Among the three Biblical wise men (MAGI), one is from Kerala

By C. K. George

One of the three biblical wise men (the Magi) who presented gold, frankincense, myrrh, and spices, including spikenard ointment, to the Infant Jesus at Bethlehem was from Kerala’s Piravom, 35 kilometres east of Kochi, according to Fr Skaria Vattakkattil, Chief Spokesperson of the Saint Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Cathedral.

According to Matthew’s Gospel, three wise men (Megusans) from the East came to Jerusalem during King Herod’s (37–4 B.C.) reign to find out “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews?”

They were old Melchior (Persia), middle-aged Kasper (India), and young Balthazar (Arabia), according to Dr Mar Aprem, Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East.

“It was mentioned in the 13th-century Syriac book “Dibborita” by Archbishop Solomon of Basra (Iraq),” Aprem added. (The English title is The Book of the Bee.)

The wise men came to Jerusalem following the movement of a star that appeared in the east to synchronise with the time of Jesus’ birth.

According to William Barclay’s Bible Commentary, while Balthazar brought myrrh to the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem, Kasper and Melchior brought frankincense and gold, respectively.

The legend has it that India’s Kasper (derived from Kasyapan) set sail from Piravom, and the location was previously known as “Piravi” (the birth of Christ).

According to Mar Aprem, a well-known church historian and Aramaic scholar, it was mentioned in the Book of the Bee.

Furthermore, it was mentioned in the “Dibborita” that the wise men (Megusans) were accompanied by three followers each, for a total of 12 people; Aprem added that their names were also given in the “Dibborita.”

The “Dibborita” mentioned the names of all 70 (seventy) apostles. But only 12 apostles’ names are mentioned in the Bible, Aprem added.

A noted historian, Velayudhan Panikkassery, said that the possibility that one of the three wise men was from Kerala cannot be ruled out.


Herod secretly summoned the wise men and ascertained from them what time the star appeared. Herod sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and diligently search for the child.” “Bring me word, when you have found them, that I too may come and worship the child.”

After hearing Herod, the Magi went their way. The star seen in the east also moved ahead of them until it came to a halt over the child’s location. When the star rested, the wise men rejoiced exceedingly with great joy, and going into the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him, offering him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Meanwhile, the wise men had a dream that they would not return to Herod. Accordingly, they left Bethlehem for their respective countries by another route.

After the wise men had left, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt; remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Joseph thus left for Egypt and remained there till the death of Herod.

When King Herod learned that the Magi had left Bethlehem without reporting to him, he became enraged and ordered the execution of all male children aged two and under in Bethlehem and its environs.

Herod’s soldiers murdered several male children in order to annihilate Jesus, the King of the Jews, says the gospel (Matthews 2:1–17).

The Josephs spent over two and a half years in Egypt in a stone cave near the Nile.

The House of Moses, the giver of the law.


According to tradition, the Church of the Kings (Rajakalude Pally) was possibly the first Christian church in the world, and the wise men were scholars, rulers, and devotees, as Fr Skaria Vattakkattil added.

The legend has it that the wise men returned to Piravi (now Piravom) and built an abode in the traditional Indian style, dedicating Jesus Christ there and beginning to worship him. It was gradually transformed into a full-fledged church.

It is now known in local parlance as Piravom Valia Pally (Piravom Big Church), Marth Mariyam Church, Rajakalude Pally (Church of the Kings), and Saint Mary’s Church, according to Fr. Vattakkattil Vicar, who added that the Supreme Head of the Malankara Orthodox Church and all the East, Baselious Maarthoma Paulose, had elevated this church to Malankara Orthodox Syrian Cathedral.


Following a schism in 1912, the Jacobite Church in Kerala was split into two factions: the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church. The Church of Kings fell under the Jacobite faction, headed by the Patriarch of Antioch.

During 1876, the Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Peter III, stayed in the church and decreed that churches could not be established in the names of kings because they were not Christians because they had not been baptized. As a result, in 1876, the name of the Church of Kings was changed to Saint Mary’s Church.


There are several versions of the legend surrounding the construction of the Church of Kings and the adjacent Pishrukoil (Karthiyeni) temple at Piravom.

