KRISTA-PURAAN: Christ’s incarnation in Marathi

Krista Puraan has evocative dialogues and superb descriptions to entertain and instruct the readers who were the new converts from high caste Hinduism. Stephens presented Jesus Christ in the most appealing Indian garb to the audience effectively communicating the message of and the person of Jesus Christ.

KRISTA-PURAAN: Christ’s incarnation in Marathi

By Fr. C. Drago S.J.

Jesuit Father Thomas Stephens made the unique contribution to the medieval culture and religious thought of Goa. Prescribed for post-graduate studies, his magnificent poetic work, Krista Puraan is praised even by the Hindu scholars as a classic in Marathi literature. Many savants and students alike study this Catholic epic merely for its excellent literary qualities, not necessarily for its theological values. There is a general consensus that it is an extraordinary contribution to Indian literature.

Life and Work: Thomas Stephens the first British Jesuit to land in Goa, Capital of Portuguese India, worked for a year in Vasai (Basin) too. Authoring three books he became a lasting reference point in Marathi literature and Konkani. The Konkani Grammar was for the Portuguese missionaries who arrived in Goa and it was to acclimatize them with the local tongue which will be the medium of their mission. The Christian Doctrine was a Catholic Catechism in Konkani. The epic masterpiece Krista Puraan was to instruct the converts from the high caste Hindu Brahmins.While he kept Latin for Roman liturgy and for administering Sacraments, Thomas Stephens learnt Konkani, the local language for his missionary and pastoral work. He mastered Marathi, the traditional medium for religious thought and spirituality to proclaim the Christian theology of salvation of humankind.

The original title of Krista Puraan is “The Discourse on Jesus Christ the Savior of the World”. This ovi meter Marathi epic in lyrical form has spiritual conversations between the Padri-Guru and the Seeker of salvation. It has evocative dialogues and superb descriptions to entertain and instruct the readers who were the new converts from high caste Hinduism. They were quite familiar with this Puraanic style of communication before their conversion.

The Indian Model of the Saviour: Stephens presented Jesus Christ in the most appealing Indian garb to the audience effectively communicating the message of and the person of Jesus Christ. For this purpose, he used the poetic form and style of narrating in attractive ways. Since the audience was the intelligent group of converts from Brahmanism, he used theological terms, images, symbols, and concepts familiar to them. The following examples will elucidate them. He uses several synonymic phrases for Devaputra the Son of God describing him as the Compassion of God, the Wellspring of grace, the Ocean of immortality, the Salvation or Health of heaven and earth, the Light of the universe, the Light of the heavenly court, the Omnipotent like the Father, the Destroyer of ignorance, death and sin, the Lover of humankind, the Son of the most Holy God, the Word of God, and the Creator of the world. He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He proceeds from the Father, not begotten. He is the Uncreated Creator and has neither beginning nor end. He is Self-existent.

The Son of God is the True Guru of the world. He is the True Source of Life. He is the Light of the world. He is without blemish and is the King of eternal life. The devils fear him. He is the joy of angels. He is the merciful-giver of salvation to human beings; he has destroyed Sin and has opened the gates of heaven. He has defeated the Devil once for all and has revealed the True God. Devaputra has taught ways of the spirit and of true worship.

After the resurrection he stood before God and proclaimed, I have glorified your name and fame on earth for the salvation of mankind. God the Father came to him and embraced his Son offering him the dominion over heaven and earth. He gave him the throne to his right hand with equal power. This Risen Jesus is he destroyer of Sin of the world. He is the saving ship which carries human beings across the ocean of life. He carries them safely beyond and into heavenly bliss. He is the King of the universe and the Saviour of the cosmos with power over all the living and the dead.

Devaputra toch Manavaputra -the Son of God is the Son of Man. He is the Son of the highest God. He is the Word of God. This Almighty, full of power and strength, created everything on earth and in heaven. He has healed them by his suffering on the Cross and has made them whole. He is the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity who in the fullness of time, when sin abounded, incarnated himself as the Son of Man, for our salvation. He is truly God and truly Man.

There are some telling images too like Marujita Maanavaputra - the Second Adam who defeated the Tempter, Satan; Martya-maanava pan Mukti-daataa - mortal but bestows immortality; Punaruthita Krist haach Sarva samartha Parameshwar- the Risen Lord is the Omnipotent God; Trikaala Jnaani - the omniscient God; and  Paropakaari Sadguru -the true guru who helps and serves selflessly.

