Christianity in India

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Christians in India
Nasrani cross.jpg
Total population
27.8 million[1] (2.3%) Decrease (2011)
Regions with significant populations
Largest Christian population in Kerala at 6.14 million (18.4% of state population), Majority in Nagaland at 87.9%, Mizoram at 87.2% and Meghalaya at 74.6%. Plurality in Manipur at 41.3% and Arunachal Pradesh at 31%. Significant populations in Goa at 25.1%, Pondicherry at 10.8% and Tamil Nadu at 6.2%.
Protestant (59.22%), Catholic (33.19%), Orthodox (7.44%), Others (0.15%) etc.[2]
Malayalam, Syriac, Latin, Punjabi, English, Tamil, Hindi, Bodo, Khasi, Karbi, Mizo, Rabha, Mushing, Naga, Kuki, Garo, Hmar, Bengali, Nepali, Assamese, Oriyan, Gujarati, Marathi, Kokborok, Konkani, Kannada, Telugu and various Indian languages

Template:Christianity by country

Christianity is the third-largest religion after Hinduism and Islam, just ahead of Sikhism and Buddhism with about 27.8 million adherents, making up 2.3 percent of the population as per the 2011 Census of India.[1] The written records of St Thomas Christians have it that Christianity was introduced to the Indian subcontinent by Thomas the Apostle, who sailed to the Malabar region in 52 AD, the present-day Kerala state.[3][4][5][6] There is a general scholarly consensus that Christian communes were firmly established on the coast of Kerala by the 6th century AD, these were Eastern Christians of the Church of the East in India, who worshipped in Syriac.[7] As a result Malankara Nasranis (Thomasine Christians) have a unique Syro-Malabarese culture which includes Christianised Jewish elements with some Hindu customs and values as well. Following the discovery of the Cape route by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in the 15th century, Western Christian communities of Latin Christians and Protestants formed in the cities of Portuguese Goa and Damaon, British Bombay, French Pondicherry etc.[8]

The Acts of Thomas mention that the first converts were Malabarese Jews, who had settled in India before the birth of Christ. Thomas who was a Jew by birth came in search of Indian Jews, after years of evangelism the apostle was martyred and his remains were buried at the St Thomas Mount in Mylapore, Chennai (Madras). Also; Gaspar of India is said to have been a biblical magi (astrologer) from the east to visit Bethlehem and find the Christ child along with Melchior of Persia& Balthazar of Ethiopia. Christian missionaries campaigned for reform in the social evils of Hinduism in the 18th century, such as suttee (widow self immolation), female infanticide& untouchability;[9] they introduced the western educational system to south Asia.[10][11]

The Church of India, Burma and Ceylon was established in the 19th century, it split into the Church of Pakistan, Church of North India and the Church of South India; which are members of united Protestant denominations, as a result of ecumenism by Anglicans, Methodists and others who flourished in colonial India.[12] Other Protestants were American, British, German non-denominational missionaries who preached the Bible. Pentecostals, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Evangelicals are also present. There are reports of a number of crypto-Christians in recent years, due to fear of attack or the lack of freedom of religion.[13][14][15][16][17]

Christians were active in the Indian National Congress and the Indian independence movement, represented by the All India Conference of Indian Christians which included pre-partition Pakistani Christians as well, they advocated for swaraj (self rule) and opposed the partition of India.[18][19][20]

Infant Jesus Church, Mysore, South India.

Early Christianity in India[edit]

St. Bartholomew[edit]

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

Eusebius of Caesarea's Ecclesiastical History (5:10) states that after the Ascension, Bartholomew went on a missionary tour to India, where he left behind a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. Other traditions record him as serving as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, and Lycaonia.[21]

Popular traditions and legends say that Bartholomew preached the Gospel in India, then went to Greater Armenia.[22]

St. Thomas[edit]

According to the tradition of Saint Thomas Christians (Syrian Christians), Thomas the Apostle landed in Kodungallur in AD 52, established the Ezharappallikal and converted many local Brahmins to Christianity and later in AD 72, Saint Thomas attained martyrdom at St. Thomas Mount in Chennai and was buried on the site of San Thome Cathedral.[23][24][25][26][27][28] A historically more likely claim by Eusebius of Caesarea is that Pantaenus, the head of the Christian exegetical school in Alexandria, Egypt went to India during the reign of the Emperor Commodus and found Christians already living in India using a version of the Gospel of Matthew with "Hebrew letters, a mixture of culture."[29] 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[30][31] 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.[32] 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.[30] The Acts of Thomas identifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadwa, one of the rulers of a 1st-century dynasty in southern India.

Niranam Pally (St Mary's Orthodox Syrian Church) is one of the oldest churches in India. The church was founded by St. Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, in AD 54. The church was reconstructed several times since then. The stones in the church shows the reconstruction in 1259. St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ landed at Malankara near Cranganore around A.D.52. He established seven and half churches. Those are, Kodugallore, Palayoor, Kottacave, Kokamangalam, Niranam, Chayal, Kollam and the half church at Thiruvithamkode. On his way from Kollam in northeast direction he arrived at Niranam "Thrikpapaleswaram" by sea.

It is believed to be one of the oldest churches in Kerala and thus in India as well as among the oldest ones in the world. The architecture shows striking similarities to ancient temple architecture. It is believed to have been established by St. Thomas.

Another one of the oldest church is St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church, located at Palayur (also spelt Palayoor), in Thrissur district in Kerala on the west coast of India. According to Saint Thomas christian tradition, the Syrian church was established in 52–54 AD by St Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. St Thomas performed The First baptism in India here, therefore this church is called an Apostolic Church credited to the apostolate of St. Thomas.

