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
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.
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 and Missions.
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.