Arrival of St Thomas at Kodungallur and the introduction of Christianity in India

Thread started by virarajendra on 25th December 2015 11:35 AM

Author - Virarajendra

Arrival of St Thomas at Kodungallur in Kerala and the introduction of Christianity in India

(1) The Beginings of Christianity

During this period the mighty Roman empire with it's capital at Rome in the present day Italy, was under the reign of Tiberius Caeser (A.D.14 - A.D.36) who succeeded the Roman Emperor Augustus Caeser (B.C.27-A.D.14) after his death. We have the positive date of the accession of Tiberius Caesor at Rome as A.D.14 from history. Also in the Luke’s Gospal (in the Bible), it is stated that in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesor - that is in A.D.29, the Roman Governer governing Judea in Israel on behalf of him was Pontius Pilate.

From St Lukes’s & St John's Gospals and a reference in the historical writings of the Jewish Historian Josephus of the contemporary period it is clear few years later the crucification of Lord Jesus Christ took place on the order of this Roman Governer - Pontius Pilate, who subsequently left for Rome in A.D.36 from Judea, after his removal as Governer. We also note from the above that Pilate has also issued coins upto A.D.32. This could have been normally possible only during the peaceful period of his rule of his country.

Hence it is most likely that in the following year in A.D.33 the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, and thereafter due to much religious unrest in Judea Pontius Pilate would have been removed, and he had to travel to Rome to answer the complaints made against him to Emperor Tiberius.

(2) The Apostle St Thomas leaves Jerusalem and spreads Christianity

With the death of Lord Jesus Christ in A.D.33 and the persecution of Christians by the Romans under Pontius Pilate, St Thomas one of his twelve Apostles subsequently chose to and reached Nubia in the present Sudan south of Egypt where he converted many to the Christian faith. From there he reached Abyssenia the present Ethopia further south where too he preached and converted some to the Christian faith. From there he proceeded to Punjab in North india with a seafaring trader and was in the kingdom of the Indo-Parthian king Gondopheres (A.D.21-46) at his invitation.

[3] The Apostle St Thomas reaches India and preaches Christianity

From there he further travelled to Malabar in India the present Kerala coastal region. The oral traditions in the present day Kerala states that St Thomas took the sea route to Kerala (Maabar) coast and landed at the former Muziri Port at Kodungallur most likely around A.D.52. Here too he converted some people to Christian faith. Thereafter he crossed to the eastern region of South India and reached the present Mayilapur in Tamil Nadu.

There too he converted a section of the people of the region by his preachings and by his miraculous deeds and established the religion of Christianity Mayilapur. Thereafter he returned back to Kodungallur and converted three thousand heathens, unbelievers, as well as forty Jews who had settled in Kodungallur in Kerala who received baptism in one and a half years. Thus the a section of the people of the seaport capital city of then Tamil Chera country received the Apostle and his messages with an open heart, and became the very first gateway of India to the Christian faith, and a church and cross were erected for worship by St.Thomas.

(4) Death of the Apostle St Thomas at Mayilapur in India

After a period he returned back to Maiyilapur in east Tamil Nadu, and after some years of religious activities he was killed accidently in an unfortunate incident in the year A,D.72, and was buried on a hill presently known as Periyamalai (Large Mount) at St Thome six miles from Mayilapur in Tamil Nadu state.

(5) The fleeing of the Jews with their persecution at Jerusalem by Romans

With the 'further' persecution of the Jews in Palestine by Romans under commander Vespasian from A.D.66 and with the destruction of their second temple in the city of Jerusalam many Jews fled to other countries. Some of these Jews taking advantage of the great land cum sea traffic between Alexandria and the Tamil countries of this period found their way to the Chera country in A,D.70 and settled in Musiri in the present Kerala state continued to live there for many centuries maintaining their identity.

The Jews settled in the Musiri seaport capital city of Tamil Chera kings at the time of St Thomas in Kodungallur over a period of time with unfavourable conditions in that region gradually moved toward the present Cochin region. The subsequent Jews who came into Kerala with the second persecution in Palestine by the Romans A.D.70 and therafter chose to settle around the present Cochin region. In the year A.D.824 all clustered around this region and built a new village named Kollam with the approval and blessings of the then ruling Tamil Chera king.

(6) The dawn of the new Kollam Era in Kerala

With the building of the village Kollam for themselves, the Jews adopted a Era reckoning system from the time their new city was built as the "Kollam Era", which subsequently became vogue as the new Era System of the entire Kerala.

In the year A.D.999 the Chera king Bhaskara Ravi Varma issued this Jewish community with a copper plate grant in Tamil confirming the special privileges provided to them to practice their religion. This copper plate grant is preserved in the Jewish Synagogue at Mattenchery and a replica at the Department of Oriental Studies in the Hebrew University in Israel. These White Jews have kept their identity to this day and are mainly concentrated around Mattanchery near Cochin in the present Kerala state.

(7) The References to the presence of St Thomas in India in the Travel Writings of European Travellers

The are references to the St Thomas - the Apostle of Lord Jesus Christ, and the hill he was buried on his death and venerated upto date by the Christians known as Periyamalai (Large Mount) and located at St Thome near Mayilapur in Tamil Nadu State. The medieval travellers Marco Polo, Frair Odiric, Marignolli, Jhon of Monticorvino the sixteenth and seventeenth century Barbosa, Maffei, Linschoooten, Padre Vincenzo, those of the later period namely Gaspero balbi, Herber and few others have made references to St Thomas and his presence in Tamil country.


