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 to North-west India, particularly to the kingdom of Gondophoros for preaching gospel probably through silk-route and then seems to have gone back to Jerusalem to attend the Jerusalem council and then he must have taken the sea route from Persian Gulf , probably from Basra to reach Cranganore and preach gospel in south India in 52 AD. However, what has been puzzling the historians is the larger historical context within which the early Christians appeared in coastal Maharashtra and Goa, as is mentioned in ancient literature and testified by the discovery of ancient Christian symbols and artifacts from this region.
The central purpose of this paper is to look into the nuanced ways and mechanisms by which Christian communities evolved in the first millennium in Mahrashtra and its vicinity and their relationship with the various Christian groups of St. Thomas tradition in the Indian Ocean. This is done by looking into the following queries: Did St. Thomas or St. Bartholomew or any other apostle of Jesus ever preach gospel in Konkan or any part of Maharashtra ? How does one account for the presence of some Christian communities in Konkan with a bishop residing at Kalyan in the beginning of 6th century , as is evidenced by Cosmas Indicopleustes? How can one historically locate it and several Pre-Portuguese Christian objects obtained from Goa including the 6th century Pahlavi-cross in the recent past? Can their origin be linked somehow with the preaching of gospel by St. Thomas or St. Bartholomew? How far were they connected with the various Christian groups of St. Thomas tradition in the Indian Ocean? What happened to these Christian communities in later period? These issues are addressed by analyzing the primary information obtained for this period and contextualizing the developments within the larger historical processes of the Indian Ocean.
The Early Christian Settlements of St. Thomas Tradition in India: Historical Setting
Acts of Judas Thomas is the earliest written source that speaks of the preaching of St. Thomas in India. This was written in the third century AD and it refers to the preaching of St.Thomas in the kingdom of Gondophoros, who was later identified as an Indo-Parthian ruler (( 1.A.F.J.Klijn, The Acts of Thomas, Leiden, 1962)). With the discovery of first century coins bearing the name of Gondophares from Northwest India from mid-1830s onwards ((2. These coins discovered from the neighbourhood of Kabul(particularly from Kabul, Khandahar, Seistan and Punjab) from 1834 onwards had bi-lingual legends: on the one side it had inscriptions in Greek, while the reverse side had inscriptions in Karoshti. H.H.Wilson, Ariana Antiqua, Antiquities and Coins of Afghanistan, London, 1871; A.E.Medlycott, India and the Apostle Thomas: An Inquiry with a Critical Analysis of the ‘Acta Thomae’, London, 1905, p.3; E.Thomas, Essays on Indian Antiquities of Late Sir James Prinsep, 1858; James Kurikilamkatt, First Voyage of the Apostle Thomas to India: Ancient Christianity in Bharuch and Taxila, Bangalore, 2005, p.69; Pius Malekandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Kochi, 2003, p. xxxv)) and rock inscription of Gunduphara from Takht-i-Bahi in Mardan , Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa , Pakistan in 1872 ((3. A.Cunningham, Archaeological Survey of India Reports, 1872-73, vol.V, pp.59-60; James Kurikilamkatt, First Voyage of the Apostle Thomas to India: Ancient Christianity in Bharuch and Taxila,, pp.74-88; Pius Malekandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, p.xxxv )) , scholars began to 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 and consequently they argued that the part of India to which St.Thomas came must have been North-West India (( 4.A.E.Medlycott, India and the Apostle Thomas: An Inquiry with a Critical Analysis of the ‘Acta Thomae’, London, 1905; J.N.Farquhar, “The Apostle Thomas in North India” in Bulletin of the John Ryland’s Library, vol.x, 1926, pp.80-111. For recent work see James Kurikilamkattu . First Voyage of the Apostle Thomas to India: Ancient Christianity in Bharuch and Taxila, pp. 43-90)). The kingdom of Gondophoros with capital at Taxila, extended from Baluchistan, Kabul , Punjab and Sind. Against this background of highly reliable archaeological evidences supporting the information of Acts of Judas Thomas, many scholars subscribe to the historical probability of St.Thomas’ preaching in this region (( 5.Romila Thapar views that this tradition is open to doubt, while she considers St. Thomas’ evangelization in Malabar to be more credible. Romila Thapar, A History of India, vol.I, New Delhi, 1999, p.134.)). By mid-first century AD the political control of this geography that is said to have heard Christian message first in India passed into the hands of the Kushans , who eventually set up an empire like political edifice with the wealth that they derived from the silk route trade and extended their control from Bactria to Peshawar, Taxila and Mathura on the one side and probably must have extended up to Malwa and Maharashtra( through western Kshatrapas) on the other hand. Though we do not have details about what happened to this Christian community later, it is quite evident that at least some of them must have moved to places that were under the Bishoprics established on the silk-route ((6.For details on the geography through which the silk-route ran see Christine de Weck, The Silk Road Today, New York,1989, p.xiii)) in their immediate vicinity like the dioceses of Merv and Tus established under Persian Church in 334 and raised to metropolitan status in 420 ; they must have been spiritually catered to by the church of Korasan ((7.Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana in qua manuscriptos codices Syriacos, Arabicos, Persicos, Turcicos, Hebraicos, Samaritanos, Armenicos, Aethiopicos, Graecos, Aegyptiacos, Ibericos, et Malabaricos, jussu et munificentia Clementis XI Pontificis Maximi ex Oriente conquisitos, comparatos, et Bibliotecae Vaticanae addictos Recensuit, digessit, et genuina scripta a spuriis secrevit, addita singulorum auctorum vita, Joseph Simonius Assemanus, Syrus Maronita (Rome, 1719–1728- 9 vols) , pp.439; 477-9; Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, Cathay and Way Thither: Being a Collection of Medieval Notices of China, New Delhi, vol.I, 1998, p.102. Merv was in Korasan and in present day Uzbekistan. )). The appearance of several dioceses under Persian Church on the silk route in the eighth and ninth centuries , particularly Merv in Korasan and Transoxiana region, Herat in Afghanistan and Samarkhand shows that at least from fourth century onwards the initial converts in the places of the first apostolate of St. Thomas in north west India got opportunities to get connected with Persian Church and could continue to live as Christians ((8. Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, Cathay and Way Thither: Being a Collection of Medieval Notices of China, New Delhi, vol.I, 1998, pp.103-4)), probably till their eventual extinction with their merging with the Budhists or with the Muslims following their invasions in the eleventh and twelfth centuries ((9.Assemani gives a letter of Patriarch Jesujabus( 650-660) , which speaks of the falling away of thousands of Christians from Merv region before its occupation by the Muslims. Assemani, op.cit., iii, part I, pp.130-1)).
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; but it is interesting to note that none of the Mediterranean or west Asian sources give any details about the apostolic work of St.Thomas in Kerala, in the way they are articulated in these Pattukal. Nevertheless, these songs, which form the carriers of the collective memory of this community, were codified and written down much later: Rabban Pattu, which was initially circulated in sung form, got written around 1601 ((10.This was published for the first time as a printed stuff by Fr. Bernard. See Fr. Bernard, Marthoma Kristhianikalude Charitram , Pala, 1916, pp.98-109)), and Margamkali Pattu, which was orally transmitted from generation to generation as a song, got finally written down in 1732 ((11.Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas: An Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge, 1982, p. 51)). Though their final articulation happened later, it is believed that these songs carry grains of truth as far as spread of Christianity in Kerala was concerned. Out of the first seven Christian settlements mentioned in these songs, Palayur, Cranganore, Parur and Quilon were trade centres located near sea-side or water channels, while Niranam was located on the banks of the river system of Pamba. Nilackal or Chayal was certainly an inland centre distanced away from water-side, but located on the trade route running across the ghat to Tamil Nadu ((12.For details about the seven initial Christian settlements see Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas:An Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge, 1982, p. 51. )). If there are elements of truth in what these songs say, then it becomes clear that most of the initial Christian settlements were located in the relatively significant trade centres of Kerala accessible by water channels or land routes.
