22 November 2018

Plate Pole Apart

Dr. Kanam Sankara Pillai is a renowned Surgeon, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, who resides in the cool estate-region of Ponkunnam, Kerala.

In his spare time, he promotes health-education and natural-farming to the public.

If that is not enough, he has also published many books and has articles & columns in many periodicals and papers.

Dr. Kanam’s research provides a rather fresh & different perspective to one of this region’s archaeological gem: the Tarisāppaḷḷippaṭṭayam (Tharisapally grant, a set of copper-plates engraving of certain grants) These plates are supposed to be grants provided to the Saint Thomas Christians, rather to a batch of immigrants to Kollam in the 9th century. 

But Dr. Kanam begs to differ …

How did you include Tharisapalli-pattayam into the various other interests and Why?
Oh [laughs], I was interested in the Tharisapalli plates since the 60s. Anybody with interest in Kerala-history will be interested. The plates are proven to be from 849 CE. It is one of our most important surviving artefact.

But recently one book (in Malayalam) was published by Kesavan Veluthat and M. R. Raghava Varier, based on research done at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. Some 30 people from 10 countries got together to learn about early West-Asian trade, specifically between West-Asian regions and South India. The plates were used as a resource by the Veluthat team to highlight such trade. But I see several wrongdoings in this research. Is the Tharisapalli copper plates even about West-Asian trade?

The author writes that the plates are with 5 (copper) leaves. And that currently one part of the set is with the custody of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church headquarters at Kottayam, while the other is with Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church headquarters at Thiruvalla. The book does not say how they were separated, why they are in different languages and why aren't they connected by a connecting-ring.
Proven?! The date?
Dated to 849 CE yes. I guess majority of the historians have narrowed down and agreed to this date. No one seems to be disputing it too.

And it is said to be written (engraved) at Kurakenikollam (earlier reference to present day Kollam)
In which language is “Kurakenilkollam” engraved on these plates?
It is written (engraved) in Vattezhutthu script. The language is Naanam Moonam, it’s like a predecessor of the current Malayalam.
Can people still read this script?
In fact, up to my grandfathers' time it was prevalent. This script was brought here by the Jains from the North.
Wait...the Jains?! Isn’t this a Dravidian script? Any evidences for this?
No, not Dravidian script.
And Yes, enough evidences. You can look up on the net too.

The Jains worship a muni "Jina" Devan. The phrase "Namothu Jinanam" means "I bow to Jina".
It is interesting to note that till some 300 years ago, this phrase was used during the Vidyarambham ritual! "Om Hari Sri Ganapataye Namah ..." was a later introduction.

Now, when we study the history of Kerala & Tamil Nadu we come across a community called the Vellalar. They are currently labelled as farmers, which is wrong. In those earlier times the Vellalars were the community who could read, write do manage accounts & arithmetic.
Oh, I thought it was a Nair or Namboothiri prerogative.
The Nairs generally did not do any of these, at least in those days. As they were all mostly sent to Kalaris at an early age.
In fact, the term "Nair" was then only a title given to graduates from the Kalaris. They would then join up as part of the militia of a local chieftain.
Ok, so how far back is this situation that you are talking about? About the Vellalars etc.
Well the earliest is 849 CE, from these plates itself.
Because one 'Velkula Sundaran' is mentioned in these plates. And this very name seems to crop up in other resources too.
This should probably mean: Sundaran (name) from the Vellala Kulam (Vellalar community).
This name comes up as a witness in the plate - could also be the engraver of this plate for the then governor Ayyanadikal.

There are 5 groups of people mentioned in the plates - Vellalar, Thachan, Ezhava, Vannar & Eruviyer.

Somewhere it states "Bhumiku karalar Vellalar" - that Vellalars probably held land ... as per these plates it seems at least in Kollam too this was the case. The plates mention that four kudi (of land?) to be given to Vellalars ... whether for farming or just to survey the land we dont know.

The Ezhavvers (Ezhava) are mentioned too - maybe for coconut farming or for related industry like Copra, Coir, mats etc.

The Eruviyyers dealt with salt.

But there is no talk of foreigners, Sudras, Brahmins, Muslims etc. let alone Persians or Syrians....except in the non-matching leaves of the plate set!  

So it’s funny that there is no mention of any dominant landowning community like say Brahmins... BTW Kerala was not for Brahmins as they claim later on - that is just a story they had built up to wield authority over others.

The historians, who are studying these plates, have conveniently ignored all of these details and only emphasize the word “Tharissapally” and the plates’ foreign connection. They have been quiet on all the smaller details like the mention of the other communities.

