Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Y B Chavan A leader of the masses

Leader of the masses
Sakal Times

Tuesday, June 05, 2012 AT 08:18 PM (IST)
I joined Tilak High School in Karad as a standard XI student and soon I learnt that the then foreign affairs minister Y B Chavan was an alumnus of the school. Chavan often came to his home-town and I had the opportunity to watch him and hear his speeches from close quarters. Often, he wore his famous grin from ear to ear and mingled with party workers and others freely. These and several other incidents  flashed before my mind when his birth centenary celebrations were launched recently.

As the chief minister of the Mumbai bi-lingual state and as the first chief minister of Maharashtra, Chavan was instrumental in shaping the destiny of the state to a great extent. He outlined his vision for a new Maharashtra when the state was carved out in 1960. He took many decisions having far-reaching impact on the cultural, social, political and economic sectors of the state. The policies he laid down were followed by his successors. Under his enlightened leadership, Maharashtra became possibly the most progressive state in the country. Three decades after his demise, he continues to be a role model for political leaders and thinkers of the state.  Chavan had a flair for writing - as is noticed in his numerous writings, including the letters written to his wife, Venutai. I happened to read some pages from his first and the only volume of his incomplete autobiography, "Krishna Kath" and I regretted that he could not complete his memories. People would have got an insight into the personal life of this great personality and also into what went on in New Delhi, especially before and after the Emergency.

Chavan was a true leader of the masses. He had a direct rapport with political workers across Maharashtra. In his public career spanning five decades, he had nurtured close associations with people from different walks of life. He knew the pulse of the state, over which he never lost control, although he was in New Delhi for two decades. He knew innumerable rural leaders by name. He knew their families and even years after their last meeting, he could recognise the people and would inquire about their families - a feat few political leaders can match today. The rural folks were welcomed with open arms whenever they visited the residence of the ‘Saheb’ in New Delhi.

Chavan epitomised Maharashtra in New Delhi and belonged to the political genre of K Kamaraj and Devraj Urs. It's a pity that the tribe of leaders of such stature, values and concern for the people is becoming extinct in Maharashtra and also in the country.

Ghogargaon – First MSFS mission in Nagpur diocese

Ghogargaon – First MSFS mission in Nagpur diocese


Fr Gurien Jacquier of Ghogargaon   (Catholic Mission in Aurangabad diocese - 1892  onwards)

By Camil  Parkhe 

Published by SFS Publications, Bangalore

Till the middle of the 19th century, Christianity was almost non-existent in Central India. The Christians in this area were mainly the Irish, Goan and Tamil soldiers at the garrisons of the East India Company. The Goan priests of the Golcoda mission used to visit them occasionally.  
The MSFS or Fransalian congregation was founded by Fr Peter Marie-Mermier  (1862) in France on October 24, 1838 under the patronage of St Francis de Sales. The vast mission territory of Visakhapatnam in India was entrusted to the MSFS in 1845. Fr Mermier sent his best six men for the new mission. Fr Jacques Martin, Fr Joseph Lavorel, Fr Jean Marie Tissot, Fr Jean Thevenet, Bro Pierre Carton and Bro Sulpice Fontanel boarded the ship on June 8, 1845 and arrived at Pondicherry on September 8, 1845.
Visakhapatnam mission then included parts of the present day states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra.  Its four mission centres were Visakhapatnam, Yanam, Kamptee and Aurangabad.
Many of the missionaries who came to India learned many Indian languages and some of them even wrote books in these languages. The Visakhapatanam mission was divided into two in 1887, forming the new diocese of Nagpur, with Alexis Riccaz (MSFS) as its first bishop. During the last 125 years, this Nagpur diocese was further bifurcated to form various dioceses including Nagpur (1887),  Amravati (1955) and Aurangabad (1978).  During these years, the Fransalians too have spread out to the other parts of India. This religious congregation today has five provinces in India, namely Visakhapatanam, South–West, North–East, Nagpur and Pune.1
The first Fransalian missionaries, Fr Jean Thevnet and Fr Joseph Lavorerl, arrived in Central India in 1846. At that time, there were only three priests in the whole central India – Fr Murphy, Irish chaplain at Kamptee, his Tamil assistant Fr Emmanuel and Fr O’Driscoll, a military chaplain in Jalna.
            The Fransalian missionaries made several attempts to open mission centres in central India but they were unsuccessful. Fr Lavorel tried to work in Mandla in Madhya Pradesh. Fr Benistrand tried to work among the Kunbis and the Mangs in the Deccan and among the Kurkus in Vidarbha. An orphanage was also opened at Thana near Nagpur in 1865 but with limited success. 2
            The breakthrough came in 1892 when the first mission centre for the local people was opened at Ghogargaon in Aurangabad district.  There is an interesting story revealing how the seeds of Christianity were sowed in this region, now called Marathwada. 

            A mission among the Mahars had been opened by the Jesuits in neighbouring Ahmednagar district, on the other side of the Godavari River, in 1878. Other Jesuit mission centres followed at Kendal in 1879, Walan in 1889 and Sangamner in 1892. By that time, the number of the Catholic Mahars in Ahmednagar district had risen to 1,000 under Fr Marcel D’Souza, Fr Otto Weishaupt and Fr Kraig.

