Category Archives: india

How Christians created their persecution mythology – Candida Moss


“There is an overpowering myth that Christianity was built on violent persecution by the Roman emperors. But that is very bad history—and sets a dangerous precedent for hyperbolic accusations of a ‘war on Christians’ today.” – Dr. Candida Moss


The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer by Jean-Léon Gérôme


For Christians, the crucifixion is the event that changed everything. Prior to the death of Jesus and the emergence of Christianity most ancient people interpreted oppression, persecution, and violence as a sign that their deity was either irate or impotent. The crucifixion forced Jesus’s followers to rethink this paradigm. The death of their leader was reshaped as triumph and the experience of persecution became a sign of elevated moral status, a badge of honor. The genius of the Jesus movement was its ability to disassociate earthly pain from divine punishment. As a result Christians identified themselves as innocent victims; they associated their sufferings with those of Jesus and aligned the source of those sufferings with the forces that killed Jesus. From the very beginning, victimhood was hardwired into the Christian psyche.

The enduring impact of this idea is evident in the rhetoric of modern-day Christians. In the weeks that followed the recent papal resignation, Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, who was accused of participating in the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests, described himself in terms appropriate to a martyr: as a scapegoat who suffered like Jesus. Because of the nature of the crimes for which he is suspected, Mahony’s claims that he is being persecuted have been universally dismissed, but other similarly hyperbolic instances of American Christians crying “persecution” slip into the public square.


Paedophile Priest


The belief that Christians are continuously persecuted has a basis in Scripture. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus instructs his followers to take up their cross and follow him and predicts that his followers will be persecuted for his name. Then again, in the very same passage he predicts that some of those standing before him will not taste death before the arrival of his kingdom in glory. Why do we accept the prophecy of persecution when the statement about the disciples living until the last judgement clearly failed? The reason why Jesus’s statements about persecution have had such a pronounced impact on the formation of Christian identity is that this prophecy is believed to have been proven in the experiences of the Early Church. The Church has suffered since the beginning, the argument goes, and we are persecuted now as we have always been.

But what if Christians were not always persecuted? What if there never was an “Age of the Martyrs”? When we look at the evidence, it becomes clear that the stereotype of cruel Roman emperors persecuting innocent Christians is a myth. From the Roman side, there is scant evidence for the persecution of Christians. It is not even clear that the Romans knew about the existence of Christians until the early second century. Even then they didn’t see Christianity as a religion. They describe it, rather, as a foolish superstition that could potentially harm local economies.  Christians undoubtedly died as a result of legislation passed during the reign of the emperor Decius (ca. AD 250), but not because he was targeting them. Intriguingly, not a word of our Roman evidence for his legislation refers to Christians.


Emperor Diocletian (244–311 CE)


With the exception of the Great Persecution of Diocletian (AD 303-305), when Christians were indeed actively persecuted, it is difficult to find any examples of Roman emperors behaving as Christians typically portrayed them. Apart from this comparatively brief period, and an even briefer one during the reign of Valerian in 257-58, Roman emperors never targeted Christians for attack. At the beginning of the second century, the emperor Trajan actually stipulated that Christians were not to be sought out. Roman emperors simply don’t appear to have been that interested in Christians. For most of the first three centuries of their existence Christians flourished: they held lofty political positions, and were so comfortable under the Romans that they even constructed a prominent church across the road from the imperial palace in Nicomedia.

The overwhelming majority of Christians idealized martyrdom and suffering like Jesus, but very few of them died violently—and even fewer died as the result of the kind of persecution described in Sunday school. Romans had good reason to be concerned about Christians. Scandalous rumors of Christians participating in incestuous orgies and practicing cannibalism were widely circulated. More important, Christians sounded a lot like revolutionaries. In courtrooms they stated that they were unable to respect anyone but Christ, their new emperor. Roman officials had no problem executing political subversives—this was a world in which Jon Stewart would be executed for his institution-challenging satire. Ancient empires were accustomed to reshaping the religious identities of those they bested in war. The Romans magnanimously allowed conquered groups to maintain their own religious traditions and implement their own law at their own discretion. But this generosity ended when it became socially disruptive or politically subversive. Christians threatened the stability of the empire, and when we look at their interactions with Roman authorities, we might even find ourselves sympathizing with the Romans.

Given that the Roman evidence for persecution is so thin, the origin of our misunderstandings about the Early Church must, and does, lie with the early Christians themselves. There are literally thousands of stories of Christians martyrs being brutally tortured and killed, but the overwhelming majority of these were written long after the events they claim to describe. Who is responsible for these misunderstandings about history? And why did they alter the historical record? One of the reasons is the explosion of the cult of the saints, the passion for collecting and displaying holy relics, in the fifth century and beyond. Everyone wanted a piece of the action and innumerable stories about martyrs were fabricated to support local churches and to attract pilgrims to particular towns.


Crucifixion of St. Peter by Michelangelo


Even the earliest, most ostensibly trustworthy, martyrdom stories have been edited and reworked. The authors of these accounts borrowed from ancient mythology, changed the details of events to make the martyrs appear more like Jesus, and made the Roman antagonists increasingly venomous. Peeling back the layers of editorial work is like watching textual plastic surgery; even small changes radically alter our understanding of the subject. Legend maintains that the Apostle Peter asked to be crucified upside down out of humility, but comes from a sixth century rewriting. Fascinatingly, the earliest version of the story gives a very different and almost mysterious explanation. Other ancient authors were less artful. Lazy biographers of the saints sometimes pasted together the story of a martyr’s death from the writings of his colleagues and we can pull these apart without difficulty. We need not accuse the priest-scribes who created these accounts of any malicious deception, as these kinds of literary practices were fairly common at the time, but nor, certainly, can we conclude that they’re giving us the historical facts. Even if Christians choose to venerate individual martyrs—regardless of whether the stories are true or not—we should not leap to the conclusion that ancient Christians as a collective whole were constantly persecuted. We simply lack the necessary evidence to support such a claim. Faith in martyrs is one thing; historical claims about persecution are quite another.


Eusebius of Caesarea


Claims about violent persecution may not be historically accurate, but in the hands of ancient Christian writers they did valuable work shoring up the authority of the Church. The fourth-century historian Eusebius was able to use the stories of the martyrs to combat heresy and to establish the succession of bishops in the early Church. When the origins of the episcopacy in France were clouded, Eusebius invented an anecdote in which Gallic martyrs wrote to the bishop of Rome recommending a particular candidate. When he wanted to demonstrate the errors of a particular heresy, he would cleverly tell a story in which a martyr denounced the schismatic group’s leader. This fascinating invention of the history of persecution set a precedent. Later generations of medieval copyists would do the same—inserting doctrinal formulae into the mouths of expiring martyrs. Eusebius began a long-lived tradition of equating dissent and disagreement with persecution. He argued that the Church is fundamentally under attack and that, just as Roman officials attacked her in the past, now heretics attack her in the present. The essential idea is polarization: us against them, good against evil. Once Constantine allowed Christianity to become a state-sponsored religion in the fourth century, some Christians went on the offensive. They sought out Pagan temples to destroy, with high hopes of dying and becoming martyrs. The memory of authentic persecution under Diocletian did not make Christians forgiving and generous toward the now disenfranchised Pagans. The rhetoric of persecution perpetuated by early Christian writers, rather, created a polarized view of the world that only heaped violence on top of violence.

This idea of constant attack and Christian victim-hood is grounded in the myths of the Early Church, but it endures to this day. It is evident in the rhetoric of modern American media pundits, politicians, and religious leaders who proclaim that there is a war on Christianity in modern America. The problem with identifying oneself and one’s group as a persecuted minority is that it necessarily identifies others as persecutors. It is certainly the case that Christians—and members of other religious groups—around the world endure horrifying violence and oppression today. But it is rarely those voices or calls for action on their behalf that reach our ears. On the contrary, these experiences are drowned out by louder, local complaints.

Instances of oppression, violence, and persecution do not need a history of persecution or a commitment to victim-hood to support them. The mistreatment of Christians in modern India, for example, is not wrong because it is part of a history of persecution. It is just wrong. Nor is it somehow more outrageous than violence against Muslims or Hindus there.[1]

Most importantly, the myth of persecution can actually generate violence. At the beginning of the First Crusade, Pope Urban II promised Christian soldiers the rewards of martyrdom if they died in the conflict. The historical factors are complicated, and medieval European Christians did see themselves as under attack, but their actions cannot be dismissed as “self-defence.” This is a cautionary example for us. There is always the possibility that we have no sense of our own position in a conflict. Even though we cast ourselves as martyrs, we might be crusaders.

The example of Jesus that hangs at the centre of Christianity encouraged his followers to embrace suffering and to stand firm in times of persecution. But even if Christians are called to embrace suffering and victimization, we can do without a story of persecution that is inaccurate, unproductive, and polarizing. Nor should we build our interpretation of the present on errors about the past. – The Daily Beast, 31 March 2013


Michaelangelo's Crucifix


Dr. Candida Moss is an author and Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham, UK. See Egypt never enslaved the Israelites, Moses never freed them.

Note

1. Christians in India are not and have never been persecuted. It is an absurd statement for the learned author to make. Christians are a very privileged minority community in India with social and political influence far exceeding their numbers. Isolated attacks on missionaries by exasperated Hindu individuals in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, provoked by the offensive conduct of the missionaries themselves, cannot be extrapolated into a “mistreatment of Christians in modern India”. In fact from the 4th century to the 16th century, Christian migrants from West Asia and Persia, and Portuguese colonists and missionaries from Europe, were the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes against Hindus in India including the destruction of temples in order to build St. Thomas churches, forced conversions to Christianity and the establishment of the notorious and cruel Inquisition in Goa brought by Francis Xavier. – IS


San Thome Cathedral: This diorama of St. Thomas and his Hindu assassin was built after the publication of Ishwar Sharan's book in 1995. Its objective is to malign the Hindu community with the accusation of the murder of a Christian apostle and saint, and to further the propagation of the St. Thomas legend which has made India's bishops very wealthy and supports their political claim on India.


