Debate on the Apostolate of St. Thomas in Kerala: A Response

4/5 - (4 votes)

Debate on the Apostolate of St. Thomas in Kerala: A Response



Dr.Pius Malekandathil

Professor in History

JNU, New Delhi


(Pius Malekandathil,”Debate on the Apostolate of St.Thomas in Kerala: A Response”, in Journal of St.Thomas Christians, vol. 29, no.2, July-December , 2018, pp.32-58)


In recent days there appeared a controversy on the apostolate of St. Thomas in India. In fact the controversy was not only on the apostolate of St. Thomas alone, but also on some of the essential aspects linked with the very identity and consciousness of the St. Thomas Christians, who form one of the most vibrant Christian segments in Asia with around 50 lakh members. The central aspects of the controversy revolved around three questions: Did St. Thomas really come to India? How can one say that St. Thomas converted Nambuthiri Brahmins to Christianity as Nambuthiri Brahmins appeared only by 8th century? The third point around which the controversy arose was on the sense of ‘superiority’ that some members of the St. Thomas Christians are alleged to uphold claiming ‘Brahminical connections’. Initially I would like to say that these are three different issues and are to be analyzed separately, even though they may outwardly give the impression that they are linked with one another. No, they are not interlinked with one another. The seemingly woven interconnectedness among these three issues by different oral and family traditions added further confusion among both the historians and the ordinary people. Hence attempts are made here to look into these questions one by one, but separately and try to find clarity from a historical perspective


I.                   Did St. Thomas really come to India and convert people in Kerala ?



It is not in 2018 that the apostolate of St. Thomas in Kerala was doubted for the first time. The debate on the apostolate of St.Thomas in Kerala began in eighteenth century when some of the Protestant missionaries like Maturinus Veyssière La Croze [1]  started casting some doubts about the apostolic origin of this community. Upto 18th century it was considered almost as a matter of faith and history that St. Thomas preached Gospel in Kerala and the members of this Christian community used to refer to themselves as Mar Thoma Christianikal. The Portuguese used to call them as Cristãos de São Tome or Christians of St.Thomas.[2]  Even the Dutch also used to refer to these Christians in their writings of 17th and 18th centuries as St. Thomas Christenen. [3] As the Mar Thoma Christians were using Syriac as their liturgical language, they used to call themselves also as Suriani Christianikal , which the the English rendered as Syrian Christians.[4] Over a period of time, the nomenclature Syrian Christians got stuck to this community in the writings of the English instead of the Mar Thoma Christianikal . However, in the process of re-naming this Christian community from Mar Thoma Christianikal or Suriani Christianikal  into “Syrian Christians,” another colour was attached to this Christian community and what ultimately happened was an exercise that eventually dissociated “St.Thomas” from this Christian community, giving the general impression for the ordinary people that these Christians took origin because of the migration of Christian merchants from Syria. Many of the Anglican missionaries who wrote about the history of this Christian community started arguing for its origin because of migration from Syria.[5] True that Christian migration did happen to Kerala at different time periods; but it was not from such far off place like Syria but from Fars and other regions in the neighbourhood of Persian Gulf and Red Sea.[6]


Nature of sources and evidences that historians bank upon to validate and substantiate the  preaching of Gospel in Kerala by St.Thomas.


1.      The most important proof is the very community itself, which despite its growth into 50 lakh members claims in unison that it originated because of the preaching of gospel by the apostle St. Thomas. If this community has no connection whatsoever with St. Thomas, then how did his name come into the memory and collective consciousness of five million people and why did they link their origin with the apostolic preaching of St.Thomas and call themselves as St.Thomas Christians ? If it happened because of some social engineering of later period, then why the members of this community refer only to apostle St. Thomas and why not to any other apostle ?  One may have to accept that there are some grains of truth in the collective consciousness of this Christian community, which if properly sifted can be used as source for historically arriving at its origin. In fact people themselves and the collective memory of the community are regarded as reliable primary sources for gathering pieces of historical information, which are not otherwise obtainable from conventional sources, for understanding the past of several categories of people including the non-elitist segments of the society, who somehow lost their written source materials. Every community or social group may not get figured in conventional written sources and even when their stories are given they are depicted not in the same uniform way, as only those groups which were politically or economically or socially visible because of their clout and prowess often used to get mentioned in contemporary written sources and inscriptions with prominence.  In the case of many other groups and communities, there would be a great silence, which does not mean actual non-existence of such groups. Historians are now trying to reconstruct the past of such groups without having much written sources by resorting to ethno-historical tools and also by taking the people themselves as an important primary source for historical study. We have an excellent example for it in the work of Marc Bloch, who reconstructed the medieval feudal features of France by studying the rural villages of twentieth century.[7] In India D.D. Kosambi made use of people as primary sources in his attempts to study the culture and society of ancient India.[8] The important presumptions in such methodological approaches are that (1) there is a past which is traceable from the collective consciousness of the people (2) despite change over time the nucleus of historical truth would remain in the collective memory of the people in differing degrees on the basis of the intensity of changes. In societies and places where changes happen very slowly, the type of historical information derived from them through ethno-historical tools would be less-tampered and much more reliable unlike the societies and places where changes happen very fast and where consequently different layers of memory would get mixed-up giving origin for different versions of the reality. The oral traditions, folklores, historical proverbs etc., contain elements of truth in different degrees, on which historian depends for the reconstruction of their past.  One may make use of the very people of St Thomas Christians as a source material to locate the places of their settlement and distribution, which in turn can be used as a strong corroborative evidence to cull out elements of truth from the tradition. The living tradition among the St Thomas Christians of Kerala and the increasing concentration of these Christians, all through known historical periods, in areas mentioned in the tradition as places of apostolic work, attests to the fact that there are some elements of truth in the tradition that St Thomas preached the gospel in South India.


2.      The earliest written source that speaks of the preaching of St. Thomas in India is Acts of Judas Thomas, which was written in Syriac in the third century AD. It refers to the preaching of St.Thomas in the kingdom of Gondophoros, who was later identified as an Indo-Parthian ruler.[9] With the discovery of first century coins bearing the name of Gondophares from Northwest India from mid-1830s onwards [10] and rock  inscription of Gunduphara from Takht-i-Bahi in Mardan , Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa , Pakistan in 1872,[11] 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.[12] The very historical chronology of the Indo-Parthian rulers of North-western India(out of whom Gondophares was only one ruler) was reconstructed by secular historians with the help of the information available in Acts of Judas Thomas.



3.      Some of the leading ancient historians like Romila Thapar view that this tradition is open to doubt, while she considers St. Thomas’ evangelization in Malabar to be more credible. [13] Scholars like Cardinal Tisserant hold the view that St. Thomas came later to South India after his initial preaching in North-West India. [14] The collective memory about the preaching of gospel by St. Thomas in Kerala was preserved in different forms and types of sources materials, out of which all written sources in Syriac and native Malayalam tongue in the archives of Angamali and elsewhere were destroyed in 1599 by the Portuguese immediately after Synod of Diamper confusing them to be works of heresy and perverted doctrines.[15] Only the Rabbban Pattu re-written in 1601[16] and Margam Kali Pattu,[17] preserved for long through oral transmissions, continued to circulate as carriers of some pieces of historical information about the apostolic activities of St. Thomas from the remote past, while others were either destroyed by the Portuguese suspecting them to be heretical works or got lost with the passage of time. However, a considerable segment of the historical information circulating among the St. Thomas Christians regarding their origin because of the preaching of St. Thomas was incorporated by the Portuguese in their historical treatises and chronicles, out of which Antonio de Gouvea’s Jornada do Arcebispo stands out prominent.[18]


4.      Some historians, while denying the probability of the arrival of St. Thomas in Kerala, have been raising the following questions, If St.Thomas had come to India, then why did he come? Were there people in Kerala at that point of time , as most part of it was forests? The Acts of Judas Thomas of third century AD refers to the presence of a Hebrew flute-girl in the court of Gondophares , who entertained St. Thomas on his arrival in India and it is said that St.Thomas in turn sang a hymn in Hebrew.[19] This gives a tentative indication that there were some Jews in India in the beginning of the first millennium of Christian era. In the Portuguese sources of the sixteenth century, particularly Jornada do Arcebispo , mention is made about the singing of Hebrew girl and the presence of many Jews in Cranganore,  when St.Thomas came.[20] This attests to the local tradition of the Kerala Christians that St.Thomas came to India to preach gospel to the Jews then living in Kerala.[21] Moreover, Acts of Judas Thomas also refers to the preaching of gospel by St.Thomas to some people with Greek personal names. [22] Probably they could have been the Greek or yavana traders who settled in Muziris because of its intensified maritime trade, as they had done in Kaverippattnam and other port-towns. [23] The recent archaeological excavations at Pattanam,[24] in the neighbourhood of Parur and Cranganore, have shown that it was a centre of intensified maritime trade in the first centuries of Christian era and the detailed information about the nature of maritime trade from the ports of Kerala including Naura, Tyndis, Muziris, Nelkynda and Barake[25] attests to the fact that Kerala was not an isolated forested area in the first century AD, as some historians have been wrongly arguing.


