Saint Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart

Saint Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1877-1952)

“A Spouse to the Divine and a Mother to All Humans”

April 3, 2014 was a day cherished by all Indians. On that significant day, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to proceed with the decrees concerning the miracles attributed to Blessed Euphrasia of the Blessed Heart. This confirmed his approval of her canonization .  The ceremony of canonization took place on 23 November, 2014 and the simple nun (Evuprasiamma, C.M.C) from Ollur in Thrissur diocese was officially elevated to sainthood. The required second miracle had already taken place. Through her intercession, a seven-year old boy, Master Jewel Jenson from Kallettumkara, in Irinjalakuda (Kerala),  was miraculously cured of a thyroglossal cyst in 2006. Jewel was present at the official ceremony in Vatican.

A life filled with simple acts of kindness and a life fired by the intense love of God!  Here we have, in a nutshell, the three quarters of a century that Blessed Euphrasia breathed and walked the earth.  She is honored with so many nomenclatures that we see the diverse impressions she made on the people who were fortunate enough to have known her during her temporal residence in the then Thrissur diocese of the Syro-Malabar Church in India.  To some, she was the “Praying Mother”, to others she was the “Mobile Tabernacle”, yet to some others she was the symbol of complete obedience to the divine will, and to a large number of people,  she was someone “who did not forget even after death”, the ultimate refuge and problem solver in all their times of worry and trouble.  This woman of low stature and lack of ambitions stands tall today as one of the acknowledged members of the Church Triumphant and as the Bloom in the Carmel courtyard.  Her memorable words,”Even after death, I will not forget!” still resound in the minds of many.

From the seventy-nine letters to her spiritual director, seventy-four complete and five incomplete, the letter to her niece at the time of her wedding, letter to Sr. Angela from her own postulant group, and the letter to Blessed Mariam Thresia,  all written in Blessed Euphrasia’s own neat hand,  her handwritten prayers, and from the numerous eyewitnesses of her life, emerges a picture of a woman of sanctity, a woman who consecrated her life to the sole purpose of atoning for the sins of humanity. In the process, the same woman, in humility, obedience, and purity, extends her love to the whole humanity, from the lowliest maid to the high prelates of the Church.  Her love of God enabled her to care deeply about her faith and her Church, caring fervently about everyone around her, regardless of their apparent importance in the social and cultural structure of society.

Blessed Euphrasia was born on October 17, 1877 to Anthony and Kuññethy of the Eluvathingal Cherpukaran family in the village of Kattoor, in the parish of Edathuruthy, in the Diocese of Thrissur (in today’s diocese of Irinjālakuda). She was baptized, according to local customs, on the eighth day after her birth, on October 25.  She was named Rosa after St. Rose of Lima, whose virtues set a standard for young Rosa and which set her on a road of holiness.  She had three brothers and a younger sister who did not live to see maturity.  Her family was devout and her mother, by her example, instilled in her daughter the special devotion to the Virgin Mary.  She inherited from her mother the calm, unassuming manner while she inherited from her father the firm determination to stay the course until her destination was reached.  To her dismay, she also found that she matched him in hot temper and, throughout her life, she fought to control that temper.

From a very young age, Rosa found that the vain fineries and their pomp and displaywere not for her.  When she was nine years old, she was blessed with a vision of a beautiful woman (Virgin Mary) who  instructed her in an itinerary of prayers of adoration of Our Lord  at every hour (letter, Feb. 18, 1904).  At the same age, she espoused herself to the crucified Lord and wanted to share in His suffering.

Rosa’s family wished for her to marry, but, she was steadfast in her espousal to Jesus and was adamant in following the life of a Religious. She prayed fervently and the parents bent to God’s will. After the death of her younger sister, on October 24, 1888 her father personally took Rosa to the St. Anne’s boarding school of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel at Koonammāvu near Palai, where those who aspire to a Religious life were trained. This was the first indigenous convent of the Syro-Malabar Church and it was established by Blessed Chavara Kuriakose and Leopold Beccaro, the Italian Carmelite Missionary.  Rosa spent nine years in this school and the monastic, well-disciplined, and prayerful life of the boarding school suited Rosa perfectly.

Rosa had some rudimentary education at Kattoor and a little more at Aranattukara.  At Koonammāvu, the academic curriculum included Malayalam, Tamil, English, Mathematics, and Music.  Needlework, drawing, and some handicrafts like making rosaries were also added to the academic syllabus.  Rosa excelled in needlework and drawing and had beautiful penmanship, but she was backward in her academic studies.