Some 16 miles from Kendal was Ghogargaon village, on the left side of the Godavari. It had half-a-dozen stone and brick houses, a 100 mud houses. Outside the village lived the Mahars, the Dalits who were one of the untouchable communities during those days. An orphaned young Mahar from Ghogargaon, Nathu Raphael Shingare, had married a girl from Walan. There he saw the Jesuit mission, became a Catholic and later a catechist of Fr Weishaupt. On his return to his village Ghogargaon in 1892, Nathu Raphael gave a glorious account of the Walan mission to his neighbours and relatives. The local people who were denied development and progress for generations were indeed impressed. They immediately sent a delegation to Walan with a request to the Jesuit fathers to start a mission center in Ghogargaon.

Walan parish priest, Fr Kraig, paid a visit to the village to see the situation there. As Ghogargaon then belonged to the Nagpur diocese, he informed the chaplain of Aurangabad, Fr Montagnoux, of the local people’s desire to become Christians. Fr Montagnoux forwarded the request to Nagpur. At that time, Nagpur had no bishop after the recent death of Bishop Riccaz. Thus, in October 1892, Fr Pelvat, Nagpur diocesan administrator, received a letter telling him that several people from the village of Ghogargaon were asking for a school and were desiring to become Christians.
Bishop Riccaz had wanted to open a mission centre among non-Christians. Fr Pelvat welcomed the proposal and appointed Fr Thomas Marian to open the first Catholic mission in the Moghulai.


1) Fransalians, website of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales (MSFS)

2) Fr Francis Moget (MSFS), “The Missionaries of St Francis de Sales of Annecy’, SFS Publications, Vinayalaya, Bangalore, Karnataka 560 055 (1985). Distributors: Asian Trading Corporation, 150, Brigade Road, Bangalore- 560 025 (pages 268-260)

Arrival of Christianity in Nizam’s Hyderabad state

Arrival of Christianity in Nizam’s Hyderabad state

From 'Fr  Gurien Jacquier of Ghogargaon 

(Catholic mission in Aurangabad diocese - 1892  onwards)

By Camil Parkhe

Published by: SFS Publications, Bangalore

Christianity in India is 2000 years old. It was St Thomas the Apostle - one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ - who first preached the gospel in Kerala, the southern parts of the country. Christianity took deep roots in Goa and Vasai in Thane district in Maharashtra after the arrival of the Portuguese at the west coast of India in the medieval period. A group of Jesuits were also present for some time in the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar in the 17th century. Christianity, however, did not spread in north India during those days.
The British East India established its political rule in India in early 19th century. Its military officials and soldiers were Catholics and Protestants and therefore Christian priests were needed in various cantonment areas to serve as military chaplains. The rulers of various princely states in the country also had Europeans or Goan Christians as officers and soldiers and they too needed Christian priests at their military bases. The rulers therefore donated land for building of the churches. This marked the arrival of the first Christians in different parts of the country, followed by the military chaplains and later the construction of chapels and churches in the nook and corner of the country. For example, the first church in western Maharashtra, Immaculate Conception Church or the City Church, was constructed in Pune on a land given by Savai Madhavrao Peshawa II (1774- 1795) in 1792.1
  According to Indian Catholic Church’s historian, Fr Ernest R Hull (S J ), since 1812 Fr Lopes da Conceicao, parish priest at this Pune’s City Church, used to visit the Catholic soldiers in Aurangabad where a chapel was built for the soldiers. He also visited the soldiers of the British camp in Sattor (probably Shirur in Pune district) and in Jalna, ministering to the European and Indian troops alike and the civilians. 2
 The first church in Nizam’s Hyderabad princely state was constructed at Sycundarabad by Thomas Midlton, a Protestant priest. The Society for Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) launched its missionary work in Jalna. The school opened by the SPG in Jalna offered education to children belonging to all castes and religions. The schools opened by the Hyderabad’s ruler Nizam had Urdu as medium of instruction and the Muslim teachers employed there also allowed mingling of the untouchable castes children with high castes Hindu children. This used to anger the high caste Hindus who did not wish to send their children to mingle with the children belonging to the lower and untouchable castes. But often they had no other alternative as during those days there were no other institutions offering formal education to children.
The SPG appointed Rev Narayanshastri Sheshadri to its Jalna mission centre in 1862. Rev Sheshadri expanded the missionary activities in this part of the Marathwada region.  Under his leadership, 1011 people belonging to the untouchable castes embraced Christianity in 1868. These Dalits (the depressed people) included people belonging to the  untouchable Mang, Mahar and Chambar (cobbler) castes. Along with his religious apostolate, Rev Sheshadri also worked for the social upliftment of the untouchables. He was one of the veteran social reformers of his age.
Rev Sheshadri had obtained from Sir Salarjung, the then prime minister of the Nizam, the ruler of Hyderabad state, 800 acres of land on 25 years lease without any taxes. On this barren land, Rev Sheshadri established a new village, Bethel, also called Bethelwadi. There, he built a colony for the people who had converted to Christianity, all of whom were untouchables. There he dug up six wells, built a market place, a church and also a  mosque for the new settlement. Dr L Y Aucharmal who has written history of the Dalit liberation movement in Nizam’s Hyderabad state, has said that the establishment of an independent colony for the untouchable community was indeed a revolutionary step taken by Rev Sheshadri. He has said that this independent colony was a big slap for the prevailing social inequality. An independent colony for the untouchables was indeed a better option for these people who otherwise were leading a banished life outside the boundary of the village. 3
When Fr Jacquier arrived in Ghogargaon, Christianity had already made its presence felt in the Nizam’s Hyderabad princely  state. The Catholic Church’s work in Marathwada was, however, confined to the military officers and soldiers employed in the British camps. Fr Marian Thomas, founder of Ghogargaon mission, and his successor Fr Jacquier were the pioneer missionaries working among the local populace in the Marathwada region.     


