Tuesday, September 20, 2011

HISTORICAL VALIDITY OF ST.THOMAS TRADITION (1)

Introduction :

Historians in general—Western, Middle East and Indian—are unanimous in holding the view that Christianity reached this part of the world, Malabar Coast of India, in the 1st century itself ; that too, even before it was preached in the Roman Empire.
But, the question, who brought the Gospel of Christ to India? St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus, the East Syrian (Mesopotamian /Persian ) missionaries or the Merchant migrant Thomas of Kanai or some other Thomas? Opinions vary.

The South Indian Tradition :

Whatever be the opinion of the historians and scholars on the subject, the Syrian Christians of Kerala,popularly known as Nazrani Mappilas or St.Thomas Christians,(മാർത്തോമ്മാ നസ്രാണികൾ - in the local language), believe that they are the descendants of the people converted to Christianity, by a personal visit of Apostle Thomas. As per their centuries' old tradition, Saint Thomas, landed at Maliankara, near Kodungallur (Muziris) port in 52 AD, and evangelized a good number of the inhabitants to the new religion. Kerala tradition says, the first conversion was from the native Nambudiri (Brahmin) community, as a result of  the miracles performed by the apostle.He established seven churches(settlements )in the Coast,viz.Maliankara (Kodungallur),Palur(Palayur),Cottakayil(Paravur), Gokkamangalam, Niranam, Kollam and Chayal (Nilakkal). He preached and laboured 20 years in the country and converted many persons from different castes, amongst whom there were 32 illums of Brahmins  and NambudirisSome principal families that were baptized by St. Thomas, were those of Chungarapooray, Pakalomattam, Pally Caulicoungal, Coicaray, Calacaray, Madapoor, Vymply, Moottatoatel and Cottacurray. Of these, first two families  were ordained and set apart by him for sacred orders as Bishops etc. The higher order of Priesthood remained almost hereditary in the two families of Changarapoory and Pakalomattam for several centuries, and the succession or inheritance descended in the female line, the same being the common law of Malabar..." ( C.M.Agur, 'Church history of Travancore; II / 9-10 ).
Subsequently, he went to Cholamandalam and China and continued his gospel work. In the year 72 AD, he was put to death by some religious fanatics and was buried at Chinnamala in Mylapore.
Ballads (Folklore ), legends and oral tradition:
The Malabar or South Indian Tradition about  the origin of Christianity was/is supported by strong and unbroken local tradition, exists right from the beginning of Christian Era and references in some ancient Malayalam songs(ballads), also in the form of bardic songs. These songs, circulated among the Marthoma Christians, viz Rambanpaattu, (believed to have been originally written by a disciple of St.Thomas and re-written by Thomas Ramban, Maliekkal), Maargamkalippattu, describing the Way of Thomas ( Maarthomamargam), and Veeradiyanpaattu. Of late, there originated among some Nazrani families, the habit of keeping genealogies, which are written form of oral tradition. As per the local tradition, the place Chavakkadu, (a variation of the Malayalam-word  Saapakkad—ശാപക്കാട് --place of curse), near Palayur(Thrissur), has got that name, as the place was cursed by Nambudiris, because some of their families were converted to Christianity by St. Thomas.
( The rest of the Nambudiri Brahmins, as tradition says, fled from the village saying," From the next day on-wards , our ablutions shall be at Vemmenad". Vemmenad is a village near Palayur. Strangely, this is a legend , shared by Hindus and Christians alike, of the locality, and to this day, no orthodox Brahmin takes a bath or a meal in the village. ( Quoted in the Trichur District Gazetteer ( History ), Chapt. II / p.100 , from the book ' Syrian Christians of Malabar, by K.E.Job. ).The latter part of the legend was cross verified from the locals by  historians like Ananthakrishna Ayer and Placid Podipara). Visiting the large area comprising the ancient Palayur church, most northerly of the ' 'seven churches', about a mile away from