NILAKANDAN – LAZARUS-DEVASAHAYAM
(A BRIEF LIFE-SUMMARY BASED ON CONTEMPORARY DOCUMENTS)
The Servant of God Devasahayam Pillai was born in the year 1712 in the hamlet called Nattalam in the present district of Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, India. His father was Vasudevan Namputhiri, a Brahmin, and his mother Devahi Amma of the Nair Caste. His name was Nilam also expanded as Nilakandan. Because of the social tradition which followed a matrilineal lineage of inheritance in which the children were identified by the caste of the mother, Nilakandan was considered to be of the Nair caste, a high caste next to the Brahmin caste. He and his family were rooted in the Hindu faith and practice. “Pillai” was a popular appellation referring to his high caste and social position.
Nilakandan Pillai was by nature a good person, enthusiastic, ingenious and with a natural inclination to oppose evil and to do good. Educated in languages, science and martial arts, he started his career as a soldier. Then he was also an official in the Nilakandaswamy temple at Padmanabhapuram and a palace official working in the king’s treasury. Nilakandan Pillai married Bhargaviammal of his own Nair caste.
Nilakandan Pillai experienced heavy losses of property which caused great perturbation of his mind. Finding no relief in performance of family religious rituals, he shared his problems with a Catholic, Eustachius Benedictus De Lannoy, a Dutch military officer, arrested by King Marthandavarma after the Dutch were defeated at war at the Port of Colachel in 1741. The latter explained to him the Christian meaning of sufferings in the light of the Book of Job. Nilakandan Pillai was impressed by Job’s sense of absolute confidence in God in the face of unbearable tragedies. Subsequently De Lannoy also explained to him the Mystery of Christ and other mysteries of Christian faith. Convinced of the truth of Christian mysteries, Nilakandan Pillai expressed his desire to be baptized. Fr. Giovanni Battista Buttari, a Jesuit Missionary instructed him for nine months and baptized him at the church of the Holy Family, Vadakkankulam on 14 May 1745. At baptism the Servant of God was given the name "Devasahayam" which is a Tamil rendering of the biblical name Lazarus, which means "God has helped".