Jerusalem Journey


            Oorselem Yathra Vivaranam has to its credit all the significant features of a perfect travelogue. It is rather impossible to give a full definition for a travelogue. However, every literary work must be assessed on the basis of its salient features. It was the intention of Parumala Thirumeni to feel and comprehend the mind and experience of the soil which bore the imprint of the feet of Lord Jesus. He also shares his experience with others. The author completely fulfils this function. The acclaim which this literary work won in those days talks loud about this significant feature.

            The writing skills of the author are as important as the content of the work. Even though Oorslem Thiru Yathra translated from Portuguese and published before Parumala Thirumeni’s work, was also a description of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Parumala Thirumeni’s writing skill evinces a high order of elegance and dexterity.

            More than the novelty of the theme, what is more important is the rare skill to present extraordinary experiences in unique manner. 

            We may meet with different instances in this book when Parumala Thirumeni gets transfigured from a traveller to a literary author. At the Holy Sepulchre on Easter Day multitudes wait with expectations and rejoicing for “Puthan Thee” (New Fire), singing, shouting and clapping hands. When Parumala Thirumeni, who was a witness to this extraordinary experience, explains it to ordinary people, it does not miss the air of the extraordinary.


            The travel writer needs to possess the mind of both Columbus as well as Vasco Da gama. But if he has this kind of mind alone, his work may not be ‘life-friendly’. The author of the travelogue must get transformed from a traveller into an author. He should possess the inquisitiveness and adventurous nature of Columbus and Gama, and also the spirit of  Marco Polo and Huen Tsang. Such reconciling moments are in plenty in Oorslem Yathra vivaranam. 

            The literary value of Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam rests in the elegance of its style. A travelogue is not a mere report. It has spirit, life, colour and odour. Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam is a unique case in point, in this respect.

Just as an autobiography abounds in personal matters, a travelogue too has got a place for things personal. A travel description without its personal element does not become a travelogue. A travelogue is not perfect with descriptions and delineation alone. They should be supplemented with the traveller’s experiences and feelings. When we read a good travelogue, it is as though we travel along with the author. This is the reason why in Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam we can accompany the traveller to the Holy Land. Here is a specimen of how the author takes us to Jerusalem:

            As the Gospel says, mountains circle Jerusalem.  The buildings outside the fort are newly built, and so they are bigger and more beautiful than those inside it. The roads outside are wide and have vehicular traffic on them. On the other hand inside the fort the roads are narrow and uneven with ascending and descending stone steps here and there. Therefore they are not useful for vehicular traffic. These roads are paved with white sandstone.

            Travelogues have certain features which autobiographies do not claim,. An autobiography is never perfect. It presents the picture of an imperfect individual searching after perfection on.  Travelogue is perfect and complete with personal elements. It is like a story. In Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam the description is complete and perfect and personal element becomes the soul of this work. 

            However, there is no excess of the personal in this book. In this travelogue, self-glorification has no place at all. Even when describing the author’s own experiences there is no tinge of self-glorification involved. Every word is sanctifies as the life of the saint itself. 

            The author of the travelogue must be able to communicate to others what has been impressed in his mind, and also to internalise what is seen and heard, and sometimes to see and comprehend what has not been seen. It was the Metropolitan who had come to the Holy Land as a traveller. He tries to communicate to his people all that he saw and heard like a good shepherd. Each description in this account directly discourses with the reader’s heart. He talks in the language of the heart. As we travel through Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam we free the heart beat of Parumala Thirumeni.

In the new edition of Malayalam literature and Christians (1989), Scariah Zachariah, lits editor, wrote that the language, style and literary beauty of Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam are not very commendable. He wrote in this vein mainly because Malayalam prose had at that time almost attained its full development. It is not possible to agree with the opinion of Scariah Zachariah. 

            Prose in Malayalam language developed as a result of lits contact with the English language and literature. Earlier Malayalam had depended on Sanskrit. There was no prose style in Sanskrit which Malayalam could emulate. The first prose work in Malayalam, the style of which could be imitated late, appeared during the early part ;of the 19th century and that was the Malayalam translation of the Bible. 

            When Parumala thirumeni was writing his prose works, there was only one prose work in Malayalam; i.e. Varthamanapusthakam. But Varthamanapusthakam had not been printed at that time.  The other book Oorslem Thiruyathra was not a work which priced imitation of its style.

