Tuesday, 20 September 2011

P.J.Cherian Supports Knanaya Nazarene Museum with Pattanam Excavations


The Knanaya Community of Kerala are stated to be descended from a group of West Asian merchants consisting of 72 families led by Mor Joseph of Uraha and Thomas of Cana who migrated to Kodungallur in the year 345 CE. The purpose of the migration is believed to be the resurrection of the Nazarene/Nasrani community of St. Thomas converts of the Chera kingdom. In order to study and substantiate the legend of the St. Thomas conversion and Knanaya migration, we propose to open a heritage museum/Study Center at Kodungallur which will be an institution devoted to the acquisition, conservation, study, exhibition, and educational interpretation of primary tangible evidences having scientific, historical, or artistic value.
The most famous museum in ancient times was that of Alexandria in Egypt, founded by Ptolemy I Soter (ruled 323–283 BC) possibly on the advice of the Athenian Demetrius of Phalerum. It was distinct from the Library, and housed scholars who were supported by the Ptolemies and, after Egypt came under Roman control, by the Roman emperors. There is no evidence that there was provision for formal teaching, but lectures were given and there were many discussions which even the kings might attend; Cleopatra, the last independent ruler of Egypt, is reputed to have done so. Dinners with clever conversation were a characteristic institution of the Museum; a poet of the third century BC described it as the ‘hen-coop of the Muses’. After the foundation of Constantinople in AD 324 many of the Museum scholars are said to have retreated there to avoid the theological controversies of Alexandria.
International Council of Museums defines Museum as "permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment, for the purposes of education, study, and enjoyment". So far as archaeology goes there are three main roles or responsibilities that are fulfilled by museums today: the long-term management and conservation of archaeological materials and associated archives; the presentation of a selection of this material to a range of audiences through displays and other interpretative means; and the researching and investigation of both the archaeological dimensions of the material and also its cultural nature as one of the agents that help to create a contemporary picture of the past. Many museums offer programs and activities for a range of audiences, including adults, children, and families, as well as those for more specific professions. Programs for the public may consist of lectures or tutorials by the museum faculty or field experts, films, musical or dance performances, and technology demonstrations. Many times, museums concentrate on the host region's culture. There are governmental museums, non-governmental or non-profit museums, and privately owned or family museums. Museums can be a reputable and generally trusted source of information about cultures and history.  The museum is usually run by a director, who has a curatorial staff that cares for the objects and arranges their display. Large museums often will have a research division or institute, which are frequently involved with studies related to the museum's items, as well as an education department, in charge of providing interpretation of the materials to the general public. The director usually reports to a higher body, such as a governmental department or a board of trustees. Objects come to the collection through a variety of means. Either the museum itself or an associated institute may organize expeditions to acquire more items or documentation for the museum. More typically, however, museums will purchase or trade for artifacts or receive them as donations or bequests.
The design of museums has evolved throughout history. Museum creation begins with a museum plan, created through a museum planning process. Some of these experiences have very few or no artifacts and do not necessarily call themselves museums; the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, being notable examples where there are few artifacts, but strong, memorable stories are told or information is interpreted. In contrast, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. uses many artifacts in their memorable exhibitions. Notably, despite their varying styles, the latter two were designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates. Most mid-size and large museums employ design staff for graphic and environmental design projects, including exhibitions. In addition to traditional 2-D and 3-D designers and architects, these staff departments may include audio-visual specialists, software designers, audience research and evaluation specialists, writers, editors, and preparators or art handlers. These staff specialists may also be charged with supervising contract design or production services. The present project will combine the meaning of museum into an academy as an edifice of a living monument which is the ancient Knanaya community in Kerala.
Heritage tourism is a branch of tourism oriented towards the cultural heritage of the location where tourism is occurring. Culture has always been a major object of travel. Cultural attractions play an important role in tourism at all levels, from the global highlights of world culture to attractions that underpin local identities. According to the Weiler and Hall, culture, heritage and the arts have long contributed to appeal of tourist destination. However, in recent years ‘culture’ has been rediscovered as an important marketing tool to attract those travelers with special interests in heritage and arts. According to the Hollinshead, cultural heritage tourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry because there is a trend toward an increase specialization among tourists. This trend is evident in the rise in the volume of tourists who seek adventure, culture, history, archaeology and interaction with local people. Cultural heritage tourism is important for various reasons; it has a positive economic and social impact, it establishes and reinforces identity, it helps preserve the cultural heritage, with culture as an instrument it facilitates harmony and understanding among people, it supports culture and helps renew tourism (Richards, 1996). The objectives which Cultural heritage tourism must meet within the context of sustainable development are - the conservation of cultural resources, accurate interpretation of resources, authentic visitors’ experience and the stimulation of the earned revenues of cultural resources. Cultural heritage tourism is not only concerned with identification, management and protection of the heritage values but it must also be involved in understanding the impact of tourism on communities and regions, achieving economic and social benefits, providing financial resources for protection, as well as marketing and promotion (J. M. Fladmark, 1994).  The overall purpose is to gain an appreciation of the past. It also refers to the marketing of a location to members of a Diaspora who have distant family roots there.