St. Thomas: India’s own infamous Christian persecution myth – Ishwar Sharan

Bardesanes wrote the Acts of  Thomas, the source of the St. Thomas in India legend, as a moral fable to instil sexual discipline in his Edessene Christian congregation—the Church has always had a problem with sexual deviancy. He set the story in India as being the place of all kinds of exotic religions that he had heard about from travelling Brahmins and Buddhist monks. In his tale he has Judas Thomas—twin brother of Jesus no less—cheat a Persian king of large sums of money by promising to build him a palace. After he is caught, imprisoned, and released, Thomas runs away and has a number of exciting adventures including a fight to the death with Satan. He meets another Persian king, who, initially showing him great kindness and generosity, loses patience with his wicked deeds and has him executed for abducting women and practising black magic. This king, Mazdai by name—indicating a devotee of the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda—has Thomas buried in a royal tomb on a mountain in a desert country that is never named. Later in the 4th century, when West Asian Christian migrants brought the tale from Edessa to the Malabar Coast, Thomas is identified with India rather than Persia and even made the missionary of Nambudiri brahmins in order to give the new Christian community caste status. In Kerala the tale of Thomas grows and evolves with new additions made by new Christian refugees from Persia. It no longer reflects Bardesanes’ moral fable but rather a concocted mythology of Indian Christian identity. These Syrian Christians—as they are still called—were great travellers and merchants, and Marco Polo hears the tale from them, probably in Constantinople—as scholars now doubt that he ever went to China. The story of Thomas’s death—by accident according to Marco—and internment is included in his famous adventure book Il Milione published in Europe in the 13th century. Marco places Thomas’s tomb on the Coromandel’s Gulf of Mannar Coast in an unnamed Tamil village rather than on a Persian mountaintop as in the Acts of Thomas. From this popular piece of travel fiction there is no going back, and the tomb of St. Thomas is later identified with the great Kapaleeswara Shiva Temple in Mylapore by the Portuguese in the 16th century. They invade Mylapore, a prosperous port with a good harbour, have the Kapaleeswara Temple destroyed—it seems to have taken them fifty years to do this evil deed by encroachment and vandalism, and because they are resisted by the native Hindu population until it is overwhelmed by superior Portuguese force—and build a fake St. Thomas tomb out of materials brought from Goa. Soon after the empty tomb is established a new St. Thomas Church is built over it by Dominican monks, where no church has ever stood before—then back-dated 1500 years to the 1st century!  The pious fable of  a Christian apostle’s persecution and death at the hands of a Hindu raja and his jealous brahmin priest is now established in South India and the world. The Christian community can claim—by the grace of Portuguese pirates—to be the followers of the “original” Christian religion brought by Thomas to the Tamil people. They can and do solicit recognition and money for it from the world Christian community. More important, the Hindu community that has generously hosted the Christian community in India since the 4th century, can be maligned and spiritually discredited as the vicious assassins of a Christian apostle and saint. The fact that no scholar of Christian history, starting with the Early Church Fathers Clement and Origen, and the first official Christian historian Eusebius, to the learned historians of the last two hundred years including Pope Benedict XVI, subscribe to the details of this fable and support it as true, does not matter to the Indian Christian community in the least. They have got their dearly loved persecution tale with its blood and gore, and they are not going to let go of it even for the Pope in Rome.


Gulf of Mannar


St Thomas (BJP-INC) Header


The Haaretz Paradox: Why would an Israeli newspaper propagate the myth that St. Thomas was killed by Hindu priests? – Aravindan Neelakandan

Martyrdom of St Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens (1636)


The charge that St. Thomas was murdered by Hindus is malicious as it is fabricated. What is surprising is to see Haaretz, a mainstream Israeli publication (that is sold together with The New York Times), propagate the same myth. … It is sad that such a blood libel is indulged in by a newspaper that comes from a people who have painfully experienced and documented their own suffering and hence know very well what happens when such stereotypes and legends of hatred are perpetuated. – Aravindan Neelakandan


Adolf Hitler with Vatican ambassador Cesare Orsenigo in 1935. Orsenigo believed in the Italian fascist ideal and hoped the German variety would develop into something similar. He was a controversial figure among his contemporaries and remains the subject of historical criticism for his advocacy of "compromise and conciliation" with the Nazis, particularly in relation to The Holocaust. Pope Pius XII has been criticized by several contemporaries and historians for not replacing Orsenigo as nuncio to Germany.Catholic priests make fascist salute.


Aravindan NeelakandanOn 30 April 2020, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on part of the recently declassified confidential material relating to the Second World War—particularly the Holocaust of the Jews—from the Vatican archives.

The initial study by researchers reveals some disturbing facts. Ofer Aderet, the correspondent for Haaretz reports:

The researchers conclude that the Catholic Church knew about the Holocaust well before it has admitted knowledge of it, and that it appears that the church deliberately concealed documents that might further tarnish the church’s reputation regarding its conduct during the Holocaust.

On 27 September 1942, the United States sent a letter to the Vatican.

It contained a report on the mass killing of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The report spoke of how Jews were getting mass-murdered, with specific mention of 50,000 Jews killed in Lvov and another 100,000 killed in Warsaw.

The US envoy requested Vatican if it had any information that would corroborate the information in the report.

The reaction?

The new research indicates that after the pope read the letter and the report, Vatican Secretary of State Luigi Maglione wrote: “I don’t believe we have information that confirms this serious news in detail. Correct?” Other documents show, however, that at the time, the Vatican did have sufficient information to confirm and expand on the report from the Americans, but that out of anti-Semitic and political motivations, Vatican officials chose to minimize and discount their value.

As the Vatican did not respond, the US insisted again.

Finally, Cardinal Montini wrote that the response should be that the Vatican “had heard about the harsh treatment of the Jews,” but had no way of assessing the accuracy of the information.

In reality, nine days before the US asked Vatican, the latter had received similar reports from two sources—one being its own bishop.

So what explained the muted response?

Angelo Dell’Acqua, a papal adviser, had questioned the veracity of the reports “because the Jews also tend to easily exaggerate.”

In others words, Antisemitism played a role in shaping the response of the Vatican.

Theological roots of antisemitism

At the heart of Christian antisemitism are two factors.

One is that though they were the original people of the book, the Jews had rejected the claim of Jesus to be the messiah.

The second and the more important factor in Christian antisemitism is the charge of deicide.

In the dramatic narrative in the Gospels, the Jews were made to say that they and their descendants would carry the responsibility for the act of Jesus’s crucifixion, thus absolving the Romans.

Since the Gospels became the sacred text of Europe, the Jewish people scattered all over Europe became the targets of hatred for the next 1,700 years.

Connected to this was the blood-libel charge—elaborately built on false claims of rituals where Jews were falsely accused of killing Christian children.

The silence of the Pope and the role of the Church in the build-up to the Holocaust should be understood thus in the context of the blood-libel and charge of deicide on the Jews.

The parallels with India

The Church has been propagating a similar fictitious “sin” on the Hindus—the murder of St. Thomas.

There have been quite a number of tracts and propaganda books that speak of how Hindus, particularly Brahmins, plotted and killed St. Thomas.

Today, the St. Thomas myth has been revived among Christians.

Any Hindu resistance to the massive proselytising industry gets linked at once to this mythical killing of St. Thomas.

Crackpot theories claiming that Hinduism was nothing but Christianity brought by St. Thomas and perverted by “cunning Aryan Brahmins”, are today fed to a gullible mass of believers as articles of faith.

The political agenda to go with this is of making India a “Christian Nation”. It also feeds into the pseudo-scientific racial binary of Aryan and non-Aryan.

Now, why should the St. Thomas myth be talked about here?


HaaretzFrontline


Left-wing perpetuates evangelical stereotypes

Haaretz is an Israeli newspaper that was started in 1918. It has been constantly veering towards the radical Left—more and more so in recent years.

With respect to India, it usually borrows materials from India’s own Left media, like the magazine Frontline.

In its website, it has a list of world events with a Jewish-centric approach.

In this, Haaretz declares this “event” with a bold heading: 72 CE: Thomas the Apostle Is Murdered in India.

In the sub-title, it adds with an additional flourish: “According to common Christian tradition, ‘doubting’ Thomas, a practising Jew, was killed by jealous Hindu priests of Kali. (Or a peacock hunter.)”

Within the article itself, the more accurate fact is presented:

Modern historians believe that Christianity actually arrived in India several centuries after the era of the historical Thomas, with the arrival of Christians from Syria and from Persia.

But in the very next paragraph, the article goes back to charging Hindus with the “apostle killing”:

The martyrdom of Thomas, however, took place not on western coast of India, but on the other side of the subcontinent, in the southeastern city of Mylapore, near latter-day Chennai. There, Thomas came into conflict with the Hindu priests of Kali, who killed him for insulting their deity—or simply for converting many of their followers.

Willfully ignoring the other side

A Hindu critique of this charge had been written by Ishwar Sharan with the title The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple and was published by Voice of India.

Sharan had done a wonderful work of studying the myth and exposing the evangelist hate agenda behind the fabricated story of St. Thomas.

Even Christian theologian and author, Thomas Charles Nagy, who had produced a sympathetic account of the St. Thomas tradition, was forced to write:

The two main issues that weaken the historicity of the St. Thomas story and thus make St. Thomas a controversial figure in the modern day, is the reliance on the Acts of Thomas, as a pseudo-historical document, as well as the flimsiness of oral tradition as an accurate recording of history.

Additionally, while the various arguments regarding the preservation of early Christian communities along the Malabar Coast are far more historically viable, they also cast some doubt over the validity of the St. Thomas tradition. It seems far more logical that Christianity was introduced to India by way of the Eastern Syrian Church, maybe as early as the fourth century CE, and maintained by subsequent migrations from those regions of the Middle East that fell under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Syrian Church. – Thomas Charles Nagy, Catholic Shrines In Chennai, India: The Politics Of Renewal And Apostolic Legacy, Taylor & Francis, 2016, Pp.11-2

At the same time, Nagy downplays the anti-Brahmin hatred that is contained in the St. Thomas myth and completely conceals the appropriation attempts on Hinduism that the Church (including non-Catholic evangelical Churches) make using the Thomas myth.

When researching for Breaking India, I discovered the centrality of the Thomas myth to the appropriation of Hinduism.


(Left) Mural of the martyrdom of St. Thomas by a Hindu native shown in the BBC report on the 1999 Papal visit to India. (Right) A similar depiction of a Hindu treacherously killing St. Thomas as diorama kept in the San Thome Church exhibit.


The Church had stealthily encouraged an entire evangelist industry based on the pseudo-history of St. Thomas and his martyrdom at the hands of Hindus.

It had also fabricated “historical” evidence like a stone cross that is said to have been sculpted by Thomas at the Mount.

As a Hindu, I could understand and even respect if it were a faith tradition and would not like to puncture it with demands of its historicity.

However, the murder charge that the Church places on Hindus necessitates that as a Hindu I find out the truth.


8th century Syrian cross with Pahlavi (Persian) inscription on St. Thomas Mount attributed to St. Thomas.


