Catholic Church at Aarakuzha
Though it is said about Aarakuzha church that it was erected in 1000 A.D. for 1000 Christians (Ayiram mappilamarkuvendi ayirathil vacha palli), it was erected in 999 A.D. Aarakkuzha (Aara+ kuzhai) means a vast area.
Christians had migrated to Aarakuzha for cultivation in the 9th century. Families such as Oram, Ozhuka, Cherukulam, Kalambadan, Kadalikkadan and Cherukadan migrated from Vadakara. It is said that a Nair and a Christian priest had accompanied them. People from Ramapuram, Kadamattom, Mailakombu, Chembu, Idapalli, Thenkasi, Vizhakapattanam and Thulunadu had migrated to Aarakuzha. The road connecting Kaduthuruthi with Tamilnadu runs through the southern side of Aarakuzha. There had been roads to Edapalli, Thruppunithura, Aluva and Angamali from Aarakuzha. It is said that people could travel from Aarakuzha to Nediasala at night without light because there were many houses by the side of the road that people could travel at night with the light coming from the houses.
The Panickar family of Vallikada (Pallikadavu) which had migrated from Thulunadu used to conduct a kalari in Aarakuzha. During the Muslim aggression in North Kerala, powerful Hindu families such as Erthadathil (Puthattel) and Muringothil ruled over this area as idaprabhuckal.
During the 17 and 18 centuries when Nediyasala and Purapuzha areas were forests, Aarakuzha had been an area with ‘light’. During the second spell of the reign of Chera Dynasty (A.D. 800-1102), Aarakuzha was a part of Keezhmalainadu which was one of the many kingdoms (nadu) in Kerala. When Keezhmalainadu was conquered by Vadakumkoor Dynasty in about 1600 A.D. Aarakuzha became a part of Vadakumkoor. Foreigners used to call Vadakumkoor as the land of pepper. Vadakumkoor was bounded on the north by River Periyar, on the east by Pandyanadu and on the west by the backwaters. Aarakuzha came under the rule of Thiruvithamkoor king when Vadakumkoor was annexed by Marthandavarma, the king of Thiruvithamkoor, in 1750.
Aarakuzha had been a part of Mailakombu Parish. The immigrant Christians erected a cross on a hillock situated on the western side of the paddyfield lying west of the present church and used to conduct worship. The dead were buried nearby. It was the first place of Christian worship in Aarakuzha. Later a church was erected on Koodathil (Kucadathil) parampu where the present High School is situated. Later the church was abandoned due to the hostilities of Puthattel Unniathiry and the property of the church was shifted to Memadangu which was under the authority of Chettoor Kartha and worship was resumed there. In course of time the old church and the cemetery were forgotten.
Aarakuzha which was the cellar of spices that brought plenty of foreign money gained a prominent place in the history of Thiruvithamkoor. King Marthandavarma erected a mundapathumvathil, danavu, and chavuka, etc. on the north east side of Maradikara which was a part of Aarakuzha pakuthi. As that area lay on the banks of Thodupuzha and Muvattupuzha rivers, it came to be called Muvattupuzha. Nearness to the rivers and the presence of the long fort (nedumkotta) increased the prominence of the place. There had been a palace, fort, temples, bazaars and markets in Aarakuzha during the reign of Vadakumkoor Dynasty.
When Kadamattom church was erected as a branch of (station church) of Mailakombu, in 9 century, the area on the west of the big stream flowing on the west of Aarakuzha church and Maradi area came under kadamattom parish.
The Catholic Church at Aarakzha was erected by Rathappallimuthi who was a housewife from the famous Rathappalli family. She erected the church because of the difficulty to travel to Mailakombu to attend the Holy Mass. It is said by some people that the church was erected by Orathelmuthi. The real house name of the lady was Orathel. Orathel family came to be known as Rathappilli in later years because it was this family of traders that first used ‘rathal’ (a measuring unit for weighing things).