Magnanimous ingenuity
The primary purpose of writing Krista Puraan is evident in its overall content. It is the exposition of the salvation history through the life and deeds of Jesus Christ. The genius of Stephens and the situational imperative of his audience naturally took the literary form of classical and erudite poetry. It is an excellent adult catechism in lyrical verse form. The sole purpose of the Krista Puraan was religious education of the converts from Brahmanism.

The greatness of Stephens consists in his universal vision of salvation and unusual broad mindedness that accepts the reality of pluralism in Goa and the rightful existence of traditional Hinduism. His contemporary missionaries and writers ridiculed, despised and condemned other religions as mere superstition, devil worship and the way leading to hell. But Stephens did not super-impose Western theology to suppress other religious thoughts and practices. He viewed Hindus and their expressions of spirituality with respect.

His greatness and genius consists in carefully adopting, at times reinterpreting their concepts to explain Christian thought with the adaptation of their best expressions, concepts and terminology to express Catholic theology of salvation. Born before time, he was an expert in interreligious dialogue who lived amicably with Hindus imbibing their experiences and expressions of spirituality. He worked with and for their spiritual benefit. He listened attentively to God’s ways of salvation and shared his experience of Jesus Christ with them.

(The third edition of the Krista Purana (1654))

How did he manage this complex and creative task? First, he built his holy temple of Krist Puraan on the solid foundation of pluralism. He acknowledged the existence of gods, deities and practices. Subtly and sometimes persuasively, he suggested ways of worship in truth and spirit by guiding them gently beyond their faith in false gods towards the true God of salvation. He inoffensively but firmly purified their theology to unveil the true saviour, Jesus Christ, enshrined in the sanctuary. He accepted their religious literature as the best medium of theological instruction and used it efficiently to compose the Krista Puraan, the Discourse on Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world.

In his inimitable ways he convinced and coerced the converts to the true faith. His magnanimity and genius clearly stand out against the background of his times when the Western Europe had discovered new routes and lands for commerce and colonization.

The Portuguese Kings and the Roman Catholic Church believed in planting the Cross and in establishing the trade in the new countries. They used the missions and wielded the political power to conquer and subdue the natives of Goa.

Unique Contribution of Krista Puraan

Thomas Stephens’ zeal for mission and pastoral work contributed to Christianity in Goa enriching Catholic theology through his unique enculturation. His great versatility in both religions enhanced the multicultural and pluralistic environment of Goa. It fostered understanding between religions and God’s ways of human salvation.

He used the well known Hindu concepts, images and religious terms to expound the Catholic faith through the Krista Puraan. Vaikunth is heaven. Vaikunthanaatha is the Lord of heaven, Jesus Christ. He deliberately omitted and avoided terms which were loaded with heavy connotations of Hinduism -Smriti, Karma, Punarjanma, Avataar, and Veda. He accepted and if necessary, re-interpreted them to suit Catholicism - Devakatha is the history of salvation, Swarga is heaven, Puraana is story of God’s action in the world, Shabda is the Word of God, Parama-shaastra is the Holy Bible, and Jnaansnaan is the Sacrament of Baptism.

Excellent Example of Enriching Enculturation: One of the outstanding illustrations of this is his innovative presentation of the many names of Jesus Christ. Stephens uses excellent Hindu titles and names to describe Jesus Christ. Some of them are - Swaami, taaraku, Sarvasamarthu, Vishwataaraku, Vishwaacha visaava, Jagadguru, Vishwajanaancha aadhaaru, Jagaachaa manorathu, Mrityalokaachaa dinakaru, Patitaanchaa uddhaaraku, Sarvabhutaa karunaakaru, Sansaaradoshaanchaa nivaaraku, Bhavasaagariche taaru, Mokshapadaacha dataaru, Vaidya, Sarvakrupechaa varshaava, Aanandnidhi, Nitichaa surya, Jnaananidhi, Sarvajna, Gosaavi, Vaikuntha-sabhechi-kaanti, Nijagopaalu, Anaathanchaa nathu, Sudhaa, Moksharaja, Sharanaagataanchaa kaivaaru, Sakalabhaktaanchaa aadhaaru, Krupaa saagaru, Shriguru, Vishwaachi dipti, Nishkalanak vishwatej, Paramgatichaa Raajaa, Daataaru, and Parameshwaru.

In conclusion, it can be said that Stephens labored in the context of oppressive imposition of Western culture and Roman Catholicism on the conquered natives. His theological vision and creative literary endeavour for pastoral work were unprecedented. His initiative of enculturation, therefore, met with great opposition and was finally suppressed by the Rulers and the Roman Catholic Church. Their reasons for doing this were prompted by genuine fear and their desire for total control over the conquered.

Their reasons were very much palpable in the atmosphere when Thomas Stephens penned his magnum opus