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St. Thomas: The making of an ‘Indian’ apostle – Sandhya Jain


“The claim that Christianity came to India before it went to Europe is a ploy to make it a sort of native religion, even if it came from West Asia. The origin is a Gnostic Syrian fable, Acts of Thomas, written by poet Bardesanes at Edessa around 201 CE. The text never mentions or describes the sub-continent, but says the apostle went from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are ‘Mazdei’ (Zoroastrian) and have Persian names. The term India in the Acts of Thomas is a synonym for Asia.” – Sandhya Jain


St. Thomas


As Christian evangelists intensify efforts to bring India under their sway, their brethren in the south are trying to (mis)use current excavations at Pattanam to revive the myth of Apostle Thomas arriving in the country in the first century AD and establishing a fledgling community. They are trying to link the ancient port of Muziris with Pattanam, where Thomas reputedly landed, though Muziris was more logically Kodungallur, where the river joins the sea. Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former director, Tamil Nadu Archaeological Survey, debunks this mischief and avers that none of the literature on the life of St. Thomas claims that he came to India.


IS-SDS


Yet, so strenuously has the myth been perpetuated that Swami Devananda Saraswati (pen name Ishwar Sharan), a Canadian born into a Protestant family who became a Smarta Dashanami sannyasi at Prayag in 1977, decided to get to its historical roots. The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (Voice of India), is the fruit of his labours.

Sharan was intrigued by the story of the alleged murder of the apostle by a conniving Brahmin. In September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI declared that Thomas never came to India, but Rome later fell silent after a nudge from the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore. The myth includes the implausible conversion of Tiruvalluvar by the foreign evangelist, though Tamil scholars believe the sage lived around 100 BCE, perhaps even 200 BCE.

The claim that Christianity came to India before it went to Europe is a ploy to make it a sort of native religion, even if it came from West Asia. The origin is a Gnostic Syrian fable, Acts of Thomas, written by poet Bardesanes at Edessa around 201 CE. The text never mentions or describes the sub-continent, but says the apostle went from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are “Mazdei” (Zoroastrian) and have Persian names. The term India in the Acts of Thomas is a synonym for Asia.


Bardesanes or Bardaisan


The Acts of Thomas identifies St. Thomas as Judas, the look-alike twin of Jesus, who sells him into slavery. The slave travels to Andropolis where he makes newly-weds chaste, cheats a king, fights with Satan over a beautiful boy, persuades a talking donkey to confess the name of Jesus, and is finally executed by a Zoroastrian king for crimes against women. His body is buried on a royal mountain and later taken to Edessa, where a popular cult rises around his tomb.

One Thomas of Cana led a group of 400 Christians (from 7 tribes and 72 families) from Babylon and Nineveh, out of Persia in the 4th century, when Christianisation of the Roman Empire made the Persians view their Syriac-speaking Christian minority as a Roman fifth column. The “Thomas Christians” could originally have referred to this merchant. They reputedly landed at Cranganore in Malabar in 345 CE. Sharan warns this migration cannot be treated as historical fact, but says that Cosmas the Alexandrian, theologian, geographer and merchant who traded with Ethiopia and Ceylon, visited Malabar in 520-525CE and provided the first acceptable evidence of Christian communities there in his book Christian Topography. This Thomas was probably “converted” (metamorphosed) to St. Thomas.


Eusebius of Caesarea


Early Church Fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Eusebius are explicit that Apostle Thomas settled in “Parthia“, and established a church in Fars (Persia). This is supported by the 4th century priest Rufinus of Aquileia, who translated Greek theological texts into Latin, and the 5th century Byzantine church historian, Socrates of Constantinople, who wrote a book on ecclesiastical history, the second edition of which survives and is a valuable source of early church history. Nothing much is known about St. Thomas. He was called the Apostle of the East in West Asia and India until 1953, when the Church demoted him to Apostle of India, dislodging St. Francis Xavier.

Between the 4th and 16th centuries, the Syrian Christians of Malabar reinvented the tale several times, finally bringing St. Thomas to India to evangelise the heathen. In the 13th century, Marco Polo embellished the tale with a South Indian seashore tomb and in the 16th century the Portuguese transferred this seashore tomb to Mylapore. They created their own redactions of the Acts of Thomas and began destroying temples in the port city and building their St. Thomas churches, pretending these were the sites of Thomas’s martyrdom and burial.

