Kochitty Kuruvila - The Judge Great Grandpa -
The founding patriarch of the Poothicote Family
sons are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like
arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one's youth. Happy is
the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."
(Psalm 127. A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon
Kochitty Kuruvila were alive today (2005), he would be 220 years old.
There are more than 3,000 of us, from his bloodline, his direct
descendents alive today. We are not only indebted to him for our
biological existence, but even today our lives are affected one way or
other by this great ancestral father.
Kochitty Kuruvila is affectionately known as Judge Grandpa (judgi valliappan) even to his 8th generation descendents.
He was born in 1785 (Malayalam Era 960, month of Meenam 11th
under the auspicious star of Ayilliam). To get an idea of the world in
which he was born, here are some important events of the period.
Washington became the first president of United States when Kochitty
was 4 years old and the French revolution also started in the same
year. King George III was the reigning monarch of England whose East
India Company was beginning its political moves in India after losing
their American colony. This had a profound effect on the life and times
of Kochitty Kuruvila.
strife prevailed in most parts of the world. But Kochitty was born when
the benevolent king Dharma Raja (1758- 1798) was ruling
Thiruvithamcoor, his native princely state in India. It was Dharma
Raja's predecessor Marthanda Verma Maharaja (1725- 1758) who formed
this princely state after forcibly annexing many small principalities.
After the fall of Kulashaghara Empire in 1124, Kerala was fragmented
and local chieftains ruled small principalities as in feudal Europe. It
was Marthanda Verma who brought together a major portion of Kerala
under one rule.
Grandpa's parents died when he was very young. His grandfather and the
older brother Cherian brought up the orphaned boy. Kochitty even from
his childhood days grew up trusting in God and walked in the ways of
Kochitty was good in his studies. He went to the primary school (kudipallikoodam) of that period and later studied Sanskrit, Tamil, and Malayalam. He also learned Southern Malayalam known as Nanammoonam
which was the medium of administration in those days. Later Kochitty
studied law in Thiruvanadapuram under the guidance of Iyappan Pillai.of
the illustrious Madavana Hindu Nair family of Mepral. Iyappan Pillai
retired as a senior officer from the capital secretariat (Harjur
married Annamma from Thoopunkal family and lived in Potthicote Puthen
Purackel, a house on the northern side of Mepral River. After giving
birth to 5 children, Annamma died unexpectedly. Kochitty later married
another Annamma from Mavelikara who bore him 5 more children.
Kochitty bought a property on the southern side of the Mepral River
from the Hindu landlords and built a house called Moonnamadam and moved
there with his wife and children born in the second marriage.
Everything he earned up until the second marriage was given to his
older 5 children from the first marriage.
Those days there was no church in Mepral. Kochitty was a member of the Niranam
church, one of the seven churches established by the Apostle St.
Thomas. His family had to travel nearly 10 miles to attend the Sunday
services every week, a journey of 5 hours by foot or by a chariot
carried by the servants.
1846, ( the year the great Poothicote Achen, the Very Rev. Cherian
Thomas Cor-episcopa was born), there were 3 unmarried priests in 3
generations from the Poothicote family serving the Niranam church.
Poothicote Rev. Kuruviala Kunju Thommen was a prominent priest in the Niranam church and was the right hand man of Metropolitan Dionacius I (I765-1808),
when he resisted the forcible union of the Kerala church with the Roman
Catholic Church. Thachil Mathu Tharakan, a very politically powerful
local catholic, spearheaded this attempt at union
There was a plot of land and wooden building- malika- belonging
to the Poothicote family near the Niranam church where priests from the
Poothicote family lived. This plot of land is just north of the church
where the UP school presently stands. Kochitty donated this property to
Grandpa Kochitty bought another plot of land near the Niranam church called pazhoor purayidam and built a house there. Later his eldest son Kunjachen -Niranam valliappan- and
wife moved to this house. Kochitty and his family would travel to this
house every week on Saturdays and attended the church services on
Sundays before returning to Mepral. He also bought enough properties in
Niranam for his son.
In those days Kerala consisted of 3 kingdoms. Travancore (Thiruvithancoor), Cochin and Malabar.
Travancore was formed as mentioned earlier by Marthada Varma Maharaja,
(1729-1758) by forcibly annexing several of the small kingdoms. Mathada
Varama was the first Indian ruler to enter in to an official agreement
with British East India Company and he made Travancore a protectorate
of the British Empire. Kochitty was born and had his early years when
the successor to Marthada Varma, the benevolent king Drama Raja
(1758-1798) was on the throne. Kochitty Kuruvila's official term as
judge was during the reign of two regent queens, Sethu Lakmibai and
Sethu Parvathibai. They were regent rulers because the male heir to the
throne was still very young. During this time the English had a
representative in Travancore and Cochin known as the British Resident.