The project revolves around the theme of the Knanaya and Nasrani Sabha of Kerala. These communities have existed as the Thekkumbhagom and Vadakkumbhagom communities since ancient times. The core of the project is to trace the origins of these two communities prior to the 4th century and also their activities from the 4th Century till the 16th Century.
While the Vadakkumbhagom origins could possibly be traced to the unconfirmed advent of St. Thomas to Muziris in about AD 52, the Thekkumbhagom community is believed to have migrated to Kodungallur from three different places in the Middle East – Cana/Jerusalem, Edessa and Mesopotamia. The 72 migrant families are believed to have belonged to 7 Tribes – Haddai, Belkuth, Mezboth, Thezvoth, Baji, Khoja and Kujalik (according to Sri. E M Philip). But both these communities show a strong influence of the Essene community that existed in the wilderness of the Dead Sea coast at Qumran near Masada upto the 1st Century AD until they were resettled in the caves of Edessa and the marshlands of Iran, Iraq and Sabaa or Yemen. This community, also known as the Jamesian Community, was revered for their simplicity, piety, humility and perseverance in upholding their faith without succumbing to torture, humiliation or pressure.
 It is also believed that this Jamesian community is the remnant group which was preserved by God as the Holy community from the time of Noah. History claims that this community became extinct after the Synod of Nicea in 325 AD when all the Nazarene sects were forced to merge into the Universal Christian Church shedding their Jewish identity upon the threat of excommunication. But could this community have died out or did this community merge with the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala? Could a community chosen by God to be the remnant ones become extinct by the act of man? Is the Knanaya community a remnant community preserved thus far by God? What happened to the remaining members of the Knanaya community that did not take the ship to Kodungallur in AD 345? Did they perish in their identity or are they somewhere out there in the Middle East still holding on to their identity? Can this community come to an end because there is a talk that the membership of the community is dwindling rapidly? Are we seeing a weeding out process from the Holy Remnant Community? Or, is this community a mere creation of superstitions and caste identity adopted from the ancient Kerala caste system? This is the core matter which needs to be probed through this project and the answer should be found and published to the interested audience across the globe.  
The odyssey of the remnant Knanaya community of Kerala is the subject matter of this project and thus this project has nothing to do with religious emotion or creation of a mythical story to justify any particular Church denomination. The study will be led by internationally acclaimed academicians involved in research into ancient Jewish, Nazarene, Christian, Muslim and Hindu communities besides the archaeologists, anthropologists and secular historians involved in studies regarding the ancient Spice trade of Muziris. A 50 cent property is being acquired at the northern river bank of the Periyar adjacent to the ancient Kottapuram market which once served as the major port for the loading of the European ships with spices and other products of trade. This site will serve as a study center cum museum with accommodation and other facilities. The Study Center will be the rallying point for research and will invite the above scholars to conduct seminars, help in translations as well as interpretation of ancient texts. There will be a resident history community who will be employed to study the ancient evidences which will be acquired from different parts of the world and which will consist of copies of source documents in ancient languages such as Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Portuguese and Dutch besides commentaries in French, German and English. The students will be involved in understanding these source documents from the perspective of the Knanaya and St. Thomas Christians and will translate these works based on these local perspectives for which they will involve internationally renowned scholars. The works will be published by the Research Center in the local vernacular as well as in English meant for the international audience. Hence there will be a book shop selling publications of other publishers as well as own publications. A good income will come in the form of residential accommodation and tutoring of heritage oriented tourists on an academic holidy where they could be given an insight into the findings of the research center. The hospitality part of this cultural heritage tourism will be handled very professionally by experts in the Hospitality industry. There will be ten rooms available at a rate of about Rs. 1500/- per day. An entry fee of about Rs. 50/- will be charged against each visitor to the Museum maintained by the academy. There will be a well researched ethnic Syrian Nazarene restaurant and bakery which will serve Nasrani cuisine and rice based food products to the residents and guests at a healthy price. 