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Tekkumbhagar or Thekkumbagar or Southists ( also known with recently concatenated name Knanaya) are a group of Christians in South India who follow endogamy. Since 1910 and 1911, they form separate dioceses in Jacobite Syrian Christian Church and Syro Malabar Church. Some of them have also joined Protestant and Pentecostal churches in recent years


The Christians in Kerala have distinguished themselves into two mutually exclusive sections, the Northists and the Southists. Members of each of these divisions identify themselves and assert their superiority in legends which downgrade the other. The Malayalam names for the Christian divisions are always Tekkumbhagar-Vadakumbhagar, but the English equivalents may be Nordhist-Suddhist or Northerner-Southerner, though Northist-Southist is most common. Southist has started using the term Knanaya from 1990 onwards.


Early history

Prior to the arrival of the Knanaya people, the early Nasrani (نزاريون) people in the Malabar coast included native Indian converts and converted Jewish people - Sephardi, Paradesi, and Cochin Jews - who had settled in Kerala during the Babylonian exile and increasing persecution in Europe.[1] They came mostly from the Northern Kingdom of Israel. According to tradition, Kna Jews are also known as Southists (Thekkumbhagar in Malayalam) as they hailed from the southern province of Israel known in the Old Testament as the Kingdom of Judah. The distinction between the northern heavily exogamous Samaritans and the southern zealously endagamous tribes of Judea led to the difference among the non-Knanaya Nasranis as Northists and the Knanaya as Southists. The Knanaya (Kanahi people) continue to remain an endogamous group also within the Nasrani community.[1]

In 70 CE, hundreds of Q’nanaim zealots evaded capture from the Romans and took shelter in the fortress at Masada. In 72 CE, after a two year siege, 960 knanaya zealots unwilling to give up to the Romans killed themselves before the Romans could capture them. This act of martyrdom is still commemorated in Israel. In AD 345 a small group of K'nanaim merchants travelled to the Jewish trade posts at Kodungallur in Kerala and settled there. Their descendants are today known in Kerala as Knanaya Nasranis. [2]


The Knanayas (קנאים)(قنانيا)(short form-"kna") are the descendants of 72 Syro-Aramaic Jewish families who migrated from Edessa (Now Şanlıurfa), Turkey) the first city state that embraced Christianity in the Roman Empire, as well as from Jerusalem, Israel, Syria[3], to Malabar coast in AD 345, under the leadership of a prominent merchant Knai Thomman (قناي تامن)(in English, Thomas the Zealot).[4] They built a town in Kodungalloor with a church and 72 houses.

After Mar Joseph (מר יוסף) (مار جوسف) had a startling dream in which he saw the plight of the Christian church in Malabar (ملابار) established by St. Thomas, the Apostle, in the first Century. In addition, new trading opportunities in India and the increasing persecution the Knanaya people faced caused many of them to migrate. They consisted of 400 Christians from 72 families of various Jewish clans. Included in the group was a Syriac Orthodox Bishop (Mar Joseph of Urfa, mentioned above), Bishops and deacons. With instructions from the Patriarch of Antioch, they sailed in three ships headed by a leading ship with the flag of King David. The Knanaya people were granted permission to engage in trade and settle down in Kodungallur by the then ruler of Malabar, Cheraman Perumal.[4] The event has been recorded on copper plates given to the community.[4]


Most of the Knanaya people were wealthy plantation owners, merchants and bankers. For business purposes, many Knanaya people moved from Kondungallur to large commercial areas such as Kaipuzha, Kottayam, Kozhikode, and Thiruvananthapuram. The increasing Muslim influence caused problems which led to war. An assault upon Kodungallur by Muslim invaders forced the Knanaya people to flee the settlement.[5]

Persecution by Portuguese

During the Portuguese occupation, the Knanaya people were discriminated against due to their Jewish roots. The Nasranis, who were, until then, the "living fossils" of the Christian-Jewish tradition, lost their very defining ethos.[6] The only Nasranis who managed to preserve some elements of their Jewish origin were the Knanaya people, because of their tradition of being endogamous within their own community and therefore preserving their Jewish tradition.[2] An Imperial Order was passed to confiscate and sell under public auction the properties of those who celebrated Passover. It was perhaps because of this Order that the Knanaites celebrate Passover in a very private manner without inviting any Christian friend to share the Holy Meal.[7]

Modern history

A Syro Malabar Catholic Knanaya Jewish Nasrani Church

An unvelied tabernacle of a Kna Jewish 'palli' or Temple with 12 candlesticks in the background for the 12 tribes of ancient Israel.

Knayanites are divided into two groups, the first belonging to the Syriac Orthodox Church in India and second to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. [8]. Knanaya are conscious about their origin and up still safeguard their ethnic character by marrying people from within the community regardless of rite. The Knanaya Syriac Orthodox archdiocese, established in 1910, is administered by an archbishop and other bishops who report directly to the Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The Knanaya Catholics and their Jewish identity were acknowledged by the Vatican under Pope Pius X, by establishing in 1911 a separate diocese for the Jewish Christians (Syrian-catholic) of Kerala, named the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archeparchy of Kottayam. [8] The first head of the Diocesean-type organization for the Catholic Knanaya was Mar Mathew Makil[9]

The approximate population of Kna Jews as of 2001: (divided by different denominations)

  • Knanaya Jacobite: 100,000
  • Knanaya Catholic: 140,000
  • Knanaya Pentacostal: 50,000
  • Other Faiths: 10,200

In all over 260,200 Knanaya Christian Jews continue in the ancient Hebrew-Christian tradition.

