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Chapter Eight
 Thomas Churches of Inner India


Hinduism as we know today is the product of syncretic combination of various Philosophical and religious thoughts of the day.  The major formative force was indeed Christianity.

When the Harappa civilization was unearthed, linguists from all over the world were hard at work to decipher the scripts.  I have met some of them back in 1950 while in school.  The baffling thing was those writing were far removed from “Indo-European” scripts.   All attempts to decipher in terms of Indo-European languages failed while it yielded fair results even in those days using  Kodum Tamil as base.  Evidently there existed a language system which was far more ancient than Sanskrit and even of Prakrit which was basically of Dravidian Origin.

The Grantha writing system was developed in the 5th c. AD and was the proto-language of the modern Tamil and was used to write Sanskrit.  Inscriptions in Early Grantha, dating from the 5th to 6th c. AD on copper plates and stone monuments were found dating from the Period of the Pallavas near Chennai (Madras).  Originally Grantha was used for writing Sanskrit.  Nagiri (the modern form of Sanskrit script) came into use only after the 7th c. AD.

Nirad Chaudhuri points out that 'the Hindu religious texts with the exception of the Vedas and their ancillary treatises, are all in classical Sanskrit. He says that in their present form none would be earlier than the fourth century A.D'.  Though it is often argued that these epic and philosophical works were in existence long before they were written down and were handed down through generations by oral transmission, it is quite unlikely because at some point the translation occurred from Vedic to Grantha or to Sanskrit.  Hence its original form or content cannot be guaranteed.  It is quite likely that the form and content changed during this period as it does even today (in spite of the writing).  At any rate this is just a conjecture and cannot be validated by any documentary or concrete evidence.

 'The Gita is written in good classical Sanskrit, and epigraphic evidence clearly shows that the Gita could not have been written before the second century A.D.’ It is probably of much later period.  It could most probably of the 7th century.

'The earliest epigraphic evidence on languages employed in India comes from the inscriptions of Asoka inscribed in third century B.C. Asoka took care that his messages were intelligible to all and he used a particular kind of Prakrit. He even translated his messages to Greek and Aramaic. But, there are no inscriptions in Sanskrit. The first evidence of Sanskrit ever is seen around A.D.150.  From the fifth century A.D.  classical Sanskrit is seen to be the dominant language in these inscriptions.'

It is evident therefore that the early Vedic religion underwent a drastic change during the period following the 2nd c, which culminated, into the various vedantic teachings, which we know today as theistic Hinduism.  Hence the changes must be traced through the history of inter-cultural process.

The major political influence of the period soon before the period was the invasions of Greek.  Alexander the great invaded India. The invasion did succeed to a certain extent. A Seleucidan kingdom was established in a part of India that was conquered.  Subsequently, several Greek kingdoms came into existence in the Punjab, Multan, and Afghan regions.  One of the most famous Greek kings was Menander.  Menander  is known to be a  scholar in Buddhism.  Greek and Indian art fused and gave rise to a new art form called Gandara.  It was the Greeks (philosophical form by Plato and the Pythagoreans) who first introduced the idea of reincarnation to India. It does not appear in the earliest Hindu scriptures (the Rig Veda) but was developed at a later period in the Upanishads under the Greek influence. Solar Astrology was also developed under the influence of Yavana Samskara

Among the Indo-Parthian Empire was the Kingdom of Gondophorus in Taxila, which played an important part in shaping the religious history of India.  It was Gondophorus who summoned St.Thomas into India through his Merchant Ambassador Habban (Probably from Andhra Pradesh area – of Pandya Kingdom) who arrived in the Malabar Coast in AD 52.  St.  Thomas’ route of evangelization can be traced from the Acts of Thomas written around AD 300.  Here is the approximate route.  The route into Taxila is not certain.  But Acta Thomas makes the later missionary journey almost precise.

Though Christian Church inheriting the St.Thomas tradition is today concentrated only in Kerala, there are ample evidence to show that  powerful Christiian Churches  existed all over India. What happened to these churches?  How did it disappear?  What was its influence on the religions of India?

