This is the story of an ordinary Marthomite woman who lost her parents when she was
very young, and shouldered the responsibility of a home from the tender age of 7. She,
along with her brother, established the Mundakappadam Agathimandiram. She lived 31
years. Her sacrificial life remains a challenge, and by reading her life story many are
coming forward for the service of the poor.
Mundakapadam is a small village near the Kottayam Town (7 km away on the western
side). Many foreign Christian missionaries, including evangelists David and Wordsworth
(They were the speakers of the first Maramon Convention in 1895) and Rev. Thomas
Walker (also a Maramon Convention speaker) used to visit this village during their
mission trips in and around Kottayam. Many people, including Leyamma’s parents were
saved through their messages.
Kottayam in early 1900s:
In the early years of 20th century, Kottayam was a small town with a small population.
Bullock cart was the main means of transport. It was a common sight to see bullock carts
in groups going with goods from Kottayam to Mundakayam and Perimed towns. The
British had tea/rubber plantations in Perimed and Mundakayam. Thousands of labourers
were working in these plantations. Diseases like malaria, cholera, typhoid, etc. were
common due to lack of sanitation and medical facilities. There were no welfare projects
or health insurance for them either. The plantation owners used to dump the sick workers
on the roads (Perimed –Kottayam road). Many died while walking to Kottayam town,
Kind hearted bullock cart owners used to give them a lift up to Kottayam town. For
hundreds of sick and old labourers, the streets of Kottayam were their refuge. No one
bothered to listen to their woes.
As wild animals attacked bulls of the bullock cart, on their way to Perimed, cart owners
always traveled in group. Puthuparmpil Cherian (Leyamma’s father) was one such cart
owner who used to carry goods regularly to Perimed. Other cart owners treated him with
respect because of his trustworthy reputation. Cherian used to conduct prayers for the cart
owners in the Public road before beginning each trip so that they would have a safe
Birth and education:
Leyamma was born on 25 October, 1911, in Puthuparampil house of Mundakappadam, to
Cherian and Kuttiyamma. She had three elder brothers. Her pet name was Pennamma.
Her parents used to take their children to attend Gospel meetings conducted in and
around Kottayam and Puthupally. They were members of the Bethel Mar Thoma Parish,
Chemmarappally. Her father, Cherian, was a very kind hearted man and used to help the
poor plantation labourers. He used to care for the sick labourers at home and treated them
like a family member.
Leyamma was a student of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Primary School in
Machukadu. In those days, Biblical stories/lessons were taught in mission schools by
teachers. The moral lessons and stories she learned from them influenced her a great deal
and was the foundation of her future. Right from childhood, Leyamma had great concern
for the poor and the sick; and she even cared for the animals. As Rebecca drew water for
Eliezer’s camels, Leyamma used to water the cattle that came in their compound for
grass. After passing Std 4 from CMS School in Machukadu, she joined V.M. School in
Puthupally. When she was 7 years old, her mother died at the age of 32. Then
Kuttiyamma’s father, Mr. Varghese took care of the children. Being the only girl in the
house, Leyamma had to look after the house. She wasn’t getting time to study, but her
teachers were very considerate. She found it difficult to be on time to school. She failed
three times in Std 7. After a few years, her father too passed away. Her elder brother took
care of her then on. In May, 1932, at the age of 21, she joined the Vanitha Mandiram in
Tiruvalla for a two year training course.
Layamma at Vanitha Mandiram - Tiruvalla:
Mrs. Kandamma Varghese was one of the main people behind the establishment of the
Vanitha Mandiram at Tiruvalla in 1925. At the Vanitha Mandiram, women were given
training in Mission work, home science and home management, kitchen gardening, etc. in
addition to Biblical studies. An Australian missionary, Miss Kellaway, was the principal
of this institution for 20 years. During the early years, many women were trained for
Missionary work and sent to various places outside Kerala. Sister Chechamma
(Mathilunkal, Kuttapuzha, Tiruvalla), Miss K. J. Aleyamma, Miss P. O. Sosamma, Miss
Mariamma John, Miss P. G. Aleyamma (Sihora Ashram) and Mrs. Mariamma Joseph
(Manon, Maramon –co-founder of the Hoskote Mission) were students of the Mandiram.
The main mottos of the Institution are Prayer, Worship, Study, Witnessing, and
During her stay in Vanitha Mandiram, Leyamma could visit and stay at various mission
fields of the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association; in Palghat, North Travancore, Central
Travancore and the sea coast. Through the mission trips, she got first hand information in
gospel work and it helped her get a broader outlook of other religions. No one knew that
God was preparing her for a greater mission in her own village, to work among the poor.
Leyamma’s brother, Rev. P. C. Cherian (1907-1978):
Rev. P. C.Cherian (b.18 Jan.1907) was Leyamma’s elder brother. After passing his B.A.
and L.T examinations, he became a teacher at St. Thomas School, Keezhillam. Mr. C.T.
Mathew (later Rt. Rev. Dr. Mathews Mar Athanasius Episcopa, 1900-1973) was the
headmaster of the Keezhillam School. As they were friends, before becoming a bishop,
Mathews Thirumeni, used to stay in Leyamma’s house many times. For Leyamma,
Thirumeni was a big uncle.
