Hindu Traditions of St. Thomas
Monday May 21st 2007, 3:09 am
Filed under: Patristics

A visitor named Justine recently made a major contribution to our ongoing discussion of the traditions of St. Thomas the Apostle in India. “I picked up this story travelling through Kerala,” she writes. “I think it is worth researching.” I’m pasting her entire message below. Justine adds: “The credit for writing this article should go to Ms. Paula Gruber, a German tourist who visited India/Kerala in 2005. I was responsible for translating it from German to English.”

THONDACCHAN AND THE FOUR SILVER COINS

The worship of Thondachan, a Hindu family deity, by a particular lineage of Nairs (native martial clan) of Malabar, Kerala, and especially the manner and ritual of this worship is noteworthy. Though a family deity, Thondachan is never worshipped within the Nair household. Nor has this deity been ever given a berth among the pantheon of Hindu gods at any of the Hindu temples presided over by the Brahman priests (called Namboodiris). Thondachan has a special altar built outside the Nair family compound, where non-Brahmin priests perform rituals. While Chaamundi, Vishnumoorthy, Pottan, Rakteshwari and Bhagavathi became the non-Aryan non-Brahmin deities for the village folk of Kolathunaad (an ancient province of North Kerala) along with other primitive spirits and folk-heroes, Thondachan has an even smaller following among a select Nair clan. It is believed, that up to the present day, altars for Thondachan’s worship exists in the Cherukunnu area in Kannur (Cannanore) district, especially in the lands surrounding old tharavad houses (ancestral mansions) of the Nairs.

When Thomachan (the apostle St. Thomas, – achan, signifying ‘father’) came ashore, landing at Maliankara near Moothakunnam village in Paravoor Thaluk in AD 52, (this village located 5 kilometers from Cranganoor (Kodungallur), Muziris, on the coast of Kerala), some of his followers as well as other sailors and merchants were suffering from a severe form of scurvy. Thomachan himself suffered from a sore throat which he chose to ignore, and which grew steadily worse, until no voice emanated from his lips for many days. A local Jew named Matan took the weary travelers to a local Nair tharavad (locally known as Kambiam Vallapil), in the province of Kolathunaad, a territory comprising the present Cannanore District and Badagara Taluk of Kerala State.

It is said that at the time of Thomachan’s arrival at the Nair tharavad, the Nair karnavar (landlord or head of family) lay injured from a grievous wound that had been inflicted upon him in a feudal duel. Upon seeing this, Thomachan sat beside the injured man and meditated, laying his hands on the man’s head, his throat, his chest and his groin. Immediately the karnavar felt relieved from pain, and his healing was hastened. Within a day he was up and about, his wounds nearly healed.

In return, the Nair household offered shelter to the strangers and called upon their family physician to cure the scurvy that the travelers suffered from, as well as Thomachan’s severely infected throat. Nellikaya (Emblic Myrobalan or Indian Gooseberry) based potions prepared by the tharavad was used to cure the sea-worn voyagers. In an act of gratitude, Thomachan is said to have blessed them, and gave them four silver coins saying, ‘May these coins bestow my guru’s blessings upon you and your household, for take heed when I tell you that the money I pay you today is anointed with the blood of my guru’.

This holy man, Thomachan, is believed to have related a curious story to the members of the tharavad, which has been passed down the ages.

Before he set sail from a seaport in the region called ‘Sanai’ somewhere in the western seas, he had witnessed the persecution of his guru, who was tortured and nailed to a wooden cross and left to die. He spoke of how his guru returned from his ordeals three days later, fully cured. His guru handed him the silver coins saying, ‘my body was sold with these, and now they have been returned to me, all thirty pieces. Put them to good use, as I have. Though you shall choose to travel by sea, I shall meet you again in the mountains of the land where you will finally arrive.’

The Nair tharavad later migrated further north to the Cherukunnu area of present day Kannur. They referred to the four silver pieces as ‘rakta velli’ (blood silver) or ‘parindhu velli’ (parindhu for eagle, as one face of all these four ancient coins bear the figure of an eagle). They also decided never to utilize the silver as it was the custom then not to part with the gift of a guest.

Over time, and with the advent of Christianity, the significance of the four silver coins received by the tharavad was understood, but family history is still obscure as to whether Thomachan possessed, or what he did with the remaining twenty-six pieces of silver his guru gave him.

This Nair family never converted to the Christian faith as did many others in that region. Subsequent migrations of Nair clans continued throughout history, but the story of the four rakta velli pieces was passed down the generations, as did their veneration for the holi sanyasi Thomachan, (later called Thondachan, a nickname perhaps coined from the story of his sore throat, -thonda for throat. Another story goes that the name Thondachan was adopted in the early 16th century to avoid persecution by the Portugese). Thus by a curious turn of events, the apostle St. Thomas was transformed into a Hindu deity for an ancient Nair clan of Kerala.

A present day member of this family is still in possession of the four pieces of silver. i have seen the four pieces and have identified them as the Shekels of Tyre, a common coinage of Judea of the time of Christ.


