Category Archives: st. thomas

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St Thomas in Kerala: Koenraad Elst replies to William Dalrymple’s faux history propaganda piece in The Guardian – Media

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“Of course, ultimately it is not important whether Thomas came to Kerala or not. Even if it were found to be true, Christianity remains an erroneous belief system, and … a foreign religion, whether imported in the 1st or the … Continue reading

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KCHR’s Muziris Project: Digging for the bones of St Thomas – B. S. Hari Shankar

Organisations which have come out openly against the Kerala Council for Historical Research and its Muziris Project have alleged that “these same historians who had earlier rebuffed Ramayana and Sri Ram as fictitious and fabricated are now digging for the bones of Apostle Thomas.” – B. S. Hari Shankar


P. J. Cherian & Robert Eisenman


What took place in November 2011 was neither a debate nor a discord. The venue was Thiruvananthapuram, at the Joint Annual Conference of Indian Archaeological Society (ACIAS), Indian Society for Prehistoric and Quaternary Studies (ISPQS), and Indian History and Culture Society (IHCS). Strongly criticising the archaeological excavations at Pattanam site in Kerala and the rambling hotchpotch of cultural remains without periodisation especially pottery, veteran Archaeologist and former Director of Archaeology and Museums, Karnataka, A Sundara’s strong criticism came after the Kerala Council for Historical Research (henceforth KCHR) Director presented his paper on Pattanam excavations. Professor Sundara is one of the most reputed Archaeologists in India known for his objective outlooks and unbiased conclusions for which he was honoured at the meet. Earlier, Professor Sundara was also one of the well wishers of Pattanam excavations in the Pattanam Archaeological Research (PAR) brochure published by the KCHR in March-April 2008. His censuring of Pattanam excavations although came as a surprise, was not an isolated incident. Much more censorious on Pattanam was Professor MGS Narayanan, eminent historian and former Director of ICHR. In an earlier seminar held at Kochi in August 2011, Dr R Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu criticised the KCHR for its biased approach and hasty conclusions to establish some hidden agenda at Pattanam. Dr T Satyamurthy, former Director, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was equally critical of the excavations and cautioned KCHR authorities against any hasty conclusions. Pattanam excavations form part of the Muziris Heritage Project (MHP) launched by the KCHR and headed by Chairman Dr KN Panikkar, former Professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and Director Dr PJ Cherian, a modern historian who heads archaeological excavations. In a write up for Malayalam journal Mathrubhumi in 2014, Professor PM Rajan Gurukkal, historian and one of the members of the MHP arguing for Pattanam also admitted that the site was unfit for any archaeological excavation as the soil has been virtually tampered for various construction purposes and digging of wells leaving no space for stratigraphical analysis of the cultural remains which have agglomerated. Surprisingly until now, no historian or archaeologist or any professional body such as the ASI has come forward in defence of the KCHR or Pattanam. Even Professor Romila Thapar, one of the patrons of the MHP is virtually silent.


K. N. Panikkar


The site of Pattanam is located near Parur in Ernakulam District of Kerala. It was declared by the KCHR mhp that the aim of the mhp was to excavate and discover the lost settlement of Muziris, the ancient Chera capital on the Periyar River basin and hence named MHP. The geomorphology of Kodungallur, considered ancient Muziris, was examined by Geologists KK Nair and CS Subrahmanyam in 1993 in the archaeological context, which revealed that the area has been completely disturbed and the habitation material deeply buried due to tectonic changes. The Malabar Coast has both submergent and emergent characteristics. The Periyar River which drains the region has a long history of frequent floods due to heavy monsoons.

In the beginning, the excavations at Pattanam sailed smoothly. But controversies started after the excavators claimed that an ancient township at the cusp of first century BC and first century AD was unearthed at Pattanam archaeological site. Claims on the discovery of urban architectural remains at Pattanam were made by the excavator in various published papers and reports such as The Living Dead and the Lost Knowledge – 2007 and 2008 published by Department of Culture, Government of Kerala, Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology 2009-2010 and in the paper presented at ACIAS on November, 2011 at Thiruvanantha-puram. It was declared by the KCHR Director who is also the excavator that, Pattanam revealed interesting “early historic urban architectural features”.

