Neelakandan Pillai was born into an affluent Hindu family in 1712. As a young man he went into the service of the royal household in India’s Travancore province. Eventually put in charge of state affairs, Pillai became acquainted with Captain Eustachius De Lannoy, the Dutch naval commander who trained the king of Travancore’s forces. Their relationship awakened Pillai’s interest in the captain’s Christian faith. At his baptism in 1745, Pillai chose the name Lazarus, or Devasahayam in the Malayalam language. His wife and other members of his family were baptized at the same time.
Soon after, Pillai’s enemies convinced the royal court that he was using his position to force others to convert, leading to his imprisonment. European Christians in Travancore came to Pillai’s defense, urging the king to release him. After three years the king complied under condition that Pillai go into exile to a hostile territory. Though beaten and tortured almost daily, Pillai consistently responded with kindness, openly praying for his captors. Shot to death by local soldiers in 1752, Pillai’s body was transported to St. Xavier Church in Kottar. Later when his remains were interred beneath the altar, the site became a popular pilgrimage destination.
In 2012, Devasahayam Pillai became the first Indian layman not connected to any religious institute to be beatified. Ten years later he was canonized in Rome. His liturgical feast is celebrated on January 14.