Rosa’s path was not easy.  Her health was fragile and she was afflicted with various illnesses that caused great suffering.  The Sisters felt that Rosa did not have the physical stamina for a Religious life and wanted to send her back home for treatment.  She feared that she would not be allowed to return.  She placed her trust in the Blessed Mother and prayed hard.  In September 1889, she was struck by rheumatism and all medical treatments were futile.  The Sisters arranged for the “viaticum” to be brought to her and everyone readied themselves for the imminent departure of the frail girl. Suddenly, the emaciated face glowed with a new light and she reached her arms to someone no one else could see.  She sat up fully recovered.  She had a visitation from the Holy Family who promised her a long life as a Religious. Mother Agnes of Koonammāvu enquired Rosa about what transpired in the sick room and she made a note of the miraculous healing.  Later, when it was time for Rosa to become a postulant, she sent the note to the Bishop of Thrissur with an added comment that the vision had changed her decision to send the girl back to her home.

This was a time of great upheavals in the ecclesiastical administration of the Syrian Church in Kerala. Till this time, the Vatican appointed only European vicargenerals and bishops in Kerala.  The Syrian Christians were unhappy about this and made many appeals to the Holy See.  As a result, in 1887, two vicariates, Thrissur and Kōttayam,  were formed from the diocese of Varāppally,  Thrissur under an English Bishop and Kōttayam under a French Bishop.  The situation was not completely satisfactory.  After repeated requests for local Bishops, a different division was made in 1896, creating the Vicariates of Thrissur, Ernākulam, and Changanāssèry (eliminating Kōttayam), all three governed by local Bishops. Mar John Mènachèry  became the first Malayālee Bishop of Thrissur and assumed his charge on October 25, 1896.  He established the St. Joseph’s Convent of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel at Ambazhakkādu (in today’s diocese of Irinjālakuda) on May 9, 1897.  He transferred the Sisters and aspirants belonging to Thrissur diocese from the Koonammāvu convent to Ambazhakkādu. Rosa of the Eluvathingal family was one of them.

On May 10, 1897, along with nine companions, Rosa became a postulant in the Carmelite Congregation adopting the name of Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart.  The Greek name meant “joy” or “delight” and it was appropriate.  Sr. Euphrasia experienced another miraculous healing when she was three months into  her postulant stage.  Her frail health always left her on the tenterhooks of anxiety over her future as the Religious.  She experienced many dark hours of the soul.  But, for all her grave illnesses and trials of the dark dominions, she was often rewarded with intense ecstasies.

Sr. Euphrasia received the habit of the novice in the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel on May 10, 1898 and her Vestition marked a milestone in her path of humility, holiness, and extreme fortitude and renunciation, a path to perfect oblation.

Sr. Euphrasia’s life as a novice passed through a period of some vibrant changes in the history of the diocese, especially in that of the Carmelite Order.  People of Ollur, a nearby parish of Thrissur, wished for a convent and home for widows and their children.  The newly ordained bishop had some plans of his own, which coincided with the wish of the people to some extent.  He made arrangements for a convent, a school, and a boarding house and the people were willing to go along with a convent of Sisters instead of a convent of widows.  In the name of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a convent rose from its foundation.  Sr. Euphrasia completed her ten day retreat prior to her Profession of the permanent vows and came to Ollur for the momentous day in her life. On the Feast of Ascension, on May 24, 1900, the St. Mary’s Convent of Ollur was blessed.  On the same day, Sr. Euphrasia professed her permanent vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and the Church officially accepted the avowal of her self-offering.  From that day, her focus never shifted from the Love residing in the tabernacle and for long hours, she kept vigil in front of the tabernacle throughout her life.

From the time that Sr. Euphrasia was a novice, Mar John Mènachèry, the Bishop of Thrissur,  was her Confessor and Spiritual Director.  This connection continued for nearly twenty years until the demise of the Bishop on December 19, 1919.  He directed her to write everything down when she did not have occasions to speak to him directly and she obeyed.  He treasured her letters, eight written from Ambazhakkādu and all the others written from Ollur.

From 1904 to 1913, Sr. Euphrasia was appointed the first Novice Mistress of the Order and the novices.  She was attentive to every novice and noticed every detail of their physical and spiritual well being.  Even without being told, she knew when help was needed.  She was an avid advocate of her novices.

While Sr. Euphrasia served as the Novice Mistress, a momentous encounter took place. Mar John Mènachèry sent Mariam Thresia of Puthenchira to Ollur for a period of discernment. Although they were contemporaries, Mariam Thresia was placed under the then Novice Mistress for the period starting from November 26, 1912 to January 27, 1913.   This was the first time that Mariam Thresia had an occasion to compare notes with someone who also experienced heavenly visits, diabolical attacks, and spiritual ecstasies.

In 1913, another change took place in the life of Sr. Euphrasia.  She was promoted to the position of the Mother Superior.  From the depth of her soul, she felt that she was not up to the onerous task.  But, she solved the difficulty by entrusting all the responsibilities to the Sacred Heard of Jesus.

