Mar Sabor and Mar Proth

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Mar Sabor and Mar Proth collectively known as Maruvan Sapir Iso or Mar Sapir Iso[A] (825–? and 849–?) were two East Syrian monks who built and presided over a number of churches in the Kingdom of Travancore operating in accordance with Syrian liturgy.

In 800 AD, the seaport of Quilon (now known as Kollam) was part of the Venad Kingdom. The then ruling monarch, Iyyanadikal Thiruvadikal, welcomed the monks on their arrival and showered them with special privileges and honors. Maruvan Sapir Iso built the Nilalkkal ashram near St. Thomas Church in Chayal (now known as Kayalpatnam).

They moved to various villages and established churches including Kadamattom Church, Akapparambu, Niranam, Kadisha Church in Kayamkulam and then finally to present Thevalakkara Marth Mariam Orthodox Church, where they died and were buried.

History[edit]

Mar Sabor
Tomb of Mar Sabor at Marth Mariam Church, Thevalakkara

Mar Sabor and Mar Proth came from the Middle East at the invitation of the King Kuleshakara of Quilon (now known as Kollam) as an Authority for the Doctrine of Trinity against the background of a Shivate Revival of Advaita Vedanta propounded by Adi Shankara. The start of the Malayalam era (ME), also referred to as Kollavarsham, is associated with Kollam.[1][2][3] The era was started by these East Syrian Saints who settled in Korukeni kollam, near to the present Kollam.[4] The start of the ME has been dated to 825 AD, when a great convention was held in Kollam at the behest of King Kulashekhara. Kollam was an important town in that period, and the Malayalam Era's alternative name of "Kollavarsham" is possibly as a result of the Tarisapalli Shasanangal, which references the gift of a plot of land to the Syrian Church near Quilon, along with several rights and privileges to the Syrian Christians led by Mar Sapir Iso.. It also signified the independence of Malabar from the Cheraman Perumals.[5] King Kulashekhara granted the copper plate grants in 849 AD to Mar Sapir Iso whom he invited to Kollam from Assyria (present Persia & Iraq) 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.[5]

The two monks were instrumental in founding Christian churches with Syrian litergy in the Malabar coast area distinct from ancient hinduism. The Tharisapalli plates are signed by the Nestorian monks in Hebrew, Pahlavi and Kufic languages indicating that the treaty was made with Jews, Syrians and Nambuthiri Christians.

It is also believed[by whom?] that in an audience with the Chera king, Mar Sabor volunteered to create a new sea port near Kollam in place of the king's request to renew the almost vanished inland sea ports of Tyndis (now known as Kadalundi) or Nelcynda.

V. Nagam Aiya in his Travancore State Manual records that in 822 AD two Nestorian Bishops Mar Sapor and Mar Peroz, settled in Quilon with their followers. Two years later the Malabar Era began (824 AD) and Quilon undoubtedly became the premier city of the Malabar region including Travancore and Cochin”[6]

T.K. Velupillai in his Travancore State Manual writes, "Gopinatha Rao who assigns the latter part of the 9th century as the period of the reign bases his conclusions on he assumption that Kollam era was started in the memory of the coming of Maruvan Abo Iso. Tradition says that St. Thomas preached here (in Syria) only among Nampoothiri Communities who expected the Human Manifestation of the second in Trinity (Vaishnava)and in after times a party of Monks from Syria landed in the neighbourhood of the modern town (Quilon) a place now engulfed in sea named Thevalakara."

M. G. S. Narayanan in his paper on the Chera-Pandya conflict in the 8th–9th centuries, which led to the emergence of Venad or the Kingdom of Quilon 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. In the absence of materials for a detailed history, it is difficult to ascertain whether Mar Abo was a (priest)or missionary. Perhaps he was both at the same time and there was no inherent contradiction between the two roles."

Narayanan also writes in Cultural Symbiosis in Kerala 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 Nmpoothiri 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.”


Portuguese[edit]

When they arrived on the Malabar Coast, the Portuguese noted at least 78 extant church communities closely interwoven with the local community in different parts of Kerala. Quilon, Angamaly, Kaduthuruthy and Cranganore (now known as Kodungallur) had the largest population of Saint Thomas Christians in Kerala. Giovanni Empoli, who came to Quilon in 1503, estimated that there were more than three thousand St.Thomas Christians in Quilon alone.[7]

On both sides of the 76 centimetres (30 in) long by 51 centimetres (20 in) wide cross on the altar of Kadamattom Church, in Pahlavi script, are written two big sentences and in the centre a small sentence, which Pahlavi linguist, Jamshed Modi translated as: "I have come to this nation from Ninevah as a bird. Mar Sapor writes, the forgiving Miseha (God Jesus) who saved me from persecution". Nineveh is in modern day Iraq and has been under the control of Persian, Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman rulers in different periods of history.

