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Saint Thomas Christians

Saint Thomas Christians
St Thomas Cross
Regions with significant populations

India (Kerala, Bangalore, Mumbai); UAE (Dubai); (Oman); (Kuwait); USA

(New York City metropolitan area, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Tampa, Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Los Angeles); Canada (Toronto),(edmonton); [1][2]

Vernacular: Malayalam

Liturgical: Syriac (Aramaic)[3]
Saint Thomas Christian Churches
Related ethnic groups
Cochin Jews[3]

The Saint Thomas Christians, also called Syrian Christians or Nasrani, is a community of Christians from Kerala, India, who trace their origins to the evangelistic activity of Saint Thomas in the 1st century, and is one of the oldest Christian communities of the world.[4][5] The community was historically united in leadership and liturgy, but since the 17th century have been split into several church denominations and traditions.

Historically the Saint Thomas Christian community was part of the Ecclesiastical Province of India in the 8th century, served by bishops and a hereditary Archdeacon. In the 16th century the overtures of the Portuguese padroado to bring the Saint Thomas Christians into the Catholic Church led to the first of several rifts in the community and the establishment of Catholic and Malankara Church factions. Since that time further splits have occurred, and the Saint Thomas Christians are now divided into several Eastern Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, and independent bodies, each with their own liturgies and traditions.

The Saint Thomas Christians represent a single ethnic group. Saint Thomas Christian culture is Hindu in origin with influences from East Syrian, West Syrian, Jewish and later European sources. Their language is Malayalam, the language of Kerala, and Syriac is used for liturgical purposes. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.[6]


  • Terminology 1
  • History 2
    • Early history and tradition 2.1
    • Classical period 2.2
    • Portuguese contact 2.3
    • Division and defiance 2.4
    • British period 2.5
      • Further divisions 2.5.1
      • Involvement in politics 2.5.2
  • Socio-cultural and religious identity 3
  • Church architecture 4
  • Nasrani symbol 5
  • Saint Thomas Christians today 6
    • Socioeconomic status 6.1
    • Existing traditions, rituals and social life 6.2
    • Demographics 6.3
  • Caste status 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


The Saint Thomas Christians are so called due to their reverence for Saint Thomas the Apostle, who is said to have brought Christianity to India. The name dates to the period of Portuguese colonization. They are also known, especially locally, as the Nasrani or Nasrani Mappila. "Nasrani" is a term meaning "Christian"; it appears to be a local pronunciation of Nazarine, derived from Nazareth, the home town of Jesus. Mappila is an honorific applied to members of non-Indian faiths, including Muslims (Mappila) and the Cochin Jews (Yuda Mappila).[7][8] Some Syrian Christians of Travancore continue to attach this honorific title to their names.[9] The Indian government designates members of the community as "Syrian Christians", a term originating with the Dutch colonial authority distinguishing the Saint Thomas Christians, who used Syriac as their liturgical language, from newly evangelized Christians who followed the Latin liturgy.[10] The term Syrian relates not to their ethnicity but to their historical, religious and liturgical connection to the Church of the East, or East Syrian Church.[7]


Early history and tradition

Part of a series on
Saint Thomas Christians
മാർത്തോമാ നസ്രാണികൾ
St. Thomas Cross
Alternate names
Nasrani · Mar Thoma Nasrani · Syrian Christians
Saint Thomas · Thomas of Cana · Mar Sabor and Mar Proth · Tharisapalli plates · Synod of Diamper · Coonan Cross Oath
Ancient crosses · Churches · Shrines · Liturgical language · Church music
Prominent persons
Abraham Malpan · Paremmakkal Thoma Kathanar · Kayamkulam Philipose Ramban · Kuriakose Elias Chavara · Mar Thoma I · Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly · Sadhu Kochoonju Upadesi · Kariattil Mar Ousep · Geevarghese Mar Dionysius of Vattasseril · Gheevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala · Geevarghese Mar Ivanios · Saint Alphonsa · Yeldho Mar Baselios · Euphrasia Eluvathingal · Thoma of Villarvattom

Margam Kali · Parichamuttukali · Cuisine · Suriyani Malayalam

The tradition of origin among Saint Thomas Christians relates to the arrival of Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus at the ancient seaport of Muziris (present day Pattanam, Kerala) in AD 52.

The Saint Thomas Christian tradition has historically been, as recorded by scholars, that Thomas converted 12, in some accounts 32, Brahmin families/clans including Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kaliyankal, Kalli, Kalikay, Kottakali, Kayakkam, Madeipur, Muttal, Nedumpally, and Panakkamattam, from which many Saint Thomas Christians, particularly those from prominent families, have traditionally claimed descent.[11][12][13][14] The four families Sankarapuri, Pakalomattam, Kalli, and Kaliyankal were considered particularly preeminent.[14] According to Kerala historians such as Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, MGS Narayanan and K

There is no contemporary evidence showing that Thomas had been in the subcontinent, but it was possible for an Aramaic-speaking Jew from Galilee to make such a trip in the 1st century. The Cochin Jews are known to have existed in India around that time.[15][16][17] The earliest known source connecting the apostle to India is the Acts of Thomas, likely written in the early 3rd century, perhaps in Edessa.[18][19][20]

The text describes Thomas' adventures in bringing Christianity to India, a tradition later expanded upon in early Indian sources such as the "Thomma Parvam" ("Song of Thomas").[21][22] Generally he is described as arriving in or around Maliankara and founding Seven Churches, or Ezharapallikal: Kodungallur, Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kokkamangalam, Kottakkavu, Palayoor (Chattukulangara) and Thiruvithamcode Arappally (a "half church").[23][24][25] A number of 3rd- and 4th-century Roman writers also mention Thomas' trip to India, including Ambrose of Milan, Gregory of Nazianzus, Jerome, and Ephrem the Syrian, while Eusebius of Caesarea records that his teacher Pantaenus visited a Christian community in India in the 2nd century.[26][27]

While some historians have contended that there was no significant Brahmin presence in Kerala in the first century A.D. and have disputed the historicity of the Brahmin conversion tradition, there is evidence that some St Thomas Christians observed Brahmin customs and were granted privileges usually reserved for Brahmins in the Middle Ages, i.e. after the 9th century A.D., including the wearing of the sacred thread and having a kudumi.[28][29][30] Syrian Christians were from backward castes and there is no evidence that they used sacred thread (ponnol) like Brahmins. Kudumi was a common hairstyle in those days , and even dhobies and carpenters had kudumi.