 

The culmination of Upanishadic teachings actually came in by the 7th to 10th C AD when these were really crystallized.

Though each of the schools of Vedanta claim heritage from Godhead himself and claims its parampara through rshi tradition to manava parampara, the real exposition are found only in the Acharyas who lived in the  period later than 7th c AD.   Here are the founders of the Theistic schools of Vedanta and their approximate times:

Sankara  788 –820 Advaita – Monism (Born in Kaladi, Kerala )  He is the most famous exponent of Advaita (the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy), and the source of the main currents of modern Hindu thought. In this approach, Brahma alone has true existence, and the goal of the self is to become one with the Divine. His views were strongly opposed by Ramanuja and his successors.  We should remember that Kerala was at that time the strong hold of Christians. Sankara then traveled far and wide in search of a worthy guru who would initiate him and regularize his vow of sam.nyAsa, till he came to the banks of the river narmadA in central India where govinda bhagavatpAda, the disciple of gauDapAda, the famous author of the mANDUkya kArikAs. Sankara was  initiated into the paramahamsa order of sam.nyAsa, the highest kind of renunciation.

Ramanuja 1017-1137 Visistadvaita the Modified Non-dualist school. (Ramanuja (also known as Ilaya Perumal) was born to Kesava Perumal Somayaji Dikhsitar and Kanthimathi Ammal at Sriperum pudur. He was born in Kaliyuga year 4119 which corresponds to1017 AD)  Hindu theologian and philosopher, born in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, India. He organized temple worship, founded centres to disseminate his doctrine of devotion to Visnu and Siva, and provided the intellectual basis for the practice of bhakti, or devotional worship. His theology of Non-dualism is exactly same as the concept of Eastern Churches. It conceives of a Personal God with infinite divine attributes and infinite varieties of auspicious forms. He, however, is the single Conscious Entity that has all matter and all the souls as His body. He has infinite compassion for the souls and so He is greatly concerned about their salvation. The soul has to comprehend this Inner Reality, rid itself of the three-fold miseries of life and merge in the infinite bliss of the eternal sanctity of God. This is moksha. This is a communion with God, not a realization of complete identity.

Madhva (Ananda Tirtha) 1197-1273 Dvaita the Dualist school.  Kanarese Brahmin philosopher, born near Mangalore, S India. After study in Trivandrum, Banaras, and elsewhere, he settled in Udipi, and is traditionally held to have vanished in mid-lecture in 1317, retiring to the Himalayas. Taking Ramanuja's side against Sankara, he promoted dvaita or dualistic Vedanta, allowing for the separate existence of the Divine, human souls, and matter. His belief that some souls were eternally damned suggests Christian influence on his thinking. Being a student in Trivandrum his life and teachings were influenced by Indian Christians.  Madhva strongly refuted the non-dualist analogy of Sankara — who believed the individual self to be a phenomenon, with the absolute spirit, the Brahman, being the only reality. That’s not all. Madhva also cogently rejected the venerable Hindu theory of maya, or illusion, which infers that only spirituality is eternal, with the material world being only ‘varnished’ and delusive. He departed from orthodox Hinduism in a number of ways.  He believed, for instance, unlike a vast majority of Hindu thinkers, in eternal damnation.  In so doing, he offered a concept of heaven and hell, with a third alternative: a Hindu purgatory of endless transmigration of souls.

Nimbarka late 13th centuary - (Nimbarka was born of Aruna Muni and Jayanti Devi on the banks of  Godavari river) Nimbarka of the twelfth century propagated what is called dvaitAdaita school of thinking; dvaita is duality and advaita is non-duality. According to Nimbarka the souls and the universe are different from the Absolute which rules them. Yet just as the spider’s web though different from the spider which has woven it is still one with the spider because it is nothing but the saliva of the spider it is the Lord that has become the souls and the universe. Thus difference and non-difference are emphasized equally. Difference is when existence is separate though not independent. Non-difference is the impossibility of separate existence. Like the ocean and the waves, like the Sun and its Light, there is difference and at the same time non-difference. One should take the Absolute brahman as the Soul of all souls and of the Universe, comprehend this difference-in-non-difference and surrender oneself to the Lord in toto. The attitude of Radha to Krishna is what is recommended by this school. SrImad BhAgavatam is the most respected scripture.

