Christian population in India

Christianity is India‘s third-largest religion according to the census of 2001, with approximately 24 million followers, constituting 2.3 percent of India’s population.[2][3][4] Some other studies such as Pew Research Centerput Christian population in India at 2.5% after taking into account Dalit Christianswho sometimes identify as Hindu when completing official census forms[5] and the Association of Religion Data Archives puts the figure as 4.68% or as high as 6% by other individual sources if not the membership of House church or other individual evangelical Pentecostalmissions are to be counted.[6] The works of scholars and Eastern Christianwritings state that Christianity was introduced to India by Thomas the Apostle, who visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 AD,[7] where there was a Jewish settlement.[n 1][9][10][11][12][13][14] Although the origins of Christianity in India remain unclear, there is a general scholarly consensus that Christianity was established in India by the 6th century AD, including some communities who used Syriac liturgically, and it is possible that the religion’s existence there extends to as far back as the 1st century.[15] Christianity was as such established in India even before some nations of Europe had been Christianised.[16]

Quick facts: Total population, Regions with significant populations …
Indian Christians
Total population
24,080,016 (2001)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly KeralaTamil Nadu, other parts of South IndiaGoa,Nagaland 90%, Mizoram 87%,Meghalaya 71%, Manipur 40%, Tripura,Arunachal Pradesh
MalayalamTamilTeluguKonkani,Kannada, English, Hindi and various Indian languages
Predominantly Roman Catholic (Latin Rite), Saint Thomas Christians (East Syrian Rite / West Syrian Rite) and various denominations of Protestants
Related ethnic groups
NasranisEast IndiansKhasisMizos,KukisNagasAnglo-IndiansGoan Catholics

Christians are found all across India and in all walks of life, with major populations in parts of South India, theKonkan CoastNorth-East. Indian Christians have contributed significantly to and are well represented in various spheres of national life. They include former and current chief ministers,governors and chief election commissioners.[17][18] Indian Christians have the lowest sex ratio figures among the various religious communities in India.[19]

Christianity in India has different denominations. The state of Kerala is home to the Saint Thomas Christiancommunity, an ancient body of Christians (Syriac Christianity) who are now divided into several different churches and traditions. There are twoEastern Catholic Saint Thomas Christian churches: the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. There are also several Oriental Orthodox and independent churches in the Saint Thomas Christian community, including the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church and the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church.

Roman Catholicism was first introduced to India by Portuguese, Italian and IrishJesuits in the 16th century. EvangelicalProtestantism was later spread to India by the efforts of British and American missionaries. These Protestant missions were also responsible for introducing English education in India for the first time[20] and were also accountable in the first early translations of the Bible in various Indian languages.[21] Since the 19th century Protestant churches have also been present; major denominations include the Church of South India (CSI), the Church of North India (CNI), thePresbyterian Church of IndiaBaptists,LutheransTraditional Anglicans,Plymouth BrethrenMethodists,Pentecostals, and other non-denominational evangelical groups. The Christian Church runs thousands of educational institutions and hospitals contributing significantly to the development of the nation.[22]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has over 10,000 members in several congregations throughout India. LDS Church members are most prevalent in New Delhi,HyderabadBangaloreRajahmundry,VisakhapatnamChennai andCoimbatore.

Early Christianity in India

St. Bartholomew

Main article: Saint Bartholomew

Roman trade with India started from Aegyptus according to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (1st century).

Two ancient testimonies exist about the mission of Saint Bartholomew in India. These are of Eusebius of Caesarea (early 4th century) and of Saint Jerome(late 4th century). Both these refer to this tradition while speaking of the reported visit of Pantaenus to India in the 2nd century.[23] The studies of Fr A.C. Perumalil SJ and Moraes hold that the Bombay region on the Konkan coast, a region which may have been known as the ancient city Kalyan, was the field of Saint Bartholomew’s missionary activities.[24]

St. Thomas

Peutinger Table‘s depiction of Muziris near the tip of India where St. Thomas is believed to have landed in 52 A.D.

Nasranis or Syrian Christians of Kerala in ancient days (from an old painting). Photo published in the Cochin Government Royal War Efforts Souvenir in 1938

According to Indian Christian traditions, the Apostle Thomas arrived inKodungallur (also Muziris), Kerala, established the Seven Churches and evangelised in present day Kerala andTamil Nadu.[9][25][26]

As with early Christianity in the Roman Empire, it is assumed that the initial converts were largely Jewish proselytesamong the Cochin Jews who are believed to have arrived in India around 562 BC, after the destruction of the First Temple.[10][27][28] Many of these Jews presumably spoke Aramaic like St. Thomas, also a Jew by birth, who is credited by tradition with evangelising India.[29]

A historically more likely claim byEusebius of Caesarea is that Pantaenus, the head of the Christian exegeticalschool in Alexandria, Egypt went to India during the reign of the EmperorCommodus and found Christians already living in India using a version of the Gospel of Matthew with “Hebrew letters, a mixture of colture.”[30] This is a plausible reference to the earliest Indian churches which are known to have used the Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic) New Testament. Pantaenus’ evidence thus indicates that Syriac-speaking Christians had already evangelised parts of India by the late 2nd century.

