It is traditionally believed that St.Thomas, one of the first 12 disciples of Jesus Christ came to India in AD 52 and established the Christian Church on the Malabar coast for the first time in India. He is also known as Didymus, which means the Twin. Thomas means Twin in Aramaic and Didymus means Twin in Greek. He is generally known as the Doubting Thomas since he refused to believe the resurrection unless he has verified it himself. His acts are not found in the Acts of the Apostles. But an apocryphal book written around 200 AD called "Acts of Thomas", describes it with embellishments and exaggerations. But archeology and Indian traditions substantiate the basic historic events in this book. A merchant Ambassador Habbanes (This is probably a Greek pronouncement of the name Appana) bought him. If so he was probably from the Kingdom of Pandhya Empire) being sold to him by Jesus the carpenter. He was the ambassador for King Gondaphores the Indo-Parthian Kingdom of Indus Valley Area (Sind, Pakistan, Baluchistan and Afghanisthan). He attended the banquet at the marriage ceremony of the daughter of Cheraman Perumal (the King of the Chera Kingdom) where he came across a Jewish girl in the King's court. During the period of seven days of his stay there, several Jewish people were converted to Christianity. It is said that Thomas ordained one Prince Peter to be the head of the church of the Jews and left for Takshasila
(The English version of the name is Taxila which was a University City in the Indus Valley) the capital of Hondaphorus Kingdom. He established a church in that region before he traveled to other areas of India. These churches were annihilated during the invasion of Kushan and Moghal dynasty. He returned to Kerala where he established seven and half churches with 75 Brahmin families as teachers and over 3000 converts from Kshatriyas, Nairs and Chettiars. These new converts were called St: Thomas Christians. This church is one of the most ancient churches in Christendom. The seven churches are at Malankara, Palayur, Paravoor, Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Kollam. Apostle founded another church at Malayattur which is accorded the status of half church. Another traditioon claims this half church as the one founded in Thiruvithamcode. When the christians in east coast sufferred persecution St. Thomas took 64 families with him across the ghats over Aruvamozhi Pass into Venad. These were mostly converts from Chettiars of Nagercoil. The King of Thiruvithamcode offerred them refuge. The traiditon says that when the King offerred them sacred ash (Vibhuthi) they refused and so these Christians came to be known as Vibhuthi Dharia Chettkal.
There are several references to Thomas' acts in India, which corroborates the general validity of the story, though the Acts of Thomas is Gnostic embellished apocryphal book. St. Gregory of Naziaanzen (AD 329-390) refers to Thomas along with other Apostles work in Contra Aranos et de Seipso Oratio. Ambrose of Milan (AD 333-397) wrote thus: "Even to those Kingdoms which were shout out by rugged mountains became accessible to them as India to Thomas, Persia to Mathew...." Ambrose De Moribus. Brach. Jerome (AD 342-420) wrote thus: "Jesus dwelt in all places; with Thomas in India, with Peter in Rome, with Paul in Illyricum, with Titus in Crete with Andrew in Achaia, with each apostolic man in each and all countries." epistles of Jerome Gregory, the Bishop of Tours (AD 538-593) in his In Gloria Martyrdom writes: "Thomas, the Apostle, according to the history of passion, is declared to have suffered in India. After a long time his body was taken into a city which they called Edessa in Syria and there buried. Therefore, in that Indian place where he firs rested there is a monastery and a church of wonderful size, and carefully adorned and arrayed." Mar Solomon in 13th C wrote in his Book of the Bee as follows: Thomas was from Jerusalem of the tribe of Juda. He taught the Persians, Medes and the Indians; and because he baptized the daughter of the King of the Indians he stabbed him with a spear and died. Habban the merchant brought his body and laid it in Edessa, the blessed city of our Lord. Others say that he was buried in Mahluph (Mylapore) a city in the land of Indians.
