Myth of Christian contribution to Tamil – 2
by Thamizhchelvan on 22 Jul 2010 11 Comments

Italian Iyer and Thiruvaachakam distortion

Next in the list of Christian Priests who “served” the cause of Tamil was another ‘Iyer’ - G.U. Pope (1820-1907) or ‘Pope Iyer.’ He translated a few Tamil literary works such as Thiruvaachakam, Thirukkural and Naaladiyaar, and said he could find the teachings of Apostle St. Paul and St. Francis of Assisi in Sri Maanickavaachakar’s Thiruvaachakam; innocent Tamil scholars felt elated at his ‘graciousness’.


Even some Tamil Saivite Mutts felt proud at G.U. Pope’s statement. Tamil scholar Muthukumaraswamy, who has in-depth knowledge on Saiva Siddhanta, demolishes this myth, citing Pope’s own statement, “In the whole legendary history of this sage … there stands out a real historical character, which seems to be a mixture of that of St. Paul and of St. Francis of Assisi. Under other circumstances what an apostle of the East might have become,” as evidence of Pope’s sarcasm and disdain. He exposes the mindset of G.U. Pope who states that a Religious Guru from the East would not have attained a spiritual level beyond this in order to undermine the spiritual greatness of Sage Maanickavaachakar.  


Supporters and admirers of G.U. Pope in general and the Dravidian-Christian combo in particular have spread the following story for years:

G.U. Pope has the habit of beginning with a Thiruvaachakam hymn every time he writes a letter to his acquaintances in Tamil Nadu. One such time, he was so moved by the sacred hymn that the tears rolling down from his eyes fell down and erased a few words. As he thought that the tears (due to the sanctity of the hymn) too were sacred, he decided not to rewrite those words and sent the letter without adding them.

– The story was circulated to show that Pope was a lover of Thiruvaachakam, and a great admirer of Tamil Savant Sri Maanickavaachakar.


Dr. Muthukumaraswamy asks, “Who was the recipient of that letter? Which hymn was written in that letter? What happened to that letter? Is there any record of either Pope or the recipient or the recipient’s relatives and friends mentioning about that letter? Had this been a true story G.U. Pope would have certainly included it in the reprints of his translation. But why he had not done so? Even well-known Tamil Scholar ‘Thiruvaachakamani’ K.M. Balasubramaniam, who has great admiration for G.U. Pope, has not recorded that story in any of his works. Why?”


Thiruvaachakamani’ K.M. Balasubramaniam says, “….the genuine and gigantic efforts of Dr. Pope in uttering ‘Open Sesame’ to throw open the doors of the Treasure-cave of Thiruvachakam to the cultured Savants of the West stung the Tamils of their callousness and startled them into an awakening and appreciation of their past”. What more need be said about the innocence (or ignorance?) of Tamil Hindu scholars? Balasubramaniam has translated Thiruvaachakam in English! 


In the course of an article in, demolishing the myth about G.U. Pope, Dr. Muthukumaraswamy exposes how Pope deliberately distorted the hymns titled ‘Neeththal Vinnappam’ (Praying for Mukti), which becomes an insult to Sage Maanickavaachakar. He explains:

Bhagwan Shiva presents himself before Sage Maanickavaachakar in the Temple at Thruthuraipoondi, blesses him and tells, “You embark on a yatra and finally come to my abode Kailash. Wherever you go, I will present myself before you as your Guru”. The Sage embarks on his yatra and one day reaches the temple at Uttarakosamangai near Ramanathapuram. As he didn’t get the darshan of Bhagwan Shiva, he feels let down and unable to bear this parting, with mounting sorrow and emotion sings a hymn earnestly praying for Bhagwan’s appearance.


