A friend speaks of a myth and a purported ancestor that has come down several generations in his family. It is a narrative that began one morning in 52 AD. A surreal silence hung in the air along the beach at Azhikode that morning. Life went on as it always had, the morning tide lapped gently over the sand, the crustaceans went about their business, overhead a lone eagle surfed the air currents, dipping, diving and soaring, children played their obscure games, women went about their chores, however, a funeral silence hung over the little village that Nunnu was born in. Named Nilesh by his parents, the villagers, for some obscure reason called him Nunnu.
Of late Nunnu was often tormented by visions, when asleep and even in his waking moments, hallucinations, so that people in the village believed that the young man was irrevocably heading towards insanity. There was a recurring sequence of images floating in and out of his consciousness, filling him with an insatiable need for redemption. A swarthy, chocolate skinned man with tightly curled mop of hair and sensually full lips, a fervid gleam in his eyes. Dressed in a shabby robe, his head framed by a luminous aura, the spoke in a metallic voice “You are the first of my flock. The first. You will receive me when I arrive on your shores.” Nunnu was not too sure if whatever that he was feeling was dread or a premonition of an event of considerable import that was to occur.
The morning passed without incident and then the sea began to turn choppy and a warm breeze blew inland. The solitary eagle overhead continued its vigil. It was a little after noon, the sun at apogee, when Nunnu and many of the villagers on the beach spotted a dhow, its sail unfurled, in the distance, growing larger as it approached the shore.
Nunnu felt his pulse quicken, his breath grew shallow in excitement “It is he, he has arrived. My master, my master!” he yelled. His loin cloth wound tightly about his lean waist, his black sweat covered skin shimmering in the afternoon light, Nunnu ran towards the dhow as it approached the river’s mouth.
The boat brought a motley crew, a complement of bedraggled passengers and merchandise. A man, whose face Nunnu had seen many times in his rambling dreams, led a small group of men as they walked ashore. St.Thomas had arrived in Kerala.
Nunnu ran towards them and fell at Thomas’ feet. “Master! My beloved master….” He exclaimed “Bless me master.”
Thomas’ weather worn face broke out in a gentle smile and helping Nunnu to his, blessed him in the name of Jesus. “You will travel me with me young man and spread the gospel among your people.” He said. That night Thomas slept in Nunnu’s hut and his disciples outside, on sheets of canvas.
In the morning Thomas spoke to a small group of men and women, of the life of Christ and his death, and over of the philosophy that he espoused, the miracles that he had wrought. When Thomas finished, a couple of days later, it was decided by some of the assembled congregation to establish a church in the village. A hut was built with a thatched palm frond roof and a crude wooden cross thrust into the sand. The next day the group left on an evangelical journey that was to establish Christianity in Kerala. Nunnu followed the group, after tearful farewells to his mother and friends in the village.
Thomas halted at Palayur, a town near modern day Guruvayur, arriving arrived at point in history when records mention a community of Jews living in the town. It is believed that the evangelists converted forty Jews to the Christian faith.
One morning Thomas came upon several Namboodiris (Brahmins) bathing in a tank and performing a ‘Pithru Yajna’ (a ritual of ancestor worship), throwing up handfuls of water into the air – offerings to their sun-god. With Nunnu translating, Thomas asked them to freeze the water in mid-air to prove that their offerings were divinely accepted. The Namboodris exclaimed in horror that this was impossibility. Thomas invoked the Holy Spirit, made a sign of the cross and flung a handful of water up in the air freezing it in mid-air, transfixing shards of silver and drops of crystal in the slanting morning light. A few of bedazzled Brahmins at once converted to Christianity and were baptized with water from the tank. The other Namboodri families, fearing defilement fled from the village, cursing as they left, referring to it as Chapakatt (Chavakkad today, meaning ‘the cursed forest’).
After establishing a church at Palayur and spending a little time in the town narrating the gospel and in prayers, the group travelled south along the Periyar River and its tributaries halting at Niranam, Chayal, Kollam, Palur, Kodungallur, Gokkamangalam, Kottakayal where similar settlements of Christians were established and rudimentary churches constructed. Crosses made of stone were later erected. Nunnu disappears from the narrative at this point in time. Many of his descendants believe that he died in Niranom, having fallen ill on the journey and left behind to take care of the church. Some believe that Nunnu was murdered, having angered some of the local people in the village with his ardent proselytization.
The myth goes that Thomas travelled towards the southern extremity of the Indian peninsula, proselytizing along the Coromandel Coast to the east where he attained martyrdom outside Chennai in 72AD and is believed to have been buried beside the San Thome Basilica.