The physical presence of Christians in a highly concentrated form in most of these settlements with claims of their origin to apostolic preaching of St.Thomas in one of these old seven Christian settlements in fact serve as an ethno-historical evidence that substantiates the high probability of the arrival of St.Thomas in Kerala.
Historians have been trying to see whether elements of truth are traceable in both these traditions and if so , how to get reconciled with these two pieces of information. The probability that many suggest is that St.Thomas after preaching in northwest India must have gone back to Palestine to attend the Jerusalem council and then after the conclusion of council he might have taken the traditional sea -route from Persian Gulf to reach Kerala for proclaiming the gospel, as is suggested by the sources in both written and oral circulation ((13. For details see Pius Malekandathil, “ St.Thomas Christians: A Historical Analysis of their Origin and Development up to 9th Century AD” , in Bosco Puthur (ed.), St.Thomas Christians and Nambudiris, Jews and Sangam Literature: A Historical Appraisal, Kochi, 2003, pp.2-3)). Obviously the important commercial centres of Kerala and Tamilnadu reachable through trade routes happened to be the core area of his apostolic work in South India
Early Christians of Maharashtra and Konkan
The first reference to the Christians of Konkan , particularly of Maharashtra and Goa is seen in the writings of Cosmas Indicopleustes(literally meaning Indian Voyager) ((14.Cosmas Indicopleustes (‘the India-voyager’) was a merchant who made several trips to Ethiopia, Eritrea, India and Sri Lanka , before becoming a monk and his book titled Christian Topography was written around 547 AD. The book says that he was a native of Egypt, probably of Alexandria. Though he never received a complete education (II, 1), he was a merchant (II, 54 and 56) in early life, involved in spice trade. During his mercantile voyages he visited Palestine, Mount. Sinai (V, 8, 14, 51-52), the island of Socotra (III, 65), and had made several trips to the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Persian Gulf (II, 29). The fact that he later became a monk is attested to by the Laurentian manuscript, which calls him “Kosmas monachos,”, Cosmas the monk. In book 2 he refers to his friend Menas, who left his profession of trade and became a monk. In Christian Topography Cosmas has been trying to prove that (contrary to prevailing Greek and some Christian theories) the shape of the universe is that of the shape of Moses’ tabernacle , which had the form of a cube and not a sphere. Besides giving arguments to substantiate his theory, he offers a large bulk of direct eyewitness’ information about the major centres of trade for the Persian Christians in the Indian Ocean and the principal Christian settlements in India and Srilanka connected with Persian Church.)), when he refers to Calliana(Kalyan) and Sibor( Chandor in Goa) ((15. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, Hakluyt Society, New York, 1897, p119)). Cosmas was referring to the bishop and Christians of Calliana against the context of the places having the settlements of Persian Christians in India and Sri Lanka. He writes: “Even in Taprobane ( Sri Lanka ), an island in Further India, where Indian sea is, there is a Church of Christians , with clergy and a body of believers, but I know not whether there be any Christians in the parts beyond it. In the country of Male ( Malabar) where pepper grows , there is also a church , and another place called Calliana, there is moreover a bishop, who is appointed from Persia. In the island, again called the island of Dioscorides ( Socotra) , which is situated in the same Indian sea , and where the inhabitants speak Greek, having been originally colonists sent thither by the Ptolemies who succeeded Alexander the Macedonian, there are clergy who receive their ordination in Persia, and are sent on to the island , and there is a multitude of Christians” ((16. Ibid., pp. 118-9)). Kalliena(Kalyan) had been an important centre of Roman trade in the early centuries of Christian era, as is evidenced by Periplus of Erythraen Sea ((17. Lionel Casson, Periplus Maris Erythraei, Princeton, 1989, pp.22-27; 224-225)).
Cosmas Indicopleustes also hints at the economic importance of the geographies that made Christian merchants settle down in these places. He says that Male (Malabar) is the place ‘where pepper grows’ and Calliana(Kalyan) is the place ‘which exports copper , sesame-logs and cloth for making dresses, and which ultimately made it ‘a great place of business’ ((18.J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, p.366)). It is to be here specially remembered that Kalyan and its neighbouring trading centres of Bassein (Vasai) and Chaul were major centres of textile trade for long span of time, as is evidenced from the later Portuguese sources (( 19.Manuel Lobato “ Relações entre India e a costa Africana nos seculos XVI e XVII: O Papel do Guzerate no Comercio de Moçambique”, in Teotonio R de Souza and Charles Borges(ed.), Portuguese India and its Northern Province(Actas do VII Seminario Internacional de Historia Indo-Portuguesa) , Mare Liberum, Numero 9, Julho 1995, Lisboa, 1995,pp.157-73; R.J. Barendse, The Arabian Seas: The Indian Ocean World of the Seventeenth Century, New Delhi, 2002, p.347; Pius Malekandathil, The Mughals, the Portuguese and the Indian Ocean: Changing Imageries of Maritime India, New Delhi, 2013, pp.127-8 )). However the reference to copper export from Kalyan is a quite confusing information, as India is said to have had no copper mine during this period. After the extinction of the old Khetri mines of Rajasthan, from which copper was mined for the multiple uses in the zones of Harappan culture, there were not many copper mines in India. Then where did the copper for export come from? Here one should link it with the previous passage of Christian Topography which speaks of Tzinista( China), from where a large bulk of copper used to enter India by the third quarter of sixteenth century, as is evidenced by later Portuguese sources ((20.J.H. da Cunha Rivara, Archivo Portuguez Oriental, New Delhi, 1992, fasciculo 1, part 2, p.229; fasciculo 3, p.211; Ibid., pp.750; 761. For import of copper from Japan see Ryuto Shimada, The Intra-Asian Trade in Japanese Copper by the Dutch East India during the Eighteenth Century, Leiden 2006)). Cosmas says that from China flowed also a variety of goods including silk( from China) , along with cloves( obviously from Moluccas, South East Asia ) and sandalwood (from Timor) to Persia ((21. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, p.366)). The copper that was exported from Kalyan evidently must have come from China or Japan, which were major sources for copper circulating in the Indian Ocean for long, as is evidenced from the later Portuguese documents ((22. Supra no.20.)). These details make us infer that the seat of the bishopric of Kalyan was located not in the vacuum , but in the heartland of a stimulated economy and international trade , whose networks were intrinsically linked with the ecclesiastical and missionary networks connected with Persian Church.