After her term as the Mother Superior,  Mother Euphrasia was transferred to Manalur on April 14, 1916.  She served as the Assistant Mother Superior.  After six months, she had to return to Ollur because of the return of her companion, the rheumatism, and the addition of  high fever and sputum stained in blood.  The damp climate did not suit her health and the treatment she needed was not available at Manalur.  The only other time she was away from Ollur was in 1928.  For two years, she was at Ambazhakkādu.  When the contagious cholera was contracted by one of the novices, only Mother Euphrasia had the courage and willingness to minister to the patient, performing even the lowest tasks.  On many other occasions, she was the willing nurse at the side of anyone who was ill or at verge of death.

Meanwhile, Mother Euphrasia was undergoing personal sorrows and losses.  Her father passed away in 1913 and her mother left this world ten years later.  Her family’s circumstances changed to poverty and some of her family members fell into drunkenness.  .  It only added to the crosses she chose to bear and added to  the humiliations she chose to accept.

Mother Euphrasia was an illustration of the conventual rules.  She practiced solitude, silence, prayer, eye control, penance, and poverty. But, she always obeyed the rules and was stringent and open in criticizing if there were any infractions, even if it made her unpopular.  To her, obedience was equal to a submission to the Divine Will.  The rheumatism, which she contracted when she was young, never left her and was a boon companion.  She was always in pain. She was frail from her illnesses, fasting, and abstinences.  She could not undertake any heavy physical labors.  She abstained from meat, fish, and eggs on four days of the week in addition to her fasting. She who liked delicious foods very much denied herself that pleasure.  She chose the most tasteless foods or added more salt or other items to make the food lose its good taste.  She did not possess much and gave away even the daily necessities even if she could barely spare it.  She often wore an old brown habit. All her clothing items were old and darned many times for longer wear.  The curtains in her cell were also worn and displayed many patchworks.

Mother Euphrasia’s letters speak of a woman who wished to lead an anonymous, unremarkable life filled with penance and abject lowliness,  Many times she repeated that anything she wrote was for the Bishop’s eyes only.  She wanted her experiences kept as a secret.  Written in black ink, on 21cmx29cm paper folded in half, often decorated with floral designs in her own hand, these letters reveal a soul’s journey to salvation.  Mother Euphrasia had uncanny premonitions and visitations about the future.  Letter 37 is a clear indication of the divine sharing of what was to come.  Blessed Mother had already indicated to her that the legal battle between the Roman Catholics and Chaldean Syrian group for the ownership of the old church of our Lady of Dolours would be a losing battle for Bishop John Mènachèry (Letter 53).  But the Blessed Virgin explained that the loss is for a good reason.  The building for a new church started in 1925 when the Maharaja of Kochi granted the deed , urging them to build the largest church in Asia.  Today, the Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours proudly stands at the downtown area of Thrissur, the tallest and largest church in Asia.

Above all, Mother Euphrasia was a mother to all.  She always looked after the comfort of others while neglecting her own.  She willingly worked in the kitchens, in the infirmary, and at the construction sites.  When everyone left for the day, she would collect a bucket and water and do the meanest of jobs, including cleaning the bathrooms.

Evening was silently sliding into night.  The chapter of Mother Euphrasia was also coming to a close.  The year 1950 was the Golden Jubilee year for her and it was celebrated along with the Jubilee of the convent. At seventy-two years of age, she was feeling weariness and started to hint at her departure from this world.  Memory losses started to plague her.  On August 26, 1952, she went for her Sacrament of Reconciliation.  After finishing it, she got up, but knelt down and started all over again.  Father Luis CMI who was her Confessor realized that something was wrong and asked another Sister to help her.  Mother, with the help of her stick and the Sister on the other side, barely made it to her room.  She had already paralyzed on one side and her memory loss was heightening. Her speech was strained and garbled.  She tried very hard to make herself understood.  Finally, she asked for paper and pen and made her request for the Last Sacraments.  Fr. Luis administered them realizing that her end was near.  This news spread fast and the sisters and local people came running to get a last glimpse of her. She smiled and blessed them all.  On Friday, August 29, 1952 she went to her eternal sleep after receiving the last blessing from the Convent Chaplain, Father Joseph Chittilappilly.   She was buried in a tomb in the shadow of the statue of the Blessed Mother.  Her physical remains stayed there for thirty-seven years.

