Friday, 28 December 2012

Kuriakose Elias Chavara: A Child who would be a Sage!

Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara’s life and activities enriched Kerala from his birth of 10th February 1805 at Kainakary till his demise on February 3, 1871 at Koonammavu. This was generally a period of progress for Travancore. It was during this period that the western educational system was introduced and many evil social customs were eliminated. The Kerala Catholic Church was yet to step into the educational arena. Blame it on the lack of education and overtly religious and irrational customs and traditions, the caste systems had been plaguing the Kerala society. While the higher castes like Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Nairs and so on were given greater importance, the lower castes had to suffer great negligence. Discrimination reached its zenith with the inhuman practices like "untouchability" and "unseeability". Unable to withstand the ill treatment  the lower caste people found a way out by embracing Christianity. 

The Christian community was going through a rough patch.  There was  rivalry between Catholics and non-Catholics. Following the process of latinization under the Portuguese rule, Catholics too were divided among themselves. The Syrians were disturbed by the undue importance given to Latin liturgy. The cry for separate arrangements for the two groups became alive. Educationally all groups were backward. The reason was the absence of systematic educational institutions. Those days the only schools were the village ‘kalaries’ conducted by ‘Asans’. It is in the context of these facts that the life and achievements of Father Chavara have to be evaluated.

Kainakary in the scenic Kuttanadu
Kainakary is a village in Kuttanad Taluk in Allappuzha District of Kerala state in India. It is well famous for its scenic beauty with backwaters and paddy fields adding charm.  Kainakary was part of the erstwhile Chembakassery dynasty. Five rivers originating from the Western Ghats, including the sacred River Pamba drain into the Vembanad Lake in the tip of Kainakary. Once a communist bastion, its literacy rate is top compared to many counterparts. Kainakary is famous for its Snake boat race rowers. The major income is still from agriculture and fishing despite tourism. But the land strips became  all the more famous and blessed by the fact that Blessed Kuriakose Chavara was the first in Kerala from the Catholic Church to be elevated to the honours of the alter by the Church.

The Chavara Family
The Chavara family is said to have been derived from Mukkatt Christian family. Ultimately it is derived from the ancient family Pakalomattam of Kuravilangad. According to a popular tradition the Pakalomattam family was one of the four chief families of Palayur, which St. Thomas the Apostle is said to have converted to the Christian faith in the first century of the Christian era. In the course of time the Mukkat family branched off into two units, each assuming a family name called after the places of its settlement. They are: Meenappilly and Kalaseery. The Meenappilly family gave rise to four other families: Mampra, Chavara, Kaliparamb, Vallonthara. Ultimately Chavara is derived from the original Pakalomattam family of Kurvilangad. Today the house, where Kuriakose Chavara was born on 10 February 1805, is a shrine established by the Carmelites of Mary immaculate (CMI) and taken care of by the sisters of Congregation of Mount Carmel. (CMC).

Birth and Childhood
Fr. Chavara was born on February 10, 1805, of Kuriakose and Mariam in the village of Kainakary. The same year on September 8, the child Kuriakose was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Marian shrine in Vechoor.  Chavara, in his old age, recalls this event in his poetic work Athmanuthapam.
Mixed in her sweet milk, she regaled me
With thoughts of heaven, and words of grace so pure!
And when reason grew strong, my little mind,
Patiently informed, to lisp holy names.

Baptism and dedication to Blessed Virgin Mary
The devout parents had the child baptised on the eighth day in their parish church of Chennankari according to the custom prevailing then in the church. The child was given the name of his father, Kuriakose. In the due time Kuriakose received the Sacrament of Confirmation as was customary in the Church at that time. One of the childhood events that Chavara recollects vivaciously is the dedication his loving and pious mother made to the Blessed Virgin Mary venerated in the shrine of Vechoor.

Bringing up the child
The dedication and the annual renewal of it are examples of how Kuriakose’s mother wanted the child to grow up in faith and good character. Childhood is the most important time for laying the foundation of an individual’s personality. The family, above anything else, is where this takes place every effectively. As mentioned above child Kuriakose was particularly fortunate to have a very pious and devout Catholic family, a father well grounded and firm in faith and devotion, and a mother exceptionally pious, he is full of gratitude to God Almighty for the gift of a loving and caring mother to protect him. So he sings in joy and gratitude.
            Here we have a perfect model of child mother relation, which had tremendous power in disciplining and integrated upbringing of child Kuriakose. Here we have a mother with a balanced deportment: appreciating whenever the child behaved well and disproving when he misbehaved- all with the “mighty power” her eyes wielded.
His first knowledge of Mother is as one who forms a child. The future of the child is partially determined by the way the child is loved and formed by his parents. Thereby he gives credit to his own mother for his formation. He reminisces his infancy in his Compunction of the Soul, how his mother pours into his heart all the love. The woman, the mother, is the formator of the child. She is a person of prayer. She is the one who, according to Chavara, creates a domestic church at home and the child is attuned to the divine. The real formation and shaping of the mind takes place in early childhood. As the mother is, so the child would be. The formation and disciplining of the child is not, according to him, with scolding and beating. Mother is the queen of the child’s horizon and reigns supreme in his formation for the future.

School Education
The mother provided the boy with a correct perspective on life and faith. With some mental agony Chavara recollects the transition from his family training- “nurtures in body and mind, was I beloved too of God, my Father”- to the schooling under a guru who was not a Christian. It is a very dark picture he paints of the five years he was in the kalari. The contrast is evident: the first few years at home under the loving tutorship of his mother were very blissful, while the five years in the kalari were difficult ones, exposed as he was to  temptations and occasions for sin, relief from which came with his minor ones and yet he is full of compunction for them. He himself has testified that he had not lost the graces he received in baptism. Hence we can guess how light his faults were. A negative theology and an extraordinary abhorration of sin made Chavara paint his school days so dark.

The message, life and activities of Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara were not exclusively confined to the Catholic community. They are relevant for all communities and all ages. Father Chavara was undoubtedly a great man who lived ahead of his time. Blessed Chavara is that humble servant of the Church who intelligently and skilfully steered  the  Church  of  Kerala  during  the  early  years  of  one  of  its  most critical and creative periods which also witnessed conflicts of ideas and compulsions of perceptions, through unchartered waters, armed with deep faith, unflinching love of the Church and most sincere and impartial search for  and adhesion to truth.