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Chapter Fourteen
Gnostic Taken Over
Mani, Arya Samaj and Indian Nationalism


The Forgotten Factor in India – Manichćism



Mani ( Manys (Greek),  Manytos,  Manentos,  Manou;  Manichios; Manes (Latin), Manetis; Manichaeus) is a title  which Mani himself took. It is probably derived form the  Babylonian-Aramaic Mânâ,  which meant light-spirit among the Mandaean Gnostics of the time.  Mani’s actual name is unknown.  Two variations in Greek are given as Cubricus and Ubricus probably corruption of the Persian name Shuraik. 

His father was Fâtâk Bâbâk of Ecbatana, which was the ancient Median capital  Fatak was a member of the  Chascanian Gens. Mani's father was at first apparently an idolater.  Mani was born A.D. 215-216 in the village of Mardinu in Babylonia.  His  mother  was of royal  descent  and was known by the names  Mes, Utâchîm, Marmarjam, and Karossa. Fatak left his idols and joined the Mandaeans – a group of  followers of John the Baptist and of Gnostic tradition. Thus Mani grew up as a Mandean Gnostic.  At the age of twelve Mani is supposed to have received his first revelation. The angel Eltaum, appeared to him, bade him leave the Mandaeans, and wait for his full revelation.  He was to live a strict puritanic life until that time. . On Sunday, 20 March, A.D. 242, Mani first proclaimed his gospel in the royal residence, Gundesapor, on the coronation day of Sapor I, with these words: "As once Buddha came to India, Zoroaster to Persia, and Jesus to the lands of the West, so came in the present time, this prophecy through me, the Mani, to the land of Babylonia”  His was a religion of true synthesis very similar to the Bahais and the  Kashmiri Savism.  Being from Babylon its basis was the
Zoroastrian Dualism .  To the Buddhists Mani became Buddha and to the Christians, Mani became the Apostle of Jesus and the Paraclete whom Jesus Promised. 

In his new religion, he consciously sought to reconcile the great religions of redemption, Christianity (Gnostic), Zoroastrianism (Zurvanite) and Buddhism (Mahâyâna), in a new Syncretism which also incorporated elements of Greek philosophy and Indian Jainism; while refuting patriarchal Judaism. He was not, at first, well received, and was forced to flee the country. He travelled to Trans-Oxiana (modern Uzbekistan), India and Western China, making converts wherever he went. He intended that his religion be a world-religion, in fact the first world-religion, and he consciously adapted his teaching to accommodate local beliefs and customs. He was regarded by his Christian adherents as the Paraclete, by his Persian followers as the Zoroastrian redeemer Saoshyant, and by his Buddhist disciples as the Avatar Maitreya.

Red Flame No. 2 -- Mystery of Mystery: A Primer of Thelemic Ecclesiastical Gnosticism  Tau Apiryon and Helena; Berkeley, CA 1995

240 or 241 A.D. Mar Mani sailed to India, specifically to the Indus valley which is today's Beluchistan, where he converted a Buddhist King, the Turan Shah of India. For a detailed chronology of Manichaen Church see http://essenes.crosswinds.net/manichrono.html

For many years Mani traveled abroad, founding Manichćan communities in Turkestan and India.  When he returned to Persia the Emperor Bahram I, caused Mani to be crucified, had the corpse flayed, the skin stuffed and hung up at the city gate, as a terrifying spectacle to his followers.  The date of his death is fixed at 276-277.  

Overview of Gnostic Teachings

In order to understand the influence of Mani and the later growth of Indian religion under the Gnostic freedom we need to look at the basic characteristics of Gnosticism that eventually produced the varying aspects of Modern Indian Religion known as Hinduism.  Since there was no centralized dogma or definition, there are an umpteen number of permutations and combinations in the Gnostic field. 
 However  four  generally agreed  characteristic of Gnostic thought are common to all. Lance S. Owens outlines these four basic characteristics  . 

