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Suraya immigration


Even though history had been erased soon after the Kalabhra period by the Vaishnavite heretics records of events in the foreign countries and records in copper plates and inscriptions gives us a glimpse vivid enough to rebuild the christian history in the southern states.


History of India has been inescapably intermingled with the history of Babylon (Persia, Iran, Syria).  The Silk Routes (collectively known as the "Silk Road") were important paths for cultural, commercial and technological exchange between traders, merchants, pilgrims, missionaries, soldiers, nomads and urban dwellers from Ancient China, Ancient India, Ancient Tibet, Persia and Mediterranean countries for almost 3,000 years.   It gets its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade, which began during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Extending 4,000 miles (6,500 km), the routes enabled people to transport goods, especially luxuries such as slaves, silk, satin and other fine fabrics, musk, other perfumes, spices, medicines, jewels, glassware and even rhubarb, as well as serving as a conduit for the spread of knowledge, ideas, cultures and diseases between different parts of the world (Ancient China, Ancient India (Indus valley, now Pakistan), Asia Minor and the Mediterranean). Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the great civilizations of China, India, Egypt, Persia, Arabia, and Rome.

 By the first century another trade route through the sea also openned up – the Spice route. 

Spice route connected the rest of the world directly to Malabar Coast. 

Thus while the religious and cultural interactions with the persian arabian region was along the silk route which came to North India, the discovery of Monsoon and the faster Spice Route make Malabar Coat a center for cultural and religious dialoge.  One such major religion that came with the route is Manichaenism.



Mani was born in a Persian village called Mardinu, near the site of the modern city of Baghdad, in 215 or 216 AD.   His father Fâtâk Bâbâk was a citizen of Ecbatana, the ancient Median capital and a member of the famous Chascanian Gens. His mother, Maryam, (Mes, Utâchîm, Marmarjam, and Karossa) was of the family of the Kamsaragan, who claimed kingship with the Parthian royal house, the Arsacids.  Mani's father as he worshipped in a temple  heard a voice urging him to abstain from meat, wine, and women. In obedience to this voice he emigrated to the south and joined the Mughtasilah, or Mandaean Baptists followers of  John the Baptist, taking the boy Mani, with him.

Mani, when about  twelve received his first revelation when the angel Eltaum (God of the Covenant; Tamiel of Jewish Rabbinical lore) and was called as a prophet. Manes (Manichaeus) began preaching in about 240 AD, at Ctesiphon, near Baghdad, capital of the powerful Sasanian dynasties. His first  declaration was on the coronation day of the Sasanian King Shapuhr I in 242 AD.

"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."

Although his preaching seemed to have met with favor for a time in Persia, he was later  banished from the Persian realm. During a long period of exile, approximately twenty years, he preached his doctrines in the region of Northern India, Tibet, Chinese Turkistan and Khurastan. Mani, in 272 or 273 returned to Persia, met with royal consideration during the brief reign of Ormazd I (Hurmizd); He sent his father and a disciple to continue his work in India. Zorastrian priests, who envied his success had him executed in 273 or 274 AD.  He was flayed alive, and the body decapitated. 


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



It is this mixing up of Zorastrianism, Buddhism and Christianity by the Gnostic movement of Mani that started the modern form of Hinduism.  Hinduism is essentially Manichaenism in Indian context.

Shapur the Great (309–379 AD)came to power in Babylon in 309 AD.

In 337, Shapur the Great broke the peace with the Roman empire that had been established for 40 years. Christianity was in power in the eastern half of the Roman empire with whom Shapur was dealing, and to many Persians this made Christianity an enemy religion. Shapur championed the Zoroastrian view and began persecuting not only Christians but also Jews and Manichaeans, seeking their conversion to Zoroastrianism. Entire villages of Christians were slaughtered. Under this persecution large number of Suraya Christians looked for an assylum.  The choice obviously was the Malabar and it was dominated by the Christians.  The Eastern Churches had directt relation with the Malankara Churches on a regular basis by now.  The choice of place of refuge was not a chance event.  The Christians in Malankara were known as Nazaranikal (One who follow Nazarene) or Issanu Vadikal . They were mostly converted from Jews, Nambudiris and Royal family and were the rulers of the various states,  (The Chera King Kuru Varman-1 also known as Vyakrasenan who ruled Kerala at the time of the arrival of St.Thomas from 40 AD to 55 AD was a Christian ).

