A Commonwealth of Christians in the Indian Ocean: A Study on the Christians of St.Thomas Tradition in South- West India


A Commonwealth of Christians in the Indian Ocean: A Study on the Christians of St.Thomas Tradition in South- West India[1]

Dr.Pius Malekandathil


Centre for Historical Studies

Jawaharlal Nehru University

New Delhi 110067


(Pius Malekandathil, “A Commonwealth of Christians in the Indian Ocean: A Study on the Christians of St.Thomas Tradition in South- West India”, in Peter Kannampuzha(ed.), Early Christian Communities of the St. Thomas Tradition in India, Kochi, 2017, pp. 88-137)


The earliest Christian community in India, often known as St.Thomas Christians, has a bulk of oral tradition which maintains that they took origin because of the preaching of gospel by St.Thomas in the same first century AD when Christianity spread to Europe. For a long period of time, historicity of this oral tradition was debated by scholars arguing pro and contra, but without trying to identify and understand the nuanced meanings of different layers in the tradition. 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 4 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.


From third century onwards the written sources from West Asia and the Mediterranean world started mentioning about the Christians of India and the apostle who had preached among the Indians. At a time when 120 vessels were plying between coastal western India and the ports of Roman Egypt every year with merchandise and information, there is no reason whatsoever to doubt about the veracity of their accounts. The cultural remnants with Christian symbolisms obtained from different parts of India and the folk-traditions circulating among different ethnic and language groups of India regarding their linkage with pre-Portuguese Christianity show that the early Christians were not confined to the boundaries of Kerala alone, but had expanded in remote past to the highly stimulated economic centres and civilizational zones of the sub-continent. Obviously all these segments of Christians were not St.Thomas Christians. A considerable number of them seem to have been Christians migrated from Persia or elsewhere at different time points. However the merging of migrant Christians from Persia into the original St.Thomas Christian community at various time periods and the consequent joint commercial activities resorted to by them led to the spreading of Christians to the leading trading centres of India, which ensured for them a decent living. The Christian enclaves thus appeared in a scattered way in various parts of India were given a certain amount of cohesion and unity by the frequenting of itinerant Christian traders, missionaries and bishops from Persia.


The central purpose of this paper is to look into the various historical processes and developments by which Christians spread to different parts of India during the period before 1500. This is done by analyzing the socio-economic context within which various Christian groups appeared in diverse parts of India and were organized under dioceses linked with Fars or Seleucia-Ctesiphon in Persia. In this study the historical information gathered from written sources is corroborated with the help of remnants of material culture obtained from archaeological excavations and this is further re-looked into with the help of oral information and collective memory circulating in the form of folklores, local traditions and place-names.


The Initial Christian Settlements of India: Background Setting

The earliest available work that speaks of Christians of India is Acts of Judas Thomas, which was written in the third century AD and which links their origin with the preaching of St.Thomas in the Parthian kingdom of Gondophoros.[2] With the discovery of first century coins bearing the name of Gondophares from Northwest India from mid-1830s onwards [3] and inscription of Gunduphara from Takht-i-Bahi near Peshawar in 1872[4], 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.[5] 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.[6]


For reaching North Western India, St.Thomas seems to have taken the silk route, starting from Rome and terminating in Changan(Sian of today), the capital of the Chinese emperors at that point of time. Silk route actually meant a huge net of paths, roads and thoroughfares extending from Rome to China, through which silk, porcelain and other oriental wares were taken overland to the western world. The main route was connected at different junctional points by various smaller arteries of trade extending to Indian Ocean and the Bosporus in the south , to Trapezunt at the Black Sea, to the Volga, the Siberian rivers and the Baltic Sea in the northwest , to Manchuria, Korea and Japan in the east.[7] However, the main route ran to China via Antioch(in Syria) , the Greek city of Seleucia and the Parthian city of Ctesiphon, from where the traders moved eastwards cutting across the Zagros mountains and passing Media and Ecbatana, where the Parthian kings had their summer residence. St.Thomas seems to have started his journey through the silk route from Antioch, which then was a major nodal point in the silk route and located in the vicinity of Palestine and he seems to have continued his journey up to Merve(  Antiochia Margiane), from where a branch of the overland route moved towards India and terminated at the port of Barygaza(Barukaccha or Broach) located in Guajarat.[8]  From Merve, the main route still ran to China crossing Oxus river and being fed by the trading settlements of Khorasan and Transoxania, where bishoprics were later erected by the Persian Church with the increase of Christians in the region.[9] During the time of Augustus Caesar, which tentatively coincides with the time of St.Thomas’ journey to India as per popular tradition, the eastern terminal point of Roman contact was Merve.[10] It is highly probable that on reaching Merve through this route, St.Thomas moved towards north western part of India including Kabul and Peshwar and then took the land route to Barukaccha in Gujarat, which was a highly active trade route linked with the Silk road during this period of time, as is evidenced by Periplus of Erythraen Sea written around 45 AD.[11]



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,[12] and Margamkali Pattu, which was orally transmitted from generation to generation as a song, got finally written down in 1732.[13] 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.[14]  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. This probability is better understood if one views that  St.Thomas must have gone back to Palestine after his preaching in North West India to attend the Jerusalem council and then after the conclusion of council he had taken the traditional sea-borne trade -route from Persian Gulf to reach Kerala for proclaiming the gospel, as is suggested by the sources in both in written and oral circulation.[15] Obviously the important commercial centres of Kerala and Tamilnadu reachable through trade routes happened to be the range of his apostolic work in South India


However, by fourth and fifth centuries we find some churches being erected in inland part of Kerala, particularly in low-lying paddy cultivating zones, but lying closer to one or another of the initial seven Christian settlements. On the basis of oral traditions and the remnants of material culture, historians used to maintain that Christian communities of predominantly low-lying paddy-cultivating zones of Pallipuram, Ambazhakkad, Aruvithara, Kuravilangadu, Pudukkad, Puthenchira, Angamali, Mattom, Chambakulam, Muttuchira, Kaduthuruthi , Enammavu , Mylakombu, Udayamperur and Edappally took origin during the period between fourth and sixth centuries.[16] This was also the period when paddy cultivation was extended on a large scale in Tamilnadu and Kerala under the patronage of the Pallava rulers, who ruling from third till sixth centuries sponsored several of the tank and pond-digging programmes.[17] It seems that with the stimulus coming from the ruling dynasty some of the Christians also seem to have participated in the extension of paddy cultivation in these places, while a considerable number of them seem to have also been engaged in spice-cultivation in the upland part of these places.



Networking of the Early Christians of India and the Indian Ocean


The existing historiography says that the early Christians of India happened to live in isolation, cut off from other churches, for a long period of time. A re-reading of the sources shows that at least from second century onwards Christians of India were in contacts at least temporarily with places having intense Christian concentration.  The fourth century account of St.Jerome indirectly suggests that one of these places was Alexandria from where a Christian scholar Pantaenus was sent around 180 AD to India by Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria. Jerome clearly indicates that Pantaenus was sent to India on the basis of request from the delegates of Indian Christians and that too for rectifying some errors found among them.[18] Many historians till recently were reluctant to accept it as a historical fact saying that India mentioned here might not be the sub-continent of India. But the recent discovery of a papyrus document from Vienna archives (1985), belonging to the same period (179 AD) and mentioning the details of a maritime loan which a trader from Muziris in Kerala had taken from his friend for dispatching cargo to Alexandria via Bernice and Koptos and the final repayment of loan at Alexandria to his friend’s agent stationed over there has highlighted the intense movement of commodity and people happening between Kerala and Alexandria at that point of time. [19] The hectic movement of commodities and people between Kerala and Roman Egypt is recently further attested to by the archaeological excavations carried out at Pattanam. [20]Against this background Jerome’s account of Pantaenus visiting India on the request of Indian Christians appears to be a historical reality. Moreover the statement of St.Jerome that the apostle went “ut Christus apud Brachmanas praedicaret” (to preach Christ to the Brahmins)[21] evidently shows that India here mentioned is the subcontinent, as Brahmins were then seen only in India. It also suggests that Jerome’s account in the fourth century was influenced by the then circulating stories of Brahminical origin of some Christians of India, which is also indicative of the type of networking and information-sharing that happened between the two Christian groups spatially distanced but connected through the channels of trade, through which information about the Brahminical origin of some Indian Christians reached the Mediterranean world. .


