Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Fr. Christian Friedrich Schwartz (1726-98) of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu & Christianity then in India

Schwartz church,Thanjavur,.serfoji raja with dying father.Madrasmusing.com
Schwartz church,Thanjavur,.serfoji raja with dying father.Madrasmusing.com

Christian Friedrich Schwartz (1726-98), Anglo-Saxon missionary of eighteenth-century was mainly instrumental in the development of Tamil Evangelical Protestant Christianity in the most testing times when opposition to oppressive East India company and frantic missionary work was spreading over much of the subcontinent. The religious persecution coupled with inquisition in Goa during the Portuguese rule got a bad name for the European preachers of Christianity in the Indian subcontinent. There were a lot of evangelists who not only spread Christianism in India but also dedicated themselves to the cause of education and other social services like construction of hospitals, free medical services, etc without strings attached.Unmindful of rewards and accolades, they made immense contribution to the local  communities. Fr. Schwartz also started many Christian educational institutions in Tamil Nadu. Some Missionaries in those days enticed the natives to convert to Christianity by offering them free education, food, shelter and jobs with the British company. Self-contented Indian natives became more infuriated than ever before over the uncharitable attitudes of the some of the Christian evangelists. They thought it was a blatant intrusion and transgression into other's religious freedom, practice and culture.
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Starting as a monopolistic trading body, the company became involved in politics and land-grabbing and ultimately acted as an agent of British imperialism in India from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century engaged in a covert and well-financed campaign of evangelical conversions in the 19th century. While officially discouraging conversions, officers of the company routinely converted Sepoys to Christianity, often by force. This was one of the factors that led to the first Indian War of Independence -Sepoy Mutiny(1857). The root cause of the Vellore Mutiny of July 10, 1806) that predated the Sepoy Mutiny  was unwanted interference in religious matters by the British Army which asked the Hindus  to remove the religious mark on their foreheads and Muslims to shave off their beards.

Even now many historians resent the mistakes unwittingly committed by Fr. Schwartz. He had Raja Serfoji inscribe the history of Bhonsly clan in detail on the granite walls near saint Karoorar shrine of the great Big temple built by Rajaraja Chola and forcing him to build a church behind the temple complex. The great Chola king himself failed to inscribe the Chola history on the stones in the temple. The great Marata king Serfoji and Tulajaji refused to go along with Fr. Schwartz and change their religion to Christianity at any cost. These two colossal blunders of Fr. Schwartz overshadow his great contributions made in the areas of education, social and community services, etc. He dedicated his life to the cause of poor people regardless of religion and spent his entire life in Thanjavur till his death. When Fr. Schwartz died in 1798, the grateful Maratha ruler, Serfoji II, donated a striking marble tablet, made by John Flaxman showing the dying moments of Schwartz surrounded by his ministers and Maratha rulers and this has been placed at the western end of the church near Sivaganga Park, Thanjavur. He also promised to take care of the Christian community of Thanjavur.
Later the secular Maratha rulers of Thanjavur liberally donated a vast tract of land now called Manambuchavadi, a suburb of Thanjavur city where a large Christian community is still living.
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