Mother Euphrasia did not forget even after death.  She who did not travel far from the four walls of the convent was sought by people from far and wide and they received many favors. Thrissur Bishop George Alapatt published the Prayer for Canonization on August 29, 1963.  He had come upon her letters.  When he retired, he entrusted them to the Superior of the Carmelites of Thrissur.   His successor, Bishop Joseph Kundukulam, instituted the Docessan Tribunal in 1988.  The tomb of Mother Euphrasia was identified and opened  and her remains were reinterred in 1990.  Nine years later, the Congregation for the Cause of Saints in Rome received the Positio on the virtues of the Servant of God.  In the fiftieth anniversary year of her passage, Pope John Paul II declared her “Venerable”.  On Sunday, December 3, 2006, she was beatified and became the fifth Keralite to become a “Blessed”.

The definitive miracle that was accepted officially to elevate the Servant of God to the beatified state occurred to T. P. Thomas.  He was a furniture polisher and he was diagnosed with bone cancer.  Surgery and radiation were prescribed by the medical experts.  His sister Rosy fervently believed in the mediation of Mother Euphrasia and prayed intermittently, begging for a miracle because she believed that a miracle was the only solution to her brother’s problem.  When the doctors repeated the scanning, they found that the abnormal growth had disappeared and he was completely cured of  cancer, without any surgery and/or radiation.

Blessed Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart did not build edifices, did not establish institutions, did not lead social movements, and did not aspire to heights of leadership in her congregation.  Leading an apparently insignificant life, shrinking her self into the lowest tasks, and seeking refuge in her Heavenly Mother and love in her Divine Spouse, the little nun  spread the largesse of her love to all around her.  Her love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus burned in such intensity that she was willing to immolate herself in it.  Her faith and dependence in her Mother was so steadfast that she forged ahead with childlike confidence.  But, to all around her, she was the “mother” who watched over them with her keen eyes and extended her hand any time there was a need, whether physical or spiritual, whether it was due to physical hunger and hard labor or the spiritual hunger of indecision over the future of one’s vocation or some emotional storms raging inside destroying all peace of mind. She was the “mother” who did not forget even after death.  This diminutive figure of a woman, with no heights of learning or other pedantic achievements or elevated ideologies that would thrill the theologians,  nurtured a life filled with prayer, suffering, and compassion.  Here, in Blessed Euphrasia, we have the true handmaiden of the Lord.

References:

  1. Euphrasiammayudé Likhithangal. Fr. A. Matthias Mundadan CMI, Euphrasia Publications, Ollur, 2001
  2. Blessed Euphrasia, Beatification Souvenir. Ed. Sr. Cleopatra CMC, St. Mary’s Offset Press, Thrissur, 2006.
  3. The Rose of Carmel. Sr. Cleopatra CMC, St. Mary’s Covent, Ollur, June 2008
  4. Fr. J. Ephrem, C.R. The Praying Mother. Trans. C. A. Regina, Neethiman Press, Choondal, 1999.
  5. Pastor CMC. Thirsting for God. Trans. Sr. Bianca CMC, CMC Publications, Thaikkattukara, Aluva, 2002.
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Convictions and courage

New York Times byline – “Whither Moral Courage?

By SALMAN RUSHDIE

Published: April 27, 2013

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/opinion/sunday/whither-moral-courage.html?pagewanted=all

COMMENT:

Growing up in Kerala in the 50’s and 60’s, one is catapulted right into the middle of political upheavals and ideological uprootings.  The Communist regime  and the popular unrest will always be part of my growing up.

The period was a time of fear in households.  Everyone has read about the Communist regime in the USSR.  A Communist government at home was met with fear and trepidation.  The awareness about Karl Marx’s stand on religion literally scared the believers of all faiths.  Rumors about secret police and and spying neighbors were rampant.  Raids on homes were fearfully expected  and,  in my family of women (grandmother, mother and the three unmarried daughters)  and one young boy, anxiety was growing each day.  My mother had iron bars installed on all doors opening out.  She even buried a fanciful knife in order not to be caught with a ‘lethal’ weapon in the forthcoming raids.  In this environment of fear, it was easy to collect all the people of varying faiths together to rebel against the government of the time.

As a twelve-year old, I probably was the youngest of the thousand and one women who picketed the Collectorate in Thrissur. This 1957 event was a headline grabber. I hung on to my sister’s coat tails and slipped in.  My sister could not be allowed go alone and I was the ‘chaperon’.  Since the event was permitted by the Church, my mother let my sister go with the proviso of my presence. It was a peaceful demonstration and only the front row picketers were picked up by the police and released.  It was  a gesture of moral indignation because a sleeping, pregnant woman named Flory was killed by the bullet fired by the police at another peaceful demonstration.  Women were deeply affected by the incident and they rose up in protest because the killing was a threat to all motherhood and womanhood.  I could feel the collective emotional response from all the women around me.  There was also fear because the armed forces of law were present and no one knew the consequences. Everything about the event was uncharted territory. One has to imagine that these women were sheltered and were not prone to public demonstrations.  The fervor of the moment is still indelibly impressed upon my psyche.  That was a time of convictions and courage.

