Meet the Swami who exposed the ‘Myth of Saint Thomas’ – An Exclusive interview

published on September 18, 2013


The Swami Devananda exclusive interview with Pradeep Krishnan

Swami Devananda Saraswati, a Canadian turned Smarta Dashanami sannyasi, took his Vedic initiation from a renowned mahamandaleswar at Prayag in 1977. His  purvasrama family were middle class professionals and God-fearing Protestant Christians. He is self-educated through reading books on all subjects, with a special interest in religion and history. He has travelled extensively in Canada, USA, Europe, North Africa, West Asia and India.

Desiring deeply a spiritual life Swamiji reached India in 1967 from London, driving a French Citroen 2CV car, called a Deux Chevaux (Two Horses) because it only had two cylinders. On the way, he had to sell the car in Kabul as Pakistan would not allow passing with it. His mission was to find a spiritual teacher to guide him in his quest and was sure that India had an answer for him. He says that India was quite a different place in 1967 than it was today. He found that India was poorer but it was much gentler and closer to its cultural and spiritual traditions as modernity with its unlimited access to the shopping mall had not yet ruined the aspiring middle class. “I had left the West bitterly accusing it of warmongering and materialism, but I regret to say that the base materialism of India today is more than I had ever encountered in the West. Yet there is another India hidden deep within this greedy, rude and superficial urban India that has not forgotten it’s Dharma and still worships the Gods and the ancestors. It is considerate of the guest and the needy neighbour, honours the spiritual seeker, and still values the spiritual knowledge that frees a man from himself,” he said.

Under the pen name Ishwar Sharan swamiji authored the book The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple published by Voice of India, New Delhi. The book has been well received by the Indian public. The 2010 edition of the book can be read on-line at

 A devotee of the Mother Goddess from an early age, he believes that this devotion is the result of samskara, deeply rooted in him.  In his travels and readings, he realized that Hinduism is the only religion that helped the devotee to remember the Goddess every day. This was confirmed to him when he read the The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna was a Kali bhakta and worshipped the Devi in the form of a stone idol. He says, “This greatly impressed me, as worship of idols is held in contempt by most people including many Hindus. I have much love and admiration for Sri Ramakrishna and think that he has more to teach us about religion and faith in the example of his simple devoted life than his more sophisticated and much acclaimed disciple Vivekananda.”

Swamiji who lives in Pondicherry, in an exclusive interview with Pradeep Krishnan talked on his life mission, the myth propagated by the Christian Church on St.Thomas, etc.  Excerpts from the interview:

Q : What was the turning point in your life?

A : The turning point in my life came when my righteous father beat me for going to see a circus that had come to town. He beat me so badly the school authorities wanted to take legal action against him. I stopped them from doing that as it would have been a scandal in the closed Christian community we lived in. But I also lost respect for him and he became a complete stranger to me. He was a good man but he was obsessed with the stories of the Old Testament prophets and tried to emulate them. I left school and the family house soon after this event, at the age of sixteen. I wanted to see the world which I had been taught was very wicked and destined for destruction. By leaving the family, I became a free man. Or so I believed at the time. I would learn soon enough that there are very few free men in this world. Most men and women are bound by their desires or their minds are imprisoned in the same fundamentalist ideologies my father’s mind was imprisoned in.

A : Q : You are a critic of Christianity. What were the reasons for leaving Christianity and becoming a Hindu?

A : Your question assumes that I was at one time a believing Christian. This is a common mistake Indians make about Westerners and it should be corrected. Nobody is born a Christian even if they are born into a traditional Christian family. A person becomes Christian only after conversion—change of mind and declared loyalty to Jesus and his Church—and initiation by baptism and assuming a Christian name (christening). I was baptised before I was two years old and excommunicated sometime in my early teens. I was never a believing Christian and ritual child baptism without the consent of the victim has no meaning. But yes, I am an informed critic of Christianity as I have studied its doctrine and history all my life. The Christian Church is such a depraved and wicked mafia-like organisation I could not resist investigating it. In my view Christianity is not a religion at all but a political ideology that seeks world empire. It has no spiritual content, no metaphysic as Sita Ram Goel would say, and is nothing more than a personality cult centered on Jesus. A skillfully created personality sells as every politician and cinema actor knows. The irony is that no historian has been able to confirm if this poor Jewish rabbi of the Gospels ever lived. There is no positive evidence for his existence. This makes Christianity the biggest historical scam the world has ever known.