Aarakuzha church was pulled apart and rebuilt several times. The present church was erected in about 1780.Vallikada Panickar family had provided considerable aid for the construction of the church. The descendents of that family are staying at Rakkattu and Karakkunnam now. The madbaha of the church was renovated in 1840. The roof was tiled in the Malayalam Era 1070(1895 A.D.). Darshana sangham (confraternity) was established in the parish on 14 kanni 1859. Rathal (Retable) was erected in the madbaha in 1832
Perunnal on 8 kumbham (February 18)
The sacred relic of Mar Simon Barsaba who was martyred in 341 A.D. was placed on the altar of the church at Vadakara and the thirunnal of the saint was celebrated there.
Vadakara Christians are those Christians who had fled from Vadakara in north Kerala due to Muslim attack in 9th century. Before fleeing, they had salvaged the relics of Mar Simon Barsaba, Mar Geevarghese and Mar Kuriakose and the icon of Mar Yohannan Mamdana and brought them to Aarakuzha. The thirunnal of the martyr was celebrated in Aarakuzha on account of its relationship with Vadakara. The thirunnal was attended by many traders. The locals used to buy things for the year from them during the days of the thirunnal celebrations
The Massive Drought and Pachor Nercha
There had been no rain for 18 months in about 1770 A.D. It was during those months that 8 wells were dug in Kaliyar River at Veloor, more wells were dug in Thodupuzha River at Unnikkayam near Thottakara and in Muvattupuzha River at Maradikayam and the Nambuthiri families of Maradi migrated to the present Thirumaradi which is situated on the west of Kuthattukulam. It was widely said that the drought was the aftermath of the wrath of Aarakuzha muthi who was incensed with the killing of a person who had sought shelter in Aarakuzha church by Unnyathiri. The jothishis (astrologers) also said the same thing to Unnyathiri. Following the advice of the astrologers, Unnyathiri offered pachor with 18 para (a measure) of rice to Aarakuzha muthi as atonement. Then it rained. Panickar donated enough land and paddy field to the church so that the required rice and coconut for the annual pachor nercha could be had without any hindrance. The nercha started by unnyathiri is still in practice in the church
Aarakuzha was consecrated as a Forane Church by the decree of Bishop Carlose Lavinju on 10 October 1891.When churches were erected in Muvattupuzha (1822),Peringuzha(1864), Vazhakulam (1885), Arikuzha 1889), Thottakara (1902),Meenkunnam (1925),Chittoor (1953),Perumballur(1958) and Nadukkara (1958), the population and area of Aarakuzha got reduced. The establishment of Government offices near Muvattupuzha in Maradi during the reign of Marthandavarma and the resistance of the locals against the attempt to build the M.C. Road through Aarakuzha in 1877 out of their fear of war lessened the prominence of Aarakuzha. Yet Aarakuzha managed to maintain the status of a Forane and ‘pakuthi’. Kothamangalam church had been under Aarakuzha Forane Church in those days.
There is a saying that gold coins are buried under the cross which may be used at the time of abject poverty (‘illivathilum kollivilakumakunna kalathu’). It was believed that there were inscriptions on stone at the main entrance (anavathil) of the church. But recent excavations proved that there were no such inscriptions there.
Tomb of Rev. Fr. Francisca Souriar
Arnose Pathiri (1701 – 1732) had converted a Namboothiri (Brahmin) youth from kidangur. The youth became a famous priest and an eminent retreat preacher. He was known as Francisca Souriar. He might have lived between 1720 and 1770.He departed to the heavenly abode when he was the vicar of Aarakuzha parish. His body was buried on the north of the church where the present chapel in the cemetery is standing. Devotees used to visit his tomb and seek his intercession. Dr. P. Thomas has recorded in his book that the tomb of Francisca Souriar can be seen even today.
200 years before the erection of Aarakuzha Marthamariam Church, there had been Edamanakurusu and a cemetery attached to it at Aarakuzha.
The members of Aarakuzha Edamana illam belonged to the branch of the Brahmin family which had immigrated to Perumballur from North Paravur. They embraced Christianity. Edamanakurisu was erected by them. Other Christians used to light lamps and pray there and bury their dead there. Documents related to Edamanakurisu have been found in Aarakuzha Church.
Edamanakurisu was erected around 600A.D. It was renovated into a kurisupalli and consecrated in 1812.Later, after the demise of Edathattel Valiachan, under whose initiation it was erected, it was left uncared. As both Christians and Hindus began to conduct nercha there, it was pulled apart in 1859.A cupola was erected by the side of Aarakuzha – Thottakkara Road and the cross from the demolished church was brought and installed in the cupola.
