The Knanaya (Hebrew: קנניה, Malayalam: ക്നാനായ, Syriac: ܛܢܢܐ, Arabic: قينان) also known as Q’nanaya, Q’nai, Kanai, or Thekkumbagar, are endogamous Jews who settled in Kerala, India.[8][9] Their origins are unclear and are hotly disputed by academic scholars. Many believe them to be in fact descendants of Yemeni Jews who once formed a significant component of the Cochin Jewish population up until the sixteenth century.

Knananites are the descendants of Syrian Christians of Jewish origin migrated to the Malabar Coast (Kerala) of India, during the Forth Century, under the leadership of Thomas of Kana (Knai Thomas) to rejuvenate the disintegrating Christian church established by St. Thomas, the apostleKnananites are a very distinct ethnic and religious group whose ancestry traces back to Abraham, the Patriarch of the Old Testament. Israelites became slaves in Egypt and God delivered them through Moses and finally Joshua led the 12 tribes of Israel to Canaan in 1250 BC. David became king (1004-965 BC) and Solomon, who built the first temple in Jerusalem, succeeded. After Solomon’s death in 928 BC, two sister kingdoms evolved in Israel: the northern kingdom with the descendants of ten tribes (Kingdom of Israel), and the southern kingdom with the descendants of Judah and Benjamin (Kingdom of Judah). The southern kingdom remained loyal to the David dynasty and never intermarried with others. Knai Thoma and his people were the descendants of the two tribes of the southern kingdom (tribes of Judah and Benjamin). In 720 BC the Kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyrians and in 580 BC Kingdom of Judah was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia, and their respective inhabitants were exiled. The Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. When Persians conquered Babylonia, Cyrus (the new ruler) allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem and eventually the second temple was built in 515 BC.In Judea, the Community continued in theocracy. Alexander the great conquered Judea in 332 BC. With the Roman occupation of Judea in 63 BC, it became a Roman Province and Herod was proclaimed as the king of Judea. While Judea was ruled by Roman governors and procurators outburst and rebellions became severe and frequent. It was in this period that our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans (30 AD). A great revolt (66 AD) broke out and Jerusalem was besieged in 70 AD and the second temple was destroyed. After the Bar Kokhba war (132-135 AD) the Jewish populations of Judea were either dead, enslaved or in flight. Jerusalem and its environs were settled by non-Jews, but Galilee remained the bastion of Judaism. Many Jews fled to various parts of the world and in this context Jewish colonies were established along the Malabar Coast in India. The existence of any community is closely associated with its history the only ancient record prior to the 16th century which may throw light upon the existence of the Knanaya Community is the so-called Knaithomman Chepped or Knaithomman Copper plates . Knai Thoma and MigrationTwenty years after the Nicean Council (synod), Knai Thoma, a rich international merchant from Cana, brought a colony of 400 Syrian Christians consisting of 72 families belonging to 7 clans with instructions from the Patriarch of Antioch, Mor Ostath’aos , to the Malabar coast of India. The group included men, women, children, priests, deacons and their bishop Mor Joseph of Urfa (Uraha/Edessa). The names of the seven clans were: Bagi, Belkuth, Hadai, Kujalig, Koja, Mugmuth, and Thegmuth. The legend is that Mor Joseph had a startling dream (vision) in which he saw the plight of the Christian church in Malabar established by St. Thomas, the Apostle, in the 1st Century. Mor Joseph and Knai Thoma landed in Kodungalloor (Crangannoore) in 345 AD. Knai Thoma and his group sailed in three ships. The leading ship called “Babylonia” had three masts. The main mast flew King David’s flag, the second mast flew the Roman flag with the cross, and the third flew King Abgar of Edessa’s flag.Knai Thoma and his people were heartily welcomed by Cheraman Perumal, the Emperor. Cheraman Perumal sent his brother, Ramavarma, and his minister, Vettathu Mannan, to receive Knai Thoma and his people. Knai Thoma and his people were given permission to settle down in Kodungalloor and to do business. Later Cheraman Perumal bestowed Knai Thoma and his people with 72 princely privileges and there by elevated them over 17 castes. This proclamation was made on a Saturday in March (Kumbham 29), 345 and it was recorded on copper plates given to Knai Thoma (Knai Thomman Cheppedu).Knai Thoma and his people built a town in Kodungalloor with a church and 72 houses. The natives called it “Mahadevar Pattanam” meaning “town of superiors”. Knai Thoma and his people converted many natives to Christianity and built many churches. Thus the arrival of Knai Thoma and his people (Knananites) reestablished the church founded by