Tag Archives: Marathi

Conviction Born From Struggle and Conversion

MRL 3: Arunodaya: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí, box 1, and folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York

When I was first given the very small collection of Bãbã Padamanjí (so small in fact, that it only contains one book), to process I wasn’t sure if I would find much information about a Hindu man born in May 1831 in Belgaum, India.  I was sure that my history of Bãbã would be limited to what I found in the handwritten translation of his autobiography Arunodaya (which means light or dawn in Marathi).  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to find much more information than I expected for someone who I assumed might have been overlooked by history. Bãbã Padamanjí was a man that by the time of his death in 1906 was responsible for over 70 texts in his native Marathi and also in English, which ranged from Christian tracts that were either written or translated by him to Marathi dictionaries.  He was a man that was dedicated and praised for the conviction of his faith.

MRL 3: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí, box 1, and folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York

 Bãbã Padamanjí was able to overcome struggles with caste, former religious and pagan practices, family and friends in his journey to become a Christian man in India.  The handwritten translation of his Autobiography in our collection chronicles and gives insight into those particular struggles. I came across numerous sources that discussed how difficult it was to change religions in the caste system of India at the time that Bãbã Padamanjí was struggling with his new found faith.  One source I looked at, Stitches on Time was a collection of social anthropology essays, one of which detailed reasons why these difficulties existed.  Saurabh Dube summarized that “a nation cannot be exorcised from history through the mere expedient of turning our backs on its standardized past and monumental present.”  This is also detailed in a note written for My Struggle for Freedom, (another edited version Arunodaya) the editor Rev. M. P. Davis states, “In a time when changing religion or political belief resulted in a loss of home and family.  [His] story reveals the great advance made in this respect.”

MRL 3: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí, box 1, and folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York

Bãbã's struggles are evidence as he tells the story of his conversion.  His family was “orthodox and religious minded” and he learned all of the worship ceremonies “from [his] mother’s religious observances.”  These religious observances were mixed with pagan practices such as relying on astrologers, sorcerers, and wizards for “oblations, magic antidotes and the muttering of spells.”  Witches were also brought into the house when the men were gone and he experimented with the “incantations of witchcraft taught by them.”  He admitted to wanting to learn magic spells with “the object of attaining divine power.” His conversion to Christianity was a long process beginning when he was a child and while it was difficult to stop these practices, he was eventually able to overcome them.  He credits the teachings of Christianity with this.  In fact Bãbã states that he writes of these experiences to tell others that “the plan of God made it clear to me…that there is no power in Hinduism to keeps its followers from immoral behaviour [sic]…the fraction of love and peace which is found in the Hindu families is the fruit of their thought, good nature, wisdom, and of reading books of advice of saints; it is not the product of idol worship, muttering of magic spells, vows and fasts…etc.”

His family was of the Kasars caste and prominent.  It was difficult to break with the caste, which was one of the first steps to becoming Christian; once he realized that was something he felt he wanted to do.  He first broke with the caste in secret, with others of like minds in a meeting of the Paramhans Society.  He thought he might not feel as guilty if no one else knew what he had done.  However, he soon became “haunted” in his mind because he was lost to family, “thrown out of the caste (excommunicated);” he felt that all people would call him “polluted.”  This was not the end to his troubles for a man came to meetings, took the vow of secrecy and then revealed the names and the goals of the men there.  “There was great agitation…” his parents like many others took him out of the Mission School and many criticisms were published in the newspapers. 

As his family learned of his desire to become Christian they grew angry.  His father told him “To become a Christian was to him to become polluted and sink to the lowest level.”  His uncle advised his father to disown him, to take away his jobs and money and to encourage others to shun Bãbã in this way as well.  Bãbã felt “in this way I was surrounded and pressed upon from all sides by my own people and the people outside.”  So much so that he vacillated between wanting to run away and poisoning himself.  He eventually set upon expressing his conviction to his father, who even though he felt it would bring great disgrace on the family, realized that Bãbã’s conviction was true and agreed to let Bãbã “have freedom in matters concerning religion.”  His father never followed the advice of the uncle and eventually requested that  his son teach him this religion Bãbã thought was true.

Bãbã Padamanjí said, “It is needless to say what opposition has to be met by one who has to contemplate on an important subject like religion and has to discern as to which things have to be retained or rejected and especially by a man who practices them…we understand how a Hindu (and men of other religions too) has to struggle with hindrances and suffer sorrow, if he desires to become a Christian.”  It is evident throughout the subsequent years following his baptism that once those hindrances and sorrows were overcome Bãbã was able to do what he enjoyed most, write Christian tracts and translations in order to educate other Hindus on what he felt was a more true and enlightened path. 

MRL 3: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí, box 1, and folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York

Even though I was able to find more information about Bãbã Padamanjí than I thought I was going to, that material is not a large amount.  I am happy that the Burke Library Archives now has been able to add just a little bit more to the history of Bãbã and I that I got a chance to briefly spend some time getting to know him. 

Sources include quotes from Bãbã himself as written in Arunodaya, as well as these other sources:

  • Dube, Saurabh. Stitches on Time: Colonial Textures and Postcolonial Tangles. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
  • Padamanjí, Bãbã. My Struggle for Freedom: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí. Raipur, C.P. [India]: Christian Book Depot, 1944. Burke Call Number: MRL Pamphlets 1830