Our schools were closed because of the new educational policies.  Only the government run schools remained open.  I had plenty of time to indulge in my favorite pastime: reading.  I like crow’s nests.  I was perched on a window sill that faced the driveway and the gate.  I had a good view of the road.  I  still do not know what prompted me to look up from my book and turn to the road.  Since it was village road, the lorry was passing at a rate slower than in the highways.  A lorry was roofless except for the cab.  This one was filled with men with corded muscles and long staffs.  The muscles were visible because the men were shirtless and appeared to be toddy-tappers.  Their Union was always Communist.  Somehow or other, the sight gave me some unease.  I ran down and told the rest of the family about it and we expected that someone was going to be hurt.  Later in the day, as news traveled like wild fire even in those days without mobile phones, we heard what transpired.  The men in the lorry were after a Congress party activist.  They knew that he had been at a jewelry store belonging to a friend.  They came with violence, but they underestimated their prey.  He was trained in martial arts.  He disappeared very quickly from the scene when he saw what was coming.  Not finding him where they expected, the attackers did what men who was looking forward to violence.  They beat up the owner of the store and returned without satisfying their wrath.

In a nostalgic moment, I decided to go through Google to check into this time in history.  I was appalled to find that history has undergone some drastic revision.  The peaceful demonstrations of my time is now pictured as violent demonstrations and the regime of the time is described as a victim.  It must have been my naivete that made me feel so shocked at this blatant disregard for truth.  The only violence was done by the government of the time.  It was the first elected Communist government of Kerala.  The sainted E. M. S. Namboothiripadu was the Chief Minister.  The education Minister Joseph Mundassery’s decisions upset the religious leaders of the day and they joined together to resist the highhanded methods of the party.  People were very much aware of the totalitarian conditions of USSR and China at the time and did not wish for the same purging methods employed in their own land.  The people were perturbed.  They went out into the streets in hordes.  But, they were peaceful.  There were occasions when the government forces used batons and rifles in dealing with the demonstrators. Fifteen people were killed when the police fired at the demonstrators.  It is a fact that Flory was killed in one of these occasions.

Those people who demonstrated against a government whose policies were repugnant to them showed their courage.  But, alas, the revisionists of today show their moral outage and make a mockery of truth.

Jackfruit – Chakka

“Jackfruit, the sticky, sweet and smelly fruit popular along the Konkan coast and Kerala, is ready to cross the seas and make it to the United States of America. There, it will be savoured, sandwiched in a burger and turned into many other products. Once considered a poor man’s fruit, it is now at the heart of a campaign. “ (Times of India, June 12, 2012).  According to TOT, Annamarie Ryu, a Harvard student, tasted jackfruit for the first time last year and the magical taste prompted her to start the Global Village Fruits, Inc. (GVFI) to create a market and help the farmers.  While jackfruit is a common sight throughout Asia, it is largely unknown in the West.  But, the Day has Come!

I was always amazed by the sight of huge jackfruits hanging from the trunks of their trees.  One always expects gravity to pull them down to the ground.  We always see the windfalls of coconuts, mangoes, cherries, etc.  But the jackfruits appeared to be pretty resilient.  Any Malayalee is cognizant of all varieties of ‘chakka’ and its multiple culinary applications. Whether ripe or unripe, cooked or uncooked, ‘chakka’ is versatile in its gustatory appeals.

Belonging to the mulberry family, jackfruit’s binomial name is Artocarpus HeterophyllusIt is the largest known fruit borne by trees. It looks like durian, but is much bigger in size.  In Kerala, it can weigh up to around hundred pounds and its length may vary from eight inches to four feet and the girths are matching to the lengths.  It is believed to have originated in the southwestern forests of India.  Thus, it is indigenous to the rain forests of Western Ghats  (Kerala, Karnataka, and Maharashtra).  Well suited to the tropical lowlands where moisture is a necessity for its growth, it is widely cultivated in the tropical regions of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines.  It is planted in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, former Zanzibar, Caribbean nations like Jamaica, Mauritius, and Queensland.  In the mid-nineteenth century, it was introduced to Brazil and made itself very popular there and in Surinam.