5.      There are certain supportive contextual evidences that historians bank upon for substantiating their arguments for the apostolate of St. Thomas in Kerala. The time point when St. Thomas is said to have come to India corresponds with the phase of intensified maritime trade between Roman Egypt and Kerala ports, particularly Muziris. About 120 ships were plying between Myos Hormos in the Red Sea and India annually at that point of time as per the information of Strabo( 63 BC-24 AD), [26] out of which almost half reached  Kerala which was then known as Limyrike. [27]  Pliny ( 23 AD  –79AD) who served as procurator and was closely associated with the court of Vespasian, estimates the value of commodities flowing in the first century AD from India to Rome to be 50 million sesterces( sesterces was often considered to be a unit of account rather than actual coins).   The fact that India annually absorbed about 50 million sesterces[28] from the Roman Empire( an amount equivalent to 12.5 million denarii or 500,000 aurei),  [29] which would roughly represent .5 per cent of Roman GDP of an estimated 10 billion sesterces,[30] clearly suggests the intensity and the value of Roman trade with India in the second half of the first century AD , which coincides with the timing of the arrival of St.Thomas as per the oral sources. The various archaeological artefacts including fragments of pillared Roman bowls, [31] many thousands of wine amphorae and well over 100 Terra Sigillata sherds[32] obtained from the archaeological sites of Pattanam attests to the intimate relationship that this part of Kerala had with the Mediterranean world against the background of intensified maritime trade with Rome in the initial centuries of Christian era. The Sangam literature too refers to the intensified maritime trade that the Romans had with the various ports of Kerala, in particular Muziris during this period. [33] The Muziris Papyrus document of the second century AD(c.180 AD)  obtained recently from Vienna (1985) shows how organized the trade between Muziris and Alexandria was with the Muziris traders taking huge loans from their merchant-colleagues for Alexandria trade in pepper and other commodities. The six-parcels of cargo that a Muziris trader purchased in this Kerala port with one such loan from an Alexandrian merchant weighed around 3.18 metric tonnes and had the value of 1,154 Egyptian talents and 2,852 drachmae (almost seven million sesterces) [34]  and scholars like Federico de Romanis view that 88.64%of the cargo of this trader was pepper. [35] Against this background of high value-intense and stimulated maritime trade between Kerala and Alexandria in the first century of Christian era, it is highly probable that St. Thomas reached Kerala for preaching in any of the ships moving from Bab-el Mandeb ( near present day Aden) or the Egyptian port of Myos Hormos to the Kerala port of Muziris.


6.      The seven Christian settlements attached to the apostolic work of St.Thomas by the oral tradition of the community are Cranganore(Muziris), Palayur(Palur), Parur(Kottakayil), Kokkamangalam, Niranam ,Nilakkal (Chayal) and Quilon.[36] A closer examination of the geographical pattern of settlement among the St.Thomas Christians would show that they were principally located in these seven places and their adjacent regions until recently, when migration from these places started by the third decade of the 20th century. Field-study carried out by using ethno-historiccal tools enabled me to trace back the origin of other settlements of this community, which later developed, to any one of these seven original Christian settlements linked with apostolic work. Even in the sixteenth century as well, for which and for the subsequent periods we have large bulk of documents, these seven places were viewed as the prime centers, where the major settlements of this community concentrated.[37] It shows that there was some historical nucleus in the tradition as far as the apostolic work in these seven places was concerned. The community has always upheld this historical nucleus and looked at these seven Christian settlements, despite the fact that some of them like Nilakkal ceased to exist or some others like Kokkamangalam   shrunk in size because of the vicissitudes to which they were subjected to a considerable period of time, as of apostolic origin, a fact which is difficult for the larger Christian settlements to concede had it not been historically considered to be true.


7.      At the global level nobody knew much about the exact places where Christians lived and practiced their religion till the Edict of Milan(313  AD) issued by Constantine, as most of them used to live in hiding or in catecombs, fearing persecution. Edict of Milan gave freedom for the Christians to practice their religion in the empire and the Council of Nicaea which the emperor convened in 325 to settle the debates on Trinity provided a good platform for the various isolated and scattered Christian groups including the Indian Christians to come together and to know each other in a closer way. One of the bishops, who thus attended the council of Nicaea was bishop John the Persian, who was also referred to by Gelasius of the fifth century as the bishop of whole of Persia and Greater India. Corresponding to these developments and the hectic trading activities carried out between Muziris and the Mediterranean world, information about the apostolic work of St.Thomas in India and about the Christians converted by him in India also began to enter significantly into wider regions in West Asia and the Mediterranean world.  Against this background of close commercial connectivities between Kerala and the Mediterranean, which also facilitated the entry of information about India and Indian Christians in western world,  we find many scholars increasingly referring to the preaching of gospel in India by St. Thomas. For example, the anonymous redactor of Doctrine of the Apostles (c.250), St.Ephrem of Nisibis (c.306-373),[38] St.Gregory Nazianzen(c.329-390),[39] St.Ambrosius(c.333-397),[40] St.Jerome (c.342-419),[41] St. Gaudencius of Brescia(+410),[42] St.Paulinus of Nola(353-431),[43] St. Gregory of Tours(538-594),[44] St.Isidor of Sevilha(560-636)[45] etc., explicitly refer to the apostolic work of St.Thomas in India. Interestingly these references linking St.Thomas with India were made by the Church Fathers who lived  during the period from 250 to 650 AD, a time period when there existed vibrant trade  relations between Kerala and the Mediterranean world, which also suggests  the probability that these Fathers of the Church must have got their information from the diverse merchant groups engaged in Kerala-Rome trade traffic, who were also the chief carriers of information and circulators of news during this period.


II. Was the narrative about the preaching of Gospel in Kerala by St.Thomas something created by the Portuguese?


1.      There are some who maintain that the Portuguese articulated this story as to show that they have got an apostle (St.Thomas) in their colonies in the East in the way the Spaniards have got St.James at Santiago de Compostela. This is rather a wrong interpretation recently formulated by some scholars while discussing the spirit of competition with which colonial processes were engineered by the Portuguese vis a vis the Spaniards. In fact the way how these Christians were attached to St. Thomas and his tomb in Mylapore was indicated by many travellers and traders of medieval period long before the entry of the Portuguese.

2.      One of the more intriguing references to early medieval contacts between Britain and the wider world is found in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, which mentions a late ninth-century AD embassy to India that was supposedly sent by King Alfred the Great. According to the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ for AD 883, King Alfred of Wessex  sent two men, Sigehelm and Aethelstan, overseas with alms to carry both to Rome and to the shrines of ‘St Thomas in India/Indea and to St Bartholomew’, for the purpose of fulfilling a promise that he had made when he besieged a Viking raiding-army at London. India was the very furthest-known reaches of Christendom, the very far edge of the known world, at that point of time.  It was a common belief in the England of king Alfred’s time, as gleaned from the ninth-century  Old English Martyrology that both St Thomas and St Bartholomew were martyred in India. The ninth century English poem of Cynewulf entitled “The fates of the Apostles”  explicitly links these two saints with India. It is being told that Thomas is the second largest proper name used in England.

3.      Marco Polo who visited South India in 1292 refers to the Christians of Koulam(Quilon)[46] and the apostolate of St.Thomas in Maábar( Coromandel) and his eventual martyrdom after having converted many people over there. [47] He also speaks of the tomb of St. Thomas in Mylapore , where the apostle suffered martyrdom , and also the practice of pilgrims taking mud for making a mixture with water and administering it to the sick as a healing remedy. [48] Friar Jordanus, who visited Quilon in 1330s , refers to the Christians of this city in the following words : “In this India there is a scattered people, one here, another there, who call themselves Christians, but are not so, nor have they baptism, nor do they know anything else about the faith. Nay, they believe St. Thomas the Great to be Christ ! ” [49] The emphasis that the these Christians give to St. Thomas is well-depicted by Friar Jordanus.  John Marignoli who visited  Quilon in 1546 refers to the Christians of Quilon as “rich people” and as “owners of pepper plantations”[50] and while speaking of the martyrdom of St.Thomas in Mylapore he says that St. Thomas retired to a place with numberless peacocks , where he was shot in the side with an arrow. [51] These data show that various travellers from Europe to India even long before the arrival of the Portuguese had been very much familiar with the way how the Christians of Kerala and Mylapore linked their origin with the apostle St.Thomas, which piece of information probably they must have got from these local Christians only.


