St. George Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church Edappally to visit this Christmas season
In the last cessation of nights, St. George rids a horse and kills old spirits using his spear. He serves as a protector to those who believe him. Edappally Mar Geevarghese Sahada Palli, also known as St. George Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church or simply Edapally Palli is one of the oldest churches built in India, built in 593 AD. Later two more churches were built with the course of time, and currently Edapally church comes within the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly. Through this column, let us welcome this Christmas season with beliefs related to Mar Geevarghese and many more.
The holy well with curative powers and believers who visit to seek the blessings
It happened 1425 years ago. Today’s Kochi was then Old Kochi, filled with forests and marshy areas. Less populated area with homes scattered here and there, and small paths. There was an old well on one side, which quenched the thirst of travellers and passersby. It was just an ordinary well, nothing else during early days. Later a church appeared near that well, and people called it ‘Palli’, which literally means Church. Believers who migrated from other regions were the major inhabitants there. Ropes made using banana plant’s fibers, and pot made using aracanut stalks (Paala Thotti) was kept near the well always, so that any passerby can use them to quench his thirst. Slowly the well came to be known for its magical powers of healing ailments. The well not only provided water to the people who passes by, but also cured many diseases.
Gradually the holy well at the front of the church drew attraction of many, and the church changed to a pilgrim place. Now also people come from different parts of the world who believe in the magic power of the well and its holy water. People who visit this place once definitely come for the second time! Isn’t it mystery why this century-old well has never dried up? Its water level never falls down. Yes, now we stand in front of Punyalan who holds the secrets of several mysteries – Edappally Mar Geevarghese Sahada Palli.
As per historians, Thomas the Apostle (also called Thoma Sleeha in Malayalam) built 7 churches. Edapally church was built in an era soon after the construction of these 7 holy churches. This church was built in 6th century of course, all the historians agree to this.
The statue of St. George Punyalan is placed prominently for veneration at this church. It shows the Saint mounted on his horseback. His spear pierces the head of the monstrous serpent lying under the hooves of his horse. Believers have firm belief in Punyalan and the church. Edappally church blends the stories of beliefs, magical powers, myths, folklore as well as history.
Poverty, battle and chicken pox – Punyalan protects you from all
During old days, poverty, battle and chicken pox affected common man’s life a lot. Poverty was very common everywhere. Battles between princely states were most frequently. But chicken pox was most scary among these three, which took away common man’s life in bulk. It’s a contagious disease which spread like a wild fire and kills people in thousands. Believers used to come in folk before Punyalan with prayers to save them from these worst miseries. They believe that Punyalan will interfere in believers’ prayers and do the needful.
Firm believers used to hear Punyalan’s horse hoofs’ sounds at late nights. The marks of beatings with bamboo canes also appeared on walls of such houses. As per beliefs, these beatings are done for chicken pox, and the disease will flee the locations after canning of Geevarghese. On the next day morning, cut branches of trees were visible on the path where horse hoof sounds were heard, which is believed to be the holy Saint. Believers confirm the presence of Punyalan after seeing these symbols. It may be myth or truth passed over to us by people belonging to previous generations. Yet we can’t deny the fact that Punyalan holds the place of a savior in the hearts of millions of believers – A belief that he saves his believers from all sorts of troubles.
People who travel the national highway road alight at the church, and offer money and coins at the holy place. People who buy new vehicles, irrespective of religious beliefs reach the courtyard of this church and pray here (Vencharikkuka). Daily hundreds of vehicles reach the church premises solely for this purpose. Apart from Ernakulam and nearby places, vehicles from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are also brought here. The mud from the churchyard is believed to keep a new house blessed. So divinity surrounds each and every particle associated with Edappally church, and it holds tight the firm beliefs of millions of people who believed Punyalan since 6th century. How time has flown swiftly after that!
How did Edappally get that name?
There is an old story. Landlords from Elangallur, Kalkkara and Thrikkakara and many others locals (Swaroopam) are related to the history of Edapally church. Any one of these Swaroopams granted land to build the church – as per historians. That may be the reason why a folk of believers existed here centuries ago since the church was built. During early days, Edapally Church was the only church located in between Paravoor Kottakavu Church and Udayamperoor Church. A section believes that the word ‘Idaykkulla Palli’, which literally means – the church in between, later came to be known as Edapally.
Another group of people argues that, as it was the only church in the locality century ago (locally called Idavaka pally, which means local church belonging to a particular area). Known as Idavaka Pally then, it slowly changed to Edapally. There is one more interesting argument connected to church’s name. This place was earlier known as Sree Vigneswara Puram. Namboodiris who used to go to perform Murajapam used this place as a rest area. So ‘Idaykk Pallikollunna Idam’ (place for rest on the way of a journey) came to be known as Edapally. No doubt, this church forms the central nerve of Edappally.
Three churches still exist in Edappally, built since 6th century
As per records the oldest church was built in 593 AD, and this single room titled building is now preserved as a museum. The steel letters on the wall read ‘Old Church. AD 593. Museum.’ Though the sign board proclaims so, it’s used as a storehouse. It’s the oldest Syrian Catholic Church in the state, and faces west direction. This church was built by a few families from Paravur who had to till then travel to the Kottakavu Forane Church of North Paravur for worship. The place was then known as Ponnekadavu. 14 centuries old, this small church has a lot of tales to tell!