The following is a summary of the four basic characteristics of Gnosticism as outlined by Lance S Owens in the “An Introduction to Gnosticism and The Nag Hammadi Library” from the Gnostic Library.  http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhlintro.html

1.  Gnosticism asserts that "direct, personal and absolute knowledge of the authentic truths of existence is accessible to human beings," and that the attainment of such knowledge is the supreme achievement of human life. Gnosis, remember, is not a rational, propositional, logical understanding, but a knowing acquired by experience.  ….Gnosis was the creative experience of revelation, a rushing progression of understanding, and not a static creed.

2  A second characteristic of Gnosticism, "It is a knowing, by and of an uncreated self, or self-within-the self, and [this] knowledge leads to freedom...."   The Gnostics called this "uncreated self" the divine seed, the pearl, the spark of knowing: consciousness, intelligence, light. And this seed of intellect was the self-same substance of God, it was man's authentic reality; it was the glory of humankind and the divine alike.  By all rational perception, man clearly was not God, and yet in essential truth, was Godly.  . The American Religion, Harold Bloom

"To know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God: this is the secret of gnosis.... Self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical." Elaine Pagels


“The Upanishads are Vedanta, a book of knowledge in a higher degree even than the Vedas, but knowledge in the profounder Indian sense of the word, JnanaJnana. And because it is only by an integral knowing of the self that this kind of direct knowledge can be made complete, it was the self of the Vedantic sages sought to know, to live in and to be one with it by identity. And through this endeavour they came easily to see that the self in us is one with the Universal Self of all things and that this self again is the same as God and Brahman, a transcendent Being or Existence, and they beheld, felt, lived in the inmost truth of man´s inner and outer existence by the light of this one and unifying vision. The Upanishads are epic hymns of self-knowledge and world-knowledge and God-knowledge” Sri Aurobindo (1872 - 1950)

3.  The third characteristics is “its reverence for texts and scriptures unaccepted by the orthodox fold. The Gnostic experience was mythopoetic -- in story and allegory, and perhaps also in ritual enactments, Gnosticism sought expression of subtle, visionary insights inexpressible by rational proposition or dogmatic affirmation. “

 “Every one of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability; for no one is deemed perfect [or, mature], who does not develop...some mighty fiction”  Ireneaus

This developed an intricate mythology, system of allegory wherein the ideas of God were expressed in vivid images and icons and corresponding rituals.  Thus gods of India are made superhuman with many heads and many hands carrying varying mythical instruments of destructions and protection. 

4.  The fourth characteristic is that God is a diad or duality.Manichaean gnostic Faustus, introduced the idea that both matter (hyle) and the divine spirit are uncreated and coeternal .

We can see the direct impact of these in the upanishads and later teachings in India.

Mani saw the world as a battleground in which Good/Light and Evil/Darkness existed in eternal conflict. No gray areas for him. There had been a Realm of Light (in the north), ruled by the Father of Greatness; and the Realm of Darkness (in the south), ruled by the Prince of Darkness (representing smoke, fire, storm, mud and darkness).   These two existed in a state of perpetual warfare until the Father sent Jesus the Radiant, who then awakened Adam, the first man, and the first in a long line of prophets including Zoroaster, Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Paul, and Mani himself. At the end of time, there will be a great war, after which Jesus will return and  the final victory of Light will end the Age.  This cycle will go on as long as there is time and existence.

For many years Mani traveled abroad, founding Manichćan communities in Turkestan and India.  During these periods Mani absorbed many of the principles of Budhism and  Indian ethics.  When Mani entered into India, the predominant religions of the country were Budhism and Jainism with its high ethical emphasis and Thomas Christianity with its emphasis on Bhakthi. Thomas Christians all over India worshipped in their own Indian styles.  Mani procalimed himself as the “Prophet of Jesus” and with his Gnostic and syncretic move became a very serious opponent of Christianity in India. 

“The gospel is taken from the sayings of the Holy Prophet Mani:

Then the Luminary said: I Mani, the apostle of Jesus, I have gone out of the land of Babylon, whence I was to call a Call in the world; I shall cause living streams to well up for the thirsty, that they may drink and live.”

