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Impressions of India
Accounts from Missionaries

Impressions of India
  • Pantaenus, The Alexandrian Philosopher (by )
  • The Firebrand of the Indies : A Romance ... (by )
  • The Gospel of St. Matthew (by )
  • An Ecclesiastical History to the Twentie... (by )
  • The Legend of Thomas Didymus: The Jewish... 
  • The Conversion of India : From Pantaenus... (by )
  • St. Thomas, the Apostle, in India : an i... (by )
  • William Carey , The Pioneer of Missions ... (by )
  • Genealogy of the South-Indian Gods : A M... (by )
  • Acts of the Holy Apostle Thomas 
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The conquering and subjugation of any nation by another takes place on three fronts: military, religious, and cultural. India’s importance to the British Empire hinged on British rule of the country. Not only did England overpower the country by means of warfare, but it imposed laws and its religion upon India.

The British, however, did not bring Christianity to the Indian subcontinent. That honor goes to Pantaenus, a Stoic philosopher, whose journeys reportedly took him to India in the 2nd century A.D. His travels and introduction of Christian philosophy based upon the Gospel of Matthew are mentioned by St. Jerome, the son of Eusebius. St. Thomas the Apostle, however, gets the scholarly credit for establishing Christianity as a religion in India. His arrival in Kerala in southern India was recorded in 52 A.D. The question remains which St. Thomas deserves the credit: St. Thomas the Apostle (also known as Thomas Didaemus or Didimus or Didymus and Didymus Chalcenterus) or St. Thomas of Cana. The city of Thomas’ arrival also comes under dispute: Travancore (Thomas of Cana) or Muziris (Thomas the Apostle). 

Ancient testimonies cite early missionary activity in India:
Regardless of which Thomas really established the Christian faith in India, scholars generally agree that the religion had become well-established by the 6th century A.D. Portuguese and Italian missionaries journeyed to India in the early 1400s to spread Roman Catholicism, but wholesale conversion did not occur until 1527, when the Paravars of southern India agreed to convert to the Roman Catholic tradition in exchange for protection from Arab raids. In 1542, Francis Xavier took Roman Catholic teaching to the “unclean” lower castes.

Christianity in India comes in myriad versions, with the Protestant denominations having been introduced in the 18th century by British, Scottish, German, and American missionaries who brought English education to India and translated the Bible into the Indian languages of Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, and Urdu. First to arrive were two Lutherans from Germany, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, who recorded the gods of Hinduism, and Heinrich Plütschau. Their work began in the Danish settlement of Tranquebar. English Baptist minister William Carey took his missionary zeal to Serampore (another Danish settlement) and Calcutta in defiance of the East India Tea Company.

In the 1850s, Mormons from the United States jumped on the missionary bandwagon. Hugh Findlay and Joseph Richard arrived in Bombay and met with little success until 1998, when better organization and a crackdown on corruption resulted in expansion of congregations in the Tamil Nadu region.

Today, 28 million people—or approximately 2.3 percent of India’s population—follow Christianity, making it a distant third in the top three religions in the country with Hinduism commanding nearly 80 percent of the population and Islam another 14 percent.

By Karen M. Smith

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