Leyamma’s brother, Mr. P. C. George:
Leyamma’s brother, P.C. George, became a Malayalam teacher in Puthupally. He had
great concern for the spiritual upliftment of the society in and around his village,
Mundakapadam. He used to conduct meetings for the youth in his house and together
they participated in all social activities of the village. Part of his salary was spent for
social work. Whenever meetings were conducted at home, Leyamma was the hostess and
she happily prepared and provided them food.
Beginning of the Agathimandiram (Poor Home / Home for Destitutes):
Leyamma’s brother, P.C. George, and his friends were greatly concerned about the poor,
sick and destitute people living in the streets of Kottayam. They prayed for a solution and
finally the idea of setting up an Agathimandiram came to their minds. George was willing
to provide any sort of help to set up an Agathimandiram in his compound. On hearing the
plans, Leyamma willingly agreed to become the Sevika (Caretaker) of the
Agathimandiram. She was aware of the difficult situations she might have to face in the
Agathimaniram. Like her brother George, she was also aware of the need of the society.
When God calls people to task that seem too difficult, he does not ask them to do it alone,
but offers them his resources and strengthens them. God counts on our availabilty, not on
In 1934, the youths of Mundakapadam, constructed a shed in Leyamma’s property for the
Agathimandiram. The first inmate was a very old sick man, brought from the streets of
Kottayam. His name was Ayyappan. He was very weak and unable to speak and
Leyamma took care of him like a brother and in due course, he became well.
Mandiram in full swing
Ayyappan was the first inmate. After him hundreds of sick, old and destitute people were
brought to the Mandiram. Some of them came on their own and others were brought by
various voluntary organizations. Many of them were bed ridden. Leyamma willingly
washed their clothes and cooked for them. During the initial years, she took care of the
inmates on her own. Even the local washer men weren’t willing to wash the inmates’
clothes. Like an angel, Leyamma toiled for them from early morning to late night.
Leyamma and her brother used to collect food items and clothes from the neighboring
houses for the inmates. The news about the Agathimandiram spread fast in the
surrounding villagers and people started visiting the Mandiram with food items and cash.
The Sevika Sanghom, Sunday school children, Youth groups, etc. from various parishes
started visiting the Mandiram. Few women volunteered to help Leyamma with the
running of the Mandiram. And during harvest time, people brought paddy and other
The inmates of the mandiram:
After Ayyappan, the second inmate was a 62 year old man, covered in boils and sores,
and was put out by his family. The next inmate was an elderly Pulaya lady with
incontinence. A cast away inmate with eight children took refuge in the Mandiram.
Others included those with malaria, cancer, lame, and the dump, blind, all found shelter
at the Mandiram. All orphans, beggers, widows, widowers and destitute were welcomed.
These inmates were to be fed, bathed, their wounds were to be washed, their clothes were
to be washed, and it was all done happily by Leyamma for years without complaint and
without another to relive her.
A woman of prayer:
Prayer was an integral part of Leyamma’s life. Even during her busy schedule she found
time for solitary prayer. Every day, at a certain time, she would sit in one place and pray
for her relatives, friends and supporters of the Mandiram, those requiring intercessory
prayers, etc. She would pray for all the bishops, priests, mission workers, etc. Her prayer
list was a lengthy one.
Mission work in the mandiram:
In the Agathimandiram, Leyamma taught the inmates songs and Bible stories. She always
encouraged the able bodied inmates to attend church service on Sundays. Through her
living example she won many souls for the Lord. Even though she was a young lady, the
inmates treated her like a Mother. She never made her assistants do any menial work.
Life in the Mandiram was not very easy. There was no water supply and they had to fetch
water a place far away. Many of the inmates were elderly, having their own lifestyles,
and many a times there were quarrels between them. Leyamma was always there to
mediate, comfort and console them.
The parish Priest, Chemmarappallil Yohannan Kassessa (16 Feb 1874- 19 Aug 1960),
was a great moral support for Leyamma. He treated her as his own daughter and gave her
opportunities to conduct meetings in the parish. Leyamma would conduct meetings and
Bible Classes for women in various parishes in and around Kottayam and Thattakad. She
would visit houses and pray for the sick and needy. Even non-Christians invited
Leyamma for their ladies meeting.
Leyamma had lost her parents when she was very young. From the age of 7 she had to
bear the burden of a home. She was taken care of by her elder brother P.C. George. They
were both founders of the Mandiram. Both of them remained celibate all their lives.
Leyamma was the Sevika of the Mandiram and George was the Secretary, taking care of
the administrative work of the Mandiram. During the initial years, Leyamma looked after
the inmates on her own, so the burden was heavy. But the Lord sustained her with good
health all throughout her life.
She always considered herself a stewardess in managing properties of the
Agathimandiram. She did not allow anybody to waste even a grain of rice while cooking.
She never took any salary or any remuneration from the Mandiram except the food she
ate. She had very few worldly possessions. She didn’t have any ornaments or an umbrella
of her own. She always wore simple clothes.
