Myth of Christian contribution to Tamil – 1
by Thamizhchelvan on 21 Jul 2010 9 Comments

The case

In the recently concluded “World Classical Tamil Conference”, and also in columns, articles and reports about it, there was a fresh attempt to project the myth that the Tamil language would have died but for the contribution of Christian Missionaries. There was also an immense propaganda that the “prose” style of writing was a gift from Christian Missionaries to the Tamil language.


Indeed, such a misinformation campaign has been sustained for years since the Dravidian Movement was started, and fully supported by the Church. Dravidian racists who conducted the conference, and the crowd which rushed there to wash the feet of Dravidian racists for personal benefits, may blow trumpets in support of this misinformation campaign. But true lovers of Tamil and true nationalists who value the importance of national integration and adore the magnificent cultural bond between the various Bharatiya languages and linguistic groups would undoubtedly reject this misinformation.

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Misinformation campaigners project missionaries such as G.U. Pope, Constantine Joseph Beschi, Robert Caldwell, Barthalomaus Ziegenbalg, Francis Whyte Ellis and Dr. Samuel Green et al as great champions of Tamil and magnificent contributors to its development, including the introduction of “prose” writing. Of these, Francis Whyte Ellis or ‘Ellis Durai’ in Tamil, was a Madras-based civil servant in the British government and Samuel Green a doctor in Sri Lanka; both supported missionaries in evangelical causes.


All the above mentioned missionaries landed in Tamil Nadu with one ‘holy’ aim of converting Tamil Hindus and Christianising Tamil Nadu. Ironically, the writer Dr. K. Meenakshisundaram termed the era of these evangelists as the “Golden Period” of Tamil in his book, “The contribution of European scholars to Tamil”, originally presented as the author’s thesis at the University of Madras, 1966. So it is all the more imperative for us to demolish this myth of Christian contribution to the development of Tamil and bring out the truth.


Missionaries and their Mission 


After landing in Tamil Nadu, the padris understood the need to learn the local language to converse with the populace for effective evangelization. They soon realized that the local populace, rooted in a centuries-old civilization, was culturally and religiously strong; hence they focused on Tamil literature to understand the cultural heritage and religious traditions, so they could devise different strategies for conversion. It needs to be understood clearly that these priests learnt Tamil language and literature with an agenda and not out of love or passion or with an intention of contributing to the growth of the language.


Moreover, it would not have been enough if these padris alone understood the cultural heritage and religious tradition of India; it had to be understood by the Church establishments which sent these missionaries on “holy” assignments. Only then could the masters realise the extent of manpower, money power and political power needed to destroy the 5000 year old culture and convert a spiritually strong India. That was why the priests learnt Tamil and translated the main literatures and wrote similar Christian works.


Abrahamic religions are political in nature; they are intrinsically political concepts more than religions, and aim to bring the entire world under their rule. They gain political power, capture territories and convert people. This was also the agenda of the Christian missionaries and the motive for them to learn our languages and literatures. 


The Establishments


Starting from the 16th century, Christian aggression slowly spread to many parts of India. The Portuguese, Dutch, French, German and British establishments landed in places such as Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bengal and the North-East, etc., in the guise of trade and missions, and started encroaching fast and armed invasions followed suit. The Portuguese Inquisition in Goa was a bloody and terrible chapter in Indian History and the British oppression started with the advent of East India Company.


After capturing power and establishing Crown rule in 1858, the British government gifted vast stretches of lands to the Churches and supported them with other infrastructures. They knew that the combined onslaught of political and religious power would produce quick results. It is pertinent to note that Indians have not woken up to this threat even after Independence, hence the government is being run by an Italian Catholic via a puppet Prime Minister, and many policy decisions are being taken in deference to the US Administration.


Journalist Subbu in Dravidian Maya (Tamil) says that the Christian priests who landed in Tamil Nadu from foreign lands laid the foundation for Dravidianisation in Tamil Nadu as they knew Indians could not be subjugated as long as Hindu Dharma prevails. Speaking about the beginning of Christian encroachment, Subbu says, “The Dutch established their trade centers in Pulicat (Pazhaverkaadu) in 1609, Sadras (Sadurangapattinam) in 1647, Nagapattinam in 1660; the British set up shops in Masulipatnam in 1622, Madras in 1639, Cuddalore in 1683 and also in Calcutta; the French got Pondicherry in 1674 and the Danish settled in Tranquebar (Tharangampaadi) in 1620.”


