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Devasahayam Pillai (1712-1752) was an 18th century convert from Hinduism to Christianity in the southern part of India. He was an official in the court of the Travancore king Maharaja Marthanda Varma, during which time he came under the influence of the Dutch naval commander, Captain Eustachius De Lannoy who instructed him in the Catholic faith. He converted to Christinity but conversion of court officials to Christianity was not tolerated and he was executed for sedition.

In 2004, the Tamil Nadu branch of the Catholic Bishops' Council in India recommended Devasahayam Pillai for the process of beatification to the Vatican.  On June 28, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI authorized that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints promulgate a decree regarding the martyrdom of Devasahayam Pillai so he is now referred to as "Venerable". An official ceremony of beatification and declaration of martyrdom was held in Nagercoil, close to the tomb of Devasahayam Pillai, on Dec. 2, 2012, presided by Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, acting as papal delegate.

Early life of the Servant of God

1) Birth, Name and Family

The Servant of God Devasahayam Pillai was born in the year 17121 in the hamlet called Nattalam of Vilavancode Taluk in the present district of Kanyakumari. His father was Vasudevan Namputhiri, a Brahmin, and his mother Devaki Amma of the Nair Caste. His name was Nilam2, also expanded as Nilakandan3, both being two forms of the same name of the Hindu God Siva. Because of the tradition of marumakkalthayam, which followed a matrilineal tradition of inheritance, the children were identified by the caste of the mother. Therefore, Nilam was also considered to be of the Nair caste, which was considered a high caste, next only to the topmost Brahmin caste. The Nair caste was a belligerent tribe and most of the soldiers of the king of Travancore came from that caste. To this caste belonged almost all nobles and the king himself and the king’s family. When Nilam grew up in to an adult and had a position in the royal court of the king, people appended the appellation “Pillai” to his name. “Pillai was a suffix added to the names of those born in a high caste and who also rise to a high position in the society4. That is how Nilam was also known as Nilam Pillai or Nilakandan Pillai. The family of Nilam was very much rooted in Hindu faith and his father was serving as priest in the Siva temple at Nattalam. 

2)Upbringing, Education and Training

As a youth of the Nair caste Nilakandan was trained in the art of warfare, together with the study of the languages Tamil, Malayalam and Sanskrit. As a Nair by birth, he spoke Malayalam at home. But he was living in a region where Tamil was the spoken language of the majority. Besides the languages, Nilakandan was like all the Nair youth of his days, probably taught archery, varmasastra (the South Indian martial art based on the science of human physique) and the use of weapons of war.5 It is possible that during his Education, which was mostly private, in some way he came in contact with the Catholic faith.

3)His Work

Nilakandan Pillai started his career as a soldier7 and he did very well in that profession and excelled his fellow soldiers in maturity of judgment and firmness of mind8. This being his first profession, later on he was also an official in the Nilakandaswamy temple at Padmanabhapuram.9 Thirdly he was a palace official, working in the king’s treasury. This job later brought him to Udayagiri fort as in one charge of accounts while the modernization of the fort was in progress under the efficient leadership of Eustache de Lannoy between the years 1941 and 1945. Nilakandan Pillai was the paymaster to the construction labourers of the fort.

4)Qualities of his Person
Nilakandan Pillai was by nature active, energetic and committed to his duties.10 Therefore, he was also dear to his superiors, especially to the king. He was a good person: enthusiastic, ingenious and with a natural inclination to oppose evil and to do good.11 He was greatly regarded for his high education, sharp intelligence and for his upbringing in martial arts

5)His Religiosity as a Hindu

Nilakandan Pillai was faithful to his duties as a Hindu. He was brought up in the Hindu faith according to the faith of the parents. Like them, he faithfully observed the practices of the religion such as religious worship.13 He followed the Hindu religious practices of the upper castes and therefore, he was devoted to Patra Kali and worshipped her. He also worshipped Siva and Anandavalli in the temple within Udayagiri Fort.14 He was regular to the worship at temples and to the home puja. He and his family were great benefactors to the temple at Nattalam and contributed annually to the temple festival. He was even associated with the protection of the temple

