Christian Communities of St. Thomas Tradition in Maharashtra and its Neighbourhood in Mid-Sixth Century
Jan21

Christian Communities of St. Thomas Tradition in Maharashtra and its Neighbourhood in Mid-Sixth Century

( This paper was originally presented in the National Seminar on The Identity of the St. Thomas Catholic Migrants held from 12th to 15th September 2013 at Animation and Renewal Centre, Panvel, Diocese of Kalyan, in connection with the Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Kalyan Diocese) Christian Communities of St. Thomas Tradition in Maharashtra and its Neighbourhood in Mid-Sixth Century All through Indian history the geographical region of Konkan in general and Maharashtra in particular has been located as the mid-point between the commercially vibrant maritime zones of Kerala and Gujarat and it is the junctional point where the trade circuits from Gujarat and Kerala used to converge and intervene in different ways. Interestingly this region has also been the midpoint of two geographies, Kerala and Northwest India , which were connected by historians and folk traditions with the apostolic work of St. Thomas at two different points of time. The discovery of first century coins bearing the name of Gondophares from Northwest India from mid-1830s onwards and inscription of Gunduphara from Takht-i-Bahi near Peshawar in 1872, made many scholars view that Gondophares mentioned in these coins as well as Gunduphara of this inscription were the same person as Gondophoros of Acts of Judas Thomas , who was mentioned in this work as the ruler of the kingdom which St. Thomas reached for preaching gospel in India. Against this background they argue that the part of India to which St.Thomas came first for preaching gospel must have been North-West India and its historical probability is now attested to by many. However, the oral traditions of St.Thomas Christians, principally Margamkali Pattu and Rabban Pattu, say that St. Thomas reached Kerala, where he preached gospel and laid foundation for seven Christian communities. For a long period of time, historicity of this oral tradition was debated by scholars arguing pro and contra; however recent researches have highlighted the historical probability of the arrival of St.Thomas in India, particularly against the background of intensified maritime trade happening between coastal western India and Red Sea ports on the one hand and coastal western India as well as the ports of Persian Gulf on the other. The physical presence of about four million St. Thomas Christians, claiming their origin to one or another place of the seven initial Christian settlements of Kerala set up by St. Thomas as per their tradition, often serves as ethno-historical evidence adding significantly to the historical claims of their oral tradition. A lot has been written on the origin and growth of Christian communities of these two regions and historians now generally maintain that St. Thomas must have come first...

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Nazrani History and Discourse on Early Nationalism in Varthamanapusthakam
Jan28

Nazrani History and Discourse on Early Nationalism in Varthamanapusthakam

Varthamanapusthakam1, which was written in 1785 by Fr.Thomas Paremakkal as an account of his travel along with his friend bishop Mar Joseph Kariyattil to Madras, Africa, Brazil, Portugal and Rome and often hailed as the first travelogue in an Indian language, has been immensely used as a literary medium by the author to ventilate his dissent and anger against the hegemonic attitude and the colonial fabric which the European religious missionaries set up for the Church in India, particularly for the St.Thomas Christians of Kerala. Arguing vehemently that India should be ruled by Indians and not by foreigners, he goes on demanding as early as 1785 that Indian Christians should be ruled not by European religious missionaries but by Indians. Within the larger format of a travelogue detailing meticulously the socio-economic and political processes of the several countries he had visited in Africa, South America and Europe, he argues his case by showing how the foreign missionaries fearing reduction of the span of their power and authority did not want to have an Indian bishop for the St.Thomas Christians. Nazrani History and Discourse on Early Nationalism in Varthamanapusthakam Fr. Thomas Paremakkal and Fr.Joseph Kariyattil made their travels to Portugal and Rome on the decision of the general body of the St.Thomas Christians taken at Angamaly for the purpose of informing the Pope and the Queen of Portugal of the various discriminations, sufferings and difficulties that this community experienced over a considerable period of time from the foreign Carmelite missionaries working in Kerala. As the general meeting of the representatives of this community at Angamaly was dominated by feelings of anger and animosity against the European religious missionaries and the European bishop working then in Kerala, the travelogue has anti-Europeanism as its basic thread, critiquing the hegemonic and colonial fabric of the Church set up by the European missionaries. Stressing the need for going back to the pre-Portuguese days when democratic institutions of yogams(representative body at the grass root-levels) mahayogams(representative bodies at higher levels) with jathikkukarthaviyan(head of the community) existed among this community for their administration, instead of one-man centered or European notion of bishop- centered administration, the travelogue challenges the notion of authority that the European missionaries had set up within the colonial fabric they newly created for the Church of the St.Thomas Christians. Interestingly the narratives of this book, with copious accounts of hardships that the St.Thomas Christians had to face from the Church fabric set up by the European missionaries in Kerala, soon formed an inspiring literary device for this community in their later clamour for having Indian Catholic bishops for them instead of European bishops and...

