Chennai, July 6 (IANS) Who was the man who inspired the English term 'doubting Thomas'? Was he a contemporary of Jesus, or a faithful disciple or a fourth century Christian merchant?
Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi inaugurated an Indian project to film the life and times of Apostle Thomas, known popularly as St. Thomas, who straddles legend and history in Judea, Syria, Persia and several south Indian settlements in the early Christian era.
A self-acclaimed atheist, Karunanidhi said on the occasion: 'Whether I am accepted by god is more important than whether I accept god.'
Paulraj Lourdusamy is chief researcher for the film to be produced by Santhome church. He has also written the script.
The Rs.500-million ($12 million) project is being supported by the St. Thomas Apostle of India Trust, set up by the Catholic Archdiocese of Mylapore.
Biblical stories identify Thomas as the disciple who doubted the resurrection of Christ. According to several edicts, Kushan king Vasudeva sent Thomas' remains to Syria in 232 AD.
The Roman Catholic and Anglican calendars honour Thomas July 3, the day on which his relics are believed taken from Mylapore, on India's east coast, to Edessa, Syria, where his remains are worshipped as that of the Apostle of India. Then it was taken to the Greek island of Chios in 1258 AD and then to Ortona, Italy, where it rests now.
The date July 3 was, therefore, chosen to launch the film project.
In the 'Acts of Thomas', written in 200 AD, the original key text to identify St. Thomas with India, historians agree that two people, followers of Jesus Christ, arrived first in Sandaruk (one of the ancient Alexandrias) in Balochistan.
Much mystery surrounds Thomas' time in India. There is belief that Thomas sailed to the Kerala coast and landed at a port named Palayoor, near Guruvayoor. He then moved east to the Coramandel coast.
In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI created a controversy by saying that Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia, then went on to western India, from where Christianity also reached the south of the country.
According to yet another Indian Christian tradition, St. Thomas landed in Kodungallur in Kerala in 52 AD in the company of a Jewish merchant Abbanes (Hebban).
Some historians say Thomas of Cana and his companion Bishop Joseph of Edessa were the ones who established the first Syrian Christian colony in Kerala but they were fourth century merchants. The two Thomases seem to have merged in today's legends.
'Thomas the Apostle is said to have met the Tamil savant Thiruvalluvar. Superstar Rajnikanth is being persuaded to play the role of the poet saint,' Lourdusamy, the writer, told the media here.
'Popular Tamil actors like Vijay and Vikram will also appear in the film. The search is on for an actor who will be able to portray the Thomas in people's imagination,' he added.
Talks are on with Hollywood actor James Caviezel to again play the role of Christ. He played the role in 'The Passions of Christ'. Part of the film will be shot in Munnar. The Malyalam and Tamil versions will be released first. Proceeds from the film will go to an education fund.
Historically, traveller Marco Polo first identified
St. Thomas with south India and a seashore tomb where miracles happened in an unnamed town - 'a certain little town' - on the Coromandel coast.
According to Marco Polo's account, Thomas was a Muslim saint, killed by peacock-hunting native pagans in a place later identified as Mylapore.
Marco Polo's popular story changed the St.Thomas legend in Europe, and the Portuguese built churches in India in his memory.
Indians believe Thomas was interred in a small hillock called St. Thomas Mount, in Chennai's outskirts where the Apostle is said to have been killed in 72 AD by angry Hindus, and then in the magnificent Santhome church, under whose spire the film project was unveiled.
(Papri Sri Raman can be contacted at email@example.com)