Kalyan existed as a nodal point in the Indian Ocean for both commercial and ecclesiastical circuits. Cosmas Indicopleustes refers to the geographical components of these circuits in India, when he gives the list of places where Persian Christian merchants used to conduct trade. They were: ‘Sindhu ( Sind) ((23. Cosmas Indicopleustes considers Sindhu , which got its name after Indus, as the frontier of India and as the boundary between Persia and India. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, p.366)), Orrhotha(Saurashtra) ((24.It refers to Saurashtra. Pliny refers to an Indian race by name Horatae, who lived in the Gulf of Cambay. This was a corrupt form of Sorath, derived from Surashtra or Gujarat. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, p.367, no.1)), Sibor( Sindabor or Chandrapura, which is an abbreviation of present day Chandor) ((25.Sibor is identified with Sindabor or Chandrapura , which is equated with present day Chandor. Sindabor had been a major centre of trade for the Jews from 9th / 10th centuries onwards. See S.D.Goitein, “Portrait of a Medieval India Trader: Three Letters from the Cairo Geniza”, in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies,1987, XLVIII, pp.457-460. In the original Catalan Map prepared by the Majorcan Jew called Abraham Cresques in 1375 for the king Charles V of France , the place is indicated as Chintabor. This map is now kept in the Mazarine Gallery of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris(Spanish Mss.No.30). See also Henri Cordier, L’Extreme-Orient dans l’Atlas Catalan de Charles V, roi de France, Paris, 1894. See Pius Malekandathil, The Germans, the Portuguese and India, Münster: LIT Verlag, 1999, p.15 )), and then five marts of Male ((26. It is quite clear that ‘Male’ here stands for the larger geography of Malabar comprising the present-day Kerala. In Geniza papers we find reference to Malibarat. S.D.Goiteen, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders, Princeton, 1972, pp.63-4. Even in the document from the Rasulids of Yemen Malibarat is mentioned See Elizabeth Lambourn, “ India from Aden: Khutba and Muslim Urban Networks in Late Thirteenth Century India”, Kenneth R.Hall (ed.), Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm, c.1400-1800, New York, 2008, pp.72; 89-90. For the identification of these place names see also Pius Malekandathil, The Germans, the Portuguese and India, Münster: LIT Verlag, 1999, pp. 3-4)) which export pepper: Parti(?), Mangarouth(Mangalore) ((27. S.D.Goitein, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973,pp.63-4. The Jewish merchant Abraham Yiju had a bronze factory at Manjruth(Mangalore). Ibid., pp.192-4)), Salopatana( Chaliyampattanam ) ((28.The identification of this place is done with the help of a document obtained from the Rasulids of Yemen, who used to give stipends in 1290s to the qadis and khatibs of various port towns on the west coast of India. Al- Shaliyat in this document is identified with Chaliyam. Moreover, Chaliyam has been a major centre for pepper trade all through history, which further strengthens my argument for its identification. See Elizabeth Lambourn, “ India from Aden: Khutba and Muslim Urban Networks in Late Thirteenth Century India”, Kenneth R.Hall (ed.), Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm, pp. 70-2; 87-90)), Nalopatana( Dahbatan or Dharmapttanam) and ((29.It could have been what the Jews and the Rasulids used to call as Dahfatan , which is identified as Dharamapattanam or Dharmadam located about 4 kms from the town of Thalasserry. For reference in Rasulid document see Elizabeth Lambourn, “ India from Aden: Khutba and Muslim Urban Networks in Late Thirteenth Century India”., pp. 70-2; 87-88. Dharmadam is surrounded by the Anjarakandy river on three sides and the region of Anjarakandy has been a major production centre of pepper in north Malabar till recently.)) Poudopatana (Puthupattanam or present day Pattanam?) ((30.Poudopatana meaning new port town was a common nomenclature given to many newly emerging port –towns along coastal Kerala at different time periods. The Rasulid documents refer to Bud, which is identified with Buddfattan or Pudupattanam in north Malabar. However I think that Poudopatana mentioned in Cosmas Indicopleustes must be referring to a port-town located in the vicinity of Cottanarike, which was indicated as the major pepper producing region in Kerala in the written sources for the period between first century AD till fifth century AD. Pliny (50-60A.D.) locates Cottonara near Bakare( Purakkad) and Ptolemy (150AD) says that Kottiare is located south of Melkynda(Nelcynda or Niranam). Tabula Peutingeriana of the 4th century A.D., places “Cotiara” south of Muziris, which evidently suggests the fast expansion of pepper-cultivation to a wide range of fertile land-space. A. and M.Levi (ed.), Itineraria picta: Contributoallo studio della Tabula Peutingeriana, Rome, 1967. The consensus is that all are different versions of Kuttanadu and that it refers to the region lying on the banks of Pampa river. A close examination of the writings of Pliny and Ptolemy, which have got a time-gap of 90 to 100 years, would show that there was a slow expansion of agricultural activities from Purakkad to regions south of Niranam and are suggestive of the fact that more and more areas were brought under pepper-cultivation in this process. In other words Kottanarike or Cottonara or Kottiare is to be taken only as a generic term used by the Mediterranean writers to denote the spice-production zone of central Kerala. It was, in fact, to meet the ever-increasing demands from the Mediterranean world that more and more areas were brought under spice-cultivation, which extended up to the region south of Niranam by 150 AD. However by 4th century A.D., a great part of central Kerala was brought under pepper-cultivation. If we follow this argument, then the major port-town located in the vicinity of this land space was Pattanam , from where Persian artifacts of Sassanid period were recently unearthed on a considerable scale. This makes me identify Poudopatana as present-day Pattanam. )). Then out in the ocean, at the distance of about five days and nights from the continent, lies Sielediba , that is Taprobane(Sri Lanka). And again on the continent is Marallo , a mart exporting chank shells( obviously referring to Pearl Fishery Coast) , then Caber( Kaveripattanam) , which exports alabandenum , and then farther away is the clove country( referring to Moluccas) , then Tzinista which produces the silk. ((31. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, pp.366-7)) For meeting the spiritual needs of Persian Christian merchants involved in such a vast span of geography stretching from coastal western India to South China seas , there was only one bishop whose base was then at Kalyan. These pieces of information are reliable as Cosmas himself made trips to India, as is mentioned in the book ((32. Ibid., pp.38-40)), and for a considerable chunk of his narrative he got information from his merchant friend named Sopatros, as well.
With his extensive familiarization with these geographies, Cosmas developed a cosmological perception on the ideological basis connected with the teachings of Nestor and Theodore of Mopseustia. The ecclesiastical affiliation of Cosmas Indicopleustes to the Church of Nestor is indicated in the work , which also is suggestive of the ecclesiastical connectivity of these scattered Christian settlements with Persian Church. He refers to his veneration to Patricius, who was a Christian convert from Persian Zoroastrianism and who was known as Mar Aba, and was later in 540 made the Bishop Catholic( Patriarch) of the whole of Persia ((33. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, p.24, see also footnote no.3; Assemani, op.cit, vol. ii, p. 412;vol. iii, pp. 73-6; vol. iii, part 2, p.406 )). Mar Aba ((34.For details see Adrian Fortescue, The Lesser Eastern Churches , London, 1913, 80ff.)) visited Alexandria along with his close disciple Thomas of Edessa and Cosmas Indicopleustes was deeply influenced by the lectures that Mar Aba made on the doctrines and works of Nestor and Theodore of Mopseustia in that city. Referring to it Cosmas writes: ‘the great Patricius … came among us from the country of the Chaldaens’ ((35. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, p. 316)). Cosmas calls Mar Aba ‘the Man of God,’ ((36. Ibid., p.39)) from who he obtained information about currents in the Indian Ocean and the timing of navigation ((37. Ibid.)). With the banning of Nesotrianism in Alexandria after the council of Ephesus (431), there were only a very few in that city who maintained teachings of Nestor and Cosmas was a member of that minority group. However he regards the teachings of Mar Aba about Nestor as the ‘doctrines of holy religion’ ((38. Íbid., p.24)).