The excavator claimed that the “urban, multi cultural and maritime features are principal attributes” of Pattanam site. It was further asserted by the KCHR that the brick house comparable to a warehouse exposed near the wharf in trench PTO7 III included a platform (006) with postholes (67 in number) and brick walls belonging to at least three different phases. It was stated that the postholes do not show any particular pattern and were dug at various periods indicating repeated use for a long duration.

In the Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology 2009-2010, the excavator claimed the presence of ancient civilisations at Pattanam. He also claimed Pattanam as an advanced metal working and stone cutting site with metal objects and lapidaries. Recently, the botanical remains claimed to have been unearthed from Pattanam were handed over to Spices Board in Kerala, a marketing and research institute for spices for palaeobotanical studies. Carbon 14 dating of remains from Pattanam are conducted by Georgia University. The ASI has been kept away and excavations are coordinated by foreign universities. Later, the Director of KCHR Dr PJ Cherian admitted in The Hindu dated June 12 in 2011, Thiruvananthapuram edition that, “curiously, while large collections of artifacts were found, no remnants of major structures were discovered at the site”. In the KCHR Annual Report 2009-2010 there is neither reference to such urban architectural remains or photographs of trenches. Those who visited the site were unable to see any urban architectural remains.

In the KCHR brochure published in February 2008 on MHP and Pattanam excavations, Chairman of KCHR, Professor KN Panikkar stated in his editorial note that archaeological and historical research are not solely meant for experts and professionals in the field. Everyone with thinking power should handle it. Later elaborating further, in an interview given to Frontline dated April 2010, Panikkar made his stand much clearer. He suggested public participation in archaeological excavations at Pattanam–which he termed “Democratic Archaeology”–in which the local people would be part of the excavation. In other words archaeologists and ASI need not interfere in excavations since guidelines and diggings shall be by ‘People’s Democracy’. Keeping Archaeologists at bay was a necessity for KCHR since expertise observations and remarks can lead to serious implications for Pattanam. Beyond all such serious lapses and incredible turnovers at Pattanam, what has raised eyebrows is the interference of JNU historians who were hastily propagating for Pattanam excavations to obtain it credibility in the academic world. Professor Kumkum Roy of JNU, in her Historical Dictionary of Ancient India published in 2009 has highlighted Pattanam stating that it has now been identified with ancient Muziris. Similarly Professor Ranabir Chakravarti of the JNU in his work, Exploring Early India published in 2010, brings Pattanam into focus. Roman amphorae from Pattanam are exhibited as evidence of Mediterr-anean trade. It is not a new discovery. There are a number of other sites in India which have provided remains of Roman amphorae. But here the intention raised suspicions due to later events.


P. J. Cherian (L)


What has now snowballed into a major controversy is the open declaration by KCHR Director, Dr Cherian in the official bulletin of the Assyrian Church of the East on March 2011, that Pattanam has been identified as ancient Muziris, where Apostle Thomas landed in India 2000 years back for propogating Christianity, which he claims has been vindicated by the excavations. In 2011 July, he presented a paper on Pattanam archaeology at a seminar organised by Syro-Malabar Church in Mumbai. A major paper on St Thomas tradition in southwest coastal region in India was presented by Dr Pius Malekkandathil, who is a Reader at JNU. Earlier at Kakkanad near Kochi in 2005, Dr Pius Malekandathil presented his paper organised by the Liturgical Research Centre of the Syro-Malabar Church on the tradition of Apostle Thomas. Romila Thapar has put forward the arrival of Apostle Thomas as an outcome of Mediterranean trade links of India in her work—The Penguin History of Early India—published in 2002. In 2006, Professor Kumkum Roy was advisor to NCERT Textbook Devolopment Committee along with chief advisor, Professor Neeladri Bhattacharya both from JNU.

In the history textbook on Social Science for Class VI, they have included Muziris in the map of important trade routes without mentioning Pattanam and linking it with arrival of first Christian preachers in India.