Explaining the above context, G.U. Pope infers, “The serene and beautiful environment prevailing in Uttarakosamangai Temple was too ‘testing’ for Maanickavaachakar to continue his Sanyas. He also remembers his family life in Madurai married to a beautiful woman, and the patronizing which he got from the Pandya King. His retrospection of married life leads him to keep contact with the Deva Dasis serving the Temple. As he lost his control and crashed down from the higher level of Sanyas, he developed a sort of complex, which created a guilty consciousness forcing him to sing this hymn.”


To quote Pope, “From the evidence of these verses, we conclude that there were two things from which he suffered. One of these was the allurements of the female attendants who in bands pertained to the temple. We have noticed this elsewhere, Hindu commentators will often find mystic meaning, which are harmless, - if unfounded. Again and again in this and other poems he deplores the way in which he has been led to violate his vow. The other difficulty often referred to was the way in which mere ceremonial acts had to be performed, affording no relief to his conscience.” By giving such a blasphemous introduction to this divine hymn, G.U. Pope not only insulted Sage Maanickavaachakar and denigrated Thiruvaachakam, but shocked the Hindu majority and hurt their religious sentiments.


Dr. Muthukumaraswamy explains:

It is a norm in Bhakti Literature for the authors to take the sins committed by the people upon themselves... Maanickavaachakar takes upon himself all the sins continuously committed by the people without making any attempts to seek Mukti, and sings the said hymn praying for Bhagwan’s appearance and His blessings for Mukti. Does the distortion made by G.U. Pope add any value to the beauty and sanctity of Thiruvaachakam? Does it add value to the greatness of Sage Maanickavaachakar? Has it helped the development of Tamil? Will any self-respecting Tamil Hindu appreciate and eulogise G.U. Pope and thereby insult Maanickavaachakar?



It is also a norm in Bhakti literature for poets to talk about ‘Sitrinbam’ (Kama) and later surrender at the lotus feet of Bhagwan praying for ‘Paerinbam’ (Mukti). Many poets have written such poems considering the presiding deity as their ‘Nayaka’ or ‘Nayaki’. The poets employ the entire range of ‘Nava Rasas’ in order to create a ‘Kaavya.’ 


In this case, Sage Maanickavaachakar’s hymn was not a confession, but a prayer for Mukti by taking upon himself all the sins committed by the people. He ultimately surrenders to Bhagwan requesting Him to liberate him from this Maya called Prapancha and bless him with Mukti. Pope’s interpretation is a nothing but an expression of Christian fundamentalism.


Dr. Muthukumaraswamy quotes another instance where G.U. Pope ridicules murti worship or vigraha aradana: “G.U. Pope says that a person who attains a higher level of spiritualism also indulges in Murti worship and rustic rituals, which go totally against his level of spiritualism.” To quote Pope’s own words, “There is in them a strange combination of lofty feeling and spirituality with what we must pronounce to be the grossest idolatory. And this leads to the thought that in Saiva system of today two things that would appear to be mutually destructive are found to flourish, and even to strengthen one another. The more philosophical and refined the Saivite becomes the more enthusiastic does he often appears to be in the performance of the incongruous rites of the popular worship”.


Pope exhibits the typical Christian hatred for murti puja by terming it an act of stupidity. Dr. Muthukumaraswamy rightly asks, “When Thiruvaachakam is full of Guru Stuti (Invoking the Guru), how come G.U. Pope ridicules murthi worship? Was it fair on his part to criticize such a divine act of Bhakti?”


Dr. Muthukumaraswamy cites another instance where Pope deliberately insults Maanickavaachakar, “All must be aware of the specific incidence (mentioned in Thiruvilaiyaadal Puranam – Purana on Bhagwan’s plays) that Bhagwan Shiva takes the blows from Pandya King’s flog for the sake of Maanickavaachakar, after which the King realizes the Sage’s greatness and appeals for pardon and later allows Maanickavaachakar to leave Madurai for Thiiruthuraippoondi. But G.U. Pope distorts this incident as follows:

As there was a conflict between Madurai and Chidambaram Temples, Maanickavaachakar left Madurai for Chidambaram and never returned to Madurai. He was afraid of going back to the Pandya King, who had not pardoned him for misappropriating the money given by the King for the purchase of Horses. So, he never got back to Madurai.


