Christianity in India is 2000-year-old. The church in Diamper was established 500 years ago by Archbishop Menezes of Goa. When Vasco Da Gama landed in Kerala in 1498, he was surprised to find Christians here. He was not aware that Kerala had relations with Syria from the time of King Solomon. In fact a Keralite girl was one of the members of Solomon’s concubines. She was dark in a relative sense but she was very charming and there was a special love affair between Solomon and the Kerala girl.
St. Thomas came to Kerala because Jews had already connections with Kerala and they had imported the spices and teakwood used for building temples. The incense brought from Kerala was used for burning in the receptacles during prayers and religious ceremonies. St. Thomas established churches and converted Christians all over Kerala. Kerala was a land of tolerance and one of the Kings Mar Thoma accepted Christianity. St. Thomas spent the rest of his life in South India and he became martyr and died in Mylapore (present Madras or Chennai).
St. Thomas is referred to as the “Kurishumala Muthappan” (the Old Man of Mount of the Cross). The legend is that where St. Thomas climbed the mount and rested, putting his legs on a rock, the rock became golden and a lady devotee who climbed the mount found the golden patch on the rock started oozing blood when she touched it. The place became holy and a church was built there. And it became a practice in Kerala from ancient times to climb the mount uttering the name ‘kurishumala muthappa” (the Old Man of the Mount of Cross). The present church at Malayattoor is located in this place. It is a great pilgrim centre and a large amount of money is donated by the devotees for its upkeep.
When Vasco Da Gama landed in Kerala in 1498 the presence of Christians surprised him. He discovered that there were so many churches already functioning in Kerala along with Muslim mosques and Hindu temples. The Hindus of Kerala were very liberal and believed in one God who could be either Yahova or Allah or Vishnu.
When St. Thomas came the first converts were Brahmins because he could converse only with them. That is why the first Christians in Kerala were from the higher castes. The message of human equality had to wait for 1500 years when Chavara Kuriakos Aliyas started giving education to the depressed classes. Until that time Sanskrit was considered the language of the Gods and the Scheduled Castes were not allowed to learn that language. There were so many disabilities imposed on the Scheduled Castes for example, they were not expected to use certain food stuff which was only to be eaten by higher castes. Chavara Aliyas Kuriakos taught Pulaya boys and girls Sanskrit, which was a criminal offense at that time.
The Synod of Diamper was organized by Archbishop Menezes of Goa because Diamper was a centre of Christians. Diamper is my birth place; we called it Udayamperoor. Udayamperoor means the place where the sun rises. My father Pranju Master was a historian of Christianity and Udayamperoor Church. He had written a history of the church. Malayalam, the local language was the medium but later Sankritised by the Brahmins. Malayalam had many old forms for e.g. Vattezhuthu i.e. Circular Writing. There were many writings on rocks in this form. He learned this and brought out stories, engraved in it, of King Mar Thoma, who became a Christian.
In those days loyalty was not based on territory. One person could be loyal to a ruler outside the territory. When Vasco Da Gama came, the Christians recognizing that he is the ambassador of the King of Portugal took the scepter of King Mar Thoma and gave it to him telling that we are Christians and we are the subjects of the King of Portugal.
Although Kerala was a place of great religious tolerance there used to be land pirates who used to descend to Kerala from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. As a result the able-bodied men had to be ready to fight the pirates to protect their women and children from attack. Hence the Christians used to attend the church with the sword and the shield. They used to take part the church services after leaving the sword and the shield at the doorsteps of the church. In Kerala style the men also used to grow hair and they also experimented different hairstyles like women. They also had earrings.
The Synod of Diamper created a split in the Christian church and some of the rebels went to nearby Cochin and took the Koonan Cross or Bent Cross oath and said that they will not accept the sovereignty of the Portugal King through Vasco Da Gama. This was the first split in the Christian church from the time of Mar Thoma Raja.
Mar Thoma Raja was called the Villaali Veeran i.e. a great expert in archery. Archery is still one of the greatest sporting events in Kerala, India and the world over.