The medieval historian Pius Malekandathil believes these were customs adopted and privileges won during the beginning of the Brahmin dominance of medieval Kerala. He argues that the St Thomas Christians, integrated with Persian Christian migrant merchants in the 9th century, had become a powerful trading community by this time and were granted the privileges by the Brahmins and the Hindu rulers to promote revenue generation and to undermine Buddhist and Jain traders who rivaled the Hindus for religious and political hegemony in Kerala at the time.[31][32]

A version of the Songs of Thomas or Thomma Parvam, written in 1601 believed to be a summary of a larger and older work, narrate the conversion of 40 Jews along with the Brahmins and the local King at Kodungallur by St Thomas; the Hindus converted numbered around 3000, it claims.[13][18][33] The Thomma Parvam further narrates St Thomas's mission in South India and states that before his martyrdom at Mylapore in present day Chennai, Tamil Nadu, he had converted 6,850 Brahmans, 2,800 Kshatriyas, 3,750 Vaishiyas, and 4,250 Shudras.[34]

The tradition of the coming of a foreigner by the name Thoman who debated with the Brahmins and converted many "prominent people" including a king is part of Nambudiri Brahmin folklore and is found in the important Nambudiri Brahmin 17th Century tract, the Keralolpathi. However, in this Brahmin version of the legend, the "Thoman" referred to is Thomas of Cana.[13] William Logan, who was the author of the Malabar Manual also refutes the validity of the Keralolpathi and describes it as: “ ...a farrago of legendary nonsense having for its definite aim the securing of the Brahmin caste of unbounded power and influence in the country." There are also many discrepancies. It says about a Kerala messenger met Mohammed the Prophet. But Mohammed was not born at that time.

An organised Christian presence in India dates to the arrival of East Syrian settlers and missionaries from Persia, members of what would become the Church of the East, in around the 3rd century.[35] Saint Thomas Christians trace the further growth of their community to the arrival of the Thomas of Cana from the Middle East, which is said to have occurred sometime between the 4th and 8th century. The subgroup of the Saint Thomas Christians known as the Knanaya or Southists trace their lineage to Thomas of Cana, while the group known as the Northists claim descent from Thomas the Apostle's indigenous converts.[27][36]

Classical period

Tharisapalli Copper plate grant (9th century) - One of the reliable documentary evidences of the privileges and influence that Saint Thomas Christians enjoyed in early Malabar.[37] The document contains signatures of the witnesses in Pahlavi, Kufic and Hebrew scripts.[38] It is the oldest documentary evidence available to attest the presence of a Persian Christian community in South India.[39]

As the community grew and immigration by East Syrians increased, the connection with the Church of the East, centred in the Persian capital of Ecclesiastical Province of India, one of the church's Provinces of the Exterior. After this point the Province of India was headed by a metropolitan bishop, dispatched from Persia, the "Metropolitan-Bishop of the Seat of Saint Thomas and the Whole Christian Church of India".[27] His metropolitan see was probably in Cranganore, or (perhaps nominally) in Mylapore, where the shrine of Thomas was located.[27] Under him were a varying number of bishops, as well as a native Archdeacon, who had authority over the clergy and who wielded a great amount of secular power.[27]

Some contact and transmission of knowledge of the Saint Thomas Christians managed to reach the Christian West, even after the rise of the Islamic empires.[41] Byzantine traveller Cosmas Indicopleustes wrote of East Syrian Christians he met in India and Sri Lanka in the 6th century.[42] In 883 the English king Alfred the Great reportedly sent a mission and gifts to Saint Thomas' tomb in India.[41] During the Crusades, distorted accounts of the Saint Thomas Christians and the Nestorian Church gave rise to the European legend of Prester John.[43]

The great distances involved and the geopolitical turmoil of the period caused India to be cut off from the church's heartland in Mesopotamia at several points. In the 11th century the province was suppressed by the church entirely, as it had become impossible to reach,[44] but effective relations were restored by 1301.[45] However, following the collapse of the Church of the East's hierarchy in most of Asia later in the 14th century, India was effectively cut off from the church, and formal contact was severed. By the late 15th century India had had no metropolitan for several generations, and the authority traditionally associated with him had been vested in the archdeacon.[46]

In 1491 the archdeacon sent envoys to the Patriarch of the Church of the East, as well as to the Coptic Pope of Alexandria and to the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, requesting a new bishop for India. The Patriarch of the Church of the East Shemʿon IV Basidi responded by consecrating two bishops, Thoma and Yuhanon, and dispatching them to India.[46] These bishops helped rebuild the ecclesiastical infrastructure and reestablish fraternal ties with the patriarchate, but the years of separation had greatly affected the structure of the Indian church. Though receiving utmost respect, the metropolitan was treated as a guest in his own diocese; the Archdeacon was firmly established as the real power in the Nasrani community.[47]

Portuguese contact

The Saint Thomas Christians first encountered the Portuguese in 1498, during the expedition of Vasco da Gama. At the time the community was in a tenuous position: though thriving in the spice trade and protected by their own militia, the local political sphere was volatile and the Saint Thomas Christians found themselves under pressure from the rajas of Calicut and Cochin and other small kingdoms in the area. The Saint Thomas Christians and the Portuguese newcomers quickly formed an alliance.[48]

The Portuguese had a keen interest in implanting themselves in the spice trade and in spreading their version of Christianity, which had been forged during several centuries of warfare in the Reconquista.[49] Facilitating their goals was the Padroado Real, a series of treaties and decrees in which the Pope conferred upon the Portuguese government certain authority in ecclesiastical matters in the foreign territories they conquered. They set up in Goa, forming a colonial government and a Latin church hierarchy under the Archbishop of Goa, and quickly set to bringing the Saint Thomas Christians under his authority.[50]

The Portuguese subjection of the Saint Thomas Christians was relatively measured at first, but they became more aggressive after 1552, the year of the death of Metropolitan Mar Jacob and of a schism in the Church of the East, which resulted in there being two rival Patriarchs—one of whom entered communion with the Catholic Church. Both patriarchs sent bishops to India, but the Portuguese consistently managed to outmaneuver them, and effectively cut off the Saint Thomas Christians from their hierarchy in 1575, when the Padroado legislated that neither patriarch could send representatives to India without Portuguese approval.[51]

By 1599 the last Metropolitan, Abraham, had died, and the Archbishop of Goa,

  • Jacobite Syrian Christian Church
  • The Syro Malabar Church
  • Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Indian Orthodox Church)
  • Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church
  • Christians of Kerala
  • Population of Christians in India and Kerala based on 2001 report of Indian census
  • Syrian christians are in a class of their own South Indian newspaper 31 August 2001
  • The Nasrani Syrian Christian Network
  • Project for preserving the manuscripts of the Syrian Christians of Kerala