1) Catholic Diocese of Pune  – Directory 2006, Published by Bishop’s House, Pune  (Page 13)

2) Fr Ernest R Hull (S J ) ‘Bombay Mission History – With a special study of the Padroado question’, Examiner Press, Mumbai, Retailed by B X Furtado and Sons, Mumbai (page 201)

3) Dr L Y Aucharmal, ‘Ambedkari Chalwal Aani Hyderabad Sansthanateel Dalit Mukti Sangram’, (Ambedkarite movement and participation of Dalits in liberation of Hyderabad princely state),  Publisher: Usha Wagh, Sugawa Prakashan, 861/1, Sadashiv Peth, Pune 411 030 (1997)
                                                                                                * * * * * *

Fr Gurien Jacquier of Ghogargaon - A pilgrimage

A pilgrimage to Ghogargaon

First chapter of 'Fr  Gurien Jacquier of Ghogargaon

 (Catholic mission in Aurangabad diocese - 1892  onwards)' 

By Camil Parkhe
Published by: SFS Publications, Bangalore

The year is 2005. I have reached Ghogargaon where well over a century back a French missionary, Fr Gurien Jacquier, had arrived  to make this place his permanent abode. For thousands of Christians in Marathwada region and neighbouring Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, Ghogargaon is synonymous with Fr Jacquier -  affectionately called as Jacquirbaba.
I have especially come from Chinchwad in Pune on a pilgrimage to Ghogargaon to trace the footmarks left behind by this frail, six-feet- tall Frenchman responsible for sowing the seeds of Christianity in Aurangabad district. The large number of Christians from the district, formerly belonging to the Mahar community - an untouchable caste of Hindu society - owe their religious and social transformation to this Fransalian religious congregation priest.
Of course, the travel to Ghogargaon has not been a smooth ride. As compared to any average villages in the progressive state of  Maharashtra, Ghogargaon can be rightly called as one of the most backward areas. Hundred years back, this village was the hub of missionary activities with bishops and priests from Nagpur, Aurangabad and Pune traveling there regularly on horse back and in horse carts to administer sacraments to people in neighbouring villages assembled there. Now, Ghogargaon seems to have lost its prominence and glory as it lies in a remote area, far away from the taluka or district headquarters.
Although the village is in India’s most progressive and industrial state, Maharashtra, it is not accessible by a descent  tar road. And therefore even the government-owned buses do not ply there in 2008, some six decades after India won its independence from the British regime. The 13-km muddy, dusty road  from Mahalgaon to Ghogargaon with its so many pot-holes is at most best suited for the ancient transport mode of bullock carts and the tough, heavy vehicles like trucks, tempos and jeeps and two-wheelers like motorcycles. Urban folks will be advised not to venture on this road with their cars which are best suited for smooth, tarred roads.
Before reaching here from Pune, I had gone to my home town, Shrirampur, to bring along my mother to this village. My mother, Marthabai, by now almost octogenarian hails from this village. Though all her brothers are dead now, bai  has kept in touch with her nephews residing in the village. When I decided to undertake this pilgrimage to Ghogargaon, it was most natural for me to ask Bai, my mother, to accompany me to birthplace and to meet the sons, grandchildren and even great grandchildren of her siblings there.
After traveling from Shrirampur to Vaijapur by a government transport bus, we inquire about the goods carrier tempos which leave for Ghogargaon. We are told that there is only one tempo which would leave in the evening. Three hours later, we travel in the vehicle fully packed with people carrying with them grains, vegetables and various materials purchased in Vaijapur’s weekly bazaar. There is no slightest place to move any of our limbs. I tell myself, “Ghogargaon was perhaps easily accessible three decades ago when my mother and my siblings traveled from Shrirampur to this village in bullock carts driven by my maternal uncles.”              
As the goods carrier approaches Ghogargaon, I try to search in the horizon for the tall tower of the Christ the King Church  Jacquierbaba had built on this village.
We have now reached Ghogargaon.  We have to first cross the Fatherbadi - the church complex which includes the church, the residences of the priests and the nuns, the secondary school and the hostels for the boys and girls - to reach to my uncles’ houses. My mother and all of us get out of the vehicle near the church. The church doors are closed at this hour. Bai then heads straight to a small memorial on the eastern side of the church. It houses the tombs of two former head priests of this parish. Bai adjusts her saree’s end corner over her head reverentially, makes the sign of the cross and utters a short prayer in Marathi language in front of the tomb of Fr Jacquier. The other tomb is of  Fr Jacquier’s disciple and the first son of the soil priest in Maharashtra (excluding the Mumbai and Vasai region) Fr Joseph Monteiro. After the prayer, Bai reverentially places her right hand on the tomb and then touches her head. Then she completes a Pradakshina  (circumambulation),  a local tradition of paying obeisance, around the tomb. 
I am visiting this place of my ancestors after a gap of over 30 years and I am filled with nostalgia. I understand my mother’s feelings towards Jacquierbaba. The local church records may perhaps reveal that this French missionary had baptised her in early 1930s when she was an infant. It was Fr Jacquier who had solemnised my parents’  marriage in early 1940s. Fr Jacquier is venerated by people in this region as a saint although the Catholic Church has not yet initiated the process to canonise this MSFS priest. A memorial around the tombs of the two MSFS priests was erected in 1997 on the occasion of the 50th death anniversary of Fr Jacquier. The bullock cart in which Jacquierbaba travelled to preach the gospel in nearby rural areas also been kept in the memorial. 
I have come to Ghogargaon on a pilgrimage, to pay homage to this extraordinary missionary. Jacquierbaba  had  almost single-handedly tried to transform the lives of the people in Gangapur and Vaijapur talukas of the district. After spending a few moment in silence at the monument, I am now able to recover from the fatigue of the day-long journey to this obscure village.
Not many people outside the Aurangabad diocese have heard of this missionary who almost single-handedly sowed seeds of Christianity in this region. He had also offered educational facilities to children of the Christians and non-Christians for over four decades when schools were non-existent in the rural areas in early 20th century. Like Ghogargaon, Jacquierbaba this mission centre’s parish priest for four decades, too now has moved away from the limelight and may as well soon fade into the oblivion. This book is an attempt to highlight the contribution of this pioneer missionary and social reformer belonging to the pre-Independence era.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Kirtankar Satyavan Namdeo Suryavanshi

