തോമ്മാ ശ്ലീഹായുടെ ഭാരത സന്ദർശനം: പ്രശസ്ത ചരിതകാരനും ICHR - മുൻ ചെയർമാനുമായ M G S - നാരായണൻറെ വിതണ്ഡ വാദങ്ങൾ : വിശദീകരണവും ഖണ്ഡനവും(1)വിശദീകരണം:
VALIDITY OF THE CRITICISM AGAINST THE INDIAN-MISSION OF ST.THOMAS : EXPOSITION & REFUTATION (1) Exposition:
Introduction: Historians in general-Eastern as well as Western - are unanimous in holding the view that Christianity reached this part of the world, the Malabar coast of Southern India, in the first century itself, even before it was preached in the Roman Empire. But, who brought the Gospel of Christ to India? Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, the East Syrian (Mesopotamian / Persian) missionaries or Merchant-migrant Thomas of Canai or some other Thomas? Opinions vary. Even then vast majority of the historians and writers ( foreign as well as Indian) are supporters of the Indian apostolate of the saint. Let us see the matter a bit more detail.
The South Indian Tradition :Whatever be the opinion of the historians and scholars, the Syrian Christians of Kerala, popularly known as Nasrani Mappilas, believe that they are the descendants of the people converted to Christianity by a personal visit of Apostle Thomas. As per their centuries’ old tradition, the apostle landed at Maliankara near Kodungalloor ( Muziris) port, in 52 AD, evangelized a good number of the inhabitants to Christianity , established seven churches ( communities ) there, left for east coast of Tamizhakam, and continued his gospel work there, met martyrdom at Mylapore ( Chennai ), in 72 AD.
As per Kerala tradition, the first conversion was from the native Nambudiri (Brahmin) community. This strong and unbroken tradition, ‘passed on to us by lips of twenty centuries’, is supported by some ancient Malayalam songs (folklores or ballads), viz.Ramban pattu, Margam Kalippattu, Veeradiyanpattu etc., circulated in Kodungalloor, Palayoor areas and other parts of Kerala; not only among the Christians but also among other communities, from time immemorial. These lyrical ballads, depicting the tale of Thomas and his first converts, with minute details are said to be the (re)written version of the centuries-old oral tradition. Examining the type of language ( Malayalam ), used for the available manuscript-copy of this ancient song, linguistic-scholars opined that it has a comparatively recent origin, say 15th century, however it looks unique and a replica of local tradition of Malabar embedded in, will be helpful for constructing the real history.
In short, though there is clear evidence for existing a vibrant (Nasrani) Christian community in Kerala, right from the early centuries of the Christian era, there is no direct contemporary archaeological or written documents to prove that it is the result of the missionary labour of Apostle Thomas. Either from the sites of the 7 churches, believed to have been built by St. Thomas (in places like Palayur, Niranam etc.) or any other parts of Kerala.
Sanctity for depending on epigraphic evidences from secondary sources:
In the circumstances, as the scope for obtaining more direct evidences from Kerala/India is very limited, academicians and researchers are bound to look for direct or indirect evidences from secondary sources, outside India too, especially in West Asian countries comprising the birth place of Christ and Christianity.
The available sources are, mainly the writings and testimonies of Early-century Church fathers, like Origen (186-255 AD )Ephrem (373) , Jerome (345-420), Eusebius (260-340), and Ambrose (333-397) etc., Chronicles of World travelers like Theodore of Syria, Mar Esoyab, Cosmos Indicopleustes, Marco Polo, Nicolo De Conti etc., several liturgical texts, martyr ology s, and ecclesiastical calendars etc. in Hebrew, Aramaic , Greek and other languages, though not contemporary, in the strict sense, which provide direct and indirect epigraphic and circumstantial evidences about the Indian mission of the Apostle. Besides there are apocryphal works and mythologies with historical elements (like, Acta Thomae of 2nd century) useful as collateral evidence to the tradition.