43 Comments so far
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The story is not implausible. We know that there were jews in India i nthe first century. Furthermore, we know that traders traveled from Arabia to the Western coast of India all through the Imperial Age. Thirdly, the region in question is one of the palces where you find Christians in India at a very early date. Having said all that, the story is far from difinitive. The Nairs could have gotten the story of Judas, Jesus, and Thomas, from the Portuguese, then adapted it to their circumstances. The presence of the Tryian Shekels is not dispositive, since they could have arrived in the region as a result of normal trade. But the stor yis still fascinating, and I hope it’s true!

Carl Sommer

Comment by Carl Sommer 05.21.07 @ 2:14 pm

Thanks for posting this Mike! I’m woefully ignorant of the history and traditions of the oldest Christians of my native country. Actually, since my conversion to Christianity, I’ve never even traveled in the Christian heartlands (if that is the word) of southern India! One of these days, God willing.

Comment by Gas 05.21.07 @ 2:28 pm

Um. My name in the previous comment should be “Gashwin” not “Gas” :-D Though, I’m sure, all who know me would prefer the latter moniker. :)

Comment by Gas 05.21.07 @ 2:29 pm

Interesting story! My Philosophy and Theology professors way back in college never tell us stories which are as interesting as this. Almost half of the total class periods were spent in visiting museums but our professors could hardly explain the origin of some displayed heirlooms.

Regarding those silver coins in the story, I wish you have posted some photos of those coins in your blog. Are they displayed in some museums nowadays or are they secretly kept somewhere?

Comment by heirloom family portraits 05.22.07 @ 2:43 am

Thanks for this article.We are the Nasrani Syrian Chrisitan Network, an effort to preserve the Nasrani way of life.We would love to paraphrase this article in our forum with due credits and links to your site.Hope this works fine with you.Plese let us know by email if there are any objections.

Comment by Nasrani 05.22.07 @ 4:00 pm

[...] 1.Published in ,Fathersofthechurch website   [...]

Pingback by Hindu Traditions of St. Thomas –Thondacchan and the Four Silver Coins « Nasrani Syrian Christians Network 05.22.07 @ 4:18 pm

This piece of information is a valid one on the Christianity in India especially the birth of Syrian Christians in Kerala. This has to be researched into for giving a valid testimony that Christianity is not a story or myth as most religions are.
The evidence of the “Raktha Velly” coins which are believed to be coins of judea at the time of crucification of christ is a testimony by itself.The justification is more valid as it is__ ‘still owned by a Non-christian family which revers’ the treasure.

Comment by Cherian Thomas 05.22.07 @ 9:39 pm

This is indeed a remarkable story!
If true, and if it can be proved that the
4 coins were really part of the 30 silver
coins that constituted the reward for the
betrayal of the Messiah, it would constitute
a very major archaeological find!

But how did Apostle Thomas get this?!

Could Justine or Paula Gruber kindly provide the address of the Nair tharavad and owners of these coins? I could try to have Kannur University official(s) interested to verify the genuineness of these coins.

Email: amprayilusa@gmail.com

Comment by Kuruvilla Cherian Amprayil 05.23.07 @ 1:00 pm

This story is not going to die easily. If these coins are found, they will have a global impact on Christian thought and psyche. This story, if it is true (and I see no reason why it should not be) has three momentous aspects: (1) That these very coins set off the crucification which in turn led to the beginning of Christianity as the religion we know it now (2) That the very coins held by the hands of Judas, St. Thomas and perhaps Jesus himself is today in our midst in India! (3) It will also finally answer the mystery as to whether the ‘Thomas’ who came to India was indeed St. Thomas the Apostle. Unfortunately, even the life and legends of Thomas appear to be beleaguered with the kind of doubts he himself demonstrated so memorably in his lifetime. I see the hand of God even in this. However, the best justice we can do to both St. Thomas and Christianity is to research this story thoroughly. Believe me this is truly a hunt for the Holy Grail!

Comment by Tiffany Rothrock 05.29.07 @ 3:52 pm

Is Paula Gruber’s story part of a larger work done by her? Or did she interview the owners of these coins only BECAUSE of these coins. Are the photographs on the net of the very same “rakta velli” coins or simply of coins provided as a ‘sample’ of the Shekels of Tyre?

On the other hand, I tend to believe that this is a true story- to the extent that such a family lore was definitely narrated to Paula, to raise her curiosity sufficiently to prompt her to write it down. My reason for believing this is that there are other details in the story that are too “local” for a German national to have simply made-up on a Kerala visit! For example, not even Malayalees in Kerala have heard of a “Kambiam Valapil” Nair family. Paula writes about “nellikaya”, “thonda”, “rakta”, “parindu” and “Velli” in a mannner that establishes that some family-lore definitely exists among some Nair families. A historical study of Nair migrations and relocations should be conducted to also understand the family history of the Kambiam Valapil Tharavat. Any takers?

I would also like to repeat one Mr.Kuruvilla Cherian’s plea on this site: Could Justine or Paula Gruber kindly provide the address of the Nair tharavad and owners of these coins?

Could Paula or Justine please tell us your COMPLETE story so that well meaning Christians, researchers and scholars could get a little closer to those coins?

By the way, will anyone who is at least in aquaintance or have met with either Paula or Justine raise their hands?