The central doctrine of the cult, vicarious salvation by human sacrifice, is a false doctrine. Nobody is ‘saved’ by the death of another man two millennia ago. That is just superstition and a refusal to accept responsibility for one’s own deeds. No Hindu guru would teach such an immature, irresponsible idea!

Christian religion aside, there have been many good Christian men and women. But they are good men and women in spite of Christianity, not because of it. This distinction has to be made. Christianity the personality cult and its vast, outrageously corrupt Church is one of the great disasters of human history. That is my considered opinion and one held by a number of reputed scholars.

Q : When you decided to become a sannyasi, what were your expectations?

A : I became a sannyasi out of love for Devi whom I regard as my mother. It also offered a supportive lifestyle for a dedicated spiritual life. There was absolutely nothing I wanted in this world for myself. I did not have any expectations about sannyasa, and I do not think it appropriate for a sannyasi to have expectations. Taking sannyas with these motives is sanctioned by the Yatidharmaprakasha and other sannyas dharma texts. I also had my mother’s blessing, which is a prerequisite for renouncing the three worlds if the postulant is unmarried (otherwise the wife’s consent is needed). She was always sympathetic to my spiritual interests and understood that I could never be reconciled to family life.

As a white foreigner who has lived with siddhas and sadhus and traditional Brahmins, sannyasa gave me an acceptable Hindu identity too. The unforeseen boon of taking to the renounced life is that I became a writer, a published author, and the administrator of a popular Hindu website. This is quite an achievement for a person who still doesn’t know proper English grammar. It has been made possible only by Sri Devi’s grace.

Q : Tell us about your guru? How did you find your guru or rather how did your guru find you?

A : I have had a number of gurus, all of whom appeared at the appropriate time and place to guide me in what I had to do. I regard all of them as Sri Devi’s gift. Spiritual gurus are one thing, and a formal diksha guru is another. I am a Smarta Dashanami sannyasi who took his Vedic diksha from the Acharya Mahamandaleshwar of Kailas Math in Panchavati, Nasik, in 1977 at Prayag. But equally important, I have had other gurus too who have been of great value to me. Sita Ram Goel is one, Vasanti Amma of Sri Vaishnavi Shrine at Tirumullaivoyal, Avadi, another. I regard Sita Ram Goel as a siddha, a man of extraordinary intellectual powers, truthfulness, and universality. His truthfulness made him a number of enemies among Hindu leaders; still he gave his life’s work for the upliftment of the Hindu Samaj. It is very unfortunate that this work has not been carried forward and that he has not received the recognition that is his due.

Q : Could you please share some of your spiritual experiences with us?

A : No. Spiritual experiences are very personal and not to be shared with strangers. My spiritual experiences won’t help you or your readers. Better that you do some meditation and japa and pray to Divine Mother for some experiences of your own. I would add the caution here that if an experience does not change the character of the man for the better—and usually it doesn’t—it really has no value and is just passing phenomena.

Q : What is your concept of God?

A : As you will have already understood, I conceive God as a universal mother. This is my personal approach. There is in Hinduism the concept of ishta devata, of a personal deity special and dear to the devotee. So another person may conceive God as Rama or Krishna, Shiva or Ganesha. This is a very wonderful concept and practice in Hindu Dharma. It is unique and puts to shame the only-one-god-yahweh-allah concept of the monotheists. Doctrinally I am inclined to Ramanuja’s view that the devotee’s focus should be on Ishwara, that He should be remembered and regularly worshipped according to the devotees means. Shankaracharya’s view of an absolute impersonal godhead without name or form—Brahman—is spiritually true but not practical for the man in the world to follow. Shankara knew this and established maths and temples with their different deities in various parts of the country, unifying cultural and geographical Bharatvarsha in the process. So he is called the Shanmata Stapana acharya. His Advaita is a doctrine for renouncers, not householders. Its popularisation as Neo-Vedanta has led to much misunderstanding and irresponsibility in Hindu religious life. Sita Ram Goel once told me that Neo-Vedanta had destroyed the Hindu religion. I believe this is true.

