Friday, October 20, 2017

Devasahayam Mount, Aralvaimozhi – Life Story of Devasahayam Pillai

Devasahayam Mount, Aralvaimozhi – Life Story of Devasahayam Pillai
Devasahayam Pillai (23 April, 1712 – 14 January, 1752), born Neelakanta Pillai in the Kingdom of Travancore, is a beatified layman of the Latin Catholic Church. Born into a Hindu family in the 18th century, he converted to Catholicism and is considered a martyr of the Christian faith. Pillai was an official in the court of the King of TravancoreMaharaja Marthanda Varma. When he came under the influence of Dutch naval commander, Captain Eustachius De Lannoy, who instructed him in the Catholic faith. He is believed to have been killed by the Travancore state for upholding his Christian faith.
In 2004, at the request of the diocese of Kottar, Tamil Nadu Bishops Council (TNBC) and the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) recommended Devasahayam Pillai for the process of beatification to the Vatican. Some Hindu groups objected to this initiative because there was no evidence of religious persecution in Travancore during that period, and that Pillai was executed for sedition. However, documents dating back to the period of Devasahayam Pillai show that conversion of court officials to Christianity was not tolerated.
On 28 June 2012, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree regarding the martyrdom of Devasahayam Pillai and he was referred to as "Venerable". On 2 December 2012, a ceremony of beatification and declaration of martyrdom was held in Nagercoil, in the Roman Catholic diocese of Kottar in Southern India, presided over by Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, acting as papal delegate. Devasahayam Pillai is the first lay man to be elevated to the rank of "Blessed" in India (the step preceding raising a person to Sainthood under the Canon Law of the Catholic Church).
Biography according to Roman Catholic Tradition
Early life:
Devasahayam Pillai (named Neelakanda Pillai at birth) was born into an affluent Nair-caste family at Nattalam in the present-day Kanyakumari District, on 23 April 1712. His father Vasudevan Namboothiri, hailed from Kayamkulam, in present-day Kerala state, and was working as a priest at Sri Adi Kesava Perumal temple in Thiruvattar in present-day Kanyakumari district of Tamilnadu. His mother Devaki Amma hailed from Thiruvattar in Kanyakumari District. In the Nair matriarchal traditions of the day, Devasahayam Pillai was raised by his maternal uncle, and was inculcated with Hindu beliefs and traditions early on.
Devasahayam’s family had much influence in the royal palace of Maharaja Marthanda Varma, king of Travancore, and Devasahayam went into the service of the royal palace as a young man. His capabilities and enthusiasm did not go unnoticed in the palace, as he was soon put in charge of state affairs as an official under Ramayyan Dalawa, the Dewan of Travancore.
Conversion to Christianity:
In 1741, Captain Eustachius De Lannoy, a Dutch naval commander, was sent on command of a Dutch naval expedition by the Dutch East India Company to capture Colachel, a port under the control of Travancore, and establish a trading post there. In the battle (Battle of Colachel) that followed between the Travancore forces and De Lannoy’s men, the Dutch forces were defeated and the men were either killed or captured. Eustachius De Lannoy, his assistant Donadi and a few other Dutch soldiers were captured and imprisoned.
De Lannoy and the Dutchmen were later pardoned by the king, on condition that they serve in the Travancore army. De Lannoy later earned the trust of the king and went on to become the commander of the Travancore armed forces, winning many battles and annexing various neighboring territories to Travancore. It was during their influential roles under the King of Travancore that Devasahayam Pillai & De Lannoy became well acquainted. De Lannoy’s Christian faith interested Devasahayam and De Lannoy enlightened him on the faith, leading to his conversion in 1745.
On Devasahayam’s acceptance of the Christian faith, he was baptized at the Roman Catholic Latin Rite church at Vadakkankulam village (in the present Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu, where the Jesuits had a mission under Rev. Fr. R. Bouttari Italus S.J. Neelakanda Pillai, his name at birth, was then changed to Lazar, although he is more widely known by the Tamil & Malayalam translation Devasahayam (meaning God's help). Pillai was married by this time to Bhargavi Ammal of Travancore.