4.      Marco Polo also refers to St. Thomas being engaged in prayer in the middle of peacocks, when he was shot with an arrow by a native. In 1517 Barbosa while narrating the death of St. Thomas refers to the hunter who on seeing one exceedingly great and fair peacock on a flat rock in the company of a great number of peacocks shot an arrow at it. The arrow pierced the middle part of the body of the fair peacock , which despite the wound flew along with other peacocks , but soon the wounded fair peacock fell down to earth in the form of a human being. Seeing this as a miraculous event, he called the governor and the great men of the city who found on the spot the body of St. Thomas. The imagery of peacocks keeping company to the apostle at the time of his death consoling him and soothing him is very much connected with the community’s historical understanding about the death of St. Thomas and hence some of the places connected with the apostolic works of St. Thomas have got “Mayil” or peacock as prefix as in the case of Mylapore, Mailakompu etc. Peacocks also became the common symbol depicted at the base of granite crosses erected in front of the St. Thomas Christian churches, as to denote Apostle St. Thomas and his martyrdom. Some times they are depicted on the walls of churches, as well. Peacocks are also depicted on the official dress of Syro-Malabar Church. Depiction of peacocks in Church spaces and objects symbolizes in its historical nucleus the martyrdom of St. Thomas , who was consoled by peacocks at the time of his death.


5.      An analysis of non-Portuguese European sources for the study of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Kerala would help us to see whether there is a different story about the origin of the St. Thomas Christians. The German artillerist who accompanied Vasco da Gama in 1502 refers to the presence of 3000 Christians in Quilon [52] and the Florentine merchant Giovanni di Empoli who accompanied Francisco de Albuquerque as the trade agent of the Italians in 1503 says that the Christians of Quilon, numbering about 3000, were called Nazareni(which is another appellation for the St. Thomas Christians).[53] Another Italian Ludovico di Varthema who reached the city of Kayamkulam in 1505 says that ‘in this city we found some Christians of Saint Thomas, some of whom are merchants. ’[54] He calls them St. Thomas Christians and refers to a miracle that happened in the tomb of St.Thomas in Mylapore in 1450s.[55]  We also find two Florentine merchants Piero Strozzi and Andrea Corsali travelling all the way from Kerala across the ghat for six days to reach the tomb of St. Thomas, the apostle, in Mylapore.[56] Filppo Sassetti(1540-1588), the great Florentine humanist, who was in Cochin as the trade agent of the Italian pepper contractor, the Rovallescas, says that “there are many Christians here, who were converted by apostle St.Thomas.”[57]  These details show that all pieces of historical information available about this community till 18th century refer to the preaching of St.Thomas as the main cause for its origin and the recent allegations that the apostolic origin of this community was something that was created only by the Portuguese are baseless and without substance. The various reliable travel accounts before sixteenth century and the non-Portuguese European sources including the accounts of the German, the Italian and the Flemish travellers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries refer to their origin to the apostolic preaching by St.Thomas and call them St.Thomas Christians, besides highlighting the importance of the tomb of St. Thomas in Mylpaore, which these Christians used to visit as a part of their religious pilgrimage.


III. Were there Brahmins in Kerala in the First Century AD?


1.      The thirty-two Brahmin villages , to which the origin of Nambuthiri Brahmins is said to be linked, appeared in Kerala only by the eighth century A.D, following the mass exodus of Aryans to Kerala. There were no Nambuthiri Brahmins in the first century AD. However,  that does not mean that there was total absence of other categories of Brahmins in South India in general and  Kerala, in particular.   K.K.Pillay says that a large number of Brahmins came to Tamilnadu from North India from about 5th century B.C. onwards, earlier than the age of third Sangam. [58] By 3rd century B.C., Jains, Budhists, Ajivikas and Brahmins entered Tamil country in considerable numbers, whose influence is seen in the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions[59] as well as in early Sangam texts, where references to the North Indian rivers like Ganges and Son as well as Pataliputra, the Magadhan capital are also found. The Sangam poet Tolkapiyar associated with the second Sangam (circa second century B.C.) was a Brahmin and he also refers to the six-fold social functions of Brahmins (evidently of Tamilnadu): viz., study of the Vedas; teaching of the Vedas; conducting Vedic sacrifices; officiating as priests in sacrifices; giving gifts to others and receiving gifts. [60]  This is a clear indication that there were Brahmins in Tamilnadu at least from second century B.C. onwards. This is further attested to by the grant of Aryappadai Kadanda Neduncheliyan who is said to have given two villages to some of these Brahmins. [61]


2.      But were there Brahmins in Kerala in the first century AD? The various references in Padittupathu, which is considered to be one of the oldest works of Sangam literature, show that Brahmin presence was there in the first century B.C. and first century A.D., in Chera kingdom in differing degrees; but they were not Nambuthiris. The Sangam poets like Paranar, Kapilar and Palai Gauthamanar who eulogized the exploits of Chera kings in their songs of Padittupathu  in the first century B.C. and first century A.D. were Brahmin poets and it is quite obvious that they lived in the Chera kingdom, which roughly corresponds with the present-day Kerala. Palai Gauthamanar who himself was a Brahmin says in Padittupathu that the land of the Cheras was blessed with abundance and prosperity thanks to the sacrifices (evidently referring to Brahminical sacrifice) performed in his land.[62] Kapilar, another Brahmin poet from Chera kingdom,  also eulogizes the benevolence of Chera kings, who gave gold to the Brahmins as gift for having performed Vedic sacrifice.[63] Arisilkizhar , the third famous Brahmin poet from Chera kingdom, also refers to the Chera ruler who performed Puthrakameshti sacrifice, which was a Brahminical sacrifice, for obtaining children.[64] The Brahmin poets living in the territory of the Cheras (which corresponds with present day Kerala) and speaking about the Brahminical rituals in the Chera kingdom in the first century AD evidently indicate that Kerala was not a land without Brahmins at the time of the arrival of St. Thomas, as many are wrongly alleging.  Peruncheral Irumporai, the Chera king was said to have taken keen interest in the discussion of Vedic doctrines and observed fasts on occasions specified by the Brahmins, besides performing a great sacrifice on the suggestion of the chief priest.[65] All these allude to the presence of Brahmins in the first century B.C and first century A.D. and in the same land of the Cheras to which St.Thomas came for evangelization. It should be specially mentioned that they were not Nambuthiris, as the word Nambuthiri is not mentioned in any of the documents. It is the generic term Brahmin that is used into which category anybody could be included out of the large variety of Brahminical groups.[66] These Brahmins mentioned here seem to be a microscopically minority community, as the dominant religions were Budhism and Jainism and the Brahmins did not seem to have wielded any power or clout in the early centuries of Christian era. They seem to have lived in isolated enclaves; but like anybody else including the Budhists and the Jains they did not enjoy any hegemonic position.


3.      But the category of Brahmins who enjoyed hegemonic position and who were later called Nambuthiris appeared only with the mass migration of Brahmins in the seventh and eighth centuries AD. It was these Brahmins who established 32 villages along the riverine belts of Kerala[67] and emerged as the oligarchic power group under the Cheras of Mahodayapuram.[68] We do not know whether the descendants of the earlier Brahmins mentioned in Sangam literature later merged slowly into this segment at different time points, although the chances for the same are more.



IV. Did St. Thomas convert Nambuthiris in Kerala?


1.      No. St. Thomas did not convert Nambuthiris as the segment of Brahmins known as Nambuthiris appeared in Kerala only by seventh and eighth centuries. Is there a possibility that he converted any other segment of Brahmins? We do not know. But there is a very strong oral tradition that St.Thomas converted some Brahmins( not Nambuthiris) in Palayur and other places.[69] The earliest reference to the preaching of St.Thomas to the Brahmins is in the writing of St. Jerome in the fourth century AD, who mentions that the apostle went ”ut Christus apud Brachmanas praedicaret” (to preach Christ to the Brahmins)[70] Other than the oral sources and the synoptic reference in the writing of St. Jerome, there is nothing that says in detail whether Brahmins were really converted to Christianity and if so, how many of them were converted.


