Ishwar Sharan is the pen name or Canadian author Swami Devananda Saraswati. a Smartu Dasanani sannyasi who took his Vedic initiation from a renowned mahamandaleswar at Prayag in 1977. His purvasranta family were middle class professionals and God-rearing Protestant Christians. He did not complete high school and is self-educated through reading hooks on all subjects, with a special interest in religion and history. He has travelled extensively in Canada. USA. Europe. North Africa. West Asia and India. His experiences during these wandering years include service in a communist kibbutz during the Six Day War in Israel and some months spent in retreat in a Franciscan hermitage near Assisi. Italy. En route to India by road in 1967. he visited the places that his child-hood hero. Alexander the Great. had visited on his expedition to India in the 4th century BCE. Later he tried without success to visit Bahylon near Baghdad. where Alexander had died and Ctesephon on the Tigris where his beloved spiritual hero. Julian the Apostate. had been martyred by a trusted Christian officer.
The author's experience of Muslim society, and Israeli kibbutzim helped to turn him against the monolithic Abrahamic creeds which he saw as imperialistic, belligerent, and life threatening. He came to India in search of spiritual direction and because Hindu civilization still gave an honourable place to the Mother Goddess. The fact that Hindu Civilization had withstood centuries of Muslim and Christian aggression and survived where other civilizations had failed was to his mind a very impressive cultural achievement. He is a great lover of Hindu Culture and Religion and is deeply saddened that Hindus today have become second class citizens in their own motherland because of a pusillanimous and weak minded religious and political leadership. He says that as long as Christianity continues to wage a socially destructive war of aggression on Hinduism and take prisoners in the form of unsophisticated credulous coverts, its curious theories and unique claims must be thoroughly investigated and challenged by Hindus of Integrity and conviction.
A predictable component of platitudinous speeches by secularist politicians is that "Christianity was brought to India by the apostle Thomas in the 1st century AD, even before it was brought to Europe". The intended thrust of this claim is that, unlike Hinduism which was imposed by the "Aryan invaders", Christianity is somehow an Indian religion, even though it is expressly stated that it "was brought to India" from outside. As a matter of detail, St. Paul reported on Christian communities living in Greece, Rome and Spain in the 40s AD, while St. Thomas even according to his followers only came to India in 52 AD, so by all accounts, Christianity still reached Europe before India. I At any rate, its origins lay in West Asia, outside India. But this geographical primacy is not the main issue here. More importantly, there is nothing factual, nor secular, about the claim that Thomas ever came to India.
That claim is a stark instance of what secularists would denounce in other cases as a "myth". By this, I don't mean that it was concocted in a backroom conspiracy, then propagated by obliging mercenary scribes (the way many Hindus imagine the colonial origins of the "Aryan invasion myth" came into being). It came about in a fairly innocent manner, through a misunderstanding, a misreading of an apocryphal text, the miracle-laden hagiography Acts of Thomas. This is not the place to discuss the unflattering picture painted of Thomas in his own hagiography, which credits him with many anti-social acts. The point for now is that the text never mentions nor describes the subcontinent but merely has the apostle go from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are "Mazdei" [Zoroastrian] and have Persian names. This is definitely not lush and green Kerala. Not only is there no independent record of Thomas ever coming near India, but the only source claimed for this story, doesn't even make this claim either."
However, we know of a Thomas of Cana who led a group of Christian refugees from Iran in the 4th century, when the christianisation of the Roman empire caused the Iranians to see their Syriac-speaking Christian minority as a Roman fifth column. The name "Thomas Christians" may originally have referred to this 4th-century leader. Then, again, those refugees may also have been "Thomas Christians" before their migration to India in the sense that their Christian community had been founded in Iran [viz. Church of Fars] by the apostle Thomas. That he lived and worked in some Iranian region is attested and likely, but in no case did he ever settle in India. The Church Fathers Clement of Alexandra, Origen and Eusebius confirm explicitly that he settled in "Parthia", a part of the Iranian world. From the 3rd century, we do note an increasing tendency among Christian authors to locate him in a place labelled "India", as does the Acts of Thomas. But it must be borne in mind that this term was very vague, designating the whole region extending from Iran eastwards. Remember that when Columbus had landed in America, which he thought was East Asia, he labelled the indigenous people "Indians", meaning "Asians". Afghanistan is one area that was Iranian-speaking and predominantly Mazdean [Zoroastrian] but often considered part of "India". Moreover, in some periods of history it was even politically united with parts of "India" in the narrow sense. So, Afghanistan may well be the "Western India" where Pope Benedict placed St. Thomas in his controversial speech in September 2006, to the dismay of the South Indian bishops.
