The founding father of the Kumbanad family [Kumbanattu Kudumbam as it is known in Malayalam] was Easaw Panicker, who lived in the latter half of the 18th century. The beginning of the family can be traced to the arrival of Yohannan Sanyasi, the 'Patron Saint' of Kumbanad, on the scene. He was originally a Hindu named Krishnaswamy, belonging to the Vellala Brahmin caste, who became a Christian. He left a comfortable State Government job and traveled north in search of Christian Fellowship. He reached Eraviperoor, just a couple of miles west of Kumbanad, in AD 1758. This was 18 years before the Declaration of Independence in America and before the British got a firm foothold in India. The Portugese were firmly
entrenched in Goa and Cochin. The Syrian Christian Church in Kerala [known as the Malankara Church] was under Mar Thoma V, fifth in line from Arch Deacon Thomas, who became Mar Thoma I after the Pledge of the Leaning Cross [Coonan Kurisu Satyam] in AD 1653. It was through this spontaneous act that the Malankara Church broke off the Roman Yoke imposed on it by the Portuguese Bishop Menezes at the Council of Diampur [Udayamperoor Sunahdos] held in AD 1599. In outlining the history of the Kumbanad Family, references to the Malankara Church are inevitable, as the histories of the two are interconnected.

On reaching Eraviperoor, Yohannan Sanyasi went to the house of Easaw Panicker Sr., who was a prosperous Syrian Christian of that area. In the absence of the Senior Easaw Panicker and his elder children, the Sanyasi was received by the lady of the house with the help of their youngest son, Easaw Panicker Jr. Let us digress a little to consider how this Panicker family happened to be at this place.
It is believed that St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, landed in Kodungalloor in AD 52 and established a Church there. Some Christians from Kodungalloor migrated to Kuravilangad. Their descendants joined military service under the King of Idapalli. The King stationed some of these at Eraviperoor. Easaw Panicker was a leader of this group. The honorific 'Panicker' itself suggests that he was recognised for his military leadership. He was involved in battles against Tippu Sultan, when the latter invaded Travancore and Cochin. A devout Christian, Easaw Panicker was also known for his generosity and kindheartedness. It may be noted that Kerala of that period was fragmented into small Kingdoms. The rulers of these kingdoms could not maintain permanent armies. The armies were raised, as and when necessary, by people like Easaw Panicker, who maintained ‘kalaries’ or training schools for martial arts.
Yohannan Sanyasi sought the help of Easaw Panicker Sr. to build a Dayara [Monastery] where he could spend his time in prayer and meditation. With the latter's assistance, a Dayara was built at Kumbanad and the Sanyasi moved there in 1760. This is the location where Kumbanad Valiapally stands. In fact, the Dayara also became a Church for the region. Mar Thoma V, who was then the Malankara Methran, deputed the vicar of the Syrian Church of Kallooppara to conduct the dedication service.
Yohannan Sanyasi became very fond of Easaw Panicker Jr. and got him to stay at the Dayara. It is perhaps the training at the Dayara that prepared this young man, who was only 12 years old when he first met the Sanyasi, to grow up to become the founding father of the Kumbanad Family.
The Dayara attracted a lot of worshippers on Sundays, mainly from the surrounding villages. This included the Senior Easaw Panicker and his elder sons. Easaw Panicker Jr., with the support of the Sanyasi, cleared the area around the Dayara Church and built a house on the North side of the Church. This is the Valiaveetil house.
Yohannan Sanyasi found a suitable bride for his young companion. The girl was called Mariamma and hailed from the Kutticat family of Thattackad, a place only a couple of miles north of Kumbanad. The marriage was solemnised in the Dayara Church.
Yohannan Sanyasi passed away in 1790 AD, after 30 years of spiritual work centred around the Dayara. It was through his untiring efforts that a Christian community was built in these parts. As the Sunday worshippers grew in number, it became necessary to build a new Church. This was completed in 1814.
Kumbanad was a dense forest when Yohannan Sanyasi settled there. It is said that Kumbanad was a prosperous village several centuries before that. It is believed that upper caste Hindus of 41 Illoms occupied this village. The many fresh water tanks found in and around Kumbanad are attributed to that period. How that community perished, perhaps in a short time, remains a mystery. It is said that marauding tribesmen plundered and killed the inhabitants. In the absence of human habitation, forest covered the region and wild animals abounded. The name Kumbanad itself is said to be derived from Kumbhi Nad - the land of Elephants.