Ranabir Chakravarti of JNU is one of the members of the NCERT Textbook Devolopment Committee. Assertive claims by KCHR authorities in establishing historicity of Apostle Thomas has been supported by the stand of Utio Rai Chaudhary and Furley Richmond, Academic Directors of Georgia University in 2011 December. They stated that researches are being conducted by the Georgia University on links between St Thomas tradition and Pattanam. Interestingly this university has undertaken Carbon 14 dating of the Pattanam site. Historian Istvan Perczel from Central European University, Hungary was invited in February 2008, for delivering a lecture by KCHR Chairman Professor KN Panikkar former JNU luminary and the KCHR Director on the topic—History of Kerala Christianity.

The February 2004 issue of Economic and Political Weekly has published an article on KCHR Family Archives Project by K George Verghese. He has alleged that the KCHR Family Archives Project is virtually filled with histories of Syrian Christian families all highlighting arrival of Apostle Thomas at Muziris. The family history archives project was implemented prior to Pattanam excavations to provide a link.

With the Pattanam excavations thus taking a serious turn, Delhi based Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) which had earlier attacked former ICHR Chairman, Professor MGS Narayanan in 2001 for raising serious allegations against the KCHR has virtually gone underground. Organisations which have currently come open against the KCHR and its Muziris Project have alleged that “these same historians who had earlier rebuffed Ramayana and Sri Ram as fictitious and fabricated are now digging for the bones of Apostle Thomas”. – Organiser, 10 January 2015

» B. S. Hari Shankar is a Senior Archaeological Researcher

Ancient silk road route and water route to India from Rome

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National Shame: President Mukherjee repeats the St Thomas in India tale to Santa Claus – Rajat Pandit

“We, in India, also celebrate Christmas in quite a big way. Christianity was brought to India by Saint Thomas, the Apostle himself, in the year 52AD. Thus, the faith was embraced by the people of India well before many European … Continue reading

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About the St Thomas reference in Shashi Tharoor’s book Pax Indica – Poulasta Chakraborthy

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This sounds like a good story. And that’s what it is: a good story. All those statements on Thomas made by Tharoor, Nehru and Prasad are not based on any solid historical evidence. They are just repetitions of a well … Continue reading

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The question of the St. Thomas origin of Indian Christianity – C.I. Issac

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“The Thomas origin of Christianity in the Dravidian South was the outcome of the missionary schema against Hindu religion and culture.” – Prof. C.I. Issac Speech by Prof. C. I. Issac, Former Head of Department of History, Mahatma Gandhi University, … Continue reading

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Pope denies St. Thomas evangelised South India – Ishwar Sharan

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Pope Benedict XVI’s statement on September 27, 2006 during a public audience, that the apostle St. Thomas only reached as far as North-West India — today’s Pakistan — was factually correct and reflected the statements of the Early Church Fathers and the geography … Continue reading

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Did a Hindu king kill St. Thomas? – Ishwar Sharan

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Hindus will never hear from Christian leaders a sincere confession of wrong doing. What Hindus will hear and see are more spurious histories of  St. Thomas and charges of “deicide” by motivated faith writers like Ponnu Elizabeth Mathew and unscrupulous … Continue reading

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St. Thomas: The making of an “Indian” apostle – Sandhya Jain


“The claim that Christianity came to India before it went to Europe is a ploy to make it a sort of native religion, even if it came from West Asia. The origin is a Gnostic Syrian fable, Acts of Thomas, written by poet Bardesanes at Edessa around 201 CE. The text never mentions or describes the sub-continent, but says the apostle went from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are ‘Mazdei’ (Zoroastrian) and have Persian names. The term India in Acts of Thomas is a synonym for Asia.” – Sandhya Jain


St. Thomas


As Christian evangelists intensify efforts to bring India under their sway, their brethren in the south are trying to (mis)use current excavations at Pattanam to revive the myth of Apostle Thomas arriving in the country in the first century AD and establishing a fledgling community. They are trying to link the ancient port of Muziris with Pattanam, where Thomas reputedly landed, though Muziris was more logically Kodungalloor, where the river joins the sea. R Nagaswamy, former director, Tamil Nadu Archaeological Survey, debunks this mischief and avers that none of the literature on the life of St Thomas claims that he came to India.