Dr. Hermann Gundert, somebody who discussed these plates early on, was the first to label it a Christian chepped (copper-leaf).
But why did he?
Because he saw it in the possession of the Christians.
But tell me, can one label it as a Christian chepped? What if this originally belonged to somebody else (hypothetically speaking)? What if it is a stolen item? Should it be attached as that of the robbing party?
Unless, it was in the possession of a community who later became Christians?
Yes, that is possible.
Anyways, Gundert shouldn't have labelled it as Christian or Kottayam chepped just because he saw it in the hands of the (Syrian) Christians. The Tharisapally chepped (or plates) should have been referred to as "Kurakenikollam chepped".

Note that there is no mention of Christians or Muslims in this chepped. The closest connection is with the word "pally" (means church in Malayalam) - now here’s the thing, in 849 CE do you think pally means a Christian church?
Well, I understand that "pally" in Malayalam referred to all non-Hindu places of worship?
That’s a rather later interpretation from people who wrote the local dictionaries. Give me a historical record of a functioning Christian "pally" in this part of the world during 9th century.
Secondly "Tharissa", as per our historians, is supposed to be a Syriac word. But the actual Syriac word for church is "edta". So then should have been written as "Tharissa Etda" and not "Tharisapally".
Yeah, if a plate is written for Naanam Moonam why bring Syriac into it?
Exactly, as per Kesavan Veluthat "tharisa" comes from the syriac word "Tharsak” (meaning Orthodox/Nestorian Christians) [chuckles]
But William Logan (who authored the Malabar Manual) says that the word "Tharisaa" may be derived from "Dhariya" or "Dharisa". The script is such that it can be read like any of these. "VelkulaSundaran" can be read as "Velkulachundaren" also; "Su" is written as "Ch" in this old script; "Th" and "Dh" are read from the same letter.
As per Logan, the term "Dhariya" is suggestive of some community who have lost their right to use the community (tribe) icons or religious-symbols.
Hmmm, Interesting.
Now my interest into these plates came in with the mention of this term "Velkula..." (Vellalar kula). There is another set of plates, of later date, called the Paliyam Sasanam, where one "Venneer-Vellalan" is mentioned. It may be that "Venneer" is explicitly mentioned because there were Vellalars who could wear Venneer (religious indications/markings  like the Shiva-bhakts who wore Bhasmom). So, seems like there were Venneer-Vellalars and then there were other vellalars who were not allowed to wear.... my gatherings.

My opinion is that the author of the Kurakenikollam chepped is a Vellalar who was prohibited from wearing Venneer – a Dhariya?

Our Kesavan Veluthat says, in his book, that in AD 1758 one Frenchman Anquetil-Duperron studied the different cheppeds here - the one with the Jews, the one with the St Thomas Christians etc. If you read this book Veluthat highlights that Perron ignored one of the leaf with West Asian scripts. Why was this line explicitly mentioned by Veluthat? Sounds fishy ... It must have been that Perron never saw such a leaf OR such a leaf never existed as part of this copper plate-set then!
Do you think there is some sort of hide & seek?
It certainly looks like this was a deliberate attempt in misleading us to think that the leaves with the West-Asian scripts is part of the Kurakenikollam set. Logically it doesn’t looks like a part of the Kurakenikollam chepped set too.

If you consider the first set of leaves of, it is of one dimension. But the last is in another!
The first set is written in landscape mode and other in portrait view!
One set of leaves is blank on one-side and the last is double-faced!
Not uniform. Just doesn’t match.

The current set of (mis-matching) copper-leaves may have been packed together at some point in history and later considered as a set of privileges bestowed on their custodians (that is the Syrian Christians); the Persian and other West-Asian script on the particular mis-matching leaves supported the community's claims too.
And our historians need this leaf to emphasize on the West-Asian connection and receive patronage for their research. For the Church too, they opportunistically exhibited the leaf (and plate set) to extol their Syrian connection, privileges and antiquity.
And what is in the odd leaf(s)?
A list of Muslim or Persian names that has no connection with the preceding pages (leaves)!
Any other anomalies?
The first page (side of the leaf) is left blank, so logically the last page should also be blank - probably like covers of a book; Duperron confirms, in his record Zend Avesta, that this was the case when he examined the plates - That the last page was blank!

As per certain researchers each of the first few leaves may have been done at different times too (duplicated to discard an eroded one) but the matter is coherent among the uniform first set. The writing styles on these leaves differs and so they infer.

Secondly it may be copy, not an original.

Duperron says there is an elephant seal (of Ay dynasty) after the witness list, but it is not there currently
So, what is your theory?
That our historians shouldn't use these cheppeds to highlight on the West-Asian trade but rather for East-Asian trade! That is South India’s ancient trade with places like Malaya, Fiji & China.

