|Classification:||Ethnic group/ Caste/kshatriya Community of South India|
|Total population:||2006: (approx) 1,100,000|
|Significant populations in:||
|Language||Mother tongue is Tamil.|
Parava or Paravas, also known as Bharathar or Bharathakula Kshathriyar.Paravar is one of the oldest Tamil castes. They are the proudful heirs of ancient Pandya Kings.They founded the Panyan Empire and hoisted their Fish flag.Later,due to geographical changes the boundaries of Pandyan Empire changed.Also,another predominant caste called,the Maravars(Devars) were also from the same clan.The earlier Pandya kingdom was under control of Paravas and Maravas.For centuries the Paravas had been pearl divers. However in the 19th century pearl oysters in the Gulf of Mannar, between India and Sri Lanka, became scarce. Tuticorin city in Tamilnadu, India which is still a stronghold of the Parava community was the centre of the pearl trade. The Paravas later diversified into fishing, salt-making and other maritime professions.
Paravar also refers to the people living on the coast of the Indian state of Tamilnadu and in parts of northern and western Sri Lanka (Ceylon). In Tamil language and literature, the coastal areas where they lived were called 'Neythal Thinai.'Significant numbers of well-educated Paravas, many of whom have diversified into major professions and business also live in the major cities of southern Tamilnadu and in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Paravas in Sri Lanka migrated from India during the British colonial days; many prospered in trade and business in Sri Lanka and now generally speak Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka. (see Bharatakula)
Paravas were the first whole community in India to convert to Christianity in the mid 16th century. The name 'Fernando', a predominant surname and other surnames were acquired from the Portuguese, who influenced the Paravas. There are as many as 100 or more of these surnames - Fernando, Fernandez, Motha, Mascarenhas, Victoria, Miranda, Devotta, De Cruz, De Souza, Gomez, Dalmeida, Vaz, Desoyza, Rodrigo, Rodriguez etc., which were given by St. Francis Xavier, other missionaries and Portuguese officers during the 16th century.
The Portuguese called the area where the Paravas lived as "La Pescaria" - or Land of the Pearls. Their spiritual, cultural and literary excellency brought out the first Tamil book to modern print media. The Tamil Bible, 'Cardila', was printed in 1554 and made Tamil the first language into print for any Indian language. This was even before the first printing machine arrived Goa, India in 1556. Cardila was printed at Lisbon by the command of the Portuguese government with the motivation by the visits of three Paravars Vincent Nasareth, Joj Kavalko and Thomas Cruz from Tuticorin, India to Portugal. The funding for the press came from the Parvar community of Tuticorin.
Paravars worshipped Varunan. Pattinappaalai (200 AD) gives a vivid picture of Varunan cult of Paravars. The fisherfolk call the sea as Mother Sea and revere her as Goddess. Ahananooru talks about sea Goddess. The records of the Travancore Census Report 1931 mentions about the inscription at the Cape Comorin temple. It talks about a Paravar King Villavaraya of Cape who ruled the coastal land for about 800 years. It is also believed that the temple at Cape was built by the Paravars for their Sea Goddess. The Paravars' natural attachment to Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple also can be attributed as a great sign of their reverence to their Mother Goddess.
When the southern people started changing their religion under the northern influence, paravars also followed the suit. During the Cholas and later Pandiya kings regime Paravars were believers of Saivisim. There were many highly learned and spiritually bolstered Saivites in Paravar Community.
From 1311 onward the Muslim rulers began to invade Pandiyan Empire and continued repeated onslaught on them. In 1323 they captured the Pandian Kingdom. The Muslims being very powerful at sea and having the support of local Kings started forcing the Paravars to embrace Islam. But they failed every time. In 1516 the Muslims captivated whole pearl fishery on lease from Udaya Marthanda Varma and Paravars were brinked to the state of slavery. And for the first time ever in the history the Paravars lost their right over the pearl fishery.
Day by day the Muslims and their arrogance became more stronger and the parava community was left helpless. Unaided by the neighbours and exposed to the danger of being wiped out by the tyrannical Muslims, Paravars found timely help from an unexpected quarter. The Portuguese expressed their willingness to help if they consented to become Christians. After studying the suggestion Paravar community decided to embrace Christianity en masse. Thus, in 1533, nearly 30,000 Paravars got back their right over Pearl fishery. In 1542 Saint Francis Xavier came to Pearl Coasts to strengthen their Christian faith.
During the baptism of Paravars, the Portuguese happened to be God-fathers. So they had given their names to Paravars. Even after 460 years these surnames are still prevalent in the Paravar community. 68 such names are existing amongst which Fernando, Fernandes are mostly used.