2.      However, there are three customs among the St.Thomas Christians that may help us to make some inferences in this regard. 1. The St.Thomas Christians were wearing sacred thread or poonul and kudumi (tuft) till 18th century, besides observing  birth- and death –related pula, as is mentioned by Jornada[71] and the Italian Jesuit Robert de Nobili. [72]  Where did this practice come from ? In Kerala the St. Thomas Christians happened to be the only group, besides Brahmins who used to wear sacred thread and why and how the Brahmins allowed them to wear it? Even Nairs, who occupied the second position in the caste hierarchy,  did not wear sacred thread. The St. Thomas Christians seem to have been given by the Nambuthiri Brahmins a social standing and caste status on par with the trading caste or the Vaisyas. But during the period between eighth and thirteenth centuries, when the Brahmins formulated a caste -based society out of the various social groups and artisan-cum-professional groups then existing in Kerala, why sacred thread connected with upper caste status or Brahmin-related position was allowed to be used/retained only by the St.Thomas Christians ? Couldn’t it be because of their earlier use of the same, which again suggests some form of connections that some of the St.Thomas Christians had with some Brahminical families earlier, long before the entry of the Namuthiri Brahmins? 2. One notices some sort of unbroken priestly tradition among a few families of the St.Thomas Christians, with at least one priest in every generation.  Some of them trace back priestly continuity to the early centuries of Christian era.[73] However, not every family claims it. In many cases such families with long priestly traditions are the ones that claim Brahminical lineage. Is it because of the notion of unbroken priestly lineage stemming from the Brahminical roots of such families? 3. Some of the St. Thomas Christian families evolved as the bridge between the polluted and the non-polluted segments of the society at a time when the Nambuthiri Brahminical ideology and temple-centred economic activities were re-shaping the social life of the Keralites by constructing and re-constructing new castes out of various professional and artisan groups, particularly during the period between 8th and 13th centuries. Some segments of the St.Thomas Christians were given a social function to touch and purify oil and utensils used in temples and palaces that were ‘polluted’ by the touch of the artisans. Such Christian families were given land near temples and palaces so that they could settle there to be at hand for touching and purifying the oil (ennathottu Kodukkan) and for purifying the vessels being ‘polluted’ by the touch or use of lower caste people.[74] The common saying was “Paulose thottalathu sudhamayidum,” which means that Paulose’s (Christian) touch will purify it . [75] However, it should be noted that this was not mere touching alone, but a ritual act, which not every St.Thomas Christian , but members from only certain selected families were invited to do. Why only selected families of the St.Thomas Christians?  Why Nambuthiri Brahmins , the source of ritual authority in Kerala since 8th century AD, allowed this practice to continue and considered the ‘objects thus touched by these Christians’ to be ‘pure and clean’? Is it because these few St.Thomas Christian families had some Brahminical lineage which the Nambuthiris considered to be meritorious enough for them to perform such a ‘purifying ritual’?  Somewhere down the line, one may find a feeble thread that speaks of some form of Brahminical layer or something that gives ritually important position to a few families of this community, which the Nambuthiri Brahmins while re-drafting the frames of social order in the eighth and thirteenth centuries AD acknowledged and incorporated as justifiable reasons for their job of conducting ritual purifications, even though their religion was different. But at the same time it should be said that if at all some Brahmins got converted to Christianity in the first century AD, such Brahmins did not have any hegemonic position or superior social standing at that point of time, as they were enjoying the social position only that of ordinary people as any Jain or Budhist had at that point of time. It should be said that never did the St.Thomas Christians hold the view that St.Thomas preached Gospel in 32 Brahmin villages, which were linked with Nambuthiri tradition and which took origin only by eighth century AD. Out of the seven places attached with the preaching of St.Thomas only two places, viz., Parur and Niranam, figure in the list of names attached with tradition of the 32 Nambuthiri Brahmin gramas, [76] which were said to have been instituted by Parasurama. It should be noted that none of the other 30 villages of Nambuthiri Brahmin gramas instituted by Parasurama does not figure in the oral tradition about the origin of the St Thomas Christians( despite their knowledge of these gramas), which again shows that there was no effort from them to connect St.Thomas with Nambuthiri villages.


V. Do the St. Thomas Christians maintain a sense of ‘social superiority’ and if so, where does it come from ?


1.      The various historical documents say that the St. Thomas Christians used to view themselves to be socially superior to many other groups,[77] which may apparently appear to be contradicting the very sense of equality that Christianity upholds. Probably it is one of the few social problems that this community has been striving hard to overcome over years. The ‘ sense of superiority’ does not seem to stem from their origin linked with the preaching by apostle St.Thomas, but from a plurality of socio-economic reasons which appeared over centuries. An analysis of the historical background against which this sense of ‘superiority’ crept into this community will show that multiple forces were at play in creating the consciousness of ‘superiority’. During the medieval period when the Kerala society was hierachalized and highly stratified, every resourceful community tried to keep itself in the upper scale of the social ladder by keeping itself closer to the ruler or to the dominant groups. The St.Thomas Christians, who were very close to local rulers because of their highly preferred position as being traders[78]  and fighting militia for the local rulers,[79] besides being cultivators of spices, [80] were often referred to by many local rulers as ‘sons of kings.’ [81]  Because of immense wealth and resourcefulness of this community, various local rulers gave several social and economic privileges, [82]  commercial concessions[83] and preferential treatment[84] to the members of this community, which bolstered their social standing and economic position and political clout of the community. Some of the members of this Christian community also served  as  ministers for the Kartha ( ruler) of Poonjar,[85] ruler of  Thekkenkur kingdom, [86] and also for the Mangattu Kaimals of Alengadu. [87] It is against this socio-economic and political background of medieval period that the sense of being ‘privileged,’ ‘different’ or being ‘superior’ started creeping considerably into this community, as Jornada testifies.[88] The contextual analysis makes one infer that the Nambuthiri Brahmins who formulated a new socio-economic order between eighth and thirteenth centuries by keeping themselves at the top and other various craft groups and professional groups as different castes standing in the intermediary levels in differing degrees, also permitted the St.Thomas Christians to evolve with certain markers of quasi-caste frame almost on par with that of the Vasiyas against the new socio-economic background and the Nambuthiri Brahminical legitimization seems to have cemented heavily this sense of ‘superiority’. In this process, some of the St.Thomas Christians(probably the feeblest layer among them), who were linking themselves with Brahminical roots from remote past on, seems to have now wrongly connected their family roots with Nambuthiri Brahmins , who were then the wielders of ritual power and co-sharers of political power. Over a period of time, many members of this community lost sense of the actual socio-economic and political background of Kerala against which they bagged the preferred treatment from rulers and dominant groups and started linking their past with Nambuthiri Brahmins to explain their elevated social standing, which was a historical mistake, as well.


The foregoing discussion shows how the very presence of 50 lakh people with the collective consciousness of having taken origin from apostolic preaching acts as the historical nucleus for the understanding the past of this community. The supportive contextual evidences and the various references to the preaching of St.Thomas in India from third century AD onwards cement the argument that St. Thomas preached in India. The accounts of Marco Polo, Friar Jordanus and John Maringoli in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which connect St.Thomas with this Christian community, also attest to the apostolic origin of this community. The recent debate on the apostolate of St.Thomas in Kerala unfortunately revolved mainly around one issue only : When Nambuthiri Brahmins were not there in Kerala in the first century AD , how can it be true that St.Thomas preached gospel in Kerala?  It is immaterial whether there were Brahmins in Kerala in the first century AD or not and their presence is in no way essential to prove the arrival of St.Thomas in Kerala. However, the available sources also speak of the presence of Brahmins in Kerala, as well, though they were not Nambuthiri Brahmins, who appeared only by 8th century AD. Probably some of such Brahmins of the first century AD must have also got converted by St.Thomas, though among the majority of converts there could be some Jews , a few Greek settlers and mostly local people. But the Brahmins of the first century AD did not enjoy any hegemonic position or clout as the Nambuthiri Brahmins got since 8th century. The sense of ‘superiority’ often alleged to be linked with the St.Thomas Christians historically came not on account of their Brahminical roots, but because of the socio-economic concessions and privileges that the members of this community bagged over a period of time from various rulers due to their resourcefulness and preferred position as being the principal spice-producers, traders and fighting militia for the local rulers. Apostolic origin of this community has been something intrinsically connected with its very identity and consciousness and that is why the community despite its fragmentation into a wide variety of Christian denominations still call themselves St.Thomas Christians.


Later the migrant Christians from Persia prayed and conducted trade together and in unison, and in this process there was sharing of common traditions  and in this process there evolved a situation of maintaining  shared spiritual legacy and apostolic traditions by both the St.Thomas Christians and the migrant Christians.Whatever that appeared among these Christians were attributed to St. Thomas, even though they appeared much later .For example, the Pahlavi-inscribed cross of 5th and 6th centuries were attributed to be St.Thomas Cross. (We all know that crosses were not objects of veneration in the first century AD and they became objects of veneration only in the fourth century , particularly after the discovery of the Holy Cross by St.Helena by the middle of 320s from Holy land.) There was an initiation ceremony among these Christians in which the newly born child and its mother were received into the church by sprinkling mud collected from the tomb of St. Thomas in Mylapore or from other places where St. Thomas made his preaching, as Jornada testifies. The totality of their ritual traditions, cultural practices formed what they called Thomayude Margavum Vazhipadum. Though they got origin over a long span of time they attributed these diverse pactices to St. Thomas , giving an apostolic colour to them.