6)His Marriage with Bhargaviammal

Nilakandan was rich and possessed rich16 wealth in terms of landed properties. He was educated and well-placed in the society, and did not have any habits unbecoming of a good person.17 The near and dear ones admired him so much, that many families came forward to offer him the hand of their daughter.18 But he finally married Bhargaviammal, a woman from a traditional family. Nilakandan Pillai married Bhargaviammal of the village of Mekkodu, near Eraniel,19 belonging to his own caste

Entry of De Lannoy

1)The Attack by the Dutch and Colachel War

The Dutch attacked Travancore in 1741. Their plan was to have a Dutch colony in the area. With this aim in their plan, the Dutch had an initial success at Colachel, but it was short lived. Under the leadership of Ramayyan Dalawa and Duijvenschot, the Travancore not only resisted the Dutch but even overcame them. At the glorious victory over the Dutch, the Travancore king took possession of a precious booty in the person of Eustache De Lannoy and 23 other European soldiers, who were given a lease of life on condition that they served the king of Travancore by joining his army.

2)The Attack by the Dutch and Colachel War

King Marthanda Varma had a dream for the modernization of his army. It meant for him europeization. He wanted to use the art of European warfare and thereby to keep the Europeans away, not only by treaties by also by victory in wars. Secondly, such a eurupeization was necessary also to continue his forays into the kingdoms around to realize his dream of a wide Travancore Kingdom by conquering all neighbouring kings. Therefore, Marthanda Varma was happy to have De Lannoy in his army. De Lannoy’s presence in the service of the king of Travancore comes earlier than the final treaty with the Dutch after the Colachel war. The Dutch faced a definite defeat on 31st July.

De Lannoy was apprehended on 2nd of August 1741, whereas the final end of war or the treaty of Victory with the Dutch came 10 days afterwards, between 12th and 14th of Augutst, probably on the 14th.21 The Dutch documents, which claim that De Lannoy deserted the Dutch army, say that De Lannoy played a role in the final surrender of the Dutch at Colachel22. The contact between the Colonel and Nilakandan started here. It is Nilakandan who “dragged” De Lannoy to Marthanda Varma23. The King did not straight away accept De Lannoy and the other Europeans into his army. If they had wanted to escape he would have killed them. Their accepting to serve the king was the condition on which they were allowed to be free and to join the army. It is possible that Nilakandan who had brought De Lannoy into the presence of the king would have also played a role in his inclusion into the army. This cognizance between the two would later develop into a strong bond of friendship, which would lead Nilakandan into the presence of Jesus Christ.
De Lannoy was a person of justice and equality. He supported the good persons and opposed the evil ones. There was famine and starvation in the country. There were also incidents of violence in the kingdom, but De Lannoy felt one with those affected and spent time in praying in the churches and did a lot of penance. 

Encounter of the Servant of God with Christians and Christian Faith 

1) Christians and Nilakandan before Conversion

It is possible that some of those who trained him in the South Indian martial art and varmasastra were Catholic by religion and it is possible that in some way he came in contact with Catholic faith in his dealings with them24. As an educated person he could have read some Christian books on Malayalam and Tamil, with both of which he was very well-versed.25

2)Friendship with De Lannoy

During first months after he joined the Travancore army, De Lannoy fought under general Duijvenschot on the side of Travancore. De Lannoy also served as instructor in the use of flintlocks. At the end of 1742, De Lannoy reorganized the palace guards and got them fully trained in three months. The palace guards were so trained that they came to be armed and dressed like the Europeans. Marthanda Varma was pleased with that and made De Lannoy commander of the palace guards. De Lannoy trained the palace guards in three months so well that Marthanda Varma could send back the Madurai troops, thus saving for the king 60,000 Rupees per month.

The king was so pleased that he appointed De Lannoy successor to Duijvenschot as Venattu Kapittan (Captain of Venad). Soon, the rest of the army was thoroughly reorganized. Together with other Europeans in the army, De Lannoy played a key role in the modernization of Travancore army through “military academies” one of which was at Udayagiri. De Lannoy also constructed firearms and established gunpowder factories near Udayagiri. De Lannoy began improving the Udayagiri Fort by replacing the mud walls with brick ones. After De Lannoy was made Commander of Udayagiri, he married Margaret, the daughter of a Syrian Christian who was serving the Travancore kings and the English as interpreter at Anjengo26

The work of Nilakandan Pillai brought him in touch with De Lannoy again. Frequent high level contacts brought them together and an intimate friendship blossomed between them27. They would often spend time in personal conversation and which sealed their friendship further.