An early 3rd-century Syriac work known as the Acts of Thomas[31][32] connects the tradition of the apostle Thomas’ Indian ministry with two kings, one in the north and the other in the south. The year of his arrival is widely disputed due to lack of credible records.[33] According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission but Jesus over-ruled the stubborn disciple by ordering circumstances so compelling that he was forced to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes, to his native place in northwest India, where he found himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian king, Gondophares. The apostle’s ministry reputedly resulted in many conversions throughout this northern kingdom, including the king and his brother.[31] The Acts of Thomasidentifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadwa, one of the rulers of a 1st-century dynasty in southern India. According to the tradition of the Mar Thoma or “Church of Thomas,” Thomas evangelised along the Malabar Coast ofKerala State in southwest India, though the various churches he founded were located mainly on the Periyar River and its tributaries and along the coast, where there were Jewish colonies. He reputedly preached to all classes of people and had about seventeen thousand converts, including members of the four principal castes. According to legend, St. Thomas attained martyrdomat St. Thomas Mount in Chennai and is buried on the site of San Thome Cathedral.[34]

The world’s oldest existing church structure, which was believed to be built by Thomas the Apostle in 57 AD,[35]called Thiruvithamcode Arappally orThomaiyar Kovil as named by the thenChera king Udayancheral,[36] is located at Thiruvithancode in Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu, India. It is now declared an international St. Thomas pilgrim center.

Although little is known of the immediate growth of the church, Bar-Daisan (AD 154–223) reports that in his time there were Christian tribes in North India which claimed to have been converted by Thomas and to have books and relics to prove it.[31] Certainly by the time of the establishment of theSassanid Empire (AD 226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India, Afghanistan andBaluchistan, with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity.[31]

Relationship of the St. Thomas Christian groups

4th century missions

The renovated Mar Thoma Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Kodungaloor; the first Christian church in India, built 52 A. D.

India had a flourishing trade with Central Asia, Mediterranean, and Middle East, both along mountain passes in the north and sea routes along the western and southern coast, well before the start of Christian era, and it is likely that Christian merchants settled in Indian cities along trading routes.[34]

The Chronicle of Seert describes an evangelical mission to India by BishopDavid of Basra around the year 300;[37]this metropolitan reportedly made many conversions,[38] and it has been speculated that his mission took in areas of southern India.[39] According toTravancore ManualThomas of Cana, a Mesopotamian merchant and missionary, brought a mission to India in 345.[40] He brought 400 Christians fromBaghdadNineveh, and Jerusalem toKodungallur. He and his companion Bishop Joseph of Edessa sought refuge under King Cheraman Perumal from persecution of Christians by the Persian king Shapur II. The colony of Syrian Christians established at Kodungallur may be the first Christian community in South India for which there is a continuous written record.[41] T.R. Vedantham showing his own perspective on Christianity was the first to propose in 1987 that Thomas of Cana was confused with the 1st century apostle Thomas by India’s Syrian Christians sometime after his death, becoming their Apostle Thomas in India.[42]

Medieval period

Syro-Malabar Catholic bishop Mar Mathew Arackal (holding the Mar Thoma Cross which symbolises the heritage and identity of the Syrian Church ofSaint Thomas Christians) along with other priests at the tomb of Servant of God March Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly

The Saint Thomas Christian community was further strengthened by variousPersian immigrant settlers, the Knanayacolonies of 4th century, Manichaeanismfollowers, Babylonian Christians settlers of 4th century AD, the Syrian settlements of Mar Sabor Easo and Proth in 9th century CE and the immigrant Persian Christians from successive centuries.

Local rulers in Kerala gave the St. Thomas Christians various rights and privileges which were written on copper plates. These are known as Cheppeds, Royal Grants, Sasanam etc.[43] There are a number of such documents in the possession of the Syrian churches of Kerala which include the Thazhekad Sasanam, the Quilon Plates (or theTharisappalli Cheppeds), Mampally Sasanam and Iraviikothan Chepped etc. Some of these plates are said to be dated around 774 AD. Scholars have studied the inscriptions and produced varying translations. The language used is Tamil in Tamil letters intermingled with some Grantha script and Pahlavi,Kufic and Hebrew signatures.

The ruler of Venad (Travancore) granted the Syrian Christians seventy two rights and privileges which were usually granted only to high dignitaries. These rights included exemption from import duties, sales tax and the slave tax. A copper plate grant dated 1225 CE further enhanced the rights and privileges ofNasranis.

The South Indian epic of Manimekalai(written between 2nd and 3rd century AD) mentions the Nasrani people by referring to them by the name Essanis. The embassy of King Alfred in 883 CE sent presents to St. Thomas Christians.[44] Marco Polo who visited in 1292, mentioned that there were Christians in the Malabar coast.[45] TheSaint Thomas Christians still use theSyriac language (a dialect of Aramaic, which is also the language that Jesus spoke[46]) in their liturgy. This group, which existed in Kerala relatively peacefully for more than a millennium, faced considerable persecution from Portuguese evangelists in the 16th century.[47][48] This later wave of evangelism spread Catholicism more widely along the Konkan coast.[49][50]

Modern period

Arrival of the Roman Catholic Latin Rite

The French or Catalan Dominicanmissionary Jordanus Catalani was the first European to start conversion in India. He arrived in Surat in 1320. After his ministry in Gujarat he reached Quilonin 1323. He not only revived Christianity but also brought thousands to the Christian fold. He brought a message of good will from the Pope to the local rulers. As the first bishop in India, he was also entrusted with the spiritual nourishment of the Christian community in CalicutMangaloreThane and Broach(north of Thane).[51]

Portuguese-Tamil Primer (1554). One of the earliest known Christian books in an Indian language

In 1453, the fall of Constantinople, a bastion of Christianity in Asia Minor to Islamic Ottoman Empire; marked the end of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire, and severed European trade links by land with Asia. This massive blow to Christendom spurred the age of discovery as Europeans were seeking alternative routes east by sea along with the goal of forging alliances with pre-existing Christian nations.[52][53]Along with pioneer Portuguese long-distance maritime travellers that reached the Malabar Coast in the late 15th century, came Portuguese missionaries who made contact with theSt Thomas Christians in Kerala, which at that time were following Eastern Christian practices and under the jurisdiction of Church of the East. The missionaries sought to introduce theLatin liturgical rites among them and unify East Syrian Christians in Indiaunder the Holy See.