However both Jerome[22] and the historian Eusebius[23] who refer to the incident say that the apostle who preached in India was St.Bartholomew. I feel that this seems to have been either a mistake or a remote probability. There is no strong living tradition or authentic early written accounts other than the ones given by these two scholars to substantiate the apostolic work of St.Bartholomew in India. Very often the pre-Portuguese Christians of Konkan, who were in fact descendants of Persian Christian migrants were wrongly identified by some as descendants of those who were baptized by St.Bartholomew. 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 about the apostolate of St.Bartholomew 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 the region. It was only later in the twentieth century that some started linking the pre-Portuguese Christians of Konkan with St. Bartholomew, for substantiating which they tried to bank upon the accounts of St.Jerome and Eusebius. Historically speaking the Christians of Konkan whom some historians link with Bartholomew’s preaching were actually descendants of Persian Christian migrants who later settled in different trading centres of coastal Konkan including Kalyan, Goa, Thana, Sopara etc.


In the fourth century the council of Nicaea provided a good platform for the various isolated churches and Christian communities including the Indian Christians to come together and to know each other in a closer way. The religious freedom given to the Christians by Constantine in 313 had already enabled many Christian communities in the Roman empire to come out of underground and catacombs to practice their religion openly. However soon the ideological conflict between the adherents of Arianism and Trinitarianism led to a relatively serious law and order problem in the empire and this compelled the emperor to convene a council at Nicaea in 325 inviting bishops from all the known churches of the Christian world.[24] One of the bishops, who thus attended the council was bishop John the Persian, who was referred to by Gelasius of the fifth century as the bishop of whole of Persia and Greater India. Since the debates and discussions centering around the teachings of Arius[25] affected the social life of the Roman empire negatively, emperor Constantine wanted that all bishops should attend the council and it was obviously against this backdrop that bishop John connected with Indian Christians was invited to attend the council by the emperor.


The period after the Council of Nicaea witnessed a chain of persecutions unleashed by various Arian Roman emperors against the Catholic Trinitarian group, followed by dispatching of missionaries to countries including India and Aksum by both the parties. Persecution became intense during the period after 337, when Arian Constantius II became the emperor and it continued till Theodosius adhering to Nicene Creed ascended the throne in 379.[26] Constantius II (337-361), who deposing pope Liberius appointed  Arian Felix II as antipope and Eusebius of Nicomedia as bishop of Constantinople, was keen in reversing Nicene Creed and sending Arian missionaries to different parts of the world including Germany, India and Aksum to propagate this ideology. Thus we find an Arian missionary by name Ulfilas (c.311-83) being sent in 341 by bishop of Constantinople to work among the Germanic tribes.[27] However, one of the most significant Arian missionary sent to the people bordering the Indian Ocean was an Indian Christian, who was often known as Theofilus the Indian(+364) and who was sent as a member of delegation to Aksum[28] in Ethiopia for preaching Arianism by Constantius in 354.[29] He was originally from the Minicoi islands located near Maldives and found favour with the court of Constantius II. Later he was made an Arian bishop by Eusebius of Nicomedia, the bishop of Constantinople and in 354 emperor Constantius II sent him as an Arian missionary to South Asia. He converted into Arianism the Himyarites in southwest Arabia and visited Indian Christians. [30] The case of Theofilus shows that Christians from India were also made to get involved in the deepest ideological conflict that Christianity had witnessed in the fourth century and the commissioning of the task to an Indian Christian for preaching the new ideology in Aksum shows their probable connectivity with African marts of Ethiopia, obviously suggesting their linkage with the region through channels of trade. Theofilus is said to have been from Dvipu. Though Laccadives(Lakshadvipu), Maldives(Maldvipu) and Anjedives(Anjedvipu) are the prominent places known after dvipu, Tisserant views him to be stemming from Maldives.[31] Now scholars view that he was not originally from Maldives but from Minicoi island, which was then a part of Maldives. It is located in between Lakshadvipu and Maldvipu at the cross-roads of international sea-route. The culture and ethos of Minicoi islanders stand entirely different from the neighbouring islanders of Maldvipu and Lakshadvipu and the islanders remained as an international seafaring community till their merger into Indian nation recently. Because of its geo-physical location at the junctional point of international trade, Minicoi seems to have been initially a major halting centre and later a residential enclave for the Christian traders involved in commodity movements between coastal western India and the Ethiopian and Egyptian ports of Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Some German anthropologists researching on the islanders have recently identified the prevalence of a relatively stronger local tradition that the islanders of Minicoi were once upon a time Christians and that they became Muslims later with the emergence of Islamic hegemony in the Indian Ocean shipping and navigation.[32] It seems that Theofilus as a member of this international seafaring community and connected with the Christians of India and Ethiopia was chosen for preaching Arianism among Aksumites not only because of his depth in Arian theology but also because of his familiarization with the language of the Christians of these two regions.[33] On his way to Ethiopia, Theofilus found among the Christians of India the practice of listening to Bible in seated position, which he considered to be a theological aberration, despite the fact that it was an Indian way of listening to sacred scripture.[34]


A substantial Christian group that came to India against this background of post-Nicene missionary agenda was the Southists. The oral tradition among the Southists ( Knanites) , which was later recorded by the Portuguese in written form in the sixteenth century says that Thomas of Cana and about 72 Christian families reached Cranganore around 345 AD.[35] Though historians are not able to locate exactly the chronology of this migration, the Thekkumbhagakar (Southist Christians), trace their historical origin in Kerala to the migration of seventy two families with four hundred people from Persia. [36]   Following various foreign customs and cultural habits, these Christians remained as an exclusive ethnic community allowing no marriage outside and used to pass on the memories of their past from one generation to another through the media of social customs and practices as well as folksongs. Against the background of intense trade relations and ecclesiastical efforts of Persian Church to spread the Trinitarian ideology of Nicene Creed in areas outside Roman empire with the view of countering the Arian missionary efforts over there,  I do not find any reason to doubt about the probability of the arrival of these migrant Christians tentatively around 345.[37]


Many historians maintain that these Christians migrated to Kerala because of the persecution unleashed under Shahpur II in Sassanid Persia during this period.[38] This must have been a probable reason. However, the timing of their arrival in India coincides with the period of intense theological conflicts in the Christian world and the consequent efforts to dispatch missionaries from both the Arian and Trinitarian groups to propagate their ideology in distant places. It seems that Thomas of Cana and the group of Christians who reached Kerala around mid-fourth century seem to have been missionaries sent by bishop John who attended the council of Nicaea as bishop of Persia and India and upheld Catholic Trinitarianism for the purpose of taking the teachings of Nicaean council to the Christians of India against the background of Arian propaganda carried out by their missionaries including Theofilus in the Indian Ocean littoral at this point of time. Since the Roman emperors for about 42 years upheld Arianism and semi-Arianism, [39]Nicene Trinitarian ideology had acceptability only in areas outside Roman empire, particularly in the fast expanding Persian Church. Probably the persecution of Christians by Shahpur II gave them one reason to move out of Persia; while the missionary task to spread Trinitarian ideology among Indian Christians which was entrusted to them by the bishop John gave them a sense of direction as to move towards India. These Christians from Persia initially focused their activities in Cranganore, though eventually they moved to other junctional points of trade in Kerala in the succeeding centuries.


With the increased movement of people and commodities between India and West Asia on the onehand and between India and Mediterranean world, the information about Indian Christians began to circulate in the Christian world of Persia and Europe.  As a result many including the anonymous redactor of Doctrine of the Apostles (c.250), St.Ephrem of Nisibis (c.306-373)[40], St.Gregory Nazianzen(c.329-390)[41], St.Ambrosius(c.333-397)[42], St.Jerome (c.342-419)[43], St. Gaudencius of Brescia(+410)[44], St.Paulinus of Nola(353-431)[45], St. Gregory of Tours(538-594)[46], St.Isidor of Sevilha(560-636)[47] etc., mentioned explicitly about the apostolic work of St.Thomas in India. Interestingly these references linking St.Thomas with India were made by the Church Fathers during the period from 250 to 650 AD, a fact which is to be seen against the background of the closeness that existed between India and Mediterranean world because of frequent trade contacts and missionary activities following the Council of Nicaea from both the Arian and Trinitarian groups. It was highly probable that these Fathers of the Church got their information from the diverse trading groups engaged in this traffic, who were the chief carriers of information and circulators of news during this period and also from the diverse missionaries moving between India and Persia. .



Evolution of a “Commonwealth of Christian Merchants” and the St.Thomas Christians

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.[48] The fourth century writer Palladius refers to the Sassanid vessels plying in the Indian Ocean for trade. [49]


The active participation of Christian traders from Sassanid Persia in the maritime trade is testified by the Nestorian annals. The eleventh century chronicle of Seert alludes to this when it 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.[50] 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[51].