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.[30] Certainly by the time of the establishment of the Sassanid Empire (AD 226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India, Afghanistan and Baluchistan, with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity.[30]


4th-century missions[edit]

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, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East, both along mountain passes in the north and sea routes along the western and southern coast, well before the start of the Christian era, and it is likely that Christian merchants settled in Indian cities along trading routes.[38]

The Chronicle of Seert describes an evangelical mission to India by Bishop David of Basra around the year 300;[39] this metropolitan reportedly made many conversions,[40] and it has been speculated that his mission took in areas of southern India.[41]

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.[42] 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.[43]

Medieval period[edit]

Syro-Malabar Catholic bishop Mar Mathew Arackal (holding the Mar Thoma Cross which symbolises the heritage and identity of the Syrian Church of Saint 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 various Persian immigrant settlers, the Knanaya colonies of the 4th century, Babylonian Christians settlers of the 4th century AD, the Syrian settlements of Mar Sabor Easo and Proth in the 9th century AD and the immigrant Persian Christians from successive centuries.

Local rulers in Kerala gave the Saint Thomas Christians various rights and privileges which were written on copper plates. These are known as Cheppeds, Royal Grants, Sasanam, etc.[44] 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 the Tharisappalli 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 Old Malayalam in Vattezhuthu intermingled with some Grantha script and Pahlavi, Kufic and Hebrew signatures.

The ruler of Venad (Travancore) granted the Saint Thomas 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[which?] grant dated 1225 AD further enhanced the rights and privileges of Nasranis.

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.[citation needed] The embassy of King Alfred in 883 AD sent presents to St. Thomas Christians.[45] Marco Polo who visited in 1292, mentioned that there were Christians in the Malabar coast.[46] The Saint Thomas Christians still use the Syriac language (a dialect of Aramaic, which is also the language that Jesus spoke[47]) 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.[48][49] This later wave of evangelism spread Catholicism more widely along the Konkan coast.[50][51]

The French or Catalan Dominican missionary Jordanus Catalani was the first Latin European to arrive in India. He landed in Surat in around 1320. By a separate bull, that reads "Venerabili Fratri Jordano", the same Pope, on 21 August 1329 AD, appointed the French or Catalan Dominican friar "Jordanus Catalani" as the first Bishop of Quilon.[52][53]

Caliampore town near Mangalore is another significant area on the west coast which has a significant Mangalorean 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 by Jordanus.[53] Jordanus Catalani also evangelised Thana district (Trombay) near Bombay (Mumbai), who would later be absorbed into the Bombay East Indian community.[54][55]

Modern period[edit]

Syrians in India[edit]

Thomas the Apostle is credited by tradition for founding the Indian Church in 52 AD.[26][56][57] This church developed contacts with the Church of the East religious authorities at that point based in Edessa, Mesopotamia.

Historically, this community was organised as the Province of India of the Church of the East by Patriarch of Babylon Timothy I (780–823 AD) in the eighth century, served by bishops and a local dynastic archdeacon.[58] In the 14th century, the Church of the East declined due to persecution from Tamerlane[59][60] and the 16th century witnessed the colonial overtures of the Portuguese Padroado to bring St Thomas Christians into the Latin Catholic Church, administered by the Portuguese Padroado Archdiocese of Goa, leading to the first of several rifts in the community.[61][62][63] The efforts of the Portuguese culminated in the Synod of Diamper, formally subjugating them and their whole Archdiocese of Angamaly as a suffragan see to the Archdiocese of Goa administered by Roman Catholic Padroado missionaries.

Following the synod, the Indian Church was governed by Portuguese prelates. They were generally unwilling to respect the integrity of the local church. This resulted in disaffection which led to a general revolt in 1653 known as the "Coonan Cross Oath". Under the leadership of Archdeacon Thomas, Nazranis around Cochin gathered at Mattancherry church on Friday, 24 January 1653 (M.E. 828 Makaram 3) and made an oath that is known as the Great Oath of Bent Cross. There are various versions about the wording of oath, one version being that the oath was directed against the Portuguese, another that it was directed against Jesuits, yet another version that it was directed against the authority of Church of Rome.[64] Those who were not able to touch the cross tied ropes on the cross, held the rope in their hands and made the oath. Because of the weight it is believed by the followers that the cross bent a little and so it is known as "Oath of the bent cross" (Coonen Kurisu Sathyam). This demanded administrative autonomy for the local church.

A few months, later Archdeacon Thomas was ordained as bishop by twelve priests with the title Thoma I. At this point of time, Rome intervened and Carmelite Missionaries were sent to win the Thomas Christians back. Carmelites could convince the majority that the local church needs bishops and the consecration of the Archdeacon Thomas was claimed to be invalid as the consecration was conducted not by any bishop, but by priests. Many leaders of the community rejoined the missionaries. But in 1663, Dutch conquered Cochin, the control of the Portuguese on the Malabar coast was lost.P ortuguese Missionaries had to leave the country and they consecrated Palliveettil Chandy kathanaar as the bishop for the Catholic Thomas Christians on 1 February 1663. Meanwhile, Thoma I appealed to several eastern Christian churches for regularizing his consecration. The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch responded and sent metropolitan Gregorios Abdul Jaleel of Jerusalem to India in 1665. He confirmed Thoma I as a bishop and worked together with him to organize the Church. These events led to the gradual and lasting schism among the Saint Thomas Christians of India, leading to the formation of Puthenkūr (New allegiance) and Pazhayakūr (Old allegiance) factions.