‘Chakka’ is known by many names in many languages. When the Portuguese arrived in Kozhikode in 1498, they came to know of ‘chakka’ and called it ‘jaca’ in their language.  The English word ‘jackfruit’ possibly derived from that.  In 1563, physician and naturist, Garcia de Orta, included the English word ‘jackfruit’ in his book, Colóquios dos simples e drogas da India .   In the seventeenth century, Henrik van Rheede recorded the Malayalam word ‘chakka’ in Hortus Malabaricus which was written in Latin.  The volume’s translation (in the same century) by Henry Yule included it in Mirabilia Descripta: The Wonders of the East.  The table below shows the various names by which ‘chakka’ or the jackfruit  is known across the world.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackfruit)

Bengali kantthal Marathi phaṇas
Catalan kathal Nepali katahar
Central Bikolano langka Norwegian(Bokmal) jackfruct
Chinese ? zang koh Oriya paṇasa
Czech jackfruit Polish Dżakfrut
Dutch nangka Portuguese jaca
Esperanto jakvo Sanskrit panasam
Finnish Jakkihedelmä Sinhala kos or herali
French jacquier Swedish jackfrukt
German jackfrucht Tagalog langka
Hindi Kat hal or kata hal Tamil palappazham
In Luganda ffene Telegu panasa paṇḍu
Indonesian nangkan Thai kanun
Javanese nangka Tongan Mei ʻinitia
Kapampangan yangka Turkish jackfruit
Karnataka halasina haṇṇu Upper Sorbian Wšelakołopjenaty chlěbownik
Konkani panas Urdu phannas

The jackfruit tree is handsome and its height may range from thirty feet to seventy feet.  Its leaves (upto nine inches long) are alternate and have a glossy, leathery look.  They are oblong on mature trees and are deeply lobed on young shoots.

Jackfruit’s popularity in South India ranks just behind mango and banana.  In Tamil Nadu, it is one of the three auspicious fruits known as mukkani . They are referred as ma-pala-vaazhai  (mango-jack-bannana).  More than 100,000 trees are cultivated in backyards and as shades in betel nut, coffee, pepper and cardamom plantations.  Encouragement comes from government levels to cultivate these trees on highways, waterways, and railways to augment the food supply.  In India itself, 14,826 acres of land is under cultivation of the jackfruit trees.  In Sri Lanka, the trees are cultivated in11,000 acres mostly for timber.  The fruit itself is a very welcome byproduct.  The Thais cultivate them mainly for their fruits.  But, the jackfruit could not replace the popularity of breadfruit in the Far East.

Along with breadfruit and pineapple, jackfruit is an example of “multiple fruit” because it is the result of the coalescence of ovaries from multiple, densely packed flowers and a fleshy stem axis to which each ovary is attached.  It is ‘cauliflorous‘  like cacao because the fruits are directly grown from the trunk or older branches.   Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same tree.  The male flowers are seen in the younger wood of the trees, above the female flowers which do not carry pollen.  The female flowers are on short stout twigs on the trunk or large branches. The fruits are oblong and irregular in shape.  The outside of a ripe jackfruit is green, shading towards yellow, and is covered with protuberances which are the crowded pistils. The interior of a ripe jackfruit consists of edible yellow bulbs or ‘chulas’ attached to the stem. Each bulb encloses a smooth, elliptical, light brown seed covered with a white membrane. The seeds are crisp and white within.  There may be a hundred or more seeds in a single fruit.

In Kerala, the jackfruits are known in two varieties: 1. Koozhachakka or Pazhachakka which have soft, fibrous, mushy and sweet fruit sections. 2.  Varikkachakka with firm, crisp fruits which are favored more commercially. There is a small, sweet variety of  Varikkachakka- Thèn Varikka. In Sri Lanka, the same types are known as Vela and Varaka or Waraka respectively and in Thailand, they are known as Kha-nun lamoud  and Kha-nun nang .  Pazhachakka is predominant in the West Indies.  As a youngster, I preferred Pazhchakka, but matured my taste to enjoy the Varikkachakka as I grew older.  The varikkachakka is preferred  for canning.

The jackfruit is best suited for humid tropical and almost tropical climates.  It is sensitive to frost when young and cannot tolerate droughts unless irrigated constantly.  In India, the South and the Himalayan foothills are good homes for the tree.  Jackfruits grown above 4000 feet above sea level are of poor quality and is more useful unripe and cooked.   In sandy soil, it is known to grow tall and thin and short and thick on rocky land.  If the roots reach water, not only will the tree not bear fruit but may possibly die.

The jackfruits mature three to eight months after flowering.  In Kerala and similar climates in Asia, the fruits ripen from March to June.  In other Asian climates, they ripen from April to September or from June to August.  Often, there may be off-season fruits from September to December in Asia.  In the West Indies, they are seen to ripen in June and in Florida, in late Summer or Fall. In India, an average yield is 150 fruits for a tree.  Sometimes, the number may go up to 250.  Some mature trees are known to have produced around 500, usually small in size.  But, these are rare occurrences.  Some find the odor of the unopened fruit disagreeable.   Browning occurs when the fruits are kept too long after ripening.  Attempts at cold storage have been able to keep the fruits for three to six weeks at temperatures between 52 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, at relative humidity of 85 to 95 %. (http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/jackfruit_ars.html)

The jackfruit seeds are the means  of the propagation of this species.  Grafting had not been too successful although a recent method is known to be succeeding where others failed. Trees propagated from seeds bear fruits from three to ten years. But, grafted trees start bearing fruit within three or four years.  In Kerala, grafts are available from Kerala Agriculture University or Agriculture Department farms.