External links

  • Aprem, Mar. (1977) The Chaldaean Syrian Church in India. Trichur, Kerala, India: Mar Narsai, 1977.
  • Brown, Leslie (1956) The Indian Christians of St. Thomas. An Account of the Ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1956, 1982 (repr.)
  • Iyer, K.V. Krishna, Kerala’s Relations with the Outside World, pp. 70, 71 in "The Cochin Synagogue Quatercentenary Celebrations Commemoration Volume", Kerala History Association, Cochin, 1971.
  • Joseph, T. K. The Malabar Christians and Their Ancient Documents. Trivandrum, India, 1929.
  • Landstrom, Bjorn (1964) "The Quest for India", Double day English Edition, Stockholm.
  • Mariamma Joseph (1994).Marriage Among Indian Christians.Jaipur: Rawat Publications
  • Mathew, N. M. St. Thomas Christians of Malabar Through Ages. CSS Tiruvalla. 2003.
  • Menachery, Professor George. (2000) Kodungallur – The Cradle of Christianity In India, Thrissur: Marthoma Pontifical Shrine.
  • Menachery, Professor George(Ed.). (1982) The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, VOL.I, Thrissur.
  • Menachery, Professor George(Ed.). (1973) The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, VOL.II, Thrissur.
  • Menachery, Professor George(Ed.). (2010) The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India, VOL.III, Ollur,Thrissur.
  • Menachery, Professor George(Ed.with Ponnumuthan, Aerath). (2006) Indian Christians and Nation Building, CBCI-KCBC Kochi-Alwaye.
  • Menachery, Professor George(Ed.with Snaitang). (2011) India's Christian Heritage, Church History Assn. of India, Bangalore (DVK).
  • Menachery George & Chakkalakal Werner (1987) "Kodungallur: City of St. Thomas", Azhikode
  • Miller, J. Innes. (1969). The Spice Trade of The Roman Empire: 29 B.C. to A.D. 641. Oxford University Press. Special edition for Sandpiper Books. 1998. ISBN 0-19-814264-1.
  • Mundadan, A. Mathias. (1984) History of Christianity in India, vol.1, Bangalore, India: Church History Association of India.
  • Philip, E.M. (1908) The Indian Christians of St. Thomas (1908; Changanassery: Mor Adai Study Center, 2002).
  • Podipara, Placid J. (1970) "The Thomas Christians". London: Darton, Longman and Tidd, 1970. (is a readable and exhaustive study of the St. Thomas Christians.)
  • Poomangalam C.A (1998) The Antiquities of the Knanaya Syrian Christians; Kottayam, Kerala.
  • Puthur, B. (ed.) (2002): The Life and Nature of the St Thomas Christian Church in the Pre-Diamper Period (Cochi, Kerala).
  • Rawlinson, H. (1926) Intercourse between India and the Western World from the Earliest Times to the Fall of Rome
  • Susan Visvanathan (1993) The Christians of Kerala: History, Belief and Ritual Among the Yakoba. New Delhi/Madras/New York: Oxford University Press
  • Susan Visvanathan (1989) "Marriage, Birth and Death-Property Rights and Domestic Relationships of the Orthodox Jacobite Syrian Christians of Kerala", Economic and Political Weekly,Vol - XXIV No. 24, 17 June 1989.
  • Susan Visvanathan (1986) "Reconstructions of the Past among the Syrian Christians of Kerala", Contributions to Indian Sociology (Sage Publishers), July 1986; vol. 20, 2: pp. 241–260.
  • Susan Visvanathan (2010)."The Status of Christian Women in Kerala",in 'World Christianity:Critical Concepts in Religious Studies', edited by Elizabeth Koepping, London: Routledge, 2010.
  • Susan Visvanathan (2011) "The Eucharist in a Syrian Christian Church", in T.N.Madan (edited) 'India's Religions : Perspectives from Sociology and History'.New Delhi: Oxford University Press
  • Tamcke, M. (ed.) (2001) : Orientalische Christen zwischen Repression und Migration (Studien zur Orientalischen Kirchengeschichte 13; Münster: LIT).
  • Thayil, Thomas (2003). The Latin Christians of Kerala: A Study on Their Origin. Kristu Jyoti Publications. ISBN 81-87370-18-1
  • The Land of the Perumals, or Cochin, Its Past and Present – Madras: Gantz Brothers – 1863.
  • Thomas, P. J; (1932) "Roman Trade Centres in Malabar", Kerala Society Papers, II.
  • Tisserant, E. (1957) Eastern Christianity in India: A History of the Syro-Malabar Church from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Trans. and ed. by E. R. Hambye. Westminster, MD: Newman Press.
  • Vellian Jacob (2001) Knanite community: History and culture; Syrian church series; vol. XVII; Jyothi Book House, Kottayam
  • Veluthat, K. (1978). Brahmin settlements in Kerala: Historical studies. Calicut: Calicut University, Sandhya Publications.

