Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A unique prayer.

Around 1750 A.D. It would be another four decades before the Parayils built the Thycattussarry Church. The statue of St. Antony
that the family had brought along when they shifted to Cherthala from the north of Kerala at some point in the hazy past, was kept in the Ayanat house and not at Velliara, the ‘Tharavad’.

A couple of decades earlier, Marthanda Varma, the raja of a small state called Venad on the southern tip of Kerala, had carried out a highly successful military campaign against the principalities to the north. His advance ended with the annexation of Cherthala from the raja of Cochin. Thus, the State known as Travancore came into being.

Marthanda Varma obtained, as a result of his offensive, full control over Purakad Port (south of Alleppey) and partial access to the spices trade. Till then, the export of pepper and other spices was mainly through the Cochin harbour, which was occupied by the Dutch after they defeated the Portuguese in 1663.

Marthanda Varma’s dream of monpolizing the pepper trade did not fructify immediately. For some reason the Christians of Karapuram (Cherthala) continued to ship spices through Cochin. (It is reasonable to conclude that the Parayils were part of that group.) Dr. PK Michael Tharakan, on a research mission to Algemeen Rejkarchief, the Royal Archives at The Hague, discovered a letter written on the subject by the Raja of Travancore on 28 August 1758 to the Dutch Governor at Cochin.

According to tradition, pepper and other hill produces were sent by the Parayils to Cochin by large boats that plied a ‘kappal chal’ (shipping channel), which extended from the port to Thycvattussarry Church along a branch of the Vembanad Lake. This smooth operation suddenly ran into a serious problem.

Enter Lebba Moosa.

This much-feared pirate of the inland waterways started attacking the Parayil shipments. The man had money and muscle power. His main strength was a brother who was an expert with the sling. Two attempts by the Parayils to defeat Moosa failed miserably.

The very existence of the Parayil Family was under threat. They recruited a number of well-trained fighting men to confront Moosa in a perfectly timed move.

Before the small ‘army’ went out for the battle, the ‘Karanavar’ (eldest member of the family) went and stood in front of the statue of St. Antony, the family’s patron saint. He removed his ‘angavastram’ (a shawl that covered the torso), kept it under his left arm (an act to demonstrate respect) and said the following prayer, “Look, if we are defeated this time also, tomorrow both of us would be in the western lake.”

It didn’t come to that. Moosa was either killed in the encounter or died en route as he was being brought to Ayanat in captivity. The sling specialist who was ineffectual in the duel reportedly said that his vision was blurred by a dark shadow. The locals were quick to claim it as a miracle by the patron saint.

The statue of St. Antony is safe inside the Thycattussarry Church today and the Ayanat Parayil house still stands in all its splendour.


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