Contribution of Christian Missionaries in India
Rev William Carey
Author : Camil Parkhe
Published by Gujarat Sahitya Prakash
William Carey, social reformer and linguist
Reverend William Carey is known as the father of printing technology in India. This Baptist missionary is credited with printing the first books in several regional languages of India. He is also one of the first social reformers in India to protest against the social evil of Sati , the custom of forcing a widow to end her life by jumping into the burning funeral pyre of her deceased husband. Carey, along with veteran social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy, made efforts to legally ban Sati.
Carey is also credited with starting the first newspaper in an Indian regional language. ‘Samachar Darpan’ was the first newspaper in an Indian language. Carey and his missionary colleague, Dr Joshua Marshman, first published it in Bengali from Serampore on May 31, 1818. Earlier, Carey made significant contribution in the fields of botany and agriculture during the latter part of the 18th century and in the beginning of the 19th century.
William Carey was born in England on August 17, 1767. His father was a weaver. While he was a student, Carey worked with his uncle as a gardener till he turned 14. This developed into a lifelong passion for botany and agriculture. Later, to earn a living, he worked as a shoemaker till he was 28. Due to this background, some officers of the East India Company used to look down upon him even after Carey was ordained as a priest of the Baptist Mission. He had studied Greek, Hebrew and Latin. This study encouraged him to learn various languages and thus he became a linguist.
Carey left England on June 13, 1793 with the intention of preaching the gospel in India. He arrived in Kolkata five months later, on November 11, 1793. The East India Company had established its political control over most of the Indian territory by then.
Even though the officers of the East India Company were Christians, unlike the Portuguese, they skillfully avoided mixing up political governance and missionary work. The British had come to India as traders and later had managed to capture political power in the country. They had absolutely no intention of converting the local populace to Christianity. On the contrary, they were afraid that any intervention in the religious affairs of the local people might boom-rang and pulverise their political power. Therefore, they had banned the work of Christian missionaries in the area under their political control.
Carey realised that it was not possible to openly undertake any missionary work in India due to this British policy. He was forced to take up a job in the Indigo Factory at Madanavati. He worked in the Indigo factory for six years.
Carey had married Dorothy Placket before he reached India. They had four children, all born in India. Four priests of the Baptist Mission arriving in India from England later joined Carey. Since missionary work was prohibited in the area under British regime, Carey and his colleagues established a mission at Serampur, which was under Dutch control, in 1800. The Dutch had not banned missionary activities in the area, which was under their political control.
While at Madanavati, Carey learnt Bengali and Sanskrit languages. He was to later try to translate Sanskrit grammar and dictionary into English. Having established a Baptist Mission at Serampur, Carey now took upon himself the task of publishing the Bible in Sanskrit and Bengali languages.
He established a printing press at Serampur. Since printing technology was not yet developed in the country, he started producing the types in Bengali, Devanagari, Farsi (Persian), and Arabic scripts at this press. The first books in various Indian languages were printed in Carey’s printing press. Carey thus earned the honour of becoming the first printer and publisher of the first books in a variety of Indian languages.
In 1801, the New Testament in Bengali was printed at the Serampur press. In 1804, Rev. Carey started translating and publishing Bible, in other major Indian languages like Hindustani, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi and Tamil.
Two hundreds years before Carey, the Portuguese had introduced printing technology in Goa which was under their control. Kristapuran, an epic in Marathi compiled by a British Jesuit, Fr Thomas Stephens, was printed in 1614. However, in the absence of a printing technology for Devanagari script, Fr Stephens had to print his Marathi epic in Roman script.
During this time, Carey had also started studying Marathi. He had never stepped into Maharashtra where Marathi is spoken. Therefore, he had no exposure to Marathi language. He sought help of some Marathi experts for translation.
In 1805, Carey published a Marathi version of the Gospel according to St Mathew, entitled, ‘Sant Mathewche Shubhavartaman.’ It was the first book in Marathi printed in the Devanagari script. Carey published the second edition of this book in 1807. This time, the Marathi book was printed in Modi, a script now on the verge of extinction.
By 1811, the New Testament was translated into Marathi and printed at the Serampur Press. During the same period, Carey had started work on translating the New Testament in Konkani as well. 'Sant Mathewche Shubhavartaman’, the Gospel according to St Mathew, was published in 1815 in Konkani language.