To quote Pope, “It does not appear indeed, that Maanickavaachakar ever revisited Madura after his formal renunciation of his position there. It may almost be inferred that he was never heartily forgiven by the king for the misappropriation of the cost of horses.” So much for G.U. Pope’s love for Thiruvaachakam!


Dr. Muthukumaraswamy says, “G.U. Pope wrote the translation of major portion of Thiruvaachakam staying in a town called Lugano in Italy, wherein he used to regularly visit the St. Maria degili Angioli Church to have the needed diversion, relaxation and a sort of rejuvenation by seeing the paintings of Bernardinao Luini. He has also recorded that he always used to feel the presence of Sage Maanickavaachakar beside him kneeling down and praying to Jesus. Pope avers that the Sage must have been a follower of Jesus until the time of his (Jesus) going to Heaven, which must be the only reason behind the feeling of great devotion found in his work. He also says that, he believed Maanickavaachakar, Mylapore’s Handloom worker (Thiruvalluvar) who wrote Thirukkural and the Nomad Gnanis (Jain Sages) who wrote Naaladiyar and others who have freed themselves from the flesh must have certainly visited this Church and realized themselves through the history of Jesus and Christian thoughts.”



There is another concocted story about G.U. Pope in Tamil Nadu which says that Pope wanted the statement, “Ingu oru Thamizh Maanavan urangukiraan” (A Tamil student is sleeping here) sculpted on his cemetery and that the statement is still present there on his cemetery. But those who have gone to the cemetery have confirmed that there was no such statement written on his cemetery except the ones from the Bible. G.U. Pope’s cemetery can be seen in this link:


Motivated lies on Thiruvaluvar and Thirukkural


G.U. Pope translated and published Sage Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural in 1886. There is an ancient folklore that Thiruvalluvar was friends with a captain of a ship and used to meet him often at the beaches of Mylapore. G.U. Pope accepted this as a true story. As a true Christian, he also believed the myth of St. Thomas and relied on the concoction that Thomas converted a large number of families in and around Mylapore. He then gave an introduction to the Thirukkural as follows:


“Thiruvalluvar worked hard to acquire knowledge by all means. Whenever a ship anchors in Mylapore coast, Valluvar’s ‘Captain’ friend would send him message about the arrival of new visitors including foreigners. Many foreigners could have travelled in his friend’s vessel and landed in Mylapore via Sri Lanka. Within me I see the picture of Thiruvalluvar talking with the Christians gathering information and knowledge. He has gathered a lot of Christian theories in general and the minute details of Alexandrian principles in particular and incorporated them in his Thirukkural. The philosophy of Christian theories from the Church situated near Valluvar’s place is present clearly in Thirukkural. Thiruvalluvar lived between 800 AD and 1000 AD. The Christian Biblical works were certainly an evidence for Valluvar’s Thirukkural. He was certainly inspired by the Bible.”

(Dr. T.N. Ramachandran, Thamizhaga Andhanar Varalaaru, (History of Tamil Brahmins), Vol. II, LKM Publications, Chennai, 2nd pub. 2005, pp. 641 to 643).     


This sordid introduction to his translated work shows G.U. Pope’s fanatic mindset and the ulterior motive behind his “love” for Tamil language and literature! Dravidian racists have installed a statue of this Christian missionary on Marina Beach, an inexplicable honour for a man who denigrated the sacred hymns of Thiruvaachakam and insulted Sage Maanickavaachakar and Sage Thiruvalluvar.


No wonder they blithely ignore Saivite and Vaisnavite literary works, the great Nayanmars and Alwars, and sing paeans on Christian missionaries during the so-called Classical Tamil Conference!!! The irony is that Thiruvalluvar’s picture was the emblem of the conference!


(To be continued…)

The writer is a freelancer 

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