Dr. Radha Bannerjee asserts that:

“We know that when Mani preached in Turan in India, the local people took him as the Buddha. The Manichaean documents in Sogdian script also described Mani as Buddha.”

Manichaean leaf, bearing the Berlin Museum No. Mik III, 4979…..In the foreground of the picture there is Ganesha along with the Hindu trinity consisting of Visnu in Varaha incarnation, Brahma, bearded and pot bellied, and the three-eyed Siva. Facing them on the left are seated two Iranian Manichaean gods. Below these deities the leaf is damaged but paintings of flowers and ducks can still be made out. The artist who has drawn this picture, it seems, is equally conversant with the Hindu and Manichaean pantheons. The Hindu deities depicted here correspond to their descriptions given in the Indian Shilpasastra.  The scene perhaps tries to suggest that Mani had been in India and borrowed Indian religious ideas to enrich the Manichaean pantheon which is hinted by the Manichaean tradition.



In the Manichaean leaf found in the Museum fur Indische Kunst, Berlin, there is an illustrated leaf, in somewhat damaged condition, of a Manichaean manuscript, which shows among other things, four Hindu deities on a   This illustrated leaf was found in Qoco, (easter Turkistan); and on stylistic and other grounds it is ascribable to c. eighth to ninth century A.D. It has been described in detail by A. von Le Coq in his monumental work, Die Manichaeischen Miniaturen, pl.8a. p.50. It has also been reproduced as frontispiece of the book, Painting of Central Asia, by Professor M. Bussagli.

For description see:
Hindu Trinity from Central Asia Priyatosh Banerjee http://ignca.nic.in/pb0009.htm

Banerjee however finds it inexplicable to the presence of Ganesha in the panel along side the trinity. “Another important thing to notice in the panel is the presence of Ganesa. He does not seem to have any special role to play here. His presence can, however, be explained by his popularity as a god of success” However once we understand Ganesha as Pillayar, the word who became flesh, His presence is highly significant.

By 300 A.D, a village in India was known as Mani-grama, or Mani's Town.  The name Mani has become a common name of every Hindu family in South India.

Mani’s influence of Budhism changed Budhism totally and spread itself into China.  The underlying Manichaen principles in Mahayana Budhism is well established. It spread with extraordinary rapidity in both East and West taking the local garb and cultural symbols  For thousands of years  Manichaenism was a the religion in Africa, Spain, France, North Italy, the Balkans but it flourished mainly in the land of its birth, (Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Turkestan) and even further East in Northern India, Western China, and Tibet.  While the name died out, the religion still live in most areas of the world and is staging a come back in the modern era.  It evidently is an export item of great interest.

Mani is said to have travelled widely in India and was known in the Southern India as Manika Vachagar.  Vachagar simply means Prophet.   What was the effect of Mani on India?  Indian history do not document any detail as history,  but Manichaen duality is seen in all Indian mythology. While we have seen how much similar is the Vaishanivism and Saivism to the basic Christian doctrines of God and salvation, it will not be difficult to see the later development of Hindu Mythology as an outcome of the Manichaen cosmological fantasy.  “The key to Mani's system is his cosmogony.  Mani was a true Gnostic, as he brought salvation by knowledge.  Manichćism professed to be a religion of pure reason as opposed to Christian credulity; it professed to explain the origin, the composition, and the future of the universe; it had an answer for everything.All these were build on  mystification or  whimsical invention; a series of mythologies that appeals to common man.”

