Bishop demolishes conversion ‘myth’ of Kerala

Bishop of oldest church in Kerala, Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, busts ‘myth’ that St. Thomas came to Kerala and converted members of Brahmin families to Christianity, laments brahminic tendencies among Christians.

Bishop of oldest church in Kerala, Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, busts 'myth’ that St. Thomas came to Kerala and converted members of Brahmin families to Christianity, laments brahminic tendencies among Christians.

The Bishop of Niranam diocese, historically one of the oldest dioceses of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church in Kerala, has criticized the upper caste tendencies among believers fuelled by a “mythical” belief that St. Thomas converted Brahmins to Christianity in Kerala.

It is also widely believed that St Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Christ, had converted members of top Brahmin families in Kerala to Christianity. Though the Abrahamic faith is devoid of caste hierarchies, Christian families often hold get-togethers to celebrate their lineage and put out books proclaiming their Brahmin origin.

The Bishop, Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, however, in a Facebook post announced that he would not attend any such get-togethers, dubbing them as “programs to assert their artificially created upper caste identity and lineage.”

“They say their ancestors were Brahmins converted by St. Thomas. They even put out their family history in books proclaiming such false notions. These baseless, savarna caste-oriented and reactionary myths have to be busted,” read his statement in Malayalam, adding, “I did attend such events due to my personal intimacy with them. But, I regret it. I can’t (do it) any more”.

Syrian Christians are divided mainly into Syrian Catholic, Jacobite, Orthodox, Marthoma churches depending upon whether they owe their allegiance to the Pope in Rome, the Patriarch in Antioch, Catholicos in Kerala’s Kottayam or Metropolita in Thiruvalla. Coorilos, who belongs to Jacobite Church, has mercilessly swung an axe at the root of the age-old belief that is pervasive across all the four sects – that their ancestors are Namboodiris who were converted to Christianity by St Thomas.

It also questions the existence of churches like Malayatoor that is famously believed to be the meditative halt of St Thomas during his Kerala leg of his sojourn.

Brahmins’ conversion to Christianity under St. Thomas had been a point of dispute for long. Historians such as M.G.S. Narayanan had earlier questioned the claim.

“Thomashleeha (as St. Thomas is known in Kerala) is an imaginary thing. He is one of the apostles. He should be Christ’s contemporary. If he had come to Kerala, there would have been only forests in Kerala, let alone Brahmins,” Narayanan told Outlook.

“Syrian Christians’ trade relations with Kerala started in 2nd and 3rd century. Brahmins came as a hegemonic community in Kerala only in 8th Century,” he said.

Pius Melekandathil, professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), who is an expert on maritime history and church history, admitted that it is a matter of dispute however saying that the probability factor has to be taken into consideration.

“It is a matter of debate. But, many historians have seen it as highly probable and reliable. The earliest reference to St. Thomas preaching gospel to Brahmins is from St. Jerome of 4th century. Among the converts , the Brahmin converts seem to have been quite significant enough to attract the special attention of St. Jerome, who mentions that the apostle went “ut Christus apud Brachmanas praedicaret” (to preach Christ to the Brahmins),” he said.

“This needs more investigation. It is more nuanced and complex. Brahmin does not mean one single category of social group. There were different categories of Brahmins in Kerala. It was not a period where there was absence of Brahmins. It’s true they came as a hegemonic group only in 8th Century. But, there were Brahmins as scattered and fragmented community even before that. Duties and obligations of Brahmins under Chera empire are mentioned in Sangam literature, ” he said.

Melekandathil also said that there are written documents of maritime trade agreement between Muziris (in Kerala) and Alexandria from 2nd century obtained from Vienna archive in 1985.

Fr. Paul Thelakat, former Syro Malabar Church spokesperson, echoed Coorilose’s statement.

“In India we have bane that we irrespective of our religion have Manu sleeping within our consciousness. Everyone wants to establish one’s own upper caste glory. It is found in the ancient Christians of Kerala e.g certain families claiming to have been baptised from Brahmin families by St Thomas himself. St Thomas is supposed to have come to Kerala, it would be in the first century. Brahmins came to south India only in the 8th century. I am sorry to say upper caste mentality can be found also in Marxists in Kerala. Even though Marxism has a universal humanistic ideology, we find the upper caste surname kept, like Nampoodirpad, Menon, Pillai, Nair etc,” he said.