In the 16th century, the proselytisation of Asia was linked to the Portuguese colonial policy. The Papal bull –Romanus Pontifex[54] written on 8 January 1455 by Pope Nicholas V toKing Afonso V of Portugal, confirmed to the Crown of Portugal dominion over all lands discovered or conquered during the age of discovery. Further, the patronage for the propagation of the Christian faith (see “Padroado“) in Asia was given to the Portuguese.[55] The missionaries of the different orders (FranciscansDominicansJesuits,Augustinians, etc.) flocked out with the conquerors, and began at once to build churches along the coastal districts where the Portuguese power made itself felt.

The history of Portuguese missionaries in India starts with the neo-apostles who reached Kappad near Kozhikode on 20 May 1498 along with the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama who was seeking to form anti-Islamic alliances with pre-existing Christian nations.[56][57]The lucrative spice trade was further temptation for the Portuguese crown.[58]When he and the Portuguese missionaries arrived they found Christians in the country in Malabar known as St. Thomas Christians who belonged to the then largest Christian church within India.[57] The Christians were friendly to Portuguese missionaries at first; there was an exchange of gifts between them, and these groups were delighted at their common faith.[59]

Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (r. 1556–1605) holds a religious assembly in the Ibadat Khana (House of Worship) in Fatehpur Sikri; the two men dressed in black are the Jesuit missionaries Rodolfo Acquaviva and Francisco Henriques. Illustration to the Akbarnama, miniature painting by Nar Singh, ca. 1605.

During the second expedition, the Portuguese fleet comprising 13 ships and 18 priests, under Captain Pedro Álvares Cabral, anchored at Cochin on 26 November 1500. Cabral soon won the goodwill of the Raja of Cochin. He allowed four priests to do apostolic work among the early Christian communities scattered in and around Cochin. Thus Portuguese missionaries established Portuguese Mission in 1500. DomFrancisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese Viceroy got permission from the Kochi Raja to build two churches – namely Santa Cruz Basilica (1505) andSt. Francis Church (1506) using stones and mortar, which was unheard of at that time, as the local prejudices were against such a structure for any purpose other than a royal palace or a temple.[citation needed]

In the beginning of the 16th century, the whole of the east was under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Lisbon. On 12 June 1514, Cochin and Goa became two prominent mission stations under the newly createdDiocese of Funchal in Madeira. In 1534,Pope Paul III by the Bull Quequem Reputamus, raised Funchal as anarchdiocese and Goa as its suffragan, deputing the whole of India under thediocese of Goa. This created anepiscopal see – suffragan to Funchal, with a jurisdiction extending potentially over all past and future conquests from the Cape of Good Hope to China.

After four decades of prosperous trading, the missionaries started the proselytisation around 1540 and during this period, foreign missionaries also made many new converts to Christianity. Early Roman Catholic missionaries, particularly the Portuguese, led by theJesuit St Francis Xavier (1506–1552), expanded from their bases on the west coast making many converts. The Portuguese colonial government supported the mission and the baptised Christians were given incentives like rice donations, good positions in their colonies. Hence, these Christians were dubbed Rice Christians who even practised their old religion. At the same time many New Christians from Portugal migrated to India as a result of theinquisition in Portugal. Many of them were suspected of being Crypto-Jews, converted Jews who were secretly practising their old religion. Both were considered a threat to the solidarity of Christian belief.[60] Saint Francis Xavier, in a 1545 letter to John III of Portugal, requested the Goan Inquisition,[60][61]which is considered a blot on the history of Roman Catholic Christianity in India, both by Christians and non-Christians alike.

In 1557, Goa was made an independent archbishopric, and its first suffragan sees were erected at Cochin andMalacca. The whole of the East came under the jurisdiction of Goa and its boundaries extended to almost half of the world: from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, to Burma, China and Japan in East Asia. In 1576 the suffragan See of Macao (China) was added; and in 1588, that of Funai in Japan.

The death of the last metropolitan bishop – Archbishop Abraham of theSaint Thomas Christians, an ancient body formerly part of the Church of the East[62][63] in 1597; gave the then Archbishop of Goa Menezes an opportunity to bring the native church under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. He was able to secure the submission of Archdeacon George, the highest remaining representative of the native church hierarchy. Menezes convened the Synod of Diamperbetween 20 and 26 June 1599,[64] which introduced a number of reforms to the church and brought it fully into the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. Following the Synod, Menezes consecrated Francis Ros, S. J. as Archbishop of theArchdiocese of Angamalé for the Saint Thomas Christians; thus created another suffragan see to Archdiocese of Goa and Latinisation of St Thomas Christians started. The Saint Thomas Christianswere pressured to acknowledge the authority of the Pope and most of them eventually accepted the Catholic faith, but a part of them switched to West Syrian Rite.[64] Resentment of these measures led to some part of the community to join the Archdeacon,Thomas, in swearing never to submit to the Portuguese or to accept the Communion with Rome in the Coonan Cross Oath in 1653. Those who accepted the West Syrian theological and liturgical tradition of Mar Gregorios became known as Jacobites. The ones who continued with East Syrian and Latin theological and liturgical tradition and stayed faithful to the Synod of Diamper and the Roman Catholic Church came to be formally known as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church from the second half of the 19th century onward.

