58. The Eastern Venice

@Alleppey, Kerala, India.

It was long long ago, when John Milton’s Satan stopped somewhere driven by his wandering thoughts which paused him for more than a few minutes, forgetting his basic plan to spread hate and not love; for all that pleasure to destroy had evaporated during those moments of redemption. Then had that Renaissance love for beauty found its place in more than just those humans. There is that possiblity that this might have happened at Aleppey, not too far away from Cochin. He was no tourist; but Alleppey is a favourite destination for the visitors and may be he was also a guest to that world created in the world which was not meant for him, as if it belonged to him as a level of inheritance fro his creator and also his brethren in heaven who didn’t fall with him. May be there is a little of him and his essence in every serpent which stands still and wonder at beauty of nature or random damsel; delighted may be them too; the hot flames of eternal hell can blame in them better, sometimes hidden and sometimes known to the world, even if the creatures never come to know about it. The picturesque water bodies including all thosecanals, backwaters, beaches, and lagoons should have been even better than the imagination of someone who lost all the joys of heaven in a flash.

Even for the biggest foe of man, created and living from its most destructive element, it was not able to create that much needed aversion and hatred which would have made his alignment perfectly clear. But he was to stay between the cosmos and chaos, even if closer to the latter and struggling to stay there. There was no fate’s intervention in it, as it was as clear as the water of the spirit world and as pure as the fire which burnt them; unless some third generation demon was to get into it. There was always the grey portion between black and white, good and evil, but in that journey towards pure evil, the slide was surely towards the evil side except for those few moments of petrification, not induced by that gorgon which had himself in multitude on her head, but by that sense of beauty which didn’t leave him even as all his good qualities deserted him one by one. Fate had no reason to be there, as it was individuality and free will which ruled that former angel; not to be controlled by anything other than his own brainy mind which excelled enough to question more and more beyond that horizon which formed that wall held by pillars of faith, belief and obedience.

The first thing to do in Alleppey might be to look for that houseboat; one of those boats for having a great journey around the backwaters of the Eastern Venice. But forgetting Mount Carmel Cathedral, a fine white building, would be going back to the man of Milton with all the internal vices. The question would be, where to fit the churches of Arthunkal, Champakulam and Edathua. Considering how old and beautiful in the Keralite style the Champakulam church or the Saint Marys Forane Church is, Saint George Church at Edathua church looks beautiful to the tourists as well as the pilgrims, thus making it that spiritual destination beside the element of water. There is nothing much left to be said about Saint Andrews Basilica at Arthunkal, known more for Saint Sebastian than the saint whose name is bestowed upon the church. These three churches could make the situation difficult for Milton’s hero, along with the cathedral; but as it is known for centuries, evil always finds a way; so did Satan in the Garden of Eden and so did all those evil thoughts which haunts men so hard as if it came out of Pandora’s Box in a hurry and wants to go back to its ancestral home in the other dimension.

The holy presence made by Arthunkal, Champakulam and Edathua would have its existance, but as long as the materialistic and more romantic view of the world is concerned, it is to be traced back to the house boat or that boat which is a house on water; my definition would be “that thing which stays over water and pretends that it is a house”. It is motorized and it is to be referred to as a kettuvallam rather than a floating house. These things with thatched roof covers on the top and wooden hulls below it, are as photogenic as the surroundings which struggle hard not to pale in comparison. There is that positive competition which is a joy for the viewer; a tourist, a poet, an artist, a photographer or even a random person who fell into water and is going to die drinking what is around that landscape. When “kettu” means “to tie” and “vallam” means boat, it gets that name it is commonly referred to, and it is that symbol of Kerala tourism which strikes that arrow into the heart of a tourist as if Ares had taken that weapon from Cupid and is shooting them with so much power as to hurt the longing hearts of those people who are too far away or are having a life which is too busy.

When Kerala was placed among the fifty destinations of a lifetime by National Geographic Traveler, the role of these houseboats were not be seen lightly, and now there are so many of them; in different sizes and with that needed variety in the looks and style. Aleppey is that fort of houseboats; a powerful stronghold which could take more crusading army than the Eastern Roman Empire, Edessa, Antioch, Jerusalem and Tripoli could ever contain; not as a war for territory, but as a battle of imaginations which would strike faster than the swords of those mighty warriors from Europe. The swords of imaginations would clash with the shields of fancy which would create that unparallel effect; not of blood, not of gore, but of eternal beauty of nature for which even the most powerful warriors would lay down their weapons; even Montezuma would come all the way with his Eagle Warriors of Tenochtitlan and his prized Jaguar Warriors in a canoe, just to surrender to this beauty which, could have had a parallel at his place, but was denied to him by Hernan Cortes and his Spanish Conquistadors.

The beauty of Aleppey is not something to be avoided, not even for the souls of the people with the most inglorious insides which would make Satan inferior in infamy. What happens in Kumarakom and Aleppey might just be the same; a journey through the beautiful backwaters supported by that greenery which surrounds the lake better than Milton’s man surrounded humans with sin, but in a good way. When you go there with friends, you eat food, you take photos until your camera calls you names, think about the poems of Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Byron or whoever comes to the mind; be that lotos eater Lord Tennyson had mentioned, or be his Ulysses; your choice, your path on any side of that mending wall of Robert Frost. There web of beauty which nature has stitched for you; it is that local Lake District you had been waiting for; who knows what is to happen to Romanticism with that overdose; for there is always the probability of dead authors living their dreams in the minds of upcoming writers, who wander aimlessly like a houseboat or in a houseboat through that deadly imagination combination which rules this part of the big world.

Diving out —>



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 —>