Kerala’s attempt to create spurious evidence of the arrival of Apostle Thomas in India merits wider dissemination. It must be seen as part of a concerned attempt to entrench the Cross in Asia
Rescuing the antiquity of Indian civilisation from the biblical mythology of Max Mueller, rubbishing the well-orchestrated history-as-dogma of the Aryan invasion and proving the existence of river Saraswati, excavating and resurrecting the still unknown past, and restoring the once handsome architectural marvels that have fallen victim to time or iconoclasts, Indian archaeologists have their task cut out for them. Their work is critical in correcting the lacunas, misinterpretations and falsifications of history in various parts of the country, especially at the hands of scholars with a pronounced bias against our native traditions.
Unless repudiated, invented history enters the popular mind as ‘fact’. The Aryan fable still persists because Marxists have been able to prevent all historical and scientific findings, disproving the movement of people into India at the time of the alleged ‘invasion’, from entering school textbooks where the foundations of knowledge are laid. This is why noted archaeologist BS Harishankar’s debunking of the Kerala Council for Historical Research’s (KCHR) attempts to create spurious evidence of the arrival of Apostle Thomas in India, unequivocally denied by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2006, merits wider dissemination.
The excavations to identify Pattanam, in Ernakulum district, with ancient Muziris of the Cheras, began soon after the Syro-Malabar Church scrambled to rescue the legend that claimed India as the first mission of the church, long before it went to Europe. As a result, in November 2006, the Vatican Secretariat accepted the story as history, to project Christianity as an indigenous faith of great longevity. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) embraced the project with alacrity; the brochure, ‘Muziris Heritage Project — Pattanam Excavations 2008’, lists Prof Romila Thapar as one of the patrons.
In Pattanam: Constructs, Contexts and Interventions (2017), Harishankar denounces the presence of European and American scholars in the dig, while excluding the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Indian universities. Eminent historians Prof Dilip K Chakbrabarti and Prof MGS Narayanan, and archaeologists Prof R Nagaswamy, Prof A Sundara, and Prof T Sathyamurthy, denounced the attempts to link Pattanam with Muziris, when Kodungalloor where the river meets the sea, is far more logical. Neither archaeological evidences nor historical records support Apostle Thomas arrived in India; he possibly visited Fars (Persia) and the Afghanistan region.
Harishankar has referenced the Pattanam excavations with all researched and published material available. The KCHR, headed by Prof KN Panikkar of JNU, is alleged to have manipulated archaeological evidence and manufactured new evidence to ‘prove’ that Pattanam had historical ties with Jerusalem and other regions in West Asia from 1000 BC. He discusses the evidence that debunks the theory that there was ever a port city at Pattanam along the west coast, which the KCHR historians claim was an international trade route dating back to 800 BC.
Interestingly, the claim that Apostle Thomas established the first settlement at Pattanam was independently debunked by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Trombay, and the National Institute of Oceanography, Kochi. The BARC scientists, who successfully traced the course of the Saraswati through radio isotope studies, examined Kerala’s mud banks during the monsoons and concluded that marine and palaeo-hydrological studies rule out the possibilities of a port city, wharf or township at Pattanam. In fact, the area excavated by the KCHR does not qualify for excavations as the cultural stratigraphy has been badly damaged by monsoons, floods, erosion, and construction activities. Moreover, as Harishankar maintains, the ASI is the only body competent to authorise excavations.
Pattanam is not an archaeological mound, as claimed by KCHR. Western India, Harishankar argues, has several archaeological sites with ramparts or mud embankments to prevent floods. No such evidence has been found at Pattanam. On the contrary, the site at Pattanam in lower Periyar has coastal alluvium with sand and clay, and lacks laterite formation or thick soil. Hence, it was not chosen as an Iron Age settlement.
Moreover, urbanism in early historic India involves certain precursors such as immense size, internal planning, public architecture, settlement hierarchies, enclosing walls, script, craft specialisation, long-distance trade, subsistence strategies and population growth. None of these exist at Pattanam, yet KCHR’s chosen scholars claimed as an urban site and port city. When the absence of these parameters were pointed out, the KCHR historians toned down their claims and alleged that the structural remains unearthed were carried away by locals, which is simply ridiculous.
Curiously, KCHR forwarded the plant remains found at Pattanam to the Spices Board, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, though it has no competence to examine them. And despite premier institutions available in India, the carbon dating was done abroad. But what is more pertinent, KCHR’s modern historians with no experience in field archaeology should not have excavated Pattanam with foreign funds and a crew of Biblical scholars.
KCHR appointed Dr PJ Cherian, with no academic background in archaeology, as director of the Pattanam excavations. Cherian’s PhD dissertation is on ‘The Communist Movement in Travancore: From the Origins to the Uprisings in 1946’ (University of Calicut, 1993). However, The University of Rome Tor Vergata granted a three-year research fellowship to PJ Cherian, Director, KCHR, and Pattanam excavations.
To assist Cherian, some distinguished Biblical historians and latin scholars were attached to the project. They include Istvan Perczel (Hungarian scholar of Byzantine history and early Christianity); Roberta Tomber (specialist in Roman and Indian Ocean pottery); Frederico de Romanis (expert on Roman and Portuguese pepper trade); and Irving R Finkel (British philologist and Assyriologist, expert in the script, languages and cultures of the Middle East). None is equipped to handle excavations; it’s a Max Mueller style of biblical mumbo jumbo.
In an exhibition at the National Museum in 2014, KCHR claimed Pattanam is the third Indian site to unearth terra sigillata pottery after Arikamedu and Alagankulam in Tamil Nadu, though it has been found at Uraiyur, Kanchipuram, Vasavasamudram, Kodumanal, Karur and Sulur in Tamil Nadu and several sites in Gujarat and western India. It claimed that rouletted pottery from Pattanam was reported for the first time on the west coast, when it was found in 124 sites across the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
Cherian is the executive president of the Association for the Preservation of the Saint Thomas Christian Heritage. His claim that his excavation unearthed evidence of a 2,000-year-old port city at a place where Saint Thomas allegedly landed rests more on faith than on history or archaeology. It must be seen as part of a concerned attempt to entrench the Cross in Asia, particularly India.
(The writer is Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and library; the views expressed are personal)