Yet, so strenuously has the myth been perpetuated that Swami Devananda Saraswati (pen name Ishwar Sharan), a Canadian born into a Protestant family who became a Smarta Dashanami sanyasi at Prayag in 1977, decided to get to its historical roots. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (updated third edition, Voice of India), is the fruit of his labours.

Sharan was intrigued by the story of the alleged murder of the apostle by a conniving Brahmin. In September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI declared that Thomas never came to India, but Rome later fell silent after a nudge from the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore. The myth includes the implausible conversion of Tiruvalluvar by the foreign evangelist, though Tamil scholars believe the sage lived around 100 BCE, perhaps even 200 BCE.

The claim that Christianity came to India before it went to Europe is a ploy to make it a sort of native religion, even if it came from West Asia. The origin is a Gnostic Syrian fable, Acts of Thomas, written by poet Bardesanes at Edessa around 201 CE. The text never mentions or describes the sub-continent, but says the apostle went from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are ‘Mazdei’ (Zoroastrian) and have Persian names. The term India in Acts of Thomas is a synonym for Asia.


Bardaisan


The Acts of Thomas identifies St Thomas as Judas, the look-alike twin of Jesus, who sells him into slavery. The slave travels to Andropolis where he makes newly-weds chaste, cheats a king, fights with Satan over a beautiful boy, persuades a talking donkey to confess the name of Jesus, and is finally executed by a Zoroastrian king for crimes against women. His body is buried on a royal mountain and later taken to Edessa, where a popular cult rises around his tomb.

One Thomas of Cana led a group of 400 Christians (from seven tribes and 72 families) from Babylon and Nineveh, out of Persia in the 4th century, when Christianisation of the Roman Empire made the Persians view their Syriac-speaking Christian minority as a Roman fifth column. The ‘Thomas Christians’ could originally have referred to this merchant. They reputedly landed at Cranganore in Malabar in 345 CE. Sharan warns this migration cannot be treated as historical fact, but says that Cosmas the Alexandrian, theologian, geographer and merchant who traded with Ethiopia and Ceylon, visited Malabar in 520-525 CE and provided the first acceptable evidence of Christian communities there in Christian Topography. This Thomas was probably ‘converted’ (metamorphosed) to St Thomas.

Early Church Fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Eusebius are explicit that Apostle Thomas settled in ‘Parthia’, and established a church in Fars (Persia). This is supported by the 4th century priest Rufinus of Aquileia, who translated Greek theological texts into Latin, and the 5th century Byzantine church historian, Socrates of Constantinople, who wrote a book on ecclesiastical history, the second edition of which survives and is a valuable source of early church history. Nothing much is known about St Thomas. He was called the Apostle of the East in West Asia and India until 1953, when the Church demoted him to Apostle of India, dislodging St Francis Xavier.

Between the 4th and 16th centuries, the Syrian Christians of Malabar reinvented the tale several times, finally bringing St Thomas to India to evangelise the heathen. In the 13th century, Marco Polo embellished the tale with a South Indian seashore tomb and in the 16th century the Portuguese transferred this seashore tomb to Mylapore. They created their own redactions of the Acts of Thomas and began destroying temples in the port city and building their St Thomas churches, pretending these were the sites of Thomas’s martyrdom and burial.

The primary objective of the Thomas-in-India or Jesus-in-India stories is to vilify Brahmins and malign the Hindu religion and community. The second is to present Christianity as an indigenous religion — not a piece of Western imperialism. A deeper aim is to insinuate it as the ‘original’ religion of the Tamil people. Finally, it is to help Syrian Christians maintain their caste identity, their claim to be Jews or Brahmins, descendants of Namboodiris converted by St Thomas in the 1st century.

