Thursday, 11 July 2013

Persian Crosses of South India and Its Possible Manichaean Origin

St.Thomas Mount cross

This is a controversial subject among Syriac Christians of Malankara. Majority of church historians put forward the Persian cross as the prime evidence for the existence of Persian Christianity in Malankara . These so called crosses have termed Persian crosses because of Pahlavi writing on them. Many scholars have tried to decipher the writing on these crosses and produced diametrically opposite results. This is the problem with Pahlavi script which is mainly Logogrammatic

Kottayam Cross -1,Kerala.,India.

We find two types of crosses named as Persian Crosses at various locations .These locations are

1)     St.Thomas Mount, Chennai, Tamilnadu:-The Cross is at Our Lady of Expectations Church under the Latin Catholic diocese of Chingelpet ( Madras-Mylapore).

2)     Kadamattom ,Kerala:- This cross is at St. George Orthodox Syriac Church, Kadamattom, Kerala.This Cross was found at the southern wall of the Madbaha.

3)     Kottayam,Kerala:- There are two Crosses at St. Mary's Syriac Orthodox Church, Kottayam,Kerala. One cross is considered of late origin (10th century) and the other dated between 6-8th century.

4)     Kothanellur, Kerala:- This cross is at St. Gervasis and Prothasis Roman Catholic (Syro-Malabar) church, Kothanellur,Kerala.The Cross said to have been discovered during renovation at 1895.

5)     Muttuchira,Kerala:-This Cross is at Holy Ghost Roman Catholic church(Syro-Malabar) at Muttuchira, Kerala.This is also said to have been discovered during renovation of the church.

6)     Alangadu, Kerala:-This cross is at St.Mary's Roman Catholic (Syro-Malabar) Church ,Alangadu,Kerala.This is a very recent discovery.

Besides these locations church historians state that similar crosses have been found at Goa, India; Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka and Taxila, Pakistan.

Goa Cross,India

Goa cross:-Among these  three crosses, Goa cross is   only similar to the cross of 
St.Thomas Mount but its origin is questionable because of Portuguese inscription on them .The cross has been discovered by Fr.Cosme Costa S.F.X near river Zuari at Agasaim on 27th April 2001. The Cross is now kept at Pilar Seminary Museum.

 The Portuguese inscription  state     “”A DE S. TOME DO R. ILEZVS 1642 “” . “A DE S.TOME” means ““which belongs to St.Thomas “” (by Pius Malekandathil).Why didn’t they use similar inscriptions in the other crosses of south India especially on the St. Thomas Mount cross?  Was it a later day copy to give credibility to their missions? We can not say anything concrete about this cross due to lack of research work on it.

Anuradhapura Cross,Sri Lanka

 Cross of Anuradhapura:- It is totally different from any of these crosses. It is placed (possibly) in a flower which is different from any of these Persian crosses. It is more similar to some of the Katchkhar crosses of Armenia . There is no Pahlavi inscription on it and no descending dove as like in the St.Thomas Mount cross.

Taxila Cross,Pakistan 

Taxila Cross :-It was found in 1935 in a field near the site of the ancient  city of Sirkap,Taxila,Pakistan.The local zamindar gave it to Mrs.C. King  wife of British deputy commissioner of Rawalpindi who then presented to the cathedral at Lahore. Most astonishing thing about this Taxila cross is that it does not even resemble  with the said Persian Crosses. But many Syriac Church historians wrote a lot about this without making a basic enquiry !                                                      

The two types(south Indian crosses) are easily distinguishable because of their pattern of construction. One group has clearly defined descending dove along with lotus base and creatures carved with the cross while the other group have no dove forms or lotus base. These distinctive styles are difficult for us to arrive in any concrete conclusion. The crosses at  St.Thomas Mount and Kadamattam along with one cross at Kottayam comprise the first group while the other cross at Kottayam leads the other group. Why and how did these distinctive styles come in to existence? It is still an unanswered question!