"At the close of King Ardashir's years I set out to preach. I sailed to the land of the Indians. I preached to them the hope of life and I chose there a good selection”. And what did he teach?  “The Bride is the Church, the Bridegroom is the LightMind; the Bride is the Soul, (and) Jesus is the Bridegroom! If he rises in us, we too shall live in him, if we believe in him, we shall transcend death and come to Life”   [Duncan Greenlees, The Gospel of the Prophet Mani, (Adyar, Madras, India: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1956)]


The Manichaen challenge to Thomas Christianity did not go unchallenged.  However we have evidence that the persecution of non-conforming christians by the manichaens forced many to leave their states for refuge.  One such incident is recorded in the palm leaves of Kerala where it is stated that 70 christian families from the village of Puhur near Cauvery took refuge in Quilon in AD .  These families were persued by the manichaens and “One Manica Vachagar (Prophet Manica), came to Quilon and reconverted some back to Hinduism”  in AD

Though there is scant information about Mani’s travel and achievements in India, the Malankara Christians have evidences of his direct inervention in Christian doctrines and symbolism.  In the very near past .  This is concerning the “Marthoma Cross” also known as “Manichaen Cross”.  In the opinion of Fr C J Varkey, director, Charismatic Retreat Centre, Kulathuvayal, the `Manichaen Cross,' is not to be exhibited at all in churches and altars. ``This was brought to Kerala by Mani himself. Abandoned during sixth century it surfaced as `Marthoma Cross.' (The Indian Express, Friday April 24, 1998)

The book of Acta Thoma was written sometime in the third century AD by a Gnostic author in Edessa, Syria.  Gospel of Thomas also came into existence around that period. Gospel of St. Thomas  was discovered in Egypt in 1950 and is essentially Gnostic. Though the story of Thomas was disbelieved till 1930 because of the lack of  historical evidence of a King called Gondaphorus and his brother Gad.  Surprisingly in 1930  a collection of coins of AD 46 in the name of Gondopherne of Peshawar were discovered.  Gad’s name also turned up thus corroborating the historical  settting of the ministry of Thomas.  We also know that  there existed a powerful Christian Dynasty  in Kerala – the Villarvattom Dynasty which lasted nearly a millennium from 510 to 1439 AD.  Malankara (Kerala) always had the Christian presence which had been corroborated by visitors from abroad.  Evidently Malankara Churches had direct connections with the rest of the  Universal (Catholic) Churches in Middle East and Europe.  The fact that the church was in existence in other parts of India are demonstrated by the historical fact of the arrival of  Christians of Vellala origin from Kaverypoopatanam of Pulur District on the River Kaveri.  We have records of the arrival of 72 families into Kollam (Quilon) in Kerala as refugees fleeing from the persecution in AD 293.  The interesting follow up is that one Maniccavachagar followed them in AD 315 and reconverted them back to the Gnosticism.  It is not difficult to see what had been happening in India.

During the time of Thomas there never had been a unified religion all though India as it had always been.  Thomas was able to build Christian churches all though India in the midst of the local religions.  The church,  thus established,  worshipped Isa in culturally acceptable mode.  Bhajans and pujas and prasadams were part of the church. They simply represent the Indian way of worship and Holy Communion.   Bhajans can be explained only in terms of a personal loving God as Isa.  The very name Isa (from Yesu) came to mean God all through India.  Maheswara simply meant Great God.  However unlike Malankara, these churches were isolated from the Universal fellowship.  Malankara churches had always been in touch with the rest of the Catholic churches in Antioch, Alexandria and Rome.  They had their representation in the councils when the church faced the onslaught of heresies.  As any historian would know,  Gnosticism was the prime  heretic force within the Christian Church everywhere. I have often wondered what would have happened if Gnosticism took over the early Church. The fact is that in India it did.  The fact is that Indian churches became Gnostic, while the Catholic Churches survived it.  Hinduism is thus the visible result of the success of the Gnosticism within Christianity.  Thus by the third century, Malankara Churches remained within the Universal Historical Church while the rest of the Indian Churches went Gnostic and became Hindu.  This evidently it did not happen without a fight.  The Cavery incidence is only an indication of it.  This also explains the apparent confusion between who the Manicca Vachagar was.  Many conjecture that this was Manicaen the Gnostic Prince of Persia.  However we notice that the tradition says they were converted back to Hinduism. 