You know that this region had trade with China then, resulting in the introduction of "Cheena vala", "Cheena Chatti" (Wok), "Cheena Bharani", "Cheena Mulakku"  why even Kollam-center is called Chinnakada ...which was earlier "Cheenakada".
Kollam's export was not pepper but rather Neelam (Indigo), there were a trading community (Chetti). There are historical mentions of such traders from Kollam who settled in China back in 800 CE during the Tang dynasty.

These Chettigals used to travel overseas to East-Asian trading posts, and so they were outcasted due to their sea voyage. My opinion is that "Dharisapally" is possibly the temple for such outcasted Dhariya-Chettigal!
The local kingdom needed these Chettigals for promoting commerce and so these plates were the privileges given to them and Dharisapally the (Jina/Jain?) worship-place provided for them. 

Now the 17 names mentioned in the plates makes sense, they seem to be names of Vellalars:
Velkula Sundaran
Vijaya Narayanan
Ithirakshi Odiya Kannan Nandanen
Madineya Vinaya Dinan
Kannan Nandanen
Nalathirina Thiriyan
Kaamen Kannan
Chennen Kannan
Kanavadi Adityenen
Murugan Chaathen
Murugan Kaamappen
Pulakudy Thanayen

Poonalakody Udayan Kannan
Poonalakoranaya Koumaran Kannan
Sambodi Virayan
Where is the exact location of this pally?
Possibly the Thevalakara Siva temple, which was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1544 and this is where the plates were possibly kept.
After that the French had custody of these plates. During the time of the English Resident Colonel John Munro, a bishop (an Angamaly bishop?) is supposed to have bought it from him claiming it as deed given to their Thriso-pally.
Does the Thevalakara church (Martha Mariam Orthodox Syrian Church
 & Mar Abo Pilgrim Centre) anything to do with this Dharisapally?
No, the Thevalakara Siva temple was.
Many Jain/Buddhist temples were rebuilt as Siva temples after the Brahmin resurgence in the 9th century; same should have been the fate of the Dhariyapally.
There are some sources referring a trading guild (and connected to these plates too). I remember reading some arguments between two Englishmen on this.
Yes, Manigramam. Or maybe Vanigrammam. As I said with this script the "Ma" and "Va" can be read with the same letter.
Yeah, I have heard that they still exist, and they are called Achan-veetukar because they are unlike the Nairs who are Amma-Veetukars (inferring matriarchal) [smiles]. They are supposed to be somewhere around Kollam, I haven’t met them, only read about them in a book.
You have done quite a bit of reading about the various such plates in Kerala, what is the Knanaya chepped?
They may have confused with Jewish plates itself. Possibly a Knanaya-pattayam (deed) doesn't even exist.

For me the interest is that there is this “Vellalar” mentioned in many of these contemporary plates and the many hidden aspects of these plates.
This Vellalar community seems to be ignored out of the whole Kerala story. If I read right I believe Duperron, while examining the plates, had asked someone then for the translation of the term "Vellalar". And it seems that this someone told him it meant Nayer (Nair)! [chuckles] Mislead from the beginning.
Nairs were the hereditary title given to those who completed their warrior trainings - like a graduation title along with the sword and shield; Back then, anyone else using that title undeservingly could even be beheaded then.
How does one Mar Sapir Isho so then figure in the Kollam plates?
See these two parts of the content: "...Kurakeni Kollathu Eshodathapirai Cheyveecha Tharisapallikku..." and "...Ayyanadkal Thiruvdiyekondu Maruvan Chaparich Neerveezthi"
Who are these “Eshodathapirai” and “Maruvan Chaparich“? To me, the former sounds like a Jain name, but the second? How about "Sabareesan"? We know it could be read this way too because of the script limitations.
Anyways now Mar Sapir Isho has become a Persian Bishop! It was Hermann Gundert who argued that there is a word "Maruvan" preceding Sapir Isho and this is a long-form for "Mar" [chuckles].
Actually the phrase here could be even be "…Attikudutha Amaruvan". Gundert had committed many such mistakes...which were never contested or corrected by the latter-day historians.

Another thing I ask is how come the plates got split between the two locations?
Ah! I have heard that it was carried-off by the outgoing (excommunicated) bishop & party from the Orthodoxies at Kottayam.
Ok possible.
There is also no mention of a church that was destroyed when this plate fell into the hands of the Portuguese. Also, I dont understand is how did the plates that were residing in Kollam end up in Angamaly? It is said to have moved then to Kochi and finally to Kottayam.
In short you are saying: the Tharisapally copper-plates are currently like a collection of pages from different books?
Manonmaniyam Sundaram Pillai once said that between edicts engraved in copper and stone, malpractices are likely in the former [smiles]

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