56. Religious Frontier

@Kuravilangad, Kerala, India.

It should have been more than one decade since I passed through the town for the first time; for my visits to Kuravilangad might be as old and frequent as my journeys to Kothamangalam and Perumbavoor towns, unless it is slightly less. For this town situated about twenty kilometers from Kottayam, my number of visits should be kept in its silent, invisible database, in case it happens to have that big a database management system which is accurate enough to make Zeus repair his thunderbolt machinery due to its own lack of accuracy. Kottayam district is that second most visited area for me, following the Ernakulam district and preceding Trichur, Idukki and Aleppey. I am no Hermes to be visiting all these places in frequent intervals, but for Kuravilangad and to an extent Kottayam as a whole, there have been enough visits; as it is that region which looks more blessed by Demeter than Mother Earth’s favourite place somewhere near those lakes and woods, which gave Robert Frost that idea to stop and continue, realizing the universal truth about the existance of duties and the presence of ambitions, along with the realization of lack of time to stop and enjoy something which rises the level of aesthetics to such an extent that even Appollo and Athena would find difficult to explain even after watching Aphrodite so many times and attesting.

Constantine the Great, who had a significant and upto an extent, extremely magnificient religious experience following his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D against his powerful rival, and who later became a patron and follower of Christianity was late in his conversion and transformation considering how old the Kuravilangad church happens to be. Before he changed the Roman Empire from pagan to Christian and shifted his capital to that new Christian centre of learning which would later inspire the Renaissance in Florence and further Europe; then called Constantinople and now Istanbul, there was this church in Kerala; even before the Armenian Empire became Christian to become the first nation to declare Christianity as state religion, there existed this place of worship. Neither Constantine the Great or Tiridates III the Great would have been aware of it though; The Church of Holy Wisdom of God would come quite late and would just end up being Hagia Sophia, while Saint Mary’s Forane Church at Kuravilangad would remain the same in essence and would only get renovated enough to get better and still contain that spirit; not in a lesser manner, but with that devotion which would get stronger as years come with the seasons of pilgrimage effecting that cycle of joy and selfless worship.

Both Constantine and Tiridates should have been busy enough with their own empires, that they might not have had the time to explore for more of what was outside their nations and surely a place which is so far away. All roads should have still lead to Rome, and not the other way around; and in the case of Constantinople, one can’t be that sure considering it as a newer place of glory which had just arisen. Rome had its own battle in itself and also from the outside, while Armenia was not located at that good a location to establish a trade route to this side and therefore they are to be forgiven for that ignorance. Still, nothing would have been parallel to being established as the state religion of the mighty Roman Empire and that significance would be another story. There wouldn’t be any Constantinian Shift in this part of the world; it would be gradual and it would be purely spiritual and religious, not affected by anything political, social or economic; not at all of any financial character or something of material gain in the realm of unreality, the mortal world would be clearly embedded in advance, into that stage of immortality which is to arrive with all its glory.

Whatever huge church buildings might have been built in this world, mostly in Europe with the royal patronage and later in the Americas by the colonizers, blessed is this land in the centre of the state of Kerala and the South of India, as Mother Mary’s first appearance in the world, is believed to be at Kuravilangad, something which is to be noted down in golden letters. It is an event of that divinity which blesses the whole subcontinent. Our Lady appeared to a few children at Kuravilangad, who were tending their flock in the bushes and asked them to build a church at the place from where a miraculous perpetual spring came out, something which exists even today right behind the current church structure. The children reported the events to the elders and a church was built at the location, something which hallowed the grounf further with that spiritual honour which extended its arms towards unlimited perfection, not of this world, but of the other dimension of our Lord. The church has a very old bell, glorified with inscriptions and a model of a ship made from wood. The strange thing would be that it is still not that popular a pilgrim destination in the world, and even in India or Kerala, it is slightly less in fame.

One or two of my friends called Kuravilangad, the Vatican of India and the Rome of Kerala; this name it clearly deserves for not only the number of believers in the area who are religious and spiritual enough to keep the lands blessed, but also for having such a rich history, having a unique place in the history of the church in Kerala and India as a whole. It might be less known compared to many other churches, but it is actually the Colossus; or may be like the titan Kronos, as much of a giant as Alcyoneus, and its significance cannot be measured by the number of pilgrims or its listing in a random tourist map as a place for worship. If there was ever a list of the first titans of Christianity in India, Kuravilangad church would been in it; but what importance does the history of Kerala have in those History text books of French revolution, British Colonialism in India and the Mughal rule? When the great rulers like Marthanda Varma and Dharma Raja failed to have a good position in the History text books of Kerala, what can the common man do to be part of history as he carries the blame of being born at a place where History is of least importance and is considered inferior to science and commerce?

The Moonnu Nombu functions during Lent is a major feature of the church. A forty feet wooden ship has been for centuries the centre of attraction in the mid-day procession which is to take place every year. The tempest of the sea which lead to Jonah being thrown into the sea is comparable to the tempest of the people and that tempest which was cast by a depressed but determined Prospero in an effort to bring his enemies to his island and play with their minds before ultimately forgiving them; Shakespeare would be proud. The current structure combines the older style of Kerala with two tower-like structure on the front, with a curved end such as to signify a simplified, small dome. It looks less imposing with the newer white paint, but it is that older colour which I would like to boast about. The main altar is a rare and beautiful thing and so are the other smaller church structures near by. The church is located at such a good height that it could be visible from the Main Central Road itself; all that journey from Kottayam to Ernakulam would give that beautiful sight of a divine building standing with its head held high towards that heaven to which the prayers are sent.

Diving out —>