St. Thomas was in later years presented as the proponent of Gnosticism.  There had been contact between the Gnostic church in Persia and Hindu Church of India.  This explains the coming of Manicean to India and converting the Catholic Christians back to Hinduism. The third century Gospel of Thomas simply was an expression of what people knew of the St.Thomas Churches in Hindu land.  Today we have the Gnostic writings of Nag Hamadi as evidence to it.  All these are late second century writings.  However the oldest of the  Nag Hamadi Thomas parchments which dates much further back consist of  “Thus saith Jesus”.  Here is the quote from it.

Yeshua says:  If those who would lead you, say to you:  Behold the sovereignity is in the sky, then the birds of the sky would precede you.  If they say to you:  It is in the sea, then the fish (of the sea) would precede you.  But the Sovereignity (of god) is within you and is without you.  {Those who come to recognize themselves shall find it, and when you come to recognize yourselves} then you shall know that you are the Sons of the Living Father.  Yet if you do not recognize yourselves then you are impoverished and you are in poverty.

Thomas was later given the secret who Jesus was:

13 Yeshua says to his Disciples:  Make a comparison to me, and tell me whom I resemble || Shimon Kefa says to him:  Thou are like a righteous angel. ||  Matthew says to him:  Thou are like philosopher of the heart.  ||  Thomas says to him: Teacher, my mouth will not at all be capable of saying whom thou are like.||  Yshua says: I am not your teacher, now that thou have drunk, thou have become drunken from the bubling spring which I have measured out.  And he takes him, be withdraws, he speaks three words to him:  I-Am Who I-Am


While Isa unequivocally declared himself as the I Am, the saying “God is in you” translated by the individual hearers as  “God is in me” (Aham Brahmasya) when reinterpreted as “I am God” leads simply to the modern New Age and Hinduism.  That I believe is exactly what happened in India.

Evidently such a need came because of the pressure to tolerate other forms of theistic religion.

This  finds credence in view of the fact many of the present churches connected with St.Thomas is being claimed as Saivite temples by the modern hindu proponents.  We should not be surprised at it if these were oriignal Christian Churches of St. Thomas which were typically Indian and were later extent influeced by the Gnostics.  This will also explain the Om signs on the Christian Churches in Kerala.

A purer Christianity in Indian form developed during the 12th to 14th century in the Saiva Sidhanta Church.  Where Isa is still the central deity and the theology is essentially sound Christian Theology.  Evidently the Sivites developed elaborate theological systems apart from the rest of the World Churches.  This church still live not only in south India but also in Kashmir.

Thus evidently while the syncretic levels exists at mundane popular level, underneath are the unique contributions of Christ of Thomas which actually forms the backbone of Hinduism.  It is not that Christianity influenced Hinduism, but that Hinduism is the result of a long events of Christianity giving in to tolerate and assimilate local varied religious experience.

Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D in http://www.friesian.com/myth.htm   describes the general form of such religious development in the following diagram:


http://www.friesian.com/myth.htm        Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D


This is not unique to India.  A similar transformation took place in Europe.  The Roman Catholic Church is an example of Hinduism of Europe.  It syncretized with the Roman culture and accepted Idols as part of Christianity.  In fact an average Indian Hindu do not see any difference between Roman Catholic Church and a Hindu Temple.  Both are replete with many gods to whom incense and candles are burnt.  The goddess worship is as much a part of Roman Church as the Hinduism - if not more.  Names of the gods are different,  but import is same.  Thus 50 percent of devotees that go to the Mahim, Bombay church for naveena are Hindus so also in Bangalore church.

People of all faiths and religions flock this Mount Mary Church in Bandra where the week long fair takes place. The Marathi speaking communities refer Mother Mary as - Math Mauli.   In Bangalore: Virgin Mother stands in a small chapel to the side of the main entrance, where this figure is given homage by all creeds, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jain and Buddhist.They all wear saffron clothes and walk all the way to the church to pray and light candles.