Journalist, kirtankar  Satyavan Namdeo Suryavanshi

Baba Padmanji, Rev. Narayan Vaman Tilak, Pandita Ramabai and Laxmibai Tilak, all Christians, have contributed a great deal to the social transformation in Maharashtra during the pre-Independence era. Satyavan Namdeo Suryavanshi, the editor of 'Aapan (We)' weekly and a prolific author, carried forward this tradition in independent India. He successfully explored several fields- journalism, literature, kirtan, social awareness and spiritualism, and won acclaim across Maharashtra.
Suryavanshi edited a Marathi weekly 'Aapan' established by the Jesuits. Though run by Christian priests, it was popular among readers of all religions. The credit goes to Suryavanshi's editorial skills and aggressive writing. In the past 175 years, Christian missionaries have published many Marathi periodicals. However, 'Aapan' has been the only periodical, which found wide acceptance among non-Christian readers besides a place in the government and semi- government public libraries. Those familiar with 'Aapan' at its peak would agree that the wide acceptance was only because of Suryavanshi’s firebrand editorship.
Suryavanshi wrote over 300 books in Marathi literature- some 25 novels, translations, biographies, plays, songs and research publications. He was also popular as a Kirtankar, delivering the traditional kirtans. Kirtan is an old tradition in Maharashtra wherein spiritual leaders deliver religious discourses, interspersed with stories, hymns and accompanied by musical instruments like harmonium, cymbals etc.

Suryavanshi's kirtans got tremendous applause from the Marathi Christian community of western and northern Maharashtra. The neo-Christians of western Maharashtra and Marathwada, Konkani-speaking 'Bardeskar' Christians from border areas of Kolhapur, Belgaum, Sindhudurg districts, and the Christians from Mumbai-Vasai area – come from varied cultural and religious backgrounds. Suryavanshi had won an award for one of his books from Maharashtra government and his three books won awards instituted by the Government of India.

Satyavan Suryavanshi was born in Hange village of Parner taluka in Ahmednagar district on 31 March 1916. His father was a teacher in a school run by the American Marathi Mission. Although his family had embraced Christianity, in the eyes of the majority of local population they were still 'Mahar', an untouchable caste, and were treated with contempt. Young Satyavan was educated in Ahmednagar. Despite appearing twice, he could not clear his matriculation examination and came to Mumbai in search of work. He used to work during the day and spend the nights on the open footpaths.
The job was that of a lowly servant in a Christian bookshop run by the Bombay Tract and Book Society. He motivated himself to write a Marathi play on the birth of Lord Jesus, entitled Yeshu Balacha Janma and sent it for publication to Devdatt Tilak, son of veteran poet Rev Narayan Vaman Tilak, at Nashik. A few days later, Devdatt Tilak came to the bookshop in Mumbai, searching for the author of the play. It was then that the bookshop's manager, Elizabeth Morland, came to know that the boy who swept the floor of the shop was an author as well. Morland promoted him to the post of a salesman in the shop. She also made Suryavanshi to write several books for the Protestant Mission. Moreland molded him into a writer- journalist.

Instead of rushing his writings for publication, Moreland advised him to read them carefully and rewrite them repeatedly. He followed her advice even after becoming the editor of 'Aapan' and later having made a name as a writer.

Suryavanshi got married at Ghodnadi town (Shirur) on 1 January 1940. He and his wife, Mira, lived in a chawl at Mazgaon in Mumbai, from where he began writing for various Marathi periodicals and started performing kirtans.

After 1945, Suryavanshi worked at the Karnataka Press owned by Marathi publisher B G Dhavale for a year and a half. Thereafter he worked for the 'Tatvavivechak' of Madhusudan Mehta and at the British India Press for seven years each. His experience in the printing business helped him immensely later as the editor of 'Aapan'.

During his stay in Mumbai, Suryavanshi wrote in various reputed Marathi periodicals like - Mauj, Navyug, Navakal, and Kirloskar. He also wrote Marathi plays for the All India Radio for several years.

While working at the British India Press, he became a member of the Bombay Labour Union and formed a close association with socialist leaders George Fernandes (who later rose to become India's Defence Minister), Madhu Limaye and Mrinal Gore. He was a deputy to George Fernandes who was then president of the union. Recalling those days, Suryavanshi wrote in his autobiography, "George Fernandes was of the view that I should quit my job at the British India Press and work fulltime at the union office and participate in politics. But I was not keen to become a socialist and I did not want to give up my writing to join politics. I had valid reasons to fear for my faith in God and religion if I had joined these people.''