He monitored these governments for the British crown. Colonel Monroe,
the second British Resident in Travancore also became the divan (chief minister) of the queen.
Monroe was a devoted Christian who was very much interested in the
ancient St. Thomas Syrian Christian community in Kerala. He became a
close friend of their Metropolitan, Bishop Punnathra Mor Dianacius. Under
advice from Colonel Monroe, Maharaja appointed for the first time
several Christians from prominent families to important judicial
positions in Thiruvithamcoor and Cochi. Before that these positions
were held exclusively by high caste Brahmins.
first appointment was as Additional District Judge of Kollam in 1819
and later he served as district judge in Mavelikara, Paravoor, and
Cherthala. He retired from judicial service in 1835 as the district
judge of Aleppey.
district judge in Alleppey, Grandpa commuted from home to work every
day by boat. His elegant special boat had 14 paddles and 7 oarsmen. One
of the ancient newsletters of Kerala, Powraprabha has described
how our Grandpa used to sit in judicial chair in Alleppey with official
ceremonial honors. He had long silk turban tied around his head and
wore a long shirt with golden gilded margins reaching down to the
knees. He had a white dhoti and a golden silk belt around the loin. On
his feet he wore beautiful Bengal slippers with the back and the front
ends bending upward giving the shape of a boat. A ceremonial dagger and
sword with silver handles hung by his sides.
The Grandpa's official sword and the dagger are preserved even today.
an honest and fearless judge but this had brought him some problems as
well. Once a prominent and powerful Nair defendant tried to influence
him by offering him a bribe and Judge Grandpa refused. Later the
disappointed man and his relatives made some allegations against the
judge. Chief justice of Travancore, who at that time was an Englishman,
after a detailed investigation exonerated Grandpa and complimented him
for his honesty and integrity.
The salary of a judge during those days was 300 Rupees per month, a generous amount for the period.
Judge Grandpa was a faithful Christian, he was held in high esteem by
the ruling Hindu Maharaja and other prominent members of the Hindu
community. True to the tradition of religious tolerance and harmony in
Kerala, Judge Grandpa treated members of other religions with dignity
and respect, and helped them whenever he could. His trusted assistant
who managed all his agricultural properties was a Hindu named
Idindashar from Vathapally Nair family.
first biographer, his grandson Chavidiyil Koshy Kochitty Kuruvila,
interviewed several people who had met and talked with Grandpa during
his lifetime, and they described several incidents to show the
character and personality of this great ancestor of ours.
There is a
story narrated by a contemporary Hindu. He said Grandpa went to the aid
of a Brahmin woman who was having financial problems while he was a
District Judge in Mavalikara, though it was beyond the call of his
Sheeravallil Pottis were a prominent and rich Brahmin family in Mepral.
They came to Mepral during the invasion of Kerala by Tipu Sultan in
1789. The Maharaja appointed these Pottis as the chief priests in the
Thiruvella Temple. Once for some reason they had to return to Malabar
for a few years. Though they had many powerful Hindu relatives in
Mepral, they entrusted all their land, properties, and gold with Judge
Grandpa when they went to Malabar. A few years later when they came
back, grandpa returned all the wealth and the accrued income to them.
In 1992 I
was a speaker at a public function of Malayalees in New York. Sitting
next to me was the guest of honor, Vishnu Narayanan Nampoothiri who is
a well-known Malayalam poet. Napoothiri was also the newly appointed
chief priest of the Thiruvella temple at that time and I was meeting
him for the first time. As we were sitting there, Mr. Nampoothiri asked
me about my home village in Kerala. When I told him that I am from the
Poothicote family in Mepral, he took my hands, held them firmly and
affectionately for a long time. He later told me that every fiber of
his being became warm when he heard that I was from the Poothicote
family because his ancestry went back to the Mepral Brahmins. His
ancestors had a deep emotional attachment to the Poothicote family for
Grandpa had a large number of Christian, Nair, Ezhava, Pulaya, and
Paraya workers. Though slavery in Kerala was abolished only in 1857, he
treated all his workers with dignity and respect.
Judge Grandpa was fearless when he had to stand up for his principles
irrespective of the consequences. There was a severe loss of rice crops
due to a flood in 1845 and farmers got together and decided that they
will not pay the land tax for the year. They made a deputation to the
government. The request was declined and government started forcibly
collecting the tax. Most of the major landowners paid the taxes out of
fear, but our Grandpa refused to pay. If he had paid, it would have
placed the smaller and less powerful farmers in difficulty. Grandpa's
stand resulted in the government taking over some his land and putting
it on public auction. But no body would buy it at auction out of
respect for Grandpa. Finally, one Neduprath Koyickel Thampuran (prince)
from a neighboring village who was a close relative of Maharaja bought
the property from the government at a very low price. Though the prince
was powerful and related to the ruling monarch, he never dared to come
to Mepral to take possession of the land or cultivate it.
later filed a lawsuit in Thiruvella Court against Grandpa. One day the
court proceeding was unusually delayed and as Grandpa was returning
from the court late in the evening, the prince had arranged for some
hooligans to insult Grandpa. Hearing the news, a large number of people
under the leadership of Chalakuzhy Mathachen came to the support of
Grandpa. Within an hour, people from all religions and communities came
with what ever they could carry in their hands to protect their beloved
Poothicote Judge. It is said that many women even brought brooms with
them to defend him. No body dared to do any thing against him on that
day. As a token of his gratitude, Grandpa gave 22 paras of rice fields
in Vanchickel padam to Mathachen.