Further reading

  1. ^ "Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Chicago (Syro-Malabarese)".  
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d Ross, Israel J. (1979) "Ritual and Music in South India: Syrian Christian Liturgical Music in Kerala." Asian Music. 11 (1): 80–98
  4. ^ The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 5 by Erwin Fahlbusch. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing - 2008. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-8028-2417-2.
  5. ^ The Jews of India: A Story of Three Communities by Orpa Slapak. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 2003. p. 27. ISBN 965-278-179-7.
  6. ^ Tharoor, Ishaan (2014-05-27). "What language did Jesus speak? The pope and Israel’s prime minister disagree.". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-09-06. 
  7. ^ a b Županov, Ines G. (2005). Missionary Tropics: The Catholic Frontier in India (16th–17th centuries), p. 99 and note. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-11490-5
  8. ^ Bindu Malieckal (2005) Muslims, Matriliny, and A Midsummer Night's Dream: European Encounters with the Mappilas of Malabar, India; The Muslim World Volume 95 Issue 2 page 300
  9. ^ The Mappila fisherfolk of Kerala: a study in inter-relationship between habitat, technology, economy, society, and culture (1977), P. R. G. Mathur, Anthropological Survey of India, Kerala Historical Society, p. 1
  10. ^ Vadakkekara, Benedict (2007). Origin of Christianity in India: a Historiographical Critique, p. 52. Media House Delhi.
  11. ^ L.Krishna Ananthakrishna Iyer: Anthropology of Syrian Christians
  12. ^ Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St. Thomas
  13. ^ a b c Thoma, P. J. "The South Indian Tradition of the Apostle Thomas." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland (New Series) 56.S1 (1924): 213-223.
  14. ^ a b Frykenberg, Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from Beginnings to the Present], p. 101. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826377-5
  15. ^ Thomas Puthiakunnel, (1973) "Jewish colonies of India paved the way for St. Thomas", The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, ed. George Menachery, Vol. II., Trichur.
  16. ^ Christianity in India: from Beginnings to the Present, p. 103. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826377-5.
  17. ^ Bayly, Susan Saints, Goddesses and Kings in South Indian Society Cambridge University Press 22 April 2004 ISBN 978-0-521-89103-5 [4]
  18. ^ a b Frykenberg, Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from Beginnings to the Present], p. 99. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826377-5.
  19. ^ Bornkamm, G. "The Acts of Thomas" in E. Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 2. London: Lutterworth, 1965.
  20. ^ Klijn, Albertus Frederik Johannes (2003). The Acts of Thomas: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. BRILL. p. 15.  
  21. ^ Frykenberg, Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from Beginnings to the Present, p. 92. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826377-5.
  22. ^ "The Song of Thomas Ramban" in Menachery G (ed); (1998) "The Indian Church History Classics", Vol. I, The Nazranies, Ollur, 1998. [ISBN 81-87133-05-8]
  23. ^ James Arampulickal (1994). The pastoral care of the Syro-Malabar Catholic migrants. Oriental Institute of Religious Studies, India Publications. p. 40. 
  24. ^ Orientalia christiana periodica: Commentaril de re orientali ...: Volumes 17–18. Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum. 1951. p. 233. 
  25. ^ Adrian Hastings (15 August 2000). A World History of Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 149.  
  26. ^ Christianity in India: from Beginnings to the Present, p. 103. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826377-5.
  27. ^ a b c d e Baum, Wilhelm; Dietmar W. Winkler (2003). The Church of the East: A Concise History. Routledge. p. 52.  
  28. ^ Leslie Brown, The Indian Christians of St. Thomas.
  29. ^ "Nazrani Christians and the Social Processes of Kerala, 800-1500 | Nasranis". Retrieved 2015-09-06. 
  30. ^ MLA Malekandathil, Pius. Maritime India: trade, religion and polity in the Indian Ocean. Primus Books, 2010. pp.38-61
  31. ^ "Nazrani Christians and the Social Processes of Kerala, 800-1500 | Nasranis". Retrieved 2015-09-06. 
  32. ^ MLA Malekandathil, Pius. Maritime India: trade, religion and polity in the Indian Ocean. Primus Books, 2010. pp38-61
  33. ^ Mundadan, A. Mathias, and Joseph Thekkedath. History of christianity in India. Published for Church History Association of India by Theological Publications in India, 1982. pages 30-32
  34. ^ Frykenberg, Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from Beginnings to the Present], p. 99. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826377-5
  35. ^ Frykenberg, Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from Beginnings to the Present, pp. 102–107; 115.. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826377-5.
  36. ^ Swiderski, Richard Michael (1988). "Northists and Southists: A Folklore of Kerala Christians". Asian Folklore Studies ( 
  37. ^ Burjor Avari – India, the ancient past, Taylor & Francis, 2007, p.221, ISBN 0-415-35615-6
  38. ^ S.G. Pothan (1963) The Syrian Christians of Kerala, Bombay: Asia Publishing House pp.102–105
  39. ^ Werner Sundermann; Almut Hintze; François de Blois (2009). Exegisti Monumenta: Festschrift in Honour of Nicholas Sims-Williams. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 38.  
  40. ^ Baum, Wilhelm; Dietmar W. Winkler (2003). The Church of the East: A Concise History. Routledge. p. 53.  
  41. ^ a b Frykenberg, Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from Beginnings to the Present, p. 112. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826377-5.
  42. ^ Frykenberg, Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from Beginnings to the Present, p. 105 & 110. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826377-5.
  43. ^ # Silverberg, Robert (1996). The Realm of Prester John, pp. 29–34. Ohio University Press. ISBN 1-84212-409-9.
  44. ^ Fiey, J. M. (1993). Pour un Oriens Christianus novus; répertoire des diocèses Syriaques orientaux et occidentaux, p. 96. Beirut: Orient-Institut.
  45. ^ Wilmshurst, D. J. (2000). The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318–1913, p. 343 and 391. Louvain.
  46. ^ a b Baum, Wilhelm; Dietmar W. Winkler (2003). The Church of the East: A Concise History. Routledge. p. 105.  
  47. ^ Vadakkekara, Benedict (2007). Origin of Christianity in India: a Historiographical Critique, p. 274. Media House Delhi.
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See also

At the same time, different Saint Thomas Christian denominations like Catholic, Jacobite, Mar Thomite, etc. are better regarded as sects, rather than sub-castes, since the recruitment to these sects cannot be strictly ascribed to birth.[149] Also, internal mobility is allowed among these Saint Thomas Christian sects and the caste status is kept even if the sect allegiance is switched (for example, from Syrian Orthodox to Syrian Catholic).[149]

Forrester suggests that the Northist-Southist division forms two groups within the Saint Thomas Christian community which are closely analogous to sub-castes.[148]

Internal division of Saint Thomas Christians into Northists and Southists and also into a number of sects based on the ecclesiastical orientation makes the pattern of segmentation an exceedingly complex one.[148]

They tend to be endogamous, and tend not to intermarry even with other Christian groupings.

In the beginning, Saint Thomas Christians followed the same rules of caste and pollution as that of Hindus and sometimes they were even considered as pollution neutralizers.[119] Decree II of Action IX of the Synod of Diamper enforced by the Portuguese Inquisition in 1599 prohibited the practice of untouchability by the St Thomas Christians except in practical circumstances when required by law. Following on from the questioning of their status in society, St Thomas Christians adopted a more secular approach and build their reputations as honest traders[150]

On the basis of the apparent claim that they are descendants of upper-class HindusNambudiri Brahmins and higher-caste Nairs, Saint Thomas Christians requested to receive high caste status. It is interesting to note that this has never been substantiated with the required historical evidence. Though, some Saint Thomas Christian families like Pakalomattom are well known, with the very arrival of Thomas the Apostle in the subcontinent being disputed, it is unclear why only upper-class Brahmins chose to convert to Christianity as opposed to the various lower castes. Kathleen Gough argues that some Brahmin families may indeed converted to Christianity under Thomas the Apostle, however, the majority of the conversions would have come from the lower castes who were looking for alternate way of life away from the existing rigid caste system. Christianity at the time acted as a "caste neutralizer" but gradually the St Thomas Christians based on the claims of some Brahmin converts starting asserting their superiority as a religious group over other upper-class Hindus. Consequently, for a short period of time, in the Kingdoms of Cochin and Travancore and other Kingdoms in Kerala, they were granted caste privileges that put them at least on the same level as Savarna Hindus, such as the Nairs. Anthropologist, L.K. Ananthakrishna Iyer, recorded they were given privileges in addition to those granted to groups such as Nairs, such as the right to have enclosures in front of their houses, which was otherwise only granted to the Brahmins, and were placed "almost on par with the Sovereigns". However, in due time their ancestry was questioned and they were stripped of these privileges by Kings following which they moved on to build their own identity in society as traders and travelers [149]