When Mar Gregorios wrote his travelogue he had before him only a few ‘travel versifications’. From the 18th century onwards about 40 ‘Travel Poems’ were popular in book form land otherwise. Kasi Yathra Varnanam by Vaikkom Pachumootjhatu (1854), Rameswara Yathra by Venmony Achan Namboothiri (1880), Samgamesa Yathra (1891) by Venmony Mahan Namboothire, Madisasi Yathra (1891) by Kunjikkuttan lthampuran and Sreekavi Samaja Yathrasathakam and Vaikkam Yathra Sathakam by K.C.Kesava Pillai are a few cases in point, which were popular travel-poems in malayalam.

            The Malayalam prose used in Oorslem yathra Vivaranam is the developed form of prose which belonged to the age of the travel poems. During the early decades of 19th century Father Chavara Kuriakose Elias, Bishop Dr. Marsaleenos and others adopted the Malayalam prose of the common masses. 

            Those scholars who had proficiency in the English language like Dr. Gundert, Rev.George Mathan, Archadeacon Koshy, Kandathil Varghese Mappilai, Aymanam P.John, Kalloor Oommen Philipose and the like, reformed the spoken Malayalam of the times and thus opened a new style of Malayalam prose. 

            The Malayalam prose, which developed through this process, is certainly available in Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam. It has the linguistic beauty and the quality of the literature of the day. It is most likely that some of the publications in Malayalam during these days were familiar to Parumala Thirumeni.  Kandathil Varghese Mappilai, who came to know about Thirumeni’s interest i in literature, sent to him a copy of one of his works-Keerthanamala. Thirumeni read it and in July 1901 sent a reply to Varghese Mappilai. It reads thus: 

            “I received the copy of Keerthanamala which you had sent me. I feel happy about it, land I showed it to people who came here and they too have expressed their satisfaction about it. May god reward you with his blessings, since your work is much useful for the welfare of all.  I must sincerely pray god to perfect your endeavors in this direction and make it for the glory of god, the welfare of all and for your good remembrance. May God grant you peace, protect you and your family land give salvation unto you”.

Parumala thirumeni was a good scholar in Syriac language. In those days Syriac was the language used in worship and spiritual renderings. It was worship, which influenced even the spoken language of Parumala thirumeni. The Malayalam prose of Parumala Thirumeni was different from the Malayalam language of his day which was largely influenced by Tamil and sanskrit. His Malayalam was one related to Suyriac. However when he writes Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam, its prose doesn’t evince the shade of Syriac influence. Even the syriac words used in this book were only those which were commonly adopted in malayalam. The prose of Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam is free from the influence of English and Syriac. Parumala thirumeni developed the language used for communication by common  people, the language used to communicate to the common man’s heart. Such pure, unadulterated prose style is rare even in the other literary works of the times.

The literary work is distinguished by singular characteristics. which are unknown to the prose of other day. It seems Parumala Thirumeni was familiar with the unique techniques of literary works, like arrangement of ideas, minute presentation of facts, division of material into paragraphs, use of familiar diction and small sentences etc.

He was very careful to use words with clarity of meaning. He described the ‘lighthouse’ as ‘Velichamalika’. Such a beautiful expression cannot be seen even in the twentieth century which witnessed development of Malayalam prose. 

            In the same way, the usage “Puthen Thee” (New Fire) is also Parumala Thirumeni’s own contribution to language. The fire appears near the Holy Sepulchre. Candles are lit from this fire and given to the faithful. Parumala thirumeni describes it, it seems as though the light comes down from heaven. This is actually the light of other word. There are beautiful descriptions like, “tides like mountains”. this book totally reveals the personalty of ;the author and this lis la unique characteristic of a travelogue. 

            Parumala thirumeni reached Jerusalem during the Holy Week in 1895.He had the money for meeting his travel expenses and also offering for the Holy place, collected directly from certain churches in Kerala.

The travel party consisted of Ramban Paulose, Vattassseril Geevarghese Kathanar, Thekkan Parur Thoppil Lukose, Thumpamon Karingattil Zachariah Kathanar, Kadammanitta Puthen Purakkal geevarghese Kathanar, Deacon Sleeba, the Surian and Parumal Thoppil Manalil Philipose, apart from Parumala thirumeni. Deacon Sleeba was the translator in the group. They had reached Bombay via Madras by rail before emnbarkinfg on the journey to oJerusalem,. They had to aboard the ship from Bombay, and passport had to be obtained from Bombay itself. The travel party had enough time to spend in Bombay. The interest and curiosity of the traveller in Parumala Thirumeni lis revealed even in the very beginning of the book.