Ford of the Church accidentally met a Panicker (Nair) in a canoe in the Muttattupuzha river near the church site. They asked him to assist them in crossing the river. When the panicker refused to carry them, he could not row the canoe any further. Under the circumstances, Panicker was reluctantly forced to carry them in his canoe. Despite the fact that the canoe could only carry one person per trip, Panicker was able to row the canoe with the wise men and land safely.

Panicker, astounded by the Magi’s divine power, showed them a small but beautiful hill on the eastern bank of the river Muvattupuzha where they could stay and pray.

When the wise men began to leave, Panicker asked them not to and obtained a promise from them that they would not leave until Panicker returned. But Panicker allegedly committed suicide. As a result, the Magi were forced to settle there, according to the legend.


The wise men failed to select suitable sites for constructing two separate buildings, one for the church and the other for the temple. Following the intercession of the Calasseril Panicker, they placed a wooden cross and an idol of a deity at the Moozhikkadavu (ford) on the upper side of the river, allowing them to flow freely on condition that the church would be built where the wooden cross halted and the temple where the idol rested.

The cross fell and came to a halt on the church’s existing ford and the idol on the temple’s wharf. Hence the Magi constructed the church and the temple side by side on the respective sites, as witnessed now.

Even Kayamkulam Kochunny, a notorious but benevolent thief, could not loot the Church of the Kings, despite his best efforts. With this in mind, he approached the church in a canoe, but he was unable to anchor it at the church’s ford because his canoe was trapped under a whirlpool until daybreak. As a result, he was forced to leave the place frustrated, according to the vicar, Skaria Vattaakkattil, who quoted the legend.


The Holy Family (Joseph, Mary, and the Infant Jesus) is one of the most rare paintings in the church. This painting was coloured with turmeric, ginger, and hibiscus juices, as well as juices from the green leaves of herbal plants mixed with pure gold. Because of its original colour and beauty had not faded, its inventive novelty and intrinsic value still remained intact. Such a painting had never been seen in any church anywhere in the world, he added.

Furthermore, murals and other paintings depicting the various stages of Jesus Christ’s life and passion are extremely valuable due to their scarcity and antiquity, the vicar said.


The Thronos (Sacrificial Altar or Holy of Holies) on wooden pillars with special wooden locks, imprinted with vine stems carved out of rosewood, in the church is priceless and one of a kind. It was installed in the church in the 15th century by Portuguese craftsmen and was also one of the rarest of the rare. It depicted the birth, passion, and life of Jesus Christ, his activities, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.

According to legend, six adult people could lift the Holy of Holies. They had a revelation that the altar could be installed near where it was unloaded from the boat, in the nearby church. Their boat set sail from Goa along the coast. They had sincerely attempted to unload the altar at several churches along the way, including Bombay, Mangalore, Kozhikode, and Kodungalloor (Muziris). They completely failed in their attempt to unload the altar in Bombay, Mangalore, Kozhikode, and Kodungalloor, where Saint Thomas the Apostle landed in 52 A.D. But they could  easily lift up the Holy of Holies at the ford of the Church of Kings at Piravom. As a result, the vicar explained, the altar was placed there.

According to legend, a wealthy Portuguese gentleman once decided to donate an elaborately decorated Holy of Holies to a church in India, which could be lifted by six people.


The Epiphany on January 8 and the Foundation Day on October 8 are the two most important church feasts for non-Christians, including high-caste Brahmins, to attend in large numbers.

Every October 8, the spectres of the Holy Kings would be taken out of the church to be respected and revered by all devotees and participants in the feast’s celebrations.

The gift of “Anchekalum Koppum” (5.25 kilogrammes of rice, coconut, pumpkin, yam, betel leaves, ripe arecanuts, and a bundle of papad) was given to the head of the Chalasseri Panicker’s family.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Holy Kings at the time, the honour was bestowed on the Chalasseril family’s head. Every year on October 8, the senior member of Chalasseril Panicker’s family attends church without fail. After paying obeisance with the utmost humility and piety to the Holy Kings, dedicated in the Church, he gladly receives the the ‘Anchekalum Koppum’, and thus the celebrations of the day come to an end.

This may have been the world’s only church to honour a senior member of a non-Christian family as the distinguished guest at the church’s feast.

*The author is a former PTI reporter

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