Vallabha 1478-1530 Shudda Advaita- the Pure Advaita school. According to this the glorious Krishna in His sat-chid-Ananda form is the Absolute brahman. He is permanently playing out His sport (leela) from His seat in the goloka which is even beyond the divine vaikunTHa, the abode of Vishnu. Creation is His sport. To obtain the Bliss given out by Krishna the only path is bhakti. But in this age of kali, the scripture-sanctioned bhakti is impossible to practise. So what is recommended is puSTi bhakti –which we can all get from the natural Grace of God just like that, for no reason whatsoever. It is that bhakti which gives itself up body, heart and soul to the cause of God. It is considered to be the fullest expression of what is known as Atma-nivedana (= giving-up of oneself) among the nine forms of bhakti. It is the bhakti of the devotee who worships God not for any reward or presents but for His own sake. Such a devotee goes to goloka after leaving this body and lives in eternal bliss enjoying the sports of the Lord. The classical example of this complete self-effacement is that of the cow-herdesses towards Krishna.

Caitanya 1485-1533  :  AcintyaBhedabheda - Incomprehensible Distinction-Non-distinctionism. Sri Krishna Chaitanya of the 16th century is universally known for his propagation, by excellent example of his own life, of the acintya-bheda-abheda philosophy and the conviction about the Radha-Krishna theme that popularised Radha as a Goddess and an avatAra of Lakshmi. The relationship between the Lord and His consort is that of difference within non-difference and is therefore mentally unimaginable. The Lord is having an eternal sport with Radha. By his charming sports and beautiful form He mesmerises Man, corrects him and blesses him. bhakti is the only means to reach Him. By constant practice of the instruments of bhakti, and by cultivating a taste for the names of the Lord, compassion for the living, service to the servants of God, one increases one’s component of satva-guNa (=divine tendency) and his devotion now becomes a passion for the divine in due course. This leads step by step to a state of supreme ecstasy. To reach this one may start from the silent bhakti of Bhishma, move on to the vAtsalya (filial affection) bhakti of Yasoda, the friendly bhakti of Arjuna, the dAsya bhakti (devotion by a servant) of Hanuman and finally reaches the mAdhura bhakti (devotion of Love) of the gopis– where the relationship between the devotee and the Lord is that of the spouse to the beloved.

Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana  was born  in a place called Baleshvara, a village neighboring Remuna, in the early part of the 18th century A.D, as the son of a vaisya, an agriculturist. Baladeva became expert in the Gaudiya Vaishanva siddhanta.  “The one absolute truth has two categories: the named (Krishna) and the name (Om). Parameshvara, Sri Krishna, the absolute person is the named; pranava, or omkara (Om) is the name. The named, or Parameshvara Sri Krishna, reveals himself in different forms as Matsya, Kurma, and many other forms. In the same way the name of the Supreme Lord expands into many different forms; such as the transcendental syllable Om, the gayatri mantram, and the Vedas themselves. There is no limit to the Supreme Personality of Godhead; he has no beginning and no end. As a consequence, his glorification is also eternal. He appears within this material world, stays for some time, and again disappears according to his own sweet will." Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana disappeared in the Christian year 1768

Here is the Geographical settings of these teachers.

 

It will probably come as a surprise that the two maps overlaps exactly on each other. 

