St. Chavara: The Star of Renaissance


Joice Jacob

            The nineteenth century of Kerala society was a dark age. Even though tremendous changes took place in Europe in the fields of language, science, literature and other social realms in the sixteenth century, this God’s own country was far behind in those areas and was under the slavery of ignorance and unjust caste system. In that Dark Age of such a social scenario, there rose a light of life named Kuriakose in Kainakary. He was a wonder worker through God – human relationship. He lived ahead of his time. He moved among the people of his time doing all the good and favours that he could do and left behind him the fire of renaissance. He walked the less travelled path. He was not a follower of the traditional paths. But he made new paths. It is glimpse of the pioneering works of St. Chavara.

            The ordinary people were ignorant about education in the nineteenth century in Kerala. Sanskrit was taught in some of the Brahminic Kalaries only; and that was restricted only for the male children of the Brahminic family. There were one or two English schools run by protestant missionaries. Saint chavara knew that ignorance is a curse and that only through education the evils of ignorance can be removed. In the first half of the nineteenth century, admission to schools was denied to children from Dalits and other socially and economically backward communities.

            Fr. Chavara set up schools where admission to students irrespective of caste, creed and status was guaranteed. He provided educational facilities for girls. He gave new direction for the ‘Pallikkoodam’ movement. As the vicar general, he issued a circular which made it mandatory for every church to have a school attached to it. In fact he threatened the reluctant church.Afterthis, thousands of schools sprouted in state. It was in the end of the twentieth century, mid-day meal was introduced by government. One and a half century before this, Fr.chavara provided food for the students of the poor family.

            He set up India’s first home for the poor at kainakary which continues till today. He gave written instruction on how funds should be collected to run this home.Fr. Chavara had written as many as ten eclogues. This is even years before the famous Indian Dramas were written. “Anasthasiyayude Rakthashakshyam” is considered to be the first short poetic work in Malayalam. “Athmanuthapam” is the first mystical writing.

            There was no press for catholic during his time. So the literature and libraries of spiritual needs were little. Fr. Chavara started a press at mannanam by taking many difficulties from all the parts and started the press and liberated the dead literary field of Malayalam. He did not study architecture; but he built kerala’s first double storied building at mannanam. This press is the mother of “Deepika”, the first Malayalam daily. Again his seminary at mannanam was Kerala’s biggest building at that time.

            He is the founder of first indigenous religious congregations for both men and women: CMI and CMC. Some of the other his first of its kind contributions is the way of the cross; tie coconut (kettuthengu), catechism class, forty hour adoration, pidiyari, handcrafts. He is remembered for his various contributions to the religious, social, cultural development of Kerala. He was endowed with exceptional leadership qualities.

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