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.[52] 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. [53]


In the sixth century the important places in India for the trade of the Christian merchants from Sassanid Persia as mentioned by Cosmas Indicopleustes were: Sindu(Indus), Orrhota (Saurashtra), Kalliana(Kalyan), Sibor( Sindabor or Goa), the five marts of Malabar, namely Parti(?), Mangaruth(Mangalore), Salopatana(?), Nalopatana (Valapattanam?), Pudopatana (Puthupattanam),  and the ports of Marallo( Marava or Marawar) as well as Khaber(Kaveripattanam). One of these Kerala marts was evidently the present-day Pattanam, from where a lot of remnants of Sassanid potteries were excavated by archaeologists in their recent excavations.[54]  The extension of the commercial activities of the Persian Christians to these ports 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 Christian merchants, who used to halt 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. Consequently many of these ports were also centres of considerable Christian concentration as was observed by Cosmas Indicopleustes. [55]


The presence and activities of these mercantile-cum-migrating communities on the fringes of Indian Ocean are attested to by the discovery of stone crosses with Pahlavi(archaic Persian) inscriptions in several places in south-west India and Sri Lanka. So far only 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.[56]  and eight in India viz., Mylapore(1), Kottayam(2), Muttuchira(1), Kadamattam(1), Alengad(1), Kothanalloor (1) and Goa(1). 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 among Pahlavi-speaking Christians. Out of the various Pahlavi-inscribed crosses found in India, the one at Mount St.Thomas of Mylapore[57] 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)”. [58]


On the basis of the geographical distribution of these Pahlavi-inscribed crosses and literary evidences it can be surmised that the concentration of Pahlavi-speaking Christian traders was intense in the various maritime exchange centres of Konkan, Malabar and Coromandel. 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 standing for present day Chandrapura)and on the banks of lower Zuari, from where a
Pahlavi-inscribed cross was discovered in 2001. [59] 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.[60] It is said that a painting in Cave I at Ajanta represents a return embassy from Sassanid Persia to the Chalukyan court.[61] 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.[62] 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.[63] 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.[64] 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.[65] The Christian communities of Kalyan , Thana on the Salcette island and Sopara(Surparaka) and of Broach(Barukachha) in Gjarat , which Jordan Catalani of Severac saw in 1329[66] were all remnants of these Persian Christian settlers , who once operated inter-connectedly  as a commonwealth of Christian merchants in the Indian Ocean.

The Catholicos Isho-Yab III (650-58) records 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.[67] The Church of Persia at this point of time was not a monolithic entity as was generally understood; but had several streams and subdivisions[68]. 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. [69] The Patriarch 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”.[70] 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 bishop 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[71]


During this period a “commonwealth of Pahlavi-speaking Christian merchants” evolved in the Indian Ocean, with the St.Thomas Christians of Kerala involved in spice-production as the principal social base, and the Persian Christian mercantile settlements of Anuradhapuram, Mylapore, Cranganore, Pattanam, Mangalore, Goa, Thana, Kalyan, Saurashtra and Sind(Indus) were linked together by frequent movement of commodities and oriented towards the ports of Persian Gulf. The metropolitan of Rew Ardashir in Fars , besides spiritually controlling the bishoprics of coastal Persia , Bahrain-Oman  and Socotora regions, [72] 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.[73]. 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[74] speak of the dominant use of Pahlavi language in the churches of Malabar and coastal western India.


Corresponding to these developments among the Christian settlers on the fringes of Indian Ocean, there appeared an equally corresponding social formation in the inland part of north-western India adjacent to Merv, Tus and Transoxiana region, to which Christianity spread eventually. Bishoprics emerged in Merv and Tus as early as 334 and the Church established itself in Korasan and its vicinity and in 553 Merv became metropolitan province.[75] As one branch of silk-route from Merv used to pass through Ladakh and Tibet to China, we eventually find Christian merchants taking this route from Merv to reach Chinese marts. The material evidence for these Christian merchants is obtained from the border of Ladakh in the form of cross similar to Pahlavi-inscribed cross but etched by such merchants.[76] In fact the route to China through Tibet was opened only in the second half of seventh century, when Srong-bstan Sgam Po from Ladakh united Tibet and allied with China through marriage relationship. [77] Using the main silk route running through Transoxiana  and at times through Ladakh Persian merchants used to move to China , where the earliest Christian inscription was dated 745.[78] In the eighth and ninth centuries several dioceses under Persian Church appeared on the silk route bordering north western India and China and the major among them were the dioceses of Merv in Korasan and Transoxiana region, Herat in Afghanistan and Samarkhand.[79]


The commodity movements through these maritime and land routes happened not in an isolated way. The St.Thomas Christians of Kerala, the Persian Christian merchants and the Christian traders on the silk route operated in unison and they were bound together by the commonality of religion, which was followed by sharing of common Christian liturgy, collective memory and folk-stories. 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 local Christian community seem to have also appropriated and circulated as something that had also 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. One evident case is of Goa, where the descendants of Persian migrant Christians had a significant settlement and from where a cross of these Christian settlers was discovered by Afonso Albuquerque from the demolished building of Old Goa in 1510, when he conquered it [80] and a Pahlavi-inscribed cross was discovered by Fr.Cosme Costa in 2002.[81]  The descendants of these Christians retained till recently remnants of their traditions linking themselves with St.Thomas and calling themselves Thomase, as Fr. Cosme Costa has shown in his recent work and Fr. Mascarenhas has mentioned in his article in Examiner.[82] Similarly Tatta , which is located at the mouth of Indus and with which the Persian Christians had long maritime contacts, as mentioned by Cosmos Indicopleustes, had a sizeable Christian settlement for a considerable period of time. The participation of St.Thomas Christians in the trade of this region along with Persian Christian merchants seem to have been the reason for the entry of Thomas-centric tradition in Tatta at the mouth of Indus, where later the Sufi fakirs used to call themselves as followers of Thum Bhagat, or Thomas the saint.[83] With the Arab invasion of the region in 711 and the arrival of the Ismailis in the early tenth century [84], the region heavily got Islamized and the Christians who initially withstood the islamization process in course of time seem to have operated as a distinctive fluvial religious group and later for want of proper religious leadership they finally seem to have got attracted to the liberal Sufi traditions of the region, but retaining a vague memory of their cultural past connected with St. Thomas tradition. That must have been the reason why they used to call themselves as followers of Thomas the saint.


Most of these Christian settlements extending from Persian Gulf and stretching to South East Asia had shared identity and liturgical as well as spiritual legacy and they were linked together not only by priests and bishops from Rew Ardashir periodically visiting and administering Sacraments, but also by a network of monasteries, out of which we have got evidences only for the monastery of Kharg island in the Persian Gulf and Beth Thuma(house of St.Thomas) of Mylapore on the Coromandel coast. The archaeological excavations conducted by Prof. Ghirshman in Kharg island, 55k.m. North-west of Bushire, unearthed the remnants of a Nestorian monastery with a potential capacity to accommodate about a hundred persons[85]. This monastery seems to have been the main training center for the formation of the missionaries meant for India and other regions in the Indian Ocean region[86].

The monastery of Mylapore was often called Beth Thuma, which had attracted lot of pilgrims from the Christian world of West Asia because of being the final abode of St.Thomas. [87]  Most of these monasteries were sustained by the liberal contributions of the Christian traders involved in maritime trade in return for prayer-favours received from them during their voyage through turbulent seas. These monasteries and the churches located at the strategic commercial centres in the Indian Ocean served also as platforms for networking and gathering information about the local markets, price conditions and details of demand and supply in the region. Consequently there evolved a close bond and rapport between the monks and the Christian traders , following which we find several cases of monks traveling in the company of traders and at times traders later becoming monks during this period.[88]


The commonwealth of Christians that existed between 5th till 8th centuries was sustained and integrated as a socio-cultural entity by ecclesiastical mechanisms of missionary visits and monastic linkages. However materially the frequent movement of commodities linking their scattered settlements emitted the forces needed for bringing out a cohesion and unity among them helping them to sustain the ecclesiastical phenomena. It is interesting to note that many of these Christians with their principal bases in the major ports of Kerala formatted their economic roles by being intermediaries in the pan-Asian trade network with frequent circulation of commodities between Persia, India and China.