It is very difficult to prove the origin of these crosses because of the difficulty in deciphering the Pahlavi writing on them. We also have no supportive documents or evidences to indicate their possible origin. It is noted that Cross had been a symbol to many sects and religion before Christianity. Even Buddhists and Hindus used crosses in different forms as one of their symbols. This makes our task very difficult.

I think it is better to start our study by understanding the various translations of the Pahlavi inscriptions on them. We have many translations available with us. These translations are the best evidences to find their origin.

Different translations of Pahlavi inscriptions

1)     "In punishment by the cross (was) the suffering on this (one); (He) who (is) true Christ and God above, and Guide ever Pure" (Burnnell1873)

2)       He who believes in the Messiah and in God on high and also in the holy Ghost is in the Grace of Him who bore the pain of the cross(Martin Haug 1874)

3)       He who is the Messiah , the reconciler, the resuscitator, for ever purified by virtue of his crucifixion.(Harlez 1892)

4)      Such was the affliction of the wounding and spearing of him on the cross, who was the faithful Messiah, the merciful one, the descendant of the great Abraham, who was the descendant of Chaharbukht. (Sanjana 1914)

5)      I, a beautiful bird from Nineveh, (have come) to this (country).Written (by) Mar Shapur.I,whom(?)Messiah, the forgiver, freed from danger(or terror). (Modi 1924)

6)      My lord Christ , have mercy upon Afras son of Chaharbukht, the Syrian who cut this.(winkworth,1929) 

7)      Our Lord Messiah may show on Gabriel , the son of Chaharbokht (literally meaning having four sons), the grand son of Durzad (literally meaning born in distsnd land), who made this (cross) (Gerd Gropp 1970)

Now which one is correct and how can we find out the veracity of their claims. This is the problem with Pahlavi Language which is logogrammatic in writing. Probably we will never know! ( any body want to know what is logogrammatic writing plz google it ). I haven’t included the translations by Kanara Brahman and Fr.Burthey, S.J a Roman Katholic.

Why it has most probably a Manichaean origin?

1)     The most acceptable translation by Burnell indicates that the trinity suffered on the cross which is a heresy similar to Sabellianism or Patrippasianism

2)      These crosses are found only in places where Manichaean had considerable influence

3)      The place where one of the cross was unearthed –Mylapore- were found worshiped by all religion like Muslims, Hindus etc. There was no special importance to this place in the history of Malankara Nazranies. The detail about the excavations conducted by Portuguese surely indicates their special interest in the subject to attach the place to St. Thomas

4)      There is no believable records relating to Mylapore before the advent of Portuguese or Malankara Nazranies have any documents, myths relating to Mylapore story prior to the Portuguese Manipulations. Most of the travelers indicate the place where St. Thomas said to have been martyred as CALAMIANA which is yet to be identified

5)      Bl.Odoric of Pordenon a Franciscan friar visited India during the time of Jordanus Catalani talk about this so called Mylapore”””And in this realm is laid the body of the Blessed Thomas the Apostle. His church is FILLED WITH IDOLS, AND BESIDE IT ARE SOME FIFTEEN HOUSES OF NESTORIANS; THAT IS TO SAY, CHRISTIANS, BUT VILE AND PESTILENT HERETICS”””. (Wow, NESTORIANS and IDOLS!!) This indicates that the church belongs to some heretics who worshipped idols. Who else it can be?

6)      Arab geographer Abu Zaid about 916AD wrote about Sarandib(Ceylon) “there is a numerous colony of Jews in Sarandib ,and people of other religions especially Manichaeans””

7)      Manichaean used cross with decoration of plants, flowers etc. because they believed Mani the Jesus or the Apostle of Jesus died on cross. They were true vegetarian and respected plants, flowers and animals. All their paintings reflect their philosophy and attitude

8)      Manichaean adopted many things from other religions like Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism etc. and used it to propagate their religion in the respective countries/regions

9)      Mani considered himself as Paraclete and his followers naturally depicted him as descending “dove”

10)   Manichaean used Aramaic, Pahlavi and Sogadian languages to propagate their religion in respective regions and engraved/painted on their artifacts.