            This is how he draws a wordy picture of the port of Bombay: 

            We never saw such a big and beautiful city anywhere else during out journey. The Bombay harbour has prime importance in the whole India. As the city projects into the sea, lit is surrounded on three sides by the sea. Ships can enter the bay, which is very deep, any time. The bay is divided into different segments, so that ships could be anchored in each of these segments, near the coast and safe from tempests raging in the sea. Each of these segments is protected by strong bunds. On both sides ofthese bunds there are roads wide enough for vehicles to ply. Ships can enter the bay through rivers, land there are iron bridges across the rivers. These bridges could be lifted by machines when ships enter or leave the bay. Ships lie so close to the coast that it is possible to get into them with the help of a ladder. Sometimes one could get into the ships without a ladder, with just a plank. When the ships are loaded with cargo and lie mostly submerged in the sea, the deck and the coast will be on the same level, and then it is possible to enter them without the help of ladder or a plank.

Only a traveller who cares for such minute details can give such an elaborate description of a port. The traveller is not merely a writer, but a photographer as well. As we are through the descriptions by the author,  picture of Bombay a century back lis revealed in our mind. 

            The Railway Station Bombay and the high-rise buildings there kindled the curiosity land imagination of the author. 

            Here is a specimen from one of the beautiful descriptions about the houses: 

            The entire city is full of high-rise buildings. Single storey houses are usually not seen except in the villages outside the city. Most of the houses are 4,5 or 6 storeyed ones. Some have seven storeys., Construction of the buildings is usually done with granite stones. Almost all houses have verandahs for each floor. Such verandahs have parapets made of iron and are decoratively printed. Roods of buildings are done with sandstone. The people of our region who have not seen such big buildings, and decorative works, may be very much interested in looking at them,. Almost all buildings have on top of them conical pillars parapet towers or obeautifully painted flowers or crosses. The beauty of such buildings standing in rows like this cannot simply be described. 

            I think no other literary work except this travelogue makes a mention of trams on iron rails being drawn by two or three horses. Parumala Thirumeni who spent a few days in Bombay, leads the reader through the nooks and corners of the city.

Sea voyage was a new experience for him. Travelling in a ship, the was reminded of the Noah’s Ark in the Old Testament. In relation to the Old Testament account of eight people in Noah’s Ark, Parumala Thirumeni writes about “eight souls” in this Ark, in very interesting manner. And he prays these eight souls may be protected from the dangers of the sea. 

            Here we are in touch with the left hand of a writer-traveller. While travelling in a ship, he lis attempting to structure this journey in the framework of an Old Testament account which he recollects.           

            What is significant about a ship journey to be written after all? One can see nothing on the sea. Such journey is least interesting as well. But you never for once feel bored or disinterested as you are through Thirumeni’s descriptions.                  

The experiences during this sea voyage are as interesting as like that while you stay at home. The crew had provided them with two ovens for cooking. They prepared rice-meal once a day and managed with tea, bread and biscuits during the rest of the day. 

            Thus whicle they were happy and had no problem with their food, the ship was tosses by waves one day and water began to rush into the ship. The sea voyage comes to an end., as he describes each incident at every stage of the journey. Thus he transforms the day and uninteresting sea voyage to pretty interesting description. This obviously is the ability of the writer in the traveller.

As the journey proceeds past the turmoil of the “Red Sea”, the sight of the mountain ranges of Sinai fills the mind of the traveller with unbounded joy. Readers can share in the experiences and historical recollections which pass through the mind of the author, as the ship journey presents a sight of that mount on which Mosers received the tablets of Law from the Lord. 

            The author also notes that as the ship anchored at the mouth of the Suez Canal, a few houses in the city could be seen, with the help of the big electric lamp that was brought near the ship from the shore. The Suez Canal is described in lits minute details: 

            The canal is from north to south land our journey is to the north. The canal may be 80 meters wide and 90 kms. long. Though the canal was so wide, la ship would remain stationary, if another one were to pass ;by. Both sides of the canal are vast sandy deserts. At a distance in the west there are a few villages and trees. Nearby to this region a few hamlets and stations could be seen. At different places along the Suez, buoys and light houses have been placed. 