Changing Societal Processes and Economic Dynamics


By eighth century the commonwealth of Christian merchants in the Indian Ocean began to collapse with the occupation of the major Christian trade centres in the Persian Gulf region by Islamic forces. It began with the defeat of the Sassanids in the battlefield of Nihawand in 641 followed by the Arab occupation of major ecclesiastical centres in the Persian Gulf once controlled by the metropolitan of Rew Ardashir. With the establishment of Abbassid Calipahte in Baghdad in the vicinity of Cetsiphon in 750, [89] many Persian Christian merchants started migrating to different parts of the Indian Ocean, with which they had intense trade contacts earlier through the medium of their diasporic mercantile settlements.   One group among them was headed by the merchant leaders Mar Sapor and Mar Prodh, who reached Kurakeni Kollam (Quilon) in circa 823 AD,[90] where they had erected a church  called Tharisapally. These merchant leaders carried along with them an extensive network of commerce that the Sassanid merchants had earlier developed over centuries and they made use of these mercantile connections for keeping the wheels of commerce move around the Tharisapally of Kollam.[91] Around  849, almost 26 years after their arrival in the town , the Ay ruler Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal, who was a feudatory of the Chera ruler Sthanu Ravi Varma, conferred upon the church of Tharisa several privileges including the right to keep parakkol[92], panchakandy[93] and  kappan[94] ( different types of weights and measures) of the city of Kollam under its safe custody[95], which the Christians of Quilon enviously held till 1503, when these were finally taken away from them following the malpractices done with them by some of its trading members.[96] Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal made a gift of four Ezhava families,[97] four Vellala families,[98] one thachan[99] and one Vannan(mannan)[100] family to the Tharisapally and handed over to it the right to collect a wide variety of taxes from them, which Ayyanadikal used to levy earlier for himself like thalakkanam, enikkanam ( professional taxes from toddy tapers and tree-climbers), mania meypan kollum ira(  housing tax), chantan mattu meni ponnu( tax for using the title chantan ( Channan or Shanar evidently to show his high social status), polipponnum(tax given on special occasions),  iravuchorum (balikaram  or tax collected to feed the Brahmins, refugees and destitutes) , and Kudanazhiyum( collection of a nazhi –a type of liquid-measurement— of  toddy as tax from each pot tapped)[101]. Moreover the Tharisapally was also given the right to collect eight kasu from each cart that used to take merchandise by land into the market of Quilon( vayinam) and four kasu from each boat that was used to carry cargo to the port (vediyilum).[102]


Though apparently the above details would give the impression that the local ruler was giving up many of his incomes for the sake of the church, in fact it was a small loss for the sake of appropriating larger gains by extending attractive atmosphere for overseas merchants in the port of Quilon. The entire development is to be understood as a move to strengthen and empower the Christian mercantile community and probably many others involved in long distance trade that in turn was expected to facilitate easy flow of wealth to Quilon for the purpose of empowering the hands of the ruler. The local ruler  Ayyandikal Thiruvadikal prescribed in the copper plate that the merchant guilds operating in the city viz., Anjuvannam, Manigramam and Arunnoottuvar were entrusted with the right to protect the church of these Christian traders and its property, obviously because of their economic importance.[103]


The Tharisa church of the Christian migrants of Kollam was showered with economic privileges for the purpose of getting maritime trade of Christians attracted to its port and thus to generate more wealth to fight the wars against the Pandyas, who had recently captured Vizhinjam from the Chera ruler. By conferring privileges on the Christian church of Tharisa , the Chera rulers wanted to ensure the support of Christian merchants to develop Kollam as a competitor to the Pandyan-controlled port of Vizhinjam. [104]


The Tharisapally copper plate says that even the Brahmin priest koyiladhikarikal Vijayaraghava Devan[105] joined hands with the local ruler Ayyanadikal Thiruvadi( along with Ilamkur Rama Thiruvadi) in the decision process to confer commercial and economic privileges to the Christians and their church. This shows that strengthening of Christian merchants was a part of the Brahminical agenda to weaken the commerce of the Budhists and Jains, who were also their religious rivals. After the mass migration of Brahmins to Kerala that happened in the seventh and eighth centuries and their eventual usurpation of dominant position in the society and economy, they tried to create a trading caste equivalent to the Vaisyas out of the foreign Christian merchants for striking at the roots of the Buddhists and the Jains, against whom the Brahmanical religion had already started a crusade from 7th/8th centuries onwards.[106]  For the Brahmins, empowering Christian traders was an alternative device to weaken the trade of the Buddhists and the Jains, as it was the surplus from their trade that helped to uphold the ideology of both the religions in hegemonic position and to raise serious challenges to Brahminism.


The trading activities of Christians happening through Quilon and Shingly or Cranganore were reinforced by a network of angadis[107] that extended to each of their settlements.  Most of these angadis were located around the churches of St.Thomas Christians and formed the nuclei out of which vibrant urban centers developed in later period in central Kerala. The angadis developed as trading establishments with accommodation facilities for the Christian merchants, who conducted trade in the front part of the edifice facing towards the street, while the hinter part of it was used for their lodging as in any normal house. The spice-producers of St.Thomas Christians used to sell their cargo in these angadis located near their churches and they were networked through the transportation means of bullock-carts on land routes and boats through riverine channels. While the local spice-producers sold their cargo in the angadis in exchange for wares and cash, the merchants of the Christian merchant guild called Manigramam and having substantial  mercantile capital used to carry commodities from angadis to the ports and the wider channels of overseas commerce. Some of these Manigramam traders were patronized by the inland local rulers, as is evidenced by the Thazhekkadu inscription(1024 AD) obtained from the premises of Thazhekadu church(near Irinjalakuda), which speaks of king Rajasimhann conferring privileges on the Christian traders like Chathan Vadukan and Iravi Chathan, who were members of the Manigramam merchant guild.[108]



During the period between 8th and 13th centuries, Brahminical ideology and temple-centered economic activities began to re-shape the social life of the Keralites, whereby the Brahmins were kept at the dominant hegemonic position, while the various professional and artisan groups were incorporated into the evolving social hierarchy as different castes with sudras and the pulayas at the bottom level. Within no time Brahminism managed to swallow all the existing social segments and religious groups including Jains, Budhists of Kerala into their belief system. In Tamilnadu under the influence of Brahminism and evolving Saiva Bhakti cult, Jain monastery was destroyed by Mahendravarman and about 8000 Jains were killed by Nedumaran for the purpose of promoting Brahminical ideology.[109] It is against this background that Manickavasagar is alleged to have unleashed persecutions on Christians of Mylapore and Kaveripattanam, who were eventually made to get converted to the Brahminical religion. Because of persecution, many of these Coromandel Christians, who were mostly descendants of Persian mercantile settlers and some probably connected with Beth Thuma started migrating towards Cape Comorin, Tiruvancode and Kollam, augmenting the size of Christian settlements in Malabar region.[110] However in Kerala the Christians were not persecuted by the Brahmins in the way it was done in Tamil coast; instead the Christians of St.Thomas tradition were allowed to practice their religion but with a caste status, which they meticulously observed as Jornada testifies in the beginning of the seventeenth century.[111] The caste practices and norms which the Brahmins fabricated and foisted on the Christians as on other artisans, social groups and communities were followed by them for years. When they were asked by Alexis de Menezes to do away with the caste observations, they confessed that they were incapable of it, as the Brahmins and Nairs would not interact with them and would not conduct trade with them, if they were known to have touched low castes and thus got polluted.[112] In this social exigency they imbibed a lot of elements from the neighbouring cultural space of the higher castes and developed the practice of untouchability,[113] wearing of sacred thread, kudumi(tuft- with a cross), [114] observance of birth-related pollution as well as pula ( perception of the family as being under pollution after the death of a member), pulakuli( the feast usually held on 10th day after funeral)  and sradham ( feast held one year after the funeral, when the souls were believed to come back).[115]


The cultural borrowing from the evolving Brahminical world went on for a long period among the Christians with their churches being erected on the model of temples, as Jornada testifies.[116]. It is evidently known that the tradition of temple architecture got disseminated in Kerala during the period between 8th and 13th centuries AD. The Christian churches got modeled on temple architectural format as the same carpenters and masons who used to build temples were hired for constructing churches in Christian settlementsas. However, the identifying mark for the Christian churches was the huge granite cross being erected in front of them.[117]  There were about 73 churches being erected on temple models by 1500, out of which most of them were located on the upland part of Kerala, which was geo-physically the heartland of spice-production.