11)   The cross with descending dove is found only in the areas where Manichaean church existed and it is specifically towards the east
12)   If the cross with dove is peculiar to Persian Christians there must have been some literature related with it considering their rivalry with churches of the Roman Empire

13)   How many of this type crosses found from the places where the Manichaean church did not have any influence?

14)   Manichaean church was “DUALISTS” and so with NESTORIANS and the church historians always referred them as heretics and often misunderstood

15)   Manichaean practiced BEMA and Qurbana so the NESTORIANS

16)   Malankara has a peculiar name called “MANI” pronounced as “MAANI” which is unheard in  Christendom. How many Persian Christians have this name? (Please do not come with manipulations like Mani derived from Manual etc.)

Why is it a Manichaean cross?

Followers of Mani considered his death was by cross and gave much importance to cross in their religion. He himself considered as a Paraclete and it is possible that his followers depicted him as a descending Dove along with a cross

--The great historian of the early Christian church Eusebius Bishop of Caesarea also mentions the Manichaean religion: Mani the mad man driven by the devil himself. He was a barbarian and tried to represent himself as Christ by saying that he was the Paraclete----Page 37 (MANI by L.J.R Ort.)

---- There is an allusion in the Chinese Treatise to ‘the pure marvelous wind(spirit) which is a white dove’. This Christian image of the Holy Spirit as the ‘white dove’ recalls the argument maintained by Mani in disputing with Bishop Archaleus concerning the dove which descended upon Jesus in his baptism--- (Researches in Manichaeism by A.V.W.Jackson)

Read from the world renowned scholars from academics

Manichaean Art On The Silk Road By Hans-Joachim Klimkeit

If we trace the silk road towards the east we see four religion (Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, & Manichaean) existed together along with local Persian/Chinese religions. A further study on their writings, paintings and other artifacts is sufficient to prove their religious syncretism. This may look little problematic /awkward to a blind believers of any religion of today, but the fact is fact. 

If we study the practices Christians follow with respect to their believes, festivals, religious costumes etc. are mostly from the Pagan background. The Christmas (date) we celebrate today have the pagan origin and do not have any biblical or apostolic background. If this is the case, then there is sufficient logic to suggest that the said Cross probably have a Manichaean origin based on the evidences stated here. It is also to be noted that the cross with dove mostly found from the places were Manichaean church existed. The authors whom I quoted have clearly answered the objection raised with respect to non occurrence of this type of cross in the west. The religious or cultural syncretism takes place not in the crucible rather the open world which is influenced by many factors.

It is also to be noted that the Manichaean church is culturally closer to Syriac Christianity of the east. The languages these religions used were also similar. Most striking thing is that the leaders/propagators of these religions were from the same background and even practiced both these religions in their life time. 

Again read 

Manichaean Art On The Silk Road By Hans-Joachim Klimkeit

 Now understand the position Of Mani and Manichaeism. He was quite aware of Christ and Christian teachings. Christianity faced maximum heresy during this period and he was fascinated by these teachings. No wonder he adopted many things from Christianity. 


It is quiet natural that Manichaeism was a dualistic concept closely identified with another dualistic concept called Nestorianism. 

History of Civilization of Central Asia, Vol.3&4 By Clifford Edmund Bosworth, M.S. Asimov 

Read above scholars and understand where a group of Syriac Church historians stand in front of scientific and secular studies. It is not the study of a separate group among Syriac Christians but world renowned scholars of Manichaeism and Eastern Christianity. 

This is not to embarrass the Manichean cross supporters but to stop the wrong identification of the same as Nazrani Cross.