St. Thomas, the Apostle. The Goal Of Knanaya ImmigrationAccording to the tradition, they organized this as a missionary expedition. Many writers testify to this. The fact that the group included a bishop, four priests and some deacons points to this fact (Nallororoslem, Lukas, 1996, 5). The continuation of bishops from Syria by the Knanites efforts is an added proof for it (Polackal, 1976, 14). The members preached Gospel mainly through their life.The Holy Spirit informed Mar Joseph Metran of Edessa in his sleep that the Malabar Christians are being humiliated and they are badly in need of leaders. Hence he decided to send some of his people to Malabar, headed by the business man Resp. Knai Thoma. The Bishop, Mar Joseph of Uraha, 4-Priests and some Deacons joined the group.With the blessings of the Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ostath’aos, the Casolicks Arch Bishop sent them off with gifts and the Holy BibleSouthists (Sudhists) and Northists (Nordhists)The descendants of Knai Thoma (Knananites) who lived on the south side of Kodungalloor are known as Southists (Thekkumbhagor) and the St, Thomas (native) Christians who lived on the north side of Kodungalloor are known as Northists (Vadakkumbhagor). Another tradition is that Knananites settled down on the south side of Periyar (river) while the native Christians lived on the north side of the river. It is also stated that Knananites are called Southists because they came from the southern kingdom of Judah.Knananites did not intermarry with native Christians and maintained their Jewish tradition originating from Abraham. To this date the Knananites continue as an endogamous community. Thekkumbhagar (Southists)Knanites were known as Thekkumbhagar in the ancient times. The tradition behind such a name is that when they came to Cranganore they settled in the Southern part of the city. Thus they distinguished themselves from the St. Thomas Christians who had their dwellings in the northern side of the city. Hence these two groups got the names Southists (?) and Northists (…) (Fuller, 1998, 199).KnanitesThe term Knanites is of a later origin say in the 19th century. It had its origin in the Jacobite Southist Community. However, this term has got much popularity and today it functions as the most common term to denote the community. It had its origin from the surname of its leader Knaithomman (Knan, Kinan, etc) (Jose, 1983Jews and KnananitesStriking similarities exist between Knanaya Christians and the Cochin (India) Jews. Both groups were granted the 72 privileges by the ruling Cheraman Perumals. Copper plates given to the Jews (kept in the Mattancherry Synagogue) were handed to Joseph Rabban, a first century merchant of Kodungalloor, just as Knai Thoma was given similar copper plates during the fourth century. Both groups are endogamous.Knananites believe that their customs and rituals are a continuation of ancient Jewish practices such as the position of the bride standing on the right of the bridegroom during the wedding ceremony, burial of the dead to face East to Jerusalem, the priest’s black velvet cap which is similar to the Jew’s head gear, the “kiss of peace” ceremony during Eucharist, the blessings given by parents and grandparents their children and grandchildren, reminiscent of the Old Testament blessings. During Easter celebrations Knananites partake with unleavened bread and drink wine made of coconut milk and plums reminiscent of the Jewish malzot and red wine during Passover night. The Knanaya marriage ceremony includes the bridal canopy that may be equivalent to the Jewish nuppah; the ceremonial bathing on the eve of the wedding that may be parallel to the Jewish mikrah or ritual bath: and singing of Old Testament songs on the eve and on the day of the wedding. All these customs and rituals are exclusively practiced by the Knananites and so distinguish them from the native Christians.Most striking similarities exist in the groups’ ancient songs. Reference to the 72 privileges Is found in the songs of both communities. The songs of both groups are divided into five categories, i.e., historical, bridal, biblical, in vocational and miscellaneous. There are similarities in composition and linguistics and the songs of both groups begin by invoking the name of the Almighty. In the songs shared by both groups, it is mentioned that three kings fought bravely and fell when Kodungalloor was burned down in 1524 and the descendants of these three kings, Cheraman Perumal, Joseph Rabban and Knai Thoma fought valiantly to save their town. Similarly, songs of both groups have same feelings about the Old Testament hero, Joseph. He is described as an ideal son, an ideal father and an ideal ruler. These similarities suggest that the Malabar Jews and the Knanaya Christians (who are of Jewish origin) were living in close contact with each other in Kodungalloor sharing similar legends, Biblical stories, and traditions from a common origin between 345 and 1524 AD.