“In 1744 by God’s Providence, he had been submitted to heavy trials. Then he was not in position to understand the nature of this recovering”.28 One day De Lannoy observed Nilakandan Pillai to be extremely sad and as a friend De Lannoy enquired about the cause of his excessive melancholy. Nilakandan Pillai then shared with De Lannoy about the losses he had incurred. After many losses, finally, as it were the last straw, some of his best bullocks had died29. Nilakandan Pillai wondered whether the gods were angry with him despite the fact that he had been performing all his religious duties. He was also afraid if some persons were against him and had carried out some sort of a black magic against him, whereas in reality he had no enemies at all. Thus Nilakandan Pillai was beset with a lot of doubts and fears.

    3)Crisis in the Life of the Servant of God and the Consultation with De Lannoy

Conversion and Baptism

1)Discourses by De Lannoy

Eustache De Lannoy was a great believer. The Vadakkankulam diary says, “Truly he was the portrait of his patron saint Eustachius – equally brave, intelligent, holy and sincere in all his ways”.30 De Lannoy consoled his friend Nilakandan by sharing with him his own faith as a Christian. He narrated to him the story of Job in the Old Testament, who was a personification of unconditional trust in God in the face of unbearable tragedies. Nilakandan listened to him with great consolation. He was impressed by Job’s sense of absolute confidence in God which was not evident in his knowledge of the Hindu faith.

Thus the Word of God was sown on the soil of Nilakandan’s heart. “As pearl evolves within an oyster even so the Dharma of Jesus matured within the soul”.31 The ongoing discussions between both convinced Nilakandan Pillai of the truths of Christian faith and he decided to get baptized.32 He expressed his decision to his friend De Lannoy. It is an eloquent example of evangelization ministry of a lay person, Eustache De Lannoy33. De Lannoy sent Nilakandan with a letter to Fr. Giovanni Battista Buttari, S.J., who was the head of the Neman Mission and was residing at Vadakkankulam.

There was a reason why the Colonel sent his friend Nilakandan to a Jesuit Mission in Vadakkankulam, which was outside the kingdom of Travancore. Uppermost in the mind of De Lannoy was the Travancore Government’s blanket ban on new conversions to Christianity34. Except for the fisher people along the coast and in the interior hamlets, who had all already embraced Christianity, nobody could newly become a Christian.
Sometimes people had to go to the distant place of Verapuzha which was under the Dutch control to get baptized there.35 So, De Lannoy had to take an escape route to the Neman Mission near Vadakkankulam, beyond the Travancore border. Of course he knew that it was a risky decision. Moreover, the Captain knew also that, being of a noble tribe, it was dangerous for Nilakandan Pillai to be baptized within Travancore, since the king of Travancore threatened with imprisonment and death every noble man who shall quit his court to become a Christian36.

2)Meeting with Giovanni Battista Buttari, S.J.

On arrival at Vadakkankulam, Nilakandan Pillai met Fr. Buttari and placed before him his earnest desire to become a Christian and begged him for the grace of baptism. Nilam demanded immediate baptism. But for serous reasons, Fr. Buttari wanted to defer it. Fr. Buttari listened to him and told him to pursue a period of catechumenate, without specifying the length of that period. This he did, because he was aware that Nilakandan Pillai belonged to a noble caste and it was dangerous if the king knew about his turn over to the Christian faith. He wanted to test the maturity of his decision and the depth of his conviction in Catholic Faith.37Fr. Buttari may have even doubted the bona fide intention of Nilakandan since, “because of the allurements of the world or because of the position he held, he could deny Faith.”38



During the period of catechumenate which extended for good nine months39, Nilakandan stayed often at Vadakkankulam. Staying at Vadakkankulam offered another opportunity to Nilakandan to test his motives for becoming a Christian.