And with no offence meant towards any community or group, may I ask the owner of the coins (if he ever views this page on the net) if the four coins in his possession would someday be available for sale or auction?

Susan

Comment by Susan Thomas 05.30.07 @ 5:27 am

See, this is why we need Indiana Jones.

Anyway, it was an interesting story, plausible and pious.

Comment by Jeff 'japhy' Pinyan 06.03.07 @ 7:01 am

Thanks for this thought provoking article. I never ever read or heard this Thondachan & Thomachan connection. But this story need further investigation.

When I wrote in my book, AM I A HINDU? [www.amiahindu.com] about St. Thomas visit to India in AD 52, many Christian scholars in US wrote that the whole story is a fairy tale. Many in the west do not want to accept the fact St. Thomas came to Kerala and died in Myalapore, Tamil Nadu.

Comment by AM I A HINDU? Best Seller 06.13.07 @ 2:34 pm

I have made a comment about this on nasrani.net

Thanks

Comment by Joseph George 09.23.07 @ 1:09 pm

Thanks to Fathers-Of –The-Church.com for this wonderful and thought-provoking article. If a single hair from the beard of the prophet Muhammed is relic enough to prompt a community from among the Islamic populace to build a mosque, imagine what significance these four coins should hold to Indian Christianity! I am also of the opinion that there was no reason for a Nair family to invent this story in such detail. It took a German tourist to stumble upon this Nair folk-tale/family history, from perhaps among so many she may have heard. She understood the significance of this particular story (or was it her friend Justine?) to consider it important for publication. I honestly don’t see any ulterior motive on the part of the otherwise orthodox Nair family in perpetuating such a story over the centuries.

Besides, I have been able to verify from my North Malabar friends that the worship of Thondacchan has been in existence for centuries. The Nairs themselves are quite fuzzy about who exactly Thondacchan was, and why the Hindu deity is not worshipped in the puja-rooms within their household. The attitude of the Portuguese and subsequent turmoils of history appear to have obliterated much of the evidence that could have established the basis of this story.

Swami Vivekanda called Kerala “a mad-house of casteism”. For many years after India achieved Independence, and even until communism took deep roots in Kerala’s society, the Nairs were a very orthodox community. They practiced untouchability and would have had reasons to keep the Thondacchan worship outside the tharavad. The Namboothiris (Brahmins and priests) would not have appreciated the reverence some of the Nairs showed to this alien deity. It was only the powerful Nair tradition that perhaps kept it alive to this day. The Namboothiris had long recognized that the Nair martial power and influence were important to maintain their traditional Hindu temples, and it appears that a few such religious quirks among a few families and clans were not objected to by the Namboothiris. There was some reason for this Nair clan to worship Thondacchan. And they chose to do so for so many years by conveniently placing the shrine outside the household. It was a brilliant discovery by Paula Gruber.

These four coins (from among the famous thirty) were responsible for Jesus’s crucifixion and the birth of a new religion. Like the Turin Shroud, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of Judas and many such articles of antiquity, these four coins are relics that deserve preservation. It holds the key to our beginnings, and would redeem the Indian Christian community from the ridicule that the western opinion holds on the “St. Thomas in India” story. I fervently appeal to the Hindu (Nair) family member who holds these coins to come forward and donate the four coins to a Christian church where it rightly belongs. It would be well preserved and venerated.