            Travelling by rail one may enjoy other wayside scenes and leave them at that. However, Parumala Thiruimeni transforms those scenes into beautiful descriptions. He shows a rare dexterity in delineating wordy pictures out of natural scenery. Here is a specimen: he lis describing the wayside scenes on the way to  Jerusalem by rail:

            The number of  mountains is increasing as we approach the holy city. They are mostly steep, full of whiter sandstone land some look like the wilderness. Along the valleys of some of these mountains, there were olive  trees and vineyards. It was not the fruit-bearing times of trees, when we were there; so we could not enjoy the full beauty of the vineyards. Some of the trees had sprouted, some had flowers, and a few others had fruits still not ripe. Olive was the most common tree. But they do not grow like the bigger trees in Kerala.

He describes every scene in Jerusalem. There is an elaborate account of the Upper Room in zoin. It was in this Upper Room that their lord had instituted the Holy Qurbana. The author who went around the big building called :”Kyomtjho” (Resurrection) which houses the Holy Sepulchre of our Lord, giversd a very peeticalo description of the tent like structre thus:

Seeing its curved doors, golden handiworks and embellishments , one may wonder whether this is the very heaven! What is seen here is the symbol of architectural embelishments and beauty, accomplished by pious and devoted emperors, from time to time. Your eyes are dazzled when you look late at the rows of hanging lamps made of pure gold and silver, hung by chains of gold land silver and burning light and day would outshine the beams of the sun.

            The author also visited the place where the Lord taught this disciples the prayer, “our Father….:. Our Lord sat on a rock land taught this prayer. The Lord’s prayer is inscribed in l30 languages at this place. The author lis proud to say that one of these is in Malayalam, but the inscription says lit lis “Sanskrit”. Here malayalam words are inscribed in English script

The author narrates the worship services during the Passion Week in the land trodden by our Lord. The saying that “a literary works an experience” is proven by this book.

            This book pours into the mind of the reader the experience of the “New Fire”. One who has read the Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam could never possible forget the experience of the “New Fire”. And that exactly is the key to the success of this work. 

            Thirumeni wrote this book to ignite the “New Fire” in the minds of the people of Kerala. The aim of his work is to transfigure the readers. As a writer, Parumala Thirumeni introduced in Malayalam literature the philosophy of ‘transfiguration’.

Parumala Thirumeni is la saint who could effect a change in the people through his life land work. In Oorswlem Yathra Vivaranam his aim is to transform the minds of readers through his words. It was this principle of change which he used in literatures as the theory of transfiguration. And this theory evolved as a fruit of the way of life which he had shaped in spirituality through leading a full-dedicated life. 

            As far as an author is concerned, life is his message.  The words and actions in life are a part of that  message. That is the reason why the reader feels that the ‘new fire’ has been lit in his mind, while Thirumeni describes the experience of the “New Fire”.           

            The “New Fire”  is something that originates at the sepulchre of the Lord , during the night of the Holy saturday .  It is believed that this fire originates by itself .The author was a witness to people waiting for the “New Fire” to appear, eagerness, joy, singing, shouting and clapping of hands . He describes this waiting in an intimate language. At long last, as he stood with the new fire before the Holy sepulchre he had a rare sense of penitence, feeling of guilt and disturbance of mind, and this could also move the mind of readers.                                                   

The “New Fire” is a blessing for all people .Once Upon a time the authorities did not allow poor Christian approach the Holy Sepulchre for receiving the new fire .The Lords and the rich kept the poor at bay.  At the time the “New Fire” came out opening the pillars at the door and reached the poor people . While the author narrates this incident, the travelogue becomes a living experience .Parumala Thirumeny who saw the cleft pillar, generates amazement in the mind of the readers as well. 

            Literacy critics are of the view that only a noble man can produce a sublime work of literature. Parumala thirumeni was a saint. It was a life which was slowly and silently shaped. For him works, actions land life were all one and the same. 

            It was Kochaippora alias Geevarghese who was born in the Pallathathu house of Chathuruthy family in Mulanthuruthy (Ernakulam District) on 15 June 1848 who later became “Parumala thirumeni”. He was given the official title “Geevarghese Mar Gregorios”, on his consecration as Metropolitan. However, this 29 year old Metropolitan who reached Parumala Seminary was called as “Parumala Kochu Thirumeni” by all. 

            Even though thirumeni stayed at Parumala as the Metropolitan of Niranam, his relationship with Niranam was very strong. The Niranam church was founded by St. Thomas, the Apostle of Christ and this Church was the “Cathedral” of the Diocese. The history of Niranam had augmented the genius of Parumala thirumeni. Poets have compared Niranam to heaven: “the great land of Niranam is later earth and heaven”. In those days Niranam was well known as the birth place of Kannassa Poets (14th century) and the seat of their teacher “Kapaleswara” of the Thrikkapleswara Temple. 

