The canonization of the first ever layman of India, Devasahayam, or Lazarus (1712–1752) as saint, on the lines of Mother Theresa or on the lines of St.Peter, by the Vatican on 15 May, 2022 is historic in many strange ways. The human history of religions does not find a man of his kind of torturous life from birth, growth and death to become a saint in the Christian world. While he is being prayed for his sacrifice for the sake of other Indians by Christians, he is also being worshipped in Hindu mode with multi-flower garlands around the neck of his statue. Women and men beg for gifts (miracles in Chritian heritage) as they do in Hindu temples. One of the testimonies for granting his sainthood was of a woman who said “ he turned a dead foetus in her womb into a living baby after she worshipped him”.
Why his birth itself began with a unusual torture? He was not born to a man and woman in proper marriage, nor was he born to a virgin like Mary with her consent to God’s gift in the form of Jesus, before she was married to Joseph. Jesus lived with his mother and father, who adopted him knowing pretty well that that baby boy was not the son of any man on the earth. He was the son of Mary and Mary alone. But Joseph protected him from getting killed by Herod, the king and nurtured him in a family. He trained him to be a carpenter and educated him in Jewish history and scriptures till his 30th year.
Jesus’ birth in that form only tells that the future world may witness a woman who could procreate children without having an intercourse with man and that religions have to adjust to such a scientific birth of humans as well.
BORN IN SAMBANDAM
Devashayam was born in a system of wretched caste spiritual, cultural and Brahmanic superstitious hegemony over Shudra women. His mother was Devaki Amma, who belonged to the Shudra agrarian productive caste called Nair. He was an illegitimate child of a Brahmin priest working in a Hindu temple called Vasudevan Namboodiri. He was working in Adikesava Perumal temple at Thiruvattar. The relationship between Devaki Amma and Vasudevan Nambboodiri was not because of a love affair between them nor because they were married. She was not a prostitute earning money out of sex trade. Her sexual submission to Namboodiri was because a casteist coersion by Brahmins of that region to have sexual relations with Nair woman at will and leave the children to be nurtured by mother, without any responsibility. Such a relationship was called Sambandam (relationship between a Brahmin man and a Shudra woman) in that area.
The caste ritual system and the state power allowed such sambandam only by a Brahmin man and Shudra woman not a Shudra man with a Brahmin woman. If such reverse Sambandam was found, very harsh punishment was given to the Shudra man and Brahmin woman, including killing them. When Devasahayam as a Shudra was undergoing this human torture as child and as adult the Manu Dharma Shastra legal codes were being implemented by states under supervision of the Brahmin priestly forces in the Indian subcontinent.
WHY NEELAKANTAN PILLAI REBELLED?
The torture part of the Brahmin led sambandam was that the children would know who their biological father was, while living with mother at her parental home or outside alone doing agrarian works. Though many Nair families accepted such illegitimate children of their daughters and gave them some property rights, but for children born in sambandam, who live in families where there were other children with father and mother ( of his/her maternal uncle’s and so on) living together, it was a life of worst toruture. The worst part of it was that life was forced on the children like Devasahayam (before conversion Neelakantan Pillai) as god given. If he were to get the patrilineal heritage his last name should have been Nambbodiri. But he had to live with his mother’s caste name Pillai even in the eighteenth century. Some writers justified this kind of Brahmin coerced illegal fathering as matrilineality, but it is a total misnomer. In this system not that the woman does not know who impregnated her, irrespective of her Will. She and her children knew the whereabouts of the man who was responsible for their fate. The the families of that region did not treat that kind of child as a product of a rape by an unknown man. The man is known and he lives in the same village or town with greater respect than of the woman’s family. In the case of Devasahayam’s father he was a priest of a Hindu temple and Hinduism treated him with more dignity and respect than an ordinary Brahmin. But his son did not inherit that dignity. He and his mother remained undignified Shudra.
They had to suffer that life of so called god given wretchedness without revolting against it. Devashayam rebelled against that wretched inhuman life in Hinduism and embraced Christianity. This was seen as the greatest crime both by the priestly class and the state that was under the control of a Ksatriya ruler who gave him the maximum punishment that Manu Dharma prescribed. The Manu Dharma Brahminic laws were more cruel and brutish than Roman laws that punished the slaves and those who embraced Christianity in the first two centuries before Constatine himself became Christian and his mother, Helena, became a devoted follower of Jesus and visited Israel and built many churches, including the tomb of Jesus at Golgotha. Devashayam was killed by applying more cruel methods than the Romans had applied.
WHAT DID HE DO AFTER HE BECAME A CHRISTIAN?
As a Christian he seems to have realized that it was the caste system that led to a cursed life of millions of people around him. He started interacting with lower castes than that of Nair caste and untouchables. The Nair caste was/is a top layer of the Shudra agrarian caste in Kerala even now. There were landlords, small farmers and agrarian labour also in that caste. But in caste location the Nair caste was/is higher than all other Shudra artisan and agrarian castes. At the same time the Nairs had no right to wear sacred thread. They had no right to read the Sanskrit books and become priests in Hindu temples. It was the 8th century Adi Shankara who handed out this life to the Shudras and Dalits.
