Christianity in India & Indian Christian Faith
Only about 2.5% of India’s population are Christians. Christianity arrived in India about the same time it arrived in Europe about 2000 years ago. Christianity originates in Israel and the fact that the first Christians were Jews – in the beginning Christianity was seen as a Jewish cult! Most of the Apostles of Christians worked in Europe to convert Europeans to Christianity. One Apostles however, St. Judas Thomas arrived in India and converted Indians to Christianity. St. Thomas was a carpenter and a disciple of Jesus. He was brought to India to build a temple. St. Thomas made his way to Keralla in south India in 52 AD and converted many local Indians to the Christian faith.
His converts were called Syrian Christians. Later other Christian saints arrived to India as missioners but most of the Indians were converted to Christianity by missionaries who arrived in India with European powers from the 15th century. The Europeans arrived in India for commercial reasons, – especially spices but they also started converting local Indians to Christianity. Five Europe countries sent representatives to India, Great Britain, France, Denmark, Netherlands and Portugal. Of the five European countries the Portuguese were the most enthusiastic to baptize Indians. The Portuguese were actually the first European power to arrive in India. Their first ship was under the leadership of Vasco DaGama and arrived in southern India in 1498 after it had circled the whole of Africa – the North, East, South and West regions.
The Portuguese were inspired by the Pope’s order to baptise people around the world to not only fight wars against the local Indian rulers, but even tried to enforced Roman Catholic prayers on Syrian Christians. The Portuguese were finally defeated by local rulers and only one big Indian area of control – Goa. Buy the Portuguese not only fought Indian rulers but also against other European countries in India – the Dutch and English among them. Portuguese churches in Kerala were turned into English and Dutch churches after they were captured.
English missionaries started working in India much later in 1660. The British, unlike the Portuguese, didn’t allow missionaries to enter their territory in the beginning. They allowed the missionaries to enter their territory only from 1813. The British allowed different churches to establish missionaries in their territory. The missionaries didn’t only spread the Gospel, but they also did good deeds giving the needy basic necessities like food and shelter. The missionaries built schools in India and many of them even now have Christian or European names. British church missionaries had less success than Portuguese in converting Indians to Christianity but unlike the Portuguese who tried to enforce it these Protestant converts were voluntary! The Portuguese were aware of the Indian tradition where the wife followed her husband’s faith and therefore married their men to Indian women.
There are now 30 million Christians in India. The major areas of Christianity in India are Kerala, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Manipur. There is a big community of Christians in Mumbai. The main division of Christians in India is Protestants and Catholic as it is elsewhere. There are also different denominations – the Syrian Church, Armenian Church and Anglican Church. Most Indian Christians were converted by the Portuguese. There is also a large Anglo-Indian community in India.