Hence in 2010, I sent the photo of the cross sculpture to Joseph Zias, who was the curator of archaeology and anthropology for the Israel Antiquities Authority for 25 years from 1972 to 1997. Pat came the reply:

Shalom. This cross story has to be an out and out fraud as the cross, representing Christianity is a rather late symbol as the early Christians wished to convert other people and the cross was not a symbol of much hope.

More curiously, Haaretz chose to use the painting of the 17th century Dutch artist Peter Paul Rubens for its piece, which shows a horde of murderous “priests” with rage killing an unarmed St. Thomas.

The painting, when being created, would have been done in the ignorance of those times.

But when Haaretz uses it in a modern context against “priests of Kali” then that act makes the painting not dissimilar to the very recent antisemitic painting of the Catholic painter, Giovanni Gasparro, which has rightly evoked universal condemnation.


Left: Ruben's painting o St. Thomas martyrdom. Right: Gasparro's painting of Martyrdom of St. Simon.


That Hindus are unaware of the strands of a hate web being woven around them is no excuse for anyone to indulge in such stereotyping of an ancient people.

And it is sadder that such an act is indulged in by a newspaper that comes from a people who have painfully experienced and documented their own suffering and hence know very well what happens when such stereotypes and legends of hatred are perpetuated. – Swarajya, 6 May 2020

Aravindan Neelakandan has academic degrees in agricultural studies and psychology. He has written extensively on topics related to science and Indology in Tamil and English and has worked with Vivekananda Kendra-NARDEP (Natural Resources Development Project) for ten years. Aravindan is currently a contributing editor of Swarajya magazine.


 

Syrian-style gold cross imposed on map of India.


 

C.I. Issac: Christian historian disputes St. Thomas in India claim, calls for ban on conversions – G. Sreedathan

“Although a St. Thomas Christian himself, Dr. Issac disputed the claim that St. Thomas landed in Kerala and converted Namboodiri Brahmins. ‘They are targeting higher jatis. They realized that without converting Brahmins they can’t bust the very foundation of Hinduism.'” – G. Sreedathan


C.I. Issac


The lone Christian member in the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) under the Human Resources Development ministry and noted historian, C.I. Issac, has put up a passionate defence of the Sangh Parivar’s ghar wapsi (home coming) programme and called for a ban on conversions.

A retired history professor and author of over 10 books, including Evolution of Christian Church in India, Issac is now vice-president of Kerala-based right-wing think-tank Bharateeya Vichara Kendram. “Ghar wapsi is not religious conversion. It is a measure of opening doors for those who left earlier from poorva dharma due to historical reasons. Article 25 of the Constitution is not a provision for a one-way traffic or of a non-return valve. In no way with this Article, the founding fathers of our Constitution thought of any sort of conversion. Their intention was the healthy coexistence of all cultures and religious groups. Conversion by brainwashing, coercion, allurement, incentives, etc. is cruel in cultural terms,” said Issac.

According to him, ghar wapsi is a legitimate right of the Hindus. This movement began not only after May 26, 2014.  “Its origin in Kerala goes back to British period that is 1921. It started systematically as the shuddhi movement in the 19th century CE by Arya Samaj leader, Swami Dayananda Saraswati.”

Calling for capital punishment for indulging in conversions, he said, “The conversion is a criminal offence against humanity. The death of a religion means the total vanishing or death of a culture, civilization and knowledge system which generated by a religion through generations…. We lost the Greeks, Mayans, Persians, Romans, etc, like classical societies legacies. We missed Bamiyan statues of Afghanistan. Nobody can retrieve the lost knowledge. They have a substantial, objective, and observationally demonstrated information framework, obtained through generations. We, as an enlightened society, are bound to secure all societies and their commitments appropriately,” he added.


Anil Couto


When his attention was drawn to Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto’s statement in an interview to Business Standard that he has a problem with the word ghar wapsi and not conversion, he said, “Behind this answer a fraudulent design is hidden. Ghar wapsi means return to poorva dharma. In it there is nothing as wrong. On the other hand, if it is conversion they can level charges against the Hindu society in international forms that Hindus are forcibly converting Christians to Hinduism, Hindus are fundamentalists, etc. Now they can’t raise such allegations. Above all in Hinduism there is no provision of conversion to Hinduism. Prima-facie, one may feel it is an innocent and genuine demand. But in fact it is cunning and putting Hindus in doldrums.”

Claiming himself to be a practicing Christian, he said, “The Church has good relations with me. When I was nominated to ICHR, the bishop arranged a meeting to congratulate me. I believe in Christ but I don’t believe Christ as the only way.”

On Delhi church attacks, he said, “Martyrs and saints are fuels for the gigantic engines of the Church (like jihadis for Islam) without which it cannot sustain. The nature and character of the Delhi church attack is doubtful. All the churches subjected attacks were suffered with minor damages. After the Delhi election they never pressed for the arrest of the persons behind attack or further investigations. It can be considered as a self-goal strategy.”


St. Thomas


Although a St Thomas Christian himself, Issac disputed the claim that St Thomas landed in Kerala and converted Namboodiri Brahmins. “They are targeting higher jatis. They realized that without converting Brahmins they can’t bust the very foundation of Hinduism. In this line they deputed Robert de Nobili, an Italian padre, to Madurai in 17th century CE and he studied Sanskrit and wrote Jesus Veda, and lived in sanyasin attire in order to convert high-class Hindus, and miserably failed. Madras Bishop Arulappa bribed Ganesh Iyer and converted him as John Iyer and deputed him for manipulations and attempted to high-jack ancient Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar.” – Business Standard, 11 July 2015

» G. Sreedathan Sr Assistant Editor at Business Standard, New Delhi Area.



Keezhadi: Digging to create church history – B.S. Harishankar


There are serious allegations that archaeological sites such as Keezhadi are controlled by Church-sponsored NGOs as advocates of Tamil culture, to manipulate cultural remains, embed missionaries such as Apostle Thomas, and  demand  a separate nationhood, including Tamil Nadu, parts of Kerala and Sri Lanka. – Dr. B.S. Harishankar


Kanimozhi & Jegath Gaspar Raj


Clergymen may visit museums and ancient sites. But when they are accompanied by a lawyer-turned-politician, it raises curiosity. “On September 24, 2016, Father Jegath Gaspar Raj, founder of an organization called “Tamil Maiyam” and who had organised Sangam 4,  a 10-day festival in August 2016 that focused on Madurai’s history, culture and tradition, visited Keezhadi along with Kanimozhi, an advocate. Amarnath Ramakrishna took them around and showed them the trenches” (Keezhadi treasures caught in a swirl, T.S. Subramanian, Frontline, Jan., 20, 2017) .


K. Amarnath Ramakrishna


Fr. Gaspar Raj, Kanimozhi and Keezhadi excavator K. Amarnath Ramakrishna charted out the program. Kanimozhi who is also coordinator of Gaspar Raj’s NGO, Tamil Maiyam, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court with the prayer that the ASI should not be allowed to take the artefacts to Karnataka and that it should not be allowed to close the trenches dug at Keezhadi. In their interim order, the judges restrained the ASI from closing the trenches and shifting the artefacts to any place outside Sivaganga district.

Roman Catholic priest Fr. Jegath Gaspar Raj admitted that his association with DMK leader Kanimozhi dates back to more than a decade when he was a non-resident Indian and the DMK was not in power, and asserted that he would not break his ties with her (Tamil Maiyam unfairly targeted: Gaspar, The Hindu, Dec., 16, 2010). India Today reported that DMK patriarch Karunanidhi’s daughter has close ties with Fr. Gaspar Raj. “The controversial Catholic priest had always been under a cloud. Even before teaming up with Kanimozhi, he was accused of being a front for the LTTE’s financial operations. Worse, pro-Tiger websites accuse him of misappropriating LTTE money. With his LTTE connections, Gaspar Raj reportedly acquired skills for money laundering that indeed might have come in handy for the Raja-Rajathi-Kanimozhi trio” (Unmasking of a ‘literary heir’, India Today, Dec., 21, 2010).

Keezhadi’s patriarch, Fr. Gaspar Raj is officially referred in US crime records as “Gaspar Raj Maria Paulian”. Senior national security strategist, Douglas C. Lovelace Jr., Esq., in Terrorism Documents of International and Local Control, Academic, OUP, Vol. 91 (2008) alleged that between 2003 and August 2006, individuals including Gaspar Raj Maria Paulian, Nachimuthu Socrates, Fnu Lnu, and Vijayashanthar Patpanathan were “involved in multiple criminal activities in support of LTTE, a Sri Lankan group designated by the US state department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization”.

Domestic Security and Intelligence analyst, Siobhan O’Neil, in Terrorist Precursor Crimes: Issues and Options for Congress (2007) pointed out Gaspar Raj’s LTTE connections. Neil stated that Gaspar Raj Maria Paulian along with others such as Nachimuthu Socrates “have conspired to remove LTTE from US state department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list”. Similar charges were made by James J. Tareco, Special Agent of FBI, against Gaspar Raj, Nachimuthu Socrates and others, in 2006, at the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York.

Nachimuthu Socrates, considered close to Gaspar Raj, was arrested on charges of arms dealing for a Sri Lankan separatist group, and bribe agents  (13 Tied To Sri Lankan Separatists Are Charged by U.S. With Aiding Terrorists, The New York Times, Aug., 22, 2006). On Sep. 9, 2013, senior Rajya Sabha MP, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, tweeted that, “FBI wants India to hand over Reverend Gaspar Raj, a LTTE agent in arms smuggling. But he is a friend of PC, BC and TDK. Hence protected”.

Gaspar Raj keeps close ties with Keezhadi excavator K. Amarnath Ramakrishna. This archaeological-criminal nexus with separatists abroad, unheard of in the history of Indian archaeology, needs investigation by central government agencies.

Gaspar Raj was also actively associated with S.P. Udayakumar, Coordinator of the People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), who led protests against the commissioning of the Indo-Russian Nuclear Power Plant at Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu (Kudankulam protesters disallow PM Manmohan Singh’s envoy to speak, The Economic Times, Sept. 21., 2011).

In the mid-nineties, Gaspar Raj joined Radio Veritas Asia, based in The Philippines, run by Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC), as director of its Tamil service. Later, in 2002, he founded Tamil Maiyam, with Kanimozhi as coordinator. The Board of Trustees includes Fr. Jegath Gaspar Raj, Fr. Lourdu Anandam, Fr. Vincent Chinnadurai, Kanimozhi, Jerard, Joseph Enok, Akhila Srinivasan, K. Pandia Rajan, Latha Pandiarajan and Arun Veerappan.