Chavakkad, veteran Hindu scholar-historian and Anthropologist, L. K. Ananthakrishna Ayer says," On a recent visit to the village, I was shown the site of the temple, the tanks adjoining it ( the Taliyakulam ), some ruinous wells here and there, an image of the Hindu deities ... It is believed that in consequence of the 'desecration of the village by the Apostle',the Brahmins who then remained true their faith,cursed the place as Sapakkad , forest of curse , and removed to the neighboring villages.... Not far from the village of Palayur, in the Syrian town of Kunnamkulam, settled the descendants of the Brahmin converts from the abandoned village, among whom many of old social customs were once vogue, some being still observed". ( Ananthakrishna Ayer,  Anthropology of Syrian Christians,  p.15 - 16. ).  
. There are a number of ancient Malayalam songs (folklore and legends ), written as well as oral, depicting the mission and martyrdom of St.Thomas, in minute details and inseparably linked with certain specific families and places, existing even today. These songs are widely circulated not only in Kodungallur, Chavakkad, Palayur, Kunnamkulam areas but also in other parts of Kerala, from time immemorial. Not only among Christians, but also among the other communities as well. 
The lyrical ballads , depicting the tale of Thomas, and his first converts, said to be the re-written version of the centuries' old oral tradition. Examining the the type of language ( Malayalam), used for the available manuscript-copy of this ancient song, linguistic scholars opined that  it has a comparatively recent origin, say 15th century, hence reluctant to give  any historical value.  However, it looks unique and a replica of local tradition of Malabar embedded in, will give  corroborating evidence to construct the real history.
Archaeological  evidences :
As mentioned earlier, it is a fact that there is no direct archaeological evidence to substantiate the visit of St. Thomas, more so because there are hardly any historical remains, but for the megalithic monuments and some Roman coins. The archaeological excavation, in the recent past, at Pattanam, near ancient port-town of Muziris ( Kodungallur), provides some positive or supportive or circumstantial evidences to the incidents narrated in the Saint Thomas tradition.  Though these findings are not sufficient to prove the visit of Apostle Thomas, as such, but strong enough to provide collateral evidence to this historical probability. But one should admit that historian can hardly find any contemporary written documents attesting the visit of the Apostle in India. In other words,paucity of sources, providing direct archaeological and epigraphic evidences, is a major challenge for St.Thomas studies.    
The reasons for this sorry state of affairs too are varied.1) The ancient Christian community in Malabar, by nature, has no historical consciousness and habit of keeping records ( other -than some family-histories of later origin). 2). There were no royal patronage or compulsion, as in the case of Hindus.3).The coastal belt of MALABAR,where almost all the Syrian churches and establishments situated, were subject of annual rain fall ,flood and sea erosion, and other extreme climatic changes. 4 ) Deliberate  destruction of ancient Syriac, Hebrew  and other documents, in possession of these ancient, Christian community, by the Portuguese Colonial regime, during the unauthorized Synod of Diamper, 1599. 
Though there are no direct, documentary evidences,from Kerala/India,a good number of
historians, Indian as well as foreign,consider St.Thomas tradition , as a historical probability without reservation, in the condition of the circumstances like time,geography,climate,and other factors prevailed in the 1st century and indirect evidences available in various sources referred in this series itself. Among the early literary references about the Apostle in ancient foreign languages , some are having historical value and some others in the form of legends or apocryphal works, having some historical elements.
Sanctity for depending on epigraphic evidences from secondary sources:

As the scope for obtaining direct evidences from Kerala/India, is very limited, academicians, and researchers are bound to look for direct, or indirect evidences from secondary sources, out side India too, especially in West Asian countries, comprising the birth place of Christ and Christianity.
These sources are, mainly in the form of writings and testimonies of Early-century Church Fathers, like Origen (186-255 AD),Ephrem (373), Jerome ( 345-420), Eusebius( 260-340), Ambrose( 333-397), etc. Chronicles of World travelers, like Theodore of Syria, Mar Esoyab, Cosmos Indicopleustes, Marco Polo, Nicolo De Conti, etc. ,several liturgical texts,martyrrologys,  and ecclesiastical calendars in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin and other languages, though contemporary, in the strict sense, which provide direct and indirect epigraphic and circumstantial  evidences about the Indian mission of the Apostle.Besides there are apocryphal works,and mythologies, with historical contents ( Acta Thomae, Doctrine of the Apostles  etc.), useful as collateral evidence to the tradition.
 Let us first deal with two such apocryphal Syriac works viz. Acts of Thomas and Doctrine of the Apostles.

“Acts of Thomas” ;

The oldest and prolific document,concerning the mission of St.Thomas in India, is “Acta Thomae”. According to this apocryphal work, of 2nd or 3rd century,A.D., of a Gnostic romancer (name, unknown) ,written in the style of “Acts of the Apostles”, in the Bible, originally written in Syriac. It says  that St.Thomas, first preached gospel in North India, in the Kingdom of Gundapher and later in the Kingdom of Mazdai, where he was martyred. Though this book gives an elaborate description about the mission St.Thomas, with special reference to North(West) India, it contains more supernatural and fictitious stories than history. But, after the archaeological  excavations carried out in Takshashila(Taxila), and the discovery of “Gondophares coins” from Pathankot-Kandahar area, pinpointing line of King Gondophares of Indo-Parthian Dynasty, ruled up to 50.AD, historians began to give  importance to the descriptions in this fiction.Basing on this,some historians argue that St.Thomas under took two  ( or more )  journeys to India,the first by overland, to North India, probably in the year 40 A.D., and the other via Socotra, through sea routes to Kodungalloor. But this may not be helpful to prove the South Indian mission of St.Thomas due to various reasons. The South Indian tradition about his arrival to Kodungallur (Muziris),52,A.D., is one year after the death of Gundaphar ! Further, we can hardly find a Christian community in any of these areas claiming as descendants of early converts of St.Thomas.The connecting link between King Gundaphar and Apostle Thomas also is found wanting. At the same time, it may be noted that, even if North Indian mission is historically proved, it will, in no way, contradict the Malabar tradition. For there is clear reference in the Acts about an apostolate,  in another kingdom where St.Thomas was martyred and buried. C.M.Augur , ( in his book ‘Church History of Travancore. P.8 – 12 ), referring to the 'loose' tradition that still holds amongst the Syrian Christians, presents a different version, ‘Christianity was introduced into Malabar , by the Apostle Thomas ,who was started from Syria, in AD 35, and spending some years in North India , entered the Malayalam country, in the year, AD 52.He is supposed to have landed at the Island of Malayankara  or Malanadu,as it was then called, between Paroor and Cranganoor...’
Doctrine of the Apostles ( Didascalia )
Another 3rd century apocryphal, Syriac work, '' The Doctrine of the Apostles" , also called the Edassene Canons, of unknown author, in the form of an ecclesiastical Calender, provides a more clear and authentic description about the arrival, mission and martyrdom ( at Mylapore) of St.Thomas in India. This work, clearly shows that Christianity was known to have reached in Parthia and India before the close of the 2nd century. Unlike the Acts, it’s narration is fully in tune with the South Indian, Catholic tradition.
“ India and all its countries and those bordering on it, even the farthest sea,received the Apostle’s hand of priesthood from Judas Thomas, who was guide and Ruler in the Church, which he built there, and ministered there” ( W.Cureton, Ancient Syriac Documents, p 26. )

Historians who attest  the Indian visit of St.Thomas .
It is a fact that western scholars, in general, initially rejected the Malabar tradition of Saint Thomas's evangelization of India,' as a pure legend as there is no direct evidence to support the claim'. This was mainly because, their knowledge about ancient India, its diverse people and culture, geography etc. was limited and prejudicial. But later,on studying the plethora of writings by Early Church Fathers,World travelers etc. in various languages Hebrew, Syriac,Greek, Latin etc.( through English translations), a good number of them were compelled to change their original stand and accept the Malabar tradition about the visit of Saint Thomas, at least as a ''credible historical probability".