Though Kalyan having a bishopric is the only Christian enclave in the present-day Maharashtra that Cosmas Indicopleustes refers to in his work, he also speaks of another settlement of Persian Christian merchants on the southern Konkan , i.e., Sibor, which is identified as Sindabor or Chandrapura ( present-day Chantor) located on the banks of a tributary of Zuari river of Goa. It is interesting to note that both Kalyan and Chandor are geographically located not on the direct sea-side of present-day times. These two places, relatively distanced away from the present day sea-front, were connected with sea through some good water channels as in the case of Kalyan or rivulets like the tributary of Zuari in the case of Sibor. Moreover, the continuous geophysical changes and interaction happening between the sea and land over time must have led to the silting up of the coastal side widening still further the distance from these places to the present-day sea-side.
Christian Networks of Faith and Commerce and the Evolution of a Community of St. Thomas Tradition
By the middle of sixth century there evolved an intricate network of faith and commerce among these Christian settlements scattered in the Indian Ocean, whose integration and cohesion was ensured by faith and trade related travels and circuits. In fact the reference of Cosmas Indicopleustes to the presence and activities of the Christian merchants on the fringes of Indian Ocean is further attested to by the discovery of stone crosses with Pahlavi(archaic Persian) inscriptions in several places in south-west India and Sri Lanka, which is further suggestive of the large network of faith and commerce developed by Persian Christian merchants. So far nine crosses with Pahlavi inscriptions were found in the entire Indian Ocean region: One in Anuradhhapuram in Sri Lanka, which was associated with the commercially oriented Christian community migrated from Persia. ((39.B.J.Perera, “The Foreign Trade and Commerce of Ancient Ceylon”, in Ceylon Historical Journal, I, 1951, pp.110-113; M.D. Raghavan, India in the Ceylonese History, Society and Culture, London, 1964, p.18; The cross of Anuradhapuram was discovered in 1912. For details see also Prabo Mihindukulasuriya, “ Persian Christians of Anuradha Period”, in A Cultured Faith: Essays in Honour of Prof. G.P.V. Somratna on His Seventieth Birthday, Colombo, 2011.)) Cosmas writes: “The island (of Sri Lanka) has also a church of Persian Christians who have settled there, and a Presbyter who is appointed from Persia, and a Deacon and a complete ecclesiastical ritual.” ((40. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, p. 365)) Also were found eight Pahlavi-inscribed crosses in India viz., Mylapore(1), Kottayam(2), Muttuchira(1), Kadamattam(1), Alengad(1), Kothanalloor (1) and Agassaim in Goa(1). The maritime trading activities of the Persian Christians through the Goan port of Revatidvipa or Gopakapattanam then controlled by the Chalukyas, led to the establishment of mercantile settlements of the Persian Christians in Sindabor ( or Sibor or Chandrapura standing for present day Chantor)and on the banks of lower Zuari, from where a Pahlavi-inscribed cross was discovered in 2001 by Fr.Cosme Costa ((41. For more details about the cross discovered from Goa see Pius Malekandathil, “Christianity came before the Portuguese to Goa”, in Navahind Times (Panorama), Panjim, May 13, 2001,p.1 The same article in its entirety or in parts was published in different national dailies like Indian Express, Times of India and The Asian Age under different titles. This cross has Pahlavi inscription in the form of an arch and a Portuguese inscription at the base, which runs as follows: A de S.(Sao) Tome (….) de Ilez (ilhas ?) 642(1642). The Portuguese inscription which would mean “that which belongs to the St.Thomas Christians of the islands (Tiswadi) 1642”, must have been added later to identify this cross and show its difference from the rest of crosses, a step which was necessary in the mid-seventeenth century against the background of heightened tensions between the Portuguese and the St. Thomas Christians. For details see Pius Malekandathil, “Discovery of a Pahlavi-Cross from Goa: A New Evidence for Pre-Portuguese Christian Settlement in Konkan”, in Christian Orient, 2002.)). The concentration of Persian Christians in Gopakapattanam in Goa and Kalyan as well as its vicinity got augmented with the intense maritime trade happening between the Chalukyans , who controlled these ports as well as their hinterland, and the Sassanids following the dispatching of a commercial envoy by the Chalukyan ruler Pulikesin II(610-642) to the Sassanid court ((42. Muhammad bin Jarir Tabari, Annales, ed.by M.J.de Goeje et alii, Serie I, Leiden 1879, p. 1052; See also the translation of T.Noeldeke, Geschichte der Perser und Araber zur Zeit der Sassaniden, Leiden, 1879.)). It is said that a painting in Cave I at Ajanta represents a return embassy from Sassanid Persia to the Chalukyan court ((43.G.Yazdani and L. Binyon, Ajanta: The Colour and Monochrome Reproductions of the Ajanta Frescoes based on Photography, I, London, 1930-55,pl.XXXVIII.)).
The common pattern seen in the execution of these crosses speaks of the inter-connectedness between these Christian settlements. Since Pahlavi was the language used in Sassanid Persia particularly in the Fars region before its islamization in the seventh-century AD., it is generally believed that these Pahlavi-inscribed crosses must have taken shape before seventh century, and seem to have developed principally among the Pahlavi-speaking Christians. Out of the various Pahlavi-inscribed crosses found in India, the one at Mount St.Thomas of Mylapore ((44.C.P.T.Winckworth, “ A New Interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross-Inscription of Southern India”, in T.K.Joseph,(ed.), Kerala Society Papers, vol.I&II, pp.159-164;267-69)) seems to be the oldest, which is traced back to the 6th century AD., and probably as old as Anuradhapuram cross. Several attempts were made by many scholars to decipher and translate the archaic Pahlavi-inscriptions; however the most recent one was the translation given by Gerd Gropp who translated the Pahlavi-inscription of Mylapore in the following words: “Our Lord Messiah may show mercy on Gabriel, the son of Chaharbokht(literally meaning having four sons), the grandson of Durzad (literally meaning born in distant land), who made this (cross)” ((45.Gerd Gropp, “Die Pahlavi-Inschrift auf dem Thomaskreuz in Madras”, in Archaeologische Mitteilungen aus Iran, Neue Folge Band 3, 1970,pp.267-271. The English translation is made by the author. C.P.T.Winckworth has translated the inscription as : “My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras son of Chaharbukht, The Syrian, who cut this.” For details see C.P.T.Winckworth, “ A New Interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross-Inscription of Southern India”, in T.K.Joseph,(ed.), Kerala Society Papers, vol.I&II, pp.161-164. Winckworth has later revised his reading and interpretation as follows: “My Lord Christ, have mercy upon Afras, son of Chaharbukht, the Syrian, who preserved this(cross).” For details see “Revised Interpretation of the Pahlavi Cross Inscription of Southern India”, in T.K.Joseph,(ed.), Kerala Society Papers, vol.I&II, pp267-269; Pius Malekandathil, “Discovery of a Pahlavi-Cross from Goa: A New Evidence for Pre-Portuguese Christian Settlement in Konkan, in Christian Orient, 2002,pp.140-142.)).
Migration of Persian Christians to India became frequent with the stimulation that the Sassanids gave to maritime trade with coastal India from the middle of third century AD onwards. King Ardashir, who laid foundation of the Sassanid rule in Persia in 224 founded or re-founded several ports including Rew Ardashir in the Persian Gulf region for the purpose of carrying out trans-oceanic trade with the marts of the Indian Ocean ((46.D.Whitehouse and A. Williamson, “Sassanian Maritime Trade”, in Iran, 11, 1973, pp.29-32; See also O.W.Wolters, Early Indonesian Commerce: A Study of the Origins of Srivijaya,Ithaca, 1967, pp.129-158. )). The fourth century writer Palladius refers to the Sassanid vessels plying in the Indian Ocean for trade ((47.D.M.Derrett, “The History of Palladius on the Races of India and Brahmans” in Classica et Mediaevalla, 21, 1961, pp.64-135; D.M.Derrett, “The Theban Scholasticus and Malabar in c.355-60” in J.A.O.S, 82, 1962, pp.21-31)).