30% occupancy of the rooms will give an income of about Rs. 135,000/- per month. We expect about 200 visitors per week to the museum which will fetch an income of about Rs. 40,000/- per month. Hence, we anticipate an initial income of Rs. 175,000/- which will give a healthy operational profit to keep the operations functioning smoothly. Over course of time, with added interest in the project, the occupancy and museum visits will increase giving a much higher turnover of atleast Rs. 400,000/- per month or an annual turnover of Rs. 50 Lakhs. This income will be over and above the income earned from the ethnic restaurant and bakery as well as sale of publications. This centre can accommodate atleast 4000 Knanaya youth per annum so as to guide the interested community youth about the antiquity of the historic community.
According to the Tourism Industry experts, heritage tourism is tipped to be the emerging model for international travel and tourism, where tourists known as the Alert Informed Individuals belonging to respected global communities with high income, seek mental stimulation by learning and understanding various communities and activities in other parts of the world. The Kerala State Government has initiated a Muziris Heritage Tourism project at a cost of Rs. 140 Crores covering Pallipuram, Paravur, Chennamangalam and Kodungallur. The project is based on the recent excavations by the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) in 2007 & 2008 which unearthed the archaeological and historical evidence confirming the location of the ancient port of Muziris at Pattanam in Paravur. This excavation project proved to be a turning point as it provided a wealth of information on the surrounding areas covering the hinterland of the Muziris port and the whole Periyar basin. Muziris was an active port from the 1st century BC onward, not only for Indo-Roman trade, but also trade with Jews, Nazarenes, Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, British, and many other travellers. The project draws inspiration from all this evidence and is called the Muziris Heritage Site (MHS). The Muziris Heritage Project naturally lends itself to bringing back memories of the past and the project is not about tourism or recreation alone. It is about making a difference - a big difference to conservation, restoration, the study of history, environmental projects, research, development of craft and art forms, occupations and other community activities also.

The Knanaya Nazarene Academy in Muziris is intended to blend into the Muziris Heritage Project of the State Government and shall focus on the study, research and propagation of the antiquity of the community and its practices. The project will be based on the Essene community model. A special advisory Board will be set up to oversee and advise the Company in the project consisting of experts such as Mr. Jose Dominic, the Chairman and Managing Director of CGH Earth (formerly Casino Group) and distinguished scholars such as Dr. Robert Eisenman, Dr. Shalva Weil, Dr. Federico De Romanis and Dr. Shinu Abraham besides others who will be incorporated according to the need of the period to aid and advise the Company to fulfill its objective.  Mr. Jose Dominic has agreed to be the Chairman of this Board and is highly regarded as a man with the vision to make the Muziris Project an Internationally visible cultural center. He has played host to many of the international scholars who have toured Kerala regarding research in the subject matter and they have all been very appreciative of the hospitality at his various resorts such as Coconut Lagoon, Marari Beach Resort, Spice Village, Brunton Boatyard and Casino Hotel. His vast experience and expertise in the Hospitality industry combined with his interest in the subject matter of this project will ensure that the project is run at very high standards. The management Board of the Company shall implement the recommendations of the Advisory Boa

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