Here two things are to be noted: One is the apostolic origin of the community.-not everybody, but a considerable layer of community took origin from the preaching of St. Thomas , which merged with the migrant Christians and converted Christians of later period giving shape to what we now refer to as St. Thomas Christians. Simultaneously there happened the attribution of several later  customs, practices and traditions to the apostle like the veneration of Pahlavi inscribed cross, which they called St. Thomas Cross, the observance of pula, kudumi  and poonool practices etc. Historically they are not connected with St.Thomas or the apostolic times, but they evolved over time and that too due to different reasons. But because of the shared tradition, ritual and cultural practices that these  Christians maintained within themselves around them, they were developed as markers of identity for this community, creating bonds and sense of community for these Christians.


[1] Maturinus Veyssière La Croze, Histoire du Christianisme des Indes. La Haye, 1724, pp.38-48 . James Hough, The History of Christianity in India from the Commencement of the Christian Era , vol.I, London, 1839
[2] See Antonio Gouvea, Jornada do Arcebispo de Goa Dom Frei Aleixo de Menezes Primaz da India Oriental, Religioso da Ordem de S. Agostinho. Quando foy as serras do Maalvar , & lugares em que morão os antigos Cristãos de S. Thome& os tirou de mutos erros & heregias em que estavão & reduzio a nossa Sancta Fe Catholica , & obedencia da Santa Igreja Romana , da qual passava de mil annos que estavão apartados, Coimbra, 1604. It is translated into English with critical notes by Pius Malekandathil (ed.), Jornada of Dom Alexis Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar. LRC Publications, Cochin, 2003(Henceforth referred to as Antonio Gouvea, Jornada); Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa(BNL), Reservados, Cod.464, “Vida do Illustrissimo Dom Francisco Garcia Arcebispo de Cranganore por Francisco Teixeira,” 1659, fols. 8-70; João Paulo Oliveira e Costa, “Os Portugueses e a Cristandade Siro-Malabar(1498-1530),in Studia, 52, Lisboa, 1994
[3] See the original Dutch documents given in Hugo s’ Jacob, De Nederlanders in Kerala, 1663-1701, ‘s Gravenhage, 1976, pp. 164-71, 212
[4] For English use of the term Syrian Christians see Whitehouse, Lingerings of Light in a Dark Land, London, 1873;  G.Milne Rae, The Syrian Church in India, Edinburgh , 1892
[5] Ibid; James Hough, The History of Christianity in India from the Commencement of the Christian Era , vol.I, London, 1839
[6] For details see D.Whitehouse and A. Williamson, “Sassanian Maritime Trade”, in Iran, 11, 1973, pp.29-43; A.Mignana, “The Early spread of Christianity in India, in Bulletin of Ryland Library, 10, 1926, p.437-439;455; 489; Gerd Gropp, “ Christian Maritime Trade of Sasanian Age in the Persian Gulf”, in Internationale Archaeologie, 6, 1997, pp.85-7; Pius Malekandathil, Maritime India: Trade, Religion and Polity in the Indian Ocean, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 1-18
[7] Marc Bloch, Feudal Society, trans.L.A.Manyon, vols.2, Chicago, 1964
[8] D.D.Kosambi, The Culture and Civilisation of India in Historical Outline, Delhi, 1972
[9] A.F.J.Klijn, The Acts of Thomas, Leiden, 1962
[10] These coins discovered from the neighbourhood of Kabul(particularly from Kabul, Khandahar, Seistan and Punjab) from 1834 onwards had bi-lingual legends: on the one side it had inscriptions in Greek, while the reverse side had inscriptions in Karoshti. H.H.Wilson, Ariana Antiqua, Antiquities and Coins of Afghanistan, London, 1871; A.E.Medlycott, India and the Apostle Thomas: An Inquiry with a Critical Analysis of the ‘Acta Thomae’, London, 1905, p.3; E.Thomas, Essays on Indian Antiquities of Late Sir James Prinsep, 1858; James Kurikilamkatt, First Voyage of the Apostle Thomas to India: Ancient Christianity in Bharuch and Taxila, Bangalore, 2005, p.69; Pius Malekandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, Kochi, 2003, p. xxxv
[11] 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
[12] 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
[13] Romila Thapar, A History of India, vol.I, New Delhi, 1999, p.134.
[14] E.Tisserant, Eastern Christianity in India, E.R.Hambye, Calcutta, 1957,p.6
[15]Pius Malekandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar,pp. 350-1
[16] 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
[17] It was finally written down in 1732. Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas: An Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge, 1982, p. 51
[18] Pius Malekandathil, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes: A Portuguese Account of the Sixteenth Century Malabar, pp. 2-8
[19] F.J.Klijn, The Acts of Judas Thomas, Leiden, 1962, pp. 66-68; 160-8
[20] The passage runs like this: “…The girl started singing in Hebrew in the manner of her land, prose and verse of the law of god and of the marvels He had performed for the sons of Israel, miracle of its prophets, adoration of the only one God, and condemnation of the false gods of the gentiles , according to what she had learnt from her parents. As the holy Apostle heard the praises of God in the midst of those gentiles, and of the comforts of his banquets he felt himself elevated in the music and its sense , and as he had forgotten himself he stopped with immoveable eyes on the Hebrew girl who was singing with the spirit ready and attracted towards the Lord whom she was praising”.  Antonio Gouvea, Jornada do Arcebispo, p.4. The Portuguese seem to have got this information by the end of the sixteenth century obviously from the local traditions of the St. Thomas Christians, because Acts of Judas Thomas was already put aside as a heretical book by the Council of Trent ( 1545-1563)and hence they would not have come across this book at all.
[21] Thomas Puthiakunnel, “Jewish Colonies of India paved the Way of Thomas”, in J.Vellian(ed.), The Malabar Church , 1973 , 187-191. For details on the trade between Kerala and Israel in the early centuries of Christian era see   Brian Weinstein, “Biblical Evidence of Spice Trade between India and the Land of Israel :  A Historical Analysis,” Indian Historical Review, 27, 12, 2000,  pp.12- 28. See also the views of Koder. S.S.Koder, “Saga of the Jews of Cochin “, in Jews in India, edited by Thomas A. Timberg, New Delhi, 1986, p.140
[22] We find references to a certain Xanthipus, who was made a deacon in the kingdom of Gudnaphar and Sifur, who was ordained a presbyter in the same kingdom. A.F.J.Klijn, The Acts of Thomas, pp.100, 154; See also Placid Podipara, The Thomas Christians, Bombay, 1970,pp.17,32. A priest of the temple of Apollo was made bishop in the second kingdom and a person by name Asaphorus was made the priest in the third kingdom. See the Arabic version of the Acts of Judas Thomas in A.Smith Lewis(ed.), Acta Mythologica Apostolorum: Horae Semiticae, IV, London, 1904, pp.89-99
[23] The word Yavana initially was used to refer to the Ionians and it first occurs in the Behistun inscription of

519 B.C.See D.C.Sircar, Select Inscriptions Bearing on Indian History and Civilisation, Calcutta, 1965, p.3.The Yavanas of Dhenukakata embraced Budhism and used to donate to the Budhist Sangha of Karle. M.S. Vats, “Unpublished Votive Inscriptions in the Caitya Cave at Karle”, in Epigraphia Indica, XVIII, 1925-26,nos.4, 6, 10. For more details see also Himanshu P.Ray, Monastery and Guild:Commerce under the Satavahanas, Delhi, 1986,pp.194-195 In Sangam literature composed between 300 B.C. and AD 300, we find references to the Yavanas coming with gold and wine in their ships and returning with pepper. Akam.149; Puram 56.343; Muziris was the most important port visited by them Akam.57; Puram 343. Besides being traders some of these Greeks were employed as bodyguards to kings and palace-guards. Mulaipattu, 66.6 The Pandyan ruler Aryappadaikadanda Neduncheliyan had Yavana palace-guards. Silap.XIV:66-7.Pattinapalai speaks of the prosperity of the Yavana settlements which never waned. Pattinapalai , 214-217. The lamps introduced by the Yavanas were known for their fine workmanship and innovative shapes. Netunalvati 101-102; Perumpanattuppatal 316-319; The Padittupattu refers to a conflict between the Yavanas and the Chera king Imayavaramban Neduncheraladan, which ultimately led to the imprisonment of the Yavanas and their eventual disappearance. K.K.Pillay, A Social History of the Tamils, University of Madras,1975,p.256. There was a separate quarters for the Yavanas in Puhar or Kaveripattanam. Silappadikaram,V:6-12.
[24] 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