She was also persuaded and converted to Christianity by her husband. His wife was given the baptismal name of Gnanapoo Ammaal (equivalent to Theresa in Tamil & Malayalam). Fearing reprisal in Travancore against her religious conversion, she chose to be a migrated-resident of this village. Some of Devasahayam Pillai's immediate family members also received baptism later, after being converted to Christianity.
Orders based on accusations and charges:
Church chroniclers say that the Brahmin chief priest of the kingdom, the feudal lords, members of the royal household and the Nair community brought false charges on Devasahayam to the Dewan, Ramayyan Dalawa. Pillai was divested of his portfolio in the administration and was later accused of treason and of divulging state secrets to rivals and Europeans. He was later arrested and tortured for three years. After his execution orders were passed, he was initially ordered to be taken on a buffalo to Kuzhumaikkad, where he would be executed. But the original Royal order was altered later to finally to be taken on a buffalo back to Aralvaimozhi border for a meaningful punishment of banishment after carrying out a series of tortures by ten different karyakkars on the advice of the ministers.
Other traditions and beliefs:
Devasahayam Pillai was marched from Padmanabhapuram Palace to Aralvaimozhi by soldiers, over the period of a few days. Pillai was treated like a criminal and as was customary in those days for criminals, his body was painted with red and black spots, and was intentionally marched through populated areas, sitting backward on top of a water buffalo (the mythical vehicle or Vahana of Yama, the lord of death in Hinduism) through the streets of South Travancore. As a method of torture, he was beaten every day with eighty stripes, pepper rubbed in his wounds and nostrils, exposed to the sun, and given only stagnant water to drink.
While halting at Puliyoorkurichi, not far away from the Padmanabhapuram Palace of the Travancore king, it is believed by Christians that God quenched his thirst by letting water gush through a small hole on a rock, the very place where he knelt to pray. The water hole is still found in the compound of a church at Puliyoorkurichi, about 15 km from Nagercoil. It is also believed that the leaves of a neem (Margosa) tree in the village of Peruvilai, to which he had been tied while being marched to Aralvaimozhi, cured illnesses of sick people in the village and around. Many more miracles are attributed to Devasahayam Pillai.
In 1752, the original order of the King and his Dewan was to deport him from Travancore, into the Pandya country, at Aralvaimozhi. He was let off in the forested hills near Aralvaimozhi. There, he is believed to have begun deep meditations, and the people from the adjacent villages began visiting the holy man. Christian sources allege that at this time, high caste Hindus plotted to do away with Devasahayam. Some people believe that the soldiers went up the forested hills and tried to shoot Devasahayam, but were unable to fire; after which he took the gun in his hands, blessed it and gave it back to the soldiers to shoot him to death, if they wished to.
The soldiers took the gun back and fired at him five times. His body was then carelessly thrown out near the foothills at Kattadimalai. It was at Kattadimalai in Kanyakumari district that Devasahayam Pillai died on 14 January 1752. His mortal remains were interred near the altar inside St. Xavier's Church, Kottar, Nagercoil, which is now the diocesan Cathedral. Since the days of the interment of the mortal remains of Devasahayam Pillai many Christian pilgrims visited his tomb and offered prayers.
Canonization efforts:
According to the report submitted by the then Bishop of Cochin (under whom Kanyakumari church was then functioning) in 1756 CE, the Christian martyrdom of Devasahayam Pillai was promptly intimated to Vatican. Prominent witnesses to his saintliness and martyrdom include Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar. In 1780, Kariattil Ouseph Malpan submitted a petition to the Vatican for canonization of Devasahayam Pillai. The church historian C. M. Agur concluded in 1903 that although apostasy was never considered illegal in Travancore, it was not viewed indifferently, particularly in the case of the King's palace servants, and this led to the martyrdom of Devasahayam Pillai.
