Category Archives: st. thomas

Elst replies to Haaretz blood libel: 72 CE: Thomas the Apostle is murdered in India – David B. Green


“So your source is ‘common Christian tradition’? Fortunately, we are past the stage where we believe a story just because ‘tradition’ says so. Therefore, we don’t believe the blood libel against the Jewish people anymore, even though for centuries it has been supported by ‘common Christian tradition’. Likewise, we don’t believe the blood libel against the ‘priests of Kali’ either.” – Dr Koenraad Elst


Martyrdom of St Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens (1636)


72 CE:  Thomas the Apostle Is Murdered in India – David B. Green

December 21 in the year 72 C.E., is the day of the martyrdom of Thomas the apostle, according to the tradition of a number of Christian churches. Like all of the 12 apostles, or disciples, of Jesus, Thomas was a practicing Jew, and was given the mission by his mentor to spread his teachings, both among the Jews and the Gentiles.

In both the Book of John, one of the Gospels of the New Testament, and in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, Thomas is described as “Thomas, who is called Didymus,” a redundancy, since “Thomas” comes from the Aramaic word teoma, meaning “twin” (in Hebrew, it’s te’om), for which the word in Greek is didymus.

Priests of Kali

A late tradition sees Thomas as having carried the gospel of Jesus to the Indian subcontinent, first to the northwestern kingdom of Gondophorus. Then, according to the third-century Acts of Thomas, in the year 52, the apostle sailed, in the company of a Jewish traveler named Abbanes, to the southern tip of India, to the port of Muziris, present-day Pattanam, in Kerala state.

Kerala was home, even at that time, to a Jewish community. A 17th-century work called Thomma Parvam (Songs of Thomas) says that he converted 40 Jews upon his arrival, along with 3,000 Hindus of Brahmin origin.

Modern historians believe that Christianity actually arrived in India several centuries after the era of the historical Thomas, with the arrival of Christians from Syria and from Perisa.

The martyrdom of Thomas, however, took place not on western coast of India, but on the other side of the subcontinent, in the southeastern city of Mylapore, near latter-day Chennai. There, Thomas came into conflict with the Hindu priests of Kali, who killed him for insulting their deity—or simply for converting many of their followers. (Marco Polo, in the 13th century, heard that Thomas had died, more than a millennium earlier, when an archer out hunting peacocks had accidentally shot him.)

His bones were then brought into the city of Mylapore and buried inside a church he had already built there, where in the 16th century, Portuguese explorers built the San Thome Basilica, which was rebuilt by the British in 1893.

Today, December 21 is still observed as the feast day of St. Thomas in some Protestant churches, and among traditionalist Catholics. In the Roman Catholic Church, however, the feast day was moved, in 1960, to July 3, so as not to interfere with the days leading up to Christmas, on December 25. – Haaretz, 21 December 2015


Koenraad Elst


REjoinder: The confabulated murder of Saint Thomas – Dr Koenraad Elst

So your source is “common Christian tradition”? Fortunately, we are past the stage where we believe a story just because “tradition” says so. Therefore, we don’t believe the blood libel against the Jewish people anymore, even though for centuries it has been supported by “common Christian tradition”. Likewise, we don’t believe the blood libel against the “priests of Kali” either.

Nothing of this legend is proven. The only written source for it is already some 150 years younger than this Thomas’s supposed martyrdom: the apocryphal “Acts of Thomas”. There, he is presented as coming to “India”, then a very large term (when Columbus landed in what he thought was Zipangu/Japan, he called the natives “Indians”, meaning Asians), in a part that was desert-like and where the people had Persian names. This describes Afghanistan or western Pakistan well, but not the lush and rich tropical landscape of South India. When he has committed several crimes against society, the king asks him to leave, and only when he refuses this diplomatic solution does the king have him executed.

I first learned about the hollow mythical nature of the Saint Thomas story while studying in Leuven Catholic University, from a Jesuit Professor of Comparative Religion, Frank de Graeve. Not exactly a “fanatical Hindu” source. More recently, Pope Benedict XIV publicly declared that St Thomas had come to Western India, and that from there, after an unspecified amount of time, Christianity (not Thomas) reached South India. I am aware that Indian Christians have raised hell against this scholarly assessment, and have pressured the Vatican into removing this statement from its website. But that is not going to alter the verdict of scholarly historiography: there is no evidence at all to support this story.

And when Christians did reach the coastal area of South India, probably as 4th-century refugees from the Persian empire that had turned hostile after the Christianization of its Roman rival, they were welcomed rather more cordially than any treatment given by Christians to Pagans. Far from being “murdered by the priests of Kali”, they were given hospitality and integrated into Hindu society, without any questions asked about the contents of their religion. Hindus have extended their hospitality more recently to Parsis, Armenians and Tibetan Buddhists; and more anciently to the Jews. That glorious record is the target of gross injustice in the fictional story of Saint Thomas.

