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German view of Olde Madras



The New Jerusalem Church in Tranquebar

AT FOUR this afternoon, when the Aaron Endowment Lecture is delivered by Dr. C.S. Mohanavelu of the Presidency College at the Ziegenbalg Auditorium of the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute, Kelly's, a German eye view of `Madras in Olden Times' will be presented.

Two of the views will be those of the 18th Century Lutheran missionaries who arrived in Tranquebar on either side of the Rev. C. Aaron being ordained the first Indian Protestant pastor in the country. The third will be a 19th Century recollection of the Director of the Lutheran Mission, who built up in Leipzig "a small but remarkable" collection of rare Tamil books and manuscripts.

Aaron, born in a Saivite family in Cuddalore in 1698, was named Arumugam by his father, Chokkanatha Pillai, a well-to-do merchant who failed. When the Tranquebar Lutheran Mission - the first Protestant mission in India - established a school in front of his house, Arumugam was on his way to becoming Aaron. He was one of the first students of the school and learnt from Tamil books printed in Tranquebar - the first educational texts printed in the country.

In 1718, he went to Tranquebar to be baptised by Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg, who had pioneered Protestant missionary activity in India, and on 28-12-1733 was ordained a minister at the New Jerusalem Church there. A German newspaper report described the Rev. Aaron as "the first coloured Protestant pastor in the whole world".

The erudite Rev. Sundar Clarke, the Church of South India's Bishop of Madras in the 1980s, has descended from one of the daughters of the Rev. Aaron. Her son, John Devasahayam, was the first South Indian to be ordained into the Anglican Church. Since that Ordination on November 2, 1830, there have been six successive generations of the Devasahayam family who have served the Anglican Church as pastors. Yet, when their ancestor the Rev. Aaron was trying to persuade the Tranquebar Mission to ordain more Indian members of the church as priests in the early 18th Century, it was a suggestion discouraged by one of those whose writings are to be recalled this afternoon.

Whether it was the Rev. Benjamin Schultze's differences of opinion with the other missionaries at Tranquebar or whether it was at their request, Schultze, who had arrived in Tranquebar in 1719, came to Madras in 1728, the first Protestant missionary to serve here. He established the first Protestant missionary church in the town about where the Reserve Bank of India building now is, and preached and taught there till he left the Coromandel in 1743.

Fluent in Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and Hindustani, he maintained a diary in Telugu. Based on the diary, he wrote a book, "Madras - or Fort St. George", in German, which was published by the Mission's headquarters in Halle around 1752. It was later translated into English and is the source of the first part of Dr. Mohanavelu's lecture.

The second part features the contribution of Dr. Johann Peter Rottler, who arrived in Madras in 1803 after 27 years in Tranquebar. He was to head the Madras Mission in Vepery for the next 33 years and die in harness at 87. A crusader for the poor of Vepery, he was also a dedicated teacher and scholar.

His Tamil translation of the English Liturgy was bought by the College of Fort St. George and published in three parts between 1834 and 1841.

The third of the Germans to be quoted in the lecture will be Karl Graul. I'd never heard of him before - but what I've been able to learn of him is that during a three-year stay in Tranquebar, he collected several Tamil manuscripts and books, took a great deal of interest in the different kinds of thalis of South India and wrote books on Tamil grammar, culture and language. How he and his predecessors saw Olde Madras is something I'm looking forward to.

S.Muthiah

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