Firm on his position despite the sharp and mixed reactions to his statement, Coorilos later wrote on the same post: “I am adding this after reading many comments to this post. Many of you are calling me‘Thirumeni’ ( a feudal honorific). That’s also a product of the savarna consciousness. You can call me a friend or Father. Or, if you want to make it more formal, you can call me Bishop.”

“(Writer) OV Vijayan had said that English is the best weapon to resist caste. We must change. Change is must,” he said.

(Source: outlookindia)

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4 thoughts on “Bishop demolishes conversion ‘myth’ of Kerala

  1. Knanaya Thomman from Syria came to Malabar coast (today’s Kerala) in the 5th century, he was surprised to find Christians there. But, they were not having sacrements or even the Holy Bible. So, Thomman went back to Syria and came again in the year 430 in four ships with Bishops and memebers of the clergy and some Christian families. It was the beginning of an organized Christian life in the then Kerala.
    Sincere there were no historical records, it doesn’t mean that St Thomas didn’t come to Kerala coast. Imagine in the first century, there was no systematic recording of history because of lack of facilities, unlike in Western countries. The remains of the body of St Thomas were taken from Mylapore to Syria and then to Italy for burial there.

  2. If St Thomas didn’t come to Kerala, what’s the origin of Christians in Kerala? Christins didn’t come to Kerala from British missionaries, because there were Christians before the British/westerners came to India. Brahmins came to Kerala in 8th century, but Namboodiris (a brahmin term of Namboodiris) existed in the first century. The reason why St Thomas converted Namboodiris to Christians is because Namboodiris were educated classes comapred to lower castes who were illitrates and couldn’t be converted because of communication problems for St Thomas. In the first century, there were no inhabitations in Kerala is a stupid statement for those who know the history of Kerala!
    Truly speaking, St Thomas came to Malabar coast and lived in Kerala and then went to Tamilnadu and was killed by a fanatic Hindu Pujari. He died in Chinnamalai, Tamilnadu and then buried in Mylapore. Fr Paul Thelakad, Mr Nayaranan etc should stop their anti-historical statements about the origin of Christians in Kerala.

    1. It is an historical fact that St. Thomas came all the way to Kerala to preach the gospel. Your explanation that the Namboodiris heard the gospel who were literate, and came to follow Christ is highly logical. The Namboodiris are addressed by the low caste people ” Thirumeni”. Whether the Brahmins or Namboodiris, both of them were high caste people then.

      Like the western missionaries came to different parts of India where some Christian were congregated, St. Thomas found a footing in the southern side of India where the Jews were settled. The Great Jewish historian Josephus has indicated that St. Thomas went all the way to the southern side of India.

      While observing the number of Christian denominations in Kerala, new denominational missionaries came to Kerala due to the number of Christians there. While observing the pioneers of the new denominations in Kerala, they heard the new denominational gospel from the foreign missionaries, thus initiated to start new denominations. The Marthoma Church from the Orthodox Church, from Orthodox and Marthoma Church, the Pentecostal and Brethren Church leaders. So many Christian denominations can be found in Kerala than any other State in India.

  3. This Bishop will be doing some shaking in the Church world of Kerala where the Episcopal Church hierarchy was playing the Brahmin theology in the Church life. The low caste people which is the invention of the Brahmins, had to address the upper class as Thirumeni. The same addressing format was adopted in the Episcopal Churches; Thirumeni or holy body. How JESUS and HIS disciples were addressed? The Bishops of all the Episcopal Churches must be addressed as Bishops, Thirumeni addressing is an aberration from Biblical truth and doctrine.

    Another nauseating thing to hear from many Hindu converts that they were Brahmins and came to follow Christ. Does it make any difference for JESUS or the audience that the big time infallible Brahmin came to follow Christ? That statement itself shows the pure arrogance.

    It is too late and high time for the Episcopal Churches of Kerala to wake up from the eternal hibernation inside the heavy mattress made up of man-made traditions. The picnic Christianity is now fully challenged.

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