Research scholar S. M. Pinge in his Marathi book ‘Europeanancha Marathicha Abhyas Va Seva’ ( The study of Marathi language by the Europeans and their contribution to this language), says, ''Although Carey’s Bible-related books in Konkani and Marathi were written for apostolic work and for educating people about Christianity, it is beyond any doubt that it gave tremendous boost to linguistic studies.'' He further says, "Despite so many problems in translation, Carey learnt the local languages and translated Bible in these languages. His service in development of Marathi language and literature needs to be appreciated.”
It appears that Rev. William Carey’s stay was restricted to Bengal only. He never visited western or southern parts of India like Maharashtra and Karnataka. He never had the opportunity to witness languages like Marathi, Konkani and Kannada in practice, as spoken by the people in their respective areas. Despite staying away from these territories, Carey contributed a great deal to the literature of these languages and must be complimented. Many people at that time criticised Carey's language and composition used in Konkani, Marathi and other languages. These critics also included some American and Scottish missionaries who had studied Marathi.
In 1801, Fort William College was established in Kolkata. A Marathi language course was introduced in the college in 1804 and Carey was appointed as the professor of Marathi language. Apart from Carey, some other Marathi pundits also used to teach Marathi in the same college. The teaching of Marathi at college level thus began for the first time in Bengal province, far away from Maharashtra. Rev. Carey thus can be rightly called as one of the first professors of Marathi language.
While teaching in Fort William College, Rev Carey, with the help of other Marathi pundits, authored several Marathi books. In 1805, Carey along with Pundit Vaijanath Shastri authored the grammar of Marathi language and published it. In 1810, Carey prepared ‘A dictionary of Marathi language’, the first dictionary in this language, with the help of Pundit Vaijanath Shastri and published it in Modi script. This was the first ever dictionary in Marathi. This Marathi - English dictionary contains about 10,000 words and has 652 pages.
Carey’s printing press at Serampur had become an important centre of printing technology in the India of those times. There was a foundry for casting types required for printing purpose. Many people took these types to various parts of the country and started their own printing presses there.
During the period of 1805 to 1832, Carey’s printing press printed about 12,000 volumes in 40 Indian languages. At no other place in the country was this printing facility available at that time. This underlines the importance of Carey’s pioneering work.
Pinge while appreciating contribution of Rev. Carey has said, "Carey learnt Marathi and apart from several other Marathi volumes, published prose volumes of Bible in Marathi. He also motivated Marathi experts to write books.'' Pinge further added, "Carey published Marathi books at a time when no literature was being produced in this language. Besides, he published these books in Bengal where Marathi was not even spoken. This single fact has made Carey immortal in Marathi literature."
Rev Carey laid the foundation of printing technology in India. The history of literature of several Indian languages cannot be complete without the mention of Carey’s contribution. He took immense efforts to print the first books in these vernaculars. In his endeavour, Carey did not receive any support from the political rulers. The linguists too kept on criticising him for his language. Nonetheless, Carey continued his work. Carey is the only person whose mention, however small, will appear in the history of many Indian languages.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his book, ‘The Discovery of India ’ has mentioned Rev William Carey and other missionaries of Serampur Baptist Mission, who contributed in the fields of Indian printing technology and literature. Nehru praised the missionaries for their work as follows: “The printing of books and newspapers broke the hold of classics and immediately prose literatures in the provincial languages began to develop. The early Christian missionaries, especially of the Baptist Mission of Serampur, helped in the process greatly. The first private printing presses were established by them and their efforts to translate the Bible into prose versions of Indian languages met with considerable success. There was no difficulty in dealing with the well-known and established languages, but the missionaries went further and tackled some of the minor and undeveloped languages and gave them shape and form, compiling grammar and dictionaries for them. They even laboured at the dialects of the primitive hill and forest tribes and reduced them to writing."
Rev Carey’s contribution is not confined to Indian printing field, languages and literature alone. He was indeed a versatile personality. Apart from missionary work, printing technology, language, literature, he also worked in the field of botany, education, library science and social reforms.
Even before the British could establish an agricultural institute in India, Carey had established the Agricultural Society of India in 1820. Carey was interested in botany right from his childhood. While working in India, he was granted a membership of The Linnean Society of London in 1823. The Linnean Society of London is the world's premier society for the study and dissemination of taxonomy. Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species and organising them into systems of classification. Carey was also a member of the London-based Geology Society. It is obvious that he had deep interest and had studied these subjects.
After 1820, William Carey edited and published three volumes of Flora Indica or Descriptions of Indian Plants, authored by his late friend, Dr. William Roxburgh (1751 - 1815). These volumes are considered as excellent reference volumes for botanists even today. In recognition of the research done by Carey in botany, a plant has been named after him and it is called, ‘Careya Habetia’.