The village was infested with caste consciousness between the Nadars and the Vellalas, who were Catholics. Could one be a Christian and practice caste system? Should Nilakandan become a member of such a caste-ridden community? To these questions which swelled in his mind, the catechumen answered to himself that he wanted to become a Christian in the true sense of the word. He decided to become a true disciple of Christ and put an end to the system of the caste40

There was another implication in his decision to embrace Christianity. By becoming Christian, a person of higher caste would lose his social status and would be considered equal to other Christians, who were considered as of lowest of people.41 In Travancore, the beginnings of Latin Catholicism were mainly among the lower castes. Nilakandan’s identification with them would mean a downward mobility in all respects, socially, economically and even politically. 
Moreover, there was no one of his caste who had become Christian. The Kings’ court in which he was working was dominated by Brahmins, who would detest his being a Christian. It would be dangerous to his life. But the Servant of God was firm in his decision and assured Fr. Buttari, that he was ready to give up even the service of the King to know the true God. He was prepared to sacrifice all advantages on earth, and even the very life itself.42
For nine months, Nilakandan Pillai went up and down to Vadakkankulam and learned the truths of Catholic faith and visited the community of Christians in the neighbourhood. The person who was to be his God-Father at baptism, Chithambram Pillai, was with him briefly in Travancore.43 And he also helped him to see Christian communities for himself. This enabled him to get to know the customs and the life of the ordinary Christians of those times. In fact the baptismal transformation was already in him. He could not be stopped any more. He wanted to be baptized out of a deep personal conviction. He once again assured the priest:

“Father, no one compels me to become a Christian. If I have come to you, it is because I have such a strong Faith, that nothing could tear it out of my heart, and I am ready to sacrifice for it, all that still remains of my former wealth, my position, my family and even my life.”44


Finally Fr. Buttari, finding in him “not only the desire to be baptized but also a zeal to shed his blood for faith and even to give his life for the same”,45 accepted to baptize Nilakandan. It took place on 14th May 1745.46 He was then 32 years of age. The ancient chapel of the Holy Family at Vadakkankulam in which the baptism was celebrated, still has an inscription about the event of the “sacrament of regeneration”47. At baptism Nilakandan was given the name “Devasahayam”. It was the Tamil rendering of the biblical name “Lazarus”.48 For the sake of inculturation the Jesuit missionaries translated the biblical names. Thus “Peter” was rendered “Rayappan”, “Paul” “Chinnappan” and “John” “Arulappan”. The baptizing priest himself had assumed the Tamil Name Paranjyothinathar! V. Confession and First communion Being a Christian was quite a delightful experience for the Neophyte Devasahayam. With his new vision born of baptismal transformation, he had no hesitation in participating in the Eucharist together with any Christian community. Subsequently Devasahayam received also the Sacraments of Confession and Communion, as he spent some days or, perhaps, even months in Vadakkankulam area.

    3)Catechumenate and the Testing of Nilakandan Pillai by the Priest

The life and the Work of the Servant of God after Baptism

1)His Joy of Christian and Eagerness to Proclaim Faith

Devasahayam experienced great joy in living out his new found faith. “Throughout the seven years of his life as a Christian the future martyr, thanked God every day with tears in his eyes for the Grace of conversion to Catholic faith”.49 He firmly dedicated himself to the reading of Christian books and to the practice of virtues and faith.50“Lazarus strove entirely to fulfill the duties of a good Christian, and made it a habit to go frequently on foot to a church distant about six leagues,51 there to recruit himself with the Bread of Angels after having cleansed his conscience by sacramental confession”.52 Full of joy and peace, Lazarus/Devasahayam was eager to share his faith with others. Moved as it were by an irresistible force, he sought to bring others to the Christian faith53.

2)Conversion and Baptism of His Wife

Devasahayam felt his first and foremost duty to make the same baptismal transformation take effect in his own wife. Her immediate reaction to Devasahayam’s suggestion was one of horror. She could not comprehend or visualize how like her husband she could also be counted among the Christians who were considered as the lowest in the society, among the wretched of the earth. She consulted also her mother. The mother in law of Devasahayam was even more resistant to the idea of baptism for her daughter. She opposed it tooth and nail. Finally Devasahayam won over his wife and she was ready to become a Christian. Both of them went to Vadakkankulam and Bhargaviamma was baptized and given the name “Gnanapoo” the Tamil rendering of “Theresa”.