Protagonists of Indian visit of Saint Thomas:
It is a fact that western scholars initially rejected the tradition of Saint Thomas’s evangelization of India, ‘as a pure legend as there is no direct evidence to support the claim’. This was mainly because, their knowledge about ancient India, its people and culture, geography etc. was limited and prejudicial. But on studying the plethora of writings by Early Church Fathers, World Travelers etc. in various languages like Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, and Latin (through English translations ), a good majority of them were compelled to change their original stand and accept it as a credible historical probability .
Eminent historians like Vincent Smith, Edgar Thurston, Dr.Mingana, Dr.Buchanan, Nathalis Alexander, Peter Jarric,, Raulin , Kerala historians of eminence, like K.P. Padmanabha Menon, Sardar K.M.Panicker, K.N.Panicker,A.Sreedhara Menon and Church-historians like Adolf Medlycott, Barnard Thoma, Placid Podipara, Mathias Mundadan, Prof. George Menachery, Benedict Vadakkekkara , Pius Malekandathil etc are protagonists of Indian tradition about Thomas. India’s great statesman-historian, Jawaharlal Nehru, Shashi Tharoor, and Mrs.Romila Thapar, the foremost authority on early Indian history, too expressed no reluctance to accept the Malabar tradition about the visit of St Thomas, as a ‘credible historical probability’.
World historians and others on St. Thomas tradition.
After a decade long study of hitherto available sources, Oxford historian, Vincent Smith asserted the following: “It must be admitted that a personal visit of the Apostle to Southern India was easily feasible in the condition of the time, and that there is nothing incredible in the traditional belief that he ( St. Thomas ) came by way of Socotra, where an ancient Christian settlement undoubtedly existed”1.
Referring the East Syriac tradition about Thomas, eminent scholar-historian, Alphonse Mingana, who conducted extensive research in Indian history too, observes: “It is the constant tradition of Eastern Church that the Apostle Thomas evangelized India, and there is no historian, no poet, no breviary, no liturgy and no writer of any kind who, having the opportunity of speaking of St. Thomas, does not associate his name with India. Some writers mention also Parthia and Persia, among the lands evangelized by him, but all of them are unanimous in the matter of India. To refer to all the Syrian and
Christian Arab authors who speak of India in connection with Thomas would therefore be equivalent to referring to all who have made mention, of the name of Thomas. Thomas and India are in this respect, synonymous.”2
Another historian, Nathalis Alexander, in his book, specifically mentioned that the converts of Thomas, in India, include, Brahmins and others.3 Subscribing the rational, but slightly different, analysis of Paoli, reputed early historian, Francis Day, views the genesis of the first Christian conversion of Malabar as under: It is very probable, that these converts made by St. Thomas, were joined by others from Syria, who had heard of their existence. In the second century, Egyptian marines carried tidings to Alexandria, of the Christians residing in Malabar, who traced their paternity in Syria to St. Paul, and owned the supremacy of the Patriarch of Babylon. Therefore they must have been here, one hundred years prior to the doctrines of Nestorius. It is by no means improbable, that the Jews who came to Malabar, divided themselves into two parties, one of which became Christians ( mixed themselves to the small body of Indian Christians , whose ancestors were formally converted to the Christian faith by the Apostle Thomas ) , and the other retained their ancient faith.4
According to Anglican scholar-historian Buchanan, ‘we have as good authority that Apostle Thomas died in India, as that Apostle Peter died at Rome’.5
Renowned British Ethnographer, and prolific writer, Edgar Thurston opined that “The glory of the introduction of the teachings of Christ to India is, by time-honored tradition, ascribed to Apostle Saint Thomas. According to this tradition so clearly cherished by the Christians of this Coast, about 52 AD, the apostle landed at Maliankara near Cranganur ( Kodungallur), the Mouziris of the Greeks, or Muyirikode of the Jewish Copper plates.”6
Tomb of St. Thomas at Mylapore:
Specifying the place of rest of the Apostle, Marco polo, the Venetian traveler, who visited India, in 1293, says, “The body of Messer Saint Thomas the Apostle, lies in this ‘province” of Maabar, at a little town having no great population…Both Christians and Saracens, however, greatly frequent it in pilgrimage.7 Here, though he is not naming the place, one can rightly conclude that it is Mylapore of South India. Dr.A.E.Medlycott in his book 'India and Apostle St.Thomas', presents a graphic picture of the early Christianity in India, it’s traditions, and connections with St.Thomas8.
