- Benjamin John
St. Thomas the apostle, did he really come to India
Kerala is a state in Kerala known for many interesting as well as exciting facts and stories. The foreign travelers who come to Kerala have been coming to Kerala for her rich natural beauty. However, the cultural and traditional aspects have always excited them, just like the local traditions across nations. As a Kerala Tour Operator in Kerala, whenever I used to converse with guests mostly while traveling from Kochi Airport. We talk about Kerala and her history and the fact that there existed a port named Muziris on the South West coast. This port had strong trade relations with the rest of the world; both Islam and Christianity entered India via the Port of Muziris.
A belief could be anything that you believe and carry it through generations, but a belief to become a fact has to be supported by proof. On the other hand, it is always not right to say that all beliefs are untrue just because it is a historic story that lacked evidence. This is the story of a feeling that many Christian in Kerala still mentions that St. Thomas arrived on the Malabar coast not very late after the crucification of Christ.
Since the Malabar coast of Kerala has been in very constant touch with many civilizations that were in existence when most parts of the world were still in the dark. The Romans, Greeks and the Arabs had firm trade relations with the port town of Muziris. The great floods in the river Periyar in the 14th century destroyed the port and gave birth to a new port some thirty Kilometers south of Muziris, which is a modern port today, known as Kochi.
The Malabar coast has been the entry point of both Islam and Christianity. During the early centuries during the inception of both these religions, multiple civilizations had very dramatic roles in forming it as a religion. The process of elevating faith into a religion is something that happens over time. During the early ages, most beliefs and concepts made it overseas through traders and merchants who sail offshore. They were carriers of religions to other nations. If you look into the spread of Buddism and Hinduism in the far east, it happened while traders and Navy moved into other countries for trade and other reasons.
After the Cruxification of Christ, among Christians, it is believed that Christ rose from his death on the third day. That was a miraculous event for everyone who was around him. Even though he had stated about his resurrection, not many were firm enough to believe that. After his resurrection, his disciples except for Judas, traveled to distant lands to share the word of God. There have been records stating that St. Thomas was in Taxila (In the modern day Indian state of Punjab close to Pakistan) However is assumed that he did not find any success with his missions there. The tradition states that he further traveled to the South West coast of India. Jewish traders were frequent visitors to Muziris and even had settlements in different parts of the modern day Kerala. Having a Jewish community in the land might have given St. Thomas an additional advantage in introducing himself to this new land.
There have been early accounts stating that there were Christians in Southern India. Accordingly to tradition, St. Thomas performed a miracle and had introduced Bhramin families to the foreign faith, and that was the inception of Christianity in India. The Apostle established seven churches in India, however, was unable to complete the 8th church. The first Church was built in AD 52 at Palayur close to the temple town of Guruvayoor, fifty kilometers north of where Muziris could have existed before its destruction.
The Apostle further traveled to the South East coast of India and was assassinated by the local community as a retaliation to the introduction of a new faith. St. Thomas was chased to the present day St. Thomas Mount in Mylapore near Chennai. Today the mount is known as St. Thomas Mount, considered to be a pilgrim center among Christians. Many tourists who opt for the South India Tour programs have this place in their first-day itinerary. As an extension of the traditional beliefs, it is considered that St. Thomas died in AD 73. Some accounts state that the Apostle further traveled to Indonesia along with traders from India, which is relatively a less popular theory. All of the above are traditional beliefs that have been carried over centuries. However, there are accounts of early European navigators and traders that Christian already existed in Southen India.
Contrary to what the traditions define, many historians state that no historical account justifies the fact that St. Thomas the Apostle arrived on the Malabar Coast. It could be a belief that the Church in Kerala could have introduced sometime in the history of the land. Some historians even report that there was no human existence in this part of Southen India during AD 50s. Some historians believe that the Thomas of Cana who visited Muziris could be confused with St. Thomas, the apostle. Thomas of Cana had arrived Muziris and had preached Christianity; he reached the Malabar coast leading a migration of more than 70 Syriac Christians families from the Middle East. The families remain as a closed community known as Knanaya Christians.
In essence, whether it is right or incorrect, it remains a matter of debate whether St. Thomas arrived in Kerala some two thousand years back. However the Christians of Kerala strong believe that it was St. Thomas, the apostle who gave way to Christianity in the Indian Subcontinent.