Devasahayan started breaking that caste system. He was said to have mingled with all castes and ate food with all caste people (2). It was like Jesus mixing with Samaritans, Gentiles and prostitutes and so on in Israel.
According to his Wikipedia bio ‘ 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”. (3)
Why should Nair community which was suffering both Shudra historical slavery, and in addition the most humiliating sambandam man-woman relationship, joined the priests and the king in torturing and killing a liberator? This consciousness of the Shudras in India made this land a perpetual slave land. Devashayam had shown the way with his death as Jesus has shown the way for the entire human slavery in the world about 2000 years ago. Till today the Shudra spiritual slavery continues. The Nairs of Kerala, who are perhaps most educated Shudra community in India, still accepts the spiritual slavery as given and divinely ordained.
What was the treatment that he got after he became Christian both from the priestly Brahmins and the king of the Travankore state? He was living in Maharaja Marthanda Varma’s kingdom and was also serving the state in some significant position when he embraced Christianity and got crucified in his 40th year, in 1752. Varmas were Ksatriyas who ruled the Tamil-Malayali region for a long time. Ksatriyas ruled India as part of their caste divine right granted by Brahminism in their books. They were no less cruel and inhuman toward Shudras and Dalits (the food producers of India) than the Roman rulers in Israel of Jesus’s times towards the masses. The Brahmins made the laws for the Ksatriya ruled states, in the whole of Indian subcontinent, as the Pharisee council at Jerusalem did for the Roman rulers at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Though the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate, did not want to be very harsh towards Jesus while giving him the capital punishment, the the priestly council was merciless and brutish in awarding crucifixion punishment with all the cruelties that were available in their armours–beating, kicking, putting thorny crown on his head, making him carry the cross all along the road up to the crucuixion point–Golgotha.
The main Brahmin ancient law book Manu Dharma shsastra says a Shudra slave has no scope for liberation from the control of Brahmin authority. One of its codes said “Even if a Brahmin frees a Shudra from slavery the Shudra continues to be a slave as he is created for slavery. Nobody has the right to free him”. (Manu VIII-50,56 and 59) 1. Because of such a law the Shudras were afraid of leaving Hindu fold. Even after leaving the Brahminical Hinduism they decided to kill him in the most cruel form of toture. The small film made after he was canonized ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdnUo9eqbS8) shows how brutal it was. India did not have the method of nailing persons alive to the cross like the Romans and Israelites had. But the Indian rulers and the priests evolved their cruel methods of execution. One could see how such barbaric methods in killing Devasahayam were used.
NO RIGHT TO LIVE AFTER LEAVING HINDUISM
Devasahayam had no right to freedom even after becoming a Christian. In fact such an escape was seen as a bigger crime. The mental freedom of thinking was destroyed among the Shudra and Dalit population for millennia. But Devasahayam decided to break that historical shackles even though he knew that he would get the cruellest punishment for that.
He was accused of working to destroy the caste system and untouchability by sharing food with Dalits and other lower castes like fishermen/women, carpenters, shepherds, potters, iron and gold smiths and so on. The caste and untouchability were treated as sacred and god given by the Brahmin priests and the state mandated to protect that system. Devasahayam was seen as the most dangerous breaker of the caste system. He was also accused of indulging in conversions, and treason for giving information to foreigners. He was first arrested and put in a torturous solitory cell, as Jesus was put. After three years torturous imprisonment, because of the pressures from the Europeans, he was exiled with a systematic process of torture and humiliation.
Devasahayam was beaten up mercilessly and was made to sit on buffalo, as the buffalo was described as an animal of death and hell (Yama) in their books, facing backwards. He was whipped all along the ways in the villages in which he was made to pass through.
It is this buffalo that produces the largest amount of milk in the Indian subcontinent. Since it is a black animal it was treated by the Brahmin priests and the Ksatriya rulers as a devilish animal. But for Devasahayam it became a God given vehicle as the donkey was the vehicle of Jesus.
While the buffalo was moving on, he was beaten to bleed. For several days he was made to undergo the torture sitting on the bufalo without giving water and food. His wife was forced to watch how he was being tortured and suffered. Finally they shot him dead in a forest amidst rocks and bushes. But it is said that as he was being taken on buffalo from village to village to the productive masses, particularly the fishing community became his followers, as the fishing community on the banks of Sea of Galilee became the followers of Jesus.
RESURRECTION IN 2022
The idea of resurrection worked in the Devasahayam’s case differently. After five days of his death his body was found by his followers, may be because his caravan of torture was not to be seen and heard by villagers. They finally located his dead body. They took it to the church of Kottar Nagercoil. They entombed him, perhaps amidst crying and veiling. He inspired millions from that tomb. The Christians prayed at his enchained statue and the non-Christians worshipped by garlanding his statue. But ultimately he resurrected to become a St like Peter and Paul in 2022.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a socio-spiritual reformer and author in a caste ridden India. His books Why I am Not a Hindu, Post-Hindu India, Buffalo Nationalism, The Shudras–Vision For a New Path, Untouchable God, God As Political Philosopher–Buddha’s Challenge to Brahminism are meant to carry on the reform