The Diocese of Angamaly was transferred to Diocese of Craganore in 1605; while, in 1606 a sixth suffragan see to Goa was established at San Thome, Mylapore, near the modern Madras, and the site of the National Shrine of St. Thomas Basilica. The suffragan sees added later to Goa. were the prelacy of Mozambique (1612) and in 1690 two other sees at Peking and Nanking in China.

Mangalore is another significant region on the west coast which has a huge Christian population. In 1321, the French Dominican friar Jordanus Catalani of Severac (in south-western France), who also worked in Quilon arrived in Bhatkal, a place near Mangalore and established a missionary station there. Many locals were converted to Christianity byJordanus.[51] The Portuguese were however unable to establish their presence in Mangalore as a result of the conquests of the Vijayanagara rulerKrishnadevaraya and Abbakka Rani ofUllal, the Bednore Queen of Mangalore. Most of Mangalorean Catholics were not originally from Mangalore but are descendants of Goan Catholics who fledGoa during the Portuguese-Maratha Wars and the Goan Inquisition.

The origin of Christianity in North Konkan, was due to the proselytising activities of the Portuguese in the 16th century. The French Dominican friar Jordanus Catalani of Severac (in south-western France) started evangelising activities in Thana.[65] On the occasion of The Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the Christians of North Konkan, inMaharashtra who were known asPortuguese Christians discarded that name and adopted the designation East Indians.[66] Marathi Christians are Protestants and are therefore distinct from East Indian Christians who are predominately Roman Catholics and inhabitants of the North Konkan region.Marathi Christians can be found in the areas of AhmednagarSolapurPuneand Aurangabad. They were converted through the efforts of the American Marathi MissionThe SPG Mission, and the Church Mission Society of Church of England in early 18th century. BritishMissionary William Carey was instrumental in translating the Bible into the Marathi language.[67]

Missionary work progressed on a large scale and with great success along the western coasts, chiefly at Chaul, Bombay, Salsette, Bassein, Damao, and Diu; and on the eastern coasts at San Thome of Mylapore, and as far as Bengal etc. In the southern districts the Jesuit mission in Madura was the most famous. It extended to the Krishna river, with a number of outlying stations beyond it. The mission of Cochin, on the Malabar Coast, was also one of the most fruitful. Several missions were also established in the interior northwards, e.g., that of Agra and Lahore in 1570 and that of Tibet in 1624. Still, even with these efforts, the greater part even of the coast line was by no means fully worked, and many vast tracts of the interior northwards were practically untouched.

With the decline of the Portuguese power, other colonial powers – namely the Dutch and British and Christian organisations gained influence.

Arrival of Protestant missions


St. Paul’s Cathedral, Calcutta – seat of the Anglican Diocese of Calcutta, Church of North India

William Carey translated the Bible intoBengaliSanskritMarathi and numerous other languages and dialects. The first Protestant missionaries to set foot in India were two Lutherans from Germany,Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau, who began work in 1705 in the Danish settlement of Tranquebar. They translated the Bible into the localTamil language, and afterwards intoHindustani. They made little progress at first, but gradually the mission spread toMadrasCuddalore and Tanjore. Today the Bishop of Tranquebar is the official title of the bishop of the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tamil Nadu which was founded in 1919 as a result of the German Lutheran Leipzig Mission and Church of Sweden Mission, the successors of Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau. The seat of the bishop, the cathedral and its Church House the Tranquebar House are in Tiruchirappalli.[68]

Beginning in the 18th century, Protestant missionaries began working throughout India, leading to the establishment of different Christian communities across the Indian Subcontinent. In 1793,William Carey, an English BaptistMinister came to India as a Missionary. He worked in SeramporeCalcutta, and other places as a missionary. He started the Serampore College. He translated the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and numerous other languages and dialects.[69] He worked in India until his death in 1834. Many upper-class Bengalis converted to Christianity during the Bengali renaissance under British Rule, including Krishna Mohan Banerjee,Michael Madhusudan DuttAnil Kumar Gain, and Gnanendramohan Tagore.

