Actress Miya is an ardent churchgoer and the historic St Augustine’s Forane Church, Ramapuram near her hometown Pala is one of her favourite shrines. “We, the residents of Pala, have a weakness for churches. Wherever we go, we stop in front of a church, make the sign of the cross as well as an offering,” reveals the actress.
She explains how this belief came about: “There is a church at every corner in Pala. Moreover, the first canonization in India took place at the nearby Bharananganam.”
Miya, who earned much praise for her role as St Alphonsa of Bharananganam on television, is filled with devotion and elation over this fact.
Another attraction for Miya at the Ramapuram church, which is among the biggest in Asia, is the tomb of the Blessed Thevaraparambil Kunjachan. Moreover, Kunjachan had lived in the church for many years.
Miya says that during her schooldays, she used to seek special favours from St Alphonsa and Kunjachan. “I offered one rupee to the saints for securing a pass in the exam, to postpone a test paper and to save me from questions in class!” she reveals.
According to the actress, all the wishes she made by offering one rupee did come true. “Noticing this, my friends urged me to make the offering on their behalf,” says Miya.
“I have prayed at the Ramapuram church countless times. The native place of my paternal grandmother is at Ezhachery near here. My father has related several incidents of his boyhood spent there. Kunjachan loved children very much and also played pranks on them,” says Miya.
“Once, Kunjachan offered ‘Chinese fruit’ to the kids. It was, in fact, the extremely hot ‘kanthari’ (bird’s eye) chilli. When the children screamed, the priest gave them plenty of sweets and jaggery,” relates the actress.
“Kunjachan’s real name was Fr Augustine Kuzhumbil. He was called Kunjachan (short father) as he stood barely five feet tall,” informs Miya.
Myth, history overlap
Fr George Njarakkunnel, vicar of the Ramapuram church, sheds more light on the history of Ramapuram as well as the shrine.
“According to myth, Ramapuram got its name from Lord Rama, who spent some days here during his wanderings in the forest. Later, Buddhism too thrived in the area. The rock sculpture of the Buddha exhibited at the Archaeology Museum in Thrissur was discovered at Ramapuram,” says the priest.
The first church at Ramapuram came up in 1450, says Fr George. It was later reconstructed on two occasions. Kunjachan’s remains are interred at the Old Church. The Big Church adjacent to the Old Church is over 200 years old. Both these churches and the vicarage where Kunjachan lived were taken over by the Archaeological Department in 2008.
“The new church is coming up behind these shrines,” points out Fr George. Work has been going on for the last ten years and has entered the final phase. The consecration is scheduled to take place on coming January 13.
The Blessed Kunjachan
Hundreds of devotees arrive at the Ramapuram church every day to seek the blessings of Kunjachan. “Many of them have received divine favours through prayer,” says Miya.
Kunjachan was beatified in 2006. Miya explains the miracle that led to the status. “Gilson - a youth belonging to Adimali in Idukki district who was lame on one leg - came here and prayed. The Prayer of Mediation was conducted with Kunjachan and Gilson’s lameness disappeared. A team of doctors examined Gilson and confirmed this fact,” says the devout actress.
Whichever country Miya visits, she remembers to pray in a church at the place. “Once I was in Canada during November. Though Christmas was a month away, preparations for the celebrations had started by then. Decorations had appeared at the churches, houses and along the roads, which reminded me of the Pala Jubilee,” reveals the actress.
“The Jubilee festival held on December 8 is the biggest celebration in Pala. The entire town is decked up during this event and people belonging to all castes and religions take part in the festivities,” she adds.
“All prayers made earnestly to Amalolbhava Matha will be fulfilled,” avers Miya.
The actress reveals a miracle she has experienced in life. “While doing my post-graduation, I had to take part in a dance performance at an award show a day before my exam. I planned to go home after the dance event and study for the exam. Though the dance was scheduled at 6 pm, it was finally staged only at 3 am. I could not read anything for the test and did not want to write it. My mother compelled me to go to the college, but she had prayed to St Alphonsa, explaining my plight,” remembers Miya.
When the results were published later, everyone was amazed. “The full credit for my success in the exam goes to St Alphonsa,” stresses the actress.
Miya also has fond memories of the church choir. “I was told that Kunjachan used to teach children letters here. Moreover, we practised Margamkali at the choir at Bharananganam church when I studied at that place,” she says.
While a schoolgirl, Miya prayed for specific needs. But over the years her preferences have changed. “Now I pray for the well-being of everyone,” says the actress.
A brief life history of Kunjachan
Kunjachan was born on April 1, 1891 as the youngest of Ettiyeppu Mani and Eliswa’s seven children. Ettiyeppu belonged to the Thevaraparambil branch of Kuzhumbil family in Ramapuram.
Being the youngest, Kunjachan was also called Kunjagasthi. Devout from a young age, he studied at the Govt primary school, Ramapuram and Mannanam St Ephrem’s school. In March 1913, he joined the Minor Seminary at Changanassery and subsequently was ordained a priest.
After serving at the Ramapuram church, Kunjachan became the assistant vicar at the nearby Kadanattu church. At that time, many devotees approached him seeking an escape from pests in their farms. But soon Kunjachan became ill and returned to Ramapuram.
He worked among people in the lowest strata of society, the Dalits. He opened institutions at Ramapuram and adjacent places where Dalits were imparted education. He also visited houses of the poor in the area and distributed food and clothes along with knowledge. Though he faced severe opposition, Kunjachan pursued his mission till he breathed the last on October 16, 1973.
He was declared the ‘Venerable’ by the Pope in 2004 and later beatified on April 30, 2006. Kunjachan’s feast is observed on October 16, the day he died.
Kerala’s biggest church
The foundation stone for the new church at Ramapuram was laid in 2009 and work started the next year. The total area of the church is 75,000 sq feet on three floors. The lowest floor includes a museum and rest rooms. The middle floor has the offices of various religious organisations, media room and priests’ quarters. The church with the golden cross is on the upper storey and can accommodate 3,500 devotees at a time.
The front portion of the church is built in Portuguese-Gothic style and the rear sports Byzantine architecture. The dimensions are 200 ft length, 120 ft breadth and 235 ft height.
The main door of the church is built with a single teak which is 350 years old. The total cost of building the church is Rs 20 crore.