As mentioned in the beginning,large number of World historians, like Oxford historian, Vincent Smith and English Ethnographer, Edgar Thurston, see, nothing inherently improbable in this age-old tradition ie., an Apostolic origin to Indian ( Malabar) Christianity, even though there are no direct archaeological evidences in support of it. (At the same time, it must be admitted that majority of the historians,who, despite reservations to call it a' historical event',has no reluctance to accept it as a 'historical probability'.Of course, there are/were historians of repute who consider the whole story as a myth and legend and challenge the claim in toto; but they are only a minority.)
As per one estimate, the following scholars, foreign or Indian ( Kerala ),consider the Apostolate of St. Thomas in South India, as historical and certain ( not a legend or myth):
1 ) John . P. Maffeus ( 1605 ), 2) Joseph Simon Assemani ( 1728 ), 3 ) J.F.Raulin (1745 ), 4 ) Claudius Buchanan ( 1814 ) , 5 ) Mathias. H. Hohlenberg ( 1822 ), 6 ) E.C. Kenneth (1877 ), 7 ) Sylvian Levy ( 1897 ) 8 ) Alphonse. E.Medlycott, 9 ) Karl Heck ( 1911 ), 10 ) Joseph Dahlmann ( 1912 ), 11 ) Ladislauss Zaleeky (1915 ), 12) Alaons Vath ( 1918 / 1925 ) , 13 ) , Albert Gille ( 1924 ) ,14 ) Henry Hosten ( 1936 ) , 15 ) John Stewart ( 1928 ) , 16 ) George Shurhammer ( 1934 ) 17 ) Bernard Thoma ( 1934 ) , 18 ) P.J.Thomas ( 1920 ), 19 ) K. N. Daniel ( 1950 ),20 ) E. M.Philip (1950 ),21 ) A.C.Perumalil ( 1952 ), 22 ) Mark. J.Moraes ( 1964 ) , 23 ) P. Thomas ( 1965 ) , 24 ) Z.M.Paret (1965 ),25 ) Placid Podipara ( 1966 ), 26 ) George Menacherry ( 1973 ) , 27 ) Joseph Kolengaden(1965 ), 28) Thomas. J.Navakatesh ( 1967 ) , 29) V.C.George ( 1969 ) , 30 ) Guseppe Sorge ( 1983 ), 31 ) A. Mathias Mundadan (1984)),32 ) Xavier Koodapuzha , ( 1998 ), 33 ) K.S.Mathew ( 2001 ), 34 ) Pius Malekandathil ( 2001 ), 35 ) James . J.Kurukilamkatt ( 2005 ), and 36 ) George Nedungatt ( 2008 ).
Among the World Travelers, Theodore of Syria, Mar Esoyab, Greek traveler -Cosmos Indicopleustes, Venetian traveler - Marco Polo , Oderic of Pordenone, John Maringoli, Nicolo De Conti,etc are protagonists to this view point.
Further, we can see an ocean of religious literature in various foreign languages ,like Syriac,Hebrew,Greek,Latin,English etc.,in the form of testimonies by Early Church Fathers, like Origen(186-255),Eusebius (260-340), Chrisostom (347-407), Ephrem (300-373 ),Gregory Nazianzen(329-390), Ambrose (333-397), Jerome (345-419),Isidore (560-636) and several Martyrologies, Liturgical texts and Ecclesiastical calenders etc. endorse the Indian Apostolate of St.Thomas. Though ,direct archaeological evidence, from Kerala in this regard is scanty,many of the secular historians from Kerala/India, like, K.P.Padmanabha Menon, Sardar Panicker, A.Sreedhara Menon, Dr.K.N.Panicker etc. and  the author of Travancore State Manuel, too, are broadly in agreement with the South Indian tradition,on the basis of the indirect and circumstantial evidences available in many foreign languages.  (The divergent view of prominent old generation historian,T.K.Joseph,is a noteworthy exception.According to him,St.Thomas did not evangelized(South) India, instead he preached in Parthia,martyred,and buried in Parthia only ).
Kerala historians opposing the tradition:
Among the present day historians, eminent Indian ( Kerala ) historian,Dr. M.G.S . Narayanan, is holding a view point, diametrically opposite to that of a good majority of Indian and Foreign historians. He is not at all ready to accept the Malabar tradition about St.Thomas even as a ' probable historical event'. Basing, mainly on the research findings of Prof. Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, about the antiquity of Namboodiri-Brahmin settlements in Kerala, he not only question the veracity of this theory but also compare it with Parasurama myth. But despite his in principle agreement with MGS, another eminent Kerala historian, Dr. Rajan Gurukkal, holds a divergent view on the subject, saying that presence Brahmins, might go back to the first century B.C., as per the reference in the ancient ,Tamil literature.  At the same time, Dr.Rajan Gurukkal, is not agreeing with this view point, in toto. According to him,the presence of Brahmins in Kerala,might go back to the closing centuries of the first millennium B C . ( St Thomas Christians and Nambudiris,- p.109.). Renowned historian, A.Sreedhara Menon, in his book referred this issue.Though he agrees with William Logan's, views about the large scale exodus of Brahmins from Southern Karnataka; but is terming his negative stand about early migration ( before 8th century A.D.), is not at all valid. For, there are evidences in the Tamil Sangam literature to the effect that Brahmin influence in Kerala society goes back to early centuries of Christian era. ( A.Sreedhara Menon, Kerala Charithram, Malayalam, p. 128. ). 
In this context we have to analyse on what all points there is acceptability among the secular historians and what are the controversial points and what is the extant of disagreement etc.