In 2010, the CBI raided Karunanidhi and his family in connection with the 2G Scam. The media reported that, “the  biggest, most prominent raid in Chennai could very well be that of Father Jegath Gaspar Raj, a Catholic priest and the head of the NGO, Tamil Maiyam, on whose board both he and Kanimozhi officiate. A source said the CBI questioned Gaspar Raj on the source of the NGO’S funding and its income” (2G Scam: CBI raids rattle Karuna family, India Today, Dec., 16, 2010).

The Madras High Court on January 7, 2011, directed that no advertisement issued by the government for popularising Chennai Sangamam should carry the name of NGO Tamil Maiyam, which was raided by CBI. Later, the High Court issued a contempt notice to Tamil Nadu Tourism Secretary for including the name of Tamil Maiyam in advertisements for a government-sponsored cultural event (HC contempt notice over Chennai Sangamam, The New Indian Express, Jan., 24, 2011).

Keezhadi excavator K. Amarnath Ramakrishna’s links with Jasper Raj cannot be overlooked. The enthusiasm shown by Amarnath Ramakrishna in supporting Gaspar Raj and Kanimozhi for filing a PIL to keep excavated artefacts at Keezhadi has to be understood. In 2016, when the ASI began a probe into alleged unscientific approaches adopted by the KCHR at Pattanam, Amarnath Ramakrishna was superintendent archaeologist of ASI, Bengaluru circle (ASI probe into KCHR’s ‘Pattanam excavations’, Business Standard, Jan. 5, 2016). His findings are not known, but Amarnath Ramakrishna later took up the Keezhadi excavations. Possibly, he prepared a report favourable for Left and Church historians to prove the historicity of Apostle Thomas.


Dr. P.J. Cherian (left) makes Pattanam the landing spot of St. Thomas.


Zealous efforts are on to make Pattanam a satellite site of Keezhadi. R. Sivanantham, deputy director, Tamil Nadu state department of archaeology, officially facilitated a lecture on Pattanam by its excavator, P.J. Cherian at Chennai. Cherian claimed that the excavated material from Pattanam and Keezhadi are similar and hence there is a brotherhood (Pattanam, Keezhadi excavated materials similar, says expert, Deccan Chronicle, Oct. 31, 2018).

NGOs in Tamil Nadu have direct access to excavated artefacts. P.J. Cherian runs an NGO named PAMA, and through its new project, “Rediscovering the ancient sites in Tamilakam”, he links Pattanam, Keezhadi and Kodumanal sites in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. He claims he “had an on-hand documentation of excavated materials from many archaeological sites under the custody of Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department” (Do ancient Tamilakam sites deserve rediscovery, The Times of India, Nov 30, 2018). Gaspar Raj’s NGO, Tamil Maiyam, which includes Catholic priests such as Lourdu Anandam and Vincent Chinnadurai, filed a PIL demanding that the Keezhadi artefacts should not be transferred to Karnataka for study. Such demands show that these NGOs have, or find ways to have direct access to excavated artefacts from these sites to manipulate them conveniently to determine the past.

NGOs operating out of Tamil Nadu received the maximum foreign funding of about Rs.547 crore in 2013-14, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (T.N. NGOs received maximum foreign funds in 2013-14’, The Hindu, Nov., 26, 2014). Mathew Cherian, Chairperson of Voluntary Action Network India says southern states top in foreign funding due to presence of Christian organizations (Foreign funds pour in; 3,000 NGO’s get over Rs. 22,000 cr., The Hindu, Aug. 3, 2016). NGOs in Tamil Nadu got significant percentage of funding, with maximum of 33% flowing in from USA (Rajnath Singh launches online tool to monitor foreign-funded NGOs, The Economic Times, Jan. 2, 2018).

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court permitted the ASI on November 24, 2016 to shift the finds at Keezhadi to its chemistry branch headquarters in Dehradun or any other laboratory in the country. The judges based their decision on ASI Director General Rakesh Tewari’s submission that “all the required examination of the excavated materials cannot be carried out” at the ASI’s chemistry laboratory in Chennai because it “is not equipped with the necessary and advanced facilities for proper examination and analysis of the artefacts” (More excavation only after report, Frontline, Jan., 20, 2017).

The delay in submitting reports to ASI on Keezhadi excavations by Amarnath Ramakrishna obstructed granting of excavation license and funds for third field season, a fact concealed by the excavator and NGOs. Asked in 2017 whether the ASI would give Amarnath Ramakrishna the license to excavate for the third field season, the director general said: “The license for the third year will be given after the completion of the documentation of the excavation and the artefacts found during the first two years. Otherwise, the report never comes (More excavation only after report, Frontline, Jan. 20, 2017).

Later, ASI Director General Rakesh Tewari clarified that Keezhadi excavator Amarnath Ramakrishna had submitted only “brief” and “sketchy” reports about the first two years. Permission would be given to him after he wrote “a detailed report” (Keezhadi dig to continue, Frontline, March 17, 2017).

Controversies started after Amarnath Ramakrishna was transferred to Guwahati circle of ASI.  The Left parties, grateful to Amarnath Ramakrishna for salvaging the scandalous Pattanam excavations in Kerala, protested (CPI-M flays Centre’s direction on Keezhadi excavations, The Hindu, Oct. 6, 2018).

In April 2018, the Federation of Tamil Sangams in North America (FeTNA) invited Amarnath Ramakrishna to deliver a lecture on the Keezhadi excavations. The ASI denied him permission to participate as guest of honour at this event, possibly because FeTNA publicly supported the cause of ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils in the Sri Lankan civil war. Commenting on Tamil groups in Sri Lanka, Gaspar Raj unambiguously stated in an interview that, “We had a homeland and we have a homeland, and we will have the right for a homeland, since we have our own history, language, culture and way of living, and hence have the right to self-determination” (Tamil Eelam not a lost cause: Fr. Jegath Gaspar, TamilNet, Nov. 3, 2009). FeTNA has honoured Gaspar Raj for christianising Tamil culture.

The tenth World Tamil Conference, mainly sponsored by FeTNA, was held in July 2019 at Chicago. Its central theme was “Keezhadi nam Thai madi” (On our Tamil mother’s lap—Keezhadi excavation), dedicated to Tamil scholar Rev. G.U. Pope on his 200th birth anniversary (10th edition of World Tamil Conference in Chicago from July 4, The New Indian Express, June 26, 2019). Bishop Robert Caldwell launched the Dravidian ideology in Tamil Nadu. Caldwell was assisted in his Dravidian studies by an array of missionaries such as G.U. Pope, J. Brigel, J. Clay, J. Dawson, E. Diez, F. Kittel, F. Metz, A. Graeter, C. Graul, and H. Gundert.


Fr. Lawrence Raj

Thomas & Hindu Assassin


Along with Keezhadi excavations, zealous attempts to historicize Apostle Thomas gain momentum. Catholic priest P.J. Lawrence Raj informed bishops of the Catholic world: “It is believed that the apostle Thomas was murdered by a group of Hindus who did not fancy his proselytizing” and Gaspar Raj made efforts to re-establish St. Thomas in the mainstream narrative of Chennai’s Roman Catholic world (An apostle returns: Bringing St. Thomas back to ChennaiThe Hindu, Oct. 27, 2018).

There are serious allegations that archaeological sites such as Keezhadi are controlled by Church sponsored NGOs as advocates of Tamil culture, to manipulate cultural remains, embed missionaries such as Apostle Thomas, and  demand  a separate nationhood, including Tamil Nadu, parts of Kerala and Sri Lanka.

Lionel Caplan (1987) and Susan Bayly (1994) have pointed out growing Christian fundamentalism in Tamil Nadu. Prof. Pradip Ninan Thomas of the School of Journalism and Communication, University of Queensland, Australia, cautioned mainland churches in Tamil Nadu monopolized by Christian fundamentalist groups, about their zealous anti-Hindu propaganda. Thomas said conservative sects based in the US back the neo-Christian groups in India and their activities inflame sectarian tension (Mainline Churches Must Address Christian Fundamentalism, Says Scholar, Ucanews, Aug. 14, 2008). In his book, Strong Religion, Zealous Media: Christian Fundamentalism and Communication, Pradip Ninan Thomas discusses the close ties between Dravidian politics and ideology with Christian fundamentalism in Tamil Nadu.

Can the Indian academic community accept the excavation reports and recordings at Keezhadi, monopolized by Gaspar Raj and foreign-funded NGOs? There is no credible evidence that the cultural material from Keezhadi has not been adulterated and manipulated to raise dubious claims for secessionism. – Vijayvaani, 5 October 2019

Dr. B.S. Harishankar is an author and senior archaeological researcher.


Sri Lankan Catholic priests supporting LTTE leader Prabhakaran


 

Jacobite Syrian bishop demolishes Kerala’s conversion myth – Thufail P.T.


“Thomashleeha (as St. Thomas is known in Kerala) is an imaginary thing. He is one of the apostles. He should be Christ’s contemporary. If he had come to Kerala, there would have been only forests in Kerala, let alone Brahmins,” – M.G.S. Narayanan


Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilose


The Metropolitan Bishop of Niranam Diocese, historically one of the oldest dioceses of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church in Kerala, has criticized the upper caste tendencies among believers fuelled by a “mythical” belief that St. Thomas converted Brahmins to Christianity in Kerala.

It is also widely believed that St Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Christ, had converted members of top Brahmin families in Kerala to Christianity.[1] Though the Abrahamic faith is devoid of caste hierarchies, Christian families often hold get-togethers to celebrate their lineage and put out books proclaiming their Brahmin origin.

The Bishop, Geevarghese Mor Coorilose, however, in a Facebook post announced that he would not attend any such get-togethers, dubbing them as “programs to assert their artificially created upper caste identity and lineage.”

“They say their ancestors were Brahmins converted by St. Thomas. They even put out their family history in books proclaiming such false notions. These baseless, savarna caste-oriented and reactionary myths have to be busted,” read his statement in Malayalam, adding, “I did attend such events due to my personal intimacy with them. But, I regret it. I can’t (do it) any more”.

Syrian Christians are divided mainly into Syrian Catholic, Jacobite, Orthodox, Marthoma churches depending upon whether they owe their allegiance to the Pope in Rome, the Patriarch in Antioch, Catholicos in Kerala’s Kottayam or Metropolitan in Thiruvalla. Coorilose, who belongs to Jacobite Church, has mercilessly swung an axe at the root of the age-old belief that is pervasive across all the four sects—that their ancestors are Namboodiris who were converted to Christianity by St Thomas.