K.P.Shajan et al, “Locating the Ancient Port of Muziris : Fresh Findings from Pattanam”, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 17, 2004, pp. 351-9; P.J.Cherian et al, Interim Report of the Pattanam Excavations/Explorations, 2013, Trivandrum: KCHR, 2013.
[25]Naura is usually identified with Cannanore, Muziris with Cranganore, and Barake, which was said to be located on the banks of river Baris, is equated with Porakkad. Scholars identify river Baris with Pampa river. Nelcynda has been identified with Niranam. The principal region where pepper was grown in large quantities was called Kottanarike. L.Casson, The Periplus Maris Erythraei, pp.83-85; Pliny, Natural History, 6.105; Claudius Ptolemy, Geografia, 7.I.9. See also V. Selvakumar,”Ancient Ports of Kerala: An Overview”,”in K.S.Mathew(ed.) , Imperial Rome, Indian Ocean Regions and Muziris: New Perspectives on Maritime Trade, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 269-296
[26] Strabo, 2, 118
[27] Lionel Casson, Periplus,p. 225
[28] Pliny, Natural History, 6, 26, 101 . However in another book he indicates that the trade with India, Arabia, and China deprived the empire of 100 million sesterces every year .Pliny , Natural History ,12, 41, 84
[29] Matthew Adam Cobb, “Balancing the Trade: Roman Cargo Shipments to India, ”in Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 34(2), 2015, p.191
[30] M.P.Fitzpatrick, “Provincializing Rome: the Indian Ocean Trade Network and Roman Imperialism,” in Journal of World History, 2011, 22(1), p.31;  Temin, “Estimating GDP in the early Roman Republic,” in E. Lo Cascio (Ed.), Innovazione tecnica e progresso economico nel mondo Romano, Edipuglia, Bari (2006), pp. 31-54; Scheidel, W. and Friesen, S.J.,  The Size of the Economy and the Distribution of Income in the Roman Empire. Journal of Roman Studies, 99, 2009, 61–91
[31] P.J. Cherian, “Pattanam Excavations and Explorations 2007 & 2008: An Overview, ” in Campana, S., Forte, M. and Liuzza, C. (eds.), Space, Time, Place: Third International Conference on Remote Sensing in Archaeology , 2010, (Oxford), 271–2; P.J. Cherian,  “Pattanam Excavations: 2011 Fifth Season Field Report,”2011, Available at
[32] P.J.Cherian, “Pattanam to challenge Euro‐centric notions and help rewrite the history of Indian Ocean Trade,” in Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology,  6, 2009-10, 154–5; K.P.Shajan,  R.Tomber, V. Selvakumar, and P.J.Cherian, “Locating the Ancient Port of Muziris: Fresh Findings from Pattanam”, Journal of Roman Archaeology 17, 2004, 312–318; V. Selvakumar, K.P. Shajan, and R. Tomber,” Archaeological investigations at Pattanam, Kerala: new evidence for the location of ancient Muziris,” in R. Tomber, L.  Blue,  and S. Abraham, (eds.), Migration, Trade and People. Part 1: Indian Ocean Commerce and the Archaeology of Western India (London),2009,  pp.35-6; R. Tomber, Indo‐Roman Trade: From Pots to Pepper , London, 2008, p.143
[33] V. Selvakumar,”Ancient Ports of Kerala: An Overview”, in K.S.Mathew(ed.) , Imperial Rome, Indian Ocean Regions and Muziris: New Perspectives on Maritime Trade, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 269-296. “……Sacks of pepper, piled beside the building become confusing on the bustling sea front. Articles of gold brought by sea vessels are carried to the shore by boats in the estuary. Products of his (Chera’s) mountains and products of his seas, he brings together to bestow on his visitors, with toddy like a river, the gold mount Kuttuvan, his noisy Muziris throbs as the Ocean” Purananooru, 343: 1-10. “The city where the beautiful vessels, the masterpieces of the Yavanas, stir white foam on the Chulli Periyaru, river of the Cheras, arriving with gold and departing with pepper-when that Muciri, brimming with prosperity, was besieged by the din of war.”

Akananooru, 149:7-11
[34] 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 L.Casson, “P.Vinod G. 40822 and the Shipping of Goods from India”, in BASP, 23(1986), pp. 73-79; 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. Romanis views that the loan mentioned in the Muziris papyrus was worth 6,911,852 sesterces. Federico de Romanis, M. Maiuro (Eds.), Across the Ocean: Nine essays on Indo-Mediterranean Trade, Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition 41, Brill, Leiden; Boston , 2015
[35] Federico de Romanis, “Playing Sudoku on the Verso of the Muziris Papyrus: Pepper, Malabathron and Tortoise Shell in the Cargo of the Hermapollon,”Journal of Ancient Indian History, XXVII, (2010-11) , pp. 75-101
[36] A Syriac manuscript of the year 1770 refers to these seven churches. It is made available in W.J.Richards, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas, London, 1908,pp.72-77; Whitehouse, Lingerings of Light in a Dark Land, London, 1873, pp.25-42: G.Milne Rae, The Syrian Church in India, Edinburgh, 1892, p.361; L.W.Brown, The Indian Christians of St.Thomas, Cambridge, 1956,pp.51-54; Stephen Neil, A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707, Cambridge, 1984,p.33
[37]  See Antonio Gouveia, Jornada, Coimbra, 1606; W.Hermann, Die Kirche der Thomaschristen:Ein beitrag zur Geschichte der Orientalischen Kirchen, Hütersloh, 1877, pp.673-769
[38] Carmina Nisibena, hymn 42
[39] 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.
[40] 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
[41] Epistola a Marcelo, No.59; P.L.XXII, col.589
[42] Sermo XVII, de diversis capitulis septimus:P.L.XX, col.962-963
[43] Carmen XI in S.Felicem: P.L. vol.LXI, col.513-514, poem XIX
[44] De Gloria Martyrum et Confessorum libri III, liv.1, chap. XXXII, pp.70-72
[45] De Ortu et Obitum Patrum, cap. LXXIV-LXXV; P.L. LXXXIII, col.152
[46] John Masefield, The Travels of Marco Polo , New Delhi, 2003,p.377
[47] Ibid., p. 399
[48] John Masefield, The Travels of Marco Polo , New Delhi, 2003,pp.363-4
[49] Catalani Jordanus, Mirabilia Descripta: The Wonders of the East, Translated by Henry Yule, London, 1863, p.23
[50] 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.
[51] Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, Cathay and Way Thither: Being a Collection of Medieval Notices of China , vol.III, pp.250-1 . Marco Polo also refers to St. Thomas being engaged in prayer in the middle of peacocks, when he was shot with an arrow by a native. John Masefield(ed.),, The Travels of Marco Polo, The Venetian, New Delhi, 2003, p.365. In 1517 Barbosa while narrating the death of St. Thomas refers to the hunter who on seeing one exceedingly great and fair peacock on a flat rock in the company of a great number of peacocks shot an arrow at it. The arrow pierced the middle part of the body of the fair peacock , which despite the wound flew along with other peacocks , but soon the wounded fair peacock fell down to earth in the form of a human being. Seeing this as a miraculous event, he called the governor and the great men of the city who found on the spot the body of St. Thomas. Duarte Barbosa, The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries Bordering  on the Indian Ocean and their Inhabitants, II,  p. 128. The imagery of peacocks keeping company to the apostle at the time of his death consoling him and soothing him is very much connected with the community’s historical understanding about the death of St. Thomas and hence some of the places connected with the apostolic works of St. Thomas have got “Mayil” or peacock as prefix as in the case of Mylapore, Mailakompu etc. Peacocks also became the common symbol depicted at the base of granite crosses erected in front of the St. Thomas Christian churches, as to denote Apostle St. Thomas and his martyrdom. Some times they are depicted on the walls of churches, as well
[52] G.W.Nüsser, Fruehe Deutsche Entdecker: Asien in Berichten unbekannter deutscher Augenzeugen (1502-1506) , München, 1980, pp.126-40; Gerot Giertz, Vasco da Gama, die Entedeckung des Seewegs nach Indien: Ein Augenzeugenbericht 1497-1499, Tübingen, 1980, p. 166. The Flemish artillerist who accompanied Vasco da Gama and wrote Calcoen in 1502-3 refers to Cranganore as a Christian city and speaks of the large presence of Christians in Quilon. Viktor Hantzsch, Deutsche Reisende des Sechzehnten Jahrhunderts, Leipzig, 1895, pp.5-7
[53] Giovanni di Empoli, “Viaggio fatto nell’India per Gionni da Empoli fattore su la nave del serenissimo re di Portugallo per conto de marchioni di Lisbona,” in G.B. Ramusio(ed.), Delle Navigationi et Viaggi nel qual si contiente la Descrittione dell’Africa , et del Paese del Prete Joanni, con varii Viaggi, dal Mar Rosso a Calicut, et in  fin all’isole Molucche, dove nascono le Spetieri , et la Navigatione attorno il Mondo, Venice, 1550, fol. 57
[54] Rchard Carnac Temple(ed.), The Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna from 1502 to 1505 , London, 1928, p.71
[55] Ibid., p.72
[56] M. Spallanzani, Mercanti Fiorentini nell’ Asia Portoghese, Firenze, 1997, pp. 176; 195-6
[57] A. Dei( ed.), Filippo Sassetti( 1584), Lettere d’all’India (1583-8), Roma, 1995, pp.60-61
[58] K.K.Pillay, A Social History of the Tamils, University of Madras, 1975, p.221;Agam.146:9;Silap.V:200. For details about the advent of Aryans into South India see K.K.Pillay, “Aryan Influence in Tamilagam”, A Paper presented at the 1st International Conference of Tamil Studies and Seminar, held at Kuala-lumpur, April 1966. However he argues that not all Brahmins of Tamilagam had come from North and that the existence of age-long divisions of Vadamar, Brahatcharanas and Ashtasahasram among the Brahmins of the South is indicative of the fact that only some Brahmins had immigrated from the North and others had been absorbed from among the natives of Tamilagam and incorporated among Brahmins.
[59] There were some fifty-five Tamil Brahmi donatory inscriptions dated between the second century B.C and the second century A.D. in the region around Madurai and Vaigai, which were the border regions of Kerala. See I. Mahadevan ,”Corpus of Tamil Brahmi Inscriptions” , Seminar on Inscriptions, Madras, 1966.As Kautilya mentions, even the commodities of Kerala like Chaurneyam (a particular variety of pearl obtained from river Churni or Periyar) used to enter North India in the fourth century B.C., through Dakshinapatha. Arthasasthra, II.11.2;VII.12
[60] Tol.Purattinai:75;Tirumuru:177; Silap.XXIII:70:K.K.Pillay, A Social History of the Tamils , pp. 221-222
[61]   Padittupathu,64: Acharakkovai:92:3; Iniyavai:8:1;K.K.Pillay, A Social History of the Tamils,p.222. The Brahmins followed different occupations besides being priests. For instance Nakkirar, the Sangam Brahmin poet was a conch-cutter and a dealer in bangles made of conches and shells. K.K.Pillay, A Social History of the Tamils,p.223:The Brahmins who had taken to profane activities were called Velapparpar or Brahmins who did not perform sacrifices, which was the normal duty of the Brahmins. Agam:24:1; Brahmins who took to secular pursuits were mentioned as degraded or fallen Brahmins. The Silappadikaram refers to a Brahmin village that had fallen as the inhabitants had resorted to music, ignoring the traditional duties. Silappadikaram Canto:38-9;Ilango calls them as Purinul Parpar meaning those who wore the sacred thread only in name. Amur was said to have been a predominantly Brahmin village in Oymanadu. For details see Sirupan. 187-8; K.K. Pillay, A Social History of the Tamils, p.224
[62] Padittupathu,3:1
[63] Padittupathu, 7:4
[64] Padittupathu, 8:4
[65] Padittupathu, 74
[66] There were different categories of Brahmins : In north India there were five major categories (Panch Gaur) of Brahmins viz.,  Saryupareen Brahmins, Kanyakubja Brahmins, Maithil Brahmins, Saraswat Brahmins and Utkala Brahmins. In south India there were Iyers, Iyengars and Gurukkals . Among the Brahmins, who trace their origin to Parasurama story, we find a large variety of differences: the Saraswat Brahmins of Konkan are non-vegetarians (eating fish); the Bhats of Karnataka are agriculturists; the Koteshvara Brahmins were considered to be fallen ones, as the people of this Brahminical village used to speak falsehood. J.Gerson da Cunha, Sahyadri Khanda Skanda Puranantargata, Bombay, 1877, chapter 12. The Brahmins on the banks of river Chakra were also viewed by Sahyadri Khanda as fallen Brahmins, as they were ignorant of Vedas and were eating non-vegetarian food. See J.Gerson da Cunha, Sahyadri Khanda Skanda, chapter 15. The Brahminical village on the banks of the river Suktimati was also said to have been a fallen grama as they had served the sudra kings and had accepted their gifts. See J.Gerson da Cunha, Sahyadri Khanda Skanda, chapter 16. These details are only examples of how diversified the Brahmins were at different time points.
[67] The 32 brahmin settlements in Kerala as given in Keralolpatti are the following: Between rivers Perumpuzha and Karumanpuzha are 1)Payyannoor, 2)Perumchellur(Taliparambu), 3)Alathur, 4)Karanthola(could be Karathur), 5)Chokiram(Sukapuram near Ponnani), 6)Panniyoor(near Pattambi), 7)Karikkattu(near Manjeri), 8)Isanamangalam(near Pattambi), 9)Trissavaperoor(Trichur), 10) Peruvanam.