The Pazhayakūr comprise the present day Syro-Malabar Church and Chaldean Syrian Church which continue to employ the East Syriac Rite (Babylonian Rite /Persian Rite) liturgy.[65][66][67] The Puthenkūr, who entered into a new communion with the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, an Oriental Orthodox church, inherited from them the West Syriac Rite, replacing the old East Syriac Rite liturgy. Puthenkūr is the body from which present day Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Mar Thoma Syrian Church, St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church and Malabar Independent Syrian Church originate.[68][69][70]

Arrival of Europeans[edit]

In 1453, the fall of Constantinople, a bastion of Christianity in Asia Minor to Sunni Islamic Ottoman Caliphate; marked the end of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman 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.[71][72] 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 the St 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 the Latin liturgical rites among them and unify East Syriac Christians in India under the Holy See.

Conversion of the Paravas by Saint Francis Xavier, in a 19th-century coloured lithograph

The south Indian coastal areas around Kanyakumari were known for pearl fisheries ruled by Paravars. From 1527, the Paravars were being threatened by Arab fleets offshore, headed by the Muslim supporting Zamorin of Calicut.[73] The Paravars sought the protection of Portuguese who had moved into the area. The protection was granted on the condition that the leaders were immediately baptised as Christians and that they would encourage their people also to convert to Christianity; the Portuguese would also gain a strategic foothold and control of the pearl fisheries. The deal was agreed and some months later 20,000 Paravars were baptised en masse, and by 1537 the entire community had declared itself to be Christian. The Portuguese navy destroyed the Arab fleet at Vedalai on 27 June 1538.[74][73]

Francis Xavier, a Jesuit, in 1542 began a mission to the lower classes of Tamil society.[75] A further 30,000 Paravars were baptised. Xavier appointed catechists in the Paravar villages up and down the 100 miles (160 km) of coastline to spread and reinforce his teachings.[76] Paravar Christianity, with its own identity based on a mixture of Christian religious belief and Hindu caste culture, remains a defining part of the Paravar life today.[73][77]

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

In the 16th century, the proselytisation of Asia was linked to the Portuguese colonial policy.[78] In 1900–1914, churches in other countries, especially the United States, sponsored missions.[79] Outside Christian missions have been less active since 1914 as Indians themselves take action and Protestant groups have formed unions.[80]

Missionaries of the different orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, 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[clarification needed] 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.[81][82] The lucrative spice trade was further temptation for the Portuguese crown.[83] 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.[82] 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.[84]

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. Dom Francisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese Viceroy got permission from the Kochi Raja to build two churches – namely Santa Cruz Basilica (1505) and St. 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.[85]

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 created Diocese of Funchal in Madeira. In 1534, Pope Paul III by the Bull Quequem Reputamus, raised Funchal as an archdiocese and Goa as its suffragan, deputing the whole of India under the diocese of Goa. This created an episcopal see – suffragan to Funchal, with a jurisdiction extending potentially over all past and future conquests from the Cape of Good Hope to China.

In 1546, Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier set up the Goa Inquisition in a letter dated 16 May 1546 to King John III of Portugal.[86] The Inquisition office persecuted Hindus, Muslims, Bene Israels, New Christians and the Judaizing Nasranis by the colonial era Portuguese government and Jesuit clergy in Portuguese India.[87] Hindus were the primary target of the 250 years of persecution and punishment for their faith by the Catholic prosecutors.[88] Most affected were the shudras (12.5%) and farmers (35.5%)[89]

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 the Jesuit St Francis Xavier (1506–1552), expanded from their bases on the west coast making many converts. The Portuguese colonial government supported the mission. At the same time many New Christians from Portugal migrated to India as a result of the inquisition 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,[90] 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 and Malacca. 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 the Saint Thomas Christians, an ancient body formerly part of the Church of the East[91][92] 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 Diamper between 20 and 26 June 1599,[93] 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 the Archdiocese 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 Christians were 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 Syriac Rite.[93] Resentment of these measures led to some part of the community to join the Archdeacon, Thomas, in swearing never to submit to the Portuguese Jesuits in the Coonan Cross Oath in 1653. Those who accepted the West Syriac theological and liturgical tradition of Gregorios became known as Jacobites. The others who continued with East Syriac theological and liturgical tradition stayed faithful to the Catholic Church.

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.

Portugal was the first European nation to establish trade routes with Japan and China. A significant portion of the crew on Portuguese ships were Indian Christians.[94]

The Portuguese were however unable to establish their presence in Mangalore as a result of the conquests of the Vijayanagara ruler Krishnadevaraya and Abbakka Rani of Ullal, the Bednore Queen of Mangalore. Most of Mangalorean Catholics were not originally from Mangalore from Goa, which they fled during the Sackings of Goa and Bombay-Bassein and the Goan Inquisition.

Marathi Christians are Protestants and are therefore distinct from Bombay East Indian Christians who are predominantly Roman Catholics and inhabitants of the north Konkan region. Marathi Christians can be found in the areas of Ahmednagar, Solapur, Poona& Aurangabad. They were converted through the efforts of the American Marathi Mission, The SPG Mission, and the Church Mission Society of Church of England in the early 18th century. British missionary William Carey was instrumental in translating the Bible into the Marathi language.[95]

In Portuguese Bombay and Bassein 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 that of Agra and Lahore in 1570 and that of Tibet in 1624. Still, even with these efforts, and many vast tracts of the interior northwards were practically unreached.