St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church at Malayattoor in Kerala


It also questions the existence of churches like Malayatoor that is famously believed to be the meditative halt of St Thomas during his Kerala leg of his sojourn.

Brahmins’ conversion to Christianity under St. Thomas had been a point of dispute for long. Historians such as M.G.S. Narayanan had earlier questioned the claim.

“Thomashleeha (as St. Thomas is known in Kerala) is an imaginary thing. He is one of the apostles. He should be Christ’s contemporary. If he had come to Kerala, there would have been only forests in Kerala, let alone Brahmins,” Narayanan told Outlook.

“Syrian Christians’ trade relations with Kerala started in 2nd and 3rd century. Brahmins came as a hegemonic community in Kerala only in 8th Century,” he said.

Pius Malekandathil, professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), who is an expert on maritime history and church history, admitted that it is a matter of dispute however saying that the probability factor has to be taken into consideration.

“It is a matter of debate. But, many historians have seen it as highly probable and reliable. The earliest reference to St. Thomas preaching gospel to Brahmins is from St. Jerome of 4th century. Among the converts, the Brahmin converts seem to have been quite significant enough to attract the special attention of St. Jerome (ca. 347–420), who mentions that the apostle went “ut Christus apud Brachmanas praedicaret” (to preach Christ to the Brahmins),” he said.

“This needs more investigation. It is more nuanced and complex. Brahmin does not mean one single category of social group. There were different categories of Brahmins in Kerala. It was not a period where there was absence of Brahmins. It’s true they came as a hegemonic group only in 8th Century. But, there were Brahmins as scattered and fragmented community even before that. Duties and obligations of Brahmins under Chera empire are mentioned in Sangam literature, ” he said.

Melekandathil also said that there are written documents of maritime trade agreement between Muziris (in Kerala) and Alexandria from 2nd century obtained from Vienna archive in 1985.

Fr. Paul Thelakat, former Syro Malabar Church spokesperson, echoed Coorilose’s statement.

“In India we have bane that we irrespective of our religion have Manu sleeping within our consciousness. Everyone wants to establish one’s own upper caste glory. It is found in the ancient Christians of Kerala e.g certain families claiming to have been baptised from Brahmin families by St Thomas himself. St Thomas is supposed to have come to Kerala, it would be in the first century. Brahmins came to south India only in the 8th century. I am sorry to say upper caste mentality can be found also in Marxists in Kerala. Even though Marxism has a universal humanistic ideology, we find the upper caste surname kept, like Nampoodirpad, Menon, Pillai, Nair, etc,” he said.

Firm on his position despite the sharp and mixed reactions to his statement, Coorilos later wrote on the same post: “I am adding this after reading many comments to this post. Many of you are calling me‘Thirumeni’ ( a feudal honorific). That’s also a product of the savarna consciousness. You can call me a friend or Father. Or, if you want to make it more formal, you can call me Bishop.”

“(Writer) O.V. Vijayan had said that English is the best weapon to resist caste. We must change. Change is must,” he said. – Outlook, 13 april 2018


1. Historians do not agree about the date for the coming of Namboodiri Brahmins to Kerala. Marxist historians make their arrival as late as the sixth century AD. However with the identification of the Namboodiri priest Mezhathol Agnihothri (b. 342 AD), the date can be moved back to the fourth century. Namboothiri historians  themselves do not give a date for the arrival of their community in Kerala from North India.


St. Thomas by Georges de LaTour (1625-30)


See also


The Dalrymple massage of the St. Thomas myth – Koenraad Elst


There is no document supporting the fond belief of Christians [that St. Thomas arrived in Kerala in 52 AD], ritually incanted by all politicians and journalists whenever they mention Christianity. … Even if it were found to be true, Christianity remains an erroneous belief system and a foreign religion whether imported in the 1st or the 4th century. — Dr Koenraad Elst


Koenraad Elst


The article “The Incredible Journey” by William Dalrymple in The Guardian, London, on 15 April 2000, is a wonderful exercise in pushing the beliefs of the “minorities”―in fact local daughters of a global movement, helped by the foreign headquarters with resources and strategy―to the utmost. There is no document supporting the fond belief of the Christians [that St. Thomas arrived in Kerala in 52 AD], ritually incanted by all politicians and journalists whenever they mention Christianity. And there still is none after Dalrymple’s article, a fact that all his innuendo about new insights is meant to obscure. Not even the apocryphal Acts of Thomas could prove this, either before or after Dalrymple’s intervention. These only mention Thomas going east to a desert country where people speak Iranian. This is clearly not lush tropical Malayali-speaking Kerala.


Coins of Gondophares I minted in Drangiana.


With all his rhetoric slamming open doors, such as that there was a lot of trade between Malabar and the Roman empire―which we already knew―he has only one piece of hard evidence to claim, viz. the coins by king Gondophares confirming the Acts’ mention of such a king, and that already by 19th-century British archaeologists. Now, if there had been such a find, it would have been plastered all over the front pages, and every Christian dignitary would quote it on every suitable occasion. I may have missed something, but I haven’t heard that. Such a discovery would, among other things, have to transfer Gondophares from Afghanistan to Kerala and turn his name from standard Iranian to Malayalam. Note that Dalrymple, ever careful to specify North versus South India, here leaves that crucial specification in the dark. When the very erudite Pope Benedict XVI said in 2006 that Thomas came to “Western India”, and that it was not he but “Christianity” that then went on to Southern India, he was speaking in full consciousness of the relevant evidence, of all that Dalrymple here suggests as proof in favour of the Christian belief.


William Dalrymple


He commits all the errors that our first-year course of Historical Method warned us against. If someone spreads a story―say, the Christians arriving in Kerala from Persia in the 4th century, whose leader Thomas Cananeus was confused with Saint Thomas―and then a hundred consumers of the story reproduce the story, these are not “a hundred sources in unison”, this is just one source. So all his talk about how many believers there are―including gullible Hindus―can over-awe a layman, but mean nothing to a historian.

Of course, ultimately it is not important whether Thomas came to Kerala or not. Even if it were found to be true, Christianity remains an erroneous belief system and a foreign religion whether imported in the 1st or the 4th century. But because Hindus have set great store in refuting the Thomas legend, the secularists invest a lot in supporting it, here be this article, more usually in pro-belief pronouncements, and the media will censor any serious scepticism about it. Except that they will greatly highlight any anti article on condition that it also covers itself in ridicule by espousing some P.N. Oak type of history rewriting.

And note the irony: one always speaks of “doubting Thomas”, also the title of Dalrymple’s film, but the finality of this article is to provide intellectual respectability to the all-out secular effort of suppressing doubt about the Thomas myth.


Gondophares ruled Drangiana, Arachosia & Gandhara.


 

Pope denies St. Thomas evangelised South India – Ishwar Sharan


Pope Benedict XVI’s statement on September 27, 2006 during a public audience, that the apostle St. Thomas only reached as far as North-West India—today’s Pakistan—was factually correct and reflected the statements of the Early Church Fathers and the geography of the Acts of Thomas. That the Pope’s minders changed his statement the next day on the Vatican website, to include South India in Thomas’s travels, is no surprise to us. Telling lies for Jesus and his Vicar in Rome are also very much part of Catholic Church tradition and history. – Ishwar Sharan


Pope Benedict overlooking St. Peter's Square.


On 27 September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI made a speech in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican City in which he recalled an ancient St. Thomas tradition. He said that “Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia and then penetrated as far as western India, from where Christianity also reached South India”.[1] This statement greatly upset the Indian bishops in Kerala, and as it was perceived to be a direct violation of the beliefs of many Indian Christians, it was brought to the attention of the Pope’s editors and amended the next day on the Vatican’s website to read that St. Thomas himself had reached South India. G. Ananthakrishnan’s article “Thomas’s visit under doubt” in the Times of India, 26 December 2006, reads:

His reluctance to believe what fellow disciples said about Jesus Christ’s resurrection earned him the name Doubting Thomas. Centuries later, St Thomas—believed to be the man who brought Christianity to India—finds himself in the shadow of ‘doubt’ with none other than the Pope contradicting his evangelical trek in the country, only to modify it a few days later. But far from dousing the fire, the Pope has rekindled a debate and given critics an issue on the platter.

Pope Benedict XVI made the statement at the Vatican on September 27, 2006. Addressing the faithful during the Wednesday catechises, he recalled that St. Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia, and went on to western India from where Christianity reached Southern India. The import of the statement was that St. Thomas never travelled to south India, but rather evangelised the western front, mostly comprising today’s Pakistan.

Knowingly or unknowingly, he had in one stroke challenged the basis of Christianity in India and demolished long-held views of the Church here that St Thomas landed in Kerala, where he spread the gospel among Hindus. The comments were especially a letdown for the Syrian Christians of Kerala, who proudly trace their ancestry to upper-caste Hindus said to have been evangelized by St Thomas upon his arrival in 52 AD.

The comments went unnoticed until Sathya-Deepam, the official mouthpiece of the Syro-Malabar church, picked it up. Writing in it, George Nedungat, a member of the Oriental Pontifical Institute of Rome, conveyed the community’s anguish and claimed that previous popes had recognised St. Thomas’s work in south India.

The Pope’s original statement given out at St. Peter’s, before it was amended on the Vatican website, was factually correct and reflected the geography of the Acts of Thomas, i.e. Syria, Parthia (Persia/Iran) and Gandhara (Afghanistan, North-West Pakistan). There is no historical evidence to support the tradition that St. Thomas came to South India, and on 13 November 1952 Vatican officials sent a message to Kerala Christians stating that the landing of St. Thomas at Muziris (Cranganore now Kodungallur) on 21 November 52 AD was “unverified”. When this writer sought confirmation of the 1952 Vatican statement in 1996, the Vatican’s reply was disingenuous and non-committal. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints said that he needed more information and that the life of St. Thomas was the object of historical research and not within his congregation’s competence.[2]

Earlier, in 1729, the Bishop of Madras-Mylapore had doubted whether the tomb in San Thome Cathedral was that of St. Thomas and wrote to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome for clarification. Rome’s reply was never published and we may assume it was a negative reply. Again, in 1871 the Roman Catholic authorities at Madras were “strong in disparagement of the special sanctity of the localities [viz. San Thome, Little Mount, and Big Mount identified by the Portuguese after 1517] and the whole story connecting St. Thomas with Mailapur.” However, in 1886 Pope Leo XIII stated in an apostolic letter that St. Thomas “travelled to Ethiopia, Persia, Hyrcania and finally to the Peninsula beyond the Indus”, and in 1923 Pope Pius XI quoted Pope Leo’s letter and identified St. Thomas with “India”. These papal statements also reflect the geography of the Acts of Thomas, as does Pope Benedict’s statement, and make no reference to South India. In fact, the India they refer to is now Pakistan.


