St. Mary’s Forane Church, Athirampuzha recently celebrated the annual feast of St. Sebastian with full energy and enthusiasm. The major attractions of the procession that is carried out during the festival are classic Kerala bands, school bands, flags, crosses of different types – golden, wooden, brass and silver – statues of saints, and muthukuda (beaded decorated umbrellas) which travels from the Athirampuzha main market to the church.
The procession is the most important and colorful part of the celebration, which lasts for more than four hours. In this, the statues of St. Sebastian and the Blessed Virgin Mary are taken out of the church at around 4:00 p.m. and after being taken around in the area, it comes back to the church at around 8:00 p.m.
It is a parish feast where a group of Catholic families gather every year to celebrate the feast. The mass or Eucharist is held every hour and devotes make different offerings to the saint. The dazzling display of fireworks is a major attraction and adds color to the festival. It is more like the south Indian Diwali, with fireworks and people lighting lights and candles outside their houses.
“This is the biggest religious gathering of this place. People of all religions take part in it,” said Father Jose Parappallil. Explaining the reason for it, he adds, “years ago, the people of Athirampuzha were affected by smallpox. They all prayed to St. Sebastian and they were all cured. From then on, all religions began to take part in the feast believing that the saint saves them from all their troubles and problems.” The devotees offerKazhunnu – miniature arrow of gold and silver – and believe that the arrow stuck in the body of the saint has miraculous healing powers and keeps evil spirits away.
The church was established in the 835 AD, and this feast has been celebrated from the year 1647, which lasts for a week beginning on the 19th of January and ends on the 26th of January. The main feast days are 24th and 25th, but the flag hoisting ceremony begins from 19th, marking the beginning of the festival. Thousands and thousands of people from various parts of south India come to attend it. Not only that, people of all religions take part in it be it Christian, Hindu or Muslims.
According to locals, three statues of St. Sebastian were brought to Kerala during the time of Portuguese, one is believed to be in the St. Andrew’s Forane Church of Arthunkal and another was taken to St. Mary’s Forane Church of Kanjoor; but because of its small size, no one claimed third one. The traders of the Athirampuzha brought the smallest one to this place. This is known as Adiyelpicha Roopam (the tortured figure). The public is allowed to see the statue only during this festive season. The statue of St. Sebastian installed in the St. Mary’s Forane Church, Athirampuzha is special as it is considered to be one of the oldest statues in India, and also, it is the only statue of a saint without an arrow. The festival comes to an end with St. Sebastian’s statue being ceremonially placed on the altar of the church.
(Athirampuzha is a small town in the Kottayam district of Kerala state. it is one of the oldest trading centers in the Travancore. It is believed that this place has trade relations with the Middle East from centuries ago)
In a time when things are only being banned, the famous Rock Opera ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was staged in Pallikoodam School, Kottayam district of Kerala 25 years after it was banned in the same school.
On October 15, 1990, the children of the school (Corpus Christy School at that time) were all ready for the performance when founder Mary Roy received the order from Alphons Kannamthanam, former IAS officer and then Collector of Kottayam for the ban on the play. Although it was a temporary ban, it took 25 years to get it lifted. The case shuttled between the government and the Kerala courts for a decade before it went to the Supreme Court.
The rock opera, written in 1970 by Tim Rice with music from Andrew Lloyd Webber, tells the story of the last seven days of Jesus’ life on earth starting with Him and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with His crucifixion. It highlights the struggle between Judas and Jesus with a psychological point of view that is not in the Bible. The opera depicts the agony of Jesus during his betrayal, trial and condemnation. The play shows that Jesus Christ was not the son of God but was actually nothing more than the right man at the right time. It also shows that Judas was much misunderstood and was depicted as a tragic figure dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus steers his disciples. The rock opera also suggests that Mary Magdalene may have had a relationship with Jesus.
The ban was put on the drama because it was seen as both sacrilegious and blasphemous, against the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith and could hurt religious feelings. But Father Abraham Vellathadathil, former Principal of Henry Baker College, Idukki who challenged this ban in the Kerala High Court along with Mary Roy said that the rock opera is a literary piece and even the Christians of the Vatican enjoyed it.
On Friday, December 4 2015, the school witnessed the play again as the Supreme Court of India lifted the ban from this dance drama in April, 2015.
The bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that since Jesus Christ Superstar had already been produced all over the world and is available online, a ban based on an order by the district collector serves no purpose. People of Kottayam can easily watch the play on the Internet.
The interesting part of the play was that those who were students of the school during the ban are now parents of the school students; the music band still has members who were part of the 1990 play as student. No Christian was offended with the play or its contents when it was staged now, majority of the students performing the play were also Christian.
Although there are differences in the beliefs of Hindu and Muslims, even then Awadh is considered as the centre of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. Budhakki ka mela, also known as Daliganj mela and Ganga Snan Mela is one of the finest examples of that. One can find the perfect blend of the Hindu-Muslim unity in this fair. Although it is organized after the Kartik purnima snan (a Hindu ritual), most of the shopkeepers are not Hindu. The customers are also of all religions.
It is also special because at a time when people prefer going to malls and shopping complexes, Budhakki ka mela is an amazing thing to see. It is a street fair with shops on the road’s pavement, where one can find almost all sorts of things. It not only deals with various jhoolas (swings and rides) and food stall like any other fair, but also deals with all sorts of household goods, clothing and footwear shops, handicrafts, utensils, glass wares, crockery, magic shows, photo studios and various other unique and fancy shops.
The mela lasts for around 40 days after the Kartik purnima snan. Every day thousands and thousands of people came to this fair. It offers things on the cheapest possible rates. One can find items ranging from ₹2 to ₹2000. No one knows when this fair first began, but some say that it has been around from the time of Akbar. This fair flourished more during the time of Wajid Ali Shah. Shopkeepers from various parts of Uttar Pradesh came to sell special and low-priced goods.
Sansar Ali from Allahabad, owns a key-ring shop and has been participating in the fair for the past 28 years and does not have any permanent shop anywhere else. He writes names and personalized messages on the key-rings. He earns his living by the temporary shop only.
Another shopkeeper Abdul Mannan, is from Lucknow and has a permanent crockery shop in Mahanagar but he has been coming to this fair since 1978. He too does not know when the fair started. Shahid, a utensil shop-owner from Kanpur said, “I have been coming here for 15 years and before that my father and elder brother used to come here.”
Recently, there has been a debate over where the fair should be held. The priest of the Mankameshwar Mandir is of the thought that this fair should be shifted to that part of Gomti near the temple, which has received a mixed response from shopkeepers.
Mohammad Nafis, a bangle store owner from Kanpur who has been a part of the fair from past 20 years feels that this is a better place for the fair. He said, “That area is not safe for women and also there are two educational institutes nearby – Lucknow University and Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama College and if the fair is shifted to that side then it will be a disturbance for those institutes as well.”
Some other shopkeepers feel that it is better to shift there because the temple committee will be responsible for the security and safety of shopkeepers which isn’t available now and gunda elements keep threatening them. There will be regular rules for the shops since they are paying very high for it and have to pay at multiple levels. They will also get a proper parent organization for the fair. Some feel that the authority and police and not able to maintain the crowd and the traffic.
The debate was finally settled when it was announced that 2016 onwards, the mela will be organized in the Mankameshwar Mandir lawn. The authority has also promised free place and electricity for which the shopkeepers are paying ₹ 150 and ₹ 80 respectively per day right now.