Thampuran sent some criminals to Mepral to kill Grandpa. When these
people approached him at his home, Grandpa as usual he was generous and
warm in receiving the uninvited intruders who had concealed weapons
with them. After talking to Grandpa, they returned and told Thampuran
that they could never think of harming a person like him.
retirement he fully concentrated his attention and energy in his
agricultural lands. He took meticulous care of his lands, and he also
advised and assisted his neighbors with theirs farm cultivations.
the Mepral River had to be bunded and blocked to prevent salty water
from getting into the rice fields. This caused some inconvenience to
people living beyond the bund. Once it resulted in a dispute and some
skirmishes between him and Kaniathra Thommy Ousep (1794-1870).
Kaniyathra Thommy Ousep is my great- great- grandfather through my
great- grandmother's side.)
Puthupally Thazahth Pothen, (husband of one of Grandpa's cousins) who
had some business dealings with Grandpa got in to a loud argument with
him. Grandpa's pulaya servants who were not used to hearing any one
talking loudly or disrespectfully to their thampuran decided to
question the stranger on his way back on the boat to Puthupally. The
Puthupally man was staying in Mepral with Kaniyathra Kunjuthommy.
Kunuthommy somehow came to know of the argument and arranged for his
guest to stay with him for one more day and arranged his return to
Puthupally taking a different route so he wouldn't get humiliated by
returning to Puthupally, Pothen thought it would be a good idea to have
a permanent alliance with a prominent family in Mepral. So he arranged
the marriage of his brother Judge Pothen's daughter Aleyamma to Varkey
from the Kaniyathra family. Varkey later moved to his wife's house in
Puthupally Thazathu Kalapurackel and lived there for the rest of his
life. Strange are the ways of destiny that Varkey's daughter Aleyamma
married a grandson of Judge Grandpa, Fr. Cherian Thomas Cor-episcopa,
and she became my great grandmother.
was good friend to many of the English missionaries who were in Kerala
those days. Many of them have written glorious tributes about their
honest and upright Christian friend in India. He arranged for his 5th
son Kujachonda (Madayil) to receive English education under the English
missionary teachers. Kunjachonda may be among the first Keralites to
learn the English language.
was also very deeply observant in the Syrian Orthodox faith and
traditions of his forefathers. The first English missionaries who came
to Kerala were from the more traditional high-church wing of the
Anglican Church. There was a cordial relation between these
missionaries and the local Christians.
later more fundamentalist protestant missionaries from the low-church
wing of the Anglican Church arrived in Kerala and started to preach
against the Orthodox faith practiced by the local Christians.
Kuruvila was in the forefront to defend and preserve the traditional
faith. All the material benefits and power from the British power could
not make him change his faith. He took a major part in calling the
assembly of the Syrian Orthodox faithful in 1836 when Mavalikara Padiyola was
written affirming the ancestral faith. Thereafter, by the decision of
this assembly in Mavelikara, the British missionaries were barred from
preaching in the Syrian Orthodox churches. It was a daring move to take
when British were very powerful and the Maharaja supported them.
was the same year in 1836, Kochitty Kuruvila gave up his position as a
judge after 17 years of illustrious service. He was one of the very few
to reach that high position from among the Christian community in
Kerala. He was offered that position at the recommendation of the then
highest then British official in the state. But once he could no more
support the policy of the British and their missionaries, he tendered
Kochitty believed that church and society needed changes. When the
Patriarch of Antioch ordained the young English educated Mathews Mor
Athanacius as the Malankara Metropolitan, Judge Grandpa was very happy.
Though he was suffering form bodily ailments at that time, he traveled
to Cochin in 1843 to receive the 24-year-old new bishop on his return
Judge Grandpa who arranged for a visit of the new bishop of the Syrian
Christians with the Maharaja Swati Thirunal of Travancore. He also went
with the bishop to Thiruvanadapuram to see the Maharaja.
somehow turned out to be a disaster and Grandpa was very disappointed
with the behavior of the young bishop. It was customary during those
days for any one visiting the Royal Highness to take their shoes off as
a mark of respect. The English educated and foreign returned young
bishop refused to take his boots off though Grandpa advised him that he
should be respectful of the customs of the local community. Though the
Maharaja did not say any thing, it was considered a disrespectful act
and Grandpa was very embarrassed. That was the last time Grandpa had
anything to do with Bishop Mathews Mor Athanacius. Grandpa also took
exception to the radical reformation Mor Athanacius pursued in tune
with fundamentalist low-church section of the Anglican missionaries
then working in Kerala.