    3)Conversion of Some Soldiers and of Others
    Returning to Padmanabhapuram, the Neophyte Devasahayam wanted to be enlisted in the Christian army of the king which is the battalion consisting of Christian soldiers54 De Lannoy was commanding that battalion and it was only natural that Devasahayam wanted to be part of it. It was reported to the king and the king was surprised to hear that Nilakandan Pillai had become a Christian and wanted to enroll himself in the Christian militia. Devasahayam succeeded in converting some soldiers and others. He also won over to the faith in Christ some of his companions in the military, who decided to fight under the sign of the Saviour, to acquire not an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly kingdom. By becoming Christians, they lost the nobility of their tribe55.

Situation leading to the Arrest

1)A Christian in the Hindu palace

As Neelakandan, now transformed into Devasahayam the Christian, resumed his duties in the palace he became an eyesore to his co-workers, especially to the Brahmins. His new way hurt their eyes: First, because of his new found faith, he stopped attending the religious rituals conducted on a regular basis in the temple attached to the palace. Instead he frequented to Catholic churches for Sacraments. Secondly, imbibed by the same faith, and following the example of Christ, he moved freely on terms of equality with the so-called low caste people. Table fellowship, the praxis of Jesus centuries ago, is the best expression of equality among human beings. Devasahayam chatted and ate with people of all castes and communities. Thirdly, strengthened by the grace of God and prompted by the Spirit of Christ, he announced the Gospel to others and argued against the superstitions and injustices perpetrated by the Brahmins and the ruling class.56

2)His arguments with the Brahmins and especially with Dalava and Singaram Annavi and their waiting for an occasion to catch him

The neophyte Devasahayam felt urged to speak out clearly about his new faith. This brought in heated arguments with the Brahmin priests and learned teachers. This was naturally too much for them, especially because as a palace official he was expected to uphold the supreme greatness of the religion in which the majority of the populace believed and which was the official religion of the King and the Kingdom. 

He declined to accept the “prasadam” (“sacred” food from temple) offered by a Brahman priest57. He spoke strongly against the priests who had been called in by his relatives to conduct a “pooja” (worship) in his home at Nattalam in reparation for the sin of forsaking the religion of the ancients. Emboldened by his faith in the Lord Jesus and strengthened by his conviction about the truth of the Christian religion, Devasahayam often challenged the Brahmins working in the palace to respond to his criticism of their teachings and beliefs. One day an important person in the king’s court, the chief secretary, tried to argue with the Servant of God with a view to win over him and make him renounce his Christian faith.

Seeing the tenuous faith of Devasahayam, the official challenged the Servant of God saying that if he did not succeed in changing Devasahaym’s mind and driving the Christian religion out of the country, he would cease wearing the “poonul” (the sacred thread worn by the Brahmins as a mark of their superior status in the caste hierarchy). To this the Servant of God answered saying that if the Brahmin did not succeed in his challenge, the same poonul would become his araijnan or waist thread. The same kind of arguments had come up on another occasion when a Brahmin mendicant went to the neophyte for alms.58

The Tortures and Sentences

1)Put in a narrow prison

The Servant of God was put into a narrow prison so small as five palms high and one cubit long and only a little longer.68

2)First condemnation to death and the revocation of the same

The next day the king pronounced a death sentence on the Servant of God.69 The sentence made him happy that he had the grace of martyrdom.70 He was taken ceremonially to the place of execution. But the order was revoked by another order of the king,71 because some soothsayers had warned that great calamity would befall the kingdom if Devasahayam Pillai were to be put to death.72 The revoking of the sentence of death made the Servant of God sad, because he was thus robbed of the glory of dying for Christ.73

He started to pray that he be more worthy of the gift of martyrdom. The soldiers were surprised to see that the Servant of God went happily when he was told that he was going to be killed but walked back sad when he was told that he had been spared.

3)Parading on foot and back in prison

Adorned with a garland of eruku (carotropis gigantea), accompanied by beating of drums, Devasahayam was paraded on foot through the capital in a shameful manner for 16 days. Throughout the parading, he was accused and mocked at. But the Servant of God himself raised his hands in prayer and praise

4)Parading on buffalo: different ways of torture

Devasahayam was paraded on buffalo with hands tied behind and sitting backward. It was a shameful South Indian way of treatment meted out to persons to be punished. All along the way some people mocked at him and cursed him. Often he was beaten in public with tamarind stick and with thorny sticks in such a way as to tear open his flesh and powedered chilly was smeared over the wounds and all over the body. He was thus made to stand in the hot sun. The Servant of God bore all these sufferings with patience and joy.