Between rivers Karumanpuzha and Churni(Periyar) are: 1) Chamunda (Chemmanta near Irinjalakuda), 2)Irungatikutal(Irinjalakuda), 3)Avattiputhur(Avittathur), 4)Paravur(North Parur), 5)Airanikkalam(about four miles north west of Moozhikalam), 6)Moozhikkalam,7)Kuzhavoor(Kuzhur on the Annamanada-Kuntur road), 8)Atavur (near Koratty), 9)Changanattu (Chengamanadu), 10)Ilibhyam( near Alwaye), 11)Uliyannoor(two miles to the south west of Alwaye), 12)Kazhuthanadu(? ). Between river Churni and Cape Comorin are 1)Ettumannoor, 2)Kumaranelloor, 3)Katamaruku(Katamuri near Kottayam), 4)Aranmula, 5)Tiruvalla, 6)Kidangoor, 7)Chengannoor, 8)Kaviyoor, 9)Venmani, 10)Nirmanna(Niranam). For details see Hermann Gundert(ed), Keralolpatti, Trivandrum, 1961; Kesavan Veluthettu, Brahmin Settlements in Kerala:Historical Studies, Calicut, 1978, pp.21-31
[68] M.G.S. Narayanan, Perumals of Kerala: Brahmin Oligarchy and Ritual Monarchy, Thrissur, 1996
[69] Placid Podipara, The Thomas Christians, Bombay, 1970
[70] Jerome, Ep. 74 ad Magnum; See also Jerome, “Letters”, A Select Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, vol.VI, Michigan, 1892, p.150; Mathias Mundadan, “Origins of Christianity in India”, in Christianity in India, ed. By H.C.Perumalil and E.R.Hambye, Alleppey, 1972, pp.21-22
[71] See Antonio Gouvea, Jornada ,pp.251,257-8
[72] Ines G.Zupanov, Disputed Mission, New Delhi, 2001, pp.58;93-8; D. Ferroli, The Jesuits in Malabar, Bangalore, 1939, vol.I, pp.300-60 . These customs were later quoted by Robert de Nobili for justifying his wearing of sacred thread as a part of his inculturation approach in Madurai.
[73] The Malieckal family , from which the present form of Rabbanpattu takes shape in 1601, is one among them.
[74] BNL, Reservados Cod.No.536. Noticias do reino do Malabar anteriores a chegada dos Portugueses e ate ao sec.XVIII. Geografia, Clima, Etnais, Linguas, Costumes, Politica, Religões , confronte entre Carmelitas, e Jesuitas e a Cristandade de São Tome, fol.6
[75] See P.G.Rajendran, Kshetra Vijnanakosam, Kottayam, 2000
[76] Kesavan Veluthettu, Brahmin Settlements in Kerala:Historical Studies, Calicut, 1978, pp.21-31
[77] Archbishop Dom Alexis de Menezes refers to it in the sixteenth century when he visited the St. Thomas Christian settlements and asks these Christians to mingle with others. Poykayil Yohannan, who initially joined Mar Thoma Church, but later started Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha , refers to the discrimination and suffering that the liberated slaves and aggrestic labourers who embraced Christianity had to face from the Syrian Christians, which he views to be as worse as they felt from the Brahmins. P.Sanal Mohan, “ Religion, Social Space and Identity: The Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha and the making of Cultural Boundaries in Twentieth Century Kerala,”in Subhadra Mitra Channa and Joan P. Mencher, (ed.), Life as a Dalit : Views from the Bottom on Caste in India, Delhi, 2013
[78] There was a considerable number of traders among these Christians, who used to organize their  commerce with the help of the merchant guild Manigramam,  as we see from Tharisappally copper plate of 849 AD and also from Thazhekkadu inscription. For details see T.A.Gopinatha Rao, Travancore Archaeological Series, vol.II, Madras, 1916, pp.66-86; A.Sreedhara Menon, Kerala Charitram (Malayalam), Kottayam, 1973,p.135 A calculated pursuit of economic activities had already begun to take shape by this time with the enterprising Christians setting up a chain of angadis or bazaars around their churches for collecting cargo from the spice-producing St.Thomas Christians, which was further dispatched through the mercantile networks of Manigramam and the wider channels of overseas commerce . Antonio Gouvea, Jornada , p.256
[79] The Syrian Christians formed an important component of fighting militia in the kingdoms of Cochin, Vadakkenkur, Diamper , Poonjar and Alengad along with the Nairs. There were some Christian Panikars who had eight to nine thousand fighting soldiers, both Christians and Nairs, getting trained as fighting force for the local rulers.  Antonio Gouvea, Jornada, pp.116-118;252-3 In 1546 the king of Vadakkenkur offered the Portuguese about 2000 Syrian Christian soldiers for the purpose of helping them to lift the Ottoman siege on Diu. 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
[80] John Marignoli, who visited Kerala in 1346 on his way back from Mongol court referred to these Christians as “rich people” and as “owners of pepper plantations”. Henri Yule (ed.), Cathay and Way Thither, vol.III, Nendeln/Liechtenstein, 1967, pp. 216-8; 248-257 . BY 1530s  the  Portuguese officials wrote to their king 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’ Antonio da Silva Rego (ed.), Documentação para a Historia das Missões do Padroado Portugues do Oriente, vol.II,Lisboa, 1948, pp.175-6
[81] Antonio Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, p.18
[82] 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
[83] A.Sreedhara Menon, Kerala Charitram (Malayalam), Kottayam, 1973,p.135. The grant made to two Christian merchants viz.,  Chathan Vadukan and Iravi Chathan, who were members of the Manigramam merchant guild , to set up angadi in Thazhekkadu 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.
[84] The king of Cochin gave preferential treatment to the St.Thomas Nazrani Christians to conduct trade in Cochin in the fifteenth century, which right the Zamorin denied on defeating the ruler of Cochin. For details see O.K.Nambiar, The Kunjalis, Admirals of Calicut, Delhi, 1963, p.40; K.P Padmanabha Menon, History of Kerala,  vol.I, p.167
[85] Antonio Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes, p.330
[86]  Paremakkel Thomakathanar, Varthamanapusthakam(Malayalam), edited by Thomas Moothedan, Ernakulam, 1977, p.61. Kallarackal Tharakan was a minister of Thekkenkur kingdom.
[87] His name is Thachil Thariathu who was actually the father of Thachil Mathu Tharakan, the famous merchant of the English and the  Travancoreans. M. O. Joseph Nedumkunnam, Thachil Matthoo Tharakan, (Malayalam) Kottayam, 1962
[88] Antonio Gouvea, Jornada of Dom Alexis de Menezes , pp.18-9