Copper Plate

The tradition among the community is that in 345 CE one Perumal who ruled Kodungalloor all through this period had given a Copper Plate Grant to Thomas of Canaan, by which the King had showered a set of trading as well as socio-religious prerogatives to the community.This is said to exist in Portuguese and Arabic language. No deeds of copper plates in the name of Thomas of Cana are now extant it would be rash to insist upon all the details of the story of Thomas the Merchant as history.[4] [4]

Veracity of these claims

It should be noted that there is contention amongst the Kananaya as to whether a Syriac Orthodox Patriarch or an East Syriac Patriarch gave the order for Thomas of Kna to move to Malabar in the story line of 345 AD. The East Syriac Church was under persecution and Patriarch was executed and there are no records of any such mission. Moreover, there are no historical information from India that justifies the story of Thomas of Cana.The earliest accounts of the Nasranis (from the 16th century) seem to indicate that Thomas of Cana was the progenitor of both the Syriac Christians (who were the dominant ethnic group, possessing the Archdeaconate) and the Knanaya Christians. There is a good chance that the year 345 is in kolla varsham as they may have followed three centuries after Mar Sapor arrival TO KOLLAM port which was situated at THEKKUMBAGAM (and whose arrival started the kolla varsham in 825 AD) ,a natural port 1 km inside Astamudi lake at the mouth of the Arabian sea in kollam till the Flood of 1341 in the 14th century . Only when sand dunes obstructed one of the worlds most re owned natural ports then , the ships started to call on the sea side at kollam only from the 14th century.the simple reason that they came via thekkumbagam may have lend the name to them when they reached kottayam for settling.More over all historical back ground in persia then shows their arrival was in the 12th century .

Finally, the "Jewish Christian" account, which is of very recent origin, should be regarded with a critical eye- --the Nasranis were, by all accounts, East Syriac Christians from their earliest (documented) days. There is a wide chasm between East Syriac Christianity and Jewish Christianity and/or Judaism, as evidenced from the variety of polemics issued by the Syriac Christians doctors of the Middle East (who were not Jewish Christians by any means; ref. Jacob of Edessa) against the Jewish faith. Moreover, the Jewish communities of the East seemed to have no love for the Christians, given the massacres of Syriac Christians by Jewish tribal leaders in, for example, Yemen.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Menachery G; 1973, 1998; Weil,S. 1982; Thomas Puthiakunnel 1973; & Koder S. 1973
  2. 2.0 2.1 Menachery G; 1973, 1998; Weil, S. 1982; Poomangalam C.A 1998; Thomas Puthiakunnel 1973; Vellian Jacob 2001; Koder S. 1973
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Menachery G; 1973, 1998; Weil,S. 1982; James Hough 1893; Thomas Puthiakunnel 1973; Vellian Jacob 2001; Koder S. 1973
  6. Claudius Buchanan, 1811
  8. 8.0 8.1 Weil, S. 1982; Jessay, P.M. 1986; Menachery G; 1973, 1998; Vellian Jacob 2001
  9. brief set of bios of bishops of Kottayamad


  • Menachery, G. (1973) The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, Ed. George Menachery, B.N.K. Press, vol. 2, ISBN 81-87132-06-X, Lib. Cong. Cat. Card. No. 73-905568 ; B.N.K. Press
  • Vellian, Jacob (2001) Knanite community: History and culture; Syrian church series; vol.XVII; Jyothi Book House, Kottayam
  • "In Universi Cristiani" (Latin Text of the Papal erection of the Knanaya Diocese of Kottayam)
  • Puthiakunnel, Thomas. (1973) "Jewish colonies of India paved the way for St. Thomas", The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Vol. II., Trichur.
  • Koder, S. (1973) "History of the Jews of Kerala".The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India,Ed. G. Menachery.
  • Vellian, J (1988) Marriage Customs of the Knanites, Christian Orient, 9, Kottayam.
  • Weil, S. (1982) "Symmetry between Christians and Jews in India: The Cananite Christians and Cochin Jews in Kerala. in Contributions to Indian Sociology, 16.
  • Jessay, P.M. (1986) "The Wedding Songs of the Cochin Jews and of the Knanite Christians of Kerala: A Study in Comparison." Symposium.
  • James Hough (1893) "The History of Christianity in India".
  • Menachery, G (ed); (1998) "The Indian Church History Classics", Vol.I, The Nazranies, Ollur, 1998. [ISBN 81-87133-05-8].
  • Poomangalam, C.A. (1998) The Antiquities of the Knanaya Syrian Christians; Kottayam, Kerala.
  • Podipara, Placid J. (1970) "The Thomas Christians". London: Darton, Longman and Tidd.

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