October 15, 2020
An inter-religious group took an important step towards promoting religious harmony at Pavoor recently at the border of Karnataka and Kerala. As K. T. Vinobha reported in The Times of India, residents cutting across religions and political parties united to make Pavoor a harmonious village through several initiatives. One is a single entrance Arch (Dwara) for temple, mosque and church. It will bear the name of Sri Vidyanath Temple, Al-Mubarak Juma Masjid and Infant Jesus Church. It is dedicated to the former MLA of the area, late UT Farid, father of Mangaluru MLA U T Khader.
It is interesting to note that Pavoor is the scene of another religious/linguistic integration movement which was initiated over a century ago by an Italian missionary and still survives. Essentially, it is the only church in the world which offers Mass and other religious services in Tulu. Here is an overview based on my site-visit and personal interviews with local church leaders – 20 years ago.
But for my above intro, it would come as a pleasant surprise to Tulu language enthusiasts that the only church in the world which conducts religious services in Tulu is at Pavoor in Kerala. Pavoor is 25 KM south of Mangaluru. The Holy Cross Church, which is host to the Tulu service is situated at a distance of 100 metres from the road on which service buses ply.
Church services mainly involve the Holy Mass, mixed with singing of hymns and recitation of prayers. Till the middle of last century the Holy Mass, the pivot of Christian service in the church, was in Latin and only the priest knew what he was saying, though the brief responses from the altar boys and the congregation were also in Latin. The singing and prayers were in English or in any local language. Then Latin was given up to encourage meaningful participation of the congregation and local inculturation.
The unique service in Tulu at the Pavoor church has an interesting background. Though now in Kerala, Kasargod was once part of the old Madras Province along with South Kanara. However, the geographical area of Tulu Nadu extends to Kasargod. Even the Catholic Diocese of Mangalore covers churches in Kasargod deanary with a dozen churches. Whereas in the other churches in the area Konkani and Kannada are used for church services, the main parochial church service at Pavoor church on Sundays is in Tulu.
At the main morning service the hymns are sung in Tulu, prayers are recited in Tulu and the sermon is preached in Tulu. There is a book of prayers in Tulu titled Dyanada Book. There is also a hymn book titled Bhakti Geethalu. Hymns in Tulu are dubbed from Konkani and Kannada hymn books.
Strangely, the credit for introducing Tulu at the Pavoor church goes to an Italian Jesuit priest who first came to St Aloysius College. After coming to Mangalore in 1897, Fr Alexander Canissa, born in 1868 in North Italy, spent one year at Suratkal learning Tulu. He continued his Tulu studies at Jeppu Seminary where he was teacher for preparing young aspirants for the priesthood. While there, Fr Alexander came across persons belonging to a nomadic tribe who made a miserable living weaving baskets and doing odd jobs for a pittance. When Fr Alexander started the Pavoor mission in 1913 it was a barren landscape. He obtained 300 acres of land from the government and settled tribal families there. For the first time they had land of their own to settle down and give up their nomadic life. Over the years these settlers have done some cultivation and sent their children for education. Fr Alexander laboured in this mission till 1940 – for 27 years. Then he went on to become chaplain in some convents and finally retired to Vienny Home, the erstwhile auspice for aged priests, attached to Fr Muller Hospital, Kankanady, and died there in 1955.
Thus the Tulu language services were initiated because the original settlers in Pavoor parish were illiterate, knowing neither Kannada nor Konkani, the dominant church service language in the region.
The new generation of the original settlers is literate and can follow Konkani and Kannada. But, Tulu is well-rooted.