We do not know whether Suryavanshi would have become a major political leader or successfully led a labour movement had he continued his association with Fernandes and the socialists. His resolve to never enter politics nonetheless proved a boon for the Marathi-speaking Christian community, which got a great writer, journalist and a kirtankar in him.

Suryavanshi served as a bridge between Catholics and Protestants. Till his middle age, he had absolutely no association with the Catholics. He was associated only with the Protestant community as a student and also as an employee of a Protestant Mission. He also performed kirtans for gatherings and functions of Protestants. He first came in contact with the Catholic community much later but maintained the association till his death.

While working in the British India Press, Suryavanshi was once invited by Fr J S Miranda, a social worker from Vasai in Thane district, to perform a kirtan at the famous Mount Mary Church in Bandra. Suryavanshi was taken aback by the invitation to deliver a kirtan at a Catholic Church. Suryavanshi performed kirtan at the church for four hours to the accompaniment of a tabla and a harmonium. The tradition of performing kirtans was prevalent among the Marathi Christians, thanks to Rev Tilak and other Protestant missionaries. But this was fro the first time a kirtan was performed in a Catholic Church. And the performer was a Protestant! This was indeed a historical event. Suryavanshi's kirtan at Mount Mary Church took place even before the second Vatican Council, which advocated ecumenical dialogue. In his autobiography, Suryavanshi described the event symbolising unity of the two sects in the following words: 'On that night, a strong wall collapsed with a big bang!'

As soon as the kirtan in Bandra church was over, another Catholic priest who was present there invited Suryavanshi to perform at his church in Vasai. This priest was Fr Dominic Abreo, parish priest of the church at Papadi in Vasai near Thane. Fr Abreo was also the editor of a Marathi magazine 'Suvarta (The Good News), published by the Mumbai archdiocese. Fr Abreo was later to become the bishop of Aurangabad diocese and also to preside over the Marathi Khristi Sahitya Sammelan (Marathi Christian literary conference). Repeat invitations extended to Suryavanshi to perform kirtans at Catholic churches meant recognition to his talent. He himself wrote later that "since then, new avenues were opened to me.''

The Bandra and Vasai kirtans brought Suryavanshi closer to the Catholics and Catholic priests. The Jesuit priests later entrusted him with the responsibility of the editorship of the Marathi weekly 'Aapan'.

A young European Jesuit, Fr Joaquim Barranco, once called on Suryavanshi at the British India Press. Fr Barranco was well versed with Marathi literature. Barranco and Suryavanshi became close friends. When Fr Barranco moved from Pune to Nashik, he invited Suryavanshi to work with him there. Suryavanshi bid adieu to Mumbai - the city where he had lived for 28-years- and went to Nashik to work with the Catholic missionary. The close ties between this Protestant kirtankar and a Catholic priest shocked many and caused dismay among some. But the friendship lasted till Fr Barranco's accidental death a few years later. Because of Fr Barranco, Suryavanshi also came in close contact with Fr Vincent Ferrer of Manmad.

Fr Barranco had brought Suryavanshi to Nashik for a specific mission. He had very well judged the literary talent and writing skills of Suryavanshi. Among the Catholics, there was no one like Suryavanshi who was gifted with a literary genius and the ability to communicate through his kirtans so effectively!

Fr Barranco had decided to take help of his talented Protestant friend in his missionary work. He started the Marathi weekly 'Aapan’, which was owned and published by the Jesuits. Suryavanshi ran the periodical successfully for nearly a decade and did full justice to the faith reposed by Fr Barranco in him.

Before coming to Mumbai in search for a job, Suryavanshi had once heard a kirtan by Gadge Baba, a veteran social reformer in Maharashtra. Gadge Baba who had cast a spell even on great persons like Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar preached the message of cleanliness, personal hygiene, education, etc., through his kirtans at various places in Maharashtra. Gadge Maharaj who spoke the dialect of the local people delivered the kirtans in his typical rustic style. This style highly impressed Suryavanshi. Later in his autobiography, he wrote about Gadge Baba, "His dialect accent was easy to understand, had meaningful discourse, typical tune, the Abhangas, and the exclusive clap, which only Baba could do. I remember all this ditto." Gadge Baba referred to various Hindu deities in his kirtan but Suryavanshi could sense Christ in his kirtan. He further added, "For me, kirtan never got over. It kept on ringing in my ears throughout my life". Suryavanshi took inspiration from Gadge Baba and became a successful kirtankar.

When Suryavanshi started performing kirtans, he gradually made several changes in his style. Initially, he used to play ektari, a musical instrument with a single string. The tunes used to be of folk songs. Later he introduced the use of other musical instruments like cymbals and mrudung for rhythm. There were times when people interested in his kirtans could not afford an orchestra for accompaniment. He, therefore, used to sing with accompaniment of harmonium and tabala only. Wherever he was invited, he used to take help of local artists for playing the musical instruments. Such an accompaniment was easily available as Marathi Christian community in Maharashtra used these musical instruments in their religious ceremonies.

