Indians, regardless of their belief systems, should be thankful to Ishwar Sharan for his painstaking work that has thrown the spanner in the works of vested interests who want to spin new history for ancient objectives. – George Thundiparambil
Has Thomas the Apostle really come to Kerala in India and converted some natives there?
Well, most certainly, if we are talking about the belief of some people. But is there any evidence for his arrival? Could we call this history, and include this in our history books?
For most Indians living at this time, the arrival of St. Thomas on the Kerala coast in 52 AD is a sold story. Though far from being solid in facts, the St. Thomas story is being bandied about as history by trip advisors and rags alike.
In his book, The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, Ishwar Sharan (pseudonym of a Canadian Hindu monk living in India) unravels the true history of the St. Thomas myth by laying bare evidences that implicate the Roman Church in the grand scheme of popularising St. Thomas’ sojourn in India and his fictitious martyrdom in Mylapore.
The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple was first published by Voice of India, New Delhi in 1991, then in 1995 and again in 2010, before the present one was published in 2019.
Arrival of Ishwar Sharan in India
Born and brought up in a Protestant Christian family in Canada, and after travelling extensively in the USA, Europe, and West Asia, Ishwar Sharan arrived in India by road in 1967.
After living in India for some decades, we may surmise that Ishwar Sharan has seen more than enough of not only the Semitic monotheistic societies, but also the Hindu polytheistic cultures.
Due to his knowledge of the various faiths and how they operate, especially the peculiar policies that sustain Christianity as a pervasive religion, Ishwar Sharan refused to buy into the “Thomas the Apostle in India” story. He started his own research and soon was unravelling a gargantuan deception.
This well-researched book directs the spotlight on a hoax of colossal dimensions that has come to live with us for a very long time. We come to know that historical facts and archaeological evidences have been manipulated or just ignored to establish unfounded narratives as concrete history.
The usurpation of the Mylapore Siva Temple by the Portuguese and building a church on its site, and then claiming that St. Thomas is buried in a nearby grave, are depicted by Ishwar Sharan with great clarity.
The Birth of the ‘Thomas in India’ Myth
Ishwar Sharan’s book investigates the Thomas myth by examining the historical records left by the past. What is the date of the first document? Is there any such record?
The oldest and the prime document is the Acts of Thomas originating in the third century. This work belongs to the class of Christian literature called romance, where our saintly heroes perform miracles, such as raising the dead, healing the blind and so on by calling upon Jesus Christ.
The Acts was written by a man named Bardesanes, who lived in Edessa in ancient Syria, which is now situated in south-eastern Turkey.
In the story, Thomas is the look-alike twin brother of Jesus. After refusing to go East for evangelistic purposes, Jesus sells him as a slave to a merchant and he gets carried away to the East. If you examine the text, the internal evidences reveal a West Asian desert country wherein names of characters and places are Persian. However, India is mentioned twice in the entire narrative.
Thomas travels from kingdom to kingdom at the prompt of his twin Jesus who appears in his dreams. He exercises the biblical miracles, all the nine yards, including raising the dead, but the main activity he indulges in is the propagation of Christian chastity and abstention from sex. He preaches this to everyone and soon gets into trouble. Accused of sorcery, he is finally executed at the orders of their king Mazdai. He is speared by four soldiers upon a mountain.
Sharan tells us that the mention by anyone that Thomas went to India occurs after this third century romance. And no scholar, past or present, actually ever had any doubt that the Acts was a story of fiction and was originally pronounced apocryphal by the Catholics.
Actual Christian Records
Ishwar Sharan’s book also refers to documents or epigraphic/archaeological proof or the lack of it that the “St. Thomas” Christians provide to establish the claim.
The earliest Christian settlement in Kerala is said to have happened sometime around the fourth or fifth century when the merchant Thomas of Cana and his dependents came to Muziris, present-day Kodungalloor, and was given refuge by the king there.
Thomas and his group were fleeing the ire of the Persian emperor who doubted the loyalty of his Syrian-speaking Christian subjects. However, Ishwar Sharan cites C. B. Firth, Church historian, from his book An Introduction to Indian Church History, which reveals that even the dating of Thomas of Cana’s arrival in Kerala is only a guesswork.
Another document that mentions Thomas in India is from the late 13th century, the Travels of Marco Polo.
In Book 3, chapter 18, Marco mentions the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle on an Indian coast, and also mentions that this particular Thomas died by accident when a hunter’s arrow missed its target, a peahen.
Renowned people who lived during Marco’s time, like Dante Alighieri, the author of the Divine Comedy, believed that Marco was a fraudster and combined hearsay of other travellers with pure fantasy.
Before they arrived on the Malabar Coast, the Portuguese were already anticipating Indian Christians, their king named Prester John, and their lost apostle. Many Latin romances, among them, the sixth century De Miraculis Thomae and Passio Thomae, had conditioned the Portuguese to look for Christians in India.