The only plausible explanation is that Vedic religion was transformed into Hinduism as we have come to know of by the reaction to two other religio-philosophical systems – Greek and Christian.  We have very little history of the growth and decay of these religious thoughts in documentation.  However we know that there was a powerful Christian presence in the Cauvery Area apart from the Christian Church  in Malankara (Malabar). As the Christian faith became powerful, there had been local reaction from the religions that were present.  Natural course of events produced  various syncretic form along with direct persecution.   We  know that there ensued a persecution to these Christian communities in the Andhra  and Tamil areas, that they were forced to migrate to Quilon and Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala.  We also know that they were persued by the then leaders of Hinduism.  Christian documentation indicate that “a certain sorcerer Manicavachagar”  actually came down to Quilon and reconverted 70 families back to Hindu fold.  Who actually is this Manicavacagar cannot be posotively identified.  It is normally assumed that this was the famous Gnostic Persian Prince Manicaen.  It could very well have been a Hindu Theosophist of the period.  It would be worthwhile to remember that a Gnostic controversy was at its climax in the Eastern Churches at that time.  Gnostic and Greek influence syncretised with the Christian doctrines actually produced the present day Hinduism. We can see exactly the same history repeated in the reconversion of tribal Christians. 

An impassionate analysis will reveal the underlying syncretic layers. 

Thus Apium Forum remarks  ”When we study the development of religion and worship in India, before and after Christ, we can see that Christ and Christianity totally transformed religion and worship in India from the first century AD. Saivism first developed as a monotheistic doctrine and Siva was first called Isa which is the name for Jesus in the North. The avatar concept (God coming into the world in the form of a man) in Vaishnavism is the influence of Christianity.

Hindus in India consider Christianity as a foreign religion. However they do not realize how much early Indian Christianity has developed and molded their own religion, and, the revealed truths in their own faith point to Jesus Christ. I pray that we the Christians in India would take time to understand where the heart of every Hindu is, and, help guide them to The Truth in Christ Jesus by gently removing the barriers and obstacles without “

Dr. D Devakala and  Dr. Alexander Harris has shown this development in a time line which I have adopted.  On this can be added the St.Thomas history when the picture will be more clear.  This is shown in the appedix.

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/2104/index.html

Evidently the Hinduism as we know of today was the product of various religious and philosophical thoughts of the late Christian Era.  Among these were the Bhakthi marga and the centrality of the Ultimate Incarnation in the person of Isa  (Yesu) as preached by the Christians.  In the process, Christians were persecuted and forcefully converted and most churches in the interior syncretized and became part of Sivite and Vaishnavite traditions.  But Malankara Church survived the onslaught essentially because of their contact with the rest of the Christian world particularly of the Eastern churches of Persia.  Most of all Malankara had the help of the Syrian translation of the Bible, which was earnestly taught, in the Churches.  So Malankara churches survived the Gnostic and syncretic forces to this day.

Strangely enough the vestiges of Christian faith and worship of Jesus can be still found embedded in the Temple worship.  Among these is one sloka of worship which is repeated in every temple worship which cannot but be pointing to Jesus.  This sloka is as follows.

Om Sri Brahmaputra, Namaha
O God, Son of God, We worship you.

Om Sri Umathaya, Namaha

O God, the Holy Spirit, We worship you.

Om Sri Kannisuthaya, Namaha
O God, born of a virgin, We worship you.

Om Sri Vrishtaya, Namaha

O God, who is circumcised, We worship you.

Om Sri Panchakaya, Namaha

O God, who has five wounds,  We worship you.

Om Shri Vritchsula Arul Daya, Namaha
O God, who was crucified to provide mercy, We worship you.

Om Sri Mritumjaya, Namaha

Oh God , who overcame death, We worship you.

Om Sri Dakshinamurthy, Namaha

O God, who sits on the right hand, We worship you.

Again:
The later Rig Veda written soon after the 2nd C AD  gives this statement which is practically a verbatim translation of John 1:1

Pajapathy Vai idam agre aseet
In the beginning was Prajapathi, the God

Tasyam vag dvitiya aseet
With whom was the Word

Vag vai Parama Brahma
And the Word was verily the Supreme God

Shri Ramana Maharshi says:
'Surrender to Him and abide by His will whether he appears or vanishes; await His pleasure. If you ask Him to do as YOU please, it is not surrender but command to Him. You can not have Him obey you and yet think you have surrendered. He knows what is best and when to do it. Leave everything entirely to Him. His is the burden; you have no longer any cares. All your cares are His. Such is surrender. This is BHAKTI. Or, enquire to whom these questions arise. Dive deep in the Heart and remain as the Self. One of these two ways is open to the aspirant.