Thus in AD 340  the Suraya Christians from Persia came to Malabar Coast under the leadership of a bishop by name Dawood. This migration is  recorded on the cross they had brought with them, which is preserved in Alangad church in Kerala.  These Babylonian Christians settled in the coastal areas of North Kerala and in Ceylon (Known in those days as Thambrobani). There is also a place called Kalyani on the coastal area between Mangalapuram and Vadakara where they settled.  Cosmos (AD520 to 525) had recorded  about their presence.

A second migration took place in AD 345 under the leadership of Thomas of Canaa (Knai Thomman).    Knai Thoma and his group sailed in three ships. The leading ship called "Babylonia" had three masts. The main mast flew King David's flag, the second mast flew the Roman flag with the cross, and the third flew the Edessene flag.  They included about 400 persons of seventy-two families of seven clans. A bishop named Mar Joseph, four priests and a few deacons  were also with them.  They landed in Kodungallur on 7th March, 345 AD. Knai Thoma and his people built a town in Kodungalloor with a church and 72 houses. The present Knananites are the descendents of the around 400-people from 72-Families of the 7-Clans, migrated to the Mahadaver Pattanam (Kodungalloore) on March 07, 345AD.

The 7-Clans are : 1) Bagi, 2) Belkuth, 3) Hadi, 4) Kujalig, 5) Koja, 6) Mugmuth, & 7) Thegmuth.

 The place awarded to the immigrants was at "Mahadevar Pattanam" (The City of the Great God).  Some of them were actually Mani followers (60) who who were also persecuted by the Zoroastrians.  These Gnostic migrants settled as a separate village and were known as “Manigrama Nivasikal” This was in Thiruvancode. Manicaenism eventually caused the acceleration of Christian heresies and to the formation of Hinduism. Manigramam, Church in Thiruvithamcode, was  the major influence of Mani’s religion which spread into Kancipuram, Mylapore and surrounding areas and culminated into Hindu Saivism.




Another Gnostic group from Syria also settled in a Manigramam, a village in Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu. It is located 25 km from Mayiladuthurai Mayuram, 18 km from Sirkali, 5 km from Poompuhar, 2 km from Thiruvengadu. They were merchants by trade.


They were received kindly by the Cheraman Perumal who gave him permission to buy land and settle down. The King also offered special privileges to him and his group.     

A. D. 346  The deed read as follows:—

" May Cocurangon [personal name of the king] be prosperous, enjoy a long life and live 100,000 years, divine servant of the gods, strong, true, just, full of good deeds, reasonable, powerful over the whole earth, happy, conquering, glorious, rightly prosperous in the service of the gods, in Malabar, in the city of the Mahadeva  reigning in the year of Mercury on the seventh day of the month of March before the full moon the same king Cocurangon being in Carnallur there landed Thomas Cana, a chief man who arrived in a ship wishing to see the farthest parts of the East. And some men seeing how he arrived informed the king. The king himself came and saw and sent for the chief man Thomas, and he disembarked and came before the king, who spoke graciously to him. To honour him he gave him his name, styling him Cocurangon Cana, and he went to rest in his place, and the king gave him the city of Mogoderpatanam  for ever. And the same king being in his great prosperity went one day to hunt in the forest, and he hastily sent for Thomas, who came and stood before the king in a propitious hour, and the king consulted the astrologer. And afterwards the king spoke to Thomas that he should build a town in that forest, and he made reverence and answered the king: 'I, require this forest for myself, and the king granted it to him for ever. And forthwith another day he cleared the forest and he cast his eyes upon it in the same year on the eleventh of April, and in a propitious time gave it to Thomas for a heritage in the name of the king, who laid the first stone of the church and of the house of Thomas Cana, and he built there a town for all, and he entered the church and prayed there on the same day. After these things Thomas himself went to the feet of the king and offered his gifts, and after this he asked the king to give that land to him and his descendants: and he measured out two hundred and sixty-four elephant cubits and gave them to Thomas and his descendants for ever, and jointly sixty-two houses which immediately were erected there, and gardens with their enclosures and paths and boundaries and inner yards. And he granted him seven kinds of musical instruments and all honours and the right of travelling in a palanquin, and he conferred on him dignity and the privilege of spreading carpets on the ground and the use of sandals, and to erect a pavilion at his gate and ride on elephants, and also granted five taxes to Thomas and his companions, both men and women, for all his relations and to the followers of his law for ever.

The said king gave his name and these princes witnessed it ...”


