Parumala Perunnal: Homage to India’s first canonised saint

Celebrating life of Kerala's Orthodox priest Geevargese Mar Gregorios


November 2, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Parumala Perunnal: Homage to India’s first canonised saint

Flag hoisting procession at the beginning of Parumala Perunnal festival (Photo: Gregorian TV)

Parumala Perunnal, one of the most awaited festival for Christian Keralites, is celebrated annually with great fervour and joy, accompanied by a grand feast, age-old rituals and an aura of festivities.

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Parumala is a hamlet and island on the Pampa River in Thiruvalla, Pathanamthitta district in Kerala. The grand annual Parumala Perunnal festival takes places at Parumala St Peter’s & St Paul’s Orthodox Church. Geevargese Mar Gregorios established the church and he is the first person of Indian origin to be canonised as saint. He died at the age of 54 on November 2, 1902 and after his death he was buried at Parumala Church and a tomb was built.

After his death, people started to worship him and from 1903 the celebration of Parumala Perunnal started. Parumala Perunnal is a weeklong festival that starts on October 26 every year and the grand celebration takes place on November 1 and 2 to conclude the festivities. During the festival, the statue of Parumala Therumeni is carried out in a large public procession that starts from the church and moves to the east side of the church. The return of the procession to the church is an important ritual and is significant to the locals for religious harmony. Many rituals and special prayers are conducted during this festival that attracts devotees from all over the state.

“People from all over the state come, mainly on foot, and reach the church before the day of grand celebration. First, they offer their prayers at the church and the festival starts by flag hoisting process and devotees sing folk songs about the life and visions of Parumala Thirumeni,” Father John Thomas Karingattil, professor at the Orthodox Theological Seminary Kottayam, from Pandalam tells Media India Group.

“Every year, during the festival of Perunnal, the youth take charge of the prayer ceremonies that usually begin on October 26 and conclude on October 31. The continuous prayers are conducted in small groups of about 25-30 people each time,” says Karingattil.

This year marks the 119th year of celebration of the Parumala Perunnal festival (Photo: Gregorian TV)

Parumala Perunnal is a local festival of Malankara Orthodox community. During the weeklong festival, the streets are filled up with vendors selling all kinds of things to attract buyers.

“People from different parts of the state join in the festival and the church and all surroundings are well decorated. I am not Christian, but I live near the church. Since my childhood, I just go there during the festival. There are many things of Parumala Thirumeni kept in the church and it is worshipped by the devotees,” Namtha from Pathanamthitta tells Media India Group.

A flag hoisting procession kickstarts the festival where devotees throw betel leaves, owning to a long standing ritual.

“It’s believed that when Parumala Thirumani was sick from smallpox, he put betel leaves on his bed as they have medicinal value. So devotees do this as a kind of belief and they sing folk songs during the procession and throw betel leaves. All these ritual services continue from the past and continue till today,” says Karingattil.

Orma Perunnal

Orma Perunnal is the commemoration day and it falls on the last day of the celebrations. Special rituals are performed by locals and many special prayers are offered seeking blessings from the deity.

“The second day is the grand celebration of Parumala Perunnal. On this day, they usually offer Holy Qurbana, one of the religious prayers that continues uninterruptedly for 3 hours. The last day of procession starts sharp at 3 pm every year, where activities like candle lighting also take place,” says Namtha.

“During the entire event, there are three processions that are organised of which the last is perhaps the most important and the grandest. At last, the prayers are offered to the statue of Parumala Thirumeni,” says Karingattil.

“During yesterday’s procession there was a heavy rain but devotees went along with us during the whole procession and there was a huge gathering and people did not have any fear of even contracting Covid-19. Such is the importance of this festival for them,” says Karingattil. He says that the Bishop offers the concluding prayers.

“The specialty of Parumala Perunnal is that during the whole festival everything is based on devotion. Unlike other festivals, no cultural progammes are organised on the occasion. Another specialty of the festival is that it doesn’t attract the Christian community only, but people from all religions and communities participate in the festival,” says Karingattil.

Today, on the last day of Parumala Perunnal, as is the ritual, once again a huge feast offered to all who gather for the festival which is concluded with an impressive display of fireworks.

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