Paulo D’Souza
Panaji
Goa

Comment by Paulo D'Souza 01.13.08 @ 2:54 pm

THIS IS IN RESPONSE to what Joseph George wrote on September 23rd, 2007
Don’t be so confused between the Bible and Indian history. If the authors of the New Testament can be believed for carrying their story of Christ thus far into our times, so could a folk story survive amidst a section of Hindu Nairs as their version of the truth. It is but a simple tale of their own forefathers and an encounter with a strange foreigner called Thondachan! Mark, Luke, Mathew, John, Paul and others who contributed to the New Testament were not here in Kerala, or for that matter in India to record and include St. Thomas doings in this country. Neither was the Bible written for that purpose. To be sacrosanct about everything in the Bible is fine. But dismissing everything in local and regional history because it is not contained in the Bible is to wear blinkers! Being judgmental without due investigation amounts to trying to read the book blindfolded. Nowhere in Paula Gruber’s story does she say that the Apostle St. Thomas was deified by the Nairs within his lifetime. It could have happened many years later. Don’t we canonize exceptional Christians posthumously? And who is to know what upheavals- personal, political or religious that was experienced by this Tharavad more than 2000 years ago to place their faith in St. Thomas? I would assume that it would have been a swifter Hindu religious directive that would have attempted to thwart this family’s motive for deifying St. Thomas rather than the Apostle himself! It is a measure of the Hindu family’s faith that their belief in Thondacchan survived.
I wish Paula Gruber had written- “St. Thomas stood astonished wondering how the Tharavad healed his sailors.” But she didn’t!
If she had, it would have made good sense to wonder why St. Thomas could not heal his companions or himself. The so-called contradiction that has been pointed out by Joseph George would certainly have occurred to every Nair child hearing this story generation after generation for 2000 years! But remove the blinkers and consider this:- If a doctor falls off a flight of stairs in your presence and injures himself would you not offer any assistance, albeit as an act of courtesy? Would you not offer a cook food to eat?
It is apparent from Paula’s story that the sailors had just arrived on the coast when they were taken to the local tharavad. The disease “scurvy” was well understood by the tharavad, well in keeping with Kerala’s seafaring and ayurvedic traditions. Again in keeping with tradition, if they proceeded to be good hosts to these weary travellers and offered to medicate and treat them, they could only have drawn St. Thomas’ appreciation. Were they, in that first encounter, to even know who he was? Why St. Thomas had a sore throat that he chose not to heal is as good as some of the mysteries in Jesus’s own life. Perhaps he didn’t care much about his discomfort or the loss of his voice for a few days considering what his own master had endured not very long ago! Neither has it been said anywhere that St.Thomas was NOT going to cure the sailors of their disease. What must have really astonished the tharavad was when they experienced the weary St. Thomas’ kindness and saw for themselves that he was himself a healer by a method of simply laying hands! They showed their gratitude in the best of tradition, and St. Thomas must have felt immensely pleased. A mutual exchange of skills and goodwill between a good host and a kind guest does not punch holes in the story nor challenge the Bible. In any case one cannot be instantly precise and judgmental about a tradition that has been a family folk tale of more than 2000 years without oneself bearing witness to what exactly occurred on that day! Neither St. Thomas nor the tharavad traditions appear to have ever complained about it.
With regard to how St. Thomas received those very thirty pieces of silver that were believed to have been used to “betray” Jesus, the truth is slowly emerging as clear-thinking Christians look for clues outside the “standard version” of the Bible. The National Geographic Society has been part of an international effort, in collaboration with the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery, to authenticate, conserve, and translate a 66-page codex, which contains a text called James (also known as First Apocalypse of James), the Letter of Peter to Philip, a fragment of a text that scholars are provisionally calling Book of Allogenes, and the only known surviving copy of the Gospel of Judas.
The Gospel of Judas gives a different view of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, offering new insights into the disciple who “betrayed” Jesus. Unlike the accounts in the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in which Judas is portrayed as a reviled traitor, this newly discovered Gospel portrays Judas as acting at Jesus’ request when he hands Jesus over to the authorities. The Gospel provides an alternative view of the Jesus-Judas relationship and evidences the diverse theological beliefs that circulated among early Christians.
As the evidence emerges who knows what the story of the thirty coins might be and how it wound up with St. Thomas? Perhaps what sounds hard to believe in an ancient Nair folktale may well serve as a starting point of research for Indian Christianity. While some of the best of Christian brains in the world are painstakingly picking out fragments of truth by corroborating archaeology, tradition and folklore, it would be foolish to dismiss something on our own soil without proper verification by sounding an immediate and premature clarion call of- “Highly Improbable.” Don’t worry, neither St. Thomas, Jesus our Lord nor their teachings will in any way be tarnished by the truth.

Dr. K C Jerome
New Delhi

Comment by Dr. K C Jerome 01.24.08 @ 6:22 pm

Joseph George’s attitude towards the Nair folktale is certainly shocking. This is the very attitude with which the Portuguese imposed “Papal” Christianity to Kerala. I can hear the Portuguese say – “ I’m sorry, it doesn’t say so in our book. So it never happened!” This is exactly what the fundamentalist Islamists are doing today around the world with the Koran under their arm.
If one was to carefully examine the state of the papacy during Vasco da Gama’s time in India ( 1498CE to 1524CE ) after the Portuguese rediscovered the route to India, it is clearly seen as a “Church in disorder”, wrought by upheavals and lack of control over their followers. This was because of misinterpretation, misrepresentation and incomplete history that the Portuguese of that time meted out to the world in the name of Christianity. It does not do the “ultimate truth” any justice. It is now evident to the whole world that the neo-Christians led by Vasco-da Gama were imposing their own rules on the Indian sub-continent, being intolerant to accept that Jesus’ teachings (through the Apostle St. Thomas) had arrived here hundreds of years before their own country.
I am sure I have heard the story of these four coins in my childhood. (Sadly I just cannot recall from whom). All I can say is, but for their martial spirit and their tenacity, I can understand what the terrible plight of the Nair tharavad would have been if the Portuguese had got their hands on those coins.
In my opinion, Dr. K C Jerome has taken a very logical view. Why (mis-)use the Bible as a “bench-mark” to evaluate all happenings around the world. The New Testament was written many years after Jesus’ own lifetime, and we believe the gospel to be the best effort of the writers Mark, Luke, Mathew and John to record the teachings of Jesus. But the source of their writings were confined to a region, limited by the availability of witness accounts, limited by the fact that Jesus never wrote down his teachings/doctrine, etc.. To denounce something that might have happened in India (without investigation} as “highly improbable” because the edited and later version of the Bible has no mention of it is rightly a case of “blinkers”. Westerners on their quest for new colonies 500 years ago found it hard to swallow that the gospel in its original form was being practiced by a peaceful community created by an apostle of Christ on the coast of Kerala.