Q : What is the aim and purpose of human life?

A : A man or woman must be happy with themselves and helpful to others. The two go together. The ancestors should be remembered and the Gods worshipped so as to insure the continuity of family and community. When these responsibilities are fulfilled, a man or woman may go on pilgrimage to the holy places and seek a competent spiritual guru.

Q : What are your ideas of spirituality?

A : My idea of spirituality is to see the overall interrelationship of all beings but to act according to the specific need of the time and the place. The Kanchi Mahaswami, who once gave me an apple with his own hand though I was considered a mleccha in the math, once said that a Hindu should think universally but act according to the needs of his family and community. The ability to do this comes from insight into a situation through the practice of meditation and yoga. Spiritual practice, which might be called internalised religion, is supported by external religious practice which should never be ignored.

Q : Is there any difference between spiritual life and material life? How to connect the two?

A : Spiritual life and material life are related. The later supports the former. One must concern himself with motive and conduct in what is called worldly life, then he will get a spiritual life. There must be discipline in all affairs public and private. There must be no coercion or exploitation in personal relationships. One must be true to one’s word always. If a man can so direct his personal life, this will easily lead to a spiritual life. The idea that a person can just abandon his worldly life, his family responsibilities, his work or business, and become spiritual is not true. We have been born carrying baggage from the past and we must deal with this baggage responsibly so that we can become free of it and move on to higher things. The worldly life then carries us into spiritual life. Soon enough no distinction is made between worldly life and spiritual life. We simply do what we have to do in life—with the ever-present blessings and support of Ishwari.

Q : According to Advaita, Brahma alone is real and the world is unreal (mythya). How can we consider the world, which is part of Brahma, unreal? Is it not a paradox?

A : Brahma alone is real in an absolute sense and the world is real in a relative sense. The point being made is that Brahma doesn’t change and is therefore ‘real’, but the world does change and is therefore ‘unreal’. You must understand the whole doctrine of Advaita to get the point, not bits and pieces of it.

As human beings we must concern ourselves with the changing world. Advaitic abstractions don’t help here. They are wrongly understood and serve us no practical purpose in life. Advaita is describing a spiritual truth which we all will ‘know’ one day, but which in its popularized expression has only become an excuse for inaction where action is needed. Brahman is real and so is the world real which is a manifestation of Brahman. So act in the world accordingly, as the devotee and servant of Ishwara who is Saguna Brahman.

Q : Nowadays, it has become a fashion to talk about getting realized and enlightened?
A : People who talk about getting enlightened will never get enlightened. So never mind them. They are only passing time. Clever spiritual talk is the substitute for doing sadhana which if practised sincerely will in time bear spiritual fruit.
Right action is based on experience, realistic assessment of the circumstance and common sense. I am a great believer in common sense which is inherent in most people if they look for it and connect it with their life experience. They will then take right decisions and act fearlessly on their right decisions. Never mind this business about enlightenment. It is only a fantasy product our godmen sell to the Americans for money!

Q : Do we have free will of acting or are we completely owned and ruled by Divine Will?
A: I am uneasy with the term ‘Divine Will’ as it appears to be a Christian theological concept. This aside, my view is that we are placed in this particular life which is our destiny, a product of our own past actions, but in which we always have a choice of action to do this or that or the other thing. This is an expression of free will. In life we are always making value judgments. This is free will, or perhaps better called as qualified free will in the overall circumstance we find ourselves in. So in my view there is both destiny and free will working in tandem.

Most people are ruled by their desires and the natural selfishness of the human being. The Divine Will is excluded here as It is not compatible with human self-centeredness. We must work hard to come into accord with and be receptive to Divine Will. That is what sadhana and spiritual life is all about. The spiritual person is one who has burned up his selfishness through discipline and has become a vehicle for Divine Will to manifest for the benefit of all mankind.

We can’t blame our fate on Ishwara or Divine Will. Our life is of our own making even if we don’t remember the original cause. If we wish to re-make our fate, Ishwara will certainly give support to our sincere efforts to change.

Q : What are your suggestions for making Vedanta practical in one’s day to day life?