While the belief that Thomas settled in South India came about as an honest mistake, the claim that he was martyred by Brahmins was always a deliberate lie, playing upon a possible confusion between the consonants of the expression "be ruhme", meaning "with a spear", and those of "Brahmin" (Semitic alphabets usually don't specify vowels). That was the gratitude Hindus received in return for extending their hospitality to the Christian refugees: being blackened as the murderers of the refugees' own hero. If the Indian bishops have any honour, they will themselves remove this false allegation from their discourse and their monuments, including the cathedral in Chennai built at the site of Thomas's purported martyrdom (actually the site of a Shiva temple). Indeed, they will issue a historic declaration expressing their indebtedness to Hindu hospitality and pluralism and pledging to renounce their anti-Hindu animus.
Secularists keep on reminding us that there is no archaeological evidence for Rama's travels, and from this they deduce the non sequitur that Rama never existed, indeed that "Rama's story is only a myth". But in Rama's case, we at least do have a literary testimony, the Ramayana, which in the absence of material evidence may or may not be truthful, while in the case of Thomas's alleged arrival in India, we don't even have a literary account. The text cited in the story's favour doesn't even have him come to a region identifiable as South India. That is why Christian scholars outside India have no problem abandoning the myth of Thomas's landing in Kerala and of his martyrdom in Tamil Nadu. I studied at the Catholic University of Louvain, and our Jesuit professor of religious history taught us that there is no data that could dignify the Thomas legend with the status of history.
This eliminates the last excuse the secularists might offer for repeating the Thomas legend, viz. that the historical truth would hurt the feelings of the Christian minority. It is clear enough that many Christians including the Pope have long given up the belief in Thomas's Indian exploits, or (like the Church Fathers mentioned above) never believed in them in the first place. In contrast with European Christians today, Indian Christians live in a 17th century bubble, as if they are too puerile to stand in the daylight of solid historical fact. They remain in a twilight of legend and lies, at the command of ambitious "medieval" bishops who mislead them with the St. Thomas in India fable for purely selfish reasons.
The legend of St. Thomas in India has its origin in the third century Syrian Gnostic text called the Acts of Thomas. It is a religious romance and in it St. Thomas is called Judas and identified as the look-alike twin brother of Jesus. He is sold as a slave by Jesus, travels to Andropolis where he makes newlyweds chaste, goes on to cheat a king, have a fight with Satan over a beautiful boy, persuade a talking donkey to confess the name of Jesus, and finally after many trials and tribulations is executed by a Zoroastrian king for crimes against women. His body is buried on a royal mountain and then, soon after, taken away to Edessa where a popular cults grows up around his tomb.
In fact, according to the Early Church Fathers, St. Thomas only travels in Syria and Parthia and establishes a church in Fars. There is nothing else known about him except that his tomb was at Edessa. He was therefore known as the Apostle of the East in West Asia and India up to 1953. In 1953 he was demoted by the Church and designated the Apostle of India, displacing St. Francis Xavier who was the Apostle of India before him, and leaving the Christians of Syria and Iraq without a patron saint.
The St. Thomas cult was brought to India by Syrian Christian refugees from Edessa and Babylon in the fourth century. Between the fourth and the sixteenth centuries, the Syrian Christians of Malabar reinvented the tale many times over until at last they had St. Thomas coming to India himself to evangelize the heathen. St. Thomas then becomes the founder of Christianity in India and their very own "India apostle. The legend is later embellished with a South Indian seashore tomb by Marco Polo in the thirteenth century and then taken over in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese who decide, quite arbitrarily, that Marco Polo's fictional seashore tomb was at Mylapore. The Portuguese add their own redactions of the Acts of Thomas to the growing Indian legend their favourite being St. Gregory of Tours' pious fable De Miraculous Beati Thomae, and in 1523, having established themselves by force in Mylapore's thriving port, they begin destroying the temples in the area and building their St, Thomas churches, pretending the sites were those of St. Thomas's martyrdom and burial.