Three sons and three daughters were born to Mariamma and Easaw Panickar Jr. Daughters Mariamma, Achyamma and Aleyamma were given away in marriage. The sons too got married. The eldest, Kocheasaw, after marriage, continued to live in the same Valiaveetil house. The youngest son, Yohannan (John) put up a house in the compound on the southern side of the church and settled there with his wife. This was the second house in Kumbanad and was known as Theckethil. The second son Mammen married a girl from Edanad, and settled there. His only son, also named Mammen, married from Niranam, and made that his home. Later he was persuaded to come back and settle down at Kumbanad.
Kocheasaw of Valiaveetil had seven sons, who are mentioned below in the order of seniority.
1. Padinjarethil Easaw
2. Valiaparambil Mathen
3. Nellimala Yohannan
4. Kochuplammootil Geevarghese
5. Puthenveetil Mammen
6. Padinjattedath Chacko
7. Valiaveetil Abraham Kathanar (Kathanar means Achen or Priest)
Theckethil Yohannan had five sons, listed below in the order of seniority:
1. Puthenpurackal Easaw
2. Pallikizhakethil Kochitty
3. Mamootil Yohannan
4. Kochupurackal Mammen
5. Theckethil Thomas
These twelve descendents of the third generation cleared the forests of Kumbanad and cultivated the land. They lived as a joint family and the land was divided among them only much later. These twelve, along with Kochuparampil Mammen, became the originators of the 13 'gothrams' [basic families] of Kumbanad, in analogy with the 'gothrams' or tribes of Israel.
As the land under cultivation increased, so did the prosperity of the family. Side by side, the church building was also renewed and expanded. However, regular service of a priest was not available. The Metropolitan, Mathews Mar Athanasius, was persuaded to ordain Valiaveethil Easaw Abraham, the youngest member of the family, as a priest. He was ordained a deacon in 1856 at the age of twelve and a full Priest in 1864 at the young age of twenty. Abraham Kathanar or Valiaveethil Achen, as he was commonly called, become the first vicar of the Kumbanad Mar Thoma Church and served the parish for more than 54 years until his death in 1911.
The reformation in the Malankara Church was initiated by Abraham Malpan in 1836, when he used a liturgy in Malayalam to celebrate Holy Communion in the Maramon Church. Kumbanad had close association with this church and our people used to walk to Maramon to attend Bible classes held there regularly. Thus the Naveekaram movement [reformation] in the Malankara Church had good support from our family. When the Metropolitan Cheppat Mar Dyanesius ex-communicated Abraham Malpan, our people stood by Naveekaranam. Later when Abraham Malpan’s nephew became Metroplitan Mathews Mar Athanasius, our family gladly accepted his leadership.
The church building was found to be too small for the increasing number of worshippers. Thus in 1872 a new church building was completed under the supervision of Valiaveethil Achen. The chancel alone was a permanent structure, while nave was a temporary structure made of bamboo poles and palm leaves. This was the third church building.
The church (parish) here was then independent and had not handed over its property to the Metropolitan. There were overtures from the C.M.S.missionaries to join their church, but Valiaveetil Achen resisted this temptation, and remained with the reform group and later joined the Mar Thoma Church. Valiaveetil Achen was one of the 18 priests who assembled at Aiyroor in 1877 and wrote to various parishes supporting the objectives and principles of Malpan Achen’s reformation. Mathews Mar Athanasius was succeeded by his cousin Thomas Mar Athanasius [son of Abraham Malpan]. The new Metropolitan, Pulicat Mar Dionesius filed a suit against the reform group and the court ruling was unfavourable to the latter. Thus in 1888 Thomas Mar Athanasius and his followers lost the rights for Malankara Church properties. Ultimately, when cases for individual churches were settled, the reformist group retained only seven churches, some of them on a sharing basis. But the deft handling of the situation by Valiaveetil Achen ensured that the Kumbanad Valiapally remained independent of the court cases.
The Church building was again renovated 1892, when the bamboo structure was replaced by a stone masonry building. This was possible only because the twelve families jointly raised funds for this purpose. This joint effort later became a bone of contention and some bickering.
The Kumbanad Valiapally continued to be the epicentre of the family. Valiaveetil Achen encouraged his cousin’s son, Puthenpurackal Easaw Mammen, to join the ministry of the church. Accordingly, in 1891 Titus I Metropolitan ordained him as deacon at the Maramon Church. He proved to be of great help to the elder Achen as his assistant. Later, Rev. Mammen was the first vicar of the Eraviperoor Emmanual Mar Thoma church.
The closing decades of the 19th century was a period of great revival in the Protestant churches in Kerala. Many evangelists came and preached at Kumbanad. Our forefathers remember the great revival of 1892.
