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Kochitty Kuruvila - The Judge Great Grandpa -

The founding patriarch of the Poothicote Family 
"Lo, 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

 If  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.


George 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.


Internecine 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.


Judge 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 the Lord.


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 Kachari).


Kochitty 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.


Grandpa 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.


Before 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 the church.


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.


Colonel 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.


Grandpa's 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.


While 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.


Grandpa was 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.


Though 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.


Grandpa's 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 duty.


The 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 several generations.


Judge 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.


However 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.


Thampuran 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.


Once 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.


After his 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.


Occasionally 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.)


Once 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 the pulayas.


On 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.


Kochitty 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.


But Grandpa 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.


Unfortunately 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.


Kochitty 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. 


That 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 his resignation.


Still 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 after ordination.

It was 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.


The meeting 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.


Mor 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 to Malkudisha.


The present 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.


By hard 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.


Judge 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.


Since the 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.


Judge 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.


Grandpa's 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.


Our Great 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 his burial).


On his deathbed his last request to his children was to build a church in Mepral.


The mortal 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.


His final 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 Kerala.

The 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).


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