5)Second sentence to death and its revoke

The Christians were levied special taxes. Some Christians refused to pay them. Devasahayam was accused for it, that he had instigated their disobedience to king’s orders. Therefore there was a second sentence to death. The Servant of God was happy to hear about the sentence. But to his great disappointment, this sentence, too, was revoked74.

6)Torture by Taluk chiefs

There was a custom in the Kingdom of Travancore of those times by which the prisoners were taken from one place to another, from one local official to another75. Devasahayam too was paraded from place to place, especially through villages where there were some conversions to Catholic faith, as warning against future conversions. Wherever he was taken, the people gathered in great numbers to witness his great courage and joy in suffering. The tortures of beating, smearing chilly powder, etc. continued daily and the Servant of God was putting up with all these sufferings with great joy. This was indeed a great witness to the Christian faith.

7)At Puliyoorkurichy

The Servant of God was brought through a small place called Puliyoorkurichy where he was placed on a rock. He was overcome by thirst and being refused water to drink he prayed to God weeping and hit the rock with his elbow on the rock, which gave forth water in a miraculous way which he could drink.76 This rock continues even today to give water and even now people visit this fountain in large numbers. 

8)Imprisonment at Peruvilai

From Puliyoorkurichy, they brought him to a place called Peruvilai where he was put under the custody of the executioner. There the Servant of God was tied up to a Neem tree with fetters so tight that he was neither able to sit nor to lie down. There was to roof above and he was there exposed to the heat of the sun and the wet of the rain and to the inclement weather. He was also made to starve. He was in this condition for 7 months. Then the fetters were a little loosened and they constructed a roof of coconut palms.

The Servant of God spent long time in prayer and meditation. A lot of people came to meet him and to ask for his prayers. One of them was his own jailer, the executioner. The Jailer had no issue. He and his wife came to the Servant of God asking for his blessing and prayers. He spoke to them of trust in God and assured them that God would hear their prayer. Their prayer was eventually granted. This made the executioner very kind and sympathetic towards the Servant of God.
By the kindness of the soldiers, Devasahayam was able to meet some priests in the prison. One of them was Fr. Pimentel, S.J., the head of the Madurai Mission. Devasahayam shared with him the great joy he experienced in the grace of having to suffer for Christ77. Fr. Thommaso de Fonseca, S.J., the parish priest of Kottar came to meet him at night and administered to him the sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion.
The prison guards were so kind to Devasahayam Pillai that they offered him an opportunity to escape and even told him to avail himself of the opportunity to run away. The Servant of God consulted De Lannoy and Fr. Buttari. Both of them were of the opinion that it was cowardice to escape but a bravery to face death for one’s faith. Devasahayam was encouraged by their response and decided in prayerful discernment to face the challenge of death in joyful expectation78

To the people who came to meet him, Devasahayam spoke on the passion of Christ. He made one person from the coastal area read the Bible to him and to the people. Since hundreds of people started visiting Devasahayam daily at Peruvilai and the place of imprisonment was turning out into a place of prayer and meditation, the king was disappointed that the purpose of the tortures inflicted on Devasahayam was not only being defeated but on the contrary it gave Devasahayam more and more opportunity to bring more people to Christian faith, he ordered that he be taken to Aralvaimozhy and be shut up in prison there.

The Death of the Servant of God and the Burial of Mortal Remains

1)In Prison at Aralvaimozhy

The last prison of the Servant of God before his valiant death was at Aralvaimozhy, at the gate of the kingdom on the east confines.79 Devasahayam was brought to that place so that people might not know where he was. It is there that prisoners could be put to death in secret. The order from the King was that people should not be allowed to meet Devasahayam at all. But when the news of his presence in Aralvaimozhy spread people from the surrounding Christian villages such as Periathazhai, Koothankuzhy, Manapad, Vadakkankulam, Thovalai, etc., streamed to him daily, “so much, that the garrison looked more like a populous fair than a solitary place”.80

The wife of the Servant of God Devasahayam came to meet him there. He consoled his wife who was all in tears and encouraged her to trust in Jesus Christ. Then he advised her to go out of Travancore and live at Vadakkankulam. She bade a tearful farewell.