St.Thomas Studies and vested interest groups.

A critical  review of the hitherto existing literature on Apostle Thomas and Antiquity of Indian Christianity by historians and others,will reveal that many of them are written under the influence of vested interests or with East-West bias. These interests may be Colonial, parochial , communal or sectarian. Though this generalization is more evident in the case of Western authors ,Eastern and Indian (Kerala)authors including Church historians are not free from this criticism. Because of this ,we cannot fully depend on a particular writer or School of Thought and an objective analysis is very difficult. Before making such an attempt ,one moot question will arise. Who wants to prove that Apostle Thomas did come to India? In my humble opinion, the Syrian Christian community only. What about the World Christianity and foreign authors ?
Right from the Portuguese period ,Western missionaries have an inclination to prove that Christianity is a European product and Apostle Thomas not evangelized India. They only are responsible for the concerted missionary activities in this land .They felt that,for establishing and nurturing their missionary monopoly, and Religious Colonialism, Indian mission of St.Thomas , and the existence of a Syrian rite Christianity with Apostolic linage under the Babylonian Patriarchate , were true impediments. This prejudicial approach is clearly visible in most of the writings on the subject by Colonial authors.
What about the section of Christians proselytized by the Portuguese ?
Most of them,and their authors,like to brand the mission of St.Thomas and the legacy of Thomachristians as sheer legends and myths,rather than history.( eg. The writings of DrJohn Ochanthuruth, Fr. George Veliparambil etc.).The pride and prejudice about Namboodiri origin and the so called caste superiority, are not liked by them.
What about the secular historians of Kerala/India? In the academic or university level ,in the recent past no serious studies have been taken place. It is a pity that the limited number of academicians who undertook such a task also are led by narrow political, parochial or communal prejudices. Because of their reluctance to go beyond the beaten track and satisfy with superfluous studies, unable to reach in a correct conclusion. The articles of Dr.MGS Narayanan and Dr.Rajan Gurukkal, on the subject, are classic examples.