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Thomas (Kollam Muthalaly), Ancestor was Part of Travancore Gaurd, Militia with Guns. Hunted deer through Punalur and Ranni. says

    Technically speaking, the Indo Parthians and the Sanskrit speaking Mittani are blood related. It is the Mittani that later become the Princes of Edessa, or a Parthian Chiefdom who ruled over modern day Turkey and Northern Syria, from where Jesus and Thomas (Dva-Ma, Do- two, the twin) is. One reason why anicent Kerala christians considered Thoma to be the Messiah himself is because Thoma was the direct blood brother of Jesus. There is historical proof that says the Princes of Edessa were twins and that the Jewish rebellion in Jerusalem was not led by Jews but by the Indo Parthians. Most likelyhood, Thoma and his revolutionaries would have returned to Parthia proper , which is where the Gundhaphores story comes from and would have taken the Southern route to Kerala. Why Kerala? because Brahmins (Indus Saraswat Brahmins) were already existing in Kerala. There is a distinction between Indus Saraswat Brahmins and Gangetic Brahmins. What you find as Namboothiri and Gotras of North India and Gangetic Brahmins, while the Indus Saraswat Brahmins had noo such concept, they were more related to the Iranian Brahmins of jiroft and elam than with the Gangetic Brahmins. After Elam declined, they were already populating the Konkan and eventually Kerala. Thats why we have names like Parashuram (Parshvaram, Ram of Persia). It has nothing to do with the axe. Names like Behram are very common in Balochistan. So, whats happend is that the Mitanni (who later becomes the Jesus tribe and the Thomas tribe) go west to Turkey and Syria , while the others return to India once the Elamite civilisation centered around Susa in modern day Kuwait declined. The Mittani return to India as St Thomas and his tribe and develop their associations with the Brahmins of Kerala and converted them. So, essentially both these poeple are genetically related but ideologically the Mitanni faction was the one who developed Christianity.This is why you see passages like Sons of Thunder (Ben Rages) as referring to Jesus’s disciples in the text, this would corelate with Indra and his hordes who defeat the demon Vrtra and would signify a warrior clan, which is what Jesus and Thomas were leading. No one makes a simple carpenter a God, unless this God had changed the political landscape of the Roman world by waging war against it. And this is exactly why the Roman church discredits Thomas as a doubter, its part of the deligitimzation and making Christianity Rome friendly.

    1. Albert says

      Can someone please delete these ramblings above which just states things and doesn’t give sources at all? It makes the whole article look invalid. One rotten apple, after all.

    2. Joy Thomas Vallianeth says

      Utter nonsense

  2. AnthonyVarghee1 says

    Why none of the local copper plates like:
    * Tharisapalli Plates –
    * Palayoor Pattayam –
    * Veeraraghava Pattayam –
    that clearly mention syrian christian presence is not mentioned?

    1. Joy Thomas Vallianeth says

      Because the article is written by a syro- malabarian priest ( Pius. Malekandathil) for the syro- malabar community to advance their version of the history of the Nasrani christians of Kerala. There is no mention of the above cheppeds as well the presence of the syriac orthodox community in Kerala before the arrival of the Parangi Latin catholics !

      1. JOhn Punnose says

        Illogical comment. How would the copper plates if he had such an agenda not be beneficial? The copper plates mention nasranis not a denomination. Leave your ad hominem at the door.

  3. [email protected] says

    I have seen the above comments. I would like to say that I did not want to write any denominational history ( as you can make out from my various publications on Christianity ). That is not my concern. There are ever so many scholars to do that . I as a historian am interested in religion and its impact on society, or in other words my concern is how different understandings about the origin of any belief system gives rise to different cultural traditions, practices and religiosities in each belief system. It is in this larger frame that I looked at the core aspect of conflict between the Portuguese( who claimed themselves to be the followers of St.Peter’s law of Peter’s Marga) and the St.Thomas Christians ( who claim themselves to be the followers of the law of St.Thomas or St.Thomas Marga) A large number of Portuguese documents including Jornada speak of the conflicting relation between the followers of St.Peter ( the Portuguese Padroado Christians) and the followers of St.Thomas ( St.Thomas Christians) and the root cause of this conflict is projected here as two different apostolic origin for these two different Christian communities. All other details of conflicts , including socio-cultural practices , Church theology, administrative traditions , festal and fast-related observances were categorized into one single phrase” Thomayude Margavum Vazhipadum” showing that the frame of reference is the very apostle. It is in this context that I looked at the recent controversy of the apostolate of St.Thomas in India. The purpose was not to look at the history of St.Thomas Christians , but to see whether the arguments for apostolic origin of this Christian community is tenable and to see whether there is any possibility for adhering to this view. This is done on the basis of available source materials , which is also available to general public and the readers are invited to read them and see whether such an inferences can be drawn from these sources. ( I have discussed the themes of Christian migration to India , different commercial privileges given to various Christian groups at different time points , the socio-economic and political implications of , Tharisappally cheppedu, Thazhekkadu grant, Iravi kortan cheeppedu in my book Maritime India: Trade, Religion and Polity in The Indian Ocean and also in many other articles available in and also in NSC Network. The cheppeds that were given at different time periods do not come directly under the theme of apostolate of St.Thomas, and hence I did not include them here) .These cheppeds were given by smaller principality chieftains to smaller segments of Christians( often to members of manigramam merchant guild) or their leaders in certain specific localities at certain juncture of time and they do not have pan-Kerala bearing, as none of the rulers who gave these cheppeds had pan-Kerala stature. I should also say that I do not find any Orthodox, or Syro-Malabar colour for any source materials . Whatever we have got from the past as cheppeds or inscriptions all speak of bits and pieces of Christian past ; they do not speak of the totality of what Christians did in Kerala . Incidently I have to say that I am not a denominational historian: I am basically a maritime historian , focusing more on Indian Ocean Studies, particularly on movement of commodities, people and ideas. My search for the trajectories of idea circulation , led me to the study of faith and trade related circuits of the Jews, Muslim traders , Gowda Saraswat Brahmins and St.Thomas Christians in the Indian Ocean. The study further took me to various other aspects of these mercantile communities ( as you can find from my works ) and see the impact their beliefs, ideas , practices , theological perceptions had on the larger collectivity ( community or society) . This is not an answer for bracketing me as a denominational historian; But I thought that I should contextualize the logic of my writing
    Thank you

    1. JOhn Punnose says

      I agree sir. Keep up the work.

  4. Joel Jose says

    Great work