Suryavanshi never accepted any honorarium for his kirtans. He was also not in favour of passing around a hat or a plate for collecting donations. He has written in this context, "I charge money for writing because that is my profession. But I do not charge for kirtan as I consider it worship. Delivering the kirtan is my way of thanking God for whatever he has given me. My only expectation is that I should be paid third class tariff for my to and fro journey. I will not charge for kirtan. That is a commitment I have made with God!"

The editor of Marathi monthly ‘Niropya’, Fr. Prabhudhar, who was based at Ajra in Kolhapur district, once invited Suryavanshi for delivering a kirtan for the Bardeskar community living in the border area of Maharashtra - Karnataka. The Bardeskars are Catholics who had migrated from the Bardez taluka of Goa in late 19th century and settled in Kolhapur and Sindhudurg districts of Maharashtra and Belgaum district of Karnataka. Suryavanshi, accompanied by his wife Mira, toured the areas and delivered several kirtans in February 1980. Fr Prabhudhar, who was Ajra parish priest at that time, had offered his own jeep to the Suryavanshi couple for this purpose. As Suryavanshi used the medium of kirtan for religious worships in various villages during the month-long period, the Jesuit parish priest traveled by State Transport buses to carry out his routine functions.

There was an overwhelming response to Suryavanshi's kirtan from the Bardeskar community. A few months later, Suryavanshi wrote a series of articles in 'Niropya' describing his experiences of performing at the base of the Sahyadri range of mountains in western Maharashtra and about the Bardeskars who have retained their distinct cultural identity.

At the end of the series, he wrote, "Fr Prabhudhar utilised my services as a kirtankar for a whole month. If any one utilises my services for religious purpose in this fashion for eleven months, I will be ever thankful to God".

S N Suryavanshi was the first person to acquire respect of the Catholic and Protestant sects in Maharashtra. With his writings and kirtans he crossed all sectarian boundaries. Many people who were acquainted with him were not aware whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant. Both the Catholics and Protestants strongly felt that he was one of them. Suryavanshi himself used to say that he was only a Christian and thus used to mingle freely between the two sects.

Pune Khristi Sahitya Sangh honoured him with the title 'Sahitya Bhushan ' (Pride of Literature)a few months before his demise. Several leaders of the Protestant community in Maharashtra like Sudhir Sharma, then President of Marathi Khristi Sahitya Parishad and editor of 'Dnyanoday' Marathi monthly, poet Niranjan Ujagare, and educationist Jayantkumar Tribhuvan, were present at the function to felicitate this literary giant and kirtankar. Suryavanshi who traveled from Nashik to Pune for the function stayed at ‘Snehasadan’, an institute run by the Jesuits. He stayed there as a guest of Fr Joe Gaikwad, the then editor of 'Niropya' monthly. Suryavanshi's personality was such that he could win admiration of people belonging to both the sects of Christianity.

In his autobiography 'Aga Je Kalpile Nahi’, Suryavanshi has said- 'I am a Protestant for the Protestants, and a Catholic for the Catholics! I have fans in both communities and they shower equal love on me. For the sake of Christ, I treat them alike.'

Suryavanshi's decade-long career as the editor of 'Aapan' was the zenith of his long writing career. His editorials, well-researched articles and hilarious columns like 'Narba Liwatoy' (Narba, a fictitious character, writes) won wide applause in the rural parts of Ahmednagar, Nashik and Aurangabad districts. Many Christian families, who could not afford to subscribe a daily newspaper, used to await the arrival of the weekly 'Aapan' and 'Niropya' monthly. Like all weeklies, 'Aapan' used to be released on Sundays and would hit the stands a day or two earlier. I still recall the Friday evenings when `Aapan' used to land in our house and how during meals I used to read aloud 'Narba Liwatoy' for everybody in the family. The conversation between the rustic Narba, his family members and an old lady next doors, used to be favourite reading for my mother, father and other members of our family. Over three decades have lapsed since 'Aapan' had to be closed down but Suryavanshi's Narba, his family and Jiji, the old lady in the neighbourhood are still alive in my mind. Such was the magic of his writing skills.

Suryavanshi's literary works include humour pieces, plays, novels, research papers, radio plays, translated literature, travel accounts, spiritual literature, biographies, poetry and an autobiography. He wrote biographies of some Christian missionaries in Maharashtra like the founder of Ahmednagar College, Dr. Bhaskarrao Hiwale, Sundarabai Pawar, Dr William Wanless of Miraj, poet Krishnaji Ratnaji Sangale, Rev H. G. Howard of Kodoli, and Rev Bhaskarrao Ujagare. He has authored about 300 books. His autobiography, 'Aga Je Kalpile Nahi!', published in early 1970s, is one of the first Dalit autobiographies of Maharashtra, a trend that virtually revolutionised Marathi literature in the last quarter of the 20th century.

During his lifetime, Suryavanshi was honoured with various awards and also presided over various literary gatherings. He was the president of the Marathi Khristi Sahitya Parishad held in Mumbai in July 1978 and also of the Marathi Khristi Sahitya Sammelan held at De Nobili College in Pune in the same year. He was also the president of the second Marathi Dalit Khristi Sahitya Sammelan, held at Jalna in May 1993.

This great litterateur and journalist passed away at Nashik on June 11, 2000 when he was 85. Suryavanshi used his pen aggressively to refute false allegations against the Christian community, such as it was not patriotic enough and its culture was not rooted in this soil.

The 'Aapan' weekly, published 30 years ago, used to pay honorarium to even novice contributors. It shows how much Suryavanshi respected the creativity and talent of his contributors. Prestigious periodicals even today do not follow this practice.