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

During the Bettiah Raj of Bihar, the ethnoreligious community of Bettiah Christians was established in India in the 17th century by Christian missionaries belonging to the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, a Roman Catholic religious order.[96] The Capuchins were personally invited to establish the Bettiah Christian Mission by Maharaja Dhurup Singh, after Italian Capuchin priest Joseph Mary Bernini treated his ill wife; Pope Benedict XIV, on 1 May 1742, approved the appointment of the Capuchins at the Bettiah Fort in a letter to Maharaja Dhurup Singh.[97]

Eastern Orthodoxy in India[edit]

Since 1996, small communities of Eastern Orthodox Christians in India were placed under ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the newly formed Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia that was set up by the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.[98] In 2008, the Diocese was divided, and India came under jurisdiction of newly formed Eastern Orthodox Metropolitanate of Singapore and South Asia.[99]

Arrival of Protestant missions[edit]

Beginning about 1700 Protestant missionaries began working throughout India, leading to the establishment of different Christian communities across the Indian Subcontinent.

German Lutherans and Basel Mission[edit]

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 local Tamil language, and afterwards into Hindustani. They made little progress at first, but gradually the mission spread to Madras, Cuddalore and Tanjore.

German missionary Johann Phillip Fabricius published the first Tamil to English dictionary and refined the Tamil Bible translation.

Christian Friedrich Schwarz was a prominent German Lutheran missionary to Tamil Nadu, his mission was instrumental for most of the Protestant conversion at Tamil Nadu. He died in Tamil Nadu and was buried in St.Peter's Church at Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.

Hermann Gundert a German missionary, scholar, and linguist, as well as the maternal grandfather of German novelist and Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse was a missionary in the South Indian state of Kerala and was instrumental in compiling a Malayalam grammar book, Malayalabhaasha Vyakaranam (1859), in which he developed and constructed the grammar currently spoken by the Malayalis, published a Malayalam-English dictionary (1872), and contributed to work on Bible translations into Malayalam.

Eugen Liebendörfer was the first German missionary doctor in India as part of the Basel Mission. He built hospitals in Kerala and Karnataka.

Another Basel Missionary Ferdinand Kittel worked in South Indian state of Karnataka in places such as Mangalore, Madikeri and Dharwad in Karnataka. He is renowned for his studies of the Kannada language and for producing a Kannada-English dictionary of about 70,000 words in 1894. He also composed numerous Kannada poems.

Hermann Mögling was a German missionary to Karnataka, he is credited as the publisher of the first ever newspaper in the Kannada language called as Mangalooru Samachara in 1843. He was awarded a doctorate for his literary work in Kannada called as Bibliotheca Carnataca. He also translated Kannada literature into German.

Another Lutheran German missionary to South Indian state of Kerala was Volbrecht Nagel, he was a missionary to the Malabar coast of India. Initially associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, he later joined the Open Brethren, and is remembered now as a pioneer of the Kerala Brethren movement.

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. By 2006, there were three million(30 lakh) Lutherans in Tranquebar.[100]

William Carey and the Baptists[edit]

William Carey, 1761–1834.

In 1793, William Carey, an English Baptist Minister came to India as a missionary but also as a man of learning in economics, medicine and botany.[101] He worked in Serampore, Calcutta, and other places. He translated the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and numerous other languages and dialects. He worked in India despite the hostility of the British East India Company until his death in 1834. Carey and his colleagues, Joshua Marshman and William Ward, blended science, Christianity, and constructive Orientalism in their work at the Danish settlement of Serampore, near Calcutta. Carey saw the dissemination of European science and Christianity as mutually supportive and equally important civilizing missions. He also supported a revival of Sanskrit science. Carey played a key role in the establishment of the Agricultural Society of India. Ward, beginning in 1806, published important commentaries on ancient Hindu medical and astronomy texts. In 1818 Carey and his fellow missionaries founded Serampore College to nurture a uniquely Indian variety of European science.[102]

Outreach to upper classes[edit]

Many upper-class Bengalis converted to Christianity during the Bengali Renaissance under British Rule, including Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Anil Kumar Gain, and Gnanendramohan Tagore, Aurobindo Nath Mukherjee.[103]

Other missionaries[edit]

The London Missionary Society was the first Protestant mission in Andhra Pradesh which established its station at Visakhapatnam in 1805.[104] Anthony Norris Groves, a Plymouth Brethren missionary arrived in 1833. He worked in the Godavari delta area until his death in 1852. John Christian Frederick Heyer was the first Lutheran missionary in the region of Andhra Pradesh. He founded the Guntur Mission in 1842. 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.[105]

The Church Missionary Society (CMS), a mission society working with the Anglican Communion,[106] began sending missionaries to India and established mission stations at Chennai (Madras) and Bengal, then in 1816 at Travancore.[107] The CMS Mission to India expanded in the following years. The successors of the Protestant church missions are the Church of South India and the Church of North India.[106]

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 the Garo Hills.[108] Rev. and Mrs. M.J. Chance spent most of the years between 1950 and 1956 at Golaghat working with the Naga and Garo tribes.[109] Even today the heaviest concentrations of Christians in India continue to be in the Northeast among the Nagas, Khasis, Kukis, and Mizos.[110]

Role in the Indian independence movement[edit]

In its early stages of the nationalist movement in colonial India, Indian Christians were heavily involved in the Indian National Congress and wider Indian independence movement:[19]

Indian Christian involvement in the early stages of the nationalist movement is also reflected in the high levels of participation in the activities of the Indian National Congress. During the period from its inception up until about 1892 all the evidence suggests that Indian Christians enthusiastically supported the National Congress and attended its annual meetings. For example, according to the official Congress report, there were 607 registered delegates at the Madras meeting of 1887; thirty-five were Christians and, of these, seven were Eurasians and fifteen were Indian Christians. Indian Christians alone made up 2.5 per cent of the total attendance, in spite of the fact that Christians accounted for less than 0.79 per cent of the population. The Indian Christian community was also well represented at the next four sessions of the Congress. The proportion of Indian Christian delegates remained very much higher than their proportion in the population, in spite of the fact that meetings were sometimes held in cities such as Allahabad and Nagpur, far removed from the main centres of Christian population.[19]

