Vernacular Attempts At Theologizing

So far we have noted reflections done in English with reference to Sanskrit traditions. It is important to recognize contributions in the vernacular, which display features of originality and spontaneity. For example, Narayan Vaman Tilak (1862-1919), the poet of Maharashtra, was a convert, who became a Christian monk, and who sought to gather round himself a group called 'God's Darbär, a brotherhood of the 'baptised and unbaptised disciples of Christ'. Tilak wanted to present Christ to India in his 'naked beauty'. He composed poetry to such a high standard as to be included in the corpus of Marathi literature. His poetry is very devotional and became popular among Christians. Although they are not theological in the sense of reasoned statements, his poems carry the flavour of Indian religious poetry and break new ground in imagining God and Christ. For example, he calls Christ the 'Mother-Guru' and longs for the day when Indians acknowledge this. He drew the attention of western orientalists like J. C. Winslow and N. Macnicol, who collected and commented on his poems,46 and such studies continue.47

Gurram Joshua (b. 1895), a dalit Christian poet called the 'Telugu Poet Laureate', was 'passionately committed to the fight against caste and religious communalism, as well as that to end hunger and oppression'.48 The imagery of God in his poetry is fascinating, as it is in the writings of many vernacular poets and thinkers. No other language has such rich Christian poetry as Tamil. Drinking from the wells of the ancient Tamil literature and the devotional poetry of the Saiva and Vaishnava traditions, many laid foundations for a Tamil Christian theology, of whom most notable are Vedanayagam Sastriyar (1774-1864) and H. A. Krishna Pillai

45 K. C. Abraham, Liberative Solidarity: Contemporary Perspectives on Mission (Tiruvalla: Christava

46 Sahitya Samithi, 1996).

See J. C. Winslow, Narayan Vaman Tilak: The Christian Poet of Maharashtra (Calcutta: YMCA,

47 1930) and N. Macnicol, Psalms of Maratha Saints (Calcutta: YMCA, 1919).

See P. S. Jacob (ed.), Experiential Response ofN.V. Tilak (Madras: Christian Literature Society,

J. England, Asian Christian Theologies — A Research Guide to Authors, Movements, Sources, vol. I (Delhi: ISPCK-Orbis, 2002), p. 217.

(1827-1900). They produced epic poems and lyrics which are very popular among the Tamils49 and which illustrate the coalescence of Christian and indigenous traditions. For example, Krishna Pillai's is the first lyric that appears in the Tamil 'Hymns and Lyrics'. In this lyric he starts addressing God as Sat-Cit-Ananda and in due course calls God 'mother', 'friend', and so on. Echoing the southern school of Viashnavism, which thought of divine grace in the model of cat-kitten as opposed to the northern school's monkey-cub, in one verse he says 'I cannot cling to you but you have clung me, do not leave me.' Poets like Krishna Pillai are deeply perplexed by certain Christian doctrines. Of course this is the experience of most Indian Christian theologians. At the same time, the poet uses the analogy of an ancient practice of a lover self-sacrificing to emphasize the suffering love of God for humanity expressed on the cross.50 It is interesting to note that these poets were zealously evangelistic and theologically exclusive, but this was also typical of the poet-saints of their original Hindu traditions.

Of those who have encountered Tamil Christian poetry theologically, we will mention three. P. A. Sathiasatchy (1923-2006), himself a poet, preacher and writer, has identified resources in the ancient Tamil literature for a Tamil Christian theology. In concluding an essay calling for Christians to take the Tamil heritage and the recent Tamil renaissance seriously, he writes:

As a result we have a distinctive theology, which will have the fragrance of the Tamil soil, flavour of the natural world and breeze of justice and liberation described in the ancient Tamil poems. It is not like the potted plant idea oftheology, which was brought from the West and planted in the Indian soil in the name of indigenisation or inculturation. Its preamble recognises similar plants already grown in the vast Tamil garden with the affirmation of God's universal witness and the cosmic presence of Christ who came definitively in Jesus of Nazareth.51

Dayanandan Francis (b. 1932) has done extensive studies on Tamil literature and the Tamil Saiva tradition. He identifies a number of parallel views on God between the Saiva and Christian traditions and points out how Hindu terms have influenced the Christian vocabulary.52 Through

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  • Amaranth
    What is narayan vaman tilak theology?
    7 years ago

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