Pahlavi Language as Evidence

The next argument the followers of Manichaean Cross put forward is the Pahlavi Language of inscription. This is an old argument that we find Pahlavi inscriptions on these crosses and Pahlavi literature like Pahlavi Psalter from Church of Fars. It seems logical from out side but if we go little deep on these languages used by these religions we will find the truth. The language Pahlavi was used by many religions of the region such as Zoroastrians, Manichaean, and Persian Christians etc. So there is no exclusivity of this language to any particular religion. So this is not an evidence to prove that the said crosses belong to Syriac Christianity. It is also noticed that these religions used other languages like Dari-Persian, Sogadian etc.

Read from “”History of Civilization of Central Asia, Vol.3&4 By Clifford Edmund Bosworth,M.S.Asimov””

Pahlavi was the language of Zoroastrians, Manichaean, Persian Christian etc.

 Dari-Persian was also the language of these religions

These religions also used Sogadian language for their writings and existed in Turfan side by side 

This shows that the language Pahlavi was not an evidence at all as put forward by supporters of Manichaean Cross (Kaldayavadikal of SMC and other Syriac Christian supporters).There can be any one like Manichaean also be the makers of these crosses. Since historians trace the presence of Manichaean in those places where these crosses are found, it is most probably the Manichaean behind the crosses.

Pahlavi Script as Evidence

Next argument put forward by the supporters of Manichaean Cross is based on Pahlavi script. They say that the script used by Manicheans is different and easily distinguishable. Some cases it is true where Aramaic or Sogadian influence were played a major role. Every religion in ancient times produced some exclusiveness in their practices and programs .But it is difficult to distinguish these traits when the concerned social organizations lived and thrived together. Any way for the sake of argument let me agree with that the Manichaean Pahlavi is different or rather the script.

Which are the Pahlavi scripts? 

1) Inscription Pahlavi :- 

-Inscriptional Pahlavi is the earliest attested form, and is evident in clay fragments that have been dated to the reign of Mithridates I (r. 171–138 BC). Other early evidence includes the Pahlavi inscriptions of Arsacid era coins and rock inscriptions of Sassanid kings and other notables such as Kartir. This script contains 19 characters which are not joined

 2) Book Pahlavi:-

Book Pahlavi is a smoother script in which letters are joined to each other and often form complicated ligatures. Book Pahlavi was the most common form of the script, with only 12 or 13graphemes (13 when including aleph) representing 24 sounds. The formal coalescence of originally different letters caused ambiguity, and the letters became even less distinct when they formed part of a ligature. In its later forms, attempts were made to improve the consonantary and reduce ambiguity through diacritic marks. Book Pahlavi continued to be in common use until about AD 900. After that date, Pahlavi was preserved only by the Zoroastrian clergy (plz note Book Pahlavi is not Inscription Pahlavi)

 3) Psalter Pahlavi:-

Psalter Pahlavi derives its name from the so-called "Pahlavi Psalter", a 6th- or 7th-century translation of a Syriac book of psalms. This text, which was found at Bulayiq near Turpan in northwest China, is the earliest evidence of literary composition in Pahlavi, dating to the 6th or 7th century AD. The extant manuscript dates no earlier than the mid-6th century since the translation reflects liturgical additions to the Syriac original by Mar Aba I, who was Patriarch of the Church of the East c. 540 - 552.]The script of the psalms has altogether 18 graphemes, 5 more than Book Pahlavi and one less than Inscriptional Pahlavi. As in Book Pahlavi, letters are connected to each other. The only other surviving source of Psalter Pahlavi are the inscriptions on a bronze processional cross found at Herat, in present-day Afghanistan.

4Manichaean script. 

This script was used by Manichaean to write their holy books and was developed from Estrangelo with influence from Sogadian script. It was used extensively during the early years of Manichaeism. That does not mean that the Manichean used only Manichean script.