The Medak Cathedral of Church of South India is the largest Cathedral Church in India

The London Missionary Society was the first Protestant mission in Andhra Pradesh which established its station atVisakhapatnam in 1805.[70] Anthony Norris Groves, a Plymouth Brethrenmissionary came to India in 1833. He worked in the Godavari delta area until his death in 1852. John Christian Frederick Heyer was the first Lutheranmissionary in the region of Andhra Pradesh. He founded the Guntur Mission in 1842. He studied Sanskrit and medicine in Baltimore, and set sail for India from Boston in 1841 with three other missionary couples on the shipBrenda. He travelled to India a second time in 1847, spending a decade, mainly in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradeshstate, in southern India, where he ministered and performed yeoman service to the people there. Supported initially by the Pennsylvania Ministerium, and later by the Foreign Mission Board of the General Synod, Heyer was also encouraged and assisted by British government officials. He established a number of hospitals and a network of schools throughout the Guntur region.[71]

During the 19th century, several American Baptist missionaries evangelised in the northeastern parts of India. In 1876, Dr. E. W. Clark first went to live in a Naga village, four years after his Assamese helper, Godhula, baptised the first Naga converts. Rev. and Mrs. A.F. Merrill arrived in India in 1928 and worked in the southeast section of theGaro Hills.[72] Rev. and Mrs. M.J. Chance spent most of the years between 1950–1956 at Golaghat working with the Naga and Garo tribes.[73] Even today the heaviest concentrations of Christians in India continue to be in the Northeast among the NagasKhasisKukis, andMizos.[74] Jehovah’s Witnesses began their activity in India in the year 1905 when an Indian returned home after spending some time in Bible study withCharles Taze Russell.[75]

Arrival of the Mormon Missionaries

Mormon missionaries, or missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) including Hugh Findlay and Joseph Richards, arrived in Bombay and Pune in the early 1850s, but did not meet with much success. As of 2013 there are about 10,000 members of the LDS Church in India.[76]

Jesus in India hoaxes

Trade routes in the 1st century AD.
Main article: Jesus in India

There are also two sets of distinct accounts of Jesus travelling through India.[77] According to the first set of accounts, Jesus travelled and studied in India between the ages of twelve and thirty. The origin of the first set of accounts is attributed to Russian authorNicolas Notovitch who published the book La vie Inconnue du Jesus Christ (The Unknown life of Jesus Christ) in 1894.[77][78] Once his story had been re-examined by historians, Notovitch confessed to having fabricated the evidence.[79] Bart D. Ehrman states that “Today there is not a single recognized scholar on the planet who has any doubts about the matter. The entire story was invented by Notovitch, who earned a good deal of money and a substantial amount of notoriety for his hoax”.[80]

According the second set of accounts, Jesus did not die on the cross, but after his apparent death and resurrection he journeyed to Kashmir to teach the gospel, and then remained there for the rest of his life.[77][81] The origin of the second set of accounts is attributed to Indian author Mirza Ghulam Ahmed who published the book Masih Hindustan Mein (Jesus in India) in 1899.[82] These two accounts are generally not presented in combination. While travel between Middle-East and India was common during those times, these accounts are not given serious thought and treated as speculation since there is no historical account, either in early Christian writings or Indian historical accounts, to confirm Jesus travelling to India, according to James Lewis.[77]However, in modern scholarship, the death by crucifixion of Jesus is considered to be a historically certain fact about Jesus.[83][84]

Art and architecture

There are a large number of items of artistic and architectural significance in the religious and domestic life of Indian Christians.[85] Altarsstatuespulpits,crossesbells and belfries of churches along with other household items are among the many things that form part of the sacred art of the Indian Christians.[85] Church art and architecture of Kerala from the beginning of Christian presence in the region have been greatly influenced by those of other nations and religions as they have been influenced by Kerala‘s wealth of artistic and architectural traditions.[86]

Altar of the St. Mary’s Church in Kottayam; also can be seen are two Saint Thomas Crosses from 7th century on either side; The church was originally built in 1550

A traditional Malankara Church – Vadayaparambu Mar Bahanans Church

Christian art and architecture in Keralain pre-European periods has not only developed from contact with the countries that had trading posts there but also from indigenous forms and techniques of art and architecture. The advent of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the English has had a great deal of influence on the art and architecture of the church in Kerala.[86]The description of the visits of a Portuguese Archbishop Dom Menezes to various churches before the arrival of western powers in India throws some light on the structures and arrangements of the churches before western elements and types were introduced into Kerala. There were three striking objects of significance in front of the typical Malabar churches, either inside the courtyard or just outside it:

  • The open-air granite (rock) cross called the Nasrani Sthamba
  • Kodimaram (Dwajasthamba) or flag-staff made of Kerala‘s famed teak wood and often enclosed in copper hoses or paras
  • The rock Deepasthamba or lampstand.[85]

The ornate monumentality of the European churches was introduced toIndia when parts of Malabar Coast came under the jurisdiction of the Portuguese in the 16th century. They introduced the Romano-Portuguese style, which was assimilated with such artistic and structural finesse by the artists ofKerala, that it created some of the finest pieces of artistry. This laid the foundations for Indian Baroque.[85] After the arrival of Vasco da Gama and more especially after the commencement of Portuguese rule in India, distinct patterns of Christian art developed within the areas of Portuguese influence, mostly along the coasts of the peninsula. The Portuguese were great builders and promoted architecture more than any other form of fine art. St. Francis Church, Kochi is the first European place of worship in India and incidentally also the place where Vasco da Gama was first buried. The Christian art of Goa reached its climax in church building.[85]

Indian Christian art and architecture during the British Raj has expanded into several different styles as a result of extensive church building in different parts of the country. The style that was most patronised is generally referred to as the British Regency style which included Neo-Gothic and Gothic Revival architecture.[87] Most Protestant cathedrals and churches in India conform to this style. St. Paul’s Cathedral, Kolkata is a typical example of the Gothic Revival style. St. Mary’s churchChennai, the first Anglican Church built east of the Suez is one of the first examples of British colonial architecture in India.[88] French andDanish influences on Christian art and architecture in India can be seen in their respective colonies.[89] Today one can see a harmonious blending of the East and the West in the Christian art and architecture of India.[86]