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Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala
Sep16

Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala

Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala: It is obvious that there were multiple players and actors cutting across the boundaries of caste, creed and gender who actually took Kerala to the threshold of modernity and generally speaking no community, party or collectivity can claim exclusive monopoly in taking up its leadership. Kerala got evolved as a model modern state of India thanks to the concerted effort of diverse institutions, people and movements, which were often inter-related and interlinked. The diverse socio-economic , educational and health care projects and programmes that the St. Thomas Christians implemented out of the inspiration from the message of love of Jesus have ultimately contributed to the building up of a literate, healthy and socially empowered state in Kerala. But in the recent historiography and narratives of Kerala’s modernity only the voice of the hegemonic group, dominant community or party is made to be excessively heard peripheralizing and at times swallowing as well as silencing the voices of other players including the minority communities and groups. This is a clever way of manoeuvring the historical past by the “majority” and the “powerful” for the exercise of domination by subverting and silencing what the “minority “ groups had done for the shaping of modern Kerala. It is against this background that now historians are trying to identify the different layers of the historical processes that went into the shaping of modern Kerala. All these layers are as important as the so-called ‘dominant layer’ and the fabric of modern Kerala got constructed out of the collectivity of these layers, the cohesive forces emerging out of which sustain its vitality in a remarkable way. In today’s lecture I would like to concentrate only on one of these layers, i.e., the St.Thomas Catholic Christians, whose contribution added certain unique meanings and content to the type of modernity that appeared in Kerala. Saint Thomas Christians in the Shaping of Modern Kerala I. Agrarian Surplus, Banking and the Evolving Christian Middle Class The St.Thomas Christians, who were often depicted in the Portuguese documents as the principal spice-producers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, emerged as the dominant social group in the agrarian sector of Travancore by the second half of the nineteenth century. During the period between 1850 and 1900, there occurred a large scale migration under the leadership of St.Thomas Christians to the central upland parts of Kerala, particularly to the slopes of small hills and hillocks, which were till then uninhabited for want of sufficient labour force to clear their bushes and trees. One of the major reasons that triggered the migration process was the unprecedented...

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Nazrani Christians and the Social Processes of Kerala, 800-1500
Mar07

Nazrani Christians and the Social Processes of Kerala, 800-1500

[ This article deals with a part of Nasrani history, which was not properly studied by any other historian so far. The study is based primarily on the original Tharisapally copper plate and on the Portuguese primary source material. This article is included as chapter III in the book “Maritime India: Trade, Religion and Polity in the Indian Ocean” by Dr.Pius Malekandathil, published by Primus Books, New Delhi, 2010, pp.38-61 under the title “ Dynamics of Economy, Social Processes and the pre-Portuguese Christians of India, 800-1500”. The NSC team is grateful to the author, Rev Dr Pius Malekkandathil, for sending us this article for publication to a wider audience, who do not have access to the book.] The socio-economic processes of Maritime India began to undergo decisive changes by ninth century, when its vast coastal terrains were considerably influenced by the economic forces emitted by the long distance trade between the ports of Persian Gulf regions and of Canton in China. One of the most significant impact of this trade-route on Indian economy was that the long-distance traders, who had to temporarily break their voyage on Indian coast because of the adverse monsoon winds on the other side of the Ocean, became instrumental in identifying and developing port-sites near the mouth of various rivers, through which commodities held in high demand in other parts of the world could be obtained. Consequently a long of chain of ports of varying degrees of economic importance began to emerge on the east and west coast of India, making many consumption-oriented regional economies located closer to these ports start producing commodities needed by these foreign merchants. On the one hand the process of production oriented towards market began to get relatively intensified in some of these places, while on the other hand, there was a concomitant phenomenon of migration of mercantile communities to India to take maximum advantage out of the changed situation. The local rulers who noticed the advantages of using these economic changes for their political intentions began to extend support and patronage to foreign merchants and mercantile migrants reaching their ports, who were eventually transformed as their supportive base for the political dreams of expanding their territories. One of the most evident cases of this nature could be traced back to the set of commercial privileges granted by the ruler of Ay kingdom to the Christian migrant traders of Quilon like Mar Saphor and Mar Prodh from the erstwhile Sassanid Persia in the mid-ninth century. Though the purpose of the grant was to generate enough wealth so as to strengthen the hands of the ruler and to realize his political...

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