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First International Conference Seminar on the History of early Christianity in India

(From the advent of St. Thomas to Vasco de Gama)
(13th – 16th August 2005 in New York)

The history of Christianity in India is traceable to the advent of St. Thomas soon after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But this has been a subject of controversy for a long time owing to lack of documentary evidences. Now, we are able to get lot of evidences both internal and external to testify to the existence early Christianity in India from the period of St. Thomas.

History in early India is different from history as conceived in Europe and other countries. There was no pure historical document in India with chronological details and whatever is available as ancient historical documents are a blending of historical facts with fictional elements. Literatures were the main sources for reconstructing history and they were not very particular in documenting facts as they were but in depicting facts as the author of the text interpreted in his own impressionistic way. Consequently, there are lot of mythicization in the so-called historical materials and any attempt to demythicize them will sometime leads to distortion of history.

There are two important views about the origin of Christianity in India ; One holds that Christianity came to India through the works of the apostles St. Thomas & St. Bartholomew. The other view is that the merchants and the missionaries of East Syrian or Persian Church brought Christianity to India. The Indian tradition on the advent of St. Thomas to Malabar seems to be a very concrete tradition supported by lot of historical evidences. The Acts of Judas Thomas written in Syriac by the Edezza circle in 3rd century A.D. seems to be the earliest record that speaks about this tradition. In addition to this, a number of stray passages in the writings of Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Rufinus of Aquileia, Socrates, Ephrem of Nisibis, Gregory Nizianzus, Ambrose and Jerome speak about the visit of St. Thomas to India, even though there are still some others who deny this claim. St. Ephrem composed hymns glorifying St.Thomas whose relics were being venerated in a shrine at Edizza where this great Syrian poet - theologian was living.

Another work namely The Teaching of the Apostles in Syriac (Didascalia) also speaks about the same tradition. According to this work “India and all its own countries and those bordering on it even to the farther sea, receives the Apostles hand of the priest hood from Judas Thomas, who was guide and ruler in the Church he built there”. There is another tradition which speaks at length about the advent of St. Bartholomew to India. But we are not able to come across adequate internal evidences although St. Jerome and Eusebius of Caesarea of the 4th century AD speak about this tradition. These two writers refer to this tradition while speaking about the visit of Pantaenous to India in the 2nd century A.D.
According to Eusebius , “Pantaenous is said to have gone among the Indians where a report is that he discovered there the Gospel according to St. Matthew among some who knew Christ ; Bartholomew, one of the Apostles had preached to them and had left them the writings of St. Matthew in Hebrew letters. According to St. Jerome, Demetrius, Bishop of Alexandria, sent Pantaenous to India”. But few other scholars deny the advent of Bartholomew to India and according to them, Jerome would have mistaken Ethiopia to India. But scholars like A.C. Perumalil and G.M. Moraes proved the otherwise. According to them, Bombay region on the Konkan coast may be the place referred to with regard to the visit of Bartholomew. Since the traditions about Bartholomew and St. Thomas intermingled, the references about Bartholomew might have been lost in course of time. According to A.C. Perumalil, Bartholomew Christians continued as a separate community until the coming of the Portuguese and then merged with the Christians of Bombay.

The South Indian tradition about St. Thomas is preserved in an oral tradition and in the tradition about St. Thomas Christians who claim their Christian origin from St. Thomas. Historians consider the Coromandal tradition of St. Thomas as very ancient to the Malabar tradition. The Malabar tradition about St. Thomas is comparatively later but it is strong and vital. This tradition associates St. Thomas with definite places and specific families. The Malabar tradition which associates St. Thomas with Palaiyur, Parur, Kokkamangalam and Niranam is not contradicting with any other tradition. The Coromondal tradition centres on Mylapore where the tomb of the apostle is pointed out. Marcopolo, the Venetian travellor, visited the tomb in A.D.1295 and no rival tradition has contradicted this tradition. It is said that the Christians of Malabar enjoyed peace during the early centuries and they were supported by Non-Christian rulers. There is a tradition that St. Thomas conferred priesthood in the members of certain families in Malabar.

The Early Christian community in India is alleged to have suffered decline in due course and it was constituted by groups of Christians who came from Persia and hence there were close relationship between Christianity in India and the Early Church of Persia. The Chronicle of Seert, an important East Syrian document of 7th century AD makes reference to a Bishop namely David who evangelised the Indian people between 250 - 300 AD. In the list of the 325 Bishops who attended the Nicaean Council is mentioned one John of Persian, who, according to the History of Gelasius, was bishop of the whole of Persia and Greater India.