Roselene Kristu Rao

Comment by Roselene Rao 02.01.08 @ 3:43 pm

I have seen some pictures of these coins in some European magazine at Frankfurt airport some years ago. A few white people were creating quite a stir in the lounge. Never realized the significance and importance of these coins at that time.

But does this mean that these coins have already been spirited out of this country?

The coins in the snaps looked quite well-preserved. Which isn’t surprising if they were kept uncirculated for 2000 years.

Any enterprising Christian body on the hunt for these coins yet? Please keep us posted on the developments. This is an extremely interesting discovery with far reaching implications on the Christian religion.

Comment by T. Shankariah 03.21.08 @ 7:52 am

I surfed into this website in the course of reading that the Nairs of Kerala and the Khasis of Meghalaya were the only one-time matriarchal societies on the sub-continent.

Reading the various comments on the topic of St. Thomas and the four silver coins, I cannot help but wonder why all of you should be so vociferous and exacting about it.

Just as there is a story behind the realization of Jesus in all our individual lives, each community in India has their own history of the coming of Christianity into their lives. In the predominantly Christian North East, each tribe has their own version of their introduction to the New Testament. Our village elders will tell you stories of Italian, Irish, Scottish, Portuguese and French missionaries who painstakingly converted tribe after tribe, from pagan and tribal worship to the new religion of the Gospel. Church records throughout the NE (especially Meghalaya, Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland) have maintained some of this history. But many more survive as folk stories, songs and family narratives, anecdotes, etc.

Consider the number of tribes in the North East who speak distinctly different languages, inscrutable and incomprehensible to each other. The most ethnically and linguistically diverse region in India, there are about 220 languages spoken in these states, belonging mainly to three language families, namely Indo Aryan, Sino-Tibetan and Austric.

To speak of Christian influence in the NE briefly, the earliest presence of missions in the north east, both Catholic and Protestant, was almost incidental. By the early 1800s western missions were seeking an overland route into China, as access through the eastern sea coast of China was becoming more difficult. In pursuance of this land route into south western China the Baptists established a short lived mission in Guwahati in 1829, and later a more permanent one further east at Sadiya. The first mission contact with the Naga tribes was in 1838, and the first Naga Christian community was established, by an Assamese evangelist, among the Ao sub-tribe in 1872. Thereafter other groups were gradually contacted and Kohima (present capital of Nagaland) and Wokha became important centres for Christianity among the Angami Nagas and other tribes to a lesser degree. The other main tribal grouping, the Kukis, only began to convert to Christianity in the first decade of the 20th century.

Now consider Christian folk-lore and family history among these diverse people dating less than 200 years. A study of their folk stories will reveal that it is already rife with controversy and confusion over who and what despite church records. Even claims of miracles and divine experiences are many. Yet all are accepted, even if a few of them might have been the colourful imagination of a senile elder in the telling. Wonderful stories that do no harm are always welcome on a cold evening by the fire-side.

I ask again, I wonder why anyone should be so vociferous and exacting about this Thondachan story. Cold facts about a folk-lore 2000 years old are hard to confirm.

I must mention here another interesting piece of information I read on
STORY OF ST. THOMAS THE APOSTLE AND THE ST.THOMAS CHURHES OF INDIA – A SHORT HISTORY by Prof. M. M. Ninan
http://www.acns.com/~mm9n/marthoma/marthoma.htm

I quote – “He took with him nothing except the twenty pieces of silver which Jesus gave him.”
Was it from amongst these twenty silver coins that the four coins were given to the Kerala family?

Just a possibility! I still fail to find the link on how Jesus received these coins from Judas Iscariot except in the folk-lore – “His guru handed him the silver coins saying, ‘my body was sold with these, and now they have been returned to me, all thirty pieces. Put them to good use, as I have.’ ”

That explanation from Nair folk-lore is good enough for me.

Albeit, it is certainly a good family lore to cherish and retell.

Merilyn Lyngdoh
Shillong

Comment by Merilyn Lyngdoh 03.29.08 @ 2:17 pm

This entire story is false. No family can exist for 2000 years. It is a long time. Also, as a matter of fact, there were no Nair community in Kerala in the First century AD.

Comment by Ranjith Perimpulavil 05.12.08 @ 3:50 am

I would easily fall in with Ranjith Perimpulavil’s statement, except for the fact that there are so many versions and even distinct disagreements among historians about the origin of all clans and communities in the sub-continent. If a “Brahmin” was in existence thousands of years ago, I see no reason why any of the sub-castes were not around then as well. The fabric of Hindu society with caste divisions were very much the order of the day, and a warrior class of people were required to maintain this fabric. The confusion is because perhaps they were not called “Nairs” then. If a community of people call themselves St. Thomas Christians or Nasrani or whatever, it is because every generation from St. Thomas’ time were retold this story and popular tradition today accepts the story of their forefathers as the truth. They had no reason to lie. Even in the St. Thomas tradition, the Apostle is believed to have converted several Nambudiri families. It stands to logic that Nairs would have been around considering the very close affinity the Nairs and Nambudiris had throughout history. 2000 years is a long time but like the Christian or Jewish tradition of lineage and family name, why not a desendence of Nairs?