The increasing movement of St.Thomas Christians towards spice-production in the upland terrain led to the establishment of churches and Christian settlements in places like Kayamkulam(824), Athirampuzha (853), Kottayam(9th cent.), Nagapuzha (900), Manjapra (943), Mavelikara(943), Pazhuvil(960), Arakuzha(999), Nediasala (999), Kottekad(1000), Kadamattom (10thcent.), Kanjur(1001), Kaduthuruthy Cheriapally (10thcent.) Kunnamkulam(10th cent.),Pala(1002), Muttam (1023), Cherpunkal (1096), Vadakara(11th cent.), Bharananganam(1100), Changanacherry(1117), Thripunithara (1175), Cheppadu (12th cent.),  Chengannoor(12th cent.),Kudamaloor(12th cent.), Ernakulam(12th cent.), Kothanalloor(1220), Mulanthuruthy(1225),Kothamangalam Valiapally (1240), Karthikapally (13th cent.), , Kuruppumpady(13th cent.), Alengad (1300), Muthalakodam (1312), Njarackal(1341), Koratty(1381), Poonjar(14th cent.), Alleppey (1400), Kanjirappilly (1450), Kothamangalam Cheriapally(1455), Kudavechur (1463) etc[118].The increasing movement of Christians towards virgin land in the hinterland for extension of spice-cultivation in the upland part of Kerala was followed by increasing accumulation of wealth from spice-production and trade , which helped the Christians develop a system of economy and society in central Kerala running almost parallel to Brahmin-centric social order existing elsewhere. Concomitantly the St.Thomas Christians sustained their faith through a type of social formation revolving around spice-producing upland regions, which helped them to keep a reasonably respectful distance to the type of social formation happening around Brahmins and Brahminical institutions in the wet-land cultivational zones. It was probably the forces emitted by the wealth from their spice-production and maritime trade that helped the St.Thomas Christians to carve out a distinctive space for themselves that prevented them from being swallowed by the Brahminical socio-religious processes, which ultimately enabled them to sustain their faith over centuries.




In Doldrums……


By thirteenth century the maritime trade in the Indian ocean was dominated by Muslim merchants, Hadraumatis, al-Karimis and later by the regional Islamized Muslim merchants including the Marrakkars. Against this background of hegemonic Islamic trade various Christian settlements that had got scattered on the rim of Indian Ocean as part of a commonwealth during the period between 5th and 8th centuries began to get isolated  and disconnected from each other. In many places they were replaced by Muslim merchants and many of the surviving Christians were converted to Islam, particularly in coastal Sind, Gujarat, Thana, Salcete, Vasai, Kalyan, Goa and Mangalore. In the place of Christian churches and monasteries, mosques, kanqahs and darghas of sufi saints came up in many of these coastal centres. But even after embracing Islam the descendants of these settlers still retained their linkages with Christian sites, as if they were a part of their cultural past, as the case of Mylapore, where a Muslim boy used to light regularly the lamp at the tomb of St.Thomas. In Tatta the fakir-turned Christian descendants after breaking their relationship with the Christian belief system long ago, still maintained that they were followers of Thuma Bhagat, Thomas the saint. However in Thana, coastal Gujarat and Salcete the descendants of these Christians formed a sizeable number even in the early quarter of fourteenth century, when Friar Jordanus visited the region. [119]



In Kerala the Christians of St.Thomas tradition were undergoing radical transformation during this time.  With the disintegration of Chera kingdom and the fragmentation of central polity in the twelfth century there appeared several principalities and local kingdoms in Kerala( many of which evolved out of the earlier fourteen provinces of the Chera kingdom), and the St.Thomas Christians began to increasingly enroll themselves as fighting force or ministers in many of the kingdoms from this time on. There were sizeable Christian soldiers in the armies of the principalities of Vadakkenkur, Cochin , Alegandu, Angamaly, Thekkenkur, Poonjar , Diamper and Purakkad.[120] In 1546 king of Vadakkenkur offered an army of 2000 St.Thomas Christians to the Portuguese for defending Diu against the attack of the Ottomans,[121] while the king of Cochin offered an army of 3000 St.Thomas Christains to the Portuguese for their proposed project of conquering Srilanka.[122] There were Christian ministers in the principalities of Poonjar, Vadakkenkur and Alengadu.[123] The increasing wars that the Christians of St.Thomas tradition had in Cranganore and Quilon against the Muslims for their sustenance and conduct of trade ingrained military culture as something intrinsic into this community’s social structure by this period.  For the purpose of getting militarily equipped to counter the Muslim attacks in their major trading centres and for supplying fighting force to the local rulers, Christians established military training schools called kalaris in different parts of central Kerala , in the way they were done by Nairs elsewhere. Jornada says that some Christian Panikkars had four thousand and sometimes six thousand fighting force under their control, receiving orders from them.[124] The Vallikada Panikkar having residence at Vallikada near Peringuzha (Muvattupuzha) was a very famous Christian family specialized in military arts, fencing and kalaripayattu. It is here worth mentioning that Archbishop Mar  Ivanios, who initiated reunion movement and got re-united with the Catholic Church in 1930 laying the foundation for the Syro-Malankara Church in India was  amember of this Vallikada Panikkar family.[125]


Meanwhile with the increasing attack from the Muslim traders interrupting Christian navigational lines and their commercial activities, the larger trading activities of the Christians in the Indian Ocean began to decline considerably, making them focus more on spice –cultivation. Consequently Christians were compelled to get satisfied with the role of petty traders supplying cargo to the Arab vessels. A large number of them began to intensively get involved in pepper cultivation and by 1346 when Bishop John Marignoli visited Malabar on his way back from Cambulac (Peking in China) , Christians of Quilon, who earlier were involved in the maritime trade, had emerged as “rich people” and as “owners of pepper plantations”.[126] The dominant role that the St.Thomas Christians used to play in pepper production in 1520s is evident from the letter written to the king of Portugal, in which it was said that all the pepper was in the hands of the St.Thomas Christians and that majority of the pepper that went to Portugal was sold by them. [127] In fact it was the material wealth accruing from spice production enabled the members of this Christian community to have an atmosphere for themselves for sustaining their faith in Kerala when their commerce and other sources of income were severely threatened by Islamic attacks and commercial expansion. However on such occasions other Christian communities in the Indian Ocean, which were once upon a time linked with St.Thomas Christians not only by commerce but also by sharing common liturgical and theological legacy and spiritual traditions eventually vanished from the scene for want of a substantial alternative source of income as the St.Thomas Christians used to get from spices and they eventually disappeared either as converts to Islam or as part of the larger Padroado Christians that the Portuguese created through their institutions.


The above discussion shows that the Christians of St.Thomas tradition would include a large corpus of people, ranging from the direct descendants of Christians baptized by St.Thomas to various Christian segments including migrants from Persia that imbibed St.Thomas tradition and spiritual and theological legacy over a period of time thanks to their interaction with the first category. The information about the apostolate of St.Thomas in India reached the Christian world in a larger way with the Nicene Council. It was also the time when missionaries activities of a larger nature and greater intensity happened in India , when the Arian bishop of Constantinople,Eusebius of Nicomedia sent Theofilus to spread Arianism, while bishop John of Persia sent missionaries to spread Catholic Trinitarianism in South Asia. When lot of Christians from Persia started moving towards the major marts of India during the period from fifth till eighth centuries, there eventually developed a networking between the spice-producing St.Thomas Christians and the commercially oriented Persian Christians. The result was the formation of a Christian Commonwealth in the Indian Ocean, where by Christians stemming from different places, various time points and cultural backgrounds began to identify themselves as part of larger identity and legacy and began to link themselves with the tradition of St.Thomas. Though all of them might not have been the direct descendants of those baptized by St.Thomas, they found an identity for themselves by standing under the common umbrella of the legacy and spiritual –cum-theological traditions linked with St.Thomas. On the one hand these Christians stretching from Rew Ardashir in Fars to Kedah in Malaya peninsula  used the same liturgical language and symbols, theological and spiritual notions and on the other hand they shared the common legacy and identity linked with St.Thomas, despite the fact they originated in India. In this process everybody who participated in the Christian Commonwealth sharing the common identity and legacy stemming from St.Thomas came to be called Christians of St.Thomas tradition.


However the roots of the confederation of Christians woven around the legacy of S.Thomas and sustained by maritime trading activities were struck with the entry of new cultural forces into the scene in the ninth century. With the islamization of Indian Ocean commerce and the consequent occupation of Christian trade centres of Sind, coastal Gujarat, Sopara, Kalyan, Thana, Goa, Mangalore and Mylapore by various Muslim traders, the connectivities and linkages of Christian communities with one another broke off and eventually for want of proper spiritual leadership they got converted to Islam and those who still survived were later absorbed into Latin Christian traditions of Padroado Real. However, in Kerala the Christians of St.Thomas tradition survived and withstood the conversion attempts of Brahminism and Islam. On the one hand the Brahmins, who wanted to create a trading caste out of the Christians to counter the Budhists and the Jains allowed them to practice the religion, but under the condition of submitting themselves to operate as a caste group within the Brahmin-centric social order. On the other hand surplus from spice cultivation that gave enough material resources in the hands of the Christians enabled them to effectively counter the conversion-threats from Brahminism and Islam and to create a material atmosphere that adequately facilitated them to uphold their identity, live their religion and sustain their faith.