Local traditions among the Christians include the Rambaan Paattu or Thomma Parvom"- a song about the Acts of Thomas written around 1600 by Rambaan Thomas. Rambaan Thomas of Malyakal Family descends from the first Bishop whom St. Thomas is said to have ordained. The poem is the oral tradition handed down through generations. It is said to have been originally written by the Rambaan Thomas, the Bishop Bishop. Margom Kali and Mappila Paattu are series of songs of the Acts of Thomas and the history of the Malabar Church. They are sung in consonance with dance forms that are typical of the syrian Christians. Some of them are dance dramas performed in the open as part of the festivals of the church. These have no specific origin, but grew up in the course of hisotry. Veeadian Paattu is sung by a local Hindu group (called Veeradians) in accompaniment of Villu - a local instrument - during Christian festivals. This form of art also dates back to unknown period handed down through generations and modified in that process.
Tradition has it that the Apostle Thomas ordained two bishops, Kepha and Paul, respectively for Malabar and Coromandal (Mylapore). This is supposed to mark the beginnings of the first hierarchy in India. The Christians were called Thomas Christians. The Church of the Thomas Christians was one of the four great "Thomite Churches" of the East. The three others were the Edessan, the Chaldean (of Mesopotamia or Iraq) with Seleucia-Ctesiphon as its center, and the Persian (of Persia proper or Iran). These four Churches were "Thomite" in the sense that they looked to St. Thomas as to their Apostle. Among these Churches the Church of Seleucia-Ctesiphon emerged as the organizational centre, mainly owing to the political importance of this place as the capital of the Persian Empire. The Indian Church had close contact with these Churches. A connection to the East Syrian Church (Chaldean) was established after the arrival of another Thomas (Knai Thomman) and several families from Cana in the year 345 A.D. This infused new blood to the sagging old church established by St. Thomas. Later, we cannot say when but certainly in or before 7th century, it became hierarchically subordinated to the Chaldean Church, and the succession of indigenous prelates came to an end. In their place the East Syrian prelates started to rule. The apostolic Church of India was thus reduced to a dependent status. This dependence, which lasted until the end of the 16th century, prevented it from developing an Indian theology and liturgy with an Indian culture. During this long period, not a single indigenous bishop ruled over the Thomas Christians. Until the rise of Islam, Aramaic (Syriac) was the commercial language throughout the East, including India. The Jews who spoke this language were very powerful in India. Aramaic (language of Jesus) was also the vehicle of evangelization. It came to be called Syriac, after Syrus who ruled over Mesopotamia, and became the official language of the Persian Empire around 550 B.C. When the East-Syrian Church began to exercise control over the Indian Christians, the Malabar Church became Syrian in rite with Syriac as the ecclesiastical language. It is to be noted that even though the Persian prelates headed the Thomas Christians in India more than a millennium, their contribution to the ecclesial and cultural growth of the Malabar community seems to be insignificant; nevertheless, by its contact with the Western Church from the 16th century the Thomas Christian community was enriched by Western theological thinking and mission spirit which helped the ancient Christians of India to enter into a meaningful communication with the world of Christianity. Even today, there are some who dream about restoring the Chaldean "golden age!" For them, the Latin Church is foreign, but the Chaldean Church is indigenous to Indian Christians!