The primary objective of the Thomas-in-India or Jesus-in-India stories is to vilify Brahmins and malign the Hindu religion and community. The second is to present Christianity as an indigenous religion—not a piece of Western imperialism. A deeper aim is to insinuate it as the “original” religion of the Tamil people. Finally, it is to help Syrian Christians maintain their caste identity, their claim to be Jews or Brahmins, descendants of Namboodiris converted by St. Thomas in the 1st century.

Ishwar Sharan cites a wealth of historical, textual and epigraphic material to prove how various authors and travellers like Marco Polo, mistakenly or deliberately, falsified evidence regarding St. Thomas. He traces Marco Polo’s mischief to a book the legendary explorer dictated to fellow prisoner and writer, Rustichello, when he was captured by Genoa. The book became a hit in Europe, and the myth of a St. Thomas’s tomb on a seashore was firmly planted.

German scholars, whose work remains to be translated into English, have consistently maintained that most 16th and 17th century churches in India contain temple rubble and are built on temple sites, just as in Europe they took over Pagan sites. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, a landslip on San Thome beach revealed carved stone pillars and broken stones of mandapam found only in Hindu temples.


San Thome Bishop's Museum


The Portuguese in the 16th century had one of their earliest settlements at Mylapore, and razed many Hindu temples to the ground. Vijayanagar’s ruler, Rama Raya, waged war on them in Mylapore and Goa simultaneously to save Hindu temples. After his victory, he exacted a tribute from them for their vandalism. But when Vijayanagar fell before the Muslim armies at the Battle of Talikota (1565), the Portuguese resumed their iconoclasm.

The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple is a treasure trove of information that an article cannot do justice to; it’s a must read for lovers of Hindu temples and history. — Vijayvaani & The Pioneer, September 13, 2011

› Sandhya Jain is an author, political analyst, independent researcher and fellow of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.


Book Cover (2019)


The Fourth Revised Edition of The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple is available in print from Voice of India and Amazon › Pages 451 › Price Rs 395 › ISBN 978-81-85990-11-8. Or read the book online in PDF format.


 

San Thome Cathedral cover-up uncovered – G.P. Srinivasan


“There were some broken pillar lengths, and bottom portion of Shiva lingam, and a round stone kept atop the bottom avudayar of Shiva lingam. In the few feet gap between the church’s backside and the chapel, there was a broken Tamil inscription on granite stone piece peculiar to Hindu temples.” – G.P. Srinivasan


Martyrdom of St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens (1636-38)


Chennai’s self-styled historian S. Muthiah has been propagating the fable of Thomas’s visit to India promoted by the Portuguese over 500 years ago. The Catholic establishment has generously supported this fable. Elders used to mention to their children about the presence of an old Shiva temple on the sea coast. After publication of the book The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple by Ishwar Sharan, in 1991, the public were aware of the dangers of the theory of the visit of Thomas to India. The Church was trying to make Hindus villains, like what they have done to the Jews for 2000 years.

By 1990 eminent citizens of Madras installed a 15 feet by 4 feet high marble memorial plaque on the eastern gopuram of the Kapaleeswara Temple, Mylapore, Chennai, whereon they inscribed that the Portuguese destroyed the original temple on the beach side in the 16th century.[1] Though the mischief of S. Muthiah and his colleagues like Archbishop Arulappa, Deivanayagam and Ganesh Ayer were exposed in Ishwar Sharan’s the book, S. Muthiah was in no mood to give up. In an article in The Hindu of 7 January 2004, S. Muthiah had revised his theory. He modified his article, this time without the prefix ‘Saint’ before Thomas, and the title “The Mount of Thomas” was given. But within the article he made a sarcastic remark about Ishwar Sharan. We brought it to the notice of Ishwar Sharan and also Veda Prakash who had done much of the research, and requested them to send a detailed rejoinder to S. Muthiah and The Hindu. Immediately they both sent their rejoinders to The Hindu and to S. Muthiah. And as usual, their replies were not published by The Hindu.[2]


Pseudo-historian S. Muthiah & Comrade N. Ram: Neither have the courage to tell the truth about the Portuguese in Mylapore and the destruction of the original Kapali Temple.


In his rejoinder, Ishwar Sharan wrote:

“My quarrel with Mr. Muthiah and the English-language media that promote the St. Thomas legend, is that the legend does indeed intrude on and demean the Hindu community. It falsely implicates a Hindu king and his priests in the persecution and murder of a Christian apostle and saint, and there is good reason to believe that this maligning of the Hindu community is exactly what is intended today when the legend is repeated and promoted ad nauseam by the Catholic Church and her agents in the press. In fact, the Hindu community is doubly wronged. It not only did not kill the fictional St. Thomas but for the saint’s cause it lost a number of important temples to the aggressive religious bigotry of the Portuguese. It took more than fifty years for the Portuguese to bring down the original Kapaleeswara Temple and build a St. Thomas Church in its place. I wonder how many Indian lives were lost in defence of the Great God Shiva and His house on the Mylapore beach.”