* This is the revised version of  a paper presented in the National Seminar on The Early Christian Communities of St. Thomas Tradition in India  at Bombay, July 29-31, 2011

[1] The Commonwealth here does not mean a political union or entity but an inter-regional confederation of Christian groups stemming originally from diverse social, linguistic, ethno-cultural and economic backgrounds, but operating as a larger collectivity with shared identity and legacy. These diverse Christian groups , though had different types of origins at different points of time, were eventually unified and woven together under one umbrella using common linguistic (Pahlavi or later Syriac), liturgical(East Syriac), theological and spiritual traditions that evolved out of shared identity and legacy that were used as mechanisms of cohesion and integration among them.

[2] A.F.J.Klijn, The Acts of Thomas, Leiden, 1962
[3] 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. Medlycot, p.3, H.H.Wilson, Ariana Antiqua, Antiquities and Coins of Afghanistan, London, 1871; 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. 1-7
[4] 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
[5] 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
[6] 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.
[7] Christine de Weck, The Silk Road Today, New York, 1989, p.xiii
[8] E.H.Warmington, The Commerce between the Roman Empire and India, Cambridge, 1928, pp. 18-27
[9] See Infra no .79…
[10] E.H.Warmington, The Commerce between the Roman Empire and India, pp.19-26
[11] Lionnel Casson, The Periplus of Erythraen Sea , Princeton, 1989, pp.77-9
[12] 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
[13] Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas: An Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge, 1982, p. 51
[14] There is a difference of opinion about the seventh Christian settlement Till recently many used to hold the view that the seventh Christian settlement was Kokkamangalam. However recent researches have shown that Kokkamangalam was viewed as an early Christian settlement, probably because of some confusion that happened in reading the archaic Malayalam letter “ta” as “ka”. The earliest mention of the names of the early seven Christian settlements founded by St.Thomas was given by bishop Mar Thoma IV, who was a member of Pakalomattam family. In the letter of Mar Thoma IV written in Syriac in 1721 to Carolus Schaaf, a Dutch scholar of Leiden, he does not even mention the name of Kokkamangalam in the list of seven Christian settlements associated with St.Thomas. Instead he has given the name of Kothamangalam. Being a member of Pakalomattam family traditionally linked with apostolic work of St.Thomas, his account seems to be much more reliable. For more details see M.S.Bibl.Publ.Amstelod, L.F; Land, Anecdota Syriaca, Amsterdam, 1871; Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas:An Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge, 1982, p. 51. When Margamkali Pattukal were first written down out of the oral tradition in 1732, there was no mention of Kokkamangalam in the list of seven first Christian settlements linked with St.Thomas. However, in its stead the name of the church of Kothamangalam was included in the list. . Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas, p. 51. But in the list that was given by Rabban Pattu written by Maliekal Thoma Rabban circa 1601 and published in printed form for the first time by Fr. Bernard in 1916, mention is made about Kokkamangalam and not Kothamangalam. An inquiry as to see whether the inclusion of the place name of Kothamangalam in the early list instead of Kokkamangalam happened because of the confusion in deciphering the archaic Malayalam alphabets “ka” and “ta” , which in Vattezhuthu and Kolezhuthu look almost similar led to the discovery of following amazing data. 1) The Vaidika Panchankam of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam at least up to 1940 used to give 1900 as the founding year of the church of Kokkamangalam. See “Churches”, in Vaidika Panchankam of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam ( for the year 1937 see p.3). Since the indigenous bishops of Syro-Malabar rite were very particular about the recording of actual founding year of the churches after 1896 , the data given by Vaidika Panachankams of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam up to 1940 must be true and there is no reason whatsoever to maintain the antiquity of the Christian settlement of Kokkamangalam prior to 1900, although in recent literature the founding year of the church is modified as 52 AD. 2) The antiquity of Kothamangalam is substantiated also by the demographic data. In Kokkamangalam there were only 165 Christian families in 1937, while Pallipuram, its neighbouring oldest Christian settlement, had only 335 Christian families in the same year. See “Churches”, in Vaidika Panchankam of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam of 1937, Ernakulam, 1937, p.3. Kothamangalam with three old Churches belonging to Catholics and  Jacobites has now got about 6000 Christian families, which shows that its Christian presence was several fold higher than that of Kokkamangalam or Kokkamangalam and Pallipuram taken together.   Against this background it seems that Kokkamangalam was mentioned in the first printed form of Rabban Pattu in 1916 by Fr.Bernard because of some confusion in deciphering the archaic Malayalam alphabet “ta” and mistook it to be the alphabet “ka” and consequently printed it as Kokkamangalalm instead of Kothamangalam in the first printed list of first seven Christian settlements linked with St.Thomas. It should be here specially mentioned that even linguistic experts knowing Vattezhuthu and Kolezhuthu( in which language form Rabban Pattu was written in 1601) would find it difficult to identify “ta” and “ka” properly and very often it was done on the basis of contextual meanings. The English translations of Fr. Bernard’s version of Rabban Pattu continued to include Kokkamangalam in the list of seven churches without cross-checking the original in Vattezhuthu. Against this background the author feels that one should go deeper into the primary sources and see whether the type of information passed on to us about Kokkamangalam is the right one and whether a different reading of the sources that indicate the apostolic work of St.Thomas in Kothamangalam can be made possible. For details see Pius Malekandathil, “ Kothamangalalm Roopathayude Charitrapachathalavum Kraisthava Koottaymakalude Verukalum” in Anpinte Ampathandu: Kothamangalam Roopathayude Charitram, 1957-2007, Kothamangalam, 2008, pp. 26-7
[15] 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
[16] The chronology of these Christian settlements is based on the information gathered from local traditions, archaeological as well as cultural artifacts obtained from the churches and the data given in the respective diocesan directories. For more 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.44-5
[17] For details see C.Minakshi, Administration and Social Life under the Pallavas, Madras, 1938.
[18] St.Jerome says that Demetrius the Bishop of Alexandria sent him to India, at the request of legates of that nation. St.Jerome says that in India Pantaenus found that Bartholomew , one of the twelve Apostles, had preached the advent of Lord Jesus according to the Gospel of Mathew, and on his return to Alexandria he brought this with him written in Hebrew characters”. For details see Jerome,”Lives of Illustrious Men”, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church , ed.Philip Schaff and Henry Wace,  vol.III, Michigan, 1892,p.370
[19] H.Harrauer and P.Sijpesteijn(ed.), “Ein neues Dokument zu Roms Indienhandel, P.Vindob.G.40822”, in Anzeiger der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.hist.Kl.122(1985), pp.124-155; See also G.Thür, Hypotheken-Urkunde eines Seedarlehens für eine Reise nach Muziris und Apographe für die Tetarte in Alexandria(zu P.Vindob)”, Tyche 2 (1987), pp.241-246; Lionel Casson, “New Light on Maritime Loans: P.Vindob G.40822”, in Zeitschrift für Papyriologie und Epigraphik, Band 84, 1990, pp.195-206
[20] MGS Narayanan, Muzirissine Thedi, A Paper presented in the Seminar on Muziris organized at Kerala Sahitya Academy, Trichur by Kerala Historical Research Society, 11 th July, 2004,pp.4-8; K.P.Shajan, “Discovery of Muziris: Geological and Archaeological Evidences”, A Paper presented in the Seminar on Muziris organized at Kerala Sahitya Academy, Trichur by Kerala Historical Research Society, 11th July, 2004
[21] Jerome, Ep.74 ad Magnum; See also Jerome, “Letters”, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace(ed.),  A Select Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol.VI, Michigan, 1892, p.150; Mathias Mundadan, “Origins of Christianity in India”, in E.R.Hambye and H.C.Perumalil(ed.), Christianity in India, Alleppey, 1972, pp.21-2
[22] 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
[23] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V, 10; Roy J. Deferrari(ed.), The Fathers of the Church, vol. XIX, New York, 1953, p.303
[24] Actually Constantine invited all the bishops within the empire; but all bishops coming within the orbit of Roman trade and influence were invited and majority of bishops came from the East.  Caroll, A History of Christendom, vol.II, p.11
[25] Arius denied Homoousios or consubstantiality and co-eternity of son with God the Father and the Holy Spirit
[26] H.C. Brennecke, Studien zur Geshichte der Homöer der Osten bis zum Ende der homöischen Reichskirche, Tuebingen, 1988, pp.93-6; 152-8; Garth Fowden “Religious Communities”, in G.W. Bowersock, Peter Brown and Oleg Grabar,(ed.), Late antiquity : A Guide to the Postclassical World, Cambridge, 1999, p.92