Numerous uses made of the ripe or unripe jackfruit, the seeds, the timber, the leaves, the latex that flows out from the stem, etc.

While cutting the jackfruits, ripe or unripe, one protects the hands from the sticky latex with coated oil to the hands.  The latex that oozes out when cutting the jackfruit can be used, when heated, as household cement for mending broken chinaware and earthenware, for plugging holes in buckets, and as caulking for boats. It is found to be equal to the papaya latex in destroying bacterial cells.  Even though it is not a substitute for rubber, its resin content may be a useful ingredient in varnishes.  It could also be used as bird lime, alone or mixed with the sap or oil of some special trees.

The young jackfruit is known as ‘idichakka’ or ‘idianchakka’ in Kerala and ‘polos’ in SriLanka.  They are very mild in taste when cooked and inedible uncooked.  In Kerala, sometimes it is steamed in big chunks after the outer covering is discarded.  It is then crushed up and seasoned.  Idichakka Thoran is a very popular dish in Kerala.  The tender fruit could be pickled with or without spices.  In many cultures, it is cooked and used as main food.  In Indonesia and Philippines, it is cooked with coconut milk.  In Reunion Island (France), it is cooked with smoked pork or shrimp. The cooked young jackfruit is often compared to  meat.  There is an opinion that the Westerners may find the cooked young jackfruit more to their tastes.

The yellow fruit parts inside a ripe jackfruit may be eaten raw or cooked.  All kinds of cooking preparations are possible with this fruit.  Syrup, custard, jam, jelly, chutney, ice cream, chips, ada, halwa, nectar, or concentrated powder are all possibilities with this fruit.  Even a potent liquor can be fermented  and distilled from this fruit.  Jackfruit pappadums are popular in Goa and Mangalore.  Smoked jackfruits are eaten in Sri Lanka when they are out off season. The tender leaves and the clusters of male flowers are also used in cooking.  Jackfruit makes good cattle fodder.  Sometimes trees are planted in pastures so that the cattle may have access to the fallen fruits.

The seeds of the jackfruit are very appealing.  The raw seeds have a toxin which is eliminated when cooked.  Boiled or roasted, the seeds provide a tasty snack.  They could be preserved in syrup like chestnuts.  They are cooked as vegetables like plantains or potatoes.  In Kerala cuisine, the seeds are often used in vegetarian or nonvegetarian dishes.  Roasted and dried seeds may be pounded to produce a kind of flour that can be mixed with other flours for baking.  The membrane of the seeds are also cooked as a vegetable.

Even the inedible portions of the jackfruit have their uses.  With the addition of citric acid, the rind can be turned into some form of jelly..  A kind of jam thickener is extracted from the peel, the inner rind, or the undeveloped part of the fruit.  Such wasteful parts also produce some liquid that is used for tobacco curing.   The surplus rind and leaves are often fed to cattle.  The leaves are good food wrappers and are used in making ‘idlis’.  They are fastened together as plates and bent to make quick spoons or ladles. These are the biodegradable, disposable plates and utensils obtained from the jackfruit products.  The goats are especially fond of their leaves.  On many occasions,  I have seen those who own goats coming to our house to collect jackfruit leaves to feed their goats.

The jackfruits are sometimes considered useful in medical situations.  The Chinese consider the pulp and the seed as not only cooling and nutritious, but also able to fight the ill effects of the abuse of alcohol.  Roasted seeds are considered, in this culture, as aphrodisiacs and the starch of the seed is considered to be effective against problems with the bile.  Jackfruit leaves burned with coconut shells and corn, mixed with or without coconut oil, are used to heal ulcers.  When the latex is mixed with vinegar, it is supposed to help with the healing of abscesses, snakebites, and the swelling of glands.  Skin diseases and asthma are treated by the roots and an extract of the roots is used against fever and diarrhea.   Leaves, when heated and placed on wounds, are supposed to help.