If the church could be like Roman Church inspite of the written  Gospels and early Apostolic writings in Greek,  what else could we expect in a country where these were totally lacking and the church was left alone to develop its own theology without any written heritage.  It should not surprise any student of religion to see that Hinduism is really the Indian Catholic Church.  They call themselves that way – Sanadhana Dharma – only that it is in Indian Language


“In the traditional Christmas Eve celebrations of the Ramakrishna Order, when the worship centers on a representation of the Virgin and Child and the liturgical prayers and hymns and offerings are made to Mary as much as to Jesus.”

The second great transformation came in with the advent of European Nations as colonisers.  By the time they entered India, the only Christian church that resembled the western Christian Church was those of Malankara because of their Syrian connection.  The rest of India which were influenced by Mani and developed their own modes of worship, expression etc  without any external input from the universal Christian Churches could not be recognised.  This is not surprising since they were developed in totally different environment with toally different cultures.  The colonising Portugese brought with them the Roman Catholic form of Christianity.  To them even the Malankara Thomas Churches who had some Syrian connection were also heretic.  They burned all local documents publicly and by force instituted Roman form of Christianity.  With the decline of the Porutgese Colonialism and the coming of other European colonists whoe were essentially Protestant, though Malankara Churches found some liberation the rest of the Indian religions bafled them.

It was this consternation of the British that grouped all religions and sects as “Hindu” which actually meant – “Of India – We cannot make sense out of this mess”.  As the Freedom Movements within India began to grow, it became necessary for all Indians to find their unity.  This was provided by the new concept of “Hindu Relgion”.  Even though it really did not exist, it evolved out of the political necessity.  Anie Beasant who came to India as a missionary joined the Indians in that evolutionary process.    Arya Samaj, was started by  Swami Dayanand Saraswati in 1875 which proposed the idea that Hinduism is a pure Vedic religion. It was rational and reformist in its outlook. In the rising scientific world it had a double role to play.  It Empahsized the unity of all Indian religions and its Sanadhana nature,  at the same time it played an important role in rousing the dormant conscience of the Hindu society against idol worship, caste system, and many other social evils of that time. It was a product of the  resurgence of Indian conscience.   The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 by Madame H.P. Blavatsky.  They shifted the universal religious center from anceint Egypt to India and shifted the headquarters of their society to Adyar, near Madras. It was the Theosophical Society that synthesized the spiritual core of all faiths. There are very few families in India – whether Chistitian or Hindu who were not influenced at least temperarily by its impact in the context of Indian Independence Movement.  “One God, One Religion and One Nation” was the theme.  “Under heaven – one family” was even the motto of many christian movements of the time in Kerala. It played an extremely important role in the Indian awakening.  Annie Besant came into India as Christian Missionary and became the dynamic leader of this movement    Alan Octavian Hume, a staunch Theosophist, first mooted the idea of the National Congress.   Annie Besant and others first discussed Home Rule, leading to the call that led to the founding of the Indian National Congress and the birth of the Freedom Movement.  So we can see how this concept of  “Hinduism” was very central to the awakening of Indian consciouness.  

As a result the Gnostic elements in the Indian Religions became amplified and were given  more firmer doctrinal statements.  Through  "manipulative reinterpretation of cultural material" and "invention of tradition" Hindutava tries to create a monlithic universal religion called Hinduism or Sanadhana Dharma. "The new Hinduism which is being currently propogated by the Sanghs, Parishads and Samajs is an attempt to restructure the indigenous religions as a monolithic uniform religion, rather paralleling some of the features of semitic religions. This seems to be a fundamental departure from the essentials of what may be called the indigenous `Hindu' religions. Its form is not only in many ways alien to the earlier culture of India but equally disturbing is the uniformity which it seeks to impose on the variety of `Hindu' religions."  (Romila Thapar, 'Syneticated Moksha?' Seminar, 1987, pp.14-22.)   The face of Hinduism is changing rapidly.  But this will not be easy as the opposition to any such attempt will be inherent in the Indian ethos. 

Lakshmi Laxmi mother lakshmi

Sophia of Gnostics                          Lakshmi of Hinduism