Ishwar Sharan cites a wealth of historical, textual and epigraphic material to prove how various authors and travellers like Marco Polo, mistakenly or deliberately, falsified evidence regarding St Thomas. He traces Marco Polo’s mischief to a book the legendary explorer dictated to fellow prisoner and writer, Rustichello, when he was captured by Genoa. The book became a hit in Europe, and the myth of a St Thomas’s tomb on a seashore was firmly planted.

German scholars, whose work remains to be translated into English, have consistently maintained that most 16th and 17th century churches in India contain temple rubble and are built on temple sites, just as in Europe they took over pagan sites. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, a landslip on San Thome beach revealed carved stone pillars and broken stones of mandapam found only in Hindu temples.

The Portuguese in the 16th century had one of their earliest settlements at San Thome, and razed many Hindu temples to the ground. Vijayanagar’s ruler, Rama Raya, waged war on them in Mylapore and Goa simultaneously to save Hindu temples. After his victory, he exacted a tribute from them for their vandalism. But when Vijayanagar fell before the Muslim armies at the Battle of Talikota (1565), the Portuguese resumed their iconoclasm.

The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple is a treasure trove of information that an article cannot do justice to; it’s a must read for lovers of Hindu temples and history.

» The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, 3rd ed., Voice of India, Delhi, 2010; Pages: 407; Price: Rs 450. — Vijayvaani & The Pioneer, Sept 13, 2011

Jude Sannith and the Times of India: Telling lies for Thomas – Koenraad Elst


In Catholic universities in Europe, the myth of the apostle Thomas going to India is no longer taught as history, but in India it is still considered useful. Even many vocal “secularists” who attack the Hindus for “relying on myth” in the Ayodhya affair, off-hand profess their belief in the Thomas myth. The important point is that Thomas can be upheld as a martyr and the Brahmins decried as fanatics. – Dr. Koenraad Elst


Times of India: When Mylapore saw a Miracle: 20 August 2011

Jude Sannith S.


A miracle by the seashore, as the legend goes, allowed St Thomas, an apostle of Jesus Christ to lay the foundations for the first church in the city. Jude Sannith S. retraces the legend …

Overcome with awe at the aura that surrounds the National Shrine of St Thomas Basilica at Santhome, you might tend to overlook a narrow lane that lies adjacent to the southern compound wall of the cathedral that leads you towards the seashore. A walk down this lane takes you to what seems to be a coastal hamlet that lies in the midst of what seems to be a tall,weathered wooden pole. On looking back,the tall spire of the cathedral is almost hidden by the trees in the vicinity – it is the wooden structure that occupies pride of place and rightly so. After all,the very foundation of the Christian faith in the city owes its existence to the wooden pole and the legend behind it.

According to the legend, shortly after St Thomas arrived in India in 52 AD, a large wooden log was carried downstream by a river in Mylapore, to lodge itself by the river’s mouth and result in a flood. Try as hard they might,the king’s men failed to remove the log,which prompted the king to call on a certain hermit who lived in the area and was believed to perform miracles.” Along came St Thomas with a blessed girdle that was given to him by Mother Mary (the mother of Jesus Christ), “narrates Fr. S. Kanickairaj, the Rector and Parish Priest of the National Shrine of St Thomas Basilica, as he retraces the Legend, “He prayed for a while, and tied the girdle to the log.He heaved.With the first try,the log was removed and the river flowed into the ocean. St Thomas then took a portion of the log and planted it,pointing towards the heavens, stating that the sea would never cross the pole.” The legend,according to Fr. Kanickairaj goes on relate how the pleased king, as a sign of gratitude, offered Mylapore and its surrounding areas to the saint, who then constructed a small chapel near the sea, which today (after a series of renovations) is the majestic Neo-Gothic-styled National Shrine of St Thomas Basilica – a development of what was perhaps the very first church in the city. “Many believe that the reason that Santhome escaped the Tsunami of 2004 is simply the existence of the pole which continues to stand upright today,” he says. “The St Thomas Pole; in gratitude to God for saving Santhome from Tsunami 2004,”its inscription declares.