Jackwood has an attractive and distinctive yellow color .  Bedsteads made of its timber can be seen in many household in Kerala. As it ages, the color transforms from yellow or orange to dark red or brown.  It has almost three quarters of the strength of teak.  It is termite proof and is bacterial resistant.  In India, its yellow wood with good grains is used in making furniture, construction of doors, windows and roofs, masts, brush backs, etc.  The avani palaka or the decorative seat of the poojari is made from jackwood.   The wood  is very useful for the construction of the body of Indian string instrument like ‘veena’, and the percussion instruments like ‘mridangam’, and ‘kanjira’.   In Indonesia, the hardwood from the trunk is carved for the drums.  The soft wood is used for the hull of the Philippine ‘kutiyapi’ or the boat lute.  In Southeast Asia, the dye from the wood is used to give the robes of the Budhist monks of the area their distinct color.   In Indochina, the scarcity of this wood makes it sacred and is reserved for building temples.  In religious ceremonies in Malabar, the braches of the jackfruit tree are rubbed together to make fire.  The roots of old jackfruit trees are much sought after for carving and picture framing.  It is used for building palaces in Bali and Macassar.  In Sri Lanka, the timber is the most important commodity of the tree.  In India, it is important to a lesser extent.    The timber is known to be exported to Europe.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum” –  thus it is shown! Jackfruit tree may be considered the second ‘kalpaka vriksham’  (tree that fulfills most of our needs or the most useful tree) after the legendary coconut tree.  

NOTE:

A lot of the information that is used in this blog are from many sources.  Unfortunately, they overlap and my personal knowledge is interspersed with them. It made it very difficult to pin down the documentation.  The best I could do was to acknowledge the sources. document

Sources:

  1. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/jackfruit_ars.html

Morton, J. 1987. Jackfruit. p. 58–64. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton,

Miami, FL

2.     http://waynesword.palomar.edu/jackfr1.htm  (Last updated: 6/8/112 )

3.     http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/jackfruit.html

4.     http://dohn121.hubpages.com/hub/The-Jackfruit-The-Jack-of-All-Fruits

5.     http://thaifood.about.com/od/introtothaicooking/f/aboutjackfruit.htm

6.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackfruit

7.   http://dohn121.hubpages.com/hub/The-Jackfruit-The-Jack-of-All-Fruits

RECIPE Sources:

  1. http://www.pachakam.com/recipe.asp?id=5231&RecipeName=Kerala%20Jackfruit%20Halva
  2. http://www.tastesofkerala.com/blog/idichakka-or-idinchakka-tender-jackfruit-thoran/
  3. http://deepann.wordpress.com/2006/08/19/chakka-varattijack-fruit-jam/
  4. http://www.cookingandme.com/2009/11/chakkakkuru-aviyal-jackfruit-seeds.html
  5. http://www.webindia123.com/cookery/asp/item.asp?r_id=443&recipe=Jackfruit+Erissery
  6. http://www.swapnascuisine.com/2011/10/chakkakuru-mezhukkupuratti-stir-fried.html
  7. http://www.keralarecipes.info/malayalam-recipes/Chakkayappam-Jack-Fruit-Appam.htm

All That Glitter

The khaki-clad guard salaamed
And opened the gleaming doors
Into Aladdin’s cave-
Bangles and bracelets
And rings and earrings
Winked at eager-eyed women
Who sat in red velvet chairs;
Round arms, waiting necks,
And ready fingers tried again
And again the golden wares.
Men, in careful boredom,
Watched the buyers- not
The wives, sisters, and mothers,
But the errant pretty face-
A fair neck here, and a white arm there-
The faces glowed, the jewels shone,
And money rolled in indulgent excess.
Solomon alone can stand
Against a jewelry store’s splendor!

My Keralam, My Heritage

The frothy crests from the Arabian Sea ride the surging waves and lash the sandy shores to expire later in a last hiss. The sounding cataracts rush down in relentless falls, foaming and spraying the lush greenery that abounds in their environs. The rhythm of the ‘panchavaadyam’ and ‘shingaary melam” resonate in the air and syncopate with my heartbeats. The evening breeze is cooled by the fragrance of jasmines that gleam in the waning twilight. The coconut fronds sway under the haunting moon, forming a serrated canopy and the mango trees bloom into creamy pagodas with promises of delectable fruits. And I dream, “I am home”.

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SHANKAR (Keshava Shankar Pillai: Humorist and Friend to Children)

Malayalees are humorists and the special Malayalee humor is always present when a few get together to shoot the breeze.  Malayalam literature is gifted with several whose humor and wit have enlivened their literary outputs and refreshed our lives. The love of humor that is congenital to a Malayalee also leads to an appreciation of political and social satire, whether written or pictorial.  Satire is never far from a Malayalee psyche. It is no wonder that the creator of India’s Punch was a Malayalee.  He was none other than Keshav Shankar Pillai, the mastermind and artist behind the ever so memorable Shankar’s Weekly.  He was the most celebrated cartoonist of India, before and after the Independence.

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