The St.-Thomas-in-India legend is the prototype story for the newer Jesus-in-India legend. The Jesus-in-India legend was invented in Paris by the Russian forger Nicolas Notovitch and published in 1894 as The Unknown Life of Jesus. The book became immediately popular with theosophists and other western spiritualists and historians of the arcane Notovitch was a very clever storyteller and his Jesus-studied in-Kashmir tale is the basis for many popular Jesus-died-in Kashmir novels today. The result of these books is that the keeper of the Sufi Roza Bal Dargah in Srinigar, which contains the alleged tomb of Jesus, has had to lock it up and drive the foreign backpackers and tourists away.'
Both of these historical fictions are attractive to western spiritual seekers and modern convent-educated Hindus because they fancy the idea that an apostle of Jesus, or Jesus himself, may have visited India. The Hindus do not notice that in these stories neither Jesus or Thomas are presented as seekers of India's eternal truth or admirers of Hindu religion and culture. They are presented instead as teachers of a superior truth or as enlightened social reformers who are persecuted by the jealous priests of a degenerate Hindu society.
Whether the legends are set in Palayur or Mylapore as is the case with Thomas, or Puri and Benares and Kashmir as is the case with Jesus, the theme of persecution and martyrdom is the same. The "superior" teachings of both prophets are rejected and their lives threatened by "reactionary" caste Hindus. Thomas is murdered on a hilltop near Madras by a jealous Brahmin priest and Jesus is stoned and driven from the country by a mob - only to return again and marry a princess of Kashmir after surviving the Crucifixion."
The first objective of these stories is to vilify Brahmins and malign the Hindu religion and community. The second objective - and here we part company with the Jesus story - is to present Christianity as an indigenous Indian religion, not an import and product of Western imperialism. If it can be shown that St. Thomas came to India and established the first Christian church in Malabar, then Christianity can claim religious hegemony in India and even claim to be the "original" religion of the Tamil people.
The Syrian Church does not press the political issue of St. Thomas in India, but the Roman Church does claim India as part of her apostolic patrimony on the rounds that St. Thomas may have died there. The disclaimer "may" must be noted for the Church does not officially declare - and Pope Benedict XVI has categorically denied - that St. Thomas ever came to South India.
The third reason for the legend to exist is to help the community-conscious Syrian Christians maintain their caste identity. They claim to be Jews or Brahmins, the latter descendants of Namboodiris converted by St. Thomas in the first century CE - though there were no Namboodiris in Malabar in the first century and no hristians in India before the fourth century. When they did arrive under the leadership of Thomas of Cana and settle in the vicinity of Tiruvanchikulam, they would obtain a social position similar to that of Nairs.
The first Indian St. Thomas story was invented by these Syrian immigrants to give themselves Indian ancestry and the patronage of a local martyr-saint - Christianity is the religion of martyrs' - and it was resurrected and embellished in the sixteenth century by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries who needed a pious story of persecution to cover up their own persecution of the Hindus of Mylapore. This is another reason for the Church to promote the story in Madras, for during that period she and her imperial Portuguese "secular arm" destroyed many temples in Mylapore and its environs.
The Archaeological Survey of India has never investigated the origins of early Christian churches in India in the same way that it has studied old mosques and other Muslim monuments, but this work has been done by German scholars and awaits translation and publication in English. It shows that most sixteenth and seventeenth century churches in India contain temple rubble and are built on temple sites. The destruction of one of these temples, the ancient first Kapaleeswara Temple on the Mylapore beach, is reviewed here because of its inexorable link with the legend of St. Thomas in Madras.
The famous English historian Arnold Toynbee observed that the mission and death of St. Thomas in India was legendary but that his reported burial place in Mylapore was a centre of pilgrimage for Indian Christians. We observe that this pretended burial place of St. Thomas - an empty tomb that has been refurbished at the cost of lakhs of rupees since the publication of this book in 1991 - must now become a centre of pilgrimage for archaeologists, historians and philosophers who do not have a theological axe to grind like the pilgrims of old and the priests of today, but who would know the plain truth about old Mylapore and record it for our children."
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