In 1984, a group of lay persons from the diocese of Kottar, especially members of Nagercoil Catholic Club, once again took the initiative to seek the beatification of Devasahayam. This is unusual for a layman, but he is regarded as one who was totally devoted to Christ. At the beginning of the 21st century, many Christian devotees were offering prayers at his tomb in St. Xavier's Cathedral of the diocese of Kottar. After a series of initiatives by the diocese of Kottar and much deliberation, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), Tamil Nadu Bishops' Council (TNBC), later in 2004, duly recommended his beatification, following scrutiny of available historical evidence, in consultation with others. Bishop Chrysostom said that the CBCI did not intend any controversy whatsoever in moving this forward.
Professor A. Sreedhara Menon (1925–2010), a noted historian and writer on Travancore, said that no cases of persecution in the name of religious conversion were recorded in the history of the kingdom. P. Parameswaran, president of the Hindu spiritual organization Vivekananda Kendra, accused the CBCI of an attempt to hurt Hindu sentiments. Referring to the Travancore state manual, he insisted that Devasahayam was a palace employee who was executed after confirmation of sedition, because he had tampered with palace records and passed them to De Lannoy.
However, Catholic records of the time state that the kingdom of Travancore did not tolerate palace officials converting to Christianity. In June 2012, Pope Benedict XVI officially recognized a decree from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints stating that he lived a life of "heroic virtues" – a major step towards beatification – and Pillai was then referred to as "Venerable".
Beatification and declaration as a martyr:
Devasahayam Pillai was declared a Martyr and Blessed on 2 December 2012, at a solemn ceremony held in the Diocese of Kottar at Carmel Higher Secondary School GroundsNagercoil, near the place of his burial. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of SaintsAngelo Cardinal Amato presided at the function as Delegate of Pope Benedict XVI. Several cardinals, archbishops and bishops from India and elsewhere, as well as numerous priests, religious men and women and over 100,000 Catholics from all over India participated in the grand ceremony which included a Solemn Pontifical Mass.
Among the dignitaries officiating at the altar were Angelo Cardinal Amato, Oswald Cardinal Gracias (Archbishop of Mumbai), Telesphore P. Cardinal Toppo (Archbishop of Ranchi), George Cardinal Alencherry (Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church), Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Catholicos (Major Archbishop of Syro-Malankara Catholic Church), Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio (Apostolic Nuncio to India), and Bishop Peter Remigius (Bishop of Kottar).
Blessed Devasahayam Pillai is the first lay person from India to be beatified by the Catholic Church. On the same day as Devasahayam Pillai was declared a Blessed in the Diocese of Kottar, India, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the pilgrims gathered in Rome. During his Angelus Message the Pope mentioned the event in Italian and English. He said in Italian:
"Today in Kottar, India, Devasahayam Pillai, a faithful layman, who lived in the 18th century and died a martyr, was proclaimed Blessed. Let us join in the joy of the Church in India and pray that this newly Beatified sustain the faith of the Christians of that great and noble country."
Then he addressed the crowds in English:
"I welcome all gathered here today to pray with me. I especially greet the people of Kottar who celebrate today the beatification of Devasahayam Pillai. His witness to Christ is an example of that attentiveness to the coming of Christ recalled by this first Sunday of Advent. May this holy season help us to centre our lives once more on Christ, our hope. God bless all of you!"
Places related to his life story:
Devasahayam Pillai is buried in the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier at Kottar in Nagercoil. Devasahayam's tomb has been restored and beautified in view of the declaration of martyrdom and beatification. Devasahayam Pillai’s clothes and other belongings are kept in a church in the small town of Vadakkankulam in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu State, India. They are exposed at the church on 15 August every year, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.
His wife was buried in the cemetery there. Puliyoorkurichi, location of the water fountain believed to have quenched Devasahayam’s thirst, is on the Nagercoil–Trivandrum highway. Aralvaimozhi, where Devasahayam was killed, is on the Nagercoil–Tirunelveli highway. At that spot on the hillock (called Kattadimalai), devotees believe that rocks fell and were broken at that moment. One rock at the place makes bell-like sounds when knocked with a stone.