Parthian Empire


Pope John Paul II visited India twice in 1986 and 1999 and prayed at the alleged tomb of St. Thomas in San Thome Cathedral, but, like St. Francis Xavier before him, he had nothing to say about St. Thomas’s visit to South India or Mylapore in the first century. This is a curious omission on the Pope’s part in that he was an ardent missionary who openly promoted the evangelising of India and Asia, and a statement from him confirming a visit by St. Thomas to South India would have certainly supported his agenda and that of his Indian bishops.


JP-II & Arulappa


1. As quoted in Deccan Chronicle, Chennai, of 23 November 2006, under the title “Pope angers Christians in Kerala”.

2. Our letter to the Prefect, Sacred Congregation of Rites, Vatican City, dated 26 August 1996, read: “I am doing research on St. Thomas in India and have learned that your office issued a letter on November 13, 1952 which stated that the landing of St. Thomas at Cranganore in 53 AD is unverified. I would like to know if in fact the said letter was issued and, if that is not the case, whether you can confirm that St. Thomas was martyred and buried in Madras. I would be most grateful if you could direct me to any authentic evidence supporting the story of St. Thomas in India.” The reply from the Prefect, Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Rome, dated 11 September 1996, read: “This Congregation for the Causes of Saints has received your letter of 26th August last in which you have asked for information regarding Saint Thomas’ presence in India. We have not found in our Archives the letter supposedly written by this Congregation on 13th November 1952, of which you speak, because of a lack of more precise data (Diocese, destination, etc.). Nor do we have other data regarding Saint Thomas since this Archive was begun in 1588. His life is the object of the research of historians which is not the particular competence of this Congregation.” This reply was a brush off. The Prefect knew what we were asking for and could have located the 1952 Vatican letter in a few minutes if he wished to.


Dr. Nagaswamy refutes the St. Thomas myth from 11:30 mins …


 

Left breeds intolerance by ravaging Ayodhya and eulogising Thomas – B.S. Harishankar


It is an absurdity to try to “prove” St. Thomas came to sub-continental India by linking him to various old Syrian and Persian crosses. Thomas—if he lived at all—was an orthodox Jew. He abhorred the Roman cross. He would not have made one or worn one. But even supposing that he had no objection to the cross, there remains the historical fact that early Christians never used a cross to identify themselves until after the third century. They used a fish symbol containing the letters ΙΧΘΥΣ to identify themselves and their buildings. Old stone crosses found in India were brought to India by Syrian and Persian Christian refugees long after the fourth century. – Ishwar Sharan


Taxila Cross


The Cathedral of the Resurrection of Lahore proudly exhibits a small cross in a glass case. It is known as the dubious “Taxila Cross”. When the cross was discovered in 1935, Cuthbert King, the British deputy commissioner of Rawalpindi, knew of the Acts of Thomas and seized upon this find as “proof” of the existence of Christianity in north-west India as early as the 1st century CE. His claims were vindicated by the fact that newly-excavated Sirkap did indeed date back to the 1st century. This cross was later presented to the Anglican Bishop of Lahore.

The “Taxila Cross” with four distinctive equal-length arms, was adopted as the symbol of the Church of Pakistan—a denomination resulting from a 1970 union of Anglicans, Lutherans, United Methodists and Presbyterians. The May 1988 symposium jointly sponsored by the Pakistan Christian History Project, the Rawalpindi Diocesan Pastoral Center and the Christian Study Center at Rawalpindi, showed much interest in the famed Buddhist shrine as the site of St. Thomas the Apostle’s visit and [claimed it] sacred to Christianity. Father Rahmat Hakim of the Diocesan Pastoral Center proposed to raise a suitable monument to St. Thomas near the archaeological site of Sirkap.

Renowned writer and fellow, Royal Geographical Society, Salman Rashid, wrote that when a cross was reported outside the ruins of Sirkap, the second city of Taxila, at Pakistan  in 1935, poor and not-so-educated local Christians went wild with the joy of discovering how long fellow believers had lived in this land; there was also no dearth of Raj officers who also foolishly fell into this trap. No notice was paid to the fact that the cross was not found in any datable stratum of the ruins, but by a farmer tilling a field outside the ruins of Sirkap, the second city of Taxila (Taxila Cross, The Express Tribune, Dec. 16, 2011).


Christian fish symbol


But India’s Left academicians accept the apocryphal Acts of Judas Thomas the Apostle, and propagate it in universities and major research centres. Three major Marxist historians—D.N. Jha, Romila Thapar and R.S. Sharma—have vehemently argued in their published works, the arrival of Apostle Thomas into India from Parthia (corresponding roughly to present-day north-eastern Iran). The Apostle entered Indo-Parthian regions of present Afghanistan and Pakistan, as argued by these Left historians.

The Left historians have vindicated the claims by Pope Benedict XVI, addressing a vast crowd at St. Peter’s Square, that Thomas first evangelized Syria and Persia and then penetrated as far as western India from where Christianity also reached south India (Controversy over Pope’s remarks among Kerala Christians, Outlook, Nov. 22, 2006). It was with this objective that the Left historians launched the Spice Route–Pattanam Project in Kerala. For vindicating the Vatican historiography, the Indian disciples of Marx do not require archaeological evidence, historical documents, or honesty.

D.N. Jha, in his two works, Ancient India: In Historical Outline and Early India: A Concise History, contends the historicity of Apostle Thomas at the end of first century BC. Jha argues that the apostle’s presence at the court of Indo-Parthian ruler Gondophares, who controlled north western India, is historically documented and also Christianity in India. Jha debates that, according to later sources, the apostle achieved martyrdom at Mylapore, where he was assassinated. Romila Thapar in her work, The Penguin History of Early IndiaFrom the Origins to AD 1300, provides two missions for Apostle Thomas in India. Thapar attributes the first mission of the apostle through north-west India, associating the Indo-Parthian ruler Gondophares. She provides the second occasion in AD 52 at Malabar in Kerala. Unlike the polemic of many Ramayanas which the Left historians often raise, Thapar has no doubt that there was only one Apostle Thomas. Both Jha and Thapar uphold the legend regarding the martyrdom of Apostle Thomas at Mylapore near Chennai in Tamil Nadu. Thapar is also a supervisor of the Spice Route-Pattanam project for establishing the historicity of the Apostle in India. Noted Left historian R.S. Sharma in his work, India’s Ancient Past, gives credence to the arrival of Apostle Thomas in the Indo-Parthian region to propagate Christianity in India.

Marxist historians in India frequently quote A.K. Ramanujan’s essay Three Hundred Ramayanas to raise the issue of many Ramayanas, disparaging the original text. They dispute the historicity of Ayodhya and question its archaeology and tradition, but corroborate and confirm the legend of Apostle Thomas and Christianity in India in 52 AD. Depending on Indo-Parthian tradition and the dubious “Taxila Cross”, they articulate for the apotheosis of Apostle Thomas in India. Some of the self-styled independent and secular historians also appeared on behalf of the Babri Masjid Action Committee and Sunni Central Waqf Board as experts on the Ayodhya issue.

D.N. Jha was part of the four member team of Left historians, which included M. Athar Ali, Suraj Bhan and R.S. Sharma, who submitted a report in 1991 titled, Ramjanmabhoomi–Babri Masjid: A Historians Report to the Nation. The report concluded that no textual and archaeological evidence existed for any veneration being attached to any spot in Ayodhya. It argued that that the controversy was created by the Sangh Parivar for political gains.

The Allahabad High Court’s voluminous judgment on Ayodhya in September 2012 raised strong objections from Left historians. The court questioned the competence of various “expert” witnesses and cast doubts on their intellectual integrity, which provoked the Left.  Thereafter, 61 “intellectuals” led by Romila Thapar, from the Left-liberal establishment, attacked the judgment as “another blow to India’s secular fabric”. Eminent historian Meenakshi Jain’s recent work, Rama and Ayodhya exposes the Left agenda and duplicity.

In 2009, D.N. Jha argued that archaeological evidence becomes important in their context of physical relationship to the surroundings in a certain material culture and intellectuals should come out in the open and say that there was no Ram temple in Ayodhya (Frontline, Vol.  26, Issue 25, Dec. 05-18, 2009).

Later in an interview, Jha vehemently argued that faith should never be allowed to supersede historical evidence as it negates history (Frontline, Vol. 27, Issue 21, Oct. 09-22, 2010). On the Ayodhya issue, Jha has emphasized that if it is a case of “belief”, then it becomes an issue of theology, not archaeology (Historical evidence ignored, say historians, The Hindu, Oct. 01, 2010). Does this observation apply to the apotheosis given to Apostle Thomas by the Left trinity, Jha-Thapar-Sharma, without a single historical evidence in their published works? Is it Marxist theology as argued by Anglican clergymen, Robert Cummings, Conrad Noel, Hewlett Johnson and Alan Ecclestone? Does it vindicate Raphael Samuel who describes the commitment of Communists to “missionary” work and narrates how Communism is a “crusading order” and a complete scheme of social salvation?

Dr. Abraham Mar Paulos who is the Diocesan Bishop of Delhi for the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, observed that St. Thomas came to India to spread the gospel  in A.D. 52 (The government’s intention is suspicious, Frontline, Jan. 9, 2015). The same year, CPI(M) politburo member M.A. Baby said it is widely believed that Apostle Thomas came to Kodungalloor (near Pattanam) and through him Christianity reached Kerala even before it reached Europe (ASI Doubting Thomases Suspend Dubious KCHR St. Thomas Dig, The Telegraph, Oct. 1, 2015). The CPI(M) which vehemently questions the historicity of Ramayana and Ayodhya, openly marshals the case of Apostle Thomas.

The British Museum launches and coordinates many biblical archaeology projects across the world. It has many publications on biblical archaeology. Illustrations of Old Testament History by R.D. Barnnett, The Bible in the British Museum: Interpreting the Evidence by T.C. Mitchell, and Dual Heritage: The Bible and the British Museum by Norman S. Prescott, are only some examples. Hence, the British Museum’s interest is inherent in the Pattanam-Spice Route Project associated with the Apostle and sponsored by Left historians.