The 72 Privileges that were given to the knanaya community up on their migration are :


Arappura (Treasury)


Ambari (Howdah on an elephant)


AnkaNam (courtyard)


Antholam (palanquin)


Ammoolam (a kind or 5ax),


Arrppu (cheers)


Alavattam (peocock feather fan)


Anasavari (elephant riding)


Uchipoovu (head turban)


Kacha (robes)


Kachappuram (overcoat)


Kankanam (Bangles)


KalthaLa (anklets)


Kaalchilamb (anklets)


Kurravai (cheers)


Kuthira savaari (hose riding)


Kuzhal viLi (bugles)


Kodi (flag)


Kaikara (hand ornament)


KaithalLa (bangles)


Chelli (a kind of tax)


Chenkomb (another tax)


ChenDa (drum)


Thanberu (big drum)


ThazhakuDa (royal umbrella)


Nervaal (sword)


PaTTuchaTTa (silk coat)


PaTTurumal (silken tassal)


PaTTumunD (silk dothi)


Pakal viLakk (day lamp)


PaDippura (out house)


Pathakkam (necklace)


PanippuDava (embroidered robes)


Paravathani (carpet)


PavaDa (royal clotheing)


Pallakk, ((palanquin)


Panchavadyam (orchestra)


Pandhal vithanam (pandal decoration)


Pathinezhu Parishamel Kathruthwam (control over 17 lower casts)


MadhaLam (drum)


MaNarkolam (platform)


MuDi (crown)


MuDikeezhabharanam (head ornaments)


Mummolam (tax)


MathiyaDi (wooden chapels)


Rajavadhyam (royal orchestra)


Rajasamaksham Irippu (sit before the King)


Rajabhogam (tax)


Veena (string instrument)


Thee ve Tti (fire torch)


Thookumancham (swinging coat)


Thongal (decoration)


Thoranam (decoration)


TholvaLa (armpit bangle)


Theendalakattal (untouchability)


Nada viLi (cheers)


Nayattubhogam (privilage for hunting)




NeDiya KuDa (royal umbrella)


Nettur peTTi (cloth box)


NattikeTTu (turban)


Veeravadhyam (heroic bungles)




Veera srimkala (royal chain)


Viri pandal (honour to erect pandal)


Venchamaram (beautified deer-haired tassal)


Sankh (conch)


Edam piri sankh (conch with left screw)


Valam piri sankh (conch with right screw)


Bhoomi karamozhiv (land-tax evasion)


Nayatt (hunting)


Pala-marangal (forest trees)

This group kept their social identity and forms the Kananaya Christians. Thomas is said to have married a local woman.

The descendants of Knai Thoma are called Knananaya Christians. Knananites did not intermarry with native Christians and maintained their Jewish tradition originating from Abraham. To this date the Knananites continue as an endogamous community. and were known as Southists (Thekkumbhagor).  Thus from then on there were two  two branches of Chrisitans:  viz,  Southists (Thekkumbhagor) and Northists (Vadakkumbhagor).  There are several conjectures regarding this terminology.

  • Those who lived on the south side of Kodungalloor are known as Southists (Thekkumbhagor) and the St, Thomas (native) Christians who lived on the north side of Kodungalloor are known as Northists (Vadakkumbhagor) .
  • Another tradition is that Knananites settled down on the south side of Periyar (river) while the native Christians lived on the north side of the river.
  • Knananites are called Southists because they came from the southern kingdom of Judah.



Various Customs & Traditions of Knanaya Samudayam :

a) Marriage:
• Kaipidutham – Betrothal Ceremony by blessing the hands of the uncles of bride & bridegroom by the priest.
• Koluvilakku – Lighted oil-lamp placed near the bride and bridegroom for Mylanchi Ideel & Chamtham Charthal. This lamp is also used to welcome the couple after the Wedding. This lamp signifies the presence of Christ, the light of the world.
• Chamtham Charthal – Purification or beautification of the bridegroom by shaving face & bathing with oils, etc on the eve of the marriage.
• My-lanchi Ideel – Beautification of the palms and feet of bride by the leaves from “Mylanchi” shrub on the eve of marriage. This signifies the purification of hands and feet from the original sin committed by Adam & Eve.
• Icha-Pad-Kodukkal – Ceremony of giving sweet pudding to the bride and to the groom in their home after the beautification ceremony.
• “Beru Mariam” Song – A prayer in praise of Jesus as Son of Mary, sung by the priests & the laymen at the end of the marriage ceremony in the church.
• NaDa Vili – Cheers (NaDa NaDaaye….NaDa NaDa NaDa) given to the bride & Bridegroom while going home from the church after the marriage (It also serves to Alert the wedding receptionists to complete their final touches).
• Vazhu Pidutham – The rite of giving God’s blessing to bride and groom by the mother of the bride by placing her hands in the form of a cross on their heads.
• Kacha Thazhukal – A ceremony using a new piece of cloth given to bride’s relatives as a gift by the groom’s party (Usually to bride’s mother, grandmother & maternal uncle/aunt)
• Nellum Neerum – Sign of cross done using the blessed palm leaves (from Palm Sunday) wetted in the patty (rice) water, on the forehead of the bride & bridegroom Wishing them God’s blessing and happiness.
• VeN-PaachoR – A special sweet rice porridge ceremoniously given to the new couples after marriage.
• Adachu ThuRa – Shutting & opening of the bride’s chamber at the end of the marriage festivities at home.
• Illa-PaNam – A small amount of money is given to the bride’s party by the groom’s people as offering to the churches.