One of only three churches to be constructed over the tomb of an apostle (the other two being St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain), the National Shrine of St Thomas Basilica has all the makings of a site that abounds in religious significance. “The body of St Thomas was interred here until the 12th Century before the Papacy decided to ship his remains back home,” explains Fr. Kanickairaj. The Cathedral Museum houses a tiny relic of the apostle with the spear that brought his end. In the same museum, one can find inscriptions in Portuguese about St Thomas’ journeys in the city and his early ministry. Murals of the miracle by the river and rock carvings of King Gondophares (of the Indo-Parthian kingdom who St Thomas preached to in North India) are also present. Just below the museum is the crypt where the body of St Thomas was interred. “The site has miraculous powers even today, centuries after the saint died,” claims Fr. Kanickairaj. When the Portuguese wrested control in erstwhile Madras, they reconstructed St Thomas’ small shrine into the original cathedral (whose design is displayed in the museum), before the English constructed the present Neo-Gothic basilica in 1896.

Despite the renovations that it has seen, there’s no denying that the National Shrine of St. Thomas Basilica was once the first church to be established in the city, when the apostle constructed a small shrine in the landed that the king offered to him. “A few more churches were built-in the areas around the shrine,” explains Fr. Kanickairaj, “Together, these churches were the first that the city saw.” The miracle-working power of St Thomas – a man who walked with Jesus Christ has allured visitors from all over the world. Some of the more notable visits include Pope John Paul II who paid a visit to India in 1986 and prayed at the tomb of St. Thomas, and King Albert and Queen Paolo of Belgium who visited the city in 2008.

Today, the Basilica serves as the seat of the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore – its tall, white spire a perfect indicator that it is indeed one of the most majestic religious sites in the city. The faithful throng the basilica, some of them offering intercessory prayers at the crypt while the others meditate in the peaceful confines of the church’s altar.” The church transcends the manmade boundaries of religion,” Fr. Kanickairaj says,”Simply put, it is faith that brings people to the basilica. In fact people of all religious faiths throng the shrine,imploring St Thomas to work miracles in their lives.” – Times of India, Chennai, August 20, 2011


Dr. Koenraad Elst


Telling lies for Thomas – Koenraad Elst

According to Christian leaders in India, the apostle Thomas came to India in 52 AD, founded the Syrian Christian Church, and was killed by the fanatical Brahmins in 72 AD. Near the site of his martyrdom, the St. Thomas Church was built. In fact this apostle never came to India. The Christian community in South India was founded by a merchant called Knai Thoma or Thomas of Cana in 345 AD — a name which readily explains the Thomas legend. He led four hundred refugees who fled persecution in Persia and were given asylum by the Hindu authorities.

In Catholic universities in Europe, the myth of the apostle Thomas going to India is no longer taught as history, but in India it is still considered useful. Even many vocal “secularists” who attack the Hindus for “relying on myth” in the Ayodhya affair, off-hand profess their belief in the Thomas myth. The important point is that Thomas can be upheld as a martyr and the Brahmins decried as fanatics.

In reality, the missionaries were very disgruntled that the damned Hindus refused to give them martyrs (whose blood is welcomed as “the seed of the faith”), so they had to invent one. Moreover, the church which they claim commemorates St.Thomas’s martyrdom at the hands of Hindu fanaticism, is in fact a monument of Hindu martyrdom at the hands of Christian fanaticism. It is a forcible replacement of two important Hindu temples — Jain and Shaiva — whose existence was insupportable to the Christian missionaries.

No one knows how many Hindu priests and worshipers were killed when the Christian soldiers came to remove the curse of Paganism from the Mylapore beach. Hinduism does not practice martyr-mongering, but if at all we have to speak of martyrs in this context, the title goes to these Jina- and Shiva-worshipers and not to the apostle Thomas. — Dr. Koenraad Elst

  • REad More of dr. Elst here
  • more on 2004 tsunami and St. Thomas miracle here 
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Muziris: Dr. Nagaswamy nails false propaganda on St. Thomas – Media Reports

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“When looking at the literature on the life of St. Thomas, it is not mentioned anywhere that he came to India. It is only a myth, which has now been connected with the excavations at Pattanam, near Kodungalloor,” – Dr. … Continue reading

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