The All India Conference of Indian Christians (AICIC) played an important role in the Indian independence movement, advocating for swaraj and opposing the partition of India.[18] The AICIC also was opposed to separate electorates for Christians, believing that the faithful "should participate as common citizens in one common, national political system".[18][19] The All India Conference of Indian Christians and the All India Catholic Union formed a working committee with M. Rahnasamy of Andhra University serving as President and B.L. Rallia Ram of Lahore serving as General Secretary; in its meeting on 16 April 1947 and 17 April 1947, the joint committee prepared a 13-point memorandum that was sent to the Constituent Assembly of India, which asked for religious freedom for both organisations and individuals; this came to be reflected in the Constitution of India.[18]

Art and architecture[edit]

There are a large number of items of artistic and architectural significance in the religious and domestic life of Indian Christians.[115] Altars, statues, pulpits, crosses, bells 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.[115]

  • 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.[115]

This laid the foundations for Indian Baroque.[115] 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.[115]

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.[116] 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 church, Chennai, the first Anglican Church built east of the Suez is one of the first examples of British colonial architecture in India.[117] French and Danish influences on Christian art and architecture in India can be seen in their respective colonies.[118]


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 ancient Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala have a distinctively different culture when compared to Christians in other parts of the country.[119] Historical ties with the Assyrian Church and assimilation of Indian traditions have contributed to the development of a unique culture among these traditional Syrian Christians or Nasranis of Kerala.[119] The use of ornamental umbrellas for Christian religious festivities illustrates an example of the indigenous character of Kerala's Syriac Christianity.[120]

Goa was colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century AD; as a result of which Goan Christians have adopted a more western culture.[121] The dance, song and cuisine of Goa has been greatly influenced by the Portuguese.[122] 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 from Goa, 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.[123] 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.[124]

Contemporary Christian culture in India draws greatly from the Anglican culture 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.[125] Today Christians are considered to be one of the most progressive communities in India.[126] 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.[127] 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 and carnivals are often celebrated by Catholics.[128] 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-Indian Christmas balls held in most major cities form a distinctive part of Indian Christian culture.[129] Good Friday is a national holiday. All Souls Day is another Christian holiday that is observed by most Christians in India.[130] Most Protestant churches celebrate harvest festivals, usually in late October or early November.[131] 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.[132] 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.[133]


Relative size of Christian traditions in India, according to Pew Research Center's analysis of 2011 Indian census.[2]

  Protestant (59.22%)
  Catholic (33.19%)
  Orthodox (7.44%)
  Others (0.15%)
Distribution of Christian population in different Indian states[134]

The 2001 census of India recorded 24,080,016 Christians in the country, representing 2.34 per cent of the population.[134] Pew Research Center analysed the same census figures and made adjustments to account for inaccuracies and cover-ups in self-reported religion. For example, many Indian Christians who belong to Scheduled Castes and Tribes identify as Hindu in censuses and other surveys, in order to obtain caste-based government benefits such as reservations.[135][136] For this reason, estimates of Indian Christian population as well as the denominational shares in it, vary considerably. After consulting leading Indian demographers, Pew researchers adjusted the Christian share of India's population from 2.3% to 2.6%, or a total of 31,850,000 Christians.[2] The 2011 Indian census also reported a similar Christian share at 2.3% of Indian population with 27,819,588 Christians.[137] Some other sources provide much higher estimates of over 60 million (6 crore) for Indian Christians or about 6% of the Indian population.[138][139][140]

Traditional Goan Catholic ceremony
Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa during the feast of Saint Francis Xavier
Christians in Tamil Nadu
Oriental Orthodox church collects palm fronds for the Palm Sunday

In 2011, Pew reported 18,860,000 Protestants, 10,570,000 Catholics, 2,370,000 Orthodox and 50,000 other Christians in India.[2] Other sources estimate the total number of Protestants throughout the country in several hundreds of denominations at 45 million(4.5 crore).[138][139] Several sources estimate Catholics over 17 million(1.7 crore)[141][142] In any case, it is clear that the largest individual denomination is the Roman Catholic Church.[143] Over 5 million (50 lakh) Anglicans within the united Church of North India and Church of South India, constitute the second largest group.[144][145]

The Saint Thomas Christians (Syro Malabar Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, Chaldean Syrian Church, CSI Syrian Christians, Mar Thoma Syrian Church, St. Thomas Evangelical Church and Malabar Independent Syrian Church) of Kerala form 18.75% of the Christians in India with 4.5 million of them.[146][147] 310,000 were members of the Syro-Malankara Church[148][when?] and 4,000,000 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 of major archiepiscopal churches by Pope John Paul II. The Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest among the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches who accept the Pope as the visible head of the whole church.[149]

The Oriental Orthodox churches in India include the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church with 1120,000 members, the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church with 800,000 members and the Malabar Independent Syrian Church with 30,000 members. The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church is an Eastern Protestant denomination with 1100,000 members.[26][150]

Most Protestant denominations are represented in India, as a result of missionary activities throughout the country, such as the American Missionary Association, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Mission, the Church Mission Society of the Church of England and many other missions from Europe, America and Australia. In 1961, an evangelical wing of the Mar Thoma Church split and formed the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India which has 35,000 members.[151] There are about 1,267,786 Lutherans,[152] 648,000 Methodists,[153] 2,392,694 Baptists,[154] and 823,456 Presbyterians in India.[155]

The Open Brethren movement is also significantly represented in India. The main Brethren grouping is known as the Indian Brethren (with a following estimated at somewhere between 449,550[156] and 1,000,000), of which the Kerala Brethren are a significant subset. The closely related Assemblies Jehovah Shammah have around 310,000 adults and children in fellowship as of 2010.[156] 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 movement in India. The major Pentecostal churches in India are the Indian Pentecostal Church of God,[157] the Assemblies of God, The Pentecostal Mission,[158][159] the New Apostolic Church with 1,448,209 members,[157] the New Life Fellowship Association with 480,000 members, the Manna Full Gospel Churches with 275,000 members,[157] and the Evangelical Church of India with 250,000 members.[160]


Church at Yercaud

See main article: List of Christian denominations in India.