Comment by Jonathan Lobo 05.16.08 @ 5:54 am

I am a Numismatist. And this is for the owner or any of his relatives who may at some future date wish to sell these four coins.

Please understand that I shall treat it with the reverence it deserves. This is not a trade forum and I do not wish to discuss the price or its transaction details here.

I heve heard of these coins since my childhood, and I only wish to acquire these coins to preserve them as “a specimen” of the ongoing research into the St. Thomas legend and the advent of Christianity in India.

My intentions are noble. I shall not trade it or create unwarranted publicity while it is in my possession.

Comment by Esther 08.22.08 @ 3:42 am

ref post by esther:

the relics can be traced to a remote village in southern india……pls post yr interest in the same.

Comment by john 09.02.08 @ 4:47 am

Is it true? Have you or anyone you know seen the relic?

Comment by Rao 01.07.09 @ 5:22 pm

I haven’t.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 01.07.09 @ 7:21 pm

Kerala in 1st century A.D. was part of Ancient “Tamizhaka”(Tamil Land). There were no Namboodiris or Nairs at that time. St. Thomas story was fabricated by Portuguese in 16th century. “Marthomma Nasranis” were the Christian community brought to Kerala by a Syrian Christian called “Mar Thomma”. Until 16th century Kerala Christians saw this merchant as their forefather. Later this Syrian merchant was “converted” by Portuguese to “St Thomas”, the 12th Apostle.

Comment by Ranjith 03.06.09 @ 11:40 am

But, Ranjith, that doesn’t account for the many references to Thomas’s apostolate in India, in the works of the Fathers of both the Eastern and Western Churches. There’s a remarkable consistency to their testimonies, and they were set on paper long before there was a Portugal.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 03.06.09 @ 11:42 am

Then why Marthomma Nasranis call themselves “Syrian” Christians?

Comment by Ranjith 03.06.09 @ 11:44 am

And why Vatican deny Thomas preached in India?

Comment by Ranjith 03.06.09 @ 11:47 am

The churches of India, from at least the fourth century onward, were led by “Syrian” bishops — that is, they used Syriac as their liturgical language. So did the churches of China and all the churches east of the Holy Land.

The Vatican has never denied Thomas’s work in India. Where on earth did you hear that? Pope Paul VI wrote a letter commemorating Thomas’s apostolate. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have remembered it publicly. You’ve been reading too much propaganda. Read history instead.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 03.06.09 @ 11:58 am

The Hindus of Malabar were the first to see Christians arriving in their midst. They were mostly refugees from persecution in Syria and later on in Iran. Christians in Syria were persecuted by their own brethren in faith. They had become suspect in Iran from the fourth century onwards when Iran’s old adversary, the Roman Empire, became a Christian state. They suffered repeated persecutions in both countries. As most of them were heretics in the eyes of Christian orthodoxy, they could not go west. So they fled towards India and China, which two countries were known for their religious tolerance throughout the ages. Later on, they were joined by refugees from Armenia flying from Christian heresy-hunters.

The record that has been preserved by the Christian refugees themselves tells us that they were received well by the Hindus of Malabar. Hindu Rajas gave them land and money grants for building houses and churches. Hindus in general made things so pleasant for them that they decided to stay permanently in Malabar. No Hindu, Raja or commoner, ever bothered about what the refugees believed or what god they worshipped. No one interfered with the hierarchs who came from Syria from time to time to visit their flock in India and collect the tithes. In due course, the refugees came to be known as Syrian Christians.

The significant point to be noted about the Syrian Christians, however, is their sudden change of colour as soon as the Portuguese arrived on the scene. They immediately rallied round the Portuguese and against their Hindu neighbours, and when the Portuguese started pressurizing the Hindu Rajas for extraterritorial rights so that their co-religionists could be “protected”, the Syrian Christians evinced great enthusiasm everywhere. They became loyal subjects of the king of Portugal and pious adherents of the Roman Catholic Church. Was it the demonstration of Portuguese power which demoralised the Syrian Christians and made them do what they did? Or was it the Christian doctrine which, though it lay dormant for a long time, surfaced at the first favourable opportunity? The matter has to be examined. Looking at the behaviour of Syrian Christians ever since, the second proposition seems to be nearer the truth.

NB:- The above essay was written by K.M.Panikker in his book: Malabar and the Portuguese

Comment by Ranjith 03.07.09 @ 11:36 am

Ranjith,
You need to decide what you’re arguing about. None of what you’re saying now has anything to do with the question of Thomas’s apostolate in India. Indeed, all the events you describe took place in the years AFTER the earliest historical witnesses to Thomas’s apostolate. And I’m still waiting for the evidence of the great Vatican coverup — which was very sneakily covered up, in turn, by papal letters and proclamations.

I do not deny the injustices visited upon Christians by other Christians. This is part of our common human lot. I’ve yet to see the religion or ethnicity that’s immune to it. But the fact of these injustices should not lead us to visit further injustices upon the historical record.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 03.07.09 @ 1:41 pm

I have posted the above once before. But it was removed. This is not right. Whoever runs this should allow arguments both in favor and against without discrimination. It is honest approach.