b) Funeral:

• Drinking from the blessed Coconut – To show that the sons and the daughters of the dead should live in fraternal communion.
• Folding the Plantain Leaf for Meals – This reminds that King Cheraman Perumal honored Thomas Kinai and party by giving them two plantain leaves for royal dinner.
• Thazhukal – Embracing relatives of the dead person in the church after the funeral, to express the condolence.

c) Other:

• Maargam Kali & Patt – Religious dance (ballad) performed in the connection with joyful religious and social functions. The songs contain accounts of the appostolic work by ST.Thomas and the voyage and migration of Thomas Kinai and his group.
• Puraathana PaaTTukaL (Ancient Songs) – Traditional songs sung by the participants and relatives during marriage ceremonies and festivities.


Many of these customs and practices show how the cross cultural contact between local Christians with the new comers formed a new culture which form the special characteristics of Syrian Christians.

The presence of a foreign group with wealth created and emphasised the caste system within the church.

They now began to exchange priests, who brought with them the documents known as the bible, which were only available in Greek and Syriac.  They soon incorporated the Persian way of church institution, worship and other ritualism. Kerala Christians as a whole came to be known as Syrian Christians because they followed the liturgy and customs of the Syrian Churches. 

AD 354 Theophilus, The Indian

Theophilus was a native of Maldive Islands, off Kerala coast. Emperor Constantine took him as a hostage so that the Maldive people will not plunder Roman ships as it passed that way. In Rome he became a Christian and became a Bishop. He visited India in AD 354 and noted that their worship practices differed considerably from those of other parts of the world. Particularly he noticed that Indians sang, heard the gospel and worshipped sitting down.

AD 425 Daniel, The Priest, Indian

It may be assumed that Indians sent their priests for training and studies to Syria. There was one Daniel who translated the commentary on the Epistle to the Romans from Greek to Syriac in Edessa. He signed it as Daniel, the priest, the Indian. Ecclesiastical language of India was probably Greek and Syriac as the teaching of Bible came from there. Greek inscriptions are found on the bells of several churches. 

Cosmos Indicopleustes and Universal Christian Topology

Around AD 522, Cosmos a rich Christian merchant from Alexandria, visited India and wrote a book called Universal Christian Topology. He describes his visit thus:

"We have found the church not destroyed, but very widely diffused and the whole world filled with the doctrine of Christ, which is being day by day propagated and the Gospel preached over the whole earth. This I have seen with my own eyes in many places and have heard narrated by others. I as a witness of truth relate: In the land of Taprobane (Srilanka), Inner India, where the Indian sea is, there is a church of Christians, with clergy and congregation of believers, though I know not if there be any Christians further in this direction. And such also is the case in the land called Male (Malabar), where the pepper grows. And in the place called Kallia (Kollam) there is a bishop appointed from Persia, as well as in the island called Dioscores (Socotra) in the same Indian Sea. The inhabitants of that island speak Greek, having been originally settled there by Ptolemies, who ruled after Alexander of Macedonia. There are clergy there also ordained and sent from Persia to minister among the people of the island, and the multitude of Christians..."

Notice that he states that the Malabar Bishop was consecrated in Persia; from which we may infer that the Christians of Southern India had already been brought within the Nestorian fold. 