The British Museum has been involved from the beginning with establishing the historicity of Apostle Thomas in India. The British Museum supports KCHR sponsored Spice Route-Pattanam Project via Roberta Tomber. Tomber and P.J. Cherian, former director of the Left-controlled KCHR, jointly presented in March 2011 a paper titled Ports of the Periplus and the search for Muziris, at a seminar organized by British Museum on the theme “Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World”.

The museum also sponsored a three-day workshop in August 15-19, 2013 hosted by Prof. K. Rajan of Pondicherry University, who is also the administrator of the Left controlled KCHR. Rajan has raised much controversy as a major champion of Keezhadi archaeological site in Tamil Nadu (Digging up Madurai’s Sangam past, Frontline, Feb. 19, 2016). Keezhadi is dubiously linked with Pattanam. Keezhadi raised much controversy because of its excavator, Amarnath Ramakrishna’s, association with the Federation of Tamil Sangams in North America (FeTNA). FeTNA publicly supported the cause of ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils in the Sri Lankan civil war and the Catholic Church is accused of heavily associating with the LTTE.


Read: Keezhadi and Pattanam: Global plot to break India


Administrator-historian C. Achyuta Menon, who wrote the Cochin State Manual in 1911, makes an interesting observation on the church of Apostle Thomas at the Malayattur forest region in Ernakulam district. Menon observes that this Christian pilgrimage centre was once a Hindu temple, which was handed over to the Christian community of the region because a granite cross made an appearance “spontaneously” by the side of the idol. Interestingly, this church has direct access from the dubious Pattanam archaeological site excavated by Left historians.

With the launching of Spice Route-Pattanam Project by Left historians, the move to declare Malayattoor Church a global pilgrim centre was swift and rapid. The Roman Catholic Church declared the St. Thomas Church at Malayattoor an international pilgrim centre (International pilgrim centre status for Malayattoor church, The Hindu, April 25, 2004). The same year, the Catholics of the East and the Malankara Metropolitan, Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews II, installed the holy relics of St. Thomas at the St. Mary’s Orthodox Church at Niranom near Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala (Holy relics of St. Thomas installed, The Hindu, Dec. 22, 2004). The Malayattoor shrine was inaugurated by Pedro Lopez Quintana, the Apostolic Nuncio in India (Malayattoor Kurisumudi inauguration tomorrow, The Hindu, Feb. 12, 2005).

Rev. Father P.J. Lawrence Raj, an assistant priest in Chennai, communicates with the bishops of the Catholic world seeking brand recognition for St. Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus and the man largely credited with bringing Christianity to India through the Malabar coast in 52 AD. He says it is believed that the Apostle Thomas was murdered by a group of Hindus who did not fancy his proselytizing. (An apostle returns: Bringing St. Thomas back to Chennai, The Hindu, Oct. 27, 2018) Jha and Thapar vindicate this church myth regarding the martyrdom of Apostle Thomas at Mylapore, for which they require hardly any proof. The Left historians breed intolerance and religious chauvinism in India by incriminating Hindu society for the alleged martyrdom of Apostle Thomas.Vijayvaani, 11 May 2019


Funerary stele with the inscription ΙΧΘΥC ΖΩΝΤΩΝ ("fish of the living"), early 3rd century in Rome.


Muziris : The lost city – Srinath Perur


In the first century BCE Muziris was one of India’s most important trading ports, whose exports—especially black pepper—kept even mighty Rome in debt. But have archaeologists really found the site of Muziris, and why did it disappear in 1341?


Muziris


Around 2,000 years ago, Muziris was one of India’s most important trading ports. According to the Akananuru, a collection of Tamil poetry from the period, it was “the city where the beautiful vessels, the masterpieces of the Yavanas [Westerners], stir white foam on the Periyar, river of Kerala, arriving with gold and departing with pepper.”

Another poem speaks of Muziris (also known as Muciripattanam or Muciri) as “the city where liquor abounds”, which “bestows wealth to its visitors indiscriminately” with “gold deliveries, carried by the ocean-going ships and brought to the river bank by local boats”.

The Roman author Pliny, in his Natural History, called Muziris “the first emporium of India”. The city appears prominently on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a fifth-century map of the world as seen from Rome. But from thereon, the story of this great Indian port becomes hazy. As reports of its location grow more sporadic, it literally drops off the map.

In modern-day India, Muziris was much more of a legend than a real city—until archaeological excavations in the southern state of Kerala, starting in 2004, sparked reports of a mysterious lost port. Though the archaeologists cannot be certain, they—and, with some exceptions, historians too—now believe they have located the site of Muziris.

“This was a centre of paramount importance for Roman trade,” says Federico De Romanis, associate professor of Roman history at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. “What made it absolutely unique was the considerable amounts of black pepper exported from Muziris. We are talking about thousands of tons.”

In addition to pepper, De Romanis says, exports included both local products—ivory, pearls, spices such as malabathron—and those from other parts of India, including semi-precious stones, silks and the aromatic root nard. “These attest to commercial relationships nurtured with the Gangetic valley and east Himalayan regions.”

In the other direction, ships arrived with gold, coral, fine glassware, amphorae of wine, olive oil and the fermented fish sauce called garum. But the value of this trade was lopsided: De Romanis says Pliny the Elder estimated Rome’s annual deficit caused by imbalanced trade with India at 50m sesterces (500,000 gold coins of a little less than eight grammes), with “Muziris representing the lion’s share of it”.

Maritime trade between Muziris and Rome started in the first century BCE, when it became known that sailing through the Red Sea to the horn of Africa, then due east along the 12th latitude, led to the Kerala coast. “Muziris was entirely dependent on foreign, especially Roman, demand for pepper,” De Romanis says. So when the Roman empire’s economy began to struggle in the third century AD, he believes the trade in pepper reconfigured itself, and Muziris lost its importance.


Tabula Peutingeriana


Dr. P.J. Cherian, director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research, confirms there are few references to Muziris after the fifth century AD. It had been generally assumed that Muziris referred to the port of Kodungallur, which had been put out of commission by devastating floods in 1341—but excavations there did not turn up anything older than the 13th century.

Travel 11 kilometres by road from Kodungallur, however, and you reach the village of Pattanam. For years, children there had been collecting beads that would rise to the surface during the monsoon season. After an initial dig in 2004, systematic excavations by Cherian and his colleagues began in 2007. Soon, he says, it was clear they had discovered a major archaeological site.

Over nine seasons of excavations, they have found Roman amphorae (for the first time on the Keralan coast), a wharf-like structure, a dug-out canoe that is approximately 2,000 years old—plus foundations, bricks and tiles, tools and artefacts made of iron, lead and copper, glass beads, gold ornaments and semi-precious stones clearly meant for export.

So, is Pattanam the site of fabled Muziris? There isn’t clinching evidence yet, but Cherian thinks it’s likely. He is also tired of questions about the Roman connection, asking: “When they excavate a Roman site in Europe, do they obsess similarly about whether it traded with India?” To him, an integral part of the excavation is what it reveals about the people who actually lived there.

Tathagata Neogi, of the Indian Institute of Archaeology, explains the stages of occupation in Pattanam using a large photograph of an excavated trench’s cross-section. Human habitation began there around 1000 BC, marked by characteristic Iron Age black and redware pottery, while the period between 500 and 300 BC marks a mixed phase.

“We think this is when Pattanam began making the transition from a village to a trade hub,” Neogi says. The period from 300 BC to AD 500 is densely packed with evidence for trade both within and outside India. Burnt bricks and tiles, terracotta ring wells and coins suggest a thriving settlement. Small amounts of West Asian pottery in the earlier portions of this segment provide evidence for pre-Roman maritime trade. After AD 500 the record thins out—until AD1500, when Chinese and European ceramics are found.

Is Pattanam ‘urban’?

Today, Pattanam is a village situated four kilometres from the sea. The vegetation is typical of the region: tall arcing palms, squat plantains, vines and creepers, near-fluorescent monsoon grass. There are sporadic houses, a temple, a village office and sudden channels of water.

The archaeological mound at Pattanam is around 70 hectares; atop it sits a museum displaying finds from the excavations. It is curious, Cherian notes, that a village should be named Pattanam, a word that means market-town or trading port across south India.

Some historians—such as Rajan Gurukkal, author of Rethinking Classical Indo-Roman Trade—have argued that Pattanam (which he believes is the location of Muziris) was likely nothing more elaborate than a colony of Mediterranean merchants, plus the inland traders and artisans who dealt with them. Gurukkal’s theory is based on the apparent absence of permanent structures, and the seeming disconnect of the materials and skills found at Pattanam with those of the wider region. He suggests the colony might even have been seasonal, inhabited only when ships arrived for trade.

Such a debate comes down to what is meant by a city or urban settlement. According to Cherian, “Urban is a complicated word—to me, it means ‘organised’, ‘thought out’, ‘planned’”. And he sees evidence of this in Pattanam: “It was certainly a city, but of its time.”

The excavations have revealed what appear to be toilets, drains and terracotta ring wells, and these—along with raised foundations aligned in one direction—suggest a planned settlement.

Cherian also thinks the level of technological accomplishment—the quality of mortar in a wharf structure; evidence of intricate glass and stone work—and the high density of potsherds (some 4.5 million have been recovered so far) all point to a settlement that was urban in character. The local coins suggest a monetised economy and a degree of political organisation. 

“We now recognise that ancient cities could look very different from their modern counterparts, even as they had the same functions of trade and economic integration,” says Monica Smith, professor of anthropology at UCLA, who studies newly emergent urbanism in the Indian subcontinent.

“It used to be felt, by 20th-century archaeologists such as V. Gordon Childe, that monumental architecture was required before a site could be defined as a “city”. In addition, there was often a sense that a city should have a high density of concentrated populations at their core, in which that density was focused on a particular religious or administrative purpose such as a palace or temple.”

But Smith offers an example for a more spread-out idea of a city: the large Kumbh Mela camps in India, which come up only for the duration of the congregation, are well-planned, possess infrastructure, and have an “urban atmosphere”. She adds: “We can envision that temporary or sequential occupations could have been the case in ancient cities as well.”

Smith suggests such sites can grow in extent very quickly, especially when demand for a new commodity is high (black pepper, in the case of Pattanam). “This is why research of the kind done at Pattanam is particularly important. It can help us understand the dynamic changes over time, and evaluate the extent to which investments in features such as wharves and ring wells signalled a “core” location around which surrounding suburbs grew.”

A more complete understanding of the Pattanam site—and its flavour of urbanism—will take a while yet, however. According to Cherian: “Less than one percent of the site has been excavated. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg.”