            Thirumeni was a great scholar in Syriac and taught Syriac language to the seminarians at Parumala. The Church at Parumala, (recently demolished and rebuilt) was founded by him. 

            Kandathil Varghese Mappilai, O.M.Cherian and Chitramezuthu K.M.Varghese had a close knowledge about the intellectual acumen of  Parumala thirumeni. 

            O.M.Cherian writes about thirumeni thus: 

            “The name ‘Parumala Kochu Thirumeni’ is great and well known name in the Kerala Syrian Christian families. It is well known that this bishop during his lifetime had gained extraordinary stature in devotion, prayer life, concentration, concern for his community and self sacrifice. There has never been a great soul of this stature in modern times or historical times in Kerala, who has fascinated the people during his life time, and even after, in spiritual and Godly affairs”.

Kandathil Varghese Mappilai  wrote in the “Malayala Manorama” as follows. 

            “It is an accepted fact that even during his life time, Metropolitan Mar Gregorios was radiant among the Christians of this country like the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed or like the compact volume of Gospel containing the major teachings of our Lord.  The memory of this just and saintly person, who passed out of this life in this stature, no doubt, will live longer in the minds of the Christians of Malankara, than is possible with the aid of his pictures of marbles statues”. 

            Even though  Parumala Thirumeni was more interested in the Syriac language, he has other literary works in Malayalam to his credit.  In the same way he gave a strong leadership for spreading English education in Kerala.  Before he passed away on 2nd November 1902 at the age of 54, he founded an English school in Thiruvalla and that school is the present M.G.M. High School.

Thirumeni was interested not only in spiritual matters but even in the political situation of the country.  It was he who presided over the Counter Malayali Memorial Meeting held at Alapuzha in 1891.  This is recorded in Robin Jeffrey’s book “The decline of the Nair Supremacy”.  “Malayali Memorial” was a movement against giving special and more representation in Government Services to Tamil Brahmins.  The Nair community and the Syrian Christians had adopted and united stand in this movement.  Curiously enough Thirumeni had opted for a different line of approach to this issue. Similarly he worked for the uplift of the down trodden.

Parumala Thirumeni is the first saint to be canonized in all the Christian Churches in India.  He had dispensed spiritual blessings to many through prayers, and attracted many towards the radiance of God, during his lifetime.   Throughout his years, he had led a life becoming of a great saint.

            Saintly persons, even while they are alive exhibit divine actions and qualities that transcend this world.  Their influence is evident even after their passing out of this world.  Their characters and activities gain this quality from their strong affinity to the divine power. 

            Again, the traditional faith and conceptions among the common people also bear witness to an acknowledge the rare qualities of the saint.  Even without the official recognition by organised religion, the common people revere the holy powers of an individual, alive or dead, by sheer inspiration. 

            Saints have a special status in the presence of God.  It is believed that the saints who have attained the presence of God do pray for humans living on earth.  For the faithful, Parumala Thirumeni is the mediator who leads them to the grandeur of God’s presence.  “Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam” is a prayer by the mediator.


 It is the duty of the writer to intercede.  He prays and intercedes for the society and the individuals.  He must stand up for values and principles of life.  His words transform readers to a realization of the values of life.  Words are holy.  In the beginning  only “Word” was there.  The Word was with God.  We are reminded of this by the traveller’s words of Parumala Thirumeni in Oorslem Yathra Vivaranam.

Parumala Thirumeni considered travel-literature as the perfection of things seen.  It was his intention that the author’s love for the universe and his humanity must be revealed through this.  Those western critics who attempted to define a ‘travelogue’ do not come up to Parumala Thirumeni’s poetical concept.  Mary Kingsley once said, “No one expects literature in a book of travel”.  Thirumeni’s view is different.  For him literary grandeur is inevitable for the completion and perfection of sight.  This travelogue provides the taste of the perfection of eyesight

                                Excerpts From

                        A Journey To Jerusalem

                                         by Parumala Thirumeni

                                          English Version Edited By

              Mr.Paul Manalil  (Chief Sub Editor “Malayala Manorama”)

A Journey To Jerusalem  (Page-96)

Price: Rs. 50/- ,   Published By

Christain Sahithya Samithy(C S S)