In 1973 Sri. Chacko Marattukudi bought a jack tree which had grown on the sight of the demolished kurisupalli. When the tree was felled, he found a stepping stone (karinkalpadi) there. From the locals he came to know that it was the site of a former church. Sri. Chacko approached the vicar of Aarakuzha church with the request that a church should be erected there. He offered timber worth Rs. 150 for the construction of the church. The vicar convened a meeting of the concerned faithful and asked them to erect a church there. Accordingly a church was erected there and it was consecrated on 23 December 1973.
Records concerning the church copied from the inscription on palm leaf is given below:
“padiola (inscription on palm leaf)submitted before The Holy Marthamariathumma by Kavanakarayil Vettuparackal Mathula Varugeethum Thampimarum of Aarakuzha parish as per the decision of the palli yogam on 20 makaram 987(1812 A.D.)
Since the time of the forefathers of Vettuparackal family a cross was erected at Edavana and the tax for the land had been paid by us. Later when the family accepted the authority of Aarakuzha church and had been observing all the rituals, it was desired to conduct a nercha at Edavana kurisu. When permission was sought from the higher authorities to conduct the nercha, the family was informed that nercha should be conducted only at a church and it was a sacrilege to conduct nercha at a place not consecrated and without officiated by a priest. If nercha is conducted in violation of the church rules it would amount to a sacrilege on the part of those who conduct the nercha and if anyone does it, the parish priest should question him. Though we obeyed the order of the higher authority, some other people conducted a nercha at Edavana kurisu in violation of the order, following which we were summoned to the General Body held at Aarakuzha church and told that a sacrilege had been committed by conducting nercha in violation of the orders at a non-consecrated place and hence a kurisupalli would be erected at Edamana by Aarakuzha church. In reply to the offer we made a promise that a kurisupalli would be erected at Edamana by Vettuparackal family as the cheriapalli of Aarakuzha Church. Having erected the kurisupalli as per the promise, it was informed to the General Body of Aarakuzha church along with a request that it may be consecrated. It was accepted with the condition that the key of the kurisupalli should be handed over, the office of the vicar should be under the authority of the vicar of Aarakuzha church, the income from the kurisupalli should be collected by the trustee of valiapalli and baptism, marriage, funeral and the annual confession etc. should be conducted at the valiapalli. As we accepted all the conditions and promised to carry them out and handed over the key, Edamana kurisupalli was consecrated .As the kurisupalli was erected under the special efforts of Edathattel Valiachan, he will be put in charge of the church till his retirement after which Edamana kurisupalli will be directly managed by the Valiapalli at Aarakuzha. We, Vettuparackal Varugeethum thampimarum, do hereby execute this padiola promising to follow the above terms and conditions”
(the ancient script in which this document was written is changed into the new Malayalam script and short vowel ‘u’ and long vowel ‘a’ have been added for the convince of printing and reading).
When the first ‘athmasthithipusthakam’ (book in which all the details of the parishners are written) was written in Aarakuzha parish in 1891, there were 1323 Catholic families spread in different parts (kara) of the parish. There were 540 families and 3206 parishners in1930. The number of families got reduced on account of the erection of new parishes within the area of the parish and the migration of many families to other areas. Statistics reveal that there were 3200 parishners and 7 priests in this parish in 1967.
A convent of the Carmelite Sisters was erected in the parish in 1891. In 1960 a convent of Medical Sisters was erected. A school had been established under the auspices of Carmelite Sisters when the convent was erected.
There is a chapel named Malekurisu on the hillock on the south of Arakuzha church. It was erected between 1800 and 1810.It is dedicated to St. Sebastian. The tradition of seeking the intercession of St. Sebastian for protection from epidemics was initiated by European missionaries. The construction of a parish hall was completed on 3 March 1991. A building for Higher Secondary was erected as Centenary Memorial and classes started in it on 23 July 1998.The inauguration of the school and the Jubilee Year were celebrated on 23 January 1999.The road from Maalikapeedika cupola to the church was widened and tarred under the leadership of the church.