While I was in the 10th standard, 'Aapan' published two of my stories for children and the editor promptly sent me an honorarium of Rs five each by postal money order. It was a pleasant surprise for me. It was the first honorarium that I received for writing. It was also for the first time that I received a postal correspondence in my own name. In later years, writing became the only source of income as I opted for journalism and writing as a career. Nonetheless, I still remember the first postal money order that I received 30 years ago as payment for my writing

During his career as editor, writer and kirtankar for over four-decades, Suryavanshi motivated many Christian youngsters like me to take up writing and join various media. Although I have been a fervent admirer of Suryavanshi right from my childhood, I never got an opportunity to meet him or talk to him. I have always regretted it.

I never had the occasion to attend his kirtans, which were very popular in the 1970s and 1980s. I was in Goa, away from Maharashtra, for 14 years when Suryavanshi was at the peak of his career. This was one of the reasons why I did not get an opportunity to meet this great person.

A few months before his demise, Suryavanshi was felicitated in Pune and this was the first and the last time I had an opportunity to see him and hear him speak. Setting my eyes on him for the first time and noting his every word, I realised how much of an ardent admirer I was of him. I am sure there would be many more admirers like me in Maharashtra who admire and respect Suryavanshi.

References: -

1) 'Aga Je Kalpile Nahi!'- Satyavan Namdeo Suryavanshi. Sumant Dayanand Karandikar, Secretary, Bombay Tract and Book Society, 21 Hajarimal Somani Marg, Mumbai 400 001 (1975). For Mangal Sahitya Prakashan.

2) 'Suvartik’ (An evangelist) - Sahityik Acharya S. N. Suryavanshi', Philomina Bagul, Niropya Magazine, (August 2000).

3) 'Khristi Marathi Vangmay (Father Stephens Te 1960 Akher)' Dr. Gangadhar Narayan Morje, Publisher - Ahmednagar College, Ahmednagar and Snehasadan, Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030. Distributor - A. J. Prabhu, Vidarbha Marathwada Book Company, 1334 Shukrawar Peth, Pune 411 002, (1984


Fr. Nahemya Nilakanthashastri Gore

 Fr. Nahemya Nilakanthashastri Gore – First Marathi missionary

 During the peak of British rule in India, many scholars from Maharashtra embraced Christianity after coming in contact with the Christian missionaries. Nahemya Nilakanthashastri Gore was one of the prominent amongst them. A great commotion broke out in Maharashtra when Nilakanthashastri from a high caste Brahmin family converted to Christianity. Soon thereafter, inspired by Gore's example, another Sanskrit scholar Pandita Ramabai, Shahu Daji Kukade (later editor of Marathi weekly Dnyanoday), and others also embraced Christianity. These persons have made valuable contribution to Maharashtrian society. The history of modern Maharashtra remains incomplete without the mention of Nilakanthashastri Gore, for he played an important role during his time. He deserves to be called the father of Marathi-speaking Christian missionaries.
 V. G. Kanitkar, an acclaimed Marathi author, was so fascinated by this unique personality of the 19th century that he wrote a novel based on Nahemya Gore's life. The novel, Horpal (anguish), ends with Nilakantha Shastri’s conversion to Christianity. The novel is amongst the best literary works by Kanitkar.
 Nilakantha Shastri was born in village Khashipura, about 50 miles from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. His lineage was of high caste Chitpavan Brahmins. His father Shivram Shastri was born in Pune and settled in north India. Nilakanthashastri spent his childhood in Varanasi (previously called as Banaras) pilgrim town. One of his uncles was a diwan (courtier) of the local princely state and therefore, they were financially well off. In Varanasi, Nilakantha Shastri studied grammar, Vedanta, Upanishads, and poetry thoroughly and earned the coveted pandit title. He gained the reputation of being a scholar with a high acumen and skill for argument. He attended discourses by Christian missionaries to prove that the Christian teachings were all wrong. That brought him in contact with Rev William Smith. Nilakanthashastri studied the Bible between 1844 and 1848, and the scholar who intended to prove Christianity wrong changed his opinion. He embraced Christianity in Jonepur on March 14, 1848. After being baptised, he adopted the name ‘Nahemya’, one of the prophets from the Old Testament of the Holy Bible.
 Nilakanthashastri was the first Marathi speaking scholar to study the Holy Bible with the intention of criticism and convert to Christianity. This was to happen again with Baba Padamanji and Narayan Vaman Tilak, two other veteran Marathi Christians missionaries. 
 There was a great commotion in Varanasi town when a Sanskrit scholar like Nilakanthashastri Gore embraced Christianity. Veteran Marathi writer Laxmibai Tilak has narrated in her acclaimed autobiography Smriti-Chitre (Memoirs) how her husband, Narayan Vaman Tilak, and his family had to face the outrage of his relatives and other members of the society after his conversion to Christianity. Nilakantha Shastri Gore had become Christian five decades before Tilak and so the outrage caused in the society due to his conversion can be well imagined. Nilakanthashastri Gore, Narayan Vaman Tilak and Pandita Ramabai belonged to the high caste Chitpawan Brahmin caste and it was only natural that there would be a strong reaction to their conversion to Christianity. After the conversion, Nilakanthashastri’s family members severed ties with him. The society too ostracised him. Gore was severely attacked in local newspapers as well for converting to Christianity.