Among the revival preachers, some propagated the Brethren Faith. They succeeded in persuading some members of the Family to join the Brethren Church after accepting adult baptism. Prominent among them was Rev. P.E. Mammen. After his death, his only son returned to the Mar Thoma fold.
As the Mar Thoma Church grew in strength, there was a demand to transfer the church property to the metropolitan of the Church. One of the strong supporters of the reformation and a stalwart of the Mar Thoma Church, Ipe Thoma Kathanar of Kovoor in Tiruvella, succeeded in persuading the family members to transfer the title of the church building and its compound together with all other assets to the Mar Thoma Metropolitan. This was done on July 6, 1910, when Titus II Mar Thoma was the metropolitan.
Only four of the 13 forefathers (third generation) signed this transfer deed. They were Valiaveetil Abraham Kathanar, 64 years old at that time, Padinjattedath Easaw Chacko, 67, Pallikizhakethil Yohannan Kochitti, 68, and Kochuparambil Mammen, 68. Their brothers had expired before 1910. Valiaveetil Achen himself passed away on June 27, 1911. His sepulchre with a tablet affixed on it stands in the cemetery of the church - the only sepulchre for any male member of the third or previous generations.
With great foresight, our forefathers encouraged education, which is the basis of the current prosperity of the family. Valiaveetil Achen took the initiative to start a primary school in the church compound. At the suggestion of Metropolitan Mar Athanasius, the then Dewan of Travancore allowed grants to such schools and our school was also a beneficiary. Later, when the norms for grants were revised under Dr. Mitchell’s Education Code, this school became ineligible for grants. So the local people, mainly our family members, constructed two school buildings and handed them over to the Government. These are the two government primary schools. The Boy’s School was completed in 1911 and the Girl’s School in 1917.
This emphasis on education proved to be of immense value to later generations. Two of the younger members of the fourth generation got a college education. They were P.M.Mammen, Puthenveetil, who became a graduate and a sub-registrar, and N.J.Chacko M.A. L.T. of Nellimala family, who became a government high school teacher. There were only four others who had some English education. All the rest could only just read and write Malayalam. In the fifth generation, the majority had the benefit of English education. This opened job opportunities for them, not only in India, but also in foreign lands. The real exodus started with the sixth generation. Thus we have Kumbanad family Diaspora in Australia, Malaysia, the Gulf, European countries and America.
Our forefathers also took pains to impart religious instruction to their progeny. They started Bible study classes and the Sunday School, as also women’s prayer meetings, well before formal institutions for these were started by the Mar Thoma Church.
Sometime in 1922, the tall frontage of the church building collapsed. It became necessary to build a new church. It was in 1932 that the construction of a permanent church building was taken up. This took about 12 years to complete. This was a period of great depression and money was hard to come by. Though in great financial difficulties, members contributed - more in kind than in cash. Bishop Mathews Mar Athanasius took a keen interest in speeding up construction. Voluntary manual work was put in even by the Sunday school students, under the supervision of the Bishop. Finally, the Church was completed and was dedicated by Abraham Mar Thoma, Suffragon Metropolitan. This is the fourth church building which is the centre of worship for the family even today.
In 1961 there was a schism in the Mar Thoma Church over the interpretation and practices of some sacraments. A new Church called the St. Thomas Church of India came into being. Some members of the Kumbanad family joined the new church. However, the vast majority stayed with the parent church.
The strength of the Kumbanad Family stems from a sense of belonging shared by all the members. Up to the 6th generation most of the members grew up in Kumbanad, and worshipped in the same Church. This built a bond of fellowship, which stayed with them even when they went to distant places to make a living. A generation that has come of age now has hardly lived in Kumbanad. This web site is dedicated to them. It is hoped that they will keep in touch with each other, through this medium and others. Let us remember that we have a unique opportunity to keep up this legacy and what a great force it could be in this world.

Dr. C.K. Mathews

Bangalore

October 2002

Sources: [1]. Bi-centenary Publication of Kumbanad Valiapally dated May, 1961 and 
[2]. An article written in 1990 by Mr.T.J. Thomas, Theckethil, Kumbanad.
 

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