Despite the sectarian differences, Saint Thomas Christians share a common social status within the Caste system of Kerala and is considered as Forward Caste.[148]

Caste status

As of 2001, in Kerala, more than 85 per cent of the Saint Thomas Christian population live in the six central districts of the state - Pathanamthitta, Alapuzha, Kottayam, Idukki, Ernakulam and Trissur. They have also migrated to other cities in India like Ooty, Mangalore, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Delhi, Mumbai, Coimbatore, Hyderabad and Kolkata.[137] Migration steeply increased in the post-independence period and major destinations were United States of America, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and the Middle East. According to a rough estimate, 20–25% of the Saint Thomas Christians live outside the state of Kerala.[137]

Kunniparampil Zachariah notes that the 20th century was period of significant transition for the Saint Thomas Christians in terms of its demographic and socioeconomic status. Around 1900, the community was concentrated in a few areas, was geographically static and "... was characterised by very high death rate, very high birth rate, very early age at marriage, and 10 to 12 children per married woman". The population had increased eight-fold during the preceding century, from a base figure of about 100,000, and comprised nearly 50 per cent children. But, the population growth of Saint Thomas Christians came down drastically after 1960s, with the lowest birth rate, highest age at marriage, highest family planning user rate, and lowest fertility rate compared to other communities in Kerala. The proportion of children has come down to less than 25%. The absolute and relative size of the community is in a diminishing trend and is approaching a Zero Population Growth regime.[147]


  • Saint Thomas Christians observe Holy Thursday with high reverence. This day is referred to as Pesaha, a Malayalam word derived from the Aramaic or Hebrew word for Passover—Pasha or Pesah—commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus Christ during Passover in Jerusalem. The tradition of consuming Pesaha Appam after the church service is observed by the entire community under the leadership of the head of the family. Special long services followed by the Holy Qurbana are conducted during the Pesaha eve in the churches.[139][140]
  • The community observes Lent, locally called the fifty days' fast, from Clean Monday to the day before Easter, abjuring all meat, fish and egg. They also traditionally observe the 25 days' fast which ends on the day of Christmas.[141]
  • Generally, footwear is removed before entering the church and women cover their heads during worship.
  • The ritual service (liturgy) is called the Holy Qurbana, which is derived from the Hebrew Korban (קרבן), meaning "sacrifice".
  • The Holy Qurbana is mostly conducted and prayers recited in Malayalam. However, some parts of the Holy Qurbana are sung in Syriac. During the 20th century, the 'Qurbana-kramam' i.e. the 'book containing the order of worship', was translated into English, for the benefit of worshipers who lived outside Kerala, and did not know to read or write Malayalam.
  • Another surviving tradition is the use of muthukoda (ornamental umbrella) for church celebrations, marriages and other festivals. Traditional drums, arch decorations and ornamental umbrellas are part of the church celebrations. Their use has become popular all over Kerala.
  • The rituals and ceremonies of Saint Thomas Christians related to house building, astrology, birth and marriage have close similarity with those of Hindus in Kerala. Death rituals express Christian canonical themes very distantly and the influence of Hindu culture is quite noticeable. Much stress is given to ideas concerning life after death and the anticipation of final judgment.[142]
  • Saint Thomas Christians do not marry close relatives. The rule is that the bride and groom must not be related for at least five generations.
  • Saint Thomas Christians generally prefer arranged marriages and the prospective partners see each other in the Pennukanal (Bride Viewing) ceremony at bride’s home.[143]
  • Saint Thomas Christians did not use any iconography or statues of Jesus or the saints in their churches until after the arrival of the Portuguese, prior to which time the use of such symbols was deemed idolatrous.
  • Saint Thomas Christians widely use Nilavilakku (a lighted metal lamp) in their houses and churches.[144]
  • Saint Thomas Christians use terms like "Eeesho" (Jesus' name in Aramaic[145]), "Yeshu" (Hebrew name Yeshua) to denote Jesus Christ.
  • The traditional dress of a Saint Thomas Christian woman is the Chatta and Mundu, a seamless white garment, which is now limited to older female adherents. Following the general trend, the Sari and Churidar have become predominant among the younger generations.[141][146]

Saint Thomas Christians still retain many of their ancient traditions and rituals, both in their social and religious life. Saint Thomas Christian services have many unique characteristics compared to others. Until the 1970s the Nasrani Qurbana was sung in Syriac. Many of the tunes of the Saint Thomas Christian worship in Kerala are remnants of ancient Syriac tunes of antiquity.[138] The Baptism is still known by the Aramaic term Mamodisa among Saint Thomas Christians and follows many of the ancient rituals of the ceremony. It is referred to in Malayalam as Njana Snanam ("Bath of Wisdom").

Nasrani minnu (pendant) with 21 beads used by Saint Thomas Christians
Crowning during a Nasrani wedding

Existing traditions, rituals and social life

Even though the Saint Thomas Christians had to compromise their social and religious privileges in the aftermath of Portuguese subjugation, they started reemerging as a powerful community from the 19th century onward. They played a pioneering role in many spheres such as Banking, Commerce, Cash crops etc.[134] Among Saint Thomas Christians, 17.4% of the adult population are self-employed - the highest rate statistically among all the communities in the state of Kerala.[135] Saint Thomas Christians lead all others with respect to per capita ownership of land, with many of them owning large estates. With changing conditions, they have shifted from the agriculture of rice and coconut to plantation based agriculture and the trading of rubber, spices and cash crops. They also take a prominent role in the educational institutions of Kerala and throughout India.[136] They were quick to understand the benefits of academic education and in their educational achievements Saint Thomas Christians stand second to none. The educational accomplishments of the community have helped its members to attain a good proportion of the Central and State Government jobs.[134] With their level of education and limited employment opportunities within the state of Kerala, they became the community with the highest rate of migration. Their resultant foreign remittances have also helped the socioeconomic progress of the community. According to the Kerala Migration Survey (1998) by the Center for Developmental Studies, Kerala, Saint Thomas Christians top all other communities in Kerala with respect to the Socioeconomic Development Index which is based on parameters such as the possession of land,housing & consumer durables, education and employment status.[137]

Socioeconomic status

Writing in 2010, Devika and Varghese noted that "[The St. Thomas Christians] are at present a substantial minority, a powerful presence in all fields of life in Kerala."[133]

Saint Thomas Christians today

Note that the Christian cross was not adopted as a symbol by Mediterranean and European Christianity until several centuries had passed.