The active participation of Christian traders from Sassanid Persia in the maritime trade is testified by the Nestorian annals. The eleventh century Nestorian Chronicle of Seert refers to a bishop , Dodi of Basra( 3rd or 4th century) , having gone to India for converting the people ((48.Addai Sher(ed.and tr.), La Chronique de Seert in Patrologia Orientalis , I.8,p.26)). It also refers to Mar Ahai, a Nestorian Catholicos, who was sent by the Sassanid ruler Yazdigird I ( 399-421) to Fars to investigate the piracy of ships returning from India and Ceylon ((49.Addai Scher, La Chronique de Seert in Patrologia Orientalis, V, pp.324-6; B.E.Colles, “Persian Merchants and Missionaries in Medieval Malaya”, in Journal of the Malayasian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, XLII/2, 1969, pp.10-47)). The Catholicos was entrusted with the task of collecting information about the sea-borne piracy probably because of the connections that the Catholicos had with the Christian trading groups of India and Ceylon, who either must have been the victims of such piratical attacks or must have been viewed as potential allies for countering such problems.
It is obvious that by sixth century channels of trade between Sassanid Persia and India were increasingly used by missionaries from Persia to move to the vast regions bordering the Indian Ocean. Involvement of Persian Christians in Indian trade was referred to by the account of Abraham Kashkar, a sixth century monk, who made his voyage to India as a merchant. B.E. Colles mentions about one Bar Sahde, who also made several journeys to India before entering a monastery following the attack of his ship by the pirates ((50.B.E.Colles, “Persian Merchants and Missionaries in Medieval Malaya”; A.Mingana, “The Early Spread of Christianity in India”, in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, X, 1926, p.455 )).
Following the track of traders, the belief system of Christianity spread to different parts of the Indian Ocean region including Malaya peninsula and South East Asia. At this point of time the commodities that the Persian Christians used to take to Chinese and South East Asian markets were called Possu (which initially was a Chinese version of the place name Parsa or Fars or Persia) merchandise in these places ((51. For details see O.W.Wolters, Early Indonesian Commerce: A Study of the Origins of Srivijaya,Ithaca, 1967, pp.129-158. Though initially Possu meant commodities from Persia, by twelfth century the term was increasingly used to denote an area in South East Asia, probably Pasai in Sumatra. David Whitehouse and Andrew Williamson, “Sassanian Maritime Trade”, p.46)). The spread of Persian Christians to coastal China and South East Asia seems to have happened relatively at an early period and as early as 410 AD we have evidence of a bishop attending the synod of that year with the resounding title of “Metropolitan of the Islands, Seas and Interior, of Dabag, Chin and Macin.” Chin and Macin of this title obviously stand for China and Mahachina, whereas Dabag stands for the island of Java ((52. David Whitehouse and Andrew Williamson, “Sassanian Maritime Trade”, p.47. It should be here specially remembered that there was a tradition in the 16th century Kerala that St.Thomas himself had gone to preach in China, Macin and Java. For details see Pius Malekandathil(ed.), Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes:A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Kochi, 2003, pp.7-13)).
The extension of the commercial activities of the Persian Christians to the various ports in the Indian Ocean eventually resulted in the formation of several trading colonies by them on its rim, followed by migration of Christians in considerable numbers in the successive phases. The traders from West Asia moving to South East Asia had to halt at Malabar or some other place on the western coast of India for a considerable period of time till they got favourable wind for their long-distance voyage through Bay of Bengal, where the north-east monsoon obstructed navigation during the period between October and February. The Persian Christian merchants, who used to halt in various trading centres of west coast of India till they got favourable monsoon laid also foundation for some of the principal Christian settlements like those of Anuradhapuram in Srilanka, Kaveripattanam/Mylapore, Quilon, Pattanam/Cranganore, Sindabor or Goa, Kalyan etc., which later swelled in size, with the inflow of people in the succeeding periods. It is against this background that one should historically locate the reference of Cosmas Indicopleustes to ‘Sindhu, Orrhotha, Sibor, the marts of Male including Parti, Mangarouth, Salopatana, Nalopatana and Poudopatana’ as centres of trade for Persian Christians ((53. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, pp.366-7)).
As is evident from the account of Cosmas Indicopleustes, Kalyan, Dioscorides( Socotra) , Taprobane( Sri Lanka) were administered by clergy sent from Persia, and these Christian settlements operated in close connection with the Christian settlements of Kerala, causing some form of ecclesial communion to evolve among them under the bishop of Kalyan. These Christian settlements extending from Persian Gulf and stretching to coastal India and South East Asia had shared identity and liturgical as well as spiritual legacy linked with St. Thomas and they were welded together not only by priests and bishops from Persia periodically visiting and administering Sacraments, but also by a network of monasteries, out of which the monastery of Kharg island in the Persian Gulf seems to have been the main training center for the formation of the missionaries meant for India and other regions in the Indian Ocean ((54. David Whitehouse and Andrew Williamson, “Sassanian Maritime Trade”, p.43. They make this inference on the ground that traditionally the captains approaching Basra used to put in at Kharg to engage a pilot before entering the Shatt al-Arab and the island thus played a significant role in the maritime trade of the Gulf. The importance of this monastery is to be seen against the background of the missionary expansionist activities of the Nestorians and the ecclesiastical administration of Indian church by the metropolitan of Rew Ardashir. The archaeological excavations in Kharg island, 55k.m. North-west of Bushire, were conducted by Prof. Ghirshman, who unearthed the remnants of a Nestorian monastery with a potential capacity to accommodate about a hundred persons. R.Ghirshman, The Island of Kharg, Tehran, 1960, pl.12ff.. For a detailed discussion on whether the St.Thomas Christians were Nestorians, see Luis Filipe F.R.Thomaz, “Were the St.Thomas Christians looked upon as Heretics?”, in The Portuguese and the Socio-Cultural Changes in India:1500-1800, ed.by K.S.Mathew, Teotonio R. de Souza and Pius Malekandathil, Fundação Oriente, 2001)). The St.Thomas Christians of Kerala and the migrant Persian Christian merchants , who settled down in the major centres of maritime trade on the fringes of Indian Ocean operated in unison and they were bound together by the commonality of religion and religious ideology , which was followed by sharing of common Christian liturgy, collective memory and folk-stories related to St. Thomas. Wherever the St.Thomas Christians went for trade they also carried along with them the stories of apostolic work of St.Thomas among them, which eventually their descendants and later the members of various local Christian community seem to have also appropriated and circulated as something that had happened among them. The nucleus of such phenomena can be traced back to the St.Thomas Christians or their descendants, who used to conduct trade along with Persian Christians or in localities connected with the commerce of the latter and eventually a Thomas-centric tradition and identity began to get disseminated in such trade centres and settlements extending up to Konkan and beyond.
Did St.Thomas or St. Bartholomew Preach in Konkan ?