After the old church was built in 6th century, a second church was built in the year 1080 AD since the old church was found to be too small to accommodate the overgrown congregation. Though this church is 9 centuries old, it still exists as a ‘wonder piece’ carrying the reminiscences of past. The main altar and the facade were later renovated in the 1970s and the picture of Virgin Mary was also incorporated. The flooring made of imported tiles remains the same, and no materials have been transported when the third church was constructed later.
The first church faces west direction. Both the churches built later face east direction. Arabian Sea lies in the west direction of church. As the church faces sea breeze, the church courtyard was built in west direction, as per popular beliefs. The church building has witnessed only the changes that time gave it. It’s almost the same since it was constructed. The main structure of church has been retained as such. For the last few years, the old church is closed. As the old church was not opened frequently, the interior has damaged so much. For the same reason, the authorities have a wild thought to reopen it.
Believers love to spend most time inside the new church. Though the church is facing east direction, it gets the gentle patting of sea breezes from west. For the same reason, the inner area of church always has comparatively less temperature comparing with its courtyard and premises. You can feel the divinity in each corner of the main church, and such feelings can never be told in words, but only experienced.
The third church built in the recent times is an excellent piece of architecture. Its foundation stone was laid in 2001. Built in 141 feet height, the church spreads to a vast area of 60,000 square feet –and is one of the largest churches built in India. It combines European and Keralite architectural features. Altar is built using teak wood. 2 Manimalikas (towers with huge bells) are nicely curved. First sin, Noha’s Ark and quarrels between Cain and Abel are curved in Mondalam. Jesus’ story since his birth printed on walls as sculptures and Altar resembling pure gold layers are other highlights. Altar is wrapped by using gold foil imported from Italy. It’s surrounded by carvings done in Vietnam marble.
Walls are decorated with events of Jesus’s baptism, and ceilings with bible history. New church is constructed in the shape of an octagon. You can stand anywhere, but it gives an illusion that you stand near altar. That’s a wonderful piece of art. Quite different from other altars, resurrection of Jesus is printed in altar here. 5000 people can worship here at a time in the main chapel, which measures 19500 square feet. But the church will be occupied with more than 10000 people for Sunday prayers.
Four big fans are fixed on ceiling which brings sea breeze from outside. Though three churches have been already built, they retain the old two churches because of its significance and historic importance.
Cock offerings are very famous
Many of its beliefs stand similar to the beliefs of Hinduism, which is quite uncommon. Water from temple well is considered divine as per Hindu beliefs. Hindus offer hens to temple to protect them from reptiles, evils and ghosts. Both these factors are linked to religious beliefs of Edappally church as well. Same is the case of holy soil which devotees take away with them.
Cocks – is given as one of the main offerings to soldier saint. St. George is considered as the protector of people from snakes. This custom is centuries old. Not only hens are offered, they are also cooked and distributed here. In Malabar regions of Kerala, some temples still hold this custom.
Earlier chicken was cooked in the houses near to church, and families love to do it as a service to Lord. But slowly people closed their doors, and the church authorities were prompted to find a new solution. They took a new location, and special cages were built for hens given as offerings. Apart from cocks and hens, people often offer decoration hens to seek blessings of Punyalan. Chicken are now auctioned and is in high demand.
Eggs and figures of humans and snakes in both silver and gold are also received as offerings here. Ambu Nercha (Arrow offering) is yet another popular offering here. Arrows will be specially made for this purpose, and believers pray before Lord and give them as offering to fulfill their dreams and ambitions.
Offering themselves as slave to Punyalan is yet another interesting offering here. Those people should later believe that their life is given as alms by god. If you become the slave of holy saint, you will lead a virtuous later – Many believers give themselves as offerings in this firm belief.
In Hindu worship, there is a practise to keep soil of holy places and also holy Ganga water at home. It’s the same case of Edappally too, where believers take with them the holy soil and water from the well, which is believed to have divinity. The soil is made holy with prayers (Vencharikkuka) and brought to homes, and later buried in four boundaries of home premises. If so, the house will be protected and safeguarded by Holy Saint Geevarghese. Holy water brought this way will be given to all members of the family to drink, sprinkle a few drops in home interior and kept the remaining portion near the Holy Bible. If so, Holy Saint protects the family members from dangers and diseases.
Annual Festival lasts for one month celebrations
Thiruswaroopam (idol) of Geevarghese Sahada will be taken out as procession during annual celebrations. It’s carried to nearby streets and welcomed by cheering crowds. Edapally church preserves many old things centuries old. 150-year old royal dress (Thiruvasthram), Old Syrian prayer books and old books printed in old Malayalam letters are some of the reminiscences of old era. There are many more items with antique value in their collection.
In 1994, 14th century celebrations were conducted. Mother Teresa was the chief guest. A tower with bell was later built (manimaalika) in memory of Mother’s visit. A church bell with 1503 kilogram weight was also installed. It worked with the help of machine hands. But with the plan of the third church, this Manimalika along with machine hands was demolished to make space for the new building. Yet the bell is still preserved. People who want to visit Holy Mother pray before the memorial of Teresa also.
Beliefs – Crossing all limits and boundaries! Why people irrespective of religious beliefs pray before Punyalan? Why do they visit the holy church repeatedly? Isn’t it because the holy saint gives whatever they ask or wish in mind? Just pour a few drops of water from the 1425-year old holy well on your head and pray for a minute with closed eyes. Can’t you hear horse hoof sounds of Punyalan in deep silent prayers?
Image source: Wikipedia, Self