Evidences from Indian sources:
The presence of a Christian community numbering about 6 million in the State of Kerala, in the Western coast of South India, from the first century itself, designated as St.Thomas Christians , in a way, is a living evidence for the Apostolate of St.Thomas ( People or community from no other part of the world, are questioning such a claim or making a counter claim). In view of the extensive trade relations that existed between Malabar and the Mediterranean’ countries before the Christian Era, there is nothing ‘inherently improbable’ in this tradition, apostolic origin of Malabar or Malankara church. But the question is, can this  be proved using epigraphic and archaeological or any other methods acceptable to secular historians?
As mentioned earlier,  it is a fact that there are no  contemporary written documents to show in evidence of the presence of Apostle Thomas in India. So also is the matter of direct Archaeological evidences. Some valuable old records of these Christians in Syriac, Hebrew etc, probably throwing some light to this puzzle, were brutally set fire by the Portuguese Colonial masters, in the name of Nestorian herecy, during the ‘ unauthorized’ Synod of Diamper of 1599. The ancient, Syriac documents forcefully collected from Nazranis and burned,  included those of famous library and Episcopal archives of Angamaly, and books from at least  59 churches, including Cheppad and Chengannur.  Referring to this heinous action , eminent historian and Orientalist Cardinal Tisserant says, "In India the big auto-da-fe ordered at Diamper was responsible for the loss of many manuscripts. Their colophons would probably have disclosed many details about the local history of the Malabar Syrians ". (Eastern Christianity in India, Tisserant, p.24 ).
Evidences from Seven Churches :
As per Nazrani tradition,and clear reference in the Rambanpattu, Apostle built Seven ( Seven and a half ? ), churches or Christian settlements in the Malabar coast – Kodungalloor, Palayur ( Palur ),Kottakkav ( Paravoor ), Kokkamangalam, Niranam , Kollam & Chayal ( Nilakkal ).Opinions varied about ‘ Arappalli’ or ‘ half Church’. For some writers, it is the ancient church at Thiruvithancode and for some others it is Malyattoor Kurissumudi . As per the statement of Syrian writer, Governor Moens, in his memorial that “ the prevalent belief is, that Thomas after labouring on the Coromandel coast, went to Cranganore, and converted many, and also at Maliancara ( near Palliport ),Cottecay, Repelim, Gokkamangalam, Ternetta and TernettaTiroewangotta, ( probably Travancore), built some Churches, ordained two priests, and returned to the Coromandel coast”.( Qtd.by Francis Day, in ‘ Land of Perumals’,p.212. ). But his number is not tallying with the traditon !( The list given by C.M Agur : 1. Maliyankara 2.Cottacayil 3.Gokkamangalm 4.Paruetta 5.Chayel ( Nilakkal ) 6.Karukkanikollam & 7.Paloor ( Palayoor ); also several chapels.).
 Though we can identify some distinct structures in the sites of the so called “Seven Churches”, traditionally attributed to St.Thomas, they are destroyed or rebuilt, partly or fully, hence cannot be taken as remnants  of the original churches. The extensive area surrounding Palayur Church (Thrissur), and Kottakkavu ( Paravur), comprising all the specific places mentioned in the ancient songs,  and the tomb of the Apostle at Mylapore, are exceptions.
The original church, founded by apostle Thomas at Palayur ( Paloor / Chattukulangara ), a combination of Hindu architectural-style and Persian church-plan, was by converting the Hindu temple, deserted by the section of Hindu Brahmins who cursed the place ( as ‘Sapakkad’ ) and migrated to some other village. It was made of teak-wood and stone. The roof of the church raises like a tower above the nave.The entrance was like a Hindu style ‘mandapa’, in Indian architecture. It had a pillared outdoor hall or pavilion for public rituals. There is evidence that, in the colonial period, in 1607,an Italian Jesuit missionary,in the Zamorin’s territory, James Fenicio, built a stone-church out side ancient wooden church.( His original plan was to rebuild a new style church on the old structure, changed the plan following the protest of the locals citing the disastrous ‘ consequences’ of it’s demolition.) A letter of this missionary,(quoted by Jarric), gives valuable information  about the old-wooden church looks as a Hindu temple,using burned bricks and teak-wood.( Foot note: ). Another authority testifies  about Palayur church is carmelite missionary, Paulinus padre. The wooden church was attacked by Tippu, in 1792. ( Thomapedia, p.212 ).+
 One of the ancient palm-leaf documents,  called ‘Grandhavariyola’,kept by a local Brahmin family, Kalathur Mana, ( presumably, successors  of Namboodiries,who had moved out from Palayoor,during the preaching ) testifies the date of the gospel work of St.Thomas. The document says, ‘Kalivarsham ( year ) 3153 ( 52 A D ), a foreigner Sanyasi came to our village ( gramam ), preached there , causing pollution’. Therefore, we came away from that village’.( Qtd. by E.R.Hambye )

Sanctity for depending on evidences from secondary sources : 

.As the scope for obtaining more direct evidences from Kerala/India is very limited due to the reasons cited above, academicians and researchers have to look for direct or indirect evidences from secondary sources, outside India too, especially in West Asian countries comprising the birth place of Christ and Christianity and Acts of the Apostles.

The age of the ancient songs (ballads) like Rambanpattu is disputed, by Malayalam literary scholars like Vallathol Narayana Menon and Chummar Choondal, on the ground that the available copies of these folk songs seems to have been written some time in 15th century only. Hence references in the type of songs can be taken only as supportive evidence to  presence of Syriac Christians in Malabar from the early centuries of CE. Hence, let us see the secondary sources,  providing direct or indirect evidences, in the coming chapters. 



6 comments:

  1. According to Syrian Christian tradition St. Thomas came to Kerala in 52 A.D., and converted some Nambudiri Brahmin families such as Kalli, Kaliankara, Sankarapuri, Madapur, Vyampalli, Muttedal, Kottakara, Panakamattom, and Pakalomattom . These names of Nambudiri families are fictitious and cannot be traced in any of the records of Nambudiri Brahmins. Besides, this tradition evolved at a much later date and was not a contemporary account. These fictional names are being maintained to legitimize fanciful claims. Syrian Christian tradition and many other legends found in ancient Christian songs like the Veeradian Pattu, Thomma Parvom, and Margom Kali Pattu, claim conversion of Nambudiri Brahmins by St. Thomas. But all these songs originated after more than thousand years or much later, and not composed in the first century when St.Thomas was in Kerala. Conflicting dates, AD 1601 and AD 1792, assigned to these works give room for suspicion about their authenticity. Even the composer’s name, Ramban Thomas, alleged to be a Nambudiri Brahmin, is highly doubtful as there was no such person in Nambudiri records.