A : Vedanta is all about discrimination, being able to distinguish the true from the untrue, the real from the unreal. Learn to discriminate in your daily life and you are ‘practising’ Vedanta. As Vedanta declares the unity of being in all things, then the decisions and actions in your daily life must always benefit another. This is the daily test. Has your work today benefited another being—human, plant, or animal? If it has, you have successfully ‘practised’ Vedanta.

Q : How to bring in happiness in day to day life?
A : By making others happy. There is no other way.

Q : While Indian philosophy, culture and life style are getting more and more acceptance in the West, we Indians are busy aping the West …

A : I sincerely hope this is not true of all Indians. But yes, the West is benefiting from the vast knowledge and experience of Hindu civilization and it also has an appreciation of Hindu culture. And Indians are also benefiting from the West. Your life today is dominated by things and ideas that originate in the West. But like all traditional societies that have had the modern industrial complex imposed on them from above, Indians are having a problem reconciling their traditional values and ways with an amoral modernity, with so-called Western life-styles and its individualistic, secular culture. The problem is compounded when Indians accept and internalize the worst aspects of Western society and ignore the good aspects.

An example is the taste for flesh foods Indians acquire as their incomes grow. India has become a leading exporter of beef in the world. Hindus, including Vaishnava Hindus and Jains, are involved in this evil trade which is unspeakably cruel and, indeed, against the Indian Constitution. How has this come about? Has the greed for money completely overtaken the Hindu’s traditional sensitivity to the right to life and well being of all creatures? Even in the beef-eating West animals are not treated so cruelly as they are treated here. I have seen it myself and can tell you that the cattle smugglers operating in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala would all be in jail if they employed their brutal, over-crowded transport methods in Europe or America.

The British and the West are not to blame for this state of affairs. Indians and Hindus especially, are themselves to blame. We have fallen down and exchanged our values and highly evolved ethical traditions for blood and money. We must accept the responsibility and try to effect a change.

I have lived most of my life in South India with English-educated Brahmins who were all practising Hindus. They were able to reconcile their modern Western education and business life with their Hindu traditions and values. North Indians have a greater problem integrating the two sides of their life because their Hindu culture had been undermined by the Muslims before the British came along with their views of superior civilisation. So North Indians tend to be more Westernised than South Indians. In fact New Delhi is a very Western city. I have just visited it and cannot get over the fact that Dilliwallahs wear their shoes inside the house. It is the most un-Indian, un-Asian practise!

Modernity and Western pop culture and social practises are now universal and will not go away. It is for the Indian to find a way to reconcile modern life with his or her traditional Hindu values and culture. It can be done and I have seen it done in many families in Chennai.

Q : In India, particularly in my home state of Kerala, Christians, Muslims and Marxists are very active in converting Hindus to their fold. Your views on proselytisation and checking conversion from Hinduism.

A : Christian and Muslim missionary activities in India are an imposition on the individual’s human rights and destructive of Hindu society. These activities are also anti-national in many respects. They should be banned outright by the government. The problem is of such a scale that the government should act immediately. And it has acted—it has begun to issue special visas to Christian missionaries and by doing so legitimises their missionary activity! What a perversion of governmental powers! The government is protecting the missionaries and does not act in the national cultural interest. Individuals and organisations cannot counter the missionary onslaught by themselves as it agents are politically connected internationally and have vast financial resources. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the missionaries who are selling their ideological poison to Hindus are not white foreigners but brown men and women from Kerala who are Indian nationals. There are thousands of them and they operate all over the world. How to deal with them? Well, begin by taking them to court. That will put a damper on their activities. What they are doing is illegal even if a corrupt government gives them back-room support. Something has to be done about this attack on Dharma or Hindu culture will be eclipsed completely.

History teaches us that the barbarian is always able to defeat the more sophisticated, superior spiritual culture with his simple brute force and buying power. So to survive, brute force must be met with brute force. When are we going to learn this simple truth and stop trying to talk our way out of tough circumstances? When has inter-faith dialogue ever served the Hindu interest?

Q : Nowadays, spiritual leaders, particularly Hindu saints, make it a point to say that all religions are the same. However, Christian and Muslim religious leaders / scholars assert that ‘salvation’ is possible only through their chosen path. What are your comments?