[27] F.Donald Logan, A History of the Church in the Middle Ages, London, 2002, p.18. He created written Gothic language by inventing its alphabet and then he translated Greek Bible into Gothic. He was in the company of Arian Visigoths, when they entered Roman empire in 376
[28] Axum or Aksum is a city in northern Ethiopia. It was a centre of maritime trade and the ruler of Aksumite kingdom is believed to have embraced Christianity in 356 AD. For a long span of time it was an ally of the Byzantines against the Persians .See David W. Phillipson. Ancient Ethiopia. Aksum: Its antecedents and successors. London, 1998
[29] Fiaccadori Gianfranco, Teofilo Indiano: (Bibilioteca di Felix Ravenna, vol.VII), Ravenna: Ed. del Girasole, 1992. His story is told by the Arian ecclesiastical historian Philostrogius (354-425)
[30]  Kathryn Tsai,  A Timeline of Eastern Church History, California, 2004
[31] E.Tisserant, Eastern Christianity in India, tran.by E.R.Hambye, Calcutta, 1957, p.
[32] Ellen Kattner, the German anthropologist from Heidelberg and working on the islanders of Minicoi has recently highlighted these aspects.
[33] Theofilus’ view at times used to fluctuate between the dominant Arian view and its various sub-streams, as result of which his position in the good books of Constantius II also fluctuated.
[34] Fiaccadori Gianfranco, Teofilo Indiano: (Bibilioteca di Felix Ravenna, vol.VII), Ravenna, 1992; Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas, p.67. Mignana views that the story of Theofilus is a trustworthy account for the existence of an indigenous Church in India at such a remote past. See A.Mingana, “ The Early Spread of Christianity in India”, in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, X, 1926, p.458
[35] Diogo do Couto, Da Asia, Decadas XII, liv.iii, capo. 5, tome 8, Lisboa, 1788, pp.283-5. The copper plate inscription as referred to by the Portuguese writers of the sixteenth century says that Thomas of Cana came with seventy two families and 400 people. See Damião de Gois, Chronica de El Rei Dom Manoel, Parte I, cap. 98, Lisboa, 1749, p.133
[36] Leslie Brown says that his arrival was in  745 AD.Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas, Madras, 1980, p,73. C.M.Agur also holds the same year. C.M.Agur, Church History of Travancore, Madras, 1903, p.12. Mingana is of the opinion that Thomas of Cana must have between 795-824. A.Mingana, “The Early Spread of Christianity in India”, The John Rylands Library Bulletin, Manchester, 1926, pp.65-6. However I think that the probable year of his arrival must have been 345AD, as the information that  southern part Mahodayapuram at that time had thick forest, which he cleared for his habitat, clearly suggests that he must have reached there before the establishment of the headquarters of the imperial Cheras and before the commencement of its urbanization process.
[37] Jacob Kollaparambil also gives tentatively similar reason for the arrival of Thomas of Cana in Cranganore. See for details Jacob Kollaparambil, “ Sources on the Hierarchical Structure of the St.Thomas Christian Church in the Pre-Diamper Period”, in Bosco Puthur(ed.), The Life and nature of the St.Thomas Christian Church in the Pre-Diamper Period, Kochi, 2000, p.165. The method that I banked upon for assessing the chronological probability was the demographical data of this community which now stands tentatively around two lakhs( one and a half within the Catholic fraction and fifty thousand within Jacobite fraction of the Kananites). The population growth of this community like many other migrant groups was very slow before 1924, when mortality rate remained very much closer to birth rate; however it was sporadic after 1924, when the introduction of English medicine that increased their life expectancy. At the time of the arrival of the migrants there were about five members in each family( 72/400 ). When we go backwards analyzing the demographic data from present day times calculating the birth and death difference of principal settlements of this community at different time periods we realize that it needs a relatively longer span of time for the initial 400 people to become the present day strength of 2 lakh members.
[38] M.L. Chaumont, La Christianization de l’empire Iranien des origines aux grandes persecutions du 4e s., Turnhout, 1988.
[39] During this period the emperor, higher-ranking clergy and the imperial nobility of Roman empire subscribed to Arianism. Valens who ascended the throne in 364 and ruled till 378 was also an Arian. Only with the accession of Theodosius I in 379 that Nicene Creed got acceptability in Roman empire.
[40] Carmina Nisibena, hymn 42
[41] Oration 33 against the Arians in J.P.Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus sive bibliotheca omnium Ss.Patrum Doctorum, Scriptorumque Ecclesiasticorum. Series Graeco-Latina(168 volumes, Paris, 1857-1868 hereafter referred to as P.G.), XXXVI, col.226-227. This passage refers to apostles and their respective places of work: Paul and the gentiles, Luke and Acacia, Andrew and Epirus, John and Ephesus, Thomas and India, Mark and Italy.
[42] In Psalmum XLV Enarratio, 21 in J.P.Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus(….), Series Latina (222 volumes, Paris 1844-1855 hereafter referred to as P.L.), XIV, col.1145
[43] Epistola a Marcelo, No.59; P.L.XXII, col.589
[44] Sermo XVII, de diversis capitulis septimus:P.L.XX, col.962-963
[45] Carmen XI in S.Felicem: P.L. vol.LXI, col.513-514, poem XIX
[46] De Gloria Martyrum et Confessorum libri III, liv.1, chap. XXXII, pp.70-72
[47] De Ortu et Obitum Patrum, cap. LXXIV-LXXV; P.L. LXXXIII, col.152
[48] 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.
[49] D.M.Derrett, “The History of Palladius of 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
[50] 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
[51] 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
[52] 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
[53] 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
[54] Recently the excavations under Shajan and later under P.J.Cherian  in Pattanam brought to limelight a rich deposit of Sassanid pottery.
[55] Ibid., p.5; He refers to the vibrant Christian communities of Male(Malabar) and Kalliana(Kalyan), where the bishop from Persia was residing.  Male could also be a place name. It is difficult to say whether it stands for Malyanakara near Cranganore or for Kulam Male (Quilon). It could be either of these two. In Geniza papers we find reference to Malibarat, which could have been Kulam Male. S.D.Goiteen, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders, Princeton, 1972, p.64. For identification of Malibarat see Pius Malekandathil, The Germans, the Portuguese and India, Münster, 1999, p.4
[56] 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
[57] 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
[58] 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 Christan Oriente, 2002,pp.140-142.
[59] 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 seventeenth century Goa. Pius Malekandathil, “Discovery of a Pahlavi-Cross from Goa: A New Evidence for Pre-Portuguese Christian Settlement in Konkan, in Christan Oriente, 2002.
[60] 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.
[61] G.Yazdani and L. Binyon, Ajanta: The Colour and Monochrome Reproductions of the Ajanta Frescoes based on Photography, I, London, 1930-55,pl.XXXVIII.
[62] Pius Malekandathil(ed.), Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of Sixteenth Century Malabar, p.216
[63] 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
[64] Pius Malekandathil(ed.), Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of Sixteenth Century Malabar, p.245, note 190
[65] This is an information gathered on the basis of field-study
[66] 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
[67] O.Braun, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium: Scriptores Syri, Ii, p.252; B.E. Colles,”Persian Merchants and Missionaries”, pp.20-21
[68] E.Schau, “Vom Christentum in der Persis”, in Sitzungsberichte Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, 1916, pp.958-980
[69] 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
[70] Rubens.Duval, Išoỷahb Patriarchae III Liber Epistularum, Letter XIV,( Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium . vol.XI), Paris, 1904, p.182
[71] 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.
[72] Ibid.,p.965; Gerd Gropp, “ Christian Maritime Trade of Sasanian Age in the Persian Gulf”, p.85
[73] 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
[74] 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
[75] Assemani, pp.477-9; Henry Yule, 102. Merv was in Korasan and in present day Uzbekistan.
[76] The information about this cross is based on the photographs of the cross taken by Fr. Mathew Moothasseril, who had worked in Ladakh region as a MSTmissionary for years.
[77] Prabodh Chandra Bagchi, India and China: A Tousand Years of Cultural Relations, Bombay, 1950, p.18; Phanindra Nath Chakrabarti, Trans-Himalayan Trade: A Retrospect, 1774-1914, Delhi, 1990, p.6; Harold M. Vinacke, A History of Far East in Modern Times, London, 1960, p.32
[78] This was an edict issued by emperor Hiuan Tsung of the Tang dynasty . The monument of Si-ngam fu excavated in 1625 has got a stone slab with a cross at the top.
[79] Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, Cathay and Way Thither: Being a Collection of Medieval Notices of China, New Delhi, vol.I, 1998, p.23
[80] 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
[81] 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
[82] H.Otto Mascarenhas, “The Indian Apostolate and St.Francis Xavier”, in Examiner, Dec.20, 1952, 651