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  2. Continued...
    . The notable document concerning St Thomas is the ‘Acta Thoma’ attributed to a Syrian named Bardasanes , an apocryphal work bearing transparent signs of its Gnostic origin. It was preserved with some modifications in Greek and in Syriac. It also tells about the missionary activities of St. Thomas and his martyrdom. But this work too was of a later origin and different dates are given by scholars, AD 220 or AD 400. According to another Syrian Christian tradition four Nambudiri families of Niranam, Tayyil, Pattamukkil, Manki and Madathilen of Thiruvalla
    were converted by St.Thomas. But there is no historical evidence about these Nambudiri settlements in Thiruvalla in the 1st century AD. It is probable that some fugitive St Thomas Christians of Mylapore or lower caste converts would have used these fabricated names with the false claim they were Nambudiri converts to avoid persecution by caste-Hindus. None of the Nambudiri records has also any reference to the existence of converted Nambudiri settlements in Thiruvalla in the 1st century AD or the conversion of their community members. Even in the Brahmin tradition found in Keralolpatti there is no reference at all to the conversion of Nambudiris, although it tells about a certain ‘Thomman,’ an opponent of all Vedas’, came to Malabar and ‘converted many prominent people in the land, including the reigning king, Bana Perumal. But Keralolpatti, embellished with myths and legends, was a compilation of 18th century to bolster the superiority and authority of Brahmins in Kerala and not a contemporary narration. It is likely that the Mylapore migrants and local converts, mostly untouchables such as Ezhavas and other outcastes, who moved into Thiruvalla from other areas coined new family names or adopted locality names of Niranam, Tayyil, Pattamukil, Manki and Madathilen and claimed for themselves superior status to hide their past. It must be borne in mind that the converted untouchables and slaves were fleeing from their original places to other areas to escape persecution and punishment. With no Nambudiri or Nayar available for conversion in Thiruvalla and nearby regions, the emergence of a large Syrian population in that region is a questionable matter.

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  3. Continued ...

    . The claim for the existence of Nambudiri Christian settlements in Thiruvalla was a mixture of fable, hearsay and calculated false propaganda which has made even foreign writers think that it was a fact of history. It is a stark reality that it was due to large scale conversion of untouchables, especially Ezhavas that Christian settlements arose in those areas. Logan points out that the Nambudhiri settlements were mostly in the Calicut, Ernad, Walluvanad and Ponnani taluks of Malabar, and in the Cochin territory in North Travancore. No Nambudiri family of pure birth had settled to the south of the Kollam River in the 1st century AD. Francis Day and Samuel Mateer also affirm that the Travancore Rajas have “in vain tried every means in their power to induce them to





    reside there.” It is quite improbable, therefore, that Nambudiri settlements existed in Thiruvalla area when St. Thomas or at a later period when Thomas of Cana came to Kerala. Missionary records give us an idea of how new settlements of lower caste and untouchable Christians came into existence in different places and how those converts were tutored to assume for themselves the status of higher castes just to escape persecution by upper caste Hindus. As S.N. Sadasivan, an eminent research scholar who has gone through missionary records, points out: “From the beginning it was the practice of the converts to leave their native village and settle down in a place normally few miles away or as a distant station as possible and to take up avocations other than that of their caste for intelligible reasons. It has enabled them to conceal their past, sever from their close relations and claim a status better than that of their unconverted brethren still struggling to stand up against their neighbouring caste-Hindus, in the new environment they had chosen. The first missionary who understood this social value of this mobility and anonymity was Joseph Peet who always for the safety of his converts from slave caste sent them to other places where they could make new claims and build up a better image for themselves.”