This question emerges at a point when one looks into the probable reasons for the emergence of such early Christian groups in Maharashtra and Goa, besides other parts of the Indian Ocean. Recently there have been several attempts to link the origin of the early Christians of Kalyan and other parts of Konkan with the apostolate of St. Bartholomew ((55.Scholars like Albrecht Dihle argued that it was St.Bartholomew who first made Christians in India. See Albrecht Dihle, “Neues zur Thomas Tradition”, Jahrbuch f uer Antike und Christentum, 6, 1963, pp.54-70. In India A.C. Perumalil and George M. Moraes recently argued that the field of missionary activities of St. Bartholomew was Kalyan and Bombay region. A.C.Perumalil , The Apostles in India, Patna, 1971, pp.108-140; George M.Moraes, A History of Christianity in India from early Times to St. Francis Xavier , AD 52 to 1542, Bombay, 1964, p.45)). Their argument is based on the writings of St. Jerome ((56.Jerome, “Lives of Illustrious Men ”, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace(ed.), A Select Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol.III, Michigan, 1892, p.370)) and the historian Eusebius ((57.Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V, 10; Roy J. Deferrari(ed.), The Fathers of the Church, vol. XIX, New York, 1953, p.303)) who refer to the preaching of St.Bartholomew in India. Very often the pre-Portuguese Christians of Goa and Maharashtra were identified by some as descendants of those who were baptized by St.Bartholomew. I feel that this seems to have been either a mistake or a remote probability. There is no conclusive evidence or strong living tradition or any authentic early written account other than the ones given by St.Jerome and Eusebius to substantiate the apostolic work of St.Bartholomew in Maharashtra and Goa. It should be here noted that these two church fathers do not refer to Maharashtra or Goa or Konkan anywhere in their writings as to link Bartholomew with this region. Moreover, while we have a large corpus of documents in Portuguese and Dutch languages mentioning the apostolic work of St.Thomas and the religious traditions of the St.Thomas Christians of Kerala we do not find any substantial account of that nature about the apostolate of St.Bartholomew in India in general or in Maharashtra or Goa in particular in such works. This indicates that during the period of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries or later, when local Christian traditions of various regions were written down by the Portuguese and the Dutch and later circulated in print-form, Bartholomew tradition was not at all prevalent in this region. It was only later in the twentieth century that some started linking the pre-Portuguese Christians of Goa and Maharashtra with St. Bartholomew, for substantiating which they tried to bank upon the accounts of St.Jerome and Eusebius. At a time when research on the pre-Portuguese Christian group of Kalyan was in its inceptional stage and the logic of their presence could not be historically contextualized, these historians seem to have erroneously attributed its origin to St.Bartholomew as a conjecture, without explaining the logic with which they connected the apostolic work of St. Bartholomew with Konkan regions like Bombay and Kalyan. Some say that Kalyan is Felix India, where Bartholomew is said to have preached gospel ((58. A.C.Perumalil , The Apostles in India, Patna, 1971, pp.108-140)). However this does not seem to be a convincing argument as from first century AD onwards the Mediterranean writers including the author of Periplus of Erithraen Sea used to refer to Kalyan as Calliena and not as India Felix ((59. Lionel Casson, Periplus Maris Erythraei, Princeton, 1989, pp.22-27; 224-225)). So far nothing has been unearthed or discovered from this region or anywhere as to substantiate that the geography of Bartholomew’s mission was Konkan. Similarly the probability of the origin of Christians of Maharashtra and Goa through the preaching by St. Thomas is equally untenable, as so far nothing has been obtained from the region to link its pre-Portuguese Christians with the missionary activities of St.Thomas. However the feeble layer of inhabitants of these places maintaining folk-tradition about St. Thomas, and the presence and visibility of elements of the shared culture of St. Thomas Christians of Kerala show that these Christians once upon a time lived and evolved as a community of St. Thomas tradition. Historically speaking these Christians of Konkan, particularly of Maharashtra and Goa were the descendants of Persian Christian migrants who later got spread and settled down in different trading centres of Konkan including Kalyan, Goa, Thana, Sopara etc., but thrived and expanded as communities sustained by traditions woven around St. Thomas. The ecclesial and commercial connectivity that these Christians of Konkan had with the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala seems to have created over a period of time a conducive atmosphere , whereby the common liturgical traditions, ecclesiastical heritage and spiritual legacy of St. Thomas Christians got disseminated among the former and a variety of Thomas-centric traditions got currency among them as to cause to evolve a Christian community of St. Thomas tradition over there.
Changing Contours of Hierarchical Structure and the Phase of Vicissitudes
The bishopric of Kalyan and other settlements of Persian Christians in the Indian Ocean, particularly those of Sri Lanka, Goa and Socotora( where priests were sent from Persia for service), together formed an ecclesial communion and they, along with the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala , existed and operated as different strata in the ecclesiastical hierarchy developed by Seleucia- Ctesiphon Church. At the time of the composition of Christian Topography( between 540 and 550AD) , Kalyan was a bishopric that functioned directly under the Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, i.e., Mar Aba and the settlements of Persian Christians in Maharashtra, Goa and Sri Lanka were subordinate units under this bishopric although there was the Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir ( of Fars region), who stood as the intermediate authority between the bishop of Kalyan and the Patriarch. However, Cosmas does not give the impression that the Christians of Kerala were under the bishopric of Kalyan, though he refers to the existence of a church of Christians over there ((60. J.W. McCrindle ( ed.), The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk,pp.118-9)).
However after 552 AD , with the death of the Patriarch Mar Aba, things got changed following the new developments happening in the Persian Church and the direct ecclesiastical relationship of Kalyan with the Seleucia-Ctesiphon seems to have got broken. This piece of information is provided by the Patriarch Isho-Yab III (650-58), who refers to the rebellion of Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir (Fars) in around 554AD. Patriarch Isho-Yab III wrote to Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir : “.. you closed the door of episcopal ordination in the face of the many peoples of India… since your revolt against the ecclesiastical canons, the priestly succession has been broken for the people of India. In darkness …dwells not only India.. but even your own region of Fars” ((61. Rubens.Duval, Išoỷahb Patriarchae III Liber Epistularum, Letter XIV,( Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium . vol.XI), Paris, 1904, p.182)). It seems that because of this schism in Persian Church following the rebellion of the Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir , which lasted from 554 till 790, the direct link of Kalyan with Seleucia-Ctesiphon got broken and the bishopric of Kalyan got extinct, even though the Christians still continued to live there for a relatively longer span of time. However that does not mean that the Christian settlements in the Indian Ocean were not spiritually attended to . The same Patriarch Isho-Yab III writes that in his day the Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir was responsible for catering to the spiritual needs of the Christians of not only Fars, but also for “India”, a geographical concept in which he included the places between the maritime borders of the Sassanid kingdom and the country called QLH(Kedah) in Malay Peninsula, covering a distance of 1200 parasangs and extending up to the doors of South East Asia ((62.O.Braun, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium: Scriptores Syri, Ii, p.252; B.E. Colles,”Persian Merchants and Missionaries”, pp.20-21)). Though the seat of patriarch was at Ctesiphon, for almost about two and a half centuries(from 554 till 790) the metropolitan of Rew Ardashir had been administering the Church affairs of Fars and India as an independent and parallel ecclesiastical unit and cut of all ecclesial communion with Seleucia-Ctesiphon Church, to which Patriarch Isho-Yab took strong objection in 650s ((63.E.Schau, “Vom Christentum in der Persis”, in Sitzungsberichte Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, 1916, pp.958-980; Gerd Gropp, “ Christian Maritime Trade of Sasanian Age in the Persian Gulf”, p.85)). The separation of the Fars church from the Nestorian Patriarch of Ctesiphon was based chiefly on differences about monasticism, the ordination of the bishops and on use of language. The Church of Mesopotamia (Cetsiphon) had the liturgical celebrations in Syriac, whereas the Church of Fars (Persia) had its own Bible translation in Pahlavi (archaic Persian) language in the fifth century. In fact, this Pahlavi translation of Bible( which was used in contrast to the Syriac Psita Bible) was made by Metropolitan Ma’na of Rew Ardashir in 420 A.D. A copy of this translation was excavated in 1966 in Turfan in China, where it seems to have reached through the silk-route along with missionaries, and now kept in Berlin ((64.Gerd Gropp, “ Christian Maritime Trade of Sasanian Age in the Persian Gulf”, p.85; E.Schau, “Vom Christentum in der Persis”,pp.960ff; See also Richard N.Fyre , “Bahrain under the Sasanians”, in Daniel Potts(ed.), Dilmun: New Studies in the Archaeology and Early History of Bahrain, Berlin, 1983, p.169. The church of Ctesiphon opted for Syriac in order to make its medium distinct from Pahlavi, a language that was predominantly used by the Zoroastrians. However, the church of Fars with its satellite ecclesiastical units in the Indian Ocean seems to have made its separation from Ctesiphon Patriarch evident by adhering to the use of Pahlavi language.)). Metropolitan Ma’na of Rew Ardashir had composed Pahlavi madrase ( discourses) , memre( verse homilies) and enyane( antiphons) and dispatched these books to ‘the islands of the sea and India’ for liturgical use ((65.Prabo Mihindukulasuriya, “ Persian Christians in the Anuradhapura Period”, p.9; Addai Scher, La Chronique de Seert in Patrologia Orientalis, II.9, p. 117)).
