Christian Literature and & Artforms

Christianity has a heritage of almost 2millenia in the soil of Kerala. Thanks to the joint efforts of foreign missionaries, believers-both native and foreign A new way of worship, and tradition in the art and cultural landscape of Kerala evolved and the local circumstances prevailed. The known Christian literary tradition traces its origin to Johann Ernst Hanxleden, a German missionary, who was popularly known as Arnos pathiri. He arrived in Kerala during the early part of the 18th century and lived in Samballoor near Thrissur till the end of his life. A polyglot, who easily handled Malayalam, Tamil, and Sanskrit, Arnos composed many works in Malayalam, including ‘Puthen Pana’ which is based on New Testament The very first printing press in Kerala was established in Kottayam in 1821 CE, by Benjamin Bailey, a British missionary who had spent 34 years in Kerala. In 1846 an English- Malayalam dictionary was published. Dr.Hermen Gundert, a renowned scholar, and linguist from Germany became a resident of Thalassery, Kannur in 1839 Gundert collected many ancient books and manuscripts on palm leaves (Thaaliyola) and complied several books in Malayalam Dr.Gundert’s greatest contribution was the founding of the first newspapers ‘Rajya Samacharam’, and ‘Paschimodayam’ In 1846, Father Chavara Kuriakose Elias started printing in Malayalam without any technical support from foreign missionaries. The first modern day newspaper, ‘Nasrani Deepika’ was published in 1887 in Kottayam, under the leadership of Nidhirikkal Mani Kathanar. Travel writing in Malayalam too was the contribution of a literary active Christian society. The first travelogue in Malayalam, ‘Varthamana Pusthakam’, was written by Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar, based on his travel to Rome in 18th century. ‘Shree Yesu Vijayam Mahakavyam’, authored by Kattakkayam Cheriyan Mappila, too demands special mention here. The field of art in Kerala has been significantly enriched by the contributions made by the Christian society. One of the most popular Christian artforms is that of ‘Margam Kali’. The song used in Margam Kali is known as ‘Margamkalipaattu’. This song with around 4000 lines, composed in different meters, is believed to have been penned by Kallisseri Itti Thomman Kathanar in the 17thcentury Parichamuttukali is yet another contribution of the Christian society With its origin lying in the martial art form of Kalaripayattu Parichamuttukali is rightly considered to be developed by Christian warriors of the 16th century Another significant artform is ‘Chavittunadakam’ The first ever ‘Chavittunadakam’, was scripted by Chinnathambi Annavi a native of Tamil Nadu. The influence of Portuguese culture and foreign missionaries are quite evident on these art forms. There are several centres exclusively dedicated to the propagation learning, and research of Christian performing arts. Some of the renowned institutes include Krupasanam, Kalavoor and Pastoral centre, Thellakam The Christian community too has contributed to the rich and varied art and literary scene of Kerala From dictionaries to newspapers travelogues to performing arts, there is no field that is left untouched by the early leaders and missionaries. The covetable position enjoyed by Kerala in comparison to rest of India in terms of educational achievements and cultural variety is also due to the selfless service of many passionate Christian scholars.

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