The interpretation based on local culture states that the Cross without the figure of Jesus and with flowery arms symbolizing "joyfulness" points to the resurrection theology of St. Paul, the Holy Spirit on the top represents the role of Holy Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The lotus symbolizing Buddhism and the Cross over it shows that Christianity was established in the land of Buddha. The 3 steps indicate Calvary and the rivulets, channels of grace flowing from the Cross.[132]

The Saint Thomas Cross is widely perceived as the symbol of Saint Thomas Christians. It is also known as Nasrani Menorah[129] or Mar Thoma Sliba.[130] There are several interpretations for the Nasrani Symbol. The interpretation based on Christian Jewish tradition assumes that its design was based on Jewish menorah, an ancient symbol of the Hebrews, which consists of seven branched lamp stand (candelabra).[131]

Saint Thomas Cross or Mar Thoma Sliva

Nasrani symbol

The madbaha, arranged in the topmost platform at the eastern side of the building, represents Heaven. The primary altar is attached to the eastern wall. To the north of the madbaha is the diaqonikon (sacristry); to the south is the baptistery. The madbaha is protected with rails and is veiled by a red curtain most of the time; this is opened during the Holy Qurbana (Eucharist). An oil lamp within the sanctuary is kept glowing at all times to represent the presence of God. The madbaha is connected to the qestroma and haykla by a low-walled path called the sqaqona. The qestroma contains seats for the choir and lower clergy. The haykla contains an elevated platform or bema, which includes an altar, two lecterns for reading, and chairs for higher clergy. Worshipers stand before the altar, with separate seating for men and women. The main entrance is on the western side of the building; a vestibule, pillars, pilasters, and other architectural ornaments adorn the front end, and a flag mast stands in the front yard. One or two bells are installed in the back yard to signal the timing of ritual services, the death of a church member, or to inform the public of calamities.[127][128]

The earliest documentary evidence is Tharisapally Copper Plate, which refers to the construction of the church of Tharisapally in Quilon between 823 and 849 CE. Antonio Gouvea, Portuguese envoy to Malabar, mentions in his 16th-century work Jornada that almost all the churches of Saint Thomas Christians followed the models of Hindu temples of that period, but were distinguished by the huge granite cross in the front yard of the church. Despite the external similarity with temples, the structuring of the interior space of the church always followed the East Syrian architectural theology. Thus the contemporary style is formed as an amalgamation of Indian architecture and Chaldean liturgical concepts.[126] The church is arranged east-to-west, with the interior structured into three levels: the madbaha (sanctuary), the qestroma (choir) and the haykla (nave).

A Syro-Malabar Catholic Church with its Madbaha veiled by a red curtain

Church architecture

In the social stratification of medieval Malabar, Saint Thomas Christians succeeded in relating their social status with that of upper-caste Hindus on account of their numerical strength and influence and observance of many Brahmin and Ezhava customs.[114][116] In the 13th and 14th centuries, many Saint Thomas Christians were involved in the pepper trade for the local rulers and many were appointed as port revenue officers. The local rulers rewarded them with grants of land and many other privileges. With growing numerical strength, a large number of Saint Thomas Christians settled in the inland pepper-growing regions.[117] They had the right to recruit and train soldiers and Christian trainers were given with the honorary title "Panikkar" like their Nair counterparts.[118] They were also entitled with the privilege to collect the tax, and the tax-collectors were honored with the title "Tharakan". Like Brahmins they had the right to sit before the Kings and also to ride on horse or elephant, like the royals.[114] They were protectors of seventeen underprivileged castes and communities and hence they were called Lords of Seventeen Castes.[114][119] They did not allow the lower-castes to join their community for fear that it could imperil their upper-caste status.[119][120] Between the 9th and 15th centuries, Saint Thomas Christians had a kingdom of their own, Villarvattom,[121] but this regal period ended when the community fell under the power of the Rajas of Cochin and Travancore.[122] They owned a large number of Kalaripayattu training centers and the Rajas of Travancore and Cochin, including the renowned Marthanda Varma, recruited trained Christian warriors to defend their kingdom.[123] The upper-caste Hindus and Saint Thomas Christians took part in one another's festival celebrations and in some places in Kerala, the Hindu Temples and Saint Thomas Christian Churches were built on adjoining sites by the Hindu Kings. Until the 19th century, Saint Thomas Christians had the right of access to Hindu temples and some leading Saint Thomas Christians held the status of sponsors at Hindu shrines and temple festivals.[124] But in the 19th century, Saint Thomas Christian integration with the Hindu caste system was disrupted: their clean-caste status was questioned in some localities and they were denied access to many Hindu temples. They tried to retaliate by denouncing Hindu festivals as heathen idolatry. Clashes between upper-caste Hindus and Saint Thomas Christians occurred from the late 1880s, especially when festivals coincided. Internecine violence among various Saint Thomas Christian denominations aggravated their problems.[125]

Saint Thomas Christians typically followed the social customs of their Hindu neighbors, and the vestiges of Hindu symbolism could be seen in their devotional practices.[113] Social sins like Untouchability entered their practices and the Synod of Diamper abolished it.[114] The rituals related to birth, Vidyarambham, marriage, pregnancy, death etc. were also similar in both communities. Now also, tying Thaali, a Hindu symbol of marriage is the most important rite in the Christian marriages too. They used to learn temple arts like Kathakali, Kooth and Thullal and their own art forms like Margam Kali and Parichamuttukali have some resemblance to Yathra kali Pattu of Brahmins in Kerala.[113] In 1519, a Portuguese traveler Duarte Barbosa on his visit to Malabar commented on the practice of Saint Thomas Christian priests using Kudumi similar to that of Hindus, in his manuscript "Book of Duarte Barbosa".[115]

Jewish influence has been observed in Malabar Nasrani liturgy and traditions.[3] The community maintained some of the original Jewish rituals, such as covering their heads while in worship. Their ritual services were and still are called the Qurbana, which is derived from the Aramaic term Qurbana (ܩܘܪܒܢܐ), meaning "sacrifice". Nasrani Qurbana used to be held in Syriac.[3]

St. Thomas Christians are a distinct community, both in terms of culture and religion. Though their liturgy and theology remained that of East-Syrian Christians of Persia, their life-style customs and traditions were basically Indian. It is oft-quoted: "Nazranis are Indian in culture, Christian in faith and Syrian in liturgy".[112]

Nasranis or Syrian Christians of Kerala in ancient days (from an old painting). Photo published in the Cochin Government Royal War Efforts Souvenir in 1938

Socio-cultural and religious identity

On 1 November 1956, the state of Kerala was formed and the Communist Party formed the first government of the state in 1957 on winning the assembly elections.[110] Though the government initiated the legislation process for reforming the land and the education sectors, these were considered as infringements over the rights by the school managements and landowners, who were predominantly Saint Thomas Christians and Nairs. The disagreements of the Saint Thomas Christians further widened and they allied with Nair Service Society to mobilize against the government, which culminated in a violent struggle, called the Liberation Struggle, in 1958.[111] The Communist government was dismissed on 31 July 1959 and the President's rule was imposed in the state under Article 356 of the Constitution of India.