It was against the background of the increasing use of Pahlavi by the missionaries from Rew Ardashir that Pahlavi-inscribed crosses appeared on a big way in many of the scattered Christian settlements of the Indian Ocean. Material remnants obtained from the recent archaeological excavations carried out at Pattanam show that Sassanid traders, who were actively involved in the Indian Ocean commerce, had developed a major commercial base on the banks of Periyar, particularly in Pattanam, besides Shingly or Cranganore located in the vicinity, where Alexis de Menezes found an old Pahlavi-inscribed cross in 1599 ((66.Pius Malekandathil(ed.), Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of Sixteenth Century Malabar, p.216)). On the Coromandel coast while Kaveripattinam continued to be a significant port of call for the Sassanid traders, Mahabalipuram developed by the Pallava rulers eventually became an important port for the commerce of the Sassanids, because of its geo-physical location as mid-way port between the Persian Gulf and South East Asia ((67.For a general History of the Pallavas see C.Minakshi, Administration and Social Life under the Pallavas, Madras, 1938. The port-area of Mahabalipuram is believed to have been submerged in the sea, probably following an earlier tsunami or a turbulent geo-physical development of such nature. B.Ch. Chhabra, “Expansion of the Indo-Aryan Culture to South East Asia during the Pallava Rule as evidenced by Inscription”, JRASBL, 1-64; Ranabir Chakravarti, Trade in Early India, Oxford, 2001, p76)). The fact that Persian Christians used to live as scattered mercantile group in this region stretching from Mahabalipuram to Mylapore in remote past is evidenced by the discovery of a Pahlavi-inscribed cross from Mylapore in 1547 ((68.Pius Malekandathil(ed.), Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of Sixteenth Century Malabar, p.245, note 190)). The Christians of Vasai still following several of West Asian dressing pattern including veil, jnori(cloth with foldings at the back) big earrings etc., retain the cultural remnants of old Persian linkages ((69.This is an information gathered on the basis of field-study)). The Christian communities of Kalyan , Thana on the Salcette island and Sopara(Surparaka) and of Broach(Barukachha) in Gujarat , which Jordan Catalani of Severac saw in 1329 ((70. For details see Friar Jordanus, Mirabilia Descripta, London, 1863, pp.24-30; George Moraes, A History of Christianity in India from Early Times to St.Francis Xavier, AD52-1552, Bombay, 1964, pp.89-102; Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, Cathay and Way Thither, vol.III, Nendeln/Liechtenstein, 1967, pp.28-31; 75-80)) were all remnants of these Persian Christian settlers , who once operated inter-connectedly in ecclesial communion in the Indian Ocean.
In the changed situation, particularly after 554, the metropolitan of Rew Ardashir in Fars , besides spiritually controlling the bishoprics of coastal Persia , Bahrain-Oman and Socotora regions ((71. E.Schau, “Vom Christentum in der Persis”.,p.965; Gerd Gropp, “ Christian Maritime Trade of Sasanian Age in the Persian Gulf”, p.85)), wove together the scattered mercantile settlements of Persian Christians in the Indian Ocean by giving them a distinctive individuality of their own with Pahlavi as the linguistic medium and Pahlavi-inscribed stone crosses as the object of veneration, and probably supplying Bible in Pahalvi language ((72.Gerd Gropp says that up to the11th century, the church of Fars used Pahlavi language and ordained bishops for Oman, Socotora and India. It was only after 1040/50, with the advent of the Seldjuq dynasty in Iran, that the Metropolitan of Rew Ardshir was extinguished. From that time on, the bishops for the Gulf and India were ordained by the patriarch of Baghdad. Gerd Gropp, “ Christian Maritime Trade of Sasanian Age in the Persian Gulf”, p.86. It seems highly probable that Syriac came to be used as a liturgical and ecclesiastical language in Malabar only after these developments in the 11th century, when the Church of Kerala got linked directly with the seat of East Syrian church)). The discovery of Pahlavi-inscribed stone crosses from the churches of St.Thomas Christians of Kerala and the signature in Pahlavi language in the copper plates granted to Tharisapally of Quilon ((73.See for details on the signature of the witnesses being given in Pahlavi language T.A. Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, Madras, 1916, pp.66-86. For a study on the Pahlavi signatures of the Quilon copper plates see, C.P.T.Winckworth, “Notes on the Pahlavi Signatures to the Quilon Copper Plates”, in T.K.Joseph, Kerala Society Papers, pp.320-323)) speak of the dominant use of Pahlavi language in the churches of Malabar and coastal western India probably in Goa( from where a Pahlavi-inscribed cross was discovered) and Maharashtra. The descendants of Persian migrant Christians seems to have had a longer continuity in Goa, from where Afonso Albuquerque discovered a cross from the demolished buildings of Old Goa in 1510, when he conquered it ((74. Francisco de Souza, Oriente Conquistado a Jesu Christo pelos Padres da Companhia de Jesus da Provincia de Goa, vol. I, Lisboa, 1710, pp.14-15; See also ANTT, Corpo Cronologico, I,Maço 17, doc. 30.Letter of Fr.Domingos de Sousa sent to the king D.Manuel from Goa, dated 22-12-1514. Francisco de Souza in Oriente Conquistado says that this cross was found hidden away in a wall a few days after the occupation of Goa in 1510. It was from this cross that Rua do Crucifixo of Goa was said to have got its name. The newly discovered cross was then taken in procession to the church for veneration Francisco de Souza, Oriente Conquistado, pp.14-15; G.M.Moraes, History of Christianity in India, Bombay, 1964, p.154)) and Fr. Cosme Costa unearthed a Pahlavi-inscribed cross from Agassaim in 2001 ((75. Pius Malekandathil, “ Discovery of a Pahlavi-Cross from Goa: A New Evidence for the Pre-Portuguese Christian Settlements in Konkan”, in Christian Orient, vol.25, No.3, 2002, pp.132-146)). The descendants of these Christians retained till recently maintained the remnants of their traditions linking themselves with St.Thomas and calling themselves Thomase in Goa and Kalyanpur(near Mangalore), as Fr. Cosme Costa has shown in his recent work ((76. Cosme Jose Costa , Apostolic Christians in Goa and in the West Coast, Pilar/Goa, 2009, p.60; See also H.O.Mascarenhas’ Interview in The New Leader, 28-6-1970; 5-7-1970)) and Fr. Mascarenhas has mentioned in his article in Examiner ((77. H.Otto Mascarenhas, “The Indian Apostolate and St.Francis Xavier”, in Examiner, Dec.20, 1952,p. 651)).