The quest for Muziris may or may not be over. But as De Romanis says: “Pattanam is the closest thing to Muziris we have got so far. Whatever it was, it should be treasured and taken care of.” – The Guardian, 10 August 2016


Map of places mentioned in the Periplus


 

Keezhadi and Pattanam: Global plot to break India – B.S. Harishankar


Eminent South Asian archaeologist Dr. Dilip Chakrabarti cautions that the Pattanam dig is supported by biblical and Jewish interest groups and urges the Indian government to take serious note of such unholy conglomerations. – Dr. B.S. Harishankar


Syrian-style gold cross imposed on map of India


Recent attempts by certain lobbies to link controversial archaeological sites of Keezhadi and Pattanam has raised questions on their agendas. Keezhadi is at Sivaganga district near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, while Pattanam is at Ernakulam in Kerala. There are neither ceramics nor other cultural remains reportedly unearthed at these sites to show the alleged links for such assumptions of homogeneity.

The Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) which excavated Pattanam is not an official government organisation but a private non-governmental body, an NGO. How did the Archaeological Survey of India grant license to an NGO to excavate a site which was also vastly funded by foreign agencies? The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) identified the unbridled foreign funds received by KCHR and cancelled its license under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 (The New Indian Express, Dec. 8, 2016).

The Pattanam excavation was hit by controversy and the ASI initiated a probe into alleged unscientific approaches adopted by the KCHR, after complaints to the Union Minister for Cultural Affairs, Mahesh Sharma, about “lapses” in the excavation, which is part of the Rs 200 crore Muziris Heritage Project. Thereafter, a meeting of the central advisory panel of the ASI asked the KCHR to temporarily stop the excavation (refer ASI probe into KCHR’s ‘Pattanam excavations’).

According to ASI joint director R.S. Fonia, “Rules demand that extension beyond five years can be given only after those carrying out the excavation submit reports. In the case of the Muziris project, the digging has been going on for over seven years now, but no report was filed and hence no fresh permission can be granted” (refer Doubting Thomases suspend Saint project).


P.J. Cherian


The latest controversy on Keezhadi and Pattanam erupted after R. Sivanantham, deputy director, Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, officially facilitated a lecture on Pattanam by Dr. P.J. Cherian, titled “Reimagining Muziris-Pattanam: The Ancient Port City of Tamilakam (300 BCE-500 CE)”, on Oct. 30, 2018. The programme was chaired by T. Udhayachandran, Commissioner, Department of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu.

The team of excavators at Keezhadi is currently headed by R. Sivanantham, who should have been aware that the KCHR was accused in creation of fake government documents, illegal appointments and financial irregularities worth crores. It is also alleged that the KCHR obtained the licence for the Pattanam excavation after submitting fake documents to the Archaeological Survey of India (refer Rampant irregularities detected at KCHR).

Subsequently, Pattanam excavator P.J. Cherian’s service as director of the KCHR was terminated by the Kerala state government in November 2016, overruling the then KCHR chairman’s recommendation to extend the service for another four years (refer Fate of Pattanam hangs in the balance).

Delivering his lecture at Chennai, P.J. Cherian claimed that the excavated material from Pattanam and Keezhadi are similar and hence there is a common link of brotherhood (refer Pattanam, Keezhadi excavated materials similar, says expert). However, he did not present either ceramics, metals or any other remains showing the cultural homogeneity between Pattanam and Keezhadi.

The carbon dating conducted at the two sites raises suspicion. Dating of two carbon elements from Keezhadi, weighing 25 grams each, done by Beta Analytic Inc., Florida, USA, placed them at 2,160+30 years and 2,200+30 years respectively (refer Keezhadi: hitting pay dirt and controversy).

The carbon dating at Pattanam was done earlier at the Institute of Physics, Bhubaneswar and later shifted to Georgia University, USA. Following controversies, it was again shifted to Beta Analytic Inc., Florida. This raises serious doubts about the objectives of the KCHR. When there is a premier radio carbon laboratory at National Physical Laboratory, Ahmedabad, which has developed a South Asian Centre of repute, why was the carbon dating for Pattanam and Keezhadi shifted to an institution in Florida.

Unlike Pattanam, Keezhadi was excavated by the ASI. What raises concerns is that the current excavator of Keezhadi invited the controversial Pattanam project director to deliver a lecture where he made dubious claims that there are many similarities between the two sites.

There were earlier allegations that the central government had withheld funds and blocked Keezhadi excavations because Hindutva groups were against Tamil heritage. Some radical Dravidian groups claimed that Keezhadi belonged to the pre-Sangam Period and was a river valley civilization. Tamil language minister Mafoi Pandiarajan asserted over 39 excavations have been done in Tamil Nadu and there is no substance to the claim that the Centre has withheld funds (refer Keezhadi dig delayed). Excavations have also been carried out at Varushanad (Theni) and Azhagankulam (Ramnad), Tamil Nadu.


K. Amarnath Ramakrishna


In an interview, former Keezhadi excavator K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, said there is a theory that Tamil Nadu had only “racial groups” and that urban civilisation was found only along the Indus-Gangetic valley. Keezhadi’s excavation has nullified that theory and it has to be accepted that an urban civilization was found along Vaigai river (refer Don’t We Need To Know India’s History?).

Strangely, Amarnath Ramakrishna still clings to colonial fantasies of race and racism in the study of ancient India. Colonial Europe divided humans into races and viewed Africans through this distorting prism. Many countries have removed the word “race” from national laws concerning discrimination because the phrase is considered problematic and unethical. Amarnath should understand that the paleoanthropology of South Asia has shifted from a classificatory model of race identification to an evolutionary paleo-demographic paradigm, as demonstrated by veteran physical anthropologists such as Kenneth A.R. Kennedy. He should not legitimise ideas of certain political ideologues and linguistic fringe groups with no base in archaeology and interdisciplinary social sciences.

Amarnath still adheres to propaganda by early Left historians that the introduction of iron and the beginning of agriculture in the deep south by Brahmins in 300 AD led to the rise of feudalism, a theory discredited by recent archaeological discoveries. The earliest Neolithic dates in south so far range between 2900 and 2400 BC from sites such as Utnur, Pallavoy, Kodekal, Budihal and Watgal. The Chalcolithic phase in the south goes to 2400 BC from sites such as Singanapalli and Ramapuram, and Megalithic to 1000 BC at Hallur, Komaranahalli and Mangadu. The growth of an early township at Keezhadi has to be viewed in this overall context and not as an isolated advent of an exclusive river valley civilization. After all, South India includes Karnataka, Andhra and Kerala, and not Tamil Nadu alone.

Controversies started after Amarnath Ramakrishna, in charge of Keezhadi excavations, was transferred to Guwahati circle of ASI. The tenure of a superintending archaeologist in a particular circle is only for two years, and the transfer was made as per transfer policy, on Sept. 6, 2016 (refer Transfer of Keezhadi excavation site archaeologist final, says ASI).

However, Amarnath Ramakrishna’s transfer was resented by the CPI(M). K. Balakrishnan, Tamil Nadu state secretary of the party, alleged that the Modi government was making an attempt to hide the findings from the excavations that pointed to an old civilization linked to Tamil society (refer CPI(M) flays Centre’s direction on Keezhadi excavations). The CPI(M) had officially launched the Pattanam excavations in Kerala, which were conducted by Left historians under the banner of KCHR (refer Marxists dig for Apostle Thomas).

Few understand why the CPI(M) protested against the transfer of Amarnath Ramakrishna. When the Archaeological Survey of India began a probe into alleged unscientific approaches adopted by the KCHR at Pattanam, Amarnath Ramakrishna, the then superintendent archaeologist of the ASI, Bengaluru centre, started investigations into the Pattanam excavations (ASI probe into KCHR’s ‘Pattanam excavations’, Business Standard, Jan. 5, 2016). His findings are not known, but later Amarnath Ramakrishna took up the Keezhadi excavation. Possibly, he prepared a report liked by the CPI(M) and Left historians. As Amarnath Ramakrishna examined the Pattanam excavation report and was in-charge of Keezhadi, the Left lobbies have been able to notice striking similarities in antiquarian remains from the two sites.

The Left historians have always been patrons of Dravidian racial chauvinism. Irfan Habib has propagated the Aryan suppression of Dravidians (refer The Rewriting of History). British linguists Francis Ellis and Alexander Campbell framed the theory that south Indian languages belong to a different family. Brian Houghton Hodgson promoted the term “Tamulian” as a racial construct, describing the so-called aborigines of India as primitive and uncivilized compared to the invading Aryans. Bishop Robert Caldwell launched the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, carried forward by Bishop G.U. Pope.

In April 2018, the Federation of Tamil Sangams in North America (FeTNA) invited Amarnath Ramakrishna to deliver a lecture on the Keezhadi excavations. The ASI denied him permission to participate as guest of honor at this event, possibly because FeTNA publicly supported the cause of ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils in the Sri Lankan civil war. Time and again, the Sri Lanka Guardian has warned that the Catholic Church is heavily involved with the LTTE from the 1970s (refer Catholic Church, an ally of Tamil Tiger terrorists in Sri Lanka, Guardian, April 4, 2009). The FeTNA has been a major campaigner and fund-raiser for the Tamil Chair at the University of California, Berkeley. Prof. George L. Hart, known for his Dravidian politics, was hired for the chair. FeTNA also honoured Jagat Gasper, Catholic propagandist for Christianizing Tamil culture.


Dilip K. Chakrabarti


In December 2014, eminent South Asian archaeologist Dilip Chakrabarti delivered a lecture at Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi, on “Foreign Archaeological Collaborations and India’s Security Concerns”. He highlighted the dangerous attempts to relate prehistoric Indian cultures to various Indian languages, which are later given fictional linguistic affinities and open the way for regional chauvinistic premises. Highlighting the case of Pattanam, Chakrabarti said the pursuit of the past is not an innocuous academic activity and before foreign academic groups are allowed uncontrolled and unverified entry to this in India, we must be aware of the dimensions which impinge on our long-term national security. In Nation First, Chakrabarti cautions that Pattanam is supported by “Biblical and Jewish” interest groups, and urges the Indian government to take serious note of such unholy conglomerations.

The Archaeological Survey of India and Tamil Nadu government should investigate how the state Department of Archaeology officially invited the controversial Pattanam excavator, whose license was cancelled by the MHA and excavation license was repealed by central advisory panel of the ASI in 2016. The platform was used to link Keezhadi and Pattanam sites, which have strong undercurrents of secessionism. – Vijayvaani, 12 November 2018


St Thomas Cross and Sickle Emblem


See also