Christian Denominations in India
Church Name Population Orientation
Syro-Malabar Catholic Church 4,000,000[161] Catholic, East Syriac Rite
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church 2,500,000[26] Oriental Orthodox, West Syriac Rite
Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church 1,200,000[26] Oriental Orthodox, West Syriac Rite
Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church 1,100,000[150] Independent and Eastern Protestant Christian, Protestant West Syriac Rite
Roman Catholic Church (Latin Catholic Church) 11,800,000 Catholic, Latin Rite
Syro-Malankara Catholic Church 410,000[162] Catholic, West Syriac Rite
Malabar Independent Syrian Church 20,000 Independent, West Syriac Rite (follows Oriental Orthodox faith)
Chaldean Syrian Church 35,000 Church of the East, East Syriac
St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India 35,000 Episcopalian Protestant
Church of South India 4,000,000 Episcopal Protestant (United and uniting)
Church of North India 2,100,000+ Episcopal Protestant (United and uniting)
Methodist Church in India 648,000 Protestant
India Pentecostal Church of God 2,600,000 Protestant Evangelical Pentecostal
Assemblies of God in India 5,000,000 Protestant Evangelical Pentecostal
(Assemblies of God in India)
The Pentecostal Mission 700,000 Protestant
Baptist 2,991,276[163] Protestant
(List of Baptist denominations in India)
Assemblies Jehovah Shammah 310,000[156] Protestant (Plymouth Brethren)
Lutheran 4,220,178[152][164] Protestant
List of Lutheran Denominations Worldwide
Indian Brethren 449,550[156] to 1,000,000 Protestant (Kerala Brethren)
Presbyterian Church of India 1,452,780[165][166] Protestant (Reformed)
Reformed Presbyterian Church North East India 15,000 Protestant (Reformed)
Reformed Presbyterian Church of India 10,000 Protestant (Reformed)
Evangelical Church of Maraland 30,000 Protestant (Reformed)
Congregational Church in India 5,500 Protestant (Reformed)
Council of Reformed Churches of India 200,000 Protestant (Reformed)
Hindustani Covenant Church 16,600 Protestant
Worldwide Faith Missions 12,000[citation needed] Protestant
Evangelical Church 250,000 Protestant
New Apostolic Church[157] 1,448,209 Protestant
Pentecostal Maranatha Gospel Church 12,000 Protestant
New Life Fellowship Association[157] 480,000 Protestant
Sharon Fellowship Church[157] 50,000 Protestant
Manna Full Gospel Churches[157] 275,000 Protestant
Philadelphia Fellowship Church of India[157] 200,000 Protestant
Seventh-day Adventist Church 1,560,000[167] Protestant/Restorationism
Unitarian Union of Northeast India 10,000 Unitarian
Jehovah's Witnesses 42,566[168] Restorationism
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 14,528[169] Latter Day Saints
Gift of God Ministries 1,000 Born Again Believers
Christian Revival Church 21,447[170] Full Gospel in faith, Charismatic in worship, Pentecostal in Movement and Holistic Evangelical in Ministry
Mennonite Brethren Church 103,000[171] Protestant (Reformed)
Community of Christ 15,000+ Latter Day Saints

Christian population in India[edit]

Devotees light candles and pray outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral, New Delhi on the occasion of Christmas

In India, Christian Population is 27.8 million as per latest figure of 2011 Census which is about 2.3% of total Indian Population. Christianity is dominant religion in North East states of Nagaland, Mizoram Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam-(Bodoland) and Tripura while they make substantial population in states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Andaman Nicobar Islands. [172]

A 2015 study estimates some 40,000 Christian believers from a Muslim background in the country, most of them belonging to Protestantism.[173]

The starting point for tackling religious demography in India is with official estimates from the government census about the status of religion. The Indian census has been taken faithfully every ten years since 1871 and has always included religion (along with population, race, rural distribution, and occupation, among others).[174] The most recently published census data are from 2011.[175] Subsequent estimates from 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019 are also widely considered reliable.[176]

Christian majority states of India[edit]

Christian majority & plurality states of India as per 2011 census[177]
States Christian Population (Christian cross.svg) Percentage (%) Status
Kerala 6,141,269 18.38 "Significant"
Meghalaya 2,213,027 74.59 "Majority"
Nagaland 1,739,651 87.93 "Majority"
Manipur 1,179,043 41.29 "Plurality"
Mizoram 956,331 87.16 "Majority"
Arunachal Pradesh 418,732 30.26 "Plurality"
Goa 366,130 25.10 "Significant"

State populations[edit]

