Christianity came to India even before it entered Europe and in India, it is believed to have come to Kerala at first. Common belief is that Saint Thomas, a direct disciple of Jesus Christ visited Kerala after the death of Christ and he converted many people to Christianity.
Palayur and Chavakkadu have prominent place in the history of Christianity in Kerala. Palayur was very famous even before Christ and it has business relations with Egypt, Greece and Arabia. Many Jews used to reside in this small town in ancient times. Although there are now Jews now, there are many structures to remind their presence. Jootha bazaar (Jew Market) and Jootha Kunnu (Hillocks of Jews) are a few among them.
When Saint Thomas got down at Musris, Present day Kodungalloor, he directly went to Palayur as it was very famous then. There many Jews got attracted with his speech and converted to Christianity. Thus, Palayur town became a center of Christianity and it even enjoyed the nick name “Rome of the East”.
At the place where the present day church is situated, there was a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Later, when the devotees got converted into Christianity, the temple too got converted as a church. It was in 1607, a modern church has been constructed at the place. Construction has been carried out by an Italian priest Feni Paul.
As mentioned earlier, Palayur and Chavakkadu have great significance in the history of Christianity in Kerala. It is believed that Saint Thomas converted the first Indian at this place. The legend goes like this.
Saint Thomas was traveling through the river on a boat where he saw a group of Brahmins performing death rituals. He stopped his boat and watched it curiously. At the end of the rituals, the Brahmins took water in their hands and threw it upwards.
Saint approached them and asked then why they threw water up. They explained that it was a ritual to get salvation for the soul and at the end when they threw the water up, it will cleanse the soul. Saint Thomas told them he could not believe what they said. He further asked them why the water drops are falling down. His argument was that if the souls are there, the drops should get stuck with them and will not fall back.
When the Brahmins stood answerless, he told them that he can keep the water drops in the atmosphere with his divine power. Brahmins challenged him to show and Saint took a handful of water and threw it up. To the utter surprise of the Brahmins, none of the drops fell down but remained in the atmosphere.
Seeing this divine act, one of the Brahmins expressed his willingness to join Saint Thomas. He took a handful of water and poured it over the head of that Brahmin. That is believed to be the first baptism conducted in India.
However, the remaining Brahmins could not agree with the one who got converted. They became angry too with his act. They cursed that the place will never develop and they left the place. The place that bearing the curse came to be known as Shapakkadu (Forest with a curse) soon and later it got corrupted to Chavakkadu.
Although the curse was there, Chavakkadu experienced its immense development in the coming years. It became very famous even in foreign countries. However, the invasion of Tipu Sultan changed the fate of this international business center.
Many Christians had to leave the place and had to seek refuge in nearby Travancore during Tipu’s invasion. He even attacked the Palayur Church. Thus, Chavakadu lost its glory.