A : When Hindu godmen teach that all religions are the same they are doing a grave disservice to their own religion. Either they don’t know anything about religion, or they are simply being politically correct and scoring brownie points. Each religion has a different name and a different concept of God. Each religion has different objectives. These may not be compatible with Hindu concepts or objectives. In fact they are not. The two major world religions, Christianity and Islam, are not religions at all as the Hindu understands the term. They are political ideologies that seek world dominance. Nothing more, nothing less. That is the ‘salvation’ they offer to the gullible. Hindus should understand this truth and learn how to defend themselves and preserve Dharma. If a Hindu saint or guru resorts to the Neo-Vedantic shibboleth that all religions are the same, they should be challenged by knowledgeable people in the audience. No responsible Hindu should sit quietly when they hear this nonsense from a Hindu speaker. This problem has been thoroughly dealt with by the Vaishnava scholar Frank Morales in his famous essay “Neo-Vedanta: The Problem with Hindu Universalism”.

Q : How do you view the caste system and the resultant discrimination meted out to the downtrodden masses?

A : I understand caste to be a sophisticated social management system that integrated diverse groups of people into a Hindu nation. Seen this way caste offered security and support to groups that were different from each other but were also part of the greater society that made up Bharatvarsha. Caste appears to have been quite liberal in its application in its early stages and individuals could also move between castes depending on their character and occupation. But the system was attacked and perverted by the invading Muslims. In order to protect itself, Hindu society closed in on itself and caste became rigid, self-righteous, and identified with one’s birth rather than one’s work or character. Abuses and prejudices grew and abounded. But I believe caste did in fact save Hindu society to some extent from the depredations of the Muslims. They, like the Christian missionaries after them, were able to change the Hindu’s religion but not his caste. The result was that both Abrahamic religions, who oppose caste ideologically, had to accommodate it. The Muslims did this racially: the more Arab or Persian blood in the Indian Muslim, the higher his or her caste status. For example, the Nawab of Arcot in Chennai makes a point of the fact that he is of pure Persian descent without any Indian admixture into his family. This makes him a high caste Muslim and therefore he can assume a leadership role in the South Indian Muslim community. Christians, especially Kerala Christians, are notoriously casteist. In fact the appellation “St. Thomas Christian” was first employed by the Franciscan missionary Giovanni dei Marignolli in 1350, in Kollam, to distinguish his Syrian Christian converts from his lower caste Hindu converts. In Tamil Nadu upper and lower caste Christians still fight each other for Church privileges. Caste identity has even followed the Indian Christian to heaven as Dalit and upper caste Christians are buried in different grave yards.
Caste is very must part of the Hindu identity and plays a part in many traditional family and religious rituals. There is no reason to discard it. Rather, its role in social relationships today should be modified to suit the times. Untouchability, which is a perversion of the relationship between castes, should be abandoned. Modern urban life undermines rigid caste prejudices and this may be considered a positive social development.

Q : What is the basis of your thesis that St. Thomas did not visit Kerala and convert Brahmins to Christianity?