A.D. 431 Council of Ephesus  A.D. 451 Council of Chalcedon : Nestorian Schism

Soon after the formation of the Church, heresy and variations in teachings were in existence in one form or other, all over the world. During the Apostolic Period, they were settled with the mediation of the Apostles and Apostolic Synods and Councils. The first of the council was the council of Jerusalem where the question of gentile inclusion in the church was discussed. However after the apostolic period this continued. Even today we have large number of theological systems varying ever so slightly. These movements arose powerfully around 400 A.D when Christianity became free from oppression and when being a Christian became a prestige. In the year AD 425 Nestorius, a presbyter of the Church of Antioch became the Patriarch of Constantinople. He legitimately objected to the epithet of "Theokotos" or "Mother of God" as applied to Mary;  since Mary was only the mother of the incarnation and not the mother who produced a God. This would imply that Mary was a Goddess.   In this sense he was indeed right. However he was understood to have propounded the concept that the Logos of God indwelt Jesus the man. Thus there were two natures in Jesus at the same time. If we are to judge by the Nestorian churches of today this was a misunderstanding.

Cyril the Patriarch of Alexandria opposed this dual nature concept and insisted on the unity that Jesus was perfect man and perfect God without inconsistency. The controversy reached a climax when these Patriarchs excommunicated each other. However the conduct of the Ephesus council was totally deplorable that Nestorius was not even given a hearing. By the time Nestorius arrived at Ephesus the council had voted against him and he was excommunicated and exiled. Its decision though universally accepted, the way the issue was treated is still considered deplorable. Nestorius, a genius theologian of the time was derided without even giving him a hearing. 

The fight went on and in AD 451 the Nestorians claimed a victory in the council of Chaldeons. In this council it was declared that in Christ the two natures were hypostatically united, without mixture, confusion and divisibility.  Cyril the Patriarch of Alexandria and John the Patriarch of Antioch finally reconciled. Nestorians adopted the name Chaldeon Church and the Patriarch took the title of Patriarch of Babylon. These in fights in the Middle East and Europe had its repercussions in India too. There exists a Chaldean church with few followings even today, though majority of the Christian churches remained faithful to the declarations of Nicea and Ephesus.  A copy of the pre-Diampur liturgy shows that Thomas churches considered Nestorius as one of their bishops and revered him.

A.D 510 – 1439 The Christian Dynasty of Villarvattom

By this period, the great Empire of the Chera Kingdom came to ruins and an immense number of small independent Kingdoms came into existence.   Thus those areas where Christians were in prominence established themselves into Kingdoms. Christians were traditionally good statesmen and warriors.   One such Kingdom was  the Villarvattom Pana. This Kingdom Villarvattom Pana extended from the coastal islands of Chennamangalam, Maliankara and others to the north of and south of Udayamperoor. The capital of this kingdom was at Mahadevarpattanam (Maha Thevar = Great God = El Elyon) in the island of Chennamangalam and later it was shifted to Udayamperoor when the Arab invaders attacked the island. The Udayamperror Church - which stands even today - was built by Raja of Villarvottam in A.D 510. There are several inscriptions in this church that supports this including the mention of one Raja Thomas who ruled in AD 900. In A.D 1330, Pope John XXII in a letter sent with Friar Jordan to the king of Vellar Vattom, address him as the successor of Raja Thomas.  Pope Eugene IV addresses a Raja Thomas in A.D 1439. The papal record mentions "that there is a Kingdom twenty days journey from Cathay, of which the king and all the inhabitants are Christians, but heretics, being said to be Nestorians." "Historia de Variatate Fortunae, liv. IV, Poggi Bracciolini , Secretary to Pope Eugenius IV). 

The Villarvattom Estate was a vassal of the Chera kings and extended from the coastal islands of Chennamangalam, Maliankara and others to the north of and south of Udayamperoor. The capital of this kingdom was at Mahadevarpattanam in the island of Chennamangalam and later it was shifted to Udayamperoor when the Arab invaders attacked the island.

The Udayamperor Church was built by  in A.D 510 during the time of Mor Abor and Prodh but it is also believed that the Raja of Villarvattom was instrumental in getting it constructed.

It may have been the fame of this christian dynasty that  caused Pope Eugene in 1439 to send envoys to this king with a letter, which in Wadding’s Annales Minorum commences as follows:

”To my most beloved son in Christ, Thomas, the Illustrious Emperor of the Indians, Health and the Apostolic benediction. There often has reached us a constant rumour that Your Serenity and also all who are the subjects of your Kingdom are true Christians”

The envoys bearing this letter did not reach India, though. It is believed that at the death of the last king without issue, the kingdom lapsed to the Cochin royal family. However the local christians preserved the royal sceptre, which was a red rod probably made of wood, tipped with silver, having three small bells at the upper end. The sceptre was presented to Vasco da Gama when he came to Cochin for the first time. There has been no trace of this sceptre since then.