Percentage Christian population, India census 2011
States with population of Christians as per 2011 census[178]
State/ UT Total Population Christian (%) Christian Population
 India 1,210,854,977 2.30 27,819,588
Kerala 33,406,061 18.38 6,141,269
Tamil Nadu 72,147,030 6.12 4,418,331
Meghalaya 2,966,889 74.59 2,213,027
Nagaland 1,978,502 87.93 1,739,651
Jharkhand 32,988,134 4.30 1,418,608
Manipur 2,855,794 41.29 1,179,043
Assam 31,205,576 3.74 1,165,867
Odisha 41,974,218 2.77 1,161,708
Karnataka 61,095,297 1.87 1,142,647
Andhra Pradesh 84,580,777 1.34 1,129,784
Maharashtra 112,374,333 0.96 1,080,073
Mizoram 1,097,206 87.16 956,331
West Bengal 91,276,115 0.72 658,618
Chhattisgarh 25,545,198 1.92 490,542
Arunachal Pradesh 1,383,727 30.26 418,732
Goa 1,458,545 25.10 366,130
Uttar Pradesh 199,812,341 0.18 356,448
Punjab 27,743,338 1.26 348,230
Gujarat 60,439,692 0.52 316,178
Madhya Pradesh 72,626,809 0.29 213,282
Tripura 3,673,917 4.35 159,882
Delhi 16,787,941 0.87 146,093
Bihar 104,099,452 0.12 129,247
Rajasthan 68,548,437 0.14 96,430
Andaman and Nicobar Islands 380,581 21.28 80,984
Puducherry 1,247,953 6.29 78,550
Sikkim 610,577 9.91 60,522
Haryana 25,351,462 0.20 50,353
Uttarakhand 10,086,292 0.37 37,781
Jammu and Kashmir 12,541,302 0.28 35,631
Himachal Pradesh 6,864,602 0.18 12,646
Chandigarh 1,055,450 0.83 8,720
Dadra and Nagar Haveli 343,709 1.49 5,113
Daman and Diu 243,247 1.16 2,820
Lakshadweep 64,473 0.49 317
Caste Demographic data reported by the Sachar Committee on Muslim Affairs in 2006[179]
Religion Scheduled Caste Scheduled Tribe Other Backward Class Forward caste
Buddhism 89.50% 7.40% 0.4% 2.7%
Sikhism 30.70% 0.90% 22.4% 46.1%
Hinduism 22.20% 9.10% 42.8% 26%
Christianity 9.00% 32.80% 24.8% 33.3%
Islam 0.80% 0.50% 39.2% 59.5%

Seminaries and Theological Institutions in India[edit]

There are three kinds of Seminaries in India:

Most of the seminary degrees awarded in India are not recognised by the University Grants Commission. The Roman Catholic seminaries are often affiliated with Pontifical Urban University or Roman Curia. The degrees and doctorates awarded by Senate of Serampore and Asia Theological Association (ATA) are not legally recognized under Section 22 of the UGC Act. The Senate of Serampore derives its power to grant degree from the Royal Charter granted by King Frederick VI of Denmark. Senate of Serampore is also the first institution to grant degrees in India.[180]

The degree titles such as

are not listed under UGC Act for the purpose of the Section 22 of the Act and hence can be awarded by seminaries without the approval of UGC.[181][182][183]

The degree titles such as

are listed under the purposes of Section 22 of UGC Act[184] and hence only those institutions with university status as approved by parliament within the meaning of Section 2(f) of the UGC Act can confer such titles.[185] According to Section 22(2) of the UGC Act it is illegal in India for institutions other than those with university status as approved by parliament within the meaning of Section 2(f) of the UGC Act to confer research, professional or honorary doctorates, academic titles or degree certificate that are listed for the purposes of Section 22 of the UGC Act.[186][187] Therefore, most seminaries do not award these titles unless affiliated with a University.

Some of the prominent Christian seminaries and theological institutions are shown below along with their year of establishment and academic affiliations and accreditation:

Conflicts and Controversy[edit]

Hindu–Christian conflict[edit]

Destroyed property inside Adoration Monastery, Mangalore, after it was vandalised by the Bajrang Dal group, during the September 2008 attacks on Christians in Mangalore.

The arrival of European colonialists brought about large-scale missionary activity in coastal India and North-East India. Oppression of Hindus and the later sackings of Goa and Bombay-Bassein of those living in Portuguese India were the first known clashes.[189]

During the 1998 attacks on Christians in southeastern Gujarat, the Human Rights Watch reported that from 25 December 1988 to 3 January 1999, at least 20 prayer halls were damaged or burnt down and Christian institutions were attacked in the Dangs district, and its surrounding districts and at least 25 villages had reported incidents of burning and damages to prayer halls all over Gujarat.[190][191]

On 22 January 1999, an Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burnt to death by Dara Singh (Bajrang Dal) while sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Odisha, India.,[192][193] In the annual human rights reports for 1999, the United States Department of State also criticized India for "increasing societal violence against Christians."[194] 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 of Rajasthan, 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.[195] The legislation passed in Tamil Nadu was later repealed.[195]

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.[196]

In 2008, there was again violence against Christians, particularly in the state of Orissa,[197] after the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda by Indian Maoists (communist insurgents), tensions flared between the two communities in 2008. Christians were blamed and attacked in Orissa with 38 killed and over 250 churches damaged while several thousands of Christians were displaced. Sitting BJP MLA Manoj Pradhan was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for six years by a fast track court for a murder during the 2008 communal riots in Odisha's Kandhamal district.[198][199][200] The 2008 anti-Christian attacks in Orissa spilled over and escalated into the 2008 anti-Christian attacks in Karnataka/ 2008 attacks on Christians in southern Karnataka state. The acts of violence include arson and vandalism of churches, conversion of Christians to Hinduism by threats (force) 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.[201][202][203]

Muslim–Christian conflict[edit]

A dungeon at Seringapatam. Those Christians who refused to embrace Islam were imprisoned in such dungeons.
The Jamalabad fort route. Mangalorean Catholics travelled through this route on their way to Seringapatam
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 has 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 committed were those of Tippu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore against the Mangalorean Catholic community from Mangalore (South Canara) district along 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.[204]