The Knanaya people lived in Kodungallur and were wealthy plantation owners, merchants and bankers until an assault by Muslims. This led to the Knanaya people fleeing south for refuge to places like Kottayam and Thiruvananthapuram.

During the Portuguese occupation of Kerala, the Knanaya people were heavily persecuted for their Jewish beliefs.In 1599 the portughese missionaries forcefully converted majority of us as catholics. Those who opposed are the Jacobites.. Catholism is not established by Jesus Christ. it is established by Rome. But Christianity is established by Jesus Christ.

Portuguese InquisitionWith the arrival of the Portuguese to Kerala, the Knanaya were denounced and persecuted for their Jewish beliefs. The Nasranis and Cochin Jews were also targeted. An imperial order was passed to confiscate and sell under public auction the properties of those who celebrated Passover and Sukkah. Furthermore, circumcision was prohibited as was reading and writing in Hebrew and Aramaic.[19] Ancient Knanaya artifacts and texts were confiscated and burned by the Portuguese as to destroy the Jewish identity of the Knanaya people. In some rare instances, Knanaya who were caught defying the imperial order were executed. The oppressive rule by the Portuguese was sometimes met with resistance. These movements were futile as the Portuguese swiftly punished Knanaya who protested with death.The Knanaya fell victim to the Portuguese missionary efforts to Christianize them. They were forced to incorporate European changes into their ancient fidelity. Despite the all this, the Knanaya managed to preserve some elements of their Jewish customs, because of their endogamous practice and decision to become Crypto-Jews.[11] This is why Knanaya continue to celebrate Passover very privately without inviting any Christian friend to share the Holy Meal.[20] Still majority of their Jewish ethos was lost.[19] As a result of the Portuguese occupation

The arrival of Knai Thomas and his people helped the disintegrating Malabar Church both spiritually and socially. Further they brought the Syrian (Church of Antioch) traditions and teachings to Malabar that are practiced by millions today. Although Knananites stayed as part of the Syrian Church, they maintained their ethnic heritage. The Syrian Church prospered until the arrival of the Portuguese during the 15th Century. The Portuguese tried to eradicate the Syrian rites and replace them with the Latin rites. In 1599, the Portuguese (Archbishop Menesis of Goa) assembled a synod at Udayamparoor and, by force, changed the Syrian teachings existed since the arrival of the Knananites. Archbishop Menesis and his successors were able to convert some Syrians with their power and money. However, a group under the leadership of a Knanaya priest, Anjilimmoottil Ittythomman Kathanar (Rev. Itty Thomas), resisted the Portuguese during the middle of the 17th Century. Under his leadership, approximately 25,000 Syrian Christians assembled in Mattancherry (near Cochin) and pledged that they will not accept the Latin teachings. The oath, known as bent cross (coonan kurisu), took place in January 1653 when the Syrians heard that their Patriarch, Ahathallah, was drowned by the Portuguese. After the bent cross, the Syrian church split in to two. The group led by Mor Thomas Arkadion of Pakalomattom and Ittythomman Kathanar continued to follow the Syrian faith while the other group accepted the Roman faith. However, along with the split the Knananites also became two groups (Knanaya Jacobites and Knanaya Catholics).