The Paravas paid a small tax to the state for permission to scour the deep for pearls. In the first quarter of the 16th century, this contribution which was paid to the Pandyas (Tamils) till then, came to be shared by the two powers between whom the coast was divided – the king of Travancore, Chera Udaya Martanda, who annexed the southern half of the coastal territory and the Vanga Tumbichi Nayak, who possessed himself to the north. In 1516, however the state dues were farmed out by a Muslim who on account of the profits he has realized, became the virtual master of the coast Documentacao vol.- II p361).
According to Barbosa, he was so rich and powerful that the people of the land honored him as much as the king. He executed judgement and justice on the Muslims without interference from the constituted authority. The fishers (parathavars) toiled for him for a whole week at the close of the season, and for themselves for the rest of the time except on Fridays when they worked for the owners of the boats (Dames, The book of Duarte Barbosa Vol.-II pp123-24). The Portuguese, who were the masters of the seas, coveted this business and soon wrested it from the Muslims. In 1523, Joao Froles, whom the Portuguese king appointed as Captain and Factor of the fishery coast, succeeded in farming out the dues of 1,500 cruzados a year (Corea oriente Portuguese vol.-II PP 778-79,786-87). The Muslims wouldn't yield to their rivals without a struggle. But the brunt of their attacks was visited upon the Paravas. For in their attempt to baulk the Portuguese of their gains, they constantly harassed the poor fishers. In consequence, the Portuguese had to maintain a flying squadron to beat off the attacks of the Muslim Corsairs-as they termed their enemies. Just at this juncture, Vijayanagar, which had earlier connived at the occupation of the coast by the King of Travancore and Tumbichi Nayak, vigorously intervened in support of the Pandya king. The Vijayanagar forces inflicted severe defeat on the Travancore army, and with the appearance of Vijayanagar on the fishery coast there was cessation of hostilities between the Portuguese and the Muslims (Silva Rego –Oriente Portuguese Vol.-II pp362-65). About the year 1536 an incident occurred which threatened to throw the coastal people into the throes of a violent internecine warfare. In a scuffle between a Muslim and a Parava at Tuticorin, the Parava had his ear torn out by his adversary, who out of sheer greed for the ring it bore, carried with him. Now there was in the estimation of the Paravas no greater affront than to have one's ears boxed and much worse, to have the rings torn off. The incident sparked off a civil war between the Paravas and the Muslims, and it was soon apparent that the Paravas would be beaten in the struggle. A Muslim flotilla guarded the coast making it impossible for the Paravas to ply their trade, and offering five fanams (panam, the then currency, even today in Tamilnadu its common for the Tamil to term money as panam) for a Parava head (Luceana , Historia da Vida do padre S.Francisco Xavier , vol.-I liv II , cap .VII). Happily for the Paravas, there happened to arrive at Cape Comorin (present day Kanya Kumari) at this time João da Cruz, a horse dealer who was high in Portuguese favour. He was a page of the Zamorin who had sent him to Portugal towards the end of 1512, when he was negotiating a treaty with Albuquerque. He was converted to Christianity while he was there and was admitted to the order of the Christ. He was now no longer in the service of the Zamorin, having incurred his displeasure for changing his religion. João da Cruz, who was waiting payment for his deal at the cape (Kanya Kumari), was approached by the Paravas for advice. Da Cruz could see no way of saving them from their predicament other than conversion to Christianity. For then they would be entitled to the protection of the Portuguese and could, as a matter of right, invoke the aid of the Portuguese Padroado. The Paravas had no alternative but to agree and Da Cruz led a deputation of twenty pattankattis (leaders) of the Paravas to cochin to wait on Pero Vaz, the Vedor da Fazenda (Reeve), and Miguel Vaz, the Vicar-General. These pleaded the case of the Paravas before Nuno da Cunha, the Governor, and it was decided that they be helped against their Muslim opponents. Accordingly a Portuguese squadron appeared before Cape Comorin (Kanya kumari).
The Muslim flotilla sought safety in flight and the Paravas freed from bondage could from now on ply their trade independently of the farmers, both Muslim and Portuguese. In the meanwhile, Da Cruz persuaded the King of Travancore not to object to the conversion of the Paravas in a body to the Christian religion, assuring him that if he was friendly with the Portuguese he could depend on his supply of war steeds, the mainstay of the army in those days.
The Paravas apart from getting converted also had to shell out 60,000 fanams to Portuguese as protection money. This was further used to induce more conversions. I Miguel Vaz thereupon visited the Paravas accompanied by four priests and administered baptism to about twenty thousand people. In a few years, the number rose to eighty thousand men, women, and children and the Christianity spread among these people, settled both on the Malabar and Coromandel coasts (Documentacao Vol.-II PP 257-59; Schurhammer ,art cit. pp304-07). The Paravas now had the protection of the Portuguese fleet and could follow their profession undisturbed.