2)Third and final sentence to death and the plan to execute the Servant of God secretly

Ramayyan Dalava, the prime minister and Singaram Annavi the Secretary, who had demanded the imprisonment and torture of Devasahayam Pillai, were disappointed and worried that Christianity might spread more if the Servant of God was allowed to live any longer. Therefore they planned to have him killed. They approached the king and reported that his orders were not obeyed and Nilakandan was preaching his religion. The prison guard was immediately changed and a jailer unfriendly to Christians and to Devasahayam was appointed. The guards were also changed. The new officials obtained from the king an order to execute Devasahyam Pillai secretly81



Bishop Clement reports that every morning and night Devasahayam spent some time for contemplation of “heavenly things” Often during the day, too, he raised his mind to God and prayed briefly. He read aloud books of piety, especially the lives of saints, for the benefit of the bystanders, too. In addition to the fast prescribed by the church, the Servant of God fasted on all Fridays and Saturdays in homage to the dying Christ and to the Mother of God. Devasahayam was open and obedient to priests, especially to his Missionary, Fr. Buttari whom he would contact through messengers and letters. He carried out his directions and counsels very promptly. Only thrice a priest could visit him at the dead of night. He made his confession and received communion. The priest was happy to meet a “living martyr”. Devasahayam was glad to “confess his recurring sins with compunction and be finally refreshed and strengthened by the most holy Eucharist. Once a priest brought him communion secretly (during the day) and Devasahayam received it with great piety and devotion. He desired to receive these sacraments oftener, but it was not possible. Access to him was difficult for priests82.

4)The Servant of God taken to the spot of his death

At the dead of mid-night on 14th January 1752, as he lay in a restless state of prayer and sleep, Devasahayam was awakened by the soldiers and ordered to come out to another place. He is said to have remarked: “You need not pretend. I know whither you are taking me. Let us go”! The venue they had chosen for the execution was on the fringe of the wild Aralvaimozhy forest. It was a deserted place, inaccessible to ordinary human beings. The spot was called Kattadimalai, meaning the mountain with an unceasing flutter of winds.

Here they had planned to set Devasahayam Pillai on a medium size hillock and shoot him down from the ground. Musketeers and guns from the foundary were already kept ready for the operation. Those guns were most probably from the foundary at Udayagiri, produced by De Lannoy. It was a sad irony that the weapon of Devasahayam Pilla’s death was to be from the hands of the one who led him to the Christian faith!
Everything and everybody was ready – but not so Devasahayam’s legs. These could not move as he was chained to the fetters. The soldiers were in a hurry to carry out the operation in a hush. Their urging him to walk quickly was in vain. They then fashioned a strong stick (called krathadi in Tamil) and passed it in between his thighs and carried him like a hanging animal to Kattadimalai.

It was indeed a significant moment: a reputed palace official being carried away like an animal (or a sacrificial lamb?) to be slaughtered for no crime other than accepting the Lordship of Jesus Christ and living out a totally transformed social life. The thousands of the people whose lives he touched shed tears in their homes and hide-outs. He too wept copiously, while praying constantly to the God for courage and determination83.

5)The final prayer of the Servant of God

As they reached the venue of execution he begged for time to pray. He was given the time and he prayed for a quarter of an hour, commending himself to God.84 The rock kneeling on which he said his last prayer still bears the marks of his elbows and knee.

6)The shooting by soldiers and the death of the Servant of God

Having finished his prayer, the Servant of God told the guards that he had done what was his duty and they could carry out theirs. The guards made him stand on a medium size hillock. The Servant of God stood there ready to give his life for the faith in Christ. They took aim from another rocky place nearby and shot at him and he fell down crying aloud “Jesus, save me”. The guards checked to see if he had died and seeing life in him still, they fired two more shots and the Servant of God died pronouncing the sweet names of Jesus and Mary. This death occurred in the 40th year of his life, having completed almost seven years after his conversion to Catholic Faith, having spent about three years in chains85. During these three years there was no certainty of life or death. But the Servant of God led a life of certitude and confidence in the help of God’s grace which was always available to him in prayer, penance and the Sacraments of the Church.