A : The question should be reversed. What is the basis for the Christian thesis that St. Thomas came to India and converted Brahmins to Christianity? As Kerala Christians have made a positive claim for an important event in Indian history, they are obliged to provide evidence for their claim. They have not been able to do so. Their claim is based on legends their ancestors brought with them to India in the 4th century when, historically, the first Christian refugees from Syria and Mesopotamia arrived in Muziris, the great trading port at the mouth of the Periyar River. There is no historical record of Christians in India prior to the 4th century, neither is there any record of Namboodiri Brahmins resident in Kerala prior to the 4th century (some scholars say 6th and even 8th century). Namboodiris appear to have migrated to Kerala from the Himalayan foothills sometime after the 3rd century CE. The Syrian Christian claim that they are the descendants of Namboodiris converted by Thomas in the 1st century is a concocted social linage to give them caste status. In fact early Christian immigrants in India, 4th century and after were given the social status of Nairs by the local rajas.
My interest in the St. Thomas in India tale was provoked when a Tamil scholar who was a government officer brought me his detailed research notes into the legend as it is known in Mylapore. I had read Christian history in detail from a young age and was aware that many claims made by Christian historians and the Catholic Church were simply false. For example, I knew that the claim that St. Peter had visited Rome and had been executed there was false—never mind that the authority of the pope in Rome rests on this fable. I also knew that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, allegedly marking the birthplace of Jesus, was in fact originally an Adonis Temple destroyed by Emperor Constantine at the instigation of his mother Helena who was a fanatic Christian convert. The town of Nazareth, supposed childhood home of Jesus, did not exist in the 1st century though it plays an important role in Christian mythology. Even more interesting, the historical existence for a man called Yeshua (Jesus) has not yet been established though the most reputed Christian scholars have looked into matter for hundreds of years. Many of these scholars also deny the historical existence of St. Thomas who, according to the Acts of Thomas, was the twin brother of Jesus.
I was interested in the Indian counterpart of these Christian fables, the story that Thomas the Apostle had arrived on the Kerala coast in 52 CE and had converted some Brahmins by making water stand in the air while they were performing their sandhyavandanam rituals by a tank. I found after going through a vast amount of material, that there was no historical evidence to support this claim at all. More than this, I found that there was positive evidence that he did not come to South India. The Early Church Fathers Clement and Origen (c. 2nd and 3rd century) both state that Thomas went to Parthia (Persia) and it is accepted by historians that he established a church in Fars (a southern province of Persia). Eusebius (c. 3rd century), the first Christian historian, also says he went to Parthia, as, indeed, did Pope Benedict XVIII in 2006, much to the dismay of the Kerala bishops.

I wrote an essay on my findings under the name Ishwar Sharan, incorporating the research of the Tamil scholar, and after it was published by Sita Ram Goel (who had also researched the St. Thomas legend and found it wanting), sent the book to The Indian Express and The Hindu for review. The response of these editors was shocking and unprofessional. They put out feature articles in their newspapers promoting the legend which claimed that Thomas was assassinated by a Hindu king of Mylapore called Mahadevan (obviously a reference to Kapaleeswara Shiva) and his jealous Brahmin priests. This particular Mylapore fable was made up by the Portuguese and is a blood libel on the Hindu community. Just as Christians claim that Jews killed Jesus, so the Church in India and the secular mainstream media claim that Hindus killed Thomas. They reject the historical facts altogether and stand by the concocted communal tale.
The book which no newspaper would touch with a barge pole—except The Pioneer who published a fine review by Sandhya Jain—has now gone into three editions and is famous in India and abroad. Still the newspapers and the Christian-controlled encyclopedias Britannica and Wikipedia will not correct their St. Thomas entries. Wikipedia’s Thomas the Apostle page is administered by the Syrian Christian Tinucherian who does not allow any positive historical changes to the St. Thomas entry. I have tried to make changes as have other informed editors, but our contributions are always rolled back and deleted. Wikipedia’s India pages have a become a platform for Christian propaganda and this is unfortunate as the encyclopedia is otherwise a very useful reference.

The full story of the St. Thomas in India legend is available on-line to read or download. Anybody interested in India’s past should take a look at the book and consider how Indian history is being distorted and the Hindu community maligned to serve the political and communal interests of the Indian Church.

Q : We have been continuously destroying our planet earth by our actions. What is the solution? Even though we worship the river Ganga, at several places it has been completely polluted. Why this paradox? While Hindus worship the rivers / mountains / trees, we indiscriminately act against our mother nature. What is the solution?

A : Yes, the whole earth is there for our benefit if we are willing to nurture and protect her. But unfortunately the modern capitalist system, big business, the mad rush by all countries to industrialize and ‘progress’ without proper, long-term planning, have caused the trees to be cut and the rivers to be poisoned even though they are the very source of our own life here on earth.

Indians too have lost their traditional values and responsibility towards nature in the process of modernizing since Independence. Any attempt to correct this dangerous state of affairs is thwarted by corruption at every level of Indian civil life. I don’t know what the solution can be without clean and credible leaders in public life—which at the moment we do not have. The problem of environmental degradation is too big for individuals to tackle. Still, if we act responsibly in our private lives, reduce waste especially of food and water, stop using plastic a

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