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Devasahayam Pillai, first India to be a ‘saint’

  • Category
    History
  • Published
    23rd Nov, 2021

Context

Devasahayam Pillai, an 18th-century Hindu convert to Christianity, would be the first Indian layman (a non-ordained member of the Church) to be made a saint.

About

Who was Devasahayam Pillai?

  • He was born on 23rd April 1712 in the village of Nattalam in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari District.
  • Known as Nilakanda Pillai before embracing Christianity, he grew up in an upper-caste family of temple priests.
  • He went on to serve in the court of Travancore’s Maharaja Marthanda Varma. It was here that he met a Dutch naval commander, who taught him about the Catholic faith.
  • He became a Catholic in 1745. Pillai took the Christian name Lazarus but later came to be known as Devasahayam (God’s help).
    • Lazarus means “God is my help”.
  • He then faced the wrath of the Travancore state, which was against his conversion.
  • He faced harsh persecution and imprisonment during the 18th century when he decided to convert to Christianity.
  • On 14th January 1752, just seven years after he became a Catholic, Devasahayam was shot dead in the Aralvaimozhy forest. 
    • Since then, he has widely been considered a martyr by the Catholic community in South India.
    • His body is at Saint Francis Xavier Cathedral in the Diocese of Kottar (Tamil Nadu).
  • The Church is of the view that his preaching of equality of all people despite caste differences eventually led to his martyrdom.

Approval of sainthood

  • Devasahayam Pillai was first approved for sainthood in February 2020 for “enduring increasing hardships” after he decided to embrace
  • Now, he is going to be the first Indian layman to be declared a saint.
  • He is to be declared a saint by the Vatican in May 2022. 
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