Though no eye-witnesses could be now living, there are documents which are from authentic direct witnesses or which have faithfully recorded some statements of witnesses.
1. TEXTUAL ACCOUNTS
a) Witness of the Diocesan Bishop
Of prime importance is the report on the holy life and Martyrdom of Devasahayam Pillai, as part of the Ad Limina Visit Report of the then bishop of Kochi, still preserved in the Secret Archives of Vatican, dated 15 November 1756 (just four years after Devasahayam’s death).
The area of the present district of Kanyakumari at the time of Devasahayam was part of the diocese of Cochin (Kochi), and the bishop was a Portuguese Jesuit, Clemens José Colaço Leitão by name. At the time of Devasahayam’s martyrdom bishop of Kochi was residing (and would continue to reside till 1771) at Anjuthenku.1 Therefore the news of the martyrdom reached him without delay and he had the Te Deum sung in the cathedral in thanksgiving for the gift of an Indian martyr to the world. The Bishop has explained the martyrdom of Lazarus so extensively that his account of the same extends to six folios.2 The Bishop is also reported to have written a Pastoral Letter on the martyr which has not been traced yet3.
Ad Limina Report of Most Rev. Clemens Joseph C. Leita, S. J.,
Bishop of Cochin on 15 th November 1756
Bishop of Cochin on 15 th November 1756
b) Witness of Fr. Buttari
Fr. Giovanni Baptista Buttari, SJ was in charge of the Neman (Nemam) mission in Vadankankulam from 1741 to 1951. He it is who Baptised Nilakandan Pillai into Devasahayam or Lazarus and continued to be his spiritual director. He died on the Solemnity of Ascension, the 17th of May 1757, just 50 years of age. He is the most important of the first-hand witnesses on the life and glorious death of the Servant of God Devasahayam Pillai. We have utilized three documents from his pen.
- Letter on Persecution4
- Letter on Martyrdom of Devasahayam
- The Life of Giovanni Battista Buttari of the Society of Jesus
The AJMP has this writing of Buttati in Italian, produced in microfilm of 7 folios. It is titled by the Author himself as “Brief Report of the Persecutions Executed against Christians in the Kingdom of Travancore”. The Archive has named it as “Letter of Buttari on Persecution”. The way of writing is more as notes than as a letter. It could also be a report to be sent to Rome. Though the Jesuit Madurai Province Archives has yearmarked this document as of 1752, it is clear that it was written earlier, because towards the end the document mentions a historical event: “It is already 2 months since he (Chanda Sahib) has come to the south by order of the Great Moghul and governs it with an army of 35,000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry. In January it was rumoured that he would come to Travancore”. This happened in 1751.5 Since it was written before the execution of Devasahayam Pillai, his death is not mentioned in this document. Therefore, we can certainly say that this is the earliest document on the martyr and its authenticity is undoubted. The Italian text has been fully translated into English and published by Dahmen6
Titled by Buttari himself as “A Narrative of the life and of the death which the Neophyte Lazarus stoutly suffered for the Faith in the Kingdom of Travancore, East Indies on the 14tb January 1752”, the document is preserved in AJMP in Photocopy. It has been written after the death of Devasahayam Pillai. The last lines say that the persecution “has lasted already for four years and is as severe as any ever witnessed”. The persecution let loose by the Prime Minister of Travancore, started in 1749. Therefore the document should belong to 1753, when the persecutions were still raging. Since Buttari writes all through ‘Lazar” - not “Devasahayam Pillai”- we can assume that the author wrote it to Italian or European readers.
There is a significant source that has been made available to historical commission through the kindness of the family of Mr. Amalagiri Anthonimuthu, one of the earliest proponents and perhaps the most versatile scholar on martyr Devasahayam7 of the lineage of the family of poet Thomman Thirumuthu.8This poet was for a short while in prison together with Devasahayam in Padmanabhapuram. He had been arrested for refusing to compose poems on the Hindu gods.9 He and the Servant of God spent the whole night praising and thanking God.10 In the very year of the death of the martyr, Poet Thomman Thirumuthu wrote down the entire story in the form of 190 couplets in folkloric Ammanai (used folkloric dance by youth) poetic form. The palm writing which was for the past generations with the above said family was read through and written down by the same Amalagiri Anthonimuthu, with the help of Mr. Vasan, an expert in Palm Leave writings of Siddhas (ancient Tamil native physicians).11 The Poet himself named the writing as “The Sorrows of a Martyr’s Journey”. Of the 190 poems, 13 to 40 and part of verse 137 are missing. Poet Thomman Thirumuthu’s writings are indeed an eye witness account. The couplets provide not only with the historical turning points in the life but even the spirituality of the Servant of God. The Poet also displays his knowledge of conspiracy of persons of high caste Hindus against Devasahayam Pillai in spite of the good will of the King.12
d) Witness of Fr. Pimentel
Mother Maddalena, the Sister of Fr. Buttari, collected some personal testimonies of priests who had personally been in touch with Fr. Giovanni Battista Buttari, before completing the editing of the writings of Fr. Buttari. One of such witnesses is that of Fr. Pimentel, the Jesuit Superior of the region, who met Devasahayam Pillai in the prison. His witness is included in Buttari, Vita. 13
These witnesses are quoted by the historical documents. Two are in Buttari documents and one in the report by Paulinus.
- The family of executioner Buttari, while writing about the favour granted to the executioner for a child, quotes from the witness of the family.14
- Witness of a Doctor Buttari also reports from the witness of the official Physician of the King’s palace.15
- Witness of Non-Christian colleagues of Devasahayam Pillai Paulinus refers to the witness of the non-Christians who were working with Devasahayam Pillai and who were impressed by him and they spoke to Paulinus about him.16
2. WITNESSES OF DIOCESAN PROCESS
Since it is a historical Cause, the diocesan enquiry mainly concentrated on the fame of the martyrdom of the Servant of God. The diocesan Tribunal provided with 106 names as witnesses and their witnesses were recorded within a period of two years by the diocesan Enquiry17 Besides the fame of Martyrdom, the witnesses also provide some details about what they got to know about the life and martyrdom of the Servant of God.