Mar Sabor and Mar Proth
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Mar Sabor and Mar Proth also known as Kandishangal (Saints) (825 AD & 849 AD) were two East Syrian monks who built and presided over a number of churches in the Kingdom of Travancore with Syrian liturgy.
In 800 AD, Quilon was part of Venadu. Around 825 AD, Maruvan Sapir Iso (who built the chayal asramam, Nilalkkal near the chayal St. Thomas Church, planted by St.Thomas in Truth & Spirit). Maruvan Sapir Eso died at a very old age and was buried at chayal asramam. A successful Monk from Persia, crossed the seas to reach Quilon. Along with him came Mar Sabor and Mar Aproth, two bishops representing the Persian Christians. The then ruling monarch, Iyyanadikal Thiruvadikal (825 AD), welcomed the monks and showered them with special privileges and honors.
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Mar Sabor and Mar Proth came from the Middle East on the invitation of the Kollam King Kuleshakara 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. The era was started by these East Syrian 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 Kulashekhara. Kollam was an important town in that period, and the Malayalam Era is called 'Kolla Varsham,' possibly as a result of the Tarisapalli Shasanangal. It also signified the independence of Malabar from the Cheraman Perumals. 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.
The fact remains that the largest proportion of texts recovered are from Assyria, especially from the shattered remains of Assurbanipal's library at Nineveh, but also from the old Assyrian capital at Assur, were principally excavated by German expeditions in the twentieth century. In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that the written medical traditions continued in Babylonia after the fall of Assyria as is evidenced particularly by finds in the far southern city of Uruk and in tablets from the Babylon-Sippar area now in the British Museum (many unpublished).
The two monks were instrumental in founding Christian churches with Syrian lytergy 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 were with Jews, Syrians and Nambuthiri Christians.
Kollam sea port was founded by Mar Abo 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 Taamils and is also the foundation of the new city,
It is also believed[by whom?] that 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 Nestorian Bishops Mar Sapor and Mar Peroz settled in Quilon with a following .Two years later the Malabar Era began (824A.D.) and ws called after Quilon which was undoubtedly the premier city of malabar including Travancore and Cochin”
T.K.VeluPillai in the 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 .”6 T.K.VeluPillai in the Travancore State Manual “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.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 .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 ans there was no inherent contradiction between the two roles.8
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 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.”9
The intensified commercial activities from Abbassid Persia must have prompted Mar Sapor and Mar Prodh to move towards Kerala, which had earlier been an important commercial destination for the Christian merchants from Sassanid Persia. When they reached Quilon, they carried along with them an extensive network of commerce that the Sassanid merchants had earlier developed over centuries and they made use of these mercantile connections for keeping the wheels of commerce move around the Tharisapally of Kollam.
Though these merchant leaders were said to have reached Quilon in 823, the different economic privileges to the Tharisappally were granted only in 825 AD & 849 AD, almost 26 years after their arrival in the town Mar abo left towards Periyar and adopted a young Nambuthiri boy of 9 years in age, later called as Kadamattathachan as his successor . This suggests that 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,
As per the information gathered from Tharisapally copper plate. Kurakkeni Kollam, which was known differently as Koulam Male in Jewish Genizza papers and in Arabic sources as well as Gu-lin (in the Song period)/Ju-lan (in the Yuan period)in Chinese documents, does not appear in any source prior to 823 AD, which also suggests that the formation of the town must have taken place after the arrival of Sapor Abo only. 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 town of Quilon by Mar Abo. Probably, the rich astronomical traditions, which Mar Sapor brought from the erstwhile Sassanid Persia, must have been instrumental in developing this calendar in the inceptional stage.