Referring to Saint Thomas tradition, Jacob Canter Visscher, the Dutch clergyman and author, expresses his firm belief on it as “a tale not to be scoffed at”, seeing that it is asserted in the traditions of the old Christians both of Malabar and Coromandel, which agree in indicating certain spots, where he preached, and laboured9.
Critically examining the Nazrani tradition about apostolic origin, William Logan, the English historian, of Colonial India, writes: It is certain that the first century AD, a very extensive trade and connection existed directly between India and the Western world, and a precise and expanding knowledge of the geography of the Indian coasts and markets, is manifest in the writings of the author of the ‘Priplus Maris Erythroci’ and several others. Mouziris, in particular which has already been alluded to, was one of the places best known to travellers and merchants from the West, and it was there and thereabouts that the original settlements of Christians were formed……This direct trade connection seems to have been maintained through ……some centuries after birth of Christ, and if the evidence of the Peutingenerian Tables (which are believed to have been constructed about 226A.D) is accepted, the Romans even at that date are said to have had a force of two cohorts (840 -1200 men) at Mouziris to protect their trade, and they had also erected a Temple to Augustus about 226 at the same place. That Christians, among others, found their way to Malabar in the very early centuries after Christ is therefore highly probable10. This statement is almost akin to the assertion of historian, L.W.Brown that 'There is no doubt that an Apostolic visit in the 1st century, A.D., whether or not it actually happened , was perfectly possible from a physical point of view.11 Anglican historian Dr.M. Neale also is a staunch supporter of ' Apostolic origin' of this Church12.
Observations of Indian /Kerala historians:; കേരള ചരിത്രകാരന്മാരിൽ ഭൂരിഭാഗവും മാർത്തോമാ പൈതൃകത്തെ അനുകൂലിക്കുന്നു:
We can see, valuable, positive references about this ‘historical probability' by several eminent secular historians and Church historians. Let me quote the words of the great Indian Statesman-historian, Jawaharlal Nehru, in his Autobiography, and work, ‘Discovery of India’: We also visited, among the backwaters of Malabar, some towns inhabited chiefly by Christians, belonging to the Syrian Churches. Few people realize that Christianity came to India, as early as the first century after Christ, long before Europe turned to it, and established a firm hold in South India.13
Old generation history scholars like K.P.Padmanabha Menon, Sardar K.M.Panicker etc. were inclined to respect the tradition as being worthy of acceptance. Mr.Panicker finds it difficult to deny the truth in the St. Thomas tradition, for, as he says, "We have the recorded statements of Pantaenus, the head of the Alexandrian school, who visited India, in the 2nd century that, he found a flourishing Christian Community here”.14
The unbiased observation of, Kerala’s prominent historian, and author of many masterly works in Malayalam and English, A. Sreedhara Menon, is as follows: About three centuries before Christianity was considered as an approved religion of Europe, and Rome, it started flourishing in Malabar coast." "On the background of extensive trade relations existed between Kerala and Mediterranean countries, even before the Christian era, nothing improbable about the coming of Saint Thomas.15
Leftist historian and former Vice Chancellor, Prof. K.N.Panicker also is a protagonist of the Indian apostolate of Thomas.