Pesaha Appam is an unleavened Passover bread made by the Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala to be served on Passover night

While Christians in India do not share one common culture, their cultures for the most part tend to be a blend of Indian, Syrian and European cultures. It differs from one region to another depending on several factors such as the prevailing rite and tradition and the extent of time for which Christianity has existed in those regions. The ancientSaint Thomas Christians of Kerala have a distinctively different culture when compared to Christians in other parts of the country.[90] Historical ties with the Assyrian Church and assimilation of Indian traditions have contributed to the development a unique culture among these traditional Syrian Christians or Nasranis of Kerala.[90] The use of ornamental umbrellas for Christian religious festivities illustrates an example of the indigenous character ofKerala‘s Syriac Christianity.[91]

Goa was colonised by the Portuguese in 16th century AD; as a result of whichGoan Christians have adopted a more western culture.[92] The dance, song and cuisine of Goa has been greatly influenced by the Portuguese.[93]Contemporary Goan Christian culture can be best described as an increasingly anglicised Indo-Latin culture.Mangalorean Catholics are descended mainly from the Goan Catholic settlers, who had migrated to South Canara fromGoa, a state north of Canara, between 1560 and 1763 during the Goa Inquisition and the Portuguese-Maratha wars. After migration to Mangalore, they adopted the local Mangalorean culture, but retained many of their Goan customs and traditions.[94] Christianity in other parts of India spread under the colonial regimes of the Dutch, Danish, French and most importantly the English from the early 17th century to the time of the Indian Independence in 1947. Christian culture in these colonial territories has been influenced by the religion and culture of their respective rulers.[95]

Contemporary Latin Christian culture inIndia draws greatly from the Anglicanculture as a result of the influence of the erstwhile British Raj. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer is a widely used supplement for worship in the two major Protestant denominations: Church of South India and Church of North India.[96] Today Christians are considered to be one of the most progressive communities in India.[97]Urban Christians are to a greater extent influenced by European traditions which is considered an advantage in the business environment of urban India; this is given as an explanation for the large number of Christian professionals in India’s corporate sector.[98] The Christian church runs thousands of educational institutions which have contributed to the strengthening of Christian culture in India.

Religion plays a significant role in the daily life of Indian Christians. India ranks 15 among countries with highest church attendance. Religious processions andcarnivals are often celebrated by Catholics.[99] Cities with significant Christian populations celebrate patron saint days. As in other parts of the world, Christmas is the most important festival for Indian Christians. Anglo-IndianChristmas balls held in most major cities form a distinctive part of Indian Christian culture.[100] Good Friday is a national holiday. All Souls Day is another Christian holiday that is observed by most Christians in India.[101] Most Protestant churches celebrate harvest festivals, usually in late October or early November.[102] Christian weddings in India conform to the traditional white wedding. However it is not uncommon for Christian brides particularly in the south to wear a traditional white wedding sari instead of a gown.[103] The vast majority of Protestant women and to a lesser extent Catholic women in India do not wear the bindi (red dot on the forehead) and can therefore be easily distinguished from their Hindu counterparts.[104]


Distribution of Christian population in different Indian states[105]

The 2001 census of India recorded 24,080,016 Christians in the country, most of them belonging to the Latin Riteand represented 2.34 per cent of the population.[6] A 2005 report by the Catholic church said that 17,300,000 baptised Catholics lived in the country, although it could not put a figure on how many of those were practising.[106]310,000 were members of the Syro-Malankara Church[107][when?] and 3,000,000 of the Syro-Malabar Church.[citation needed][when?] In January 1993, the Syro-Malabar Church and in February 2005, the Syro-Malankara Church were raised to the status ofmajor archiepiscopal churches by Pope John Paul II. The Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest among the twenty two Eastern Catholic Churches who accept the Pope as the visible head of the whole church.[citation needed]

The Oriental Orthodox churches in India include the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church with 2,500,000 members, theJacobite Syrian Christian Church with 1,200,000 members, Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church with 900,000 members and Malabar Independent Syrian Church with 10,000 members.[9][108]

Most Protestant denominations are represented in India, as a result of missionary activities throughout the country, such as the American Missionary Associationthe Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Mission, the Church Mission Society of theChurch of England and many other missions from Europe, America and Australia. With approximately 4 million members, the largest Protestant denomination in the country is theChurch of South India, which is a union of PresbyterianReformed,CongregationalMethodist, and Anglicancongregations. It is also one of four united churches in the Anglican Communion.[109] A similar Church of North India has 1.25 million members.[110] These churches are in full communion with the Anglican Communion. .[111] In 1961, the evangelical wing of the church split from the Mar Thoma Church and formed the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India which has 35,000 members.[112] There are about 1,267,786 Lutherans,[113]648,000 Methodists,[114] 2,392,694 Baptists,[115] and 823,456 Presbyterians in India.[116]

The Open Brethren movement is also significantly represented in India. The main Brethren grouping is known as theIndian Brethren (with a following estimated at somewhere between 449,550[117] and 1,000,000), of which theKerala Brethren are a significant subset. The closely related Assemblies Jehovah Shammah have around 310,000 adults and children in fellowship as of 2010.[118] They are often considered part of the wider Brethren movement, although they were founded by an indigenous evangelist (Bakht Singh) and developed independently of the older Indian Brethren movement, which originated from missionary endeavours.