Comment by Ranjith Perimpulavil 03.08.09 @ 12:43 pm

I posted the article once more and it is again removed. You have proved the age old tradition of forgeries, lies and suppression of rival opinions. Your Church exists upon a “Mountain of Lies”.

Comment by Ranjith 03.08.09 @ 1:07 pm

Ranjith,
I have not approved your subsequent postings. I explained my reasons, in some detail, in an email to you. I’ll be happy to post them here. Apparently, however, you are using a false email address, because you have not seen my responses and continue to attempt to post the same comments, with complaints about my supposed censorship. Dishonesty makes dialogue impossible.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 03.08.09 @ 2:10 pm

For those of you who are interested: “Ranjith” has repeatedly tried to post a 3,700-word essay essentially denouncing the Portuguese for their behavior during the colonial period. The essay, while asserting that the Thomas traditions are ahistorical, addresses none of the historical testimony, beginning with the Acts of Thomas (200 A.D.) and including at least half a dozen witnesses before the Council of Nicaea (and many more afterward). I pointed out to “Ranjith,” via email, that he had drifted far from the argument and he wasn’t taking up any of my challenges. He just continued to try posting the anti-Portuguese screed.

For the record: I did not approve Ranjith’s comment because (a) it was way off topic and (b) I have no idea of the copyright status of the material, which was by another author.

I am not disputing the troubled history of colonialism and its complicated relationship with Christian missionary work. That’s not our argument here. I do not dispute that Christians have sometimes been unjust to other Christians. I suspect that, on occasion, Hindus behave unjustly toward other Hindus — and maybe even toward their Christian countrymen. Maybe.

What we’re supposedly discussing here is Ranjith’s assertion that the Portuguese invented the apostolic origins of Indian Christianity. I have pointed out that the earliest testimonies to the Thomas tradition date from 200 A.D. — and they are numerous. In 200 A.D. Portugal did not exist. And Thomas of Cana had not yet arrived on the subcontinent to do his good work for the “Syrian” Church.

If “Ranjith” really wants to continue this discussion — and I’m more than happy to do so — I ask that he please use real history in his research, think his own thoughts, and summarize the RELEVANT work of others rather than copying and pasting a brick wall of irrelevant material about a much later period in history.

And please, “Ranjith,” have the courage to use a genuine email address. Apparently, you’re not seeing any of my private responses. It makes your charge that Christianity is built on “a mountain of lies” rather amusing.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 03.08.09 @ 4:03 pm

My e-mail is ranjith221@yahoo.com. This is not a false id or address.

Comment by Ranjith 03.09.09 @ 12:17 pm

The book tells us that Thomas started from Jerusalem spent a few time in Syria and reached Afghanistan. Its ruler was Gondophernes. Thomas converted the ruler and his brother. Thereafter his journey was to Mazda where there he became martyr. See The Saint Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, Vol. 2, Trissur, 1973, p 3.

Comment by Ranjith 03.09.09 @ 12:22 pm

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/actsthomas.html
Please read the above link.

Comment by Ranjith221 03.09.09 @ 1:00 pm

Ranjith,

Thank you for the posts and for the private replies. I’m sorry I suspected the email address after your initial delay.

I’m assuming from these posts that you no longer believe St. Thomas’s apostolate was invented by the Portuguese. I agree with you that there is good evidence of a northern journey – to northern India, Pakistan, and perhaps Afghanistan and China. But there is also a southern tradition that seems to be confirmed by the Fathers.

None of this can be proved, pro or con, but I believe there were two apostolic journeys, one via the silk road, the other by sea, via the spice route.

I am not arguing for the inerrancy of any particular document or strain of tradition. I do believe Thomas reached India and worked there and died there as a martyr. I believe this based on what I consider good historical reasons — a multiplicity of independent witnesses, from many different ancient cultures. But I do not think it’s provable in the strict sense. But very little is. The Thomas traditions and western testimonies have proven persuasive enough for many non-Christian Indian historians.

You mentioned the problem of “Greek names” in the Thomas material. Since many of the sources are Greek, they would naturally adapt “foreign” words to their own conventions. This happened all the time.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 03.09.09 @ 2:13 pm

Since the controvercy about these coins is still rife, since we need to maintain “archive” on the information occassionally streaming in on the net, and mainly since we need to revert back to the topic (after Mike and Ranjith have had their say and appear to have finally retreated), I have posted (copied & pasted) an article below from elsewhere on the net. I can express my only regret by asking – how is it that I, a Malayalee and a Christian cannot fathom a means to find these coins and put this entire debate to rest. Anyhow, here is the article for those who have not already read it on ccel.org.
READ ON -

“A small clan of Hindu warriors received a “gift of silver” from the Apostle St.Thomas around 52 AD when he landed on the Malabar coast (present-day Kerala, South India). The gift constitutes four silver coins believed to be from among the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas Iscariot by the temple priests. They have been positively identified as the Shekels of Tyre, the currency of Judea at the time of Christ. These silver relics are being held by this family in fear and confusion as they do not know which denomination of Christians the coins should be handed to.