[83] James Kurikilamkatt, First Voyage of the Apostle Thomas to India: Ancient Christianity in Bharuch and Taxila, Bangalore, 2005, p.114; J.Rooney, Shadows in the Oak, Rawalpindi, 1984, p.45. It is the protestant missionaries of the nineteenth century who first reported about the fakirs of Sind claiming to be followers of Thum Bhagat.
[84] Derryl N.Maclean, Religion and Society in Arab Sind: Theoretical Studies in Sociology and Anthropology in Honour of Nels Anderson, Leiden, 1989, pp. 76; 116; 126
[85] R.Ghirshman, The Island of Kharg, Tehran, 1960, pl.12ff.
[86] 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. 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
[87] Stephen Neill, a History of Christianity in India, the Beginning to AD 1707, Cambridge, 1984, p.126; In Gloria Martyrum  written by St.Gregory of Tours (590) mention is made about the monastery and church that stood in Mylapore. A.E.Medlycott, India and the Apostle St.Thomas, London, 1905, p.71
[88] Supra no.51
[89] George Fadlo Hourani, Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times, Princeton,1951,pp. 61-62;64;70-74; Pius Malekandathil, The Germans, the Portuguese and India, Münster, 1999,p.4
[90] The Syriac document Anecdota Syriaca states that three Syrian Missionaries (two of them probably Nestorian Persians Mar Sapor and Mar Peroz or Prodh) came to Kollam in 823 AD and got leave from the king Shakirabirbi to erect a church there. K.P.Padmanabha Menon, History of Kerala, vol. I,New Delhi, 1982, p.273. See also M.G.S.Narayana, Cultural Symbiosis, 1972, Calicut,pp.31-2. The word Kurakkeni Kollam was often used in Malayalam for Quilon so as to differentiate it from another early medieval port-town known as Pandarayani Kollam, which actually corresponds to present day Koyilandy.
[91] This fact is evident from the Tharisapally copper plate. For details see T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, Madras, 1916,pp.66-75
[92] Parakkol seems to have derived from Bhara-kol or the balance by which commodities and solid materials were weighed. The literal meaning must have been balance to weigh Bharam-units. Each bharam corresponds to twenty thulams or 200 kilograms.  Probably it must have been the crude form of vellikol that existed till recently as a weighing mechanism in Kerala.
[93] This also seems to be a device for measuring solid articles of trade like para, which was in use till recently. Probably it must have been used for bulk-measurements of rice and pepper. Commodity measured by one panchakandy must have been equivalent to five kandis, another type of weight prevalent in Kerala till recently.  Or it could also refer to a type of weights generally spaced out into five(panchakandy as a device with pancha-khandas or five measuring segments.
[94] Kappan seems to have been a device to measure liquid items. It must have been the crude form of thudam device with a handle, with the help of which oil was measured till recently. The word kappan must have been derived from “thappu pathram”
[95] T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Seiries,vol.II,p.68
[96] Walter de Gray Birch(ed.), The Commentaries of the Great Afonso Dalboquerque: Second Viceroy of India, New York, 1875, p.15
[97] As mentioned in the first plate of Tharisapally Copper plate. Four families of Ezhavas and eight Ezhakkaiyyar T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, p.67
[98] As mentioned in the second plate of Tharisapally Copper plate. T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, p.68
[99] As mentioned in the second plate of Tharisapally Copper plate. T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, p.67
[100] As mentioned in the first plate of Tharisapally Copper plate. T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, p.68
[101] Ibid., pp.63-7
[102] Ibid., pp.68-71
[103] Ibid., pp.67; 71
[104] See also M.G.S. Narayanan, Cultural Symbiosis in Kerala , Trivandrum, 1972, pp.31-3; Pius Malekandathil, Maritime India: Trade, Religion and Polity in the Indian Ocean, New Delhi, 2010, pp.41-2
[105] T. A Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, pp.68;71
[106] The intensity of this conflict between the evolving Hindu religion and heterodox sects like Buddhism and Jainism , is very ,much evident in the Bhakti literature of this period. See R.Chambakalakshmi, “From Devotion and Dissent to Dominance: The Bhakti of the Tamil Alvars and Nayanars” in R. Chambakalakshmi and S. Gopalan(eds.), Tradition, Dissent and Ideology: Essays in Honour of Romila Thapar, 2001, p.143
[107] For a detailed discussion on these angadis as markets see Pius Malekandathil, Portuguese Cochin and the Maritime Trade of India, pp.50-80; For details on the churches having angadis see Pius Malekandathil(ed.), Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Kochi, 2003(henceforth mentioned as Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes), pp.126-462
[108] A.Sreedhara Menon, Kerala Charitram (Malayalam), Kottayam, 1973,p.135. The grant made to these two Christian merchants was recorded in the form of a vattezhuthu inscription on a granite slab, 74 inches by 51 inches, lying at the foot of the open air cross in front of the Catholic church at Thazhekkadu near Irinjalakuda.
[109] MGS Narayanan and Kesavan Veluthat, “ Bhakti Movement in South India”, in S.C.Malik(ed.), Indian Movements: Some Aspects of Dissent Protest and Reform, Simla, 1978, pp. 44-5
[110] The reference to this persecution of Vellala Christians in Kaveripattanam (Puhar) and their subsequent flight to Quilon and other places including Tiruvancode , where the indigenous Christians were flourishing, is given in the tradition of St.Thomas Christians. See T.K.Joseph, “Kings and Christians in Kerala”, in Kerala Society Papers, II,pp. 121-123. The year given in T.K.Joseph’s article is 293 AD .If this information about the year is true, it could have been a persecution unleashed by the Kalabhras(Kalappalar), whose period was noted for vandalism and chaos in political order. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, New Delhi, 1999, pp.130;135-137. However the mentioning of the name of Manickavasagar in the written sources indicate that this must have happened probably in 8th century and persecution of people following other belief system was not alien to the rulers and personalities connected with Bhakti tradition of those days. For more details see also Kurian Thomas , “ Athijeevanathinte Suvisesham’
[111] Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada do Arcebispo, Coimbra, 1606 translated and edited by Pius Malekandathil under the title Jornada of Dom Alexis de Meneze:A Portuguese Account of the sixteenth Century Malabar, Kochi, 2003, (Henceforth known as Antonio de Gouvea, Joranada), p. 258;  Pius Malekandathil, “ Christians and the Cultural Shaping of India in the First Millennium AD”, in Journal of St.Thomas Christians, vol.17, No.1, January-March 2006, p.11
[112] Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada, p.258
[113] Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada, p.258
[114] Antonio Gouvea,  Jornada, p.251
[115] Ibid., pp. 251,257; Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas, Cambridge, 1982,pp. 205-6
[116] Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.29; 244
[117] Ibid., pp.244-5
[118] The dating of these Christian settlements and the founding of their churches is done on the basis of information from W. Hermann, Die Kirche der Thomaschristen: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Orientalischen Kirchen, Hütersloh, 1877,pp.673-769; Fr.Bernard, The History of the St.Thomas Christians, pp.296-327. The year of founding of these churches is taken from the respective diocesan directories, which is further cross-checked with the help of field-study, in which the statues, the church-bells, stone inscriptions, church-songs (pallipattu)etc. are used to verify their chronology. See also P.J.Thomas, Malayala Sahithyavum Kristhianikalum, Kottayam, 1961, pp.63-4; Pius Malekandathil, “St.Thomas Christians and the Indian Ocean”, pp.186,194-95, 198-99.
[119] Friar Jordanus, Mirabilia Descripta, London, 1863, pp.24-30; Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, Cathay and Way Thither,  vol.III, pp.28-31; 75-80
[120] For details on the military expertise of the St.Thomas Christians see Antonio de Gouvea,  Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.252-3
[121] Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Cartas de Dio a D.João de Castro , fol. 93, Letter of Damião Vaz to Dom Alvares de Castro, dated 6-8-1547; Georg Schurhammer, Die Zeitgenössischen Quellen zur Geschichte Portugiesisch-Asiens und seiner Nachbarländer zur Zeit des hl. Franz Xavier(1538-1552), Rom, 1962, No.3224, p.212..
[122] See Historical Archives of Goa, Livro das Monções, No.8 (1601-2), fol.106.
[123] For details on the ministers of the principality of Poonjar and Vadakkenkur see Antonio de Gouvea,  Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.330;332-333. The father of Thachil Mathu Tharakan was a member of the council of ministers serving the king of Alengadu.
[124] Antonio de Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, pp.116-118.
[125] O.M.Varghese Olickal, Vazhakulam, A  Charithra Veekshanam, Muvattupuzha, 1985, pp.15-6
[126] Henri Yule (ed.), Cathay and the Way Thither, vol.III,Nendeln/Liechtenstein, 1967, pp.216-218, 248-257. Here it should also be remembered that during this time there was an interregnum of contacts between the Patriarchate and India especially from the Mongol invasion (c.1258) until the late 15th century.
[127] Antonio da Silva Rego (ed.), Documentação para a Historia das Missões, vol.II, pp.175-6.

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