Pentecostalism is also a rapidly growing in India. The major Pentecostal churches in India are the Assemblies of GodThe Pentecostal Mission,[119][120]the New Apostolic Church with 1,448,209 members,[121] the Indian Pentecostal Church of God with 900,000 members (throughout India and ten other countries),[121] the New Life Fellowship Association with 480,000 members, the Manna Full Gospel Churches with 275,000 members,[121]and the Evangelical Church of India with 250,000 members.[122]


Church at Yercaud

See main article: List of Christian denominations in India.

More information: Church Name, Population …

State populations

More information: State, Population …
More information: Religion, Scheduled Caste …

Despite the sectarian differences, Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Syrian Christians or Nasranis) share a common social status within the Caste system of India and are considered as Forward Caste and Latin Christians are considered as Other Backward Caste.[131]


Hindu–Christian conflict

Historically, Hindus and Christians have lived in relative peace since the arrival of Christianity in India from the early part of the first millennium. In areas where Christianity existed in pre-European times like Kerala, land to build churches was often donated by Hindu kings and Hindu landlords.[citation needed] The arrival of European colonialists brought about large-scale missionary activity in South India and North-East India. Many indigenous cultures were converted to Christianity. The Goan Inquisition, when close to 300 Hindu temples were destroyed, is pointed out as a blot in the history of Goa.[132]

After the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda, who was a Hindu monk, tensions flared between the two communities in 2008.

A church that has been burnt down during the 2008religious violence in Odisha

There has been an increase in anti-Christian violence in recent years, particularly in the states of Odisha, which is usually perpetrated by opposition to Pentecostalism.[133] The acts of violence include arson of churches, converting Christians back toHinduism by force and threats of physical violence, distribution of threatening literature, burning of Bibles,raping of nuns, murder of Christian priests, and destruction of Christian schools, colleges, and cemeteries.[134][135] An Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burnt to death by a gang while sleeping in his station wagon atManoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Odisha, India on 22 January 1999. In the annual human rights reports for 1999, the United States Department of State also criticised India for “increasing societal violence against Christians.”[136]The report on anti-Christian violence listed over 90 incidents of anti-Christian violence, ranging from damage of religious property to violence against Christians pilgrims. The states ofRajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu passed laws placing restrictions on forced religious conversions as a result of communal tension between Christians and Hindus.[137][138] The legislation passed in Tamil Nadu was later repealed.[citation needed]

In 2007, 19 churches were burned by Hindu right-wingers in Odisha following conflicts between Hindus and Christians regarding Christmas celebrations in the Kandhamal district.[139] In more contemporary periods, Hindu-Christian amity continues to exist.

A dungeon at Seringapatam. Those Christians who refused to embrace Islam were imprisoned in such dungeons.

Muslim–Christian conflict

The Jamalabad fort route. Mangalorean Catholics had travelled through this route on their way toSeringapatam

General Lord Cornwallis, receiving two of Tipu Sultan’s sons as hostages in the year 1793.

In spite of the fact that there have been relatively fewer conflicts between Muslims and Christians in India in comparison to those between Muslims and Hindus, or Muslims and Sikhs, the relationship between Muslims and Christians have also been occasionally turbulent. With the advent of European colonialism in India throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Christians were systematically persecuted in a few Muslim-ruled kingdoms in India.

Among the anti-Christian acts of persecution by Muslims was that committed by Tippu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore against theMangalorean Catholic community fromMangalore in the erstwhile South Canaradistrict on the southwestern coast of India. Tippu was widely reputed to be anti-Christian. The Captivity of Mangalorean Catholics at Seringapatam, which began on 24 February 1784 and ended on 4 May 1799, remains the most disconsolate memory in their history.[140]

The Bakur Manuscript reports him as having said: “All Musalmans should unite together, considering the annihilation of infidels as a sacred duty, and labour to the utmost of their power, to accomplish that subject.”[141] Soon after the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784, Tippu gained control of Canara.[142] He issued orders to seize the Christians in Canara, confiscate their estates,[143] and deport them to Seringapatam, the capital of his empire, through the Jamalabad fort route.[144]However, there were no priests among the captives. Together with Fr Miranda, all the 21 arrested priests were issued orders of expulsion to Goa, fined Rs 200,000, and threatened death by hanging if they ever returned.[141]

Tippu ordered the destruction of 27 Catholic churches, all intricately carved with statues depicting various saints. Among them were Nossa Senhora de Rosario Milagres at Mangalore, Fr Miranda’s Seminary at Monte Mariano, Jesu Marie Jose at Omzoor, the Chapel at Bolar, the Church of Merces at Ullal, Imaculata Conceiciao at Mulki, San Jose at Perar, Nossa Senhora dos Remedios at Kirem, Sao Lawrence at Karkal, Rosario at Barkur, and Immaculata Conceciao at Baidnur.[141] All were razed to the ground, with the exception of theChurch of Holy Cross at Hospet, owing to the friendly offices of the Chauta Raja of Moodbidri.[145]

