By Larry Peterson
He was born as Nilikandan Pillai* in 1712 in the southern part of the Indian sub-continent. He grew up serving in the palace of King Marthanda Varma, the ruler of Travancore in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu. Nilikandan was a good man and a hard worker who always tried his best to do the right thing. The King liked him, but Nilikindan lost much of his possessions after several poor harvests. He was very depressed and feared losing the respect of the King and the people.
Nilikandan explained his problems to a devout Catholic man, a Dutch official by the name of Benedictus Eustachio de Lannoy. Benedictus explained to Nilikandan the meaning of suffering. He told him how Catholics had to put their trust in God for all things. Nilikandan came to believe and, after nine months of preparation, was baptized by Father Giovanni Butarri, a Jesuit missionary. The year was 1745, and he took the name Devasahayam which is the Tamil translation of the biblical name, Lazarus, which means “God has helped.”
On his Baptism day, Devasahayam dedicated himself solemnly to Christ. He prayed, ““No one forced me to come; I came by my own free will. I know my heart: He is my God. I have decided to follow Him and will do so my whole life.” His life was no longer the same; Devasahayam dedicated himself to the proclamation of the Gospel for four years.
The leaders of the local religions were quite upset with Devasahayam’s conversion to Christianity. He began being threatened and soon after beaten. Before long, he was imprisoned and tortured. This went on for three years. Despite the brutal treatment, Devasahayam remained steadfast in his faith. His wife, Bhargavi Ammal, also became Catholic. She took the name Gnanapoo which means Theresa. The combined conversion of both the husband and wife seriously offended the upper-caste Hindus, and the King commanded Devasahayam to reconvert to Hinduism. He refused.
Devasahayam was setting an example that many people began to follow. The king was furious and ordered his arrest. The year was 1749 and Devasahayam was charged with treason and espionage. He was dragged into prison,m tortured and then banished to the Aralaimozhy Forest, in a remote section of the country. Documents attest to the fact that on the journey to the forest Devasahayam was beaten regularly, had pepper rubbed in his wounds and into his nostrils, was exposed to the brutal sun, and given contaminated water to drink.
Crying, he prayed to God and fell, smashing his elbow on a rock. Water poured from the rock, and it was drinkable water. This rock continues to pour forth water to this day and people visit the fountain in large numbers. Many have received miraculous cures from drinking the water. It is called Muttidichanparai meaning the rock from which water gushed forth.
In 1752, he was taken into Pandya country near the edge of the forest. He was in deep meditation when people from the nearby village began visiting the holy man. The Hindus decided it was time to get rid of Devasahayam. A soldier went up to where Devasahayam was praying and attempted to shoot Devasahayam, but his gun would not fire. Devasahayam took the gun in his hand and blessed it. Then he gave it back to the soldier, and the soldier aimed and fired five times, killing Devasahayam. His body was cast over a cliff near the foothills of Kattadimala. The date was January 14, 1752.
Local Christians retrieved the body and buried Devasahayam in front of the altar of St. Francis Xavier Church, which today is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Kottar. He was declared Blessed by Pope Benedict XVI on December 2, 2012. He has been known as Blessed Devasahayam Pailli.*
Since a new miracle has been credited to Blessed Devasahayam and he will now be declared a saint, the caste name of Pailli will be dropped. He is, until canonization, Blessed Devasahayam. He will become Saint Devasahayam.
*Pillai is a Hindu caste name. Apparently it was never used when he was baptized. People from that caste did not want the Pillai name included with a Catholic saint’s name. The Vatican issued a decree approving this request on February 25, 2020.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2020