Kumbanad Marthoma parish church, named Valiyapally, is the first institution in the place now called Kumbanad and hence the history of the village is the history of the parish, or vice-versa.
It is widely believed that the Christian Church in Kerala was established by the apostle of Christ, St. Thomas in 52 A.D. Seven churches were established by him, in the area now known as Kerala, and all Syrian Christians in Kerala trace their origin to one of these seven places. Legend says that a group who left Kodungalloor settled in Kuravilangad and some of their progeny were recruited to the army of the King of Edapally. The King granted the title of "Panicker" to them. Such a family settled in Eraviperoor around 1755 A.D., a Vellala chief and scribe of Government at Trivandrum embraced Christianity and accepted the name of Yohannan. Thereafter he left the government job and travelled northwards seeking Christian fellowship. He reached Eraviperoor at the Panicker family on a Sunday when all male members of the family, except the youngest Kochu Easaw, were at worship at Kalloopara, the only church in the locality.
On their return after worship, the visitor sage Yohannan requested the head of the family, Easaw Panicker, for help to establish an ashram or monastery at a suitable place. In response to this request, Easaw Panicker chose a quiet place near Eraviperoor at Vengaparampil compound (as we know it now). This site was later abandoned because the sage preferred a safer and elevated site and chose the site where the present church is situated. For a long time, Vengaparampil compound was known as Pazhayapallickal (old church) compound. The Panicker family supported the sage Yohannan in all these movements.
The First Church
The sage thought that it was improper for him to be a parasite on the Panicker family alone and so he solicited help from his acquaintances in the peripheral areas of Puthencavu, Perissery and Kallissery. To raise funds for the proposed monastery, each family in the area was given a pot in which the housewife was asked to deposit a fistful of rice each time she took rice to cook a meal. This practice was later adopted by all Syrian Churches as a source of income ("Pidiyari" as we know now) for the Church. The head of the Panicker family deputed the youngest son Kochu Easaw Panicker then aged 12, to be with the sage as a help in all his endeavors. By their joint and untiring efforts, using local materials, a monastery was built in 1761. The sage Yohannan and Kochu Easaw Panicker moved in. The then Metropolitan of the Malankara Church, Mar Thoma V, directed the vicar of Kalloopara Church to consecrate the newly built "church". This was the first church.
The sage Yohannan and the 12 year old Kochu Easaw lived like the Biblical Eli and Samuel. They took to farming and clearing the forest around the area. Later, Kochu Easaw made his residence in a hut over a treetop which served as their granary too. Sages from far and near made visits to the monastery and they stayed with the sage. Thus Yohannan and Kochu Easaw settled down, the sage in his monastery, and Panicker in his treetop hut.
Settlers around the place, the household of Easaw Panicker from Eraviperoor and others in the neighbourhood attended worship services in our church. The vicars of Kalloopara Syrian Church used to conduct Sunday services occasionally. Yet, the number of worshippers did not warrant the establishment of a regular parish here.
The First Family
The sage and Kochu Easaw Panicker built a house on the northern side of the monastery, till recently the Valiyaveetil compound. Kochu Easaw Panicker now came of marriageable age. Yohannan sage arranged his marriage, which was solemnized by the vicar of Kalloopara church. This was the first family in our parish. The descendants of this family form the Kumbanattu Kudumbam.
Death of Sage Yohannan
The sage Yohannan died of old age in 1791 and was buried in a site earlier designated by the sage, in the compound. Before his death, he left clear instructions that no religious rites be performed, as was the practice, for him, after his death. Such rites were dispensed with by the sage, long before Reformation came to the church. It is interesting to note that there are a good number of people in and around this area who believe that the spirit of the sage is still hovering around keeping watch and vigil. And as appeasement of this spirit, people light candles in front of the church and on the steps, besides offering cash. The sage is considered as the patron saint of the church and the village.