Ishwar Sharan convincingly makes his case that the colonising Christians had unearthed enough raw materials for a new Indian Christian romance.
Real local Christians in Kerala and three tombs in Mylapore—two of which had real skeletons, and a third one with bone fragments, a spearhead with a wooden shaft and blood-soaked soil, all miraculously appearing during the digging one fine morning, being preserved intact one and a half millennium after the deed!
Origin of the Epithet ‘Thomas Christians’
Ishwar Sharan also informs us how the epithet “St. Thomas Christians” came to be.
A Franciscan friar from Florence, Italy, Bishop Giovanni dei Marignolli, visited Kollam in 1348 and converted some of the ethnic Syrian Christians as well as their local servants for his newly established Catholic Church.
In order to distinguish between these two, he called the ethnic Syrians, “St. Thomas Christians”, since they had carried with them the Thomas tradition all the way from Edessa.
Sharan also describes how the Trichur prelate Bishop Adolph Medlycott wrote two books between 1887 and 1896 : India and the Apostle Thomas, and Saint Thomas Christians, and, without furnishing any acceptable historical evidence, attempted to make pure myth from an ancient Eastern Christian romance into a historical fact.
In 1953, Eugene Cardinal Tisserand brought a piece of bone from the elbow of the skeleton lying in Ortona (Italy) to Kodungalloor. Later, another piece of bone arrived in Mylapore from the same collection in Ortona, which feigned to seal the new story. The government of India issued stamps commemorating both events in 1964 and 1973 respectively.
The first Christian church in Mylapore built by Augustinian friars in 1523 on top of the ruins of the old Mylapore Shiva temple transformed into the “historic” site of St. Thomas’ tomb. Another plot was identified nearby, and nobody knows by what yardstick, as the site where the saint was martyred. In the new Indian Christian romance, Thomas’ executors turned into the Brahmins of Mylapore!
Medlycott’s victory went further, says Sharan. He became the authority for Encyclopaedia Britannica to spread the “Apostle Thomas in India” lies.
What do Historians Say?
From Ishwar Sharan’s meticulous research we come to know that genuine historians have underlined that there is no proof of Thomas coming to India.
All Church historians however agree that Edessa, the hometown of Bardesanes, was the place where the Thomas cult originated and was a centre of Eastern Christianity. For all Church fathers of that time until the 20th century, Thomas was the “Apostle of the East”.
Ishwar Sharan cites ancient Church fathers and historians such as Clement, Origen and Eusebius, the 4th century priest Rufinus of Aquileia and the 5th century Byzantine Church historian Socrates of Constantinople, who all declare that Thomas went to Parthia.
It is also clear that at the Edessa church there was a tomb of Thomas, where it was believed the remains of the apostle lay many centuries ago. During the crusades, Christians from Europe raided the Edessa tomb and carried away the remains of the supposed apostle to Chios in Greece, and from there it found its way to Ortona in Italy in 1258, where most of the bones still lie.
The second century writer Heracleon the Gnostic asserts that Thomas ended his days in peace, suggesting that even Thomas’ martyrdom is a hoax.
Sharan tells us of another historian from Kerala, himself a so-called “St. Thomas Christian”, who called out the fraud in the 20th century. His name was T. K. Joseph and his book, Six Thomases of South India: A Muslim Non-Martyr made Martyrs after 1517 AD, exposed the fraud committed in Kerala to establish the Thomas martyrdom.
T. K. Joseph brought to light the fact that the “St. Thomas Song” or “Rabbanpattu” in Malayalam depicting the Thomas story was actually composed in 1892 by one Varghese Palayur and published for the first time in 1916 by one Fr. Bernard of Travancore. The whole exercise was to establish that this song existed in early 17th century and thus was of antiquity.
Ishwar Sharan informs us that other than six St. Thomas graves in India, there were six others outside India, and that it took them decades to decide on the year “52AD” out of a collection of dates, and they finally fixed it without any documentation or basis behind the choice.
The Book, The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple
Ishwar Sharan’s fight against the Mylapore hoax started in the 1980s and the first edition of his book was published in 1991. He carried on the fight with several publications such as The Hindu, The Indian Express, Wikipedia and even the Encyclopaedia Britannica for regularly and wilfully promoting this despicable fraud. They had no answer to Sharan’s questions.
One of the editors of Britannica at one time accepted Sharan’s argument and agreed to revise the story, but ultimately, they backtracked.
All Indians regardless of their belief systems should be thankful to Ishwar Sharan for his painstaking work that has thrown the spanner in the works of vested interests who want to spin new history for ancient objectives.
The book can be ordered here. – Swarajya Magazine, 14 may 2023
› George Thundiparambil is a columnist and translater in Germany.