Many groups of East Syrian Christians are often mentioned as migrated to Malabar. Among them one group is associated with Thomas of Cana (4th C. AD) and another with two saintly men Sapor and Potto (of 9th or 10th C. AD). The Malabar tradition whether recorded by the Portugese or local accounts, is always careful to distinguish Thomas, the Apostle from Thomas of Cana.

Somehow or other, East Syrian Church was looked upon by the Portugese in 16th C. AD. and by some western missionary with suspicion. They accused the Thomas Christians of fallen into the heresy of Nestorianism which the Thomas Christians vehemently deny.

Christianity in the Tamilnadu during this phase of early history was a very potential force and its ethics and other theological codes find powerful expression even in secular Tamil Classics like Tirukkural and Naladiyar. Its impact is felt in the native worship and especially in the local religions like Saivism and Vaishnavism. It is obvious that India received a number of missionaries many of whom belonged to Asia and other parts of the world. The Yavanar, probably people from Greece and Rome, spread the message of Christianity in the length and breadth of Indian soil.

Anyhow, we are able to understand that Christianity was deeply rooted in the Indian milieu, thanks to the works of proselytism by men of eminence starting from St. Thomas. But most of the records have been lost or destroyed and Christianity might have underwent lot of sea-changes owing to many a time of adversity faced by it. It has left its strong impact on the other religions of India ; it was instrumental for the emergence many number of Indian religions. Its presence is felt in all religions of India in various forms. Its impact on the emergence of Mahayana Buddhism, especially in the conception of the Bodhisatva as well as the second coming of the Maitreya Buddha, is indeed marvelous. The Early Indian Christianity, which was a part and parcel of the ancient oriental Christianity, gave strength and vigour to Indian culture and Indian ethos in multifarious ways. The deep impact exerted by the early Christianity in the early Indian ethos was indeed tremendous although its physical presence was not very glamourous today as it was shrouded by the misinterpretations and misrepresentations of the later historians of this country.

The aim of the present conference is to establish the existence of early Christianity in Indian soil with objective and well documented evidences and to study its strong impact on medieval and classical India until the advent of Vasco de Gama whose epoch - making visit inaugurated a new chapter in the cultural, and political history of this great nation. We are sure that the reconstruction of the early Christianity in India will shed new light on the history of Indian Philosophy and Indian Culture in general and this will give new orientation and new perspective to our understanding of the classical and medieval culture and civilization. The so-called Hindu historians of our day failed to see the history of India as a whole since their approaches are partial and fragmentary giving stress only to Hinduism neglecting the other forces instrumental for the building up of Indian culture. What we need to day is a wholesome and complete view of the Indian culture with objective assessment of the internal as well as external evidences and balanced presentation of facts. We are sure that this conference will throw new light not only on the early Christianity of India but also to help to reconstruct the history of India as a whole.