Bishops of the Malankara Church directed different clergymen to conduct worship services in our church. Among those who served were Palakunnathu Thoma Mooppachen, Ravoorachen, Moothedathu achen, Thazhathu Peedikayil achen, et al. People from the neighbouring places Eraviperoor, Pullad, Kadapra and Thattackad joined the parish as members.
When the old monastery was dilapidated, building another one fell to the lot of Kochu Easaw Panicker. As a token of gratitude towards the forefathers of Panicker family who built the porch of the Kalloopara church, the members of the Kalloopara parish came to the aid of Kochu Easaw Panicker to build another church building. Using the framework of the roof donated by Kalloopara parish, the old monastery church was renovated and rebuilt. The work was completed by 1815 and this is the second church at the site.
Unfortunately, no records are available for a period of 30 years from 1815.
Of the three sons born to Kochu Easaw Panicker, the middle one left Kumbanad and settled at Edanad (but his son came back to Kumbanad later to join his kith and kin.) The eldest took up the ancestral home to the north of the church, while the youngest one moved into a house built on the compound south of the church.
Kochu Easaw Panicker died as an old man. His two sons in Kumbanad and their children lived in the neighbourhood of the church. They cleared the forest around, cleared the land and cultivated. They worshipped in the renovated church maintaining fellowship with other parishioners who joined them. The Metropolitan at that time was Mar Thoma IX.
Reformation and Kumbanad Parish
The movement of Reformation in the Malankara church under the leadership of Abraham Malpan started in 1857. Kumbanad parishioners who were brought up by the sage Yohannan were only too willing to embrace the movement.
From 1845 to 1870, a clergyman named Erattachen served this parish. By now, the parish had a sizeable congregation consisting of 13 families who were the great grandchildren of Kochu Easaw Panicker and others.
Valiaveettil Easaw Abraham Kathanar
The congregation felt the need of a full time resident vicar for the parish, and approached the then Metropolitan, Mathews Mar Athanasius, with the request to ordain a member of the parish as an achen. Consequently, a grandson of Kochu Easaw Panicker, Valiaveetil Easaw Abraham was ordained a deacon in 1857 and in the same year was made a full fledged clergyman. Till his death in 1910 he gave brave and noble leadership, which paved the way for the development of the parish. It is God's grace that the parish was fortunate to have him as the vicar of the church, with a continuous service lasting 54 years. His sharp acumen, deep farsightedness, great intellect, unique leadership qualities, and above all, his absolute trust in God, guided the parish to be on a firm footing. Many of his innovative organizations, served as a beginning which have now been widely accepted by the whole church as a routine.
The Reformation in the Malankara Church evinced great interest in the study of the Bible and in evangelism. Our parishioners were not left out in this movement. It was Valiaveetil achen's vision of the church that kept people of his flock intact. All the same, the upsurge of spirituality and a strong vision of the church attracted more and more people to the congregation. Soon the inadequacy of the building of the church, in holding the congregation was felt. With this in view, Valiaveetil achen built a new chancel in 1873 and the nave was built with bamboo and coconut leaf mats. The participation of the members in this effort was marvelous. This was the third church in the campus.
Reformation and Missionaries
Advent of missionaries from the Church Missionary Society (CMS) brought great reformation in the Malankara Church. Valiaveetil achen invited the missionaries to the parish and they held meetings which were largely attended. In 1878 eighteen prominent clergymen of the church, Valiaveetil Achen included, signed a historic declaration affirming their total commitment to the ideals of the Reformation. The missionaries were wooing achen, even the promise of fiscal assistance (to complete the church under construction) to join the CMS, but he stood firm with the Metropolitan without succumbing to the lure of promises. In retrospect, one would appreciate achen's farsightedness.
The Rev. P. E. Mammen
As Valiaveetil Achen was advancing in age, he was in need of someone to assist him and to follow. He coaxed P. E. Mammen, Banglavil, and son of a cousin, to accept holy orders. He was ordained as a deacon in 1894. The young achen was of great help to Valiaveetil achen, but when a parish was formed at Eraviperoor, Rev. P. E. Mammen was appointed its first vicar.