Dr. Koenraad Elst

ASI doubting Thomases suspend dubious KCHR St. Thomas project – G. Ananthakrishnan


“What has snowballed into a controversy is the open declaration by KCHR director, P. J. 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 propagating Christianity, which he claims has been vindicated by the excavations,” said B. S. Hari Shankar, a research fellow with the Delhi-based India Policy Foundation.


P. J. Cherian & Robert Eisenman


The history battle has gone all the way back to St. Thomas, the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is believed to have brought Christianity to India and whose scepticism gifted the world the idiom “doubting Thomas”.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has decided not to extend the permission granted to an excavation project in Kerala to “reinstate the cultural and historical significance of the legendary Muziris port”.

The Muziris port was said to be where St. Thomas arrived in AD 52. But the exact location of the port, which was destroyed in a flood, is a mystery although the general consensus appears to be that it was located somewhere near Kodungalloor in Thrissur, a northern district and cultural capital of Kerala. 

Many Christians believe that St. Thomas — who accepted Jesus had risen from the dead only after the Lord appeared and invited the apostle to touch Him — baptised several Brahmins in Kerala and set up one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.


Syrian bishop with Pope Benedict XVI


(The arrival of St. Thomas is of extreme significance for Christians since Jesus had only 12 apostles and he was one of them. In 2006, the Vatican had to issue a retraction after the then Pope, Benedict XVI, seemed to suggest St. Thomas had travelled only till western India from where Christianity reached the south.)

The Gospel according to John mentions that once a convinced Thomas said “My Lord, My God”, Jesus told him: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed (are) they that have not seen, and (yet) have believed.”

It was those who insist on seeing before believing that some advocates of the project were hoping to convince by coming up with evidence that St. Thomas had indeed set foot on what is now a village called Pattanam (which means town) in Kodungalloor.

“Rules demand that extension beyond five years can be given only after those carrying out the excavation submit reports. In the case of the Muziris project, the digging has been going on for over seven years now, but no report was filed. So no fresh permission can be granted,” ASI joint director R. S. Fonia told The Telegraph over the phone from New Delhi.

Fonia, however, added that the matter could be revisited as and when the reports were filed and reviewed.

The executors of the project, the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), could not be contacted despite repeated attempts to confirm whether they had not filed any report till now.

The denial of an extension would have been treated as a routine bureaucratic decision but for the fact that the Sangh Parivar had long been opposing the project on the ground that its intention was to “legitimise the yet unproven story” of the arrival of St. Thomas in Kodungalloor in AD 52.

That the Kerala historical council was an autonomous body floated by an erstwhile government of the CPM-led Left Front has ensured that the matter has the essential ingredients for a controversy in the highly politicised state.


K. N. Panikkar


The council is headed by historian K. N. Panikkar, a regular target of the Sangh Parivar for his Left-leaning views and vocal stand against the so-called “nationalist” history. Some members of the council are viewed by the Sangh outfits as “pro-Church”.

“What has snowballed into a controversy is the open declaration by KCHR director, P. J. 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 propagating Christianity, which he claims has been vindicated by the excavations,” said B. S. Hari Shankar, a research fellow with the Delhi-based India Policy Foundation.

Cherian could not be contacted for comment.

While the Bharateeya Vichara Kendram, a Sangh affiliate, smelt in the excavation project a “conspiracy to manufacture history”, a “Marxian historian” had felt that the site was unfit for archaeological excavation because of construction and digging of wells.


M. A. Baby


But CPM politburo member M. A. Baby, who was the culture minister when the council took up the project, said: “Although there is no conclusive evidence, it is widely believed that apostle St Thomas came to Kodungalloor and through him Christianity reached Kerala even before it reached Europe.

“On the one hand, the BJP government is trying to establish fairy tales as history while on the other, it is trying to shut down genuine research in history. The agenda is very clear. Now, if the ASI says it can’t be continued, it is unscientific and against the science of history.”

That the CPM, traditionally considered an adversary of the Church, is supporting such a project speaks volumes about the politics of Kerala.

Now in the Opposition, the CPM is fearing an erosion of its Hindu support base towards the BJP, considered a rising force in a state where it has not made much headway till now. Against such a backdrop, it does not make sense for the CPM to antagonise Christians.

Such tilts and counter-tilts are common in Kerala. In 2001, the historical council that was later entrusted with the Muziris excavation was dissolved by a government headed by the Congress.

The chief minister then was A. K. Antony named after a Catholic saint, and the Congress was then supposed to have been courting Hindus. But a court reinstated the council. – The Telegraph, 1 October 2015

See also

  1. In search of Muziris – A. Srivathsan
  2. Muziris: Dr. Nagaswamy nails false propaganda on St. Thomas – Media Reports
  3. KCHR’s Muziris Project: Digging for the bones of St Thomas – B. S. Hari Shankar
  4. The question of the St. Thomas origin of Indian Christianity – C.I. Issac
  5. Treachery: India and the Syrian Christians of Kerala – Pradeep Nair
  6. Pope denies St. Thomas evangelised South India – Ishwar Sharan
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St Thomas in Kerala: Koenraad Elst replies to William Dalrymple’s faux history propaganda piece in The Guardian – Media

This gallery contains 3 photos.

“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