The Interpretation of Hindu Rituals by the Earliest Christians of India

Hinduism is more than just a religion, it is believed to be one of the oldest culture or a civilization. The oldest texts of the civilization known as the Vedas gives an all-round insight into the various dimensions of life. It teaches us many things, all from the best rituals, the way of living to art and culture. Hence, Hinduism is praised and loved by many all around the world. Likely, it was no surprise that Hinduism and its culture and traditions were followed by even the early Christians of India.

The Beginning of Christianity in India


It is a well-known story that St. Thomas came to India In AD 52. He landed at the port of Kodungalloor or Muziris on the western coast. The same year he arrived at Niranam in a water vessel. The Apostle interacted with one and all and performed various miracles. He is often regarded as the Patron Saint of India, and the name Thomas remains quite popular among Saint Thomas Christians of India. The early third-century Biblical text, Acts of Thomas mentions an interesting episode which is regarded as one of the strongest pieces of evidence of the first ever instance of Christianity entering the land of Indian.

The Migration

In the end of the second century of the Christian period, a Christian community existed in both South East and South West of India. Meanwhile, The Chera ruler, Perum Cheral Irumporai was famous for his tolerance towards all non-Hindu religious traditions in his rule. Following many political and social problems, many Christians shifted to the Chera kingdom of Malabar. They received a warm welcome from the communities of the native Hindu region. Furthermore, they were even permitted to convert to Christianity.

The Extraction and Interpretation of Hindu Rituals

However, it was no surprise that the earliest Christians in India were also following the cultures of Hindus for more than a decade. The rituals of Hindu marriage, such as the tying of the sacred thread around the bride’s neck by her husband, rituals of feeding a newborn baby as a culture and early lessons were found to be existing among the early Christians. Hindu religious traditions such as various kinds of ceremonial umbrellas, drums and fly whisks were seen to be used by the Christians for their religious traditions as well. Interestingly, several early Christian families in the area also have the names similar to the Hindu Brahmans or Nayars. Meanwhile, to suit their theological framework several Christians also extracted several Hindu customs. For instance, God Agni which is the Lord of Fire among Hindus is referred to as Christ, who is believed as the light of the world by Christians.

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In time, things started getting clearer to the Portuguese and others too. The Hindu influences on earliest Christians, such as that of the caste system was quite notable. Christians saw themselves as part of the developed caste system. They started portraying themselves as useful members of society. Simultaneously, they were ranked among the elite castes, such as the Nayars.

Following, within the Christian converts, three successive rungs developed. The first ones were those from the higher castes, second were the immigrants from Persia and Syria and finally the lowest rung occupied by the converts of the lowest Hindu castes. Surprisingly, the absorption of the caste-system among the Syrian Christians also meant that untouchability was staunchly followed them. Ensuing, they followed Brahmanical customs. For instance, for the fear of getting polluted they started taking bath immediately after they came in contact with an untouchable.

The Arrival of the Portuguese

The Portuguese were aware of the spread of Christianity in India at this point in time and wanted to use religion as a useful means of conducting mercantile activities. Vasco da Gama reached Calicut on May 27 of 1498 Hans and Klimkeit note in their work that apparently when Vasco da Gama reached Calicut a native asked him what he wanted from Asians. To that, the Portuguese explorer said, “Christians and spices.” Then, in the fifteenth century, the Portuguese arrived in India. Mentioned by Gilman and Kimkeit, Indians, mostly the early Christians welcomed the Portuguese Christians in their new form of mixed customs, which was their own interpretations of them. However, this absorption of Hindu rituals was not recognized by the Portuguese even until the end of the 16th century.

The early Christians of India were welcoming towards their Portuguese counterparts. They saw the Portuguese as an ally against their common enemy, who were the Muslims. They believed that they would achieve support from the Portuguese to fight the Muslims while continuing to maintain their religious identity. Neither did they feel any threat from the Catholics of an imposition of religious identity over them.

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The Fate of Earliest Christians of India

However, the Portuguese were not so happy to find their fellow Christians following religious traditions which were different from the idea of true Christian beliefs. Although, the First two decades of contact between the two variants of Christianity proved to be quite friendly. It is only from the beginning of the sixteenth century that the Portuguese put efforts to impose Catholicism upon the early Christians. Under Aleixo de Menezes was consecrated the Archbishop of Goa in 1595. They understood that the caste system had to be eradicated. Thus, a critical attitude was developed towards Hinduism, disregarding centuries of peaceful cohabitation of the two religions suddenly. Consequently, Christianity was no longer a religion into which the high castes converted and increasingly came to be associated with the lower castes. Following, an assembly was held which lasted for six days and was attended by more than 800 members of the clergy in June 1599. It mentioned the commission of necessary rites and traditions of Catholicism among the early Christians.

This was how the earliest of Christians in India followed and extracted the Hindu rituals and customs.

(H/T Indianexpress.com )

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