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Pepper Brought Christianity to India

December 23, 2011  by: Paulose  Points: 20   Category: Social Studies    Views: 483

It is the divine providence that brought Christianity to India through the pepper trade merchants. Habban, the pepper merchant, was conversant with the locality and the customs of India and was great help to the Apostle in his missionary task.


One may wonder how a commercial product such as pepper can become the ultimate cause of propagating a faith in a particular region. But that is the fact proved by history for planting Christianity in India in its very beginning. It is the trade pepper that caused the arrival of Christianity in India.

Pepper Trade between the West and the East

According to history, centuries before the start of Christian era, the southwest coast of India had a flourishing trade with West Asia, Mediterranean, and the Middle East, both along mountain passes in the north and sea routes along the western and southern coast. Countries like Egypt, Judea, Greece and Rome craved for the arrival of pepper and spices from the southwest coastal ports. Pepper was regarded as an inevitable luxury, essential for human survival and also was highly desired for ritual, medicinal and culinary purposes. Pepper was traded ounce for ounce with precious metals and the great historian Pliny deplores that it exhausted the treasuries of the Roman Empire. Merchants from Judea, Greece and Arabia were vying to reach South India to purchase pepper.

Monsoon Winds Brought More Traders

The regular flow of monsoon wind was noticed and the spice trade between Arabia and South India found a great boost. Historians report that large ships were sent to the South Indian port Muziris on account of the great quantity and bulk of pepper.

Jewish settlements in South India

Long before the beginning of Christian era there were many Jewish colonies in the southwest coastal areas of India. Historical evidences suggest that Christian merchants settled in Indian cities along trading routes in the early times of Christianity. The South Indian Tamil epic called Manimekalai (written between 2nd and 3rd centuries of the CE) mentions about the Jewish Christian people, who were called Nasranis or Essanis. Recent archeologists have declared that the area located near the modern city of Kodungaloor is the portal pepper city Muziris, mentioned by the great historian Periplus.

Pepper Planted the Seed of Christianity in India

As the original suppliers of pepper to the Mediterranean world, the Persians and the Jews had sailed along the coast to Malabar since the earliest days of maritime navigation. There are a lot of evidences that the Jews had established synagogues as early as the sixth century BC. Naturally, the Jews converted to Christianity brought it to their new settlements along with the disciple of Jesus, St. Thomas. That is why the Christians of modern Kerala trace their ancestry to Thomas the Apostle, who they believe came to Muziris in the year 52 and they are known to this day as St. Thomas Christians. According to the Acts of St.Thomas in India (Acta Indica), the allocation of areas for the apostolate was made by drawing lots and Thomas was allotted India and the East. A legend says that St. Thomas was hesitant to go to India and in due course of wandering he was cornered and sold to Habban, a Jewish spice trader who had settled in India. It was thus that St. Thomas came to the Indian coastal port Muziris.

Wonderful Providence of God

It is the divine providence that brought Christianity to India through the pepper trade merchants. Habban, the pepper merchant, was conversant with the locality and the customs of India and was great help to the Apostle in his missionary task. Ultimately it is the Will of God that guided India to see the Divine light through pepper!



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