The social and political situation explained above was the stage in which religion played its role in Travancore. We could explain the religious situation in terms of three factors: The dedication of the Kingdom to Lord Padnanabha and the resultant state of Hinduism as the State Religion, the extent of superstition prevalent in the practice of religion and the discrimination of Christians on the basis of their religion.
- The Dedication of the Kingdom to Lord Padnanaba
- Caste Discrimination in Hindu Worship
- Christians in Travancore
Politically, the Kingdom of Travancore was a Hindu country. On 3rd Jnuary 1750 Marthanda Varma dedicated his whole kingdom to his tutelary deity Sri Padmanabhaswamy. As a result of this dedication, Travancore became Sri Pandaravaka (property of Sri Padmanabha). The King became Sri Padmanabhadasa (servant of Sri Pdmanabha). The servants of the state came to be called panadara Kairyam Chaivargal (the government servants who work for the properties of Sri Padmanabha). Travancore itself was called Sri Pandaravaka (property of Sri Padmanabha). Every act of hostility against the king would be equal to swamidroham (a crime against God). This meant that thereafter the there was no distinction between the state property (cherikkal) and the temple property (devasvam). Thus the Travancore royal household became, for all theoretical purposes, a centralized temple management team50. In a country which declared Hinduism as a state religion, the Christians had the treatment of second class citizens, nay, even of outcastes.
What was peculiar to the form of worship was that caste system found an honoured place. The people of high castes controlled all important temples and worshipped the deities, considered as powerful.51 The people of the lowcastes, denied of entry into these temples, had their peikoils or devil temples, where they worshipped the less significant deities. People of other castes that were considered as low, were not allowed to go inside even on the low verandahs of the temples. As the polluting castes, they were not permitted to go beyond the peeper tree that was planted near the tank at the entrance. A miniature image of the deity was placed near the tree with a treasure box on festival occasions. The polluting castes dropped their cash or final offerings such as flowers, ghee, rice, money or jewels and were allowed to enter the guar angle, stand in front of the shrine, low with joined palms and utter prayers in colloquial vernacular.
There was an amble presence of Christians in the kingdom of Travancore during the life of the Servant of God. The fisher people living along the 61 kilometers of the coastal stretch of the present district of Kanyakumari were already fully Catholic, baptized by Portuguese missionaries, especially during the mission work of St. Francis Xavier. Thereafter, by the efforts of the Jesuit missionaries the efforts for evangelization of the interior villages was in progress. But these Christians, especially those in the interior villages, experienced social, political and economic problems. Socially the Christians, not the Syrian Christians, but the Latin Rite Christians, were counted among the lowest of castes, to the extent of being considered untouchables. So much so Christianity was regarded as a religion of the lowest classes and the noble tribes like the Nairs and Brahmins kept away from them52. The Christians too, like the low caste people, were forbidden to wear headdress if they were men and any dress above the waist if women.
Economically too Christians were an oppressed class. They worked as coolies in the properties of the temples and those of the Nairs. Christians were paying taxes for being Christians. As an educated person, as a Nair and as a Palace official Nilakandan would have been fully in the know of these social, political and economic conditions of the Christians of Travancore of Marthanda Varma.
It was during the reign of Marthanda Varma (A.D. 1729-1758) that the influence of the Brahmins increased. On the other side the people of low castes were oppressed in several forms. Directed by the Brahmins, fifteen children belonging to Nadar, Ezhave, Pulaya and other communities had been buried alive in the name of sacrifice to Lord Padmanabha.53 Festival tax and several other kinds of taxes were also collected54. Totally the people were made to pay 110 types of taxes.55 Therefore there found a rapid speed in the spread of Christianity in south Travancore than that of other parts of India.56 Pulayas, Parayas, Nadars, Ezhavas, Mukkuvas, Vedars, Arayans and others benefited by their reception of Christianity.57 Therefore the advent of the European on this coast marked a new epoch in the religious as well as political history of Travancore and the progress58 of the Christian Communities may be said to have commenced with it.59
The enrolement of a large number of low castes into Christianity and their progress in every walk of life made the king of Travancore and especially his agents of high castes to feel threatened. Therefore, King Marthanda Varma instigated by the high caste Hindus determined to extirpate Christianity from the country and strove violently to accomplish it. Accordingly they put forth extraordinary exertions to arrest the progress of Christianity. The Christians of the country were harassed and persecuted in different ways. Unjust taxation was imposed on the Christians. They were seized and compelled to carry torches in Hindu religious processions. They had to carry provisions to the temples and to the feasts instituted in honour of the Hindu gods. They were made to drag logs required for the repairs of the temple cars. They were beaten, tortured and thrown into prison under various false charges. They were compelled to work on Sunday in defiance of recognized laws and customs. Attempts were made to demolish some of the Christian Churches on the pretext that sanction for their exaction had not been previously obtained.60 Public worship in churches was at times disturbed. Christian women were molested, mocked at and ridiculed in highways and markets. Churches and Christians Schools were burnt down. Leaders were beaten and reviled at and Christian missionaries were subjected to great annoyances. Christian children were excluded from going to government schools. The government officials fanned the prejudices of the people and threw great obstacles in the way of getting the required sanction for the existence of churches. Christians were excluded from government service and all offices were not opened to them. They were not allowed to use all the public streets and wells. When some Syrian Christians passed by the temple premises at Tiruvella their approach was considered a pollution and therefore they were fined.61