The First L. P. School
Around 1865, Valiaveetil achen with the cooperation of his acquaintances, started an Elementary School in the church compound. It was a shed. This was at a time, when no such schools were available in the area. The Metropolitan arranged a government grant for the school. The early generation of Kumbanad and its neighbourhood, all had their primary schooling here. One of the illustrious pupils of the school was the late Very Rev. K. E. Oommen, Vicar General and father of the Most Rev. Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valia Metropolitan. When it was discovered that the demand for the school was great, two more schools were built on family property and these were handed over to the government. They are the present Government Boys Upper Primary, and Government Girls Lower Primary schools. It is interesting to note that two primary schools so close to each other did not exist anywhere else in Travancore. It is said that the Rev. P. E. Mammen (Banglavil) traveled to Trivandrum to meet the British Resident to formally handover the schools. When achen was asked about the location of the school, he explained it as Koipuram Village and Thattakad Muri as per government records. The Resident wanted a specific name and achen, on the spur of the moment gave it out as Kumbanad, his family name, which is now accepted universally.
The parish church and its properties were the exclusive property of Easaw Panicker and his descendants. After the verdict of the High Court in 1889, on the dispute between the parent church and the Reformists, there were legal proceedings in the case of each and every church in order to decide the ownership. The Reformists got only seven churches, but there was no lawsuit on our church as it was a private property. The parishioners stood firmly with the Reformists, and Valiaveetil achen. The church and its property were handed over to the Mar Thoma Church by a covenant signed and executed in 1910.
The stand taken by Valiaveetil achen was not appreciated by a few and they broke away from the parish to establish the Koorthamala Church. There were a sizeable number of people from Eraviperoor side and they also decided to build a church at Eraviperoor. BY 1893, construction of the nave of the new church was completed, the cost of which was borne by the parishioners, who contributed the money as repayable loan. The repayment of the loan was a source of irritation and caused friction, family feuds and even led to litigations. This and other minor incidents resulted in another splinter group to leave the parish and establish the Salem church.
St. Thomas Church
Gospel work among the "untouchables" was another manifestation of the spiritual revival in our church. Those were the days when untouchability was practiced even by Christians. Work among these people started in Kumbanad as early as in 1893. Our elementary school building was the venue of their gathering. Soon it turned out to be a problem that a building close to the church was used by "untouchables". Valiaveetil achen donated a plot of land from the family property and a church building was built on this plot for their use, which is now the St. Thomas church.
Valiaveetil achen took over the responsibility of this parish even before the Mar Thoma Church came into being. He served the parish for a period of 54 years and kept it intact without entangling it in lawsuits. Institutions and associations which he introduced and started in the parish served as a model for the whole church. This venerable clergyman passed away in 1911. His mortal remains were interned in a vault - the first of its kind in our cemetery.
Valiyaveetil achan's Tomb
Plate on Tomb
We are duty bound to keep the torch of love kindled by him burning, with total loyalty towards the church, and the urge in evangelism. It is the good fortune of this parish that it had a resident clergyman, tall in leadership qualities, for over a half a century. The parish had to wait for another two decades before we got another resident clergyman.
Since Valiaveetil Achen was a member of the parish, living next door to the church, his services were available to the parish at all times. With his demise, we did not have a resident vicar for a long time. Those who served us were from far off places, visiting the parish once in a month for Sunday services. With very poor transportation and communication facilities, often the services of an achen during emergencies became a problem. Two achens, brothers of Kalamannil family Vattakottal, the Rev. K. E. Jacob and Vicar General Very Rev. K. E. Oommen (father of the present Valia Metropolitan), willingly offered their services to the members of the parish.
