The 118th Annual Parumala Feast – A Tribute

OCP Pan-Orthodox Icon of St. Gregory of Parumala (L), Parumala artwork by Deepthi J Mathew, Bangalore (R).

OCP Pan-Orthodox Icon of St. Gregory of Parumala (L), Parumala artwork by Deepthi J Mathew, Bangalore (R).

L. C – (Chief Editor – OCP News Service) – 29/10/2020

St.Gregory of Parumla – the first cannonised Indian Saint!

Amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and the protocols associated with it, the Parumala Church is all set for its 118th annual feast from October 26 to November 2, 2020. The month of November brings memories of the harvest festival in churches named after the patron saint.

I am reminded of an incident about 46 years ago, back in May 1974 when the great Indian strike of rail workers had begun. As a child along with parents, we were stranded at the Ernakulam Junction railway station due to the mass strike. I remember my late father telling vaguely that he somehow wanted to get to Parumala church after visiting his native Mezhuveli village in Kidangannoor. After long hours and delay, not only were we able to make it to his parental home safely and a few days later to the holy shrine of St Parumala.

These and many other incidents on St Parumala are etched in my memory. That is one of the powers of St Geevargese Mar Gregorios (1848-1902), popularly known as Parumala Thirumeni or the Bishop of Parumala, whose intercession has blessed many faithful.

As thousands of people receive favours and blessings through his intercession, it is time and again to remember this man of faith, prayer and healing in this time of coronavirus.

The faith and prayers in Parumala church are amazing. Every year as a child, the March annual summer vacation meant visiting Kerala which was never complete without a trip to Parumala. Those days during the 1970s there was no bridge to reach the shrine which meant getting down at Mannar junction and trudging all the way to the church past the Pampa River.

St Gregorious played an important role in extending the mission of Malankara Church to the poor and the downtrodden. This was one of the main qualities which were etched in my thoughts as taught by my Sunday school teachers and elders.

Like many other Christians, Parumala Thirumeni’s life and mission too had a bearing on my father who was able to instil among his children about the hard life and sacrifices of the saint. “He was God-fearing and he always devoted his time in prayers and church matters,” my late father used to say about the young Bishop.

My dad shared many of his life experiences like the one how he used to cross Pampa River to attend the Parumala festival as his mother’s elder sister stayed ashore in Veeyapuram and were members of the Parumala church now named as St Peter’s and St Paul’s Indian Orthodox Church.

Thirumeni was a bishop of the Malankara Syrian Church. He became a deacon at a young age of 10, a priest at the age of 18, and a bishop at 28 years. As bishop of the Malankara Orthodox Church, Parumala Thirumeni was also known as ‘Chathuruthil Kochu’.

He died at the age of 54 and was entombed at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Parumala, in Kerala.

In 1947, he was declared a saint by the Malankara Orthodox Church, and beatified by the then Catholicos, Baselios Geevarghese II, making him the first canonised Christian saint from India in 1987.

As a child, I remember offering ‘pidi pannum’ (cash offerings by hand) for favours received at the holy shrine. Such is the powerful assurance we get from his intercession which is all the more needed during these pandemic times.

However, it is hard to relate to the present church designed by Charles Correa as my thoughts still go out to the old traditional church before it made way for the new and the Azhippura or the small building where Mar Gregorios lived. Looking at true life-size portraits of Geevarghese Mor Gregorios by Raja Ravi Varma can transform any disturbed mind to inner peace. The portraits can be found at every nook and corner of Parumala in Pathanamthitta taluk and old Travancore districts of Kerala.

Born as Geevarghese in Mulanthuruthy, Kerala, the Bishop who died on November 2 at the age of 54 years was canonised 45 years later on November 2, 1947.

For the first time in 2018, I had an opportunity to undertake a pilgrimage by foot (padayatra) of about 10 km from Chengannur to Parumala. It was an experience to cherish during one’s lifetime. For the young and the old who joined to complete the walk on foot, it was an experience of a lifetime. This happens days (October 31, November 1) before the Parumala feast on November  2. As the pilgrimage by foot reaches St Paul’s and St Peter’s Church that houses the tomb of St Gregorios one can notice a sea of humanity and a festive look.

During the present pandemic from Coronavirus, this will be missed as all have been advised to follow social distancing and abide by COVID protocols. Faithful from different parishes walk and shower their offerings at the tomb of the Bishop and it has been a tradition which has been followed for a long time.

During these days, all roads lead to Parumala and one can hardly notice any difference between day and night. Even during midnight of November 1, hours before the feast, one can see a long procession of faithful walking in orderly queues to reach the shrine.

On November 2, almost all the parishes in Malankara reach Parumala and Holy Liturgy is led by Supreme Head of the Indian Orthodox Church, Malankara Metropolitan and Catholicos of the East HH Moran Mar Baselios Marthoma Paulose II along with other Diocese Metropolitans followed by distribution of blessings and offerings.

OCP News Service