Myth of Christian contribution to Tamil – 1

published on July 22, 2010

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.



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 benefited 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.

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 Dr. 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
as 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 Sages and poets have written such hymns and 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 yet 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 (weaver – 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 took 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…)

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