He adds, “On one hand the Padires straight away indulged in conversions and on the other hand they started creating rift among the Hindus to divide them.” In the chapter “Caldwell’s Cousins”, he explains vividly the various methods of conversion used by the Padires and how they divided Hindu society (Dravida Maayai, Trisakthi Publications, Chennai, 2010; pp. 20-28).


As part of the agenda of grabbing political power and converting the population, the Christian missionaries, to destroy the native culture, also indulged in “Inculturation”. (‘Inculturation’ - A danger to communal amity!


Roman Brahmin!


The man who laid the foundation of inculturation was the Italian priest Robert de Nobili (1577-1656). He learnt Sanskrit and Tamil, wore saffron robes, sacred thread (attached with a small Cross!), sandal mark on forehead and called himself a ‘Roman Brahmin’. He set up an “Ashram” in Madurai, became a vegetarian and used “Pathukas” (wooden footwear). He claimed the Bible was the “Lost Veda”, the “Jesuit Veda” revealed by God, and was considerably successful in harvesting souls. Fortunately for Tamil Nadu, his European masters were not happy with his inculturation methods and subjected him to an enquiry which forced him to shift to other places like Trichy and Salem. Finally he settled in a small house in Santhome, Madras, and died in 1656. (“The Portuguese in India”, Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1990, & “Christianity in India: A critical study,” Vivekananda Kendra Prakasham).   


Nobili is supposed to have written some 15 books apart from preparing a Portuguese-Tamil Dictionary. He is credited with the insertion of many Biblical terms in Tamil and no wonder Christianity was developed rather than the Tamil language!


Approving Untouchability, he said in 1650, “A person need not disown his caste, creed and culture to become a Christian. Those who say that these would get spoilt if one becomes a Christian are ‘Saathaans’. This teaching is the main obstacle in spreading Christianity”. [A. Sivasubramanian, “Kiruththvamum Saathiyum” (Christianity and Caste), Kaalachuvadu Publishers; cited in Dravida Maayai, p. 19).


Italian Munivar!


The next Italian missionary, Constantine Joseph Beschi (1680-1746), called himself Veeramaamunivar (Veer-Maha-Munivar) to pretend he was a great lover of Tamil. Outwardly conducting himself like a Hindu Sanyasi, he took care of the conversion business in the districts of Madurai and Thanjavur. His work on a biography of St. Joseph, Thembaavani, was hyped as a great work and projected as equivalent to Kambar’s Ramayana!


Even now it is propagated that impressed with the beauty and richness of Kamba Ramayana, Beschi wanted to create a similar Christian work and hence came out with Thembaavani. It benefitted Christianity by establishing St. Joseph in Tamil Nadu. But it contributed nothing to the development of the Tamil language. How could the biography of a Christian saint help the growth of Tamil? He then came out with another work, Paramartha Guruvum avarin Seedarkalum (Paramartha Guru and his Disciples), to ridicule our centuries old ‘Guru-Sishya Parampara.’ This “Munivar”, who denigrated our Guru-Sishya Parampara, was honoured by Dravidian racists who installed a statue of him on Marina Beach.


German Iyer!


In the same period, a German missionary Barthalomaus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719) also worked in Tamil Nadu and called himself Ziegenbalg Iyer. This Protestant priest landed in Tranquebar (Tharangampaadi) in 1706 and worked with a Danish company which was the first to bring German printing machines to Tamil Nadu. He printed the first Tamil Bible (New Testament). Even while indulging in conversions, he often quarrelled with the Danish authorities who put him in jail for some time. He was the first to stoke anti-Brahmanism by creating a hatred for Brahmins among other communities. As he fell sick often, he died at the age of 36 in 1719, leaving behind two Churches, a training institute for converted Indian priests, and 250 converts in Tranquebar.


When the Lutheran Church, which grew in size over the years, celebrated the 300th anniversary of his arrival in Chennai in July 2006, Tamil Nadu Governor Surijit Singh Barnala eulogized Ziegenbalg for his “services” to the Tamil language and Tamil people. A commemorative Stamp was also released.



Ironically, even the British government didn’t bother to celebrate the second century of his arrival in 1906! It is truly unfortunate that a constitutional head of an Indian state eulogised a person who was instrumental in creating caste animosities among the natives in order to convert them and destroy the native culture.


The critical question is, did Tamil grow because of his Tamil Bible and other Tamil Christian works? Of course not! Only Christianity grew.


(To be continued…)

The writer is a freelancer  

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