A long time ago, in the year of 43 AD, St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, travelled his way through the silk route into the Indian sub-continent to preach about Christianity and his master, Jesus. After months of intense journey over the arid Sahara desert, he reached the Indo-Parthian Kingdom of Pahlava. The kingdom of Pahlava was located on the western bank of Indus, in the North West frontier of the sub-continent. It was then ruled by an aged king named ‘Gondophares’ from his capital of Taxila.
Gondophares in his younger years was the governor of the Parthian province of Drangiana. With his bravery, courage and wisdom, he fought the corrupt Parthian Empire, to liberate his land. Later, in his years, he drove the Bactrian Greeks and Hun invaders out of the subcontinent, establishing a mighty empire across almost the entire North West frontier and taking control of the silk route. Unlike, other Indian Kingdoms which used silver coins, Gondophares introduced both Silver and Copper coins. Commerce flourished under him. Students from all over Asia used to come to Vikramshila University during this time. He also provided his royal patronage to the Gandhara School of Art. This school produced a mix of Greeco-Roman and Indian Architecture. Students from both Europe and Asia travelled through the silk route to Gandhara.
With Pahlava’s location along the silk route, Gondophares enjoyed informational supremacy by having his spies and messengers reporting from distant Kingdoms. Thus unlike, any other Indian or Arabian ruler, he was well aware about Jesus, Christianity, rise of western ideas and had high respect for scholars. Delighted with news of arrival of St. Thomas – the apostle, he readily invited him to his court. At his court Thomas with his much humble nature, formally presented a letter to the king describing the reason and nature of his visit. The Emperor took over the document himself, and after reading, he looked towards Thomas and said – “You want to preach Christianity, your Master’s ideas, in the great spiritual land” . . . he continued “my country has people from different ethnicities, Indians, Parses, Greeks, Mongols, Arab. . . each one of them worship their own Gods. Migrants from foreign lands come here to gain from the riches of this land. Invaders come to plunder its riches. Students come here to gain knowledge. Spices from our friendly kingdom of Pandya in southern India, are sold by sea and land, from Pahlava to Arab, Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome . . . Everyone who comes here, comes to gain, that’s why we call it the silk route, the trade route. . . people come here for trade and benefit. And you came here to deliver, deliver wisdom, deliver ideas, I am rather surprised.”
To this Thomas replied, “Majesty, you call it as the silk route, we call it the wisdom route, some people traded goods, gems, ivory, silk, cotton spices. Some others traded ideas, values, and wisdom. But most importantly it’s the Magi’s route, the three wise men, travelled from the east to Israel for a common cause, irrespective of their race, place or ethnicity”.
The prime minister in the court now picked the topic, “well . . . this sounds interesting . . . we have heard about Jesus, we heard about stories of his deeds, his sacrifice for his people, his crucifixion, his resurrection. . . all from our messengers from the west. We never heard of three wise men, travelled from East to West . . . the Magi?”
Thomas started again, – The story starts, forty three years ago, on the day Jesus Christ was born. At that time Bhethlehem and Israel were ruled by Herod. Herod was a puppet king placed by the Romans. Romans wanted Herod to rule as long as, he kept collecting taxes from people. But he was always afraid about someone taking over his power someday. At this time, three men from the East studied the stars, predicted the Birth of a divine child. They set out for journey through this same Silk Road to worship the blessed child. On reaching Bethlehem, they met King Herod, and informed, “A divine child is born in Bethlehem. The child will grow up to be the leader the Jews and also the non-Jews. We have seen his star in the East; we have come to worship him”. Herod secretly called the visitors and told them, “Explore across Bethlehem, and if you find the infant, inform me. I wish to worship him too”. The three men left Herod’s palace and after tracking and studying the star for some time, they finally found the house where the child was present. They went inside to find infant Jesus with Mother Mary. They knelt down to worship the child, and then gifted him with gold, frankincense and myrrh. The wise men predicted that, Herod could kill the child in fear of losing his power, if they provide him the whereabouts. Therefore, they returned back to their country through another road. The three men are known as Magi, which means wise men”.
Thomas continued . . . when the Magi left, Joseph had a dream of Herod trying to kill his child and an angel asking him to leave for Egypt. Joseph escaped to Egypt on the very same night with his wife Mary and child Jesus. Next day, when the Magi did not return, Herod killed every child in Bethlehem below 12 years of age.
The court room was silent, everyone was listening attentively. At this time, the old King stood up and slowly started walking towards the monk. He asked, “Tell me their names, the Magi”. St. Thomas replied, “Melchior, Casper and Balthazar”. The King stood still for some time, some thoughts were bothering him. At last he said, “I must correct you monk, don’t get me wrong. There’s still something your master couldn’t tell you”. Gondophares gave a stern look at Thomas and then continued. . “The Magi didn’t return home through the other route”.
He moved two steps forward again towards the monk and said, “. . . Because there was only one route from their home to Israel. The Silk Road. And that was sealed by Herod, so that the Magi can’t escape, without informing about the child”. Tears came out of his eyes. Tears of joy or sorrow or both, no one knows.
He stopped, thought for some time and started again, “The child and mother were found in a shepherd’s house. A lot of people came to see the child. Herod had employed spies all over the city to keep eyes on the Magi. The Magi presented the gifts and left pretending to go back to Herod. But late in that night, they returned back to the house secretly. They woke up Joseph from a bad dream and informed him about the impending danger. The Magi studied the stars to get direction to their journey to Egypt and helped the family to escape safely”. He stopped here and thought for some time, rubbed his moistured eyes, then continued. . “After seven days in Egypt, the Magi took the sea route crossing the Red sea to reach Arabia”.
The court was spell bound; no one expected this interpretation by the old King. Astonished Thomas asked him, “You were not a King those days, were you? You had no messengers that time. How can you explain this story? How will people believe you?”
The King replied, “I knew them”. St. Thomas was surprised; he asked “knew whom? The Magi? Whom? Melchior? Casper? Balthazar”.
The King cried loud, “YES!! I knew Melchior, I knew Balthazar, and they are dead now, died as Martyrs”.
“Casper? You didn’t know Casper? The youngest of the three”.
The King stood silent for some time and then turned to look towards Thomas, with his wet eyes and said, “Not Casper. . . not Casper. . . it was Gasper”.
He cried out loud again “GASPER! NOT CASPER. . . Gasper the youngest”.
The King looked towards St. Thomas in tears; Thomas was also filled in tears. The King hugged him, patted him. The court applauded. Gondophares, walked away from his court rubbing his eyes.
King Gondophares later got converted to Christianity by St. Thomas. He then sponsored the monk with three ships to travel to the friendly nation of Spices in the Konkan coast. . . The Pandya Kingdom. St. Thomas started preaching Christianity in Southern India. But he hasn’t mentioned about Gasper in his records.
The second of the three Magi, named Casper, is often referred to as ‘Gasper’ in most parts of Syria and Arab. King Gondophares of Pahlava is also referred as ‘Gastaphar’ or ‘Gasper’ in central Asia. Whether these four similar names belonged to the same King is still a matter of debate amongst the Historians.