His reply exposes how the Roman Catholic Church has written and is writing and trying to perpetuate pseudo history in South India.

Here, I would also like to share my experience with your readers. I came across the book The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple by Ishwar Sharan and Indiavil Saint Thomas Katukkadai by Veda Prakash, in 2001, and decided to visit the spots mentioned in the book.


https://ishwarsharan.com/the-myth-of-saint-thomas-and-the-mylapore-shiva-temple/Bones pieces in the San Thome Cathedral museum.


In July 2001 when I went to the Mylapore St. Thomas Church, the stone pillar from the remains of the old Hindu temple, which was mentioned by Ishwar Sharan, was exactly there near the compound wall, as mentioned in the book. I took a walk around the church. In an area  between the main church and a chapel on the backside [viz. a lane from Santhome High Road to the beach, the church on the left and the bishop’s house on the right], there was a board in English announcing “Museum”. It was locked but I saw that there were some broken pillar lengths, and bottom portion of Shiva lingam, and a round stone kept atop the bottom avudayar of Shiva lingam. In the few feet gap between the church’s backside and the chapel, there was a broken Tamil inscription on granite stone piece peculiar to Hindu temples. Subsequently I took some Hindu friends to show these temple remains, and we had to do it discretely. This was to create eyewitness evidence. We made a couple of visits, and found the remains intact.

Sometime later, I was driving along the Santhome High Road, and found some construction going on in the church. A new grotto with water fountain and a Christ-like figure standing in the cave’s entrance had come up. I checked up for the original pillar from the temple measuring 12 to 14 feet. It was not there. I was perturbed. At least these remnants from the original temple should be preserved.


Lorry disposing of rubble and other 'waste' from the San Thome Cathedral some place in the Chennai area without authority from the ASI (photo for illustrative purpose only).


On a visit in December 2001, I found there was a big celebration going on the church grounds. The pastor was speaking. Some parts of his talk drew my attention.

He said that he was worried whether the function would go at all. And so lorry loads of building waste material had to be removed. And one Kumar lorry operator or contractor, obviously close to the church, has done a fine job. He was appreciated and honored by the pastor who spoke on the dais on 31 December 2001. He said that he was greatly relieved, for that building waste removal has not attracted any unwanted attention. I presumed that what he meant was that the new stage was constructed after the removal of the old mandapam from the compound, and the pastor was worried about the consequences of this illegal removal.

It is not known whether San Thome Church authorities took permission from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) to remove the ancient Shiva temple rubble? Secondly, they should not have dumped the lorry loads of the old dilapidated mandapam, completely removed from the compound and clandestinely taken to some waste yard. Did they take permission to do it from the Archeological Survey of India?[3]


1. In part the plaque reads: “Ptolomey the Greek geographer has referred to Mylapore in his books as ‘Maillarpha’, a well known seaport town with a flourishing trade. Saint Thiruvalluvar, the celebrated author of Thirukkural, the world famous ethical treatise, lived in Mylapore nearly 2000 years ago. The Shaivite saints of the 7th century, Saint Sambandar and Saint Appar, have sung about this shrine in their hymns. St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus, is reported to have visited Mylapore in the 2nd century (sic) AD. Mylapore fell into the hands of the Portuguese in 1566, when the temple suffered demolition. The present temple was rebuilt about 300 years ago. There are some fragmentary inscriptions from the old temple, still found in the present shrine and in St. Thomas Cathedral.”

2. The Hindu immediately put a copyright notice on the article on its online edition so that it could not be reproduced for comment by Ishwar Sharan in 2004. The notice has since been removed and the article has been made available for comment.

3. The Archeological Survey of India is deeply involved in the cover-up at San Thome Cathedral. It is a government department and therefore subject to the dictates of the politicians in power and their policy of minority appeasement. Even former directors of the Tamil Nadu Department of Archeology like Dr. R. Nagaswamy, who have all the details of the destruction of the Kapaleeswara Temple by the Portuguese and the building of San Thome Cathedral on the ancient temple site, are not willing to speak out.

References

  • S. Muthiah’s article “The Mount of Thomas” in The Hindu, Chennai.
  • Ishwar Sharan’s rejoinder to  Muthiah’s article “The Mount of Thomas” in The Hindu, Chennai.

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