taking office shortly after the presentation of India's first Budget, in 1948. Thevarthundiyil Titus was the only christian among the 72 persons whom Gandhiji selected for Dandi march to break salt law.He served as the secretory in Sabarmathi ashram for a long period along with Gulzarilal Nanda. Barrister george Joseph was the person who mobilised the masses to break caste laws in Guruvayoor. Later he himself withrawn from the leadership on wishes of Gandhiji. He was also instrumental in upliftment of many tribes in madhurai which were earlier derogated as KALLARS by British legislation.He was called affectionetly as Rosappu Dorai by them. [109],Finance Minister and subsequently as India's Railway Minister's first India, who served as John Mathai Padma Vibhushan was India However the first Saint Thomas Christian to become a minister in the central government of [108], a Saint Thomas Christian leader in the chair. In the three-member Cabinet of Travancore formed after the first general elections in 1948, Varghese was a Cabinet Minister.A. J. John, Anaparambil was formed to function as a Constituent Assembly. The Assembly held its first sitting on 20 March 1948 with President Representative Body Following intense agitations by the Travancore State Congress, the Maharaja of Travancore announced plans to establish a responsible Government. As per the announcement on 4 September 1947, the new Assembly called the [107] Many Saint Thomas Christian bishops like Metropolitans Abraham Mar Thoma, Yuhanon Marthoma,Mar James Kalaserry supported the nationalistic movements in 1930s and 1940s.Abraham Marthoma mobilised Syrian Christians against divans move not to unite with free India.[101] where they fought together for responsible government and also to oust Iyer.Travancore State Congress in a common platform- Nairs T.M. Varghese was elected as the Deputy President of the Assembly where Iyer was the ex officio President. But in 1938, he was ousted by Iyer for cooperating with rebels, which led to a worsening of relation between the Saint Thomas Christians and Iyer. On the collapse of Joint Political Congress due to internal conflicts, Saint Thomas Christian leaders allied with [106] to solve the problem of representation in the legislator with special reference to backward communities. Though there was no definite assurance to Saint Thomas Christians, Joint Political Congress decided to withdraw the agitation. According to the recommendations of commissioner, franchise power was extended beyond the caste bars. In 1937, general elections were held and Joint Political Congress played a significant role to attain much better representation for allied communities.franchise and delimitation commissioner But the agitations continued and to resolve the issue, government appointed a [105][102] With the institution in 1932 of a

In 1918, Saint Thomas Christians formed the League for Equal Civic Rights, which sought the opening of all branches of government service to Christians, Muslims and Mahatma Gandhi to detach from Vaikom Satyagraha, an agitation for the temple entry rights of avarna Hindus, as he considered the issue to be one of concern to Hindus alone.[102][103]

Like other communities, Saint Thomas Christians have been involved in regional politics on a community basis. In 1888, Travancore became the first princely state in India to establish a Legislative Council, which was reformed as the Sree Moolam Popular Assembly in 1904. A few Saint Thomas Christian leaders were elected to the Legislative Council but there was resentment that their share of the available seats was proportionately less than that of other prominent castes. This resentment led to a series of campaigns for equal representation both in the legislature and in government positions.[101] Newspapers such as Malayala Manorama and Nasrani Deepika disseminated the grievances.[102]

Participation based on caste and community divisions and sympathies has been a feature of politics in the present day state of Kerala and its predecessor entities. Until the mid-20th century the primary cause of the divisions between the various communities was competition for rights and resources, rather than any dislike of each other, but in more recent times there has been a rise in violence and antagonism that has coincided with a promotion of Hindu politics.[100]

Involvement in politics

Since the later 20th century, neo-charismatic churches have attracted some St. Thomas Christians. These are typically churches with doctrines and practices similar to traditional Pentecostal or Charismatic churches but without a formal denominational tie. The neo-charismatic movement can be found both within established St. Thomas Christian churches, such as the Charismatic and gospel ministries of Syro-Malabar, Syro Malankara & Mar Thoma Syrian Church, and in newer independent denominations, including the New Apostolic Church, the Assemblies of God, the Indian Pentecostal Church of God (IPC), the New Life Fellowship, and the Manna Full Gospel Churches.[99]

In 1961, there was a split in the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church which resulted in the formation of St. Thomas Evangelical Church.[97][98]

In 1930 a section of the Malankara Church under the leadership of Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophilus left the Church[96] and came into communion with the Catholic Church. They are known as Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

In 1912, due to attempts by the Antiochean Patriarch to gain temporal powers over the Malankara Church, there was another split in the West Syrian community when a section declared itself an autocephalous church and announced the re-establishment of the ancient Catholicosate of the East in India. This was not accepted by those who remained loyal to the Patriarch, and this group, popularly known as Patriarch's Party recognized the temporal power of the Patriarch over the assets of their church, while the other side, known as Metropolitan Party, accepted the supremacy of Patriarch only over the spiritual matters. The two sides filed a series of lawsuits in the civil courts and some parallel attempts to reconcile both the parties also took place. In 1958, bishops of both the parties sealed their reconciliation and signed a treaty which in turn recognized the autonomy of reunited factions, with its own synod of bishops under the presidency of the Catholocos.[95] The verdict of Supreme Court of India in 1959, legitimizing the autonomy of Kerala church, was also instrumental to keep this formal reconciliation between two sides. Nonetheless, in 1975, both the parties split again with the decision of Universal Syrian Synod, held in Damascus, to depose the Catholocos in Kerala. Today the East Syrian community is divided into Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion, autocephalous), Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church (in Oriental Orthodox Communion, under Antioch).[65]

By June 1875, there were two factions in the Malankara Church (Oriental Orthodox): Jacobite Party (Bava) and Reform (Methran) Party. Mathews Mar Athanasius was the Malankara Metropolitan approved by the Governments of Travancore and of Cochin[90] and the group with him was known as "Reform Party" since Mathews Mar Athanasius was supportive to the reformation of Jacobite church with evangelistic ideologies.[91] The Syrian faction, under the leadership of Metropolitan Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysious II, opposed the attempts to do away with age-old traditions of the church, which resulted in a stir in the community.[91] Being invited by this faction, the Antiochene Patriarch Moran Mar Ignatius Peter III arrived in Kerala.[92] In June 1876, at the synod of Mulanthuruthy, presided over by the Patriarch, the Syrian faction formally came under the Antiochene Patriarchate.[93] The synod condemned Mathews Mar Athanasius for abstaining from it, but his followers stayed firm with him.[91] His successor Thomas Mar Athanasius and the bishop’s faction lost the lawsuit to the Patriarchal faction in the Royal Court of Travancore on 12 July 1889.[94] Nonetheless, the Reform Party continued as an independent, Malankara Church and thereafter a series of suits arose on the rights over churches and associated properties. Later they chose the name Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church.[91]

As a protest against the interference of the [89] Since then, the Syrian Anglicans have been members of the CSI, in which they practically stay ethnically distinct.

