Thomas Christians and other Christian sects in Kerala History
St. Thomas Christians of Kerala firmly believe that St. Thomas
the Apostle is the father of Christianity in India. According
to their tradition, he landed at Maliankara, near Cranganore in
52 A.D. He preached Christianity first among the Jews and
then converted twelve Brahmin families from whom the Syrian Christians
trace their genealogy. St. Thomas also founded seven churches
at the following places: Maliankara, Palayur, Kottakavu,
Quilon, Niranom, Nilakkal, and Chayal. After several years
of work in Malabar, the Apostle went to the Coromandel Coast (East
Coast) where he was assassinated by irate Brahmins (or by a hunter)
in 72 A.D. This tradition along with many others legends
is found in ancient Christian songs (seventeenth century and later)
like the Veeradian Pattu, Thomma Parvom, and Margom Kali Pattu.
The Acts of St. Thomas, an apocryphal work by the Syrian Bardesan
(220 A.D.) also mentions the missionary work and martyrdom of
St. Thomas in India.
is no historical evidence -for the missionary work of St. Thomas
on the West Coast of India. But there is enough evidence
to believe that St. Thomas probably was buried at Mylapore.
It is, then more likely that he preached Christianity and made
Christian converts at Muziris on the mouth of Kaveri in Tamil
Nadu rather than in Kerala. The early Christians were probably
from the Jewish community, and the mainstream of the St. Thomas
Christians are most likely composed of Munda-Dravidian converts
and of Jewish converts, but not of Brahmins. These St. Thomas
Chris^tens fled west across the Western Ghats in the sixth and
seventh centuries, carry-ing with them their religious traditions
except the tomb of St. Thomas. The Portuguese records of the sixteenth
century say that the St. Thomas Christians told them that they
originally came from Tamil Nadu and settled down in Kerala.
Most likely the early Kerala Christians are not descend-ants of
Nambutiri Brahmins because, as mentioned before, the Aryan Brahmins
arrived in Kerala only in the eighth century. Further, there
is no archeological evidence for the presence of any pre-eighth-century
churches or temples in Kerala.
is important to mention here that a group of Christians in Kerala,
the Thekkumbhagar (Southists), call themselves Jewish Christians.
They claim that their ancestors made up of 72 Jewish Christian
families from around Baghdad, Nineveh, and Jerusalem came to India
under the leadership of one Thomas of Cana (the place where Jesus
turned water into wine), a blood-relative of Jesus. These
new colonists settled down on the south-ern shore of the Periyar;
hence they received the name "Southists," as opposed to the local
"Northist" Christians who lived north of the river in Cranganore.
St. Thomas Christians followed the Aramaic language in their liturgy
and were under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Oriental
Patriarch of Celusia-Ctesiphon of Persia (Babylon) up until the
arrival of the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. Until
that time the Christians of Kerala were very Indian in their culture,
though Middle-Eastern in worship. The Portuguese considered it
their duty to bring these Oriental Christians under the supremacy
of the Pope of Rome by Latinizing their Syrian liturgy and by
purging them of their errors or "heresies." Dom Menezes,
the Arch-bishop of Goa, convened a Synod at Udaimperur in 1599
for changing the Syrian Christians into "true" Roman Catholics.
Dom Menezes persuaded the Synod delegates to pass several decrees
which admitted that their Church had been heretical in some tenets
and practices. The Synod severed the connection between
the Kerala Church and the "heretical" Persian Church and declared
their fealty to the Pope of Rome. Oom Menezes then appointed
a Portuguese bishop over the Syrian Church.
large number of the Syrian Christians resented this foreign incur-sion
in the internal affairs of their Church. They wanted their
own Syrian bishops. In 1653, Ahatulla, A Syrian bishop,
arrived in Kerala, but he was detained illegally by the Portuguese,
who — it was rumored — even assassina-ted him on his way from
Mylapore to Kerala. The enraged Syrian Christians believing
the rumors were true, assembled in thousands in front of the ancient
cross (koonan kurisu) at Mattancherry and took a solemn
pledge with oath that they would never again obey the Latin Archbishop
or the Jesuits. These de-fiant Christians came to be called
Puthencoor (Protestant) Syrians and those who remained loyal to
the Roman Pontiff came to be called Pazhayacoor (Orthodox) Syrians.
This basic division, with many subdivisions among the Puthencoor
Syrians, persists even today.
Portuguese missionaries introduced the Latin Church in Kerala
and made many converts from among the untouchables of the coastal
area. Today the Latin Church has several dioceses and parishes
in Kerala. Numerically, however, the Syrian Christians -form
about 80% of the total Christian population of Kerala, which is
about 22% of the total population of Kerala.
missionaries from England came to Kerala with the English colonists
in the seventeenth century. The Church Mission Society of
London (CMS) made many converts from among the untouchables and
the Syrian Christians. Some Syrian Christians who were impressed
by Protestant Christians wanted to introduce like them the vernacular
language in the liturgy. For this purpose they formed a
reform Church called "The Marthomite Church," which is a very
progressive and prosperous Church today. The Christians
of Kerala today are divided into several branches: (1) the
Latin Catholic Church, (2) the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, (3)
the Jacobite Syrian Church, (4) the Nestorian Church, (5) the
Anglican Church which is now part of the Church of South India,
(6) the Marthoma Syrian Church, (7) the Syro-Malankara Catholic
Church. In addition, there are also a number of minor Churches
early Christians have, indeed, made significant contributions
to the culture of Kerala. The Portuguese missionaries introduced
printing in Kerala besides opening several theological seminaries
for the education of the clergy. Chavittunatakam is a Portuguese-Christian
art-form. The Protestant missionaries from Germany and England
laid the foundations of western education in Kerala by opening
English grammar schools, high schools, and colleges. Some
of the early Christian missionaries had performed valuable services
for the development of the Malayalam language; the grammatical
works and dictionaries by Arnos Patiri (Johann Ernestus Hanxleden),
Angelo Francis, Rev. Bailey, Rev. Richard Collins, and Dr. Gundert
are substantial contributions to the study of Malayalam.