Further from a sixteenth century composition in an old 'Ola Manuscript' called the "St Thomas Parvam" (Ramban Song) from Palayur (near Kodungallur) written by a priest named St Thomas Ramban provides details on the arrival of St Thomas the apostle and his activities in India including an immediate conversion of a Chera king and his nephew to Christianity. There after some years of religious activities he was killed accidentially in an unfortunate incident and was buried on a hill presently known as Periyamalai (Large mount) at St Thome six miles from Mayilapur in Tamil Nadu

However we have no evidences confirming a Chera king of that period having been converted into Christian faith in any of the Kerala Tamil Literary works namely "Silappathikaarem", "Manimekalai", and "Paththuppaattu" (8 - Hero Poems out of 10, on 8 - Chera kings) of the "first and second century" composed by Tamil Poets "who lived during this same period at Kodungallur" (around A.D.50-200)., - even though it is mentioned in "Thomas Parvam" a Tamil Christian Literary work of the "sixteenth century"

Further the Kerala Tamil Literary work of this period namely “Manimekalai” while listing out "all religious faiths that prevailed prominantly in Vanji Nagaram (Kodungallur) of that period", has not mentioned of the Christian religion. The prominant religions that prevailed in Vanji Nagar (Kodungallur) of that period are given in "Manimekalai" are as follows:

(a) Ulakaayutham
(b) Bauddham
(c) Sanngeeyam
(d) Nayaayikam
(e) Vaisedikam
(f) Meemaansakam
(g) Saivam
(h) Vainavam
(i) Vedism
(j) Aaseevakam
(k) Nikandam
(l) Saangeeyam

Though Christianity was introduced around A.D.52 by St Thomas to a fair section of the "people in Kodungallur", but only after a century and half later around the beginning of the third century(A.D.201) Christianity too became a fairly prominent religion of this region, along with the other religions.

A Malayalam chronicle named "Keralolpathi" of the ‘seventeenth century’ is the first document which mentions of 'some members of the Namboodiri community have been converted into Christianity with the arrival of St Thomas at Kodungallur in A.D.52. This statement doesnot carry any weight, as the earliest reference to "Namboodiris" are found only in this chronicle of much later period being "seventeenth century", and no where else in any Kerala or Tamil - historical or literary documents, or in any inscriptions or copper plate grants of Kerala - prior to this period. Historically - "Namboodiris" came into Kerala from the Tulu country only after the end of 100 years of Chera-Chola war (towards the end twelveth century), and gradually settled and married among the Kerala local Tamils and other communities of that period.

Up to the beginning of the third century the Chera - Kings and Emperors have been very powerful, and they being Saivites and Vaishnavites themselves - these religions along with the Vedic Religion received their great patronage, as seen from all Kerala Tamil Literary works of this very period, especially in Silappathikaaram, Manimekalai and Paththupaattu.


"Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Csar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Juda...."

Holy Bible, Gospal of St Luke 3: Line 1

"Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King'.

Holy Bible, Gospal of St Luke 23: Line 1-2

"But they cried out, "Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar!" Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away"

Holy Bible, Gospal of St John 23: Line 15-16

“….According to Josephus (Jewish Historian Ant, XVIII, iv, 2) Pilate held office in Judea for 10 years. Afterwards he was removed from office by Vitellius, the legate of Syria, and traveled in haste to Rome to defend himself before Tiberius against certain complaints. Before he reached Rome the Tiberius had died and Gaius (Caligula) was on the throne, AD 36.

“……It is interesting as well that there have been a few bronze coins found that were struck form 29-32 AD by Pontius Pilate.

Inscription by Pontius Pilate -

"The body of St Thomas lies in the province of Maabar in a little town.......But it is a fact that before he came to the place where he died he made many converts in Nubia......And now let us turn to the great province Abyssinia,.....In this province Messer St Thomas the Apostle preached. And after making some converts there he went to Maabar..."

The Travels of Marco Polo - Translated by Ronald Latham, Page 276, 303,304

"St.Thomas, my namesake, the great teacher of the religion of grace (He) in company
with Avan the agent of King Cholan, Embarked in Arabia and arrived at Maliamkara…………Thereafter he made haste and soon reached Mylapore."

".......In one month’s time him to come back to the Kerala country, The nephew of the King of Tiruvanchikkulam arrived in that land (the Cholan’s land), And, kissing his blessed foot, entreated. They voyaged in a ship, And, undoubtedly, came to Maliamkara...."

".......There by his miraculous deeds, in eight days he established the religion “Returning there from Mylapore at the invitation of the King from Kodungallur in the company of the King’s nephew, "Together with the King’s family, three thousand heathens, unbelievers, As well as forty Jews who had settled in the country, Received baptism in a year and a half." Thus the capital of the Chera empire receives the Apostle and his message with an open heart, and thereafter becomes the fountainhead of faith for the whole country. Therefore "There for worship (St.Thomas) erected a church and a cross........"

St Thomas Parvam (also known as Ramban Song - by Thomas Ramban The Roman persecution, and St Thomas's departure from Jerusalem in Judea after the death of Lord Jesus Christ


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