In 1524 the churches and the synagogues were destroyed during the battle between Kozhikode (Calicut) and Cochin. Christians and Jews moved south to places like Udayamparoor, Mulamthuruthy and Kaduthuruthy. Eventually the Jews settled in Cochin and majority of the Knananites established their colony in Kaduthuruthy. The Raja (King) of Vadakkankoor was very pleased with the arrival of Knananites to Kaduthuruthy. They built their church in Kaduthuruthy in 1556. Subsequently, Knananites established colonies in Chungam (Thodupuzha), Kottayam, Kallissery, Ranny, Neelamparoor, Uzhavoor, Piravam, Thripunithura, Chingavanam, Changanacherry etc.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Syrian Christians became involved in several internal conflicts. One of the major disputes was regarding the ownership of funds and interest owed to the Church from the British (Vattippanam). After years of legal battle, the Court, declared that the group led by Mor Dionysus Joseph Pulikkottil, Malankara Metropolitan, was the beneficiary of the funds. The person who helped Mor Dionysus to win this renowned court battle was a Knananite, Edavazhickal Pothachan (E. M. Philip). His dedication to the Syrian Church and its causes made him Known as the “Nasrani Simham” meaning Christian lion. Mor Joseph Pulikkottil’s time (second half of the 19th Century) was probably the “Golden Era” in the Malankara Syrian church history. His love and respect for Knananites were evident in having three Knananites in his administration.
Knanaya Committee and the Diocese
On January 21 (Makaram 8), 1882, with the blessings of Mor Joseph Pulikkottil, eleven Knanaya priests assembled at St. Stephen’s Knanaya Church, Veliyanadu, and formed an organization called “Malankara Jacobite Syrian Knanaya Committee”. The meeting unanimously elected E. M. Philip Edavazhickal as the secretary and Uthuppan Thomma Puthenpurackal (Vazhayil) as the treasurer. The formation of this Knanaya Committee was a significant turning point in the Knanaya history. The Knanaya Committee codified rules and guidelines for the administration of the nine churches existed as of that date. Further, the Knanaya Committee was instrumental in bringing together the Knananites spread from Ramamangalam to Ranny based on their endogamous nature.
In 1910, upon Knanaya Committee’s request, Patriarch Ignatius Abdulla created a Knanaya Diocese with personal jurisdiction considering their ethnic background (i.e., all Knananites and their churches, irrespective of location, will be administered by the Knanaya Diocese). On August 31, 1910, the Patriarch ordained Fr. Geevarghese Edavazhickal (Mor Severious) as the first Knanaya Bishop.

Many Knanaya later migrated at the start of the 20th and 21st century, largely westward, forming communities in non Malayalam-speaking areas, including the United States, United Kingdom, Kuwait, Canada, and Italy.Knanaya communitys endogamous belief has also led to several demographic problems . In United States in the year of (1986 Rescript) the Rome ordered knanaya catholic community to go under the administration of Chicago Syro malabar Archdiocese to estblish nonendogomous Syromalabar Knanaya Missions and start building Churches under the ownership of Chicago Syromalabar Archdiocese. Watch this youtube clip for further information from Chicago archdiocese Bishop Mar Angadiath ( http://youtu.be/wSDPJYG3BjA ) . There are lot of protest amoung the Knayana community after that rescript went to public in Dec 2012 through a letter to all the Knanaya churchs in United states by Bishop Mar Angadiath . On March 2013, thousands of Knanates marched towards Bishop Angadith residents in Chicago agnist the recent announcement of the rescrpit after 15 years of the orginal rescript . ( http://youtu.be/CEOO2Ussw7U ) .
The spritual administration of US Knanaya community is now not intrested in Endogomous Knanaya churches and they are still expanding the nonendogomous churches for Syromalabar Archdiocese of Chicago . All the Knanaya churches was built without discloseing the 1986 rescript details to the Knanaya community. This is due to a hidden Master plan ,because of the spritial political resons. This is somewhat similer to1599 the portughese missionaries forcefull convertion of majority Christens to catholics in Kerala. (Please note ,Those who opposed are the Jacobites.. Catholism is not established by Jesus Christ. it is established by Rome. But Christianity is established by Jesus Christ)
The only possible soilotion is this ,is to bring all the Knanaya Associations in the world under one umberlla and ask to extend the Judistration of Kottayam Knanaya Archdiocese to all over the world.This will be very easy since Pious 19 allready given a excluvity for Knanates to practice Endogomy and stay as one community. If this is not going to happen due to cheep Spritical and Association politics ,In 20 years Knayana catholic saba ( Kottayam Diocese ) will be in history in USA and there will be only Syomalabar saba will exists in United states .

3 replies

  1. Informative article but there are too many spelling and grammatical mistakes. I am not being a grammar nazi but these mistakes created breaks in the flow!

    By the way :- Catholics are Christians.

  2. Endogenous or not by blood, but defiantly by practice and believes. Thanks for sharing dates and facts.

  3. Free thoughts… Thank you

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