Proposed Topics - Tentative
1. History of Christianity in India - Problems and Perspectives
2. Advent of St. Thomas.
3. Land and Sea-routes of the early Christian Missionaries
4. The countries from where Christian Missionaries came and the geographical areas of their activities.
5. Early Christianity and the important sea-ports of India
6. Early Christian activities in India - An overview
7. Early Christians in Tamilnadu
8. Early Christians and Sangam Tamil Society.
9. Early Christianity with special reference to Canron in Sangam Literature and Thirukkural.
10. Early Christians in Malabar.
11. Early Christians in North India.
12. Early Christian Missionaries and Martyrs.
13. The External History of Early Christianity - An overview
14. Advent of St. Bartholomew
15. Foreign Records on St. Bartholomew.
16. Apocrypha & early Christianity in India
17. Acts of St. Thomas
18. Gospel of St. Thomas
19. St. Thomas and the North Indian king Gondabarus.
20. Early Christianity and Yavanar (Greeks - North India)
21. Early Christianity and Yavanar (Romans - South India)
23. Early Christianity and Yavanar (Jews and Syrians)
23. The Churches established by St. Thomas
24. St.Thomas - Santhome and Mylapore
25. Mylapore and Christianity
26. Tirukkural and Christianity
27. Inscriptions in St. Thomas Mount.
28. An objective assessment of the various traditions on St. Thomas
29. Christianity and its impact on earlier indigenous texts
30. Early Christianity and Oral traditions
31. Linguistic evidences
32. Excavations etc.
33. Christianity and the origin of Sanskrit.
34. Christianity and Indian Myths.
35. Christianity and Early Indian literature.
36. Christianity and Indian Theology.
37. Early Indian Christianity- Numismatic evidences.
38. Early Indian Christianity- Iconographic evidences.
39. Early Indian Christianity- Epigraphic evidences.
40. Thomas of Cana and Syriac traditions
41. Nestorians and Syrian Christians
42. Foreign Records on Early Christianity - An overview
43. Hebrew
44. Greek
45. Syriac
46. Ethiopic
47. Arabic
48. Persian
49. Latin
50. Coptic
51. Spanish
52. Italian
53. Armenian
54. Sanskrit
55. Records in other languages
56. Characteristic features of Early Christianity
57. Other foreign reports on Medieval Christianity
58. Marcopolo’s report about Christianity in Mylapore.
59. Divisions and Denominations in Early Christianity.
60. Early Christianity and Native Culture - An overview
61. Buddhism and Christianity
62. Christ versus Krishna - concepts and mythmaking
63. The second coming of Christ and Maitreya Buddha
64. Christianity and Bodhisatva
65. Impact of Trinity in Hinduism
66. Christianity and Saktham
67. Christianity and Saivism
68. Christianity and Vaishnavism
69. Christianity and Kaumaram
70. Christianity and Ganapathyam
71. Christianity and Sowram
72. Christianity and the Brahmasutra.
73. Christianity and the Bhagavat Gita
74. Christianity and the Six Dharshanas.
75. Christianity and Advaida.
76. Christianity and Vedanta.
77. Christianity and Agamas.
78. Christianity and the Upanishads.
79. Christianity and the Ithihasas.
80. Christianity and the Siddhar Movement.
81. Impact of Christianity in devotional literature
82. Marriage metaphor in Indian Literature.
83. The theme of suffering in Job and Harichandra.
84. Bible and the Oriental images.
85. Oriental themes and expressions in the Bible
86. Mode of worship among early Christians
87. Liturgy and devotional literature in early Christianity
88. Shared features of early Indian Christianity with the Oriental Christianity in other parts of Asia.
89. Impact of Early Christianity on Indian life - An overview.
90. Culture
91. Art and Architecture
92. Performing Arts
93. Folk traditions
94. Literature
95. Language
96. Royal patronage for Christianity
97. Christianity and Indian Political history
98. Christianity and Indian Social history.
99. Early Christianity in other parts of Asia.
100. Dilution and Corruption in Early Indian Christianity.
101. Restoration of Early Indian Christianity.
102. Symbols of Early Indian Christianity.
103. Roots of Sikkhism and Early Indian Christianity.
104. Early Christianity in Kerala.
105. St. Thomas Christians in the Context of Indian Culture.

Execution of the Project

There shall be three important main committees with a number of sub-committees to monitor and execute the project. Delegates will be selected and invited from various organisations all over the world. Persons who have done intensive study on the above topics will be invited as delegates.

I. International Advisory Committee

A committee consisting of 12 scholars of international repute may be constituted to offer guidelines on the methodology, thematic treatment and in editing the papers.

II. International Organising Committee

A Committee consisting of 12 representatives from various countries and Organisations all over the world will be constituted to offer guidelines and suggestions in the successful conduct of the conference programmes.

III. Working Committee
A Committee consisting of few local representatives has been constituted to monitor and execute this project with the help of the various sub-committees constituted to look after the variety of works.

Conference Programme – Tentative

The programme shall continue for five days with an inaugural session, a valedictory session and eight academic sessions which will be divided into many more sub-sessions depending upon the number of papers. There shall be five cultural programmes in the evenings. The programme is fixed tentatively to July 2005. The seminar papers will be published in 4 volumes.

Style-Sheet for Contributors

1. The total number of pages of research papers shall vary from 15 to 45 depending upon the data available and the nature of interpretations required.
2. Manuscripts should be submitted in duplicate. They must be typed or printed on one side only; double-spaced with sufficient margins on all sides to facilitate editing and styling. All notes should also be typed or printed double-spaced.
3. Notes should be consecutively numbered and presented at the end of the paper.
4. Lengthy quotations should start on a separate line and be indented; shorter quotations should run into the text with single quotation marks.
5. Citations from archival sources must specify the archival location including the town and country where an archive is located. In case of recorded oral material, the location of the recording should be specified. In other cases, the name and location of the oral informant should be clearly stated. For inscriptions, the title of the volume with publication details should be mentioned. For other details kindly follow the “M.L.A. Handbook for Writers of Research Paper”. (fifth edition) or “Writing Research Papers – A guide” by James. D. Lister.

This Conference is organised jointly by the Institute of Asian Studies, Chennai, India, The Centre for the Study of Christian Literature and Culture in Indian Languages (CSCLC), Chennai, India, and few other academic centres of advanced research in other countries. For more informations about the Institute of Asian Studies and the CSCLC visit www.csclc.org.

For further details on the Conference, please contact:
Dr. G. John Samuel
Institute of Asian Studies,
Chemmancherry, Sholinganallur P.O.

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