So when the
Patriarch of Antioch sent a new Syrian bishop, Euyakim Mor Coorilsoe,
in 1846 as his delegate, Grandpa went with metropolitan Cheppad Mor
Dianacius to Kochi to receive him and offered him all assistance. Mor
Coorilose used to come and live in the guesthouse adjacent to Grandpa's
house in Moonnamadam on several occasions.
Coorilose consulted Great Grandpa on all important matters regarding
the Church in Kerala. They became very good friends in course of time.
Grandpa wanted his youngest daughter married to Malkudisha, the nephew
of Euyakim Coorilose who was accompanying the bishop in Kerala. Somehow
the plan did not work out. But after the death of Grandpa, his second
daughter Aleyamma's daughter Accamma from Chalakuzhy family was married
Marthoma Bishop for the American Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Euyakim
Coorilose is the great- great- grandson of Malkudisha and a descendant
of our Great Grandpa.
work and intelligent planning Grandpa had acquired a considerable
amount of wealth. He always advised his children on the value of hard
work. Even in his advanced years, he would still go around and inspect
his vast rice fields. His biographer grandson, Chavidiyil Koshy
Kochitty Kuruvila, quotes a Mukkad Ramachar Nair who as young man once
saw this venerable old Judge doing manual work in the mud field to
bring water to a paddy field he found drying up. Ramachar got down to
the field and begged Grandpa to stop the work and volunteered to do the
work. Judge Grandpa told him that no work was beneath him.
Many of his
rich contemporaries used to save wealth as gold and hid it inside their
pillows or sometimes even under the soil. Often these were lost to
their descendants. The banking system was still several years away in
Kerala. But Grandpa made most of his investments in real estate
property. It is said that by the time he died he owned 7,000 paras
of rice fields and 700 plots of land. Even today, about 30 of the
Poothicote family members who still are in Mepral live in lands
acquired by the Judge Great Grandpa. In fact all of us who lived in
Mepral at some time in our life are the beneficiaries of Grandpa's
wealth and hard work.
Grandpa made a name and reputation for the Poothicote family in Kerala,
especially among the Syrian Christians. Though we are entering in to
the 8th generation after Judge Grandpa, members of the
Poothicote family very zealously keep their name and reputation. We may
not be very rich, but by God's grace, none of Judge Grandpa's
descendants remained very poor for long either.
time of Judge Grandpa, there is a Malayalam saying about any one
showing aristocracy and nobility in their character. "He behaves like a
Poothicote child." (Poothicote kunju na pola ). Even today it is part of Malayalam vocabulary, especially in central Kerala.
Grandpa wrote down a detailed Will and Testament, dividing his lands
and personal property among his children so that there will not be any
dispute after his death. His first biographer was in possession of this
will and had commented how meticulous Grandpa was in every detail.
brother Cherian had only 2 daughters. As was the custom in those days
the daughters were given dowry at the time of the marriage and
according to the Christian inheritance laws, these daughters had no
further claim to the ancestral wealth of their parents. But Judge
Grandpa gave a share of the family's wealth to all the daughters of his
brother. He even went a step further. He distributed a share of the
family's ancestral wealth to Manamal Kunjadamma, the daughter of his
grandfather's brother, who died with no male heirs. Grandpa managed the
Manamal property during his lifetime, but he instructed his children
that the property should be returned to Kunjadamma's children after his
death. His children faithfully carried out his wish.
Grandpa passed away on 1851 (Malayalam Era 1021 Danu 3) at home after
receiving all the final holy sacraments of the Church and was
surrounded by his children and grandchildren. A few minutes before his
death he asked people around him, what time it was. When they said it
was 4 PM, he said there would be no time that day to go to Niranam (for
On his deathbed his last request to his children was to build a church in Mepral.
remains of the Great Grandpa were buried in the Niranam Church on the
next day. The funeral service was officiated by bishop Euyakim Mor
Coorilose with the assistance of many priests. A large crowd attended
his last farewell.
resting place is inside the Niranam church just north of the tomb of
Marthoma II Metropolitan. This was the last time that a layperson was
given the honor of being buried inside a Syrian Orthodox Church in
last wish of Great Grandpa was fulfilled when his children built a
Church in Mepral, St. John's Syrian Orthodox Church, on a land
purchased and donated by them. It was consecrated by Euyakim Mor
Coorilose in 1861. (ME 1036 Makaram 6).