Today, January 14, we celebrate the feast of Blessed Devasahayam Pillai (23 April 1712 – 14 January 1752), martyr of faith and first Indian lay martyr to be beatified.
Martyr Devasahayam Pillai was born in the year 1712 at a village called Nattalam. His father was Vasudevan Namboothiri, a Brahmin from Kayamkulam, and his mother Devaki Amma of the Nair Caste from Thiruvattar in Kanyakumari District. His family was very much rooted in Hindu faith and his father was serving as priest in the Siva temple at Nattalam.
His original name was Neelakandapillai. He married Bargaviammal. From his early childhood he was a learned man well versed in Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit. He was an expert in the ancient Indian martial arts.
Devasahayam’s family had much influence in the royal palace of Maharaja Marthanda Varma, king of Travancore, and Devasahayam went into the service of the royal palace as a young man. His capabilities and enthusiasm did not go unnoticed in the palace, as he was soon put in charge of state affairs as an official under Ramayyan Dalawa, the Dewan of Travancore.
In 1741, Captain Eustachius De Lannoy, a Dutch naval commander, was sent on command of a Dutch naval expedition by the Dutch East India Company to capture Colachel, a port under the control of Travancore, and establish a trading post there.
In the battle (Battle of Colachel) that followed between the Travancore forces and De Lannoy’s men, the Dutch forces were defeated and the men were either killed or captured. Eustachius De Lannoy, his assistant Donadi and a few other Dutch soldiers were captured and imprisoned.
De Lannoy and the Dutchmen were later pardoned by the king, on the condition that they serve in the Travancore army. De Lannoy later earned the trust of the king and went on to become the commander of the Travancore armed forces, winning many battles and annexing various neighbouring territories to Travancore.
It was during their influential roles under the King of Travancore that Devasahayam Pillai and De Lannoy became well acquainted. De Lannoy’s Christian faith interested Devasahayam and De Lannoy enlightened him on the faith, leading to his conversion.
In 1745, he was baptized by Rev. Fr. Buttari a Jesuit Priest at Vadakkankulam. He was named Devasahayam Pillai. His wife was also baptized and received the name Gnanappu in 1745. Some of Devasahayam Pillai’s immediate family members also received baptism later, after being converted to Christianity.
The conversion of Devasahayam Pillai angered the hindu priests, because he mixed with lower castes. They were also scared that the Christian faith will spread fast. Church chroniclers say that the Brahmin chief priest of the kingdom, the feudal lords, members of the royal household and the Nair community brought false charges on Devasahayam to the Dewan, Ramayyan Dalawa.
Pillai was divested of his portfolio in the administration and was later accused of treason and of divulging state secrets to rivals and Europeans. He was later arrested and tortured for three years to change his mind. But Devasahayam Pillai was strong like a rock in his faith in Jesus.
Arrested on 23 February 1749 for his faith, he was tortured and abused, and then for three years was hauled from village to village. Pillai was treated like a criminal and as was customary in those days for criminals, his body was painted with red and black spots, and was intentionally marched through populated areas, sitting backward on top of a water buffalo through the streets of South Travancore.
As a method of torture, he was beaten everyday with eighty stripes, pepper rubbed in his wounds and nostrils, exposed to the sun, and given only stagnant water to drink.He accepted every suffering for Christ.He spent the time in prayer and teaching any who would listen, and priests would sneak him Communion in his cell.
While halting at Puliyoorkurichi, not far away from the Padmanabhapuram Palace of the Travancore king, it is believed by Christians that God quenched his thirst by letting water gush through a small hole in a rock, the very place where he knelt to pray.
The water hole is still found in the compound of a church at Puliyoorkurichi, about 15 km from Nagercoil. It is also believed that the leaves of a neem (Margosa) tree in the village of Peruvilai, to which he had been tied while being marched to Aralvaimozhy, cured illnesses of sick people in the village and around. Many more miracles are attributed to Devasahayam Pillai.
In 1752, the original order of the King and his Dewan was to deport him from Travancore, into the Pandya country, at Aralvaimozhy. He was let off in the forested hills near Aralvaimozhy. There, he is believed to have begun deep meditations, and the people from the adjacent villages began visiting the holy man. At this time, high caste Hindus plotted to do away with Devasahayam.
On 14th January 1752, he was shot dead at Kattadimalai, Aralvaimozhy which is 20 kilometers away from Puliyoorkurichy. The soldiers went up the forested hills and tried to shoot Devasahayam, but were unable to fire; after which he took the gun in his hands, blessed it and gave it back to the soldiers to shoot him to death, if they wished to. The soldiers took the gun back and fired at him five times. His body was then carelessly thrown out near the foothills at Kattadimalai.
His mortal remains were buried in front of the main altar of Xt. Xaviers Cathedral, Kottar, which is now the diocesan Cathedral. He was beatified on 2 December, 2012, and is the first lay person to be elevated to the rank of “Blessed” in India.
Blessed Devasahayam Pillai, Pray for us.
Categories: Daily Saints