Church historians on St. Thomas: മാർത്തോമ്മായുടെ വരവിനെ സ്ഥിരീകരിച്ചു സഭാ ചരിത്രകാരന്മാർ:
Among the old generation, Church historians of St. Thomas, the contributions of Fr. Bernard Thoma and Placid Podipara can hardly be under estimated. Highlighting the unique and unbroken tradition existing in Malabar coast, more particularly in places like Kodungalloor, Chavakkad, Palayoor, Kunnamkulam, Pacid Podipara observes, “The St.Thomas Christians of Malabar have a tradition from time immemorial, constant, definite and living, about their origin from the Apostle Thomas”.16
Now let us see, how Dr. A. Mathias Mundadan, one of the Scholar Church historians, who has devoted decades to the study of Indian Christianity, and made commendable contributions to secular history too, views the apostolate of St. Thomas:
An important group of historians, follow a line of argument more or less like the following: The possibility of one or two Apostles of Christ having preached the Gospel in India, and even in China, no serious-minded scholar would object to. At the dawn of Christianity there were trade routes connecting West Asia and the East, routes very much frequented. The land routes reached parts of North India, while the sea routes reached the coasts of Kerala and other parts of South India. The tradition as it is found in the witnesses of various authors and Churches makes this possibility a probability.
Add to this, the living testimony of the community of the St. Thomas Christians and the witness of the tomb of Mylapore,the Little Mount and the Big Mount or St. Thomas Mount, in the vicinity of Mylapore, together with the tradition connected with these monuments. These considerations, they think, should incline any earnest inquirer to accept the Indian apostolate of St.Thomas, as established beyond doubt.17
Benedict Vadakkekara, eminent Church historian of the day, whose works invited praise from secular historians too, argues in favour of accepting ‘tradition’ as an aid, in the absence of written evidence other than circumstantial evidence, in the case of Saint Thomas studies, provided it should be historically coherent and scientifically verifiable. In his own words: “It (the tradition of the Syrian Christians of Kerala / India) is quite unlike a loose and vague belief among the populace precisely because the community has with consistence kept the arrival, the mission, and the death of Apostle Thomas inseparably linked with certain specific families, situations, and places. The tradition points to definite spots as having been in association with the Apostle, e.g. the place where the Apostle landed, or preached or died”.18
1. Vincent Smith: Early Christianity of India,( Oxford, 1924), p.250.
2. Alphonse Migana : Early spread of Christianity in India,( London,1928), p.447-448.
3. Bernard Thoma : The Saint Thomas Christians (Mal),CMI Publications,Kochi), I / 169.
4. Francis Day: The Land of Perumals,( Madras,1863), VI / 214.
5. Dr. Claude Buchanan: Christian researches in India, (London) ,p.135.
6. Edgar Thurston: The Castes and tribes of southern India, (1939), VI / 429.
7. Henry Yule (Ed) : The Travels of Marco Polo,(London,1875), p.338.
8. Dr.A.E.Medlycott : India and Apostle Thomas,( London,1905), p.133 – 256.
9. Visscher : Letters from Malabar,(Madras,1867 )( Ed.) K.P.Padmanabha Menon , p.41
10. William Logan: Malabar Manual,( New Delhi ), p.234.
11. L.W.Brown : Indian Christians of Saint Thomas,(Cambridge,1956), p.59.
12. M.Neale : Primitive Liturgies, p.140
13. Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography, p.273.
14. Sardar K.M.Panicker : History of Kerala(Annamalai Nagar, 1960), , p. 5.
15. A. Sreedhara Menon : Kerala History, p.133-134.
16. Placid Podipara : The Indian Christians, p.245.
17. Dr.A.Mathias Mundadan : Indian Christians, search for identity and autonamy,p.3.( Dharmaram Publications, Bangalore ).
18. Benedict Vadakkekkara : Origin of India’s Saint Thomas Christians.. (New Delhi, 1995), p. 25 – 27.