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India at that Time - Page 6

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Catholicos Designate

H.B Paulose Mar Milithios

Apostle Of India
Apostle Of India - India at that Time
Article Index
Apostle Of India
St. Thomas in the Bible
Arrival in India
In South India
Proof of his Arrival
India at that Time
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India at that Time

In the viewpoint of broader understanding the land INDIA can be introduced as follows:

"It is certainly not as small as the present political INDIA. As per the ancient historians and travelers, India is the farthest part of the inhibited world towards the east.

Political and Commercial context

From the time of invasion of Alexander the Great in 326 BC crossing the Indus river, India became more open to the countries of the west. He conquered King Poros (the kning of present Punjab) historically and broke the great barrier, the empire of Persia which had separated people of western countries including Greece from India and opened a channel for direct communicatuion. Eminenet scholars of those times; Ptolemy, Aristobolus etc'. and others gives reference to it.

After the death of Alexander, the great Indian king Chandraguptha Mourya liberated Punjab from greek domination by a friendly alliance with the Seleukos Nicator. Owing to this better atmosphere, many Greek merchants and others were attracted to Indian subcontinent. They and their successors exchanged ambassadors and many other western kingdoms followed it such as Egyptian Ptolomies. Many of them like 'Megasthenes' wrote books and defined boundaries of Indian subcontinent in it.

Communication between the western world and India became less frequent preceded to the Christian era due to the rise of new Parathian Empire. It was for a short period and Roman empire rised and started developing trade and commerce with the precious goods of east. Again Parathian Empire raised in between and a toll was levied for trade to Rome. This forced Romans to find a sea route to the east - especially to India. This created a problem with the Arabs as they were loosing the importance. After a lot of conflicts and problems, the incidents favoured Roman ambition to set sail for India. Hence about 0005 AD., Strabo could write : I found that about 120 ships sail from 'Mycos-Hormos' to India.'

The Indian Kings like 'Pandyan' of Madurai have opened embassies in Rome and the trade was immense as the western world was a good market for Indian goods. India was in a flourishing stage during that period.

This should be the reason St. Thomas selected India as his mission field which was well known to Palastinians and there was all means of communication which was prevailing at that time.

The historic proofs of St. Thomas mission in India are many. Taking into account traditional evidence available in India and abroad. It may may be said that the Apostle was approximately 17 years in India. Viz.. about 4 years in Sindh, 6 years years at most in Malabar, and 7 years at Mailepuram or Mailapore. Crosses carved on stone, some of which are attributed to St. Thomas by unbroken tradition, have not been lost to posterity.
Government of India bringing out two stamps in commemoration of the Indian apostolate of  St. Thomas, one in 1964 and another in 1973, and the Holy See proclaiming St. Thomas The Apostle of India and in Cardinal Tisserant bringing his bones to India and Kerala in the year 1963.

Historians today believe that St. Thomas planted the seed of the gospel on Indian soil. This is the general trend of their thinking: During Apostolic times there were well frequented trade routes, by land and / or water, connecting North-West India (today Pakistan), the West Coast and the East Coast, with North Africa and West Asia.

Thus Alexandria, Aden, Socotra, Ormuz, Ctesiphon, Caesarea, Taxila, Broach, Kodungallur (Muziris) and even Rome were inter-linked. The witnesses of different authors belonging to different places, Churches, cultures, centuries and races ( and often speaking different languages) supporting the Apostle's Indian mission provide an almost unassailable bulwark of evidence, along with the South Indian tradition that is woven into a myriad details of folklore, place names, family traditions, social customs, monuments, copper plates, ancient songs, liturgical texts etc..

King Gondophares

The apocrypha book "Acts of St. Thomas' mentions about his connection with the Indian King. Till the middle of the 19th century even the existence of such a king was legendary. How ever, a large number of coins were discovered in Kabul, Kandahar, and in the western and southern Punjab, bear the name 'Gondophares'.

Ruins of Taxila, Pakistan, where the apostle St. Thomas is said to have begun his missionary work in India. A yearly festival commemorating the coming of St. Thomas attracts up to 60,000 people.

To go in detail,

A 2nd century AD work in Syriac, many poems by Ephraem (3rd/4th century), many folksongs in South India, a historical narrative committed to writing some five hundred years ago in Kerala, timehonoured traditions prevalent in many parts of India speak of the arrival, travels, and activities of a visitor from around Alexandria in India in the First Century A D. The crediblity of this 'St. Thomas legend,' as described in Kerala-Mylapore tradition, in the Song of St. Thomas Rambhan, in the Margam Kali songs etc., and in the Acts of Judas St. Thomas has been vehemently questioned and denied by the vast majority of western scholars during the major part of the 19th century. It has been said and with quite some truth that this vehemence was at least partially due to the fact that many westerners refused to believe that their own present religion, though originally from the East, had arrived in another country, that too a 'pagan' and 'idolatrous' country like India many centuries before it had come to their own motherlands in Europe. Whatever the truth of this one thing is certain: these western scholars left no stone unturned in their attemps to disprove the Indian 'legend' about the travels of the Alexandrian visitor St. Thomas.

Among the strongest arguments used were

1] that there is no king of the name Gondaphares (as mentioned in the 2nd C. Acts) in Indian history, none of his coins had ever been discovered, no geneology of Indian kings mentions such a name etc. and

2] it is not possible to associate the specific places, routes etc. mentioned in the Acts, traditions, songs, and narratives with first century contacts with the west. These are the only two objections we are dealing with here and analysing in the light of numismatics developments in the subcontinent.

A most dramatic discovery in the field of numismatics in India effected a magical change in the understanding of this whole story.

This was as a result of the excavations made both to the east and west of the river Indus. Long before any coins or inscriptions of Gondaphares had been discovered, the name of the king was familiar to the western world in connexion with the visit of St. Thomas in India. In the several texts of these apocryphal books the king's name appears variously as Gudnaphar, Gundafor, Gundaphorus, and Goundaphorus. His brother Gad's name also is mentioned there. Yet those names were totally unknown to history until large numbers of coins of this King were discovered. On his coins it appears , in Karoshti, as Guduphara or, occasionally, Godapharna; in Greek, as Undopheros, Undopherros or Gondopherros, which apparently represent local pronunciations of the Persian Vindapharna 'The Winner of Glory'.

Coins of Godapharna

The coins from Taxila with the seal and inscription of King Gudophorus as
"Maharaja - rajarajasamahata -dramia -devavrata Gundapharase"

The Greek rulers of the Punjab were ultimately overcome by the Saka tribes of central Asia...They established principalities at Mathura, Taxila, and elsewhere. We are here concerned with one of these Persian Princes, known to the Greeks as Gondopharnes, who was in 50 A.D. succeeded by Pacores. His kingdom comprised Taxila, Sistan, Sind, Southern and Western Punjab, the NWFP, Southern Afghanistan, and probably part of the Parthian dominions west of Sistan. Hence he could be considered both as an Indian king and as a Parthian.

Dr. Fleet. One of the scholars concludes:

'There is an actual basis for the tradition in historical reality' and St. Thomas did visit the courts of two Kings reighning there, of whom one was Gundupphara - the Gondophares of the Takht - i - Bhai inscriptions and the coins - who was evidently the ruler of 'an extensive territory which included as a part of it much more of India than simply a portion of the Peshawar District'