The St.Thomas Christians had accepted the social structure which was built on the network of castes and subcastes. One's position in society was determined by the social customs one followed. The rulers of the country considered the Thomas Christians as high-caste and granted them great privileges and honours in written documents in the form of copper plates which became the Magna Carta of the Thomas Christians. These Christians were respectfully addressed as "Nazarani mappilas", "sons of kings" or "first kings". They were of high rank and greatly reputed, well formed and of good behavior. According to Antony de Gouvea, no other caste was of similar value and esteem among the Malabarians as these Syrian Christians. A. Ayyar asserts that they were almost on a par with their sovereigns and were even allowed to have a military force of their own, using this military power to safeguard their special privileges. They were also protectors of certain low-castes and were called "Lords of seventeen castes". They could try all the cases of their subjects and even inflict capital punishment on them. Gouvea says that the Christians supplied the Raja (king) of Cochin with an army of fifty thousand gunmen, and the success of the king in war often depended on the number of his Thomas Christian subjects. This led non-Christian kings to build churches and endow them with tax-free lands. Many Christians served the kings as ministers and councilors. Rulings of kings that went contrary to their religion or privileges were not obeyed. Indeed, they would all, as a "Christian Republic", join together to protect their rights. The characteristic note of the social life of the early Christians of India was that though Christian in faith, they remained strictly attached to the Hindu way of life. They have been described as "Hindu in culture, Christian in religion and Oriental in worship", a formula which was an adaptation and amplification of a slogan launched by Catholic lay leaders, urging Catholic involvement in India's struggle for independence. Towards the middle of the 16th century, one of the priests assumed the role of a leader of the whole community of Malabar, and he was called the "Archdeacon". Etymologically, the term means "chief minister", and it gradually began to be used for the chief assistant of the bishop in the administration of the diocese. Though the bishop was sent from Persian Church, he was only the spiritual head who administered only the sacraments. Administration was in the hands of the archdeacon, and he was "the Prince", the civil head, of all the Christians of St. Thomas. He had great influence over kings, and was accorded the same status as the military political chiefs of the country. According to custom, he was the one to crown the king in order that the latter might indeed be recognized as such. The life of the Christians was centered on the church. A good many of them settled around the church in rows of houses called angaties (bazaars) which later became business centers. Around the year 1600 there were some 64 churches, 168 Christian villages and 80,000 families. The administration of the Church was carried on by the assembly of the Thomas Christians called yogam (a sort of blend between a synod and a pastoral council, and also a significant expression of ecclesial communion and co-responsibility.) of which there were 3 kinds: the parish assembly, regional assembly and general assembly. The parish assembly looked after the temporalities of the church, as well as the whole Christian life of the local community. This assembly decided cases of public scandal, inflicting punishments which sometimes amounted to excommunication. The assembly exercised ample powers in administering justice, in punishing delinquents, etc. Priests were ordained for a parish church. The assembly presented to the prelate, candidates for ordination with the implicit promise that it would maintain them. The assembly formed a structure similar to both the assembly of the caste Hindus (local or regional) and the assembly of temple administrators called ooralma which means "administration by the people of the place." Matters that concerned more than one church of a region were dealt with by the representatives of those churches. Regional yogam was often constituted for the administration of justice. Thomas Paremmakal says, "According to the ancient custom of the Malabar Church, no punishment could be inflicted unless the crime was proved before the representatives of four churches." Matters of a general interest of the whole Church or community (social, political and religious) were decided by general assembly of the representatives of all the churches, wherein the Archdeacon played a special role. They were practically supreme, and in fact no higher ecclesiastical authority questioned their decisions. The Christian way of life brought by the Apostle Thomas was called "Law of Thomas" and in the vernacular Thoma Marga. The term marga means "way", and has been used to denote the Christian way of life. Christianity as a "Way" (hodos) is also a biblical expression. It was originally a Buddhist term meaning "Buddhism as a way of life - the way of salvation or nirvana". When Christianity was introduced to South India, where Buddhism and Jainism were then the prevalent religions, it was considered to be the new "way" or marga. Christians were called margakkar or margavasi (those of the way). In recent times this word is often used to designate "the newly converted" and has a bad connotation in the background of the caste system. When people of low castes were converted to Christianity, those of the high caste began to look down on them - the new converts - with contempt. The Thoma Marga was the sum total of the Christian life and heritage, a mixture of Dravidic, Buddhist, Jainist, Jewish, Persian and Hindu influences.
The Christians in the rest of the India suffered persecution. They therefore migrated to Malabar. One such mention is given thus: "The Vallala converts to Christianity in Kaveripoopatanam (The Puhur City of Cavery River) were persecuted by their king. So 72 families embarked on a ship and came to Korakkeni (Kollam), where there were Christians" From the Palm-leaf manuscript entitled "Keralathil Margam Vazhiyute Avastha", The Affairs of Christianity in Kerala. This copy of the Manuscript is dated around 1806 72 families to Hinduism by Manikka Vachkar at Kollam.