Though the invalid Synod of Diamper in 1599 proclaimed Mar Sabor and Mar Proth heretics, the Christians of Mlankara (Kerala) respected these saints and continued to receive blessings from them.

"According to decisions of Synod of Diamper these saints (Mar Sabore and Mar Proth) of Malankara Nazranis were considered as schismatics and the churches the established were wrongly proclaimed to be established by St. Thomas."

Mar Sabor (also known as Mar Abo) gained the necessary rights from the local ruler of Kadamattom to build a church there. Volume three of the ten volume Viswavijnanakosam (written in Malayalam), mentions the following about the history of Kadamattom Church and Mar Sabor: "Kadamattom church was founded by Mar Abo who was a holy man with knowledge of medical sciences and powers to perform miracles. He established the church in the forest regions of Kadamattom in the 40th year of Kollam Era. He stayed there at first in a small home with a mother and a son. Afterwards he left for Thevalakara to visit an influential and reputed Nambuthiri family who were traditional ophthalmologists to the royal families in the adjoining area. This family is still known as Thevalakara Vaidyan family and most of their members retain the surname Vaidyan. Another version about the history of the Vaidyan family is that the Vaidyan family had prowess in traditional medicine."

Translation from Malayalam[edit]

"The intelligent Kulothunga Cholan with a mighty army attacked Chera and Pandya. Inspired by his successes, Kulothunga led his army north and attacked Kollam. In 999 AD Rajaraja Cholan defeated the Chera army. ……Again in 1005 AD Rajarajachola attacked and captured Kollam, Kodungallur…. In 1028 AD again a large Chola army under Rajathiraja Cholan captured and killed a large portion of Kerala and its people. The Chola edict states that the Venad king was also killed in this war. To escape from the cruel Chola army the people of Kerala (Chera) sought refuge in the mountains and nearby areas."

The prominence given to the Marthamariam church horse during the kettukaazhcha festival founded by Kadamattathu Achan Nambuthiri at the Thevalakara Devi Temple stands as a testimony to the enviable position enjoyed by the Vaidyan family as well as the communal harmony that prevailed during the time. A massive beam of wood from the old church, believed to be more than 700 years old, is still preserved in the newly built church. The beam bears a Muslim crescent, a Hindu symbol and the sign of the cross as further evidence of communal harmony.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Mar" (Syriac: "lord") is an espiscopal title used in the Malabar churches and in West Asia, while "Sapor" (Syriac: Shapur) and "Prodh" (Syriac: Firuz) are alternative names used in the Sasanian Empire in the 4-5th centuries AD. A Christian grant made by the Kollam ruler dating to about 824 AD bears the name "Maruvan Sapir Iso", which is believed to be an amalgamation of "Mar Sapor" and "Mar Prodh".[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kerala government website
  2. ^ In the Travancore State Manual, Ch:XIII,pages 49-50, by Sri. T.K. Velu Pillai according to keralainfoservice
  3. ^ Pillai,T.K.Velu, Travancore State Manual p.52
  4. ^ 'K Sivasankaran Nair, venadinte parinamam വെണാടിന്റെ പരിണാമം, DC books, pages 28-29
  5. ^ a b Pillai, T.K. Velu, Travancore State Manual p. 244
  6. ^ Aiyya, V.V Nagom, State Manual p. 244
  7. ^ K. S. Mathew; Teotónio R. de Souza; Pius Malekandathil (2001). "The Portuguese and the St.Thomas Christians : 1500-1570". The Portuguese And The Socio-Cultural Changes In India, 1500-1800. Institute for Research in Social Sciences and Humanities, MESHAR. p. 128. ISBN 978-81-900166-6-7. 
  8. ^ Susan Bayly (2004). Saints, Goddesses and Kings: Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society, 1700-1900. Cambridge University Press. p. 264. ISBN 978-0-521-89103-5. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Narayan, M.G.S, Chera-Pandya conflict in the 8th–9th centuries which led to the birth of Venad: Pandyan History seminar, Madurai University, 1971
  • Narayan M.G.S., Cultural Symbiosis p33
  • L.K. Anantha Krishna Iyer, State Manual, p50,52
  • Bernard Thoma Kathanar, Marthoma Christyanikal, lines 23,24
  • Z.M. Paret, Malankara Nazranikal, vol. 1
  • The Viswavijnanakosam (Malayalam) Vol. 3, p. 523,534
  • Travancore Archaeological Series (T.A.S.) Vol. 6 p. 15
  • Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, Keralathinde Eruladanja Edukal, p. 64,112,117
  • Diaries and writings of Mathai Kathanar, the 24th generation priest of Thulaserry Manapurathu, based on the ancestral documents and Thaliyolagrandha handed down through generations
  • The handwritten diaries of Pulikottil Mar Dionyius (former supreme head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Chitramezhuthu KM Varghese)