Achens who served us from 1857 to-date, and their years of service:
- Rev. Easaw Abraham Kathanar - 1857-1910
- Rev. P. E. Mammen - 1894-1897
- Rev. Geevarghese Valiyathundiyil - 1911-1922
- Rev. K. C. Zachariah - 1923-1924
- Rev. P. M. Abraham - 1925-1932
- Rev. V. K. Varghese - 1932-1937
- Rev. C. Cherian - 1937-1942
- Rev. C. M. Thomas - 1942-1945
- Rev. A. G. Thomas - 1946-1948
- Rev. P. M. Jacob - 1948
- Rev. M. K. Thomas - 1948-1950
- Rev. C. V. George - 1951-1953
- Rev. K. A. Ninan - 1953-1954
- Rev. P. M. Thomas - 1954-1957
- Rev. N. K. Yohannan - 1957-1962
- Rev. C. M. Thomas (Tiruvalla) - 1962-1966
- Rev. K. M. Thomas - 1966-1970
- Rev. A. C. Mathew - 1970-1973
- Rev. C. M. Thomas - 1973-1976
- Rev. A. C. Zachariah - 1976-1979
- Rev. C. K. Athyal - 1979-1982
- Rev. T. M. Thomas - 1982-1985
- Rev. A. P. Jacob - 1985
- Rev. P. C. John - 1985-1988
- Rev. George K. Eapen - 1988-1993
- Rev. John N. Abraham - 1993-1998
- Rev. Mathews Chandy - 1998-2002
- Rev. John John - 2002-2003
- Rev. Varghese Thomas - 2003-2007
- Rev. Prasad Ponnachen - 2007- 2010
- Rev. T.K.John - 2010- till date
The history of the parish since Valiaveetil achen's demise up to the present day is best understood with reference to the various vicars. The family feuds, differences of opinion and the court cases within the parish were all settled, in presence of moderators sent by the church during the second half of Rev. P. M. Abraham's (Aiymittathu, Maramon) tenure. A spiritual awakening was seen in the parish.
The Rev. V. K. Varghese (Chunakkara) was comparatively young when he was posted here - he lived in a house hired by the parishes he was in charge of. He was a persuasive speaker. One of his early actions was to start building a spacious church building. The foundation of the present church building was laid in 1932. Much of the manual work was done by the members of the parish. A week long convention was started as a yearly function, sponsored jointly by all Mar Thomas parishes in Kumbanad.
The Rev. C. Cherian was a quiet person but a good disciplinarian. He made the church services very orderly, and taught singing of the hymns. He introduced Saturday evening service, which went on for years. He initiated the birthday thanksgiving service, long before the church introduced it. He completed the construction of the chancel of the new church building.
The Rev. C. M. Thomas (Kuriannoor) lived with his family in a rented house at Kumbanad. His priority was to complete the church building under construction. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Mathews Mar Athaniasus came and stayed in the completed chancel of the new church and supervised the completion of the construction. The response of the parishioners was excellent with the result that the new church was completed and dedicated by Rt. Rev. Dr. Abraham Mar Thoma Suffragon Metropolitan, assisted by Rt. Rev. Dr. Mathews Mar Athaniasus Episcopa, in the year 1944.
Consequent upon the dispute and differences after the election of a trustee for the church, one faction in the church filed law suits in courts and the court appointed a receiver (Mr. C. M. Zachariah B.A, L.T) who took custody of the church and its properties. The church was closed or sealed and the regular Sunday worship service was not held for one Sunday, causing a scar of the long history of the church. Thank God the cases were settled out of court through the mediation efforts by the Most Rev. Dr. Juhannon Mar Thoma Metropolitan.
The Rev. A. G. Thomas (Anickattil, Edayaranmula) was the next vicar. He had earlier served the parish for about six years as assistant to Valiaveetil achen. A lot was done by him to undo the damage caused by the court cases.
The Rev. M. K. Thomas stayed within the parish borders. As a result of our continuous representation to the Metropolitan, achen's service in our parish was increased to three Sundays a month, which is the practice even now. The youths of the parish was organized by achen with various activities. Youth League was a very active organization during achen's time, and it continues to be so. Practice of carol singing groups going round to houses at night was discontinued and the Christmas Eve Carol Service was started during this time. Sunday School teachers were deputed to read Bible lessons during Sunday services, and that was a practice for a long time. Achen took the initiative to build a parsonage in the church compound. A two room building, which was part of the elementary school, existed in the compound. With extensions and modifications this was converted into a reasonable house during the time. He made sure that the building was completed before he was transferred. Dharmagiri Mandiram was started at the time.