 Now understand these scripts and situation respect with Manichaean crosses of south India. It is clear from above that “Inscription Pahlavi” and “Book Pahlavi “are different. The same way “Book Pahlavi” and “Psalter Pahlavi” are different. Psalter Pahlavi was the language of Persian Christians and they used it starting from 6th century. It is not surprising that they used this Psalter Pahlavi for their cross inscriptions in Heart, in present day Afghanistan . This is one of the valuable evidence against the supporters of Manichean cross as Nestorian cross. If the said cross were belong to Nestorians or any form of Persian Christianity it would have been inscribed by Psalter Pahlavi script (since the very same Nestorians used Psalter Pahlavi to inscribe the cross in Heart). 

It is also noted that no scholar clearly identify the said inscription with established group of scripts. They agree that the scripts are cursive scripts some time it joined together and other times separated . Even if we identify the said inscription with book Pahlavi , it does not prove that the cross belongs to eastern Christianity. Book Pahlavi was used by Zoroastrians , Manichaean & Persian Christians.

So this being the situation how can we attribute these crosses to Nestorians? There is no logic or supportive evidence to prove without doubt about its origin. When we consider the so called translations of those inscriptions along with these linguistic realities increases the possibility of a Manichaean origin.

I have clearly stated that the usage of various forms of Pahlavi by different religions in central Asia during the 3rd to 10th century period earlier along with respective Photo shots of scholarly works. These religions also used other languages such as Sogadian, Dari-Persian, and Uygur etc to propagate their respective religion. Please be noted that the identification based on scripts may not be a correct technique when we deal with religions which are extinct or almost assimilated to other religions.

A real time situation

There is another real time situation also to be considered before deciding any conclusion. Why would a Manichaean convert from Zoroastrianism or any pagan Iranian religion use Manichean Estrangelo script to propagate his new found religion? Why is it applied only to Manichean church, not to other religions?



  1. "Manichaean used cross with decoration of plants, flowers etc. because they believed Mani the Jesus or the Apostle of Jesus died on cross. They were true vegetarian and respected plants, flowers and animals. All their paintings reflect their philosophy and attitude"

    How did you know Manchaean ever used crosses?

    1. Cross is not a symbol invented by Christians. It has been used by many civilizations and religions. There are scholars who studied about the cross through the centuries. Manichaean also used cross as one of their symbols. They decorated cross with plants and fruits to show their veneration.

      Let me quote from a Scholar called Yu.A.Zuyev

      “””Art was obligatory and distinctive attribute of Manichaeism. It played not only aesthetic, but also an illustrative educational and a great propaganda role. Like the Turfan gallery paintings filled with Manichean contents. A.M.Belenitsky assessed from that position the Pendjikent temple wall painting [Belenitsky, 1954, p. 66-68]. The Manichean character of the material inspires to also see in a similar way a part of the Talas paintings with plant motive, intrinsic to Manichaeism. The image of a cross on ceramic tiles of walls in Talas, with stylized plant symbols in its branches, is a Manichean cross of Light. First of all it is in the plants. These are elements of Light, crucified and tied in the material world (compare, for example,Fig.2). Sometimes it is a cross of suffering Jesus. Light, ”crucified” in plants, was associated with crucified on a wooden cross Jesus. This belongs to the Christian layer of Manichaeism. A falling grape cluster reflects one of the states of Manichean dragon, described in ”Kefalaya”: ”there is one more feature at the king of dark, when to walk, he extends his extremities and walks, and when he desires, he retracts his extremities, absorbs them inside, connects them together, and falls down like a grape cluster” [Kefalaya, 32].”””

      I shall explain and give more evidences in 2nd part of the article.

  2. The question is not of merit but of antiquity. Whatever be its writings and origin the Malabar Christians use it as St. Thomas Sleeba. Hence if correct dates are found the antiquity of Kerala Christians can be assessed to some extent.

    Mangat John Abraham. Cochin

    1. One cannot asses the antiquity of something with someone else identity. These crosses are not of any Christian origin then how can it be any evidence to the antiquity of Christianity in India!