Champion of Education

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Soli C.D.

            In the beginning of 19th Century the state government of Travancore began to take more interest in the field of education in line with the protestant missionaries. So they encouraged the missionaries. Both Hindus and Protestants profited much out of this. But the educational conditions of the Catholics were abysmal. Fr.Chavara realized that community would even remain subjugated if they did not move with the times and so he decided that the religious congregation should concentrate on educational work. So in 1846 Fr.Chavara established a Sanskrit school in Mannanam and admitted not only the Catholics but was opened to all irrespective of caste and creed .Parapuram mentioned the establishment of a Sanskrit school by Fr.Chavara at Mannanam in the following words:

            “At the same time (late fourties) a Sanskrit school was established at Mannanam, attached to the Monastery. Apart from the priests and others in the monastery, students from the neighbouring places, also came there for studies. For the proper running of the school they brought from Thrissur, a teacher belonging to the warrier caste. He was an expert in Sanskrit and Malayalam. His Services was very useful for preparing the books published from Mannanam in proper Malayalam idiom. Because of his expertise in Sanskrit Fr. Chavara also started to learn Sanskrit from him.”

            For the students he arranged the provision to supply study materials, cloths, and mid-day meals. Mannanam Chronicle (vol. III, p.30) has this entry dated November 1864, in the beginning of which Fr.Kuriakose visited Mannanam:“On Sundays and feast days many boys came to study catechism and remained here till Five ‘O’ clock in the evening. Some of them came from distant places. Some of them were poor. In order to promote more efficiently this so whole some and fruitful work, they thought that it was necessary to feed the boys at noon with kanji (rice gruel). They were also given cloths and sacred articles like rosaries, scapulars, etc. To meet the expenses involved for this as well as for the conversion of pulayas and for conducting the catechetical school, the means was decided as collection of ‘Pidiyari’ (handful of rice) every Sunday from every household…

            Later in the year 1864, while he was the vicar General of the Syrians, he took a very bold step, for which the country at large should be grateful to him. He issued a mandate, calling upon all parish churches under his jurisdiction to raise schools attached to each of them. For the poor students he arranged mid-day meals, which even the government schools were not providing at that time. The high literacy rate of present Kerala can be largely owed to the farsighted policy of Fr.Chavara in the establishment of a school for each parish. He was a brilliant scholar in literature, well versed in seven languages viz. Malayalam, Tamil, Sanskrit, Latin, Italian, Portuguese, and Syriac.

            Fr.Chavara was a great educationalist and had strongly advocated the cause of education. He wrote: “As soon as children are able to recognize things, they should be sent to school. Besides, the parents should enquire about their studies and their friendship. Every Sunday, their learning should be checked. In 1846 Fr. Chavara took essential steps in opening a printing press for the church in Kerala. From this press the first Malayalam daily paper, Deepika , came out in 1887 .  He was also the 1st Indian to start a printing press in private ownership.

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