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."[205] Soon after the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784, Tippu gained control of Canara.[206] He issued orders to seize the Christians in Canara, confiscate their estates,[207] and deport them to Seringapatam, the capital of his empire, through the Jamalabad fort route.[208] 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.[205]

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.[205] All were razed to the ground, with the exception of the Church of Holy Cross at Hospet, owing to the friendly offices of the Chauta Raja of Moodbidri.[209]

According to Thomas Munro, a Scottish soldier and the first collector of Canara, around 60,000 people,[210] 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 Ghat mountain 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.[211] The young men who offered resistance were disfigured by cutting their noses, upper lips, and ears.[212] According to D'Silv 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.[213]

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 Tippu Sultan from an implacable hatred he had against them who professed Christianity."[205]

Tipu Sultan's invasion of the Malabar region had an adverse impact on the St Thomas Christian community of the Malabar. Many churches in the Malabar and Cochin were damaged. 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. A lot of centuries old religious manuscripts were lost forever. The church was later relocated to Kottayam where it still exists to this date. The Mor Sabor church at Akaparambu and the Martha Mariam Church attached to the seminary were destroyed as well. Tipu's army set fire to the church at Palayoor and attacked the Ollur Church in 1790. Furthernmore, the Arthat church and the Ambazhakkad seminary was also destroyed. Over the course of this invasion, many Saint Thomas Christians were killed or forcibly converted to Islam. 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. 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. 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. Colonel Maculay, the British resident of Travancore also helped them.[214]

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 the battle 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.[215] During the surrender of the Mangalore fort which was delivered in an armistice by the British and their subsequent withdrawal, all the mesticos 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.[205]

Historian William Dalrymple asserts that the rebels were motivated primarily by resistance against a move (use of the Enfield Rifle-Musket) by the East India Company, which was perceived as an attempt to impose Christian law in Hindustan.[216] 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?"[216] 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.[217] 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.[217]

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.[216] 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 as kafir (infidels) and nasrani (Christians).[216]

In modern times, Muslims in India who convert to Christianity are often subjected to harassment, intimidation, and attacks by Muslims.[218][219] In Jammu 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.[220] However, there are cases in which a Muslim will adopt crypto-Christianity, secretly declaring his/ her conversion. In effect, they are practising Christians, but are legally Muslims; thus the statistics of Indian Christians may not include all Muslim converts to Christianity.[citation needed]

List of Christians in India[edit]

Christian communities[edit]

Christianity by state[edit]

See also[edit]



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Further reading[edit]

  • Anand Amaladass; Gudrun Löwner (2012). Christian Themes in Indian Art: From the Mogul Times Till Today. Manohar Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 978-81-7304-945-3.
  • Boyd, Robin (1975). An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology (Revised ed.). Madras: Christian Literature Society.
  • Goel, S.G. 2016. History of Hindu-Christian encounters, AD 304 to 1996.
  • Hollister, John Norman. The Centenary of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia (Lucknow Publishing House, 1956).
  • Jain, Sandhya (2010). Evangelical intrusions: [Tripura, a case study]. New Delhi: Rupa & Co.
  • Latourette, Kenneth S. Christianity In A Revolutionary Age A History Of Christianity In The Nineteenth And Twentieth Centuries Volume III The Nineteenth Century Outside Europe The Americas The Pacific Asia And Africa (1961) pp 400–415. online
  • Latourette, Kenneth S. Christianity in a Revolutionary Age Vol. 5, The 20th Century outside Europe (1962) pp 299–331.
  • A. E. Medlycott (1 January 2005). India and the Apostle Thomas: An Inquiry, with a Critical Analysis of the Acta Thomae. Gorgias Press LLC. ISBN 978-1-59333-180-1.
  • Madhya Pradesh (India)., & Niyogi, M. B. (1956). Vindicated by time: The Niyogi Committee report on Christian missionary activities. Nagpur: Government Printing, Madhya Pradesh.
  • Moffett, Samuel Hugh. A History of Christianity in Asia, Vol. II, 1500–1900 (2005) .
  • The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, Vol.I (India)1982, Vol.II (Kerala)1973, Vol.III(India)2010 Ed. George Menachery
  • Indian Church History Classics"Vol.I (Nazranies)1998 Ed. George Menachery
  • "History of the Syrian Nation and the Old Evangelical-Apostolic Church of the East" By George David Malech, Publisher: Gorgias Press
  • S.M. Michael SVD, Dalit's Encounter with Christianity. A Case Study of Mahars in Maharashtra, ISPK – Ishvani Kendra: Delhi — Pune 2010,230 pp., ISBN 978-81-8465-074-7.
  • George Menachery, Ed., various publications incl. The St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India in 3 vols. and The Indian Church History Classics The Nazranies for some 1500 photos and art reproductions
  • Panikkar, K. M. (1959). Asia and Western dominance. London: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9781597406017
  • Panikkar, K. M. (1997). Malabar and the Portuguese: Being a history of the relations of the Portuguese with Malabar from 1500–1663. Bombay: D B Taraporevala.
  • Pickett, J. Waskom. The Methodist Church in India. (1939).
  • Rowena Robinson (9 October 2003). Christians of India. SAGE Publications. ISBN 978-0-7619-9822-8.
  • Shourie, Arun. (2006). Missionaries in India: Continuities, changes, dilemmas. New Delhi: Rupa.ISBN 9788172232702
  • Thoburn, James M. The Christian conquest of India (1906) online
  • This article includes material from the 1995 public domain Library of Congress Country Study on India.

External links[edit]

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