`The Myth of St. Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple' was thoroughly exposed by Ishwar Sharan in his landmark book, first published in 1991. The second revised edition of this book was brought out by Voice of India, New Delhi. This interesting book brought out how history was distorted by our foreign rulers to conceal their misdeeds and how even today these fraudulent myths are accepted as real history by many in this country including the government itself.
Long before Ishwar Sharan published his book 1991, one T K Joseph wrote a number of books on St. Thomas in the early 1920s. He had done years of research on the South Indian Tradition, and had presented his findings to a number of famous scholars of his time, who had replied to him by post. For example, in 1926, Prof. E J. Rapson, who had written on St. Thomas in the Cambridge History of India wrote as follows to T K. Joseph: `I have read your letter carefully and my impression is that you have given good reasons for doubting the historical truth of the story of St. Thomas in South India'. In 1927, Sylvain Levy, the renowned French Indologist and Scholar, wrote to T K Joseph `You are right in denying any historical value to local legends which have nothing to bring to their support. What is known from early books points only to Northwest India, and no other place, for St. Thomas's apostolic activity and martyrdom. This is, of course, mere tradition, not real history'. Likewise, in 1952, Prof. K S Latourette, the Yale University Church Historian, and author of A History of the Expansion of Christianity wrote to T K Joseph and said, `The evidence against St. Thomas in South India is very convincing'. The same view was repeated in 1953 by Father H.Heras S.J., the then Director of the Historical Research Institute, St. Xavier's College, Bombay when he wrote to T K Joseph `I am fully convinced that the tomb of St. Thomas has never been in Mylapore. I have said that many times'.
What is interesting to note is that T K Joseph also wrote to the Encyclopedia Britannica Editor at Chicago in 1950 pointing out the glaring errors in the article on St. Thomas in the Encyclopedia's 14th Edition in 1947, he was not successful in getting them corrected. Ishwar Sharan in his book referred to above, has clearly shown that the article on St. Thomas in that edition of Encyclopedia Britannica was grossly mistaken, not only in factual essentials but also in proper interpretation. In this context the words of Ishwar Sharan are worth quoting, `We can only conclude that the Encyclopedia Britannica's Editors like their cooked up St. Thomas story and plan to keep it intact for more editions to come'.
The sketch of the original
temple on the Beach
destroyed by the Portuguese:
Now what is the fraudulent myth about St. Thomas? We are told by Catholic `Historians' that Judas Thomas, a brother as well as an apostle of Jesus Christ landed in Malabar in 52 A.D., founded the Syrian Christian Church, and travelled to Tamilnadu for spreading the GOOD NEWS when he was killed by the `wily Brahmins' in 72 A.D. at the Big Mount (now called St. Thomas Mount) near Madras at the behest of a Hindu King named Mahadevan. The San Thome Cathedral on the Beach in Mylapore is built on the spot where the Saint is supposed to have been buried.
As Sita Ram Goel puts it `This spot, like many others of the same spurious sort, has become a place of Christian pilgrimage not only for the flock in India but also for the pious Christians from abroad'. He had examined the story of St. Thomas in 1986 when he wrote a book on the Papacy during the Pope's visit to India. Sita Ram Goel had discovered that while some Christian historians doubted the very existence of an apostle named St. Thomas, some others had denied credibility to the Acts of Thomas, an apocryphal work, on which the whole story is based. Even those Christian historians, who had accepted the fourth century Catholic tradition about the travels of St. Thomas, had pointed out the utter lack of evidence that he ever went beyond Ethiopia or Arabia Felix. The confusion according to them had arisen because ancient geographers of the Graeco-Roman world often mistook these countries for India.
Bishop Stephen Neill in his `History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to 1707 A.D.' (Cambridge University Press, 1984) declared: `A number of scholars among whom are to be mentioned with respect Bishop A E Medlycott, J N Farquhar and Jesuit Dahlman, have built on slender foundations what can only be called Thomas romances, such as reflect vividness of their imagination rather than the prudence of historical facts'.