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  4. SYRIAN CHRISTIANS AND JEWISH DIASPORA
    There are some attempts without any inscriptional or literary evidences to establish the fact that St. Thomas converted Jews in Kerala. It is claimed without any evidence that there were Jewish settlements in Kerala from the days of King Solomonn It is true that Solomon's ships came to India but it was not for bringing Jews to settle in Kerala but for the purpose of trade. Guided by Phœnician pilots, manned by Phœnician sailors, Phœnicians and Jews sailed forth together on their distant voyages, into the southern seas. They sailed to India, to Arabia and Somaliland, and they returned with their ships laden with gold and silver, with ivory and precious stones, with apes and peacocks. It was a trading mission and Jews were not brought in the ships for staying permanently in India. In those days when the Jews were living in all comfort and luxury in their own country there was ne need for a Diaspora
    Another claim of St. Thomas Christians without any basis is that they are the descendants of the Jews who came to Kerala during Diaspora. In their fanatical bid to disown their original caste of their own country and to appropriate for themselves the Jewish link they have been propagating the view that they are the progeny of the Jews of Diaspora. But the historical events of the period and the significance of Jewish Diaspora will prove their cunning attempts are nonsensical. The first Diaspora of the Jews in recorded history is the Baylonian exile. The Jewish Diaspora actually began in the year 597 BC with the seige and fall of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Known as the Babylonian Captivity, a significant portion of the population of Judea was deported to Babylonia, not to Kodungalloor in Kerala. A second deportation began in 587 BC when the First Jewish Temple was destroyed. In approximately 582 BC, the Babylonian governor of Judea was assassinated and many Jews fled to Egypt and not to Kodungalloor. According to some scholars this was a a third deportation. Many of those Jews never returned to Israel.The Diaspora continued with the Great Jewish Revolt, otherwise known as the First Jewish-Roman War, which began in the year 66 AD and ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Jews during this diaspora fled to Babylonia, Persia, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, and the United States. There is nothing on record to say that they also caame to Kerala. What is more, St. Thomas was not anywhere in Kerala in 70 A.D. The oldest documentary evidence of a Jewish community in Kerala dates from 1000 CE, when a Jewish leader named Joseph Rabban received a set of engraved copper plates from the Hindu ruler of Cranganore. Since Rabban was treated with honor by the Raja, he was not a refugee but a rich merchant. Like the Portuguese, he would have established a factory in Kodungalloor to pursue his trade with the Mddle East.

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  5. The assumption of a section of the historians that the early conversion St.Thomas was from Jewish migrants , is also not tallying with the Nazrani tradition and history. According to Kerala Jewish historian S.S.Koder,it was after the destruction of of 2nd Jerusalem temple, in 3828 ( 68 A.D. ) that about 10,000 Jews migrated to Kerala coast, and settled in places like Kodungalloor, Paalayoor, Maala, and Pullur. In 2nd century, A.D. , a Roman trader, during his voyage to Malabar coast, via Red sea , reported to have visited a Jewish colony at Kodungalloor ( Muziris ), in Kerala ( Ref. History of Jews in Kerala. ). At the same time the opinion of Neill, " all that we can say is that the tapestry of India's religious life may have been enriched before the beginning of Christian Era, by the presence of a number of Jews, and of a religion, very different in character from those of Indian origin ", is a rational conclusion. ( Neill, History of Christianity in India, p.24 ).
    The assumption of a section of the historians that the early conversion St.Thomas was from Jewish migrants , is also not tallying with the Nazrani tradition and history. According to Kerala Jewish historian S.S.Koder,it was after the destruction of of 2nd Jerusalem temple, in 3828 ( 68 A.D. ) that about 10,000 Jews migrated to Kerala coast, and settled in places like Kodungalloor, Paalayoor, Maala, and Pullur. In 2nd century, A.D. , a Roman trader, during his voyage to Malabar coast, via Red sea , reported to have visited a Jewish colony at Kodungalloor ( Muziris ), in Kerala ( Ref. History of Jews in Kerala. ). At the same time the opinion of Neill, " all that we can say is that the tapestry of India's religious life may have been enriched before the beginning of Christian Era, by the presence of a number of Jews, and of a religion, very different in character from those of Indian origin ", is a rational conclusion. ( Neill, History of Christianity in India, p.24 ).

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  6. Also, there is no evidence to show that early Christians of Malabar, had undergone Jewish practices like circumspection. At the same time many Hindu ( Nambudiri ), practices prevalent among Syriac Christians were anathematized by the Portuguese, during the Synod of Diamper of 1599.

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