By the time Suleiman visited Quilon in 841 AD met Mar Abo, it was already a town, as he writes in his Salsalat-al-Taverika. Mar Abo seems to have brought elements of Sassanid urban culture along with him and exteriorized them physically at Quilon as he lived more than sixty years in Chera Kingdom,a very long period indeed. Eventually with the intensification of trade between Abbassid Persia and Tang China there appeared a port-hierarchy in Kerala with a chain of satellite feeding ports revolving around the principal port of Quilon, which in turn was made to become the main port of call for long-distance traders moving between China and Persia. This process in turn caused immense wealth to get concentrated in the town of Quilon, which by later period the Cholas wanted to appropriate by capturing this port-town. In the midst of intense conflicts between the Cheras and the Cholas, Raja Raja Chola (985–1014) took over Quilon and its satellite port Vizhinjam.
The Portuguese had noticed that at least about 78 church communities were already in existence in different parts of Kerala immersed in local community prior to their arrival. However Quilon, Angamaly, Kaduthuruthy and Cranganore had the largest number of St.Thomas Christian population in Kerala. Giovanni Empoli, who came to Quilon in 1503 estimates that there were more than 3000 St.Thomas Christians in Quilon alone,.(Pius Malekandathil, “The Portuguese and the St.Thomas Christians :1500-1570”, in The Portuguese and the socio Cultural Changes in India, 1500–1800, ed.by K.S.Mathew, Teotonio R de Souza and Pius Malekandathil, Fundação Oriente, Lisboa, 2001,p. 128) On both sides of the cross in the altar of Kadamattom Church which is 76 cm long and 51 cm wide is written in Pahlavi script 2 big 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 Sapur writes ,the forgiving Miseha (God Jesus) who saved me from persecution”. The language is Persian while the place Nineveh belongs to modern day Iraq which has been under the control of Persian, Mesopotamian and Greek and Roman rulers in different periods of history.
Though the invalid Synod of Diamper proclaimed the holy men Mar Sabor and Mar Proth as 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 .12
.Afterwards he gained the rights of the local ruler of Kadamattom to build a church there .He later made the son of the home the priest of the Viswavijnanakosam (Malayalam) Vol.3, mentions the follows about the history of the kadamattom church and Mar Sabore also known as mar abo “Kadamattom church was founded by Mar Abo who was a holy man with knowledge of medical sciences and powers to perform miracles 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 he kadamattom church .Afterwards he left for Thevalakara to an influential and reputed Nambuthiri family who were traditional ophthalmologists of royal families in the adjoining area .This family is still known as Thevalakara Vaidyan family and most of their family members keep the surname Vaidyan. Another version about the history of the Vaidyan family is that the Vaidyan family who had prowess in traditional medicine i
Kulothunga Cholan who ruled from A.D.1070 and 1120 A.D. in his Cholapuram shasana (edict) states that in his 30th year or rule the suicide squad of Nairs attained heaven and the boundaries of the Chola, Chera pandya kingdoms were decided.14
Translation from Malayalam
“The intelligent Kulothunga Cholan with a mighty army attacked Chera’s and pandya’s Inspred by his successes Kulothunga led his army north and attacked kollam.” “In 999A.D RajarajaCholan defeated the Chera army. ……Again in 1005 AD Rajarajachola attacked and captured Kollam, Kodungallur….In1028 A.D again a large Chola army under Rajathirajachola 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.15
The prominence given to the Marthamariam church horse in the ‘kettukaazhcha’ festival of Thevalakara Devi Temple founded by Kadamattathu Achan Nambuthiri stands as a glowing 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 which is still preserved in the newly built Church, believed to be more than 700 years old, bearing a Muslim crescent, a Hindu symbol and the sign of the cross on it is further proof of the communal harmony of the place and the shrine.
- 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
- 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 family 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
- Diaries and writings of Mathai kathanar the 24th generation priest of Thulasserry Manapurathu family
- Kerala government website
- In the Travancore State Manual, Ch:XIII,pages 49-50, by Sri. T.K. Velu Pillai according to keralainfoservice
- Pillai,T.K.Velu, Travancore State Manual p.52
- 'K Sivasankaran Nair, venadinte parinamam വെണാടിന്റെ പരിണാമം, DC books, pages 28-29
- Pillai,T.K.Velu, Travancore State Manual p.244
- Aiyya, V.V Nagom, State Manual p.244