Bishop Stephen Neill was very pained by the spread of spurious history and he lamented `Millions of Christians in India are certain that the founder of their Church was none other than the apostle Thomas himself. The historian cannot prove it to them that they are mistaken in this belief. He may feel it right to warn them that historical research cannot pronounce on the matter with a confidence equal to that which they entertain by faith'.
Now a question can be raised: What difference does it make whether Christianity came to India in the first or the fourth century? Why raise such a squabble when no one denies the fact that Syrian Christians of Malabar are old immigrants to this country? The motives for the manufacturing of the myth of St Thomas were carefully analysed and detailed by Sita Ram Goel as follows:
Firstly, it is one thing for some Christian refugees to come to a country and build some Churches, and quite another for an apostle of Jesus Christ himself to appear in flesh and blood for spreading the Good News. If it can be established that Christianity is as ancient in India as the prevailing forms of Hinduism, then no one can nail it as an imported creed brought in by Western Imperialism.
Secondly, the Catholic Church in India stands badly in need of a spectacular martyr of its own. Unfortunately for it, St. Francis Xavier died natural death and that too, in a distant place outside India. Hindus, too, have persistently during the last 500 years, refused to oblige the Church in this respect in spite of all provocations. The Church has had to use its own resources and churn out something. St Thomas, about whom nobody knows anything, offers a ready-made martyr.
Thirdly, the Catholic Church can malign the Brahmins more confidently. Brahmins have been the main targets of its attack from the beginning. Now it can be shown that the Brahmins have always been a vicious brood, so much so that they would not stop from murdering a holy man who was only telling God's own truth to a tormented people. At the same time, the religion of the Brahmins can be held responsible for their depravity. This is the argument that Karunanidhi, the Tamilnadu Chief Minister, loves most and therefore I am not surprised he has agreed to participate in the inaugural function connected with the proposed movie on the manufactured myth of St Thomas. He would only have serious political doubts about the engineering qualifications of Lord Rama (who, definitely, is not from Syria or the Middle-East!) and not about the baseless myth of St. Thomas!
The gopuram of the
Fourthly, the Catholics in India need no more feel uncomfortable when faced with clinching historical evidence about their Church's close cooperation with the Portuguese pirates in committing abominable crimes against the Indian people in the sixteenth century. By connecting the fraudulent myth of St Thomas to the first century AD, the commencement of the Church can be disentangled from the atrocities of the Portuguese era. The Church was here long before the Portuguese arrived. It was a mere unfortunate coincidence that the Portuguese also called themselves Catholics. Guilt by association is groundless.
Lastly, it is quite within the ken of Catholic theology to claim that a land, which has been honoured by the visit of an apostle, has become the legitimate patrimony of the Catholic Church. India might have been a Hindu homeland from times immemorial. But since the day St Thomas landed in India in 52AD, the Hindu claim stands cancelled. The country has belonged to the Catholic Church from the first century onwards, no matter how long the Church takes to conquer it completely for Christ.
Koenraad Elst wrote a brilliant foreword to Ishwar Sharan's book titled `The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple'. Let us hear his words: `St. Thomas never came to India and the Christian community was founded by a merchant Thomas Cananeus in 345 AD, a name which readily explains the Thomas legend. He led 400 refugees who fled persecution in Persia and were given asylum by the Hindu authorities. In Catholic Universities in Europe, the myth of the apostle Thomas going to India is no longer taught as history, but in India it is still considered useful. Even many vocal `secularists' who attack the Hindus for `relying on myth' in the Ayodhya affair, off-hand profess their belief in the Thomas myth. The important point is that St Thomas can be upheld as a martyr and the Brahmins decried as fanatics. In reality, the missionaries were very disgruntled that the damned Hindus refused to give them martyrs (whose blood is welcome as `the seed of the faith'), so they had to invent one. Moreover, the Church which they claim commemorates St Thomas's martyrdom at the hands of Hindu fanaticism is in fact a monument of Hindu martyrdom at the hands of Christian fanaticism'.
(To be contd...)
(The writer is a retired IAS officer)
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