At the time of conversion, Nilakantha Shastri was merely 23-years-old. He was married. His family members kept his wife and small daughter away from him. Therefore, he had to take help of the local court to secure the custody of his wife and the young daughter. Five years after his conversion, his wife and daughter also embraced Christianity. A few years later, Nilakanthashastri’s wife passed away.

A century and a half ago, it was very common to find a person changing religion being separated from his dear ones. There was a stigma attached to conversion of high caste persons to Christianity.   The elders in the family would shield away the convert’s wife and children. Therefore, approaching the courts seemed the only recourse for these persons to seek unity with their spouses and children. After Rev Tilak’s conversion to Christianity, he found it difficult to have even a glimpse of his wife, Laxmibai, and their young son, Devadatt. This Sanskrit pandit managed to meet Laxmibai for a few seconds only after he threatened her relatives of legal action through a local magistrate! After his conversion, Rev Baba Padamanji too waited for five years for his wife to come back to him and finally remarried when she refused to return. After his conversion, Ramchandra Pawar, father of Sundarabai Pawar, a veteran social reformer and Protestant  missionary, took help of the court to rescue his wife from the clutches of her relatives. It was only after his wife repeated thrice before a court that she wanted to live with her husband that the court allowed her to be with him. A similar incident had taken place in the case of Rev. Hari Ramchandra Khisti, too.
 In Varanasi, Nilakanthashastri was introduced to Maharaja Duleep Singh, the young royal from Punjab, and they became close friends. In April 1854, Yuvraj Duleep Singh went to England and he took Nilakantha Shastri as a teacher along with him. During his stay abroad, Nilakanthashastri came in contact with many important people. He also met the Queen of England, Queen Victoria. This scholar was welcomed in cities like London, Oxford and Cambridge. While in Oxford, he met senior scholar Prof. Frederic Maxmuller who had a special attachment with India.
After staying in England for one and a half-years, he returned to his motherland in November 1855.
On returning from England, Nilakanthashastri carried on with his missionary work in Mumbai, Pune and Ahmednagar. Due to his in-depth knowledge of Sanskrit, good command over English and an impressive oratory, Nilakanthashastri made an impact on the educated minds of those times. As a result of his four lecture series in Ahmednagar, three young men - Mohamadji Kasimbhai, Ratnoji Nauroji and Shahu Daji Kukade - embraced Christianity. All the three worked as Christian missionaries later.
For some time, Nilakanthashastri worked as the headmaster of a girls’ school. Later he joined Gospel Propagation Society and in 1861 started working as the head of the mission for the south zone.
In 1876, Nilakanthashastri again left for England. But this time, he went there as a novice of the priests’ congregation, known as the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. Nilakanthashastri joined this congregation to become a priest at the age of 53.
 After returning to India, Rev. Nilakanthashastri stayed at Indore for some time. Around 1879, he settled in Pune. Thereafter, he lived at Panch Haud Mission in Pune for a long time. He used to hold  discussions with Hindu religious reformists, Brahmo Samajists, Arya Samajists, and Prarthana Samajists.
 Rev Nilakanthashastri played a major role in the conversion of Sanskrit scholar Pandita Ramabai. While in England, Ramabai had decided to embrace Christianity but after some time, she had a second thought about her decision. Rev Gore helped her to come out of her dilemma. Even Rev Gore himself had faced a similar situation at the time of his conversion. He well understood the need for counseling Ramabai and dispatched a letter from India to Ramabai in England. After reading the letter, Ramabai confirmed her decision to convert. Pandita Ramabai has written that Rev Gore helped her to understand the Christian doctrine. She said that although she did not agree with all his opinions, still there was a similarity in their thinking on various aspects, and without his help it would not have been possible for her to appreciate Christianity.

The letter entitled ‘Is there any proof that Christianity is a divine religion?’ written by Rev Gore to Ramabai was later published in a book form by adding some more contents to it. The name of the 200-page Marathi book is ‘Khristi Dharma Ishwardatta Aahe.’
Rev Gore wrote 38 books in all, in English, Hindi and Marathi. These books were published between 1860 A D to 1900 A D.
Rev. Gore, a follower of Jesus Christ, was an ardent admirer of Sant Tukaram, a 17th century Maharashtrian saint belonging to the Bhakti cult. Rev. Gore breathed his last at the age of 70 on August 29, 1895.

References: -
1.   Khristi Marathi Wangmay’ (Fr. Stephen Te 1960 Akher) (Marathi), Dr. Gangadhar Narayan Morje, Publisher- Ahmednagar College, Ahmednagar, and Snehasadan, Shanivar Peth, Pune, Distributors - Vidarbha Marathwada Book Company, 1334, Shukrawar Peth, Pune (1984)
2.   Maharashtrachi Tejaswini Pandita Ramabai’, (Marathi) Author and Publisher - Devdatta Narayan Tilak, Shanti Sadan, Agra road, Nashik, (1960)
 3.   ‘Sankshipta Marathi Wangmay Kosh - Arambhapasoon 1920 Paryantacha Kalkhand’  (Marathi) Editor - Jaya Dadkar, Prabha Ganorkar, Vasant Abaji Dahake and Sadanand Bhatkal, Publisher - Harsha Bhatkal, G. R. Bhatkal Foundation, 35/C Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya Marg, Mumbai 400 034, (1998)
 4.   ‘100 Indian Witnesses to Jesus Christ’ - Rev. P. J. Thomas, The Bombay Tract and Book Society, 21, Hazarimal Somani Marg, Mumbai, 400 001 (1974)