of the Colonial Rulers.

With this split, many ancient parishes of Saint Thomas Christians were Colonised again by the Portuguese (with the help of the Carmelite Mission) and subsequently taken over by the Church of Rome.

At the same time, however, the Native Faction courageously continued their ancient MarThoma traditions under the Leadership of their Native and Hereditary Church Head, MarThoma I (Arkadiyokan) and retained the Sovereignty of the Throne of Saint Thomas as they had reaffirmed through Coonan Cross Oath and Mattancheri Padiyola.

Due to the Political and Military Support from Colonial Rulers, after this split the Catholic faction of Saint Thomas Christians, which was only 54 years since they formed, started calling themselves the “Old Party” (Pazhaya Kootu). This was because the Malankara Church of MarThoma opposed the Catholic Bishops unethical behavior to Colonise the Indian Church.

Portuguese Colonial Rulers started addressing their enemies, i.e., (‘Native Faction’) as “New Party” (Puthiya Kootu), even though MarThoma’s native faction had 1600 years of uncompromising tradition at that time.

Portuguese Rulers intentionally called Native Faction as the ‘New Party’ in order to degrade them in Retaliation for their Brave Protest against Colonial Propaganda.

Today, for the present generation of the Native Faction, it is a matter of pride that the troubled Portuguese Rulers were forced to address their Forefathers and their Patriotic Guru, His Holiness MarThoma I, as the ‘New Party’ (Puthiya Kootu) since they had heroically initiated the Great Indian Independence movement through the Koonan Kurishu Sathyam against Colonial Rulers.

In 1663, the Dutch captured Kochi and the Portuguese Invasion, which had lasted for 150 years, came to an end. Portuguese knew that Dynastic Leader MarThoma still had great Recognition in Society and that in the absence of Portuguese terror, the defected faction would join back with him. Before leaving Kochi, the Portuguese took Parambil Mar Chandi to the Dutch authorities at Cochin to make him vow to remain faithful to Rome during Dutch rule.

Also, the Portuguese got an assurance from the Dutch that the Dutch would support only the Catholic faction. This closed off all possibilities of future Re-Union of the Saint Thomas Christians and divided them into two. During the Dutch Colonial Period, the Dutch did not persecute the followers of MarThoma, but they were left as the ignored ones.

In such a disappointing condition, MarThoma Bishops lived and prayerfully guided the Saint Thomas Christians. From 1665 onwards, the Native Faction began their contact with the West Syrian Antiochian Patriarchate since the Portuguese had secured a Court Order (on 20th September 1661) in favor of the Catholic faction by straining the King of Cochin that only Throne of Saint Peter is valid in Malankara.

For Malankara Orthodox Christians this Land is Sacred with the footprints of the Persian Prelates, Catholicos MarThoma 1 and the ForeFathers of the Malankara Orthodox faith but more importantly it Reaffirms the True Spirit of Independence, Self Reliance and Our Universally Accepted Cultural Heritage to the Nation of India.

The people of Kerala today have embraced the principles of Communism, as an Economic Theory, but they laid witness to the Saint Thomas Christians as they led the First Indian Independence Struggle in the year 1653, yet so little is known or appreciated of this Monumental Achievement. For over 1600 years Christians were Secular, Integrated and United until the Portuguese arrived.

It is also another example, one of the countless many, of how we in India are psychologically sublimated to forget our own rich, ancestral history and accept a racist, corrupt EuroCentric litany of lies. One of the many is that at this time the ship Vasco da Gama was touted as the largest ship in Europe while the Gujarati traders had commercial trading ships multiple times bigger that were trading back and forth between the Indian SubContinent and the African Continent. India was the leading ship building entity in the world until the arrival of the European Usurpers illegally occupying our lands and intertwining their culture into ours.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.