However, the Christian communities of India, Sri Lanka and eastern regions were spiritually administered by the Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir only up to 790, when direct linkage with Seleucia-Ctesiphon Church was re-established. We do not know for certain whether the bishopric of Kalyan still continued after the death of Patriarch Mar Aba in 552 and after the assumption of direct spiritual care of India and other countries bordering Indian Ocean by the Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir in 554. However , with the occupation of Fars, coastal Persia and Sassanid territories by the Muslims under Caliph Umar during the period between 641( when the Muslim forces defeated the Sassanids in the battle of Nihawand) and 644 , there was large scale islamization of the Persian Gulf region and the power of the Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir got weakened. Against this background he could not cater to the spiritual needs of the various Christian settlements in the Indian Ocean in the way he used to do earlier. However by 750 with the localization of the power base of the Abbasids in Baghdad in the vicinity of Patriarchal seat of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the Patriarch got enormous importance in the new turn of developments and the weakened control of the Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir over Indian Ocean Christians eventually gave way to Patriarchal control from Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Gerd Gropp says that it was only after 1040/50, with the advent of the Seldjuq Turks in Iran, that the Metropolitan of Rew Ardshir was extinguished. From that time on, the bishops for the Gulf and India were ordained directly by the Patriarch of Baghdad ((78.Gerd Gropp, “ Christian Maritime Trade of Sasanian Age in the Persian Gulf”, p.86)).
The feeble layer of the descendants of these migrant Christians, seems to have eventually got merged into the Muslim population that overwhelmingly appeared with islamization in most of the ports of the Konkan. Jordan Catalani of Severac refers in 1329 to the eventual conflicts that evolved between the Muslims and the Christian communities of Kalyan , Thana on the Salcette island and Sopara(Surparaka) and of Broach(Barukachha) in Gujarat ((79.For details see Friar Jordanus, Mirabilia Descripta, London, 1863, pp.24-30; George Moraes, A History of Christianity in India from Early Times to St.Francis Xavier, AD52-1552, Bombay, 1964, pp.89-102; Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, Cathay and Way Thither, vol.III, Nendeln/Liechtenstein, 1967, pp.28-31; 75-80)). Some of them also seem to have merged into the Indo-Portuguese population and Latin rite that came up in Goa, Bassein, Thana, Chaul , Kalyanpur (near Mangalore) and Gujarat, out of which a few retained their linkage with the old community of St. Thomas tradition by calling themselves as Thomasee( in Goa and Kalyanpur), while some others, particularly in Vasai, continue to retain the memories about their linkages with St. Thomas tradition by still following the dress tradition of veil, njori(wearing of cloth around the waist with multiple foldings at the back), chatta(upper garment with sleeves fully covering the hands) , and big earrings etc ((80.This is an information gathered on the basis of field-study)). The descendants of this people, particularly of Vasai and Bombay, eventually got merged into the category of ‘East Indians’, whom the English later employed on a big scale as a supportive social group for carrying out their commercial, sea-faring and naval endeavours in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The foregoing discussion shows that there was a very significant size of Christian population in coastal Maharashtra and coastal Goa at least from fifth /sixth centuries onwards, which evolved due to migration of Persian Christian traders to the lucrative commercial centres of this region. It is true that so far nothing was obtained from this region as to prove that these Christians originated because of the missionary works of St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew; however, the nature of ecclesial communion within which they lived and operated in connectivity with the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala, Persian Christians of Sri Lanka, Socotora and Persia and memories of their Thomas-centric traditions clearly shows that the pre-Portuguese Christians of coastal Goa and coastal Maharashtra evolved as Christian communities of St.Thomas tradition and developed a distinctive identity stemming out of it. It is certain that the bishopric of Kalyan and the neighbouring Christian enclaves, spiritually sustained and administered by it, operated as components of the hierarchical structure that evolved in the Persian Church under the patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. At the time of visit of Cosmas Indicopleustes, Kalyan and other mercantile settlements of the Persian Christians in India were directly under the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. However, the period between 554 and 790 witnessed the incorporation of Kalyan and other Christian enclaves of Mahrashtra and Goa into the ecclesial communion that evolved under the spiritual leadership of the Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir in Fars, whose efforts led to the evolution and institutionalization of a parallel ecclesiastical tradition with Pahlavi-Bible and church services in Pahlavi-language instead of Syriac Psíta Bible and use of Syriac language as was in Seleucia-Ctesiphon Church.. Its impact was felt strongly in many of the Christian settlements along coastal western India and Sri Lanka, as a result of which Pahlavi-inscribed crosses began to appear as objects of worship among these migrant Christian communities, including that of Goa, which were linked with the Church of Rew Ardashir. After the extinction of this schism under Metropolitan of Rew Ardashir, the Christians in coastal Maharashtra and Goa were spiritually catered to again by Seleucia-Ctesiphon Church and thanks to the efforts of missionaries sent from there, Christianity spread to Thana, Sopara, Broach etc,., where vibrant Christian communities were observed by Friar Jordanus in 1329. Equally dynamic was the Christian community of Goa, whose material remnant was unearthed in the form of cross obtained from Panjim in 1510 and Pahlavi-inscribed cross excavated from Agassaim in 2001. With the islamization of Indian Ocean commerce and the consequent occupation of major Christian trade centres of coastal Gujarat, Sopara, Kalyan, Thana, Goa, Mangalore and Mylapore by various Muslim traders, the connectivities and linkages of Christian communities with one another and also with Persian Church broke off and eventually for want of proper spiritual leadership some of them got converted to Islam and those who still survived were later absorbed into Latin Christian traditions of Padroado Real. Meanwhile, the cultural images of the larger ecclesial communion that they once had and the vague pictures of their remote cultural past got reflected and circulated in their oral tradition in the form of names of places and ethnic groups like that of Thomasee, where one sees some sort of connection with Thomas. Because of the participation of their ancestors in the common commercial ventures and ecclesiastical traditions of the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala and the liturgical legacy of Persia, there evolved among these Christians common practices and shared tradition around St. Thomas, causing them develop their own individuality and uniqueness as a community of St. Thomas tradition.
About the Author
Dr.Pius Malekandathil, Professor at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi hails from Muvattupuzha parish of Kothamangalam eparchy, Syro Malabar Church, Kerala. He is also the sectional president of Medieval Indian History of Indian History Congress, Cuttack.He has earlier worked as Lecturer in History, St. Thomas College, Pala, Reader in History at Goa University and Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady. He has authored Ten books and more than hundred articles in various international journals, seminars and publications. His areas of specialization include Indo-Portuguese History, Transmarine Trade, Maritime History of India, European Expansion and Urbanization in Asia, Socio-Economic History of Medieval India, Culture and State of South India, Studies in Indian Ocean Societies and Religion and Society in South Asia.
Some of Dr Pius Malekandathil’s publications are: The Germans, the Portuguese and India (1999); Portuguese Cochin and the Maritime Trade of India: 1500-1663 (2001); Jornada of D. Alexis Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar (2003); The Portuguese, The Portuguese and the Socio-Cultural Changes in India: 1500-1800 jointly edited with K.S. Mathew and Teotonio R. de Souza (2001); The Kerala Economy and European Trade jointly edited with K.S. Mathew (2003); Goa in the Twentieth Century: History and Culture jointly edited with Remy Dias (2008)