Further divisions

In 1795, the kings of Travancore and Cochin entered into tributary alliance with the British East Indian Company to repel the attacks from Tipu Sultan. The states soon became client regimes of the Company: both were forced to disband their military. The political order of the states also began to collapse. Saint Thomas Christians were hit hard by the loss of their privileged military role, their kalari network was dissolved and many families lost their livelihood.[81] The trading class, as well as the office bearers, also suffered the set back and many Europeans who visited the states between 1801 and 1820 noted the poor and depressed condition of Saint Thomas Christians. Some partisan fund allocation for the churches by the British officials triggered a breakdown in the relationship between Saint Thomas Christians and prominent Hindu castes, at least temporarily.[82] In 1815, the British Resident, Colonel John Munro, founded a seminary in Kottayam, for the theological education of Jacobite Christian priests and invited the Anglican missionaries to teach there. This could be regarded as the beginning of the relationship between the CMS (Church Mission Society) and the Saint Thomas Christians.[83]

British period

The foreign Jacobite prelate Mar Gregorios who came to Kerala in 1751 AD, consecrated Rev. Kurian Kattumangat as bishop Abraham Mar Koorilose in 1772 AD at Mattancherry church, Cochin.[75] He was driven into exile from the states of Travancore and Cochin where the majority of St. Thomas Christians lived, to Anjoor in the state of Malabar. He spent his days in prayer and meditation in a hut. A few relatives and friends joined him there.[71][76][77][78][79] This group was known as Thozhyoor Church later named as Malabar Independent Syrian Church, after a court verdict on 28 May 1863.[80]

The "Old Party", who continued with East Syrian and Latin theological and liturgical tradition and stayed faithful to the Synod of Diamper and the Roman Catholic Church came to be formally known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church from the second half of the 19th century onward. Syro-Malabar Hierarchy was established on 21 December 1923 with the Metropolitan Mar Augustine Kandathil as the Head of their Church.[65][73][74]

In 1665, Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch arrived in India and the St.Thomas Christians belonging to the "New Party", under the leadership of the Archdeacon, welcomed him.[71][72] This visit resulted in the Mar Thoma faction claiming spiritual authority of the Antiochean Patriarchate and gradually introduced the West Syrian liturgy, customs and script to the Malabar Coast.[65] Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of Mar Gregorios became known as Jacobites.

After the Coonan Cross Oath, between 1661 and 1662, out of the 116 churches, the Syrian Catholics claimed eighty-four churches, and Archdeacon Mar Thoma I with thirty-two churches. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and Chaldean Syrian Church have descended. The other thirty-two churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syriac Orthodox (Jacobites & Orthodox), Thozhiyur (1772), Mar Thoma (1874), Syro-Malankara Catholic Church have originated.[70]

After the Coonan Cross Oath the Portuguese missionaries attempted for reconciliation with Saint Thomas Christians but was not successful. Later Pope Alexander VII sent the Syrian bishop Joseph Sebastiani at the head of a Carmelite delegation who succeeded in convincing majority of Saint Thomas Christians, including Palliveettil Chandy Kathanar and Kadavil Chandy Kathanar that the consecration of Archdeacon as metropolitan was not legitimate. Later Palliveettil Chandy Kathanar was consecrated as the bishop for the Syrian Catholics with the historic title 'The Metropolitan and the Gate of all India' which denotes a Quasi Patriarchal status with all India jurisdiction.[62][63][64] This led to the first permanent split in the Saint Thomas Christian community. Thereafter, the faction affiliated with the Catholic Church under Parambil Mar Chandy was designated the Pazhayakuttukar, or "Old Party", while the branch affiliated with Mar Thoma was called the Puthankuttukar, or "New Party".[65][66][67][68] These appellations have been somewhat controversial, as both groups considered themselves the true heirs to the Saint Thomas tradition, and saw the other as heretical.[69]

This was the last straw for the Saint Thomas Christians, and in 1653 Thomas and community representatives met at the Church of Our Lady in Mattancherry to take bold action. In a great ceremony before a crucifix and lighted candles, they swore a solemn oath that they would never obey Garcia or the Portuguese again, and that they accepted only the Archdeacon as their shepherd.[60] The Malankara Church and all its successor churches regard this declaration, known as the Coonan Cross Oath after the outdoor cross in the churchyard, as the moment when their church regained its independence.[60] Shortly after, the leaders of this newly independent church decided Thomas should be elevated to bishop. Thomas was consecrated in a ceremony in which twelve priests laid hands on him, and he became the metropolitan of Malankara.[61]

Ahatallah made a strong impression on the native clergy, but the Portuguese quickly decided he was an impostor, and put him on a ship bound for Europe by way of Goa. Archdeacon Thomas, desperate for a new ecclesiastical leader to free his people from the Padroado, travelled to Cochin and demanded to meet Ahatallah and examine his credentials. The Portuguese refused, stating the ship had already left for Goa.[59] Ahatallah was never heard from in India again, inspiring rumours that the Portuguese had murdered him and inflaming anti-Portuguese sentiments even more.[60]

[59][58], who claimed to have been sent by the Pope to serve as "Patriarch of the Whole of India and of China".Ahatallah of a mysterious figure named Mylapore In 1652, the escalating situation was further complicated by the appearance in [58] Over the next several decades, tensions seethed between the Portuguese and the remaining native hierarchy, and after 1641 Archdeacon

Tomb of Francis Roz, first Jesuit Metropolitan of Kodungalloor Archeparchy, inside Kottakkavu Mar Thoma Syro-Malabar Pilgrim Church, North Paravur.

Division and defiance

[57] The Synod formally brought the Saint Thomas Christians into the Catholic Church; however, the actions of the Portuguese over the ensuing years fueled resentment in segments of the community, and ultimately led to open resistance to their power.[54] Some of the reforms, especially the elimination of caste status, reduced the Saint Thomas Christians' standing with their socially stratified Hindu neighbors.[56], the Syriac version of the Bible.Peshitta A number of texts were condemned and ordered burnt, including the [55][54][53], of elements deemed unacceptable according to the Latin protocol.Malabar Rite hierarchy; and purged the indigenous liturgy, the caste and a untouchability, which implemented various liturgical and structural reforms in the Indian church. The Synod brought the parishes directly under the Archbishop's purview; anathematised certain "superstitious" social customs characteristic of their Hindu neighbors, including Synod of Diamper The Archbishop convened the [52]

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