7)The disposal of the body into jungle, the rediscovery of the same by the Christians and the mortal remains buried in the church of St. Francis Xavier, Kottar

The killers of Devasahayam wanted to make sure the dead body of the Servant of God should not be discovered by anyone. With this in mind, after making sure that there was no life in it they rolled the body down the hillock into the bush below, meaning to leave the body as food for wild animals.

The execution was carried out in absolute secrecy and the Christians were not aware of what had happened. Not having found the Servant of God in prison on the following days, the people came to know of his death. The missionaries approached the soldiers and obtained for a sum of money the fetters of the Servant of God. But they could not approach the mortal remains because of the presence of soldiers. After five days they could discover the place and they found only bones. It is probable that the body was burnt and that is why there was no flesh on the bones. They gathered the bones and whatever was there of the mortal remains of the Servant of God and they were buried in a tomb in front of the main altar of the famous Church of St. Francis Xavier at Kottar with due solemnity and honour due to a martyr86

Thus Devasahayam Pillai, a lay person and a neophyte, was given a place which is usually given only to Bishops and saints. It really indicates that the contemporaries of Devasahayam regarded him as a great saint and his death as the death of a martyr.

8)Singing of “Te Deum” in all churches of the diocese

When the Bishop of Cochin heard of the heroic death of the Servant of God, he ordered the Te Deum to be sung in his Cathedral, after the Pontifical thanksgiving celebration. From the pulpit he also delivered a well-prepared panegyric on the virtue and heroic death of the Servant of God87.

    3)Devasahayam’s life during the years of torture

An ongoing Living Tradition for 256 years

1)The immediate veneration by people and the building of the Chapels

The Christian people regarded Devasahayam Pillai as a saint and his death was for them a martyr’s witness to his faith in Christ and his gospel. It is this consciousness of people that made the Church accord to his mortal remains a solemn Christian burial and a place for his tomb in the heart of the most famous church of the area. Soon after his death the places connected to the life and death of the Servant of God became important places of pilgrimage by all people. In his memory, churches were constructed at Kattadimalai 88(Our Lady of Sorrows) and Puliyoorkurichy (St. Michael) and Kuzhimaikadu. Of these, Kattadimalai and Puliyoorkurichy have turned out to be important shrines in the district and people from all over Tamil Nadu and from south Kerala frequent them in great numbers. 

2)The passions of the Servant of God used as catechesis for people in dramas and folklore

Nilakandan Pillai turned Devasahayam was a simple palace official who, in the minds of Travancore official, was a breaker of caste laws and a deserter of royal religion and one who showed great disrespect to the Maharaja by disobeying his advice to abandon Christian faith. But in the minds of people, he was indeed a hero, a subaltern hero whose history entered in to the consciousness of people, especially the subaltern folk. From the years following his courageous death there are witnesses of poetry, folklore and drama, which as living traditions, have narrated from generation to generation the story of Devasahayam Pillai. 

3)Conversion of villages connected to the tortures of Devasahayam

Devasahayam Pillai was taken from village to village on buffalo in a shameful manner, beaten in front of the people and inflicted various kind of tortures just to instill fear in the minds of the people and warn them against conversion to Christianity. Many of those villages, for example, Madathattuvilai, Appattuvilai, Peruvilai, Puliyoorkurichy, Kakkurichy, Pullani, Palliyadi, etc. witnessed mass conversions following the death of Devasahayam Pillai. If the mission work of St. Francis Xavier was the main cause of conversions of the people along the coast, the phenomenon of Devasahayam Pillai is the main ingredient in the process of conversion of the people living in the interior villages. True to the message of the life of the Servant of God, those who are so positively affected by the life and martyrdom of Devasahayam are not belonging to any one particular caste. There was almost a 100% conversion of washermen (dhobis - vannars) of the district, though some have gone back to Hindu religion. The generations of chettiyar people Kil-Asaripallam have been devoted to the Servant of God, as a result of their ancestors’ relationship with Devasahayam Pillai when he was in Peruvilai. 

Source: smcim


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