According to Thomas Munro, a Scottish soldier and the first collector of Canara, around 60,000 people,[146] nearly 92 percent of the entire Mangalorean Catholic community, were captured, of which only 7,000 escaped. Francis Buchanan states the numbers as 70,000 captured, from a population of 80,000, with 10,000 escaping. They were forced to climb nearly 4,000 feet (1,200 m) through the jungles of the Western Ghatmountain ranges. It was 210 miles (340 km) from Mangalore to Seringapatam, and the journey took six weeks. According to British Government records, 20,000  of them died on the march to Seringapatam. According to James Scurry, a British officer, who was held captive along with the Mangalorean Catholics, 30,000 of them were forcibly converted to Islam. The young women and girls were forcibly made wives of the Muslims living there.[147] The young men who offered resistance were disfigured by cutting their noses, upper lips, and ears.[148] According to Mr. Silva of Gangolim, a survivor of the captivity, if a person who had escaped from Seringapatam was found, the punishment under the orders of Tippu was the cutting off of the ears, nose, the feet and one hand.[149]

The Archbishop of Goa wrote in 1800, “It is notoriously known in all Asia and all other parts of the globe of the oppression and sufferings experienced by the Christians in the Dominion of the King of Kanara, during the usurpation of that country by Tipu Sultan from an implacable hatred he had against them who professed Christianity.”[141]

Tipu Sultan’s invasion of the Malabar had an adverse impact on the Saint Thomas Christian community of the Malabar coast.[150] Many churches in the Malabar and Cochin were damaged.[150] The old Syrian Nasrani seminary at Angamaly which had been the center of Catholic religious education for several centuries was razed to the ground by Tippu’s soldiers.[150] A lot of centuries old religious manuscripts were lost forever.[150] The church was later relocated to Kottayam where it still exists to this date.[150] The Mor Sabor church at Akaparambu and the Martha Mariam Church attached to the seminary were destroyed as well.[150]Tipu’s army set fire to the church at Palayoor and attacked the Ollur Church in 1790.[150] Furthernmore, the Arthat church and the Ambazhakkad seminary was also destroyed.[150] Over the course of this invasion, many Saint Thomas Christians were killed or forcibly converted to Islam.[150] Most of the coconut, areca nut, pepper and cashew plantations held by the Saint Thomas Christian farmers were also indiscriminately destroyed by the invading army.[150] As a result, when Tippu’s army invaded Guruvayur and adjacent areas, the Syrian Christian community fled Calicut and small towns like Arthat to new centres like Kunnamkulam, Chalakudi, Ennakadu, Cheppadu, Kannankode, Mavelikkara, etc. where there were already Christians.[150] They were given refuge by Sakthan Tamburan, the ruler of Cochin and Karthika Thirunal, the ruler of Travancore, who gave them lands, plantations and encouraged their businesses.[150] Colonel Maculay, the British resident of Travancore also helped them.[150]

The British officer James Scurry, who was detained a prisoner for 10 years by Tipu Sultan along with the Mangalorean Catholics

His persecution of Christians also extended to captured British soldiers. For instance, there were a significant amount of forced conversions of British captives between 1780 and 1784. Following their disastrous defeat at thebattle of Pollilur, 7,000 British men along with an unknown number of women were held captive by Tipu in the fortress of Seringapatnam. Of these, over 300 were circumcised and given Muslim names and clothes and several British regimental drummer boys were made to wear ghagra cholis and entertain the court as nautch girls or dancing girls. After the 10-year-long captivity ended, James Scurry, one of those prisoners, recounted that he had forgotten how to sit in a chair and use a knife and fork. His English was broken and stilted, having lost all his vernacular idiom. His skin had darkened to the swarthy complexion of negroes, and moreover, he had developed an aversion to wearing European clothes.[151] During the surrender of the Mangalore fort which was delivered in an armistice by the British and their subsequent withdrawal, all the Mestizos and remaining non-British foreigners were killed, together with 5,600 Mangalorean Catholics. Those condemned by Tipu Sultan for treachery were hanged instantly, the gibbets being weighed down by the number of bodies they carried. The Netravati River was so putrid with the stench of dying bodies, that the local residents were forced to leave their riverside homes.[141]

Historian William Dalrymple asserts that the rebels were motivated primarily by resistance against a move (use of theEnfield Rifle-Musket) by the East India Company, which was perceived as an attempt to impose Christianity and Christian laws in India.[152] For instance, when Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar met the sepoys on 11 May 1857, he was told: “We have joined hands to protect our religion and our faith.” They later stood in Chandni Chowk, the main square, and asked the people gathered there, “Brothers, are you with those of the faith?”[152] Those British men and women who had previously converted to Islam such as the defectors, Sergeant-Major Gordon, and Abdullah Beg, a former Company soldier, were spared.[153] On the contrary, foreign Christians such as Revd Midgeley John Jennings, as well as Indian converts to Christianity such as one of Zafar’s personal physicians, Dr. Chaman Lal, were killed outright.[153]

Dalrymple further points out that as late as 6 September, when calling the inhabitants of Delhi to rally against the upcoming British assault, Zafar issued a proclamation stating that this was a religious war being prosecuted on behalf of ‘the faith’, and that all Muslim and Hindu residents of the imperial city, or of the countryside were encouraged to stay true to their faith and creeds.[152] As further evidence, he observes that the Urdu sources of the pre and post-rebellion periods usually refer to the British not as angrez (the English), goras(whites) or firangis (foreigners), but askafir (infidels) and nasrani(Christians).[152]

In modern times, Muslims in India who convert to Christianity are often subjected to harassment, intimidation, and attacks by Muslims.[121][122] InJammu and Kashmir, the only Indian state with a Muslim majority, a Christian convert and missionary named Bashir Tantray was killed, allegedly by militant Islamists in 2006.[154]

List of Christian communities in India

See also


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Further reading


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