She regularly attended Church services and ladies meetings in her Parish. She would visit
houses for collecting clothes and food items for the inmates
Leyamma would write lengthy letters to her friends encouraging them to lead Christian
lives for Jesus. She updated her friends about the work of the Mandiram through her
Priests and Bishops from various denominations and Political leaders like K.P. S. Menon
and C.P. Rama Swami Iyer visited the Mandiram and appreciated the work going on.
Mandiram & Second World War (1 Sep. 1939 – 2 Sep. 1945)
During the Second World War, India became an important supply centre for the Allied
forces. Japan conquered Burma in 1942 and as Burma was the main supplier of rice,
scarcity of rice became a reality. All over India rice control was introduced and the
Travancore government began to procure complete harvests directly from framers. This
rice procurement restricted the farmers from donating a portion of their paddy harvest to
the Mandiram. This resulted in a shortage of rice at the Mandiram, but there was an
abundant supply of tapioca.
More and more people staying around the Mandiram started showing interest in the day
to day work of the Mandiram. One anonymous person donated Rs.2500/- (a large sum in
those days) for the construction of a building for accommodation. Another Rs.1000/- was
received for the construction of a chapel. As many of the inmates were sick, they made a
dispensary with the money received as donations. The inauguration of the dispensary and
Agathimandiram buildings was held on 4 June, 1942. A large crowd comprising of
Sunday School children, youths and members of the nearby Christian churches and other
communities, attended the meeting. Leyamma was the person incharge of the reception.
Rtd. High Court Judge Hon. K.K. Lukose was the chief guest.
The chief guest was impressed with the work of the Mandiram; and called all the
Mandiram workers, including Leyamma, on stage to congratulate them in front of the
huge crowd. Even though Leyamma did not like flattery, it was great day of recognition
for their work.
Soon the number of inmates increased to about 50-60. During the next 10 years,
Leyamma took care of hundreds of sick, old, bed ridden, and paralyzed people. She
washed their clothes and cooked for them, day and night without rest. She would pick up
many poor people on the verge of death from streets and hold them, where death is
dignified and with eternal hope, lying in her arms rather than on the streets.
Cholera Epidemic in Travancore
During the years 1942-1943, cholera broke out in many parts of Travancore. Big Wall
Posters read in bold red “Dangers of Cholera”. Many died as a result of the outbreak of
cholera. The public sector tried to cover the area with cholera vaccine. Volunteers from
the Mandiram took active part in this venture. Few old inmates who were admitted to the
Mandiram had already contracted the disease but they were unaware of the symptoms.
No Award or Medal:
Leyamma’s life was a self sacrificial life. She never made public speeches or wrote
articles about her work in news papers. She did not receive any medal or award from any
social service organization during her lifetime. She led a very silent life.
Leyamma was faithful to her Master till the end. On 17 July, 1943, there was a special
meeting of the Sevika Sanghom in her home parish. Rt. Rev. Mathews Mar Athanasius
was the chief guest. Earlier that day, the bishop visited the Agathimandiram and was very
pleased with the work going on. On Sunday, 18 July, 1943, Leyamma became sick with
cholera. In the early hours of Monday (2:45 am) 19 July, 1943, she passed away to be
with the Lord.
Her body was kept in the Main hall of the Agathimandiram for the Public to pay their
final tributes. The Parish priest, Chemmarappallil Yohannan Kassessa, cried aloud on
seeing her body. He could not control his great sorrow. From early morning, people from
all over came to see her. Many compared her life with that of Father Damien (1840-1889)
who gave his life to the care of lepers in a colony at Molokai, Hawaii Islands.
At 10am, the funeral procession started from the Mandiram to the Bethel Mar Thoma
Church. Mundakappadam had never seen such a crowd before. Rt.Rev. Dr. Mathews Mar
Athanasius conducted the funeral service. Leyamma was known to him from childhood
as her bother Rev. P.C. Cherian was a teacher in Keezhillam with the Thirumeni.
Leyamma’s untimely death was a real shock for all her co-workers. Abraham Mar Thoma
Suffragaon Metropolitan visited the Agathimandiram to console the workers. It took days
for them to get back to the regular routine. The inmates of the Mandiram wept for days.
But the challenge of Leyamma’s life opened the eyes of many youths who dedicated their
life for the Lord’s work in various fields.
A condolence meeting was held on 29 August, 1943, in the Manganam School. The
meeting was presided by Rt. Rev. Dr. Abraham Mar Thoma Suffragaon Metropolitan. In
his message, His Grace pointed out the good virtues shown in Leyamma’s life.
Irrespective of cast and creed a large crowd attended the meeting. To commemorate the
memory of Leyamma, an Endowment fund for the welfare of the Agathimandiram
workers, was established.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains
alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates
his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” [John 12: 24-25]
Her tomb stone at the Chemmarappallil Bethel Mar Thoma Church Cemetery reads as
In Memory of Leyamma
Born on 9th Thulam, 1087
Died on 2nd Karkadakam, 1118
Serving at the Poor Home