The above are only family names and not Caste names. The above names are used not only by Paravars. The names are also used by those who were converted to Christianity by the Portuguese. Mainly people who live in Tamilnadu (Paravars), Sri Lanka (Bharatakula and others), Kerala, Goa & Philippines.
Planting of the Roman Catholic Faith in Pearl Fishery Coast (India) Christianity in ancient India It is admitted on all hands, that one of the greatest and most successful group conversion movements in India was that of the Paravars in the 16th century.
The first great effort of the Catholic Church in modern times to conquer India in the name of Christ, dates from the year 1498 when the adventurous caravels of the Portuguese Admiral Casco Da Gama sailed into the port of Calicut. Soon the flag of Portugal floated on the seaboard from Morocco, round South Africa to the Persian Gulf and round the Indian Peninsula. In 1534 there were Portuguese factories at trading centers at Bassein Goa, Cochin, Quilon and Colombo. On the fishery and Coromandel Coasts, in Malacca and beyond. And as Pope Leo XIII has written: “Everywhere the flag of Portugal was under the shadow of the cross: the conquests of Portugal were so many conquests of religion”. The conversion of the Paravars is an instance in point.
Who are the Paravars?
Rev. Father Henry Heras S.J. gives the following description of the Paravars in his Mohenjo Daro, “The People and the Land”. Paravanad – the country of the Paravas (Bird – in Tamil “paravai”). They are still numerous in the Coromandel Coast in South India and in Ceylon. The Paravars were a section of the Minas. In a footnote Father Heras says that during the time when it was a fashion to claim Aryan descent, the Paravars started to call themselves Bharathas (also Bharathars, Parathars, Parathavars) identifying themselves with the Bharathas of the Vedic period. The Mohenjo Daro inscriptions clearly show that their ancient and real name was Paravar.
There were two subdivisions in the Paravars. Pagal Paravas and Nila Paravas, i.e. Sun Paravas and Moon Paravas. The Paravas of South India and Ceylone are Moon Paravas. The Moon Paravas seem to have been the more important of the line. They constituted one fourth of the whole Mina stock. In the middle of their land, the exact location of which cannot be ascertained, the sign of the Moon was hoisted. The country where the Paravas lived was sometimes called Paravanad – once only in the inscriptions – on account of their political importance and their riches. Their main city was called Paravarpalli, the city of the Paravas. The king of the Paravas always received the title of Minavan and his banner had two fishes on it.
Don John de Cruz:
The Paravars and the Saint: On May 6, 1542
St. Francis Xavier made the catechistical instruction interesting by his singing and by making the children sing. The instruction is ended by the Salva Regina, begging the aid and help of the "blessed lady".
Catechists and Teachers: St. Francis Xavier appointed catechists and teachers in all the villages to continue the conversion work he had begun. It was his method to be liberal to the teachers and catechists, to pay them a part of their salary in advance and to encourage them in every way. At the same time he let them feel that they were carefully watched and must be on their guard not to fail in their duty. They were to baptize newborn infants, preside at the prayers and perform other offices of the kind. To meet the heavy expenses of paying the teachers and catechists St. Francis Xavier had recourse to a stratagem. Four hundred crowns a year had been set-aside for Queen Catherine of Portugal from revenue of the Pearl Fisheries and the sum was supposed to provide Her Majesty with slippers. St. Francis Xavier seems already to have persuaded the governor to pay it over to him, so sure were they both that the pious Queen would gladly let him have it for the salaries of the Kanakapillais (catechists are known even today by this name along the Fishery Coast – they are doing small works in Catholic churches). In asking her permission to consent to what had been done, he reminded her that she could have no better shoes or slippers to climb into Heaven than her charity towards the children of the Fishery Coast. For many years the Queen’s slipper money was donated by her to this mission.
It is true that the Paravars were baptized eight years before the arrival of St. Francis Xavier. But it was only after the arrival of Francis Xavier that the conversion and evangelical activity proceeded with all the gusto.
St. Francis Xavier understood the necessity and utility of employing zealous catechists and teachers to keep up the faith of the neophytes. To have zealous catechists and teachers, money is needed. He found ways and means to pay the teachers and catechists well. Little wonder that the catechists and teachers did their work more than willingly. After four Centuries, it is not rare to find catechists paid only a pittance and that too not regularly for most people have been converted already.
(Issued on Panimaya Malar – Thanga ther (Golden Car) 2000).