The Rev. C. V. George B.A, B.L, was the first vicar to live in our parsonage. Achen, ably supported by his wife, took deep interest in all the activities of the parish especially the Sunday School, Youth League, and the Sevika Sanghom. The involvement of our youth in the Dharmagiri Mandiram during achen's period was noteworthy. Achen found sponsors to provide benches in the church. A poor box was installed in the church. The practice of printing annual reports and accounts to be given to all members was started during this time. The church and the parsonage were electrified in 1953. A member of the parish, Mr. P. C. John, Puthenveetil was ordained in our church, as a priest. In commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of the parish Sunday School, a hall for Sunday School classes was planned and its foundation stone was laid in 1956.
It was completed only in 1960, when the Rev. N. K. Yohannan was the vicar. Achen started a group for "Senior Citizens", long before it was started elsewhere. They held their regular meetings on all Fridays, sometimes meeting by the bedside of bed-ridden members. The fellowship meeting now held on Tuesday evening in different houses was started by achen. A unit of the Voluntary Evangelic Association was started in the parish. The annual thanksgiving service for students held at the beginning of every academic year was started by achen. The Metropolitan Dr. Juhannon Mar Thoma led the first service. He commended this novel idea in his monthly letter in the Sabha Tharaka, and urged all parishes in the Mar Thoma Church to emulate the practice started by our Youth League. In 1960, we started an English medium school, the first of its kind in Central Travancore, in the newly built Sunday School building. It continued to function for over 30 years but unfortunately, the parish failed to upgrade the school. As a result, it died a natural death. Many other schools sprang up in the neighbourhood. The bicentenary of the church was celebrated and a souvenir was published to commemorate it.
The compound walls with gates were built when The Rev. C. M. Thomas (Thiruvalla) was the vicar. The Rev. A. C. Mathew gave the leadership to construct the vestry. A piece of land was procured to provide a house for a homeless person. This was done later when Rev. A. C. Zachariah was the vicar. The practice of permitting a large tomb for all the deceased members of a family was approved in 1972. Rules have been framed for it.
The Rev. P. C. John, Putheveetil, a member of the parish was posted here in 1985. He initiated the construction of a parish hall cum parsonage and the building was dedicated by the Metropolitan Dr. Alexander Mar Thoma at the 225th anniversary celebration of the parish, in 1987.
The Rev. George K. Eapen was the first vicar to occupy the newly constructed parsonage. The sad demise of achen's wife happened here. His two son's wedding took place while they were here.
The Rev. John N. Abraham succeeded as vicar. During his tenure, we bought a stretch of land along the northern boundary of the compound, where a multi-vault with 52 cells, a kitchen attached to the parish hall and a badminton court were built.
During the time of Rev.Mathews Chandy, the parish donated funds for a room in Fellowship Mission Hospital, A portion of the rent collected on the room is used for the treatment of poor patients in the name of the parish, the hospital matching it with an equal amount.
The Rev. John John held Sunday evening service in English on the first Sunday of every month.
The Rev. Varghese Thomas changed the timing of Sunday School classes, to the time before the Sunday service in the morning. He also introduced Holy Qurbana for senior citizens on 5th Sundays before the normal Sunday service. An extension to the parsonage on the acquired land was started during his period.
The Rev. Prasad Ponnachen assumed charge as Vicar in May 2007. The construction of the parsonage extension was completed in July 2007 and the building was dedicated by the Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Metropolitan.
The Parish belongs to the Eraviperoor centre of the Niranam-Maramon diocese of the Marthoma church. As per the last census, it has a membership of 248 families(about 17% not in residence), grouped into six prayer groups with a total strength of 1175 members (spread all over the world).