William Carey brought English daisy flower to India. He is also credited with introducing the 'Linnean system’ in gardening. At Serampur, Carey planted 427 types of saplings on a five-acre field. It was a matter of surprise as to how Carey could find time for research in so many fields.
Carey raised a very strong protest against foeticides, abortions, child sacrifices and the custom of Sati. Social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy too had waged a battle against sati. Carey raised protests against the sati custom as early as 1805-06. The British government had followed a policy not to intervene in the religious customs of Hindus. Carey was of the opinion that the Hindu religious scriptures did not advocate sati.
In order to create public opinion against the sati practice, Carey in 1803 started collecting statistics on incidents of sati. He collected details of the victims of this evil social custom. He combed an area of about 80 miles around Kolkata to find that 1,170 women had to die because of this custom. At that time, this custom was most prevalent in Bengal and Carey had witnessed widows being pushed into the funeral pyres of their husbands and burn alive. He had witnessed such an incident for the first time in 1799. He even tried to stop it. He was told by people, ‘If you cannot bear seeing this, get lost!’
Some orthodox people canvassed against Carey, stating that the custom of sati was in conformity with Hinduism. A petition was submitted to the Governor General in India, arguing that Rev Carey and Rev Sleeman were doing missionary work in India and preaching against Hinduism, specifically the custom of sati, and therefore they should be deported from India. Rev. Sleeman also was leading a movement against sati. At village Paran near Jabalpur, Rev Sleeman had guarded the pyre continuously for three days and three nights to avert the burning alive of a child-widow from the Paroha community!
To create public awareness against the evil custom of sati, Carey had asked Raja Ram Mohan Roy to contribute a column in ‘ Samachar Darpan’. The column helped create public opinion against this evil custom among the Bengali masses.
On December 4, 1929, the then Governor General Lord William Bentinck banned the age-old custom of sati by issuing an order. The efforts of William Carey and Raja Ram Mohan Roy finally bore fruit. During those days, Carey was also working as a government translator. The day Lord Bentinck issued the proclamation, Rev William Carey did not attend church because he had to translate the order declaring sati illegal from English to Bengali. He was afraid any delay on his part might send one more widow to the funeral pyre and made available the order in the local language immediately.
This missionary served in India for 41 years and offered his services to the local people in various fields. He did not visit his motherland even once during this period. This linguist scholar and social reformer breathed his last on June 9, 1834.
The year 1993 marked the 200th anniversary of this great missionary and visionary stepping on the Indian soil. These 200 years had witnessed a phenomenal progress in the Indian printing technology, native literature, and social structure. Rev Carey had played a pioneering role in this progress. The Government of India therefore released a commemorative stamp on William Carey in 1993, acknowledging Carey’s contribution in various fields.
In the 2000-year-old history of Christianity, missionaries have made important contributions in various fields the world over. The contribution of most of these missionaries was restricted to a few fields only. Rev William Carey however made precious contributions in several fields like literature, technology, science, social awakening, printing technology, education and so on. And his contributions made an impact that was long lasting.
1.‘Europeanancha Marathicha Abhyas Wa Sewa’ (Marathi) (The study of Marathi language by the Europeans and their contribution to this language), Authored and published by S. M. Pinge, 24B, Cantonment Aurangabad, Distributors - Venus Prakashan, Pune (1959)
2.‘William Carey Ani Bharatacha Punarjanma’ ( William Carey and The Regeneration of India) , original authors: Ruth and Vishal Mangalwadi, Marathi translation by Dr. Sanjay Athawale, Publishers - G. L. S. Publishing, Udyog Bhavan, 250 D , Worli, Mumbai 400 025 (1998).
3.‘Wadhasthambhache Sewak’ (Marathi) Original Author- Theodor Williams, Marathi Translation - D Y Gaikwad, Publishers - Outrich Prakashan, Indian Evangelical Mission, 7, Lonford Road, Bangalore 560 025 (1991)
4.‘ The Christian Community and The National Mainstream’ - By Louis D’Silva - Printed by Dr M E Cherian. Spicer College Press, Pune -411 007.
5.‘Marathi Mudranachya Paoolkhuna’ (Marathi) (Footprints of printing technology in Marathi), Arun A Naik, Daily Lokmat (November 28, 1999)
6.‘Kayada hounahee Na Thambalelya Sati Prathecha Bolka Itihas’ - (History of Sati custom which has continued despite a legislation banning it), Francis D’Souza, Marathi daily ‘Loksatta’ (3 December 1999)
7.‘Fight the Sati in the mind Silence is acquiescence’ - A J Philip 'The Indian Express’ (November, 17, 1999)