Tulu the central language of the coastal districts surprisingly does not find a place in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Tulu heartland. But a Church in Pavoor, Kerala continues to honour the language, conducting Holy Masses in Tulu. Divya Cutinha of Karnatala Today has more.
There are more than 6900 living languages in the world, with around 6% percent having more than one million speakers. The diversity of languages is explained mythologically in the story related to the Tower of Babel (early Babylon; today around 59 Miles southwest of Baghdad in Iraq) a Near Eastern account recorded in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. According to the story, a united humanity in the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating eastward, came to the land of Shinar. There they agree to build a city and a tower tall enough to reach heaven. God, observing their city and tower, confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand each other, and scatters them around the world.
Tulu is the central language of Tulunad, a name given by the coastal districts to themselves for it is the language of daily commerce and philosophy. A melodic language, even as it seeks inclusion in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, it has received a unique honour in a Catholic Church in Pavoor in Kasargod district of Kerala. While the language is used widely across the coastal districts in many religious events, it surprisingly does not find a place in the celebration of the Eucharist in Holy Mass in the Church in the districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi which conducts its services in Konkani (the mother tongue of the Coastal Catholics and English). However it does find a place, in the Catholic Church in strangely, a state that speaks and breathes Malaylam, Kerala.
The place is Pavoor, Manjeshwar, Kerala, on the border between the linguistic states of Karnataka and Kerala. The Holy Cross Church here, celebrates the Eucharist in Tulu, the native language of Tulunad. The Church can hold masses in Kannada or Malayalam, both state languages and the basis of their formation, which it does, but this church stands apart with its Holy Masses in Tulu, which is not done even in the Tulu heartland.
Centuries ago when scores of Tulu speaking people living in Pavoor village decided to embrace Christianity, the missionaries thought of giving them a gift that could be cherished till eternity. Pages from history, tell us that Fr Alexander Camisa came to Pavoor from Italy to start his missionary work more than a century ago – in 1913, he started the Pavoor Mission after landing in Mangaluru in 1897.
Fr. Camisa during his service as professor at Jeppu seminary came in contact with some tribals. Moved by the miserable condition of the adivasis, who were kept in isolation after being tagged as 'untouchables', Fr Camisa bought 300 acres of land from the government and decided to rehabilitate them. He lived with them, built houses for them and taught them to be self-employed. They grew sweet potatoes, tapioca, rice and vegetables so as sustain themselves. All in all, in a span of 27 years that he lived with the tribals, he changed their lives completely and made them equipped to lead a life with dignity.
Fr. Camisa, an Italian realised that the locals would maintain a distance from the missionaries, if a new language was imposed on them. Hence he decided to learn the local language and carry forward his missionary work.
As a mark of respect for Fr Camisa and his love for Tulu, the Church carried forward the tradition of holding masses and all other rituals in the Church in Tulu. Apart from Tulu, holy mass, catechism, singing, family prayers and liturgical programmes are also held in Kannada and Konkani here at the Church which is located in the Kasargod Deanery coming under Mangaluru diocese. After Fr. Camisa, 14 priests served as Parish Priests at Pavoor Holy Cross Church each of them maintaining and growing the tradition!
Fr Aloysius Santiago hailing from Bengaluru who served as parish priest from 2008 to 2014 said that he too had to learn Tulu to carry forward his duties here!
"Though initially I found it to be difficult, I learnt the language interacting with the people. I appreciate the efforts of former priests who have served here learning Tulu. They mingled with the people belonging to the Koraga community, learnt the language and wrote and translated books of hymns, nuptial, confirmation and funeral rites in Tulu to help in performing religious ceremonies," he said.
The locals have lot of reverence for FrCamisa, who changed their lives in a way that they could never imagine. This reverence is reflected every time a believer addresses Fr Camisa as 'Ajjer Guruswamy', which means a grand old teacher! "We worship Ajjer Guruswamy," says Simon, a parishioner. Another parishioner, Rajesh rolls out the reasons why Fr Camisa has been placed on the altar by the locals. "Our ancestors were treated like animals by the so called upper class. It is Ajjer Guruswamy who gave us dignity, freedom and life" he says as tears well in his eyes.
The parishioners sing praises for beloved Ajjer Guruswamy for they believe that he was their saviour, a divine soul that came to Pavoor to breathe life into the living dead!
Rev Fr Alexander Camisa was born in Italy and joined the Jesuits. He served as the Chaplain at Mangaluru Hospital and Assistant parish priest of Cathedral from 1898-1901. He has also served as a teacher at St Joseph's seminary Ranchi and as professor of St Joseph's seminary Mangaluru. Apart from starting missionary work at Pavoor, he has also served in Sullia.
Fr. Camissa died in the year 1955 and is buried at Jeppu in the cemetery attached to the Seminary. His mortal remains were shifted to Pavoor in the year 1968 at the request of the parishioners.
While debate and struggle for including Tulu in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution is going on, the Pavoor Church has already conferred a great honour on the language by retaining it as the medium to communicate with God himself!