As with all Christian relics, these coins are mired in controversy. Firstly, the evidence of their existence lies with a Hindu household who have been unwilling to put it up for public viewing or exhibition fearing attack and ridicule from some Christian radicals who had demanded their surrender to the church some 40 years ago. They were examined by expert numismatists who concluded that these were coins “manufactured” by the Jerusalem priests themselves (this does not mean they do not constitute the 30 silver pieces paid to Judas) as there did exist “Jerusalem fakes” even during the time of Jesus. Silver was being melted and minted by the silver-smiths of the temple to produce poor facsimiles of the original Shekels of Tyre, the temple tax of that time.

When the Portuguese first heard of these coins, they tried to hunt it down and persecuted many Hindu families in the 16th century during their efforts to Latinize the Nazarine Christians of Kerala . These coins were again the subject of controversy early in the 20th century when it was about to be handed over to a denomination of Christians from the USA for a price.

Over the years, except for an occasional mention at the pulpit, the existence of these coins were quite forgotten until some journalists inadvertently spoke to an old lady of this Hindu family as part of a general interview on their customs and traditions. Paula Gruber, a German national broke the story to the media, once again raising a noisy controversy both in Germany and Kerala. Following the disclosure the family members were particularly piqued as they did not wish to be drawn into any debate over what they held sacred for so many years. It is interesting to note that they worshipped St. Thomas as “Thondachan”, but did not worship Christ or convert to Christianity.

The deity of Thondachan represents a temple custodian and is believed to be the “grand ancestor.” The shrine of Thondachan is at the upper citadel ( called “mele kottam”). The offerings for him include, beetle leaves, areca-nut and dried rice. His idol is that of a bearded divinity with bow and arrow on his left hand and a sword in his right, weapons that the sailors in his entourage carried. His citadel serves as the site of performance for two forms of oracle dances namely “Vellattom” and “Kaliyattom”. The Hindu adaptation of St.Thomas worship represented him as Vaishnava and Shaiva, thus revered as Vishnu-Shiva in single form (as Guru (teacher) and Vaidya (physician)). In addition he is also worshipped as Sani (another Hindu deity), a misplaced reverence arising from confusion in the folk-lore because St. Thomas had told the Nair family that he had set sail from a place called “Sanai.”

The term “Shekels” was not known to the Hindu family to whom the coins were gifted by St. Thomas. They referred to the coins as “Rakta Velli” or Blood-Silver and “Parindu-Velli” or “Eagle-Silver”.

Paula Gruber virtually went down on her knees begging forgiveness of this family of Kerala for having published this article many years ago in a German newspaper.

Paula’s article was about the “St. Thomas and the four silver coins” folklore that she had encountered during her travels in Kerala. For Paula it was like salvation, for she had been tracking this story ever since she heard of the four coins from her father, as a child during the Second World War years.

Paula’s only lapse was that she had initially agreed to hear the story from the family elders and examine the sacred coins on condition that she would not speak of it again to anyone. The family in possession of the coins was not keen to have the media and the church authorities tail them if the story broke out, especially after a couple of bitter experiences with a group of local Christian youth many years ago.

In a sense, Christianity is more an Indian religion than it is western, because the religion was practiced, preached, propagated, and accepted in India before it was embraced by us in the West. St. Thomas the Apostle was a contemporary of Jesus, and following the crucifixion he traveled to India, reaching Kerala in 52 AD. Christianity reached us in the British Isles in only about 200 AD or even later perhaps. The four silver coins are proof of this, and Paula was very much carried away by this notion. She saw no harm in publishing a small article in a German newspaper. Of course she was not to know that both she and her travel agent were going to be swamped by so many phone-calls. Matters came to a head when some inquiries from as far as the United Kingdom and the US began knocking at the Kerala family’s door.

Today, as one witnesses more instances of Hindu fundamentalist attacks on churches in India, one cannot but wonder what would become of these sacred Christian relics. While we await a miracle, we can only hope that four pieces of silver that survived 2000 years in relative safety in Hindu hands would survive for a few more years.”

Comment by Stephen Kurien 05.02.09 @ 3:38 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oorpazhachi_Kavu

Please search the above link to know more about ‘Thondachan’. He is no more than a local Hindu deity. Some Hindu families have a custom of ancestor worship.In the above article it is said that “Firstly, the evidence of their existence lies with a Hindu household who have been unwilling to put it up for public viewing or exhibition fearing attack and ridicule from some Christian radicals who had demanded their surrender to the church some 40 years ago”. Actually, no Christian in Kerala will dare to seize a Temple property of Hindus. They have an experience before. see http://rajeev2004.blogspot.com/2005/10/nilakkal-episode-1983.html

Comment by Ranjith Perimpulavil 12.16.09 @ 1:26 pm

The other comment is again ridiculous. “In addition he is also worshipped as Sani (another Hindu deity), a misplaced reverence arising from confusion in the folk-lore because St. Thomas had told the Nair family that he had set sail from a place called “Sanai.” Sani is the Sanskrit name for Saturn. Saturn worship along with other Planet-Star worshipping is a part of Hindu belief.

Comment by Ranjith Perimpulavil 12.16.09 @ 1:30 pm

Please see the below link to know about Sani.
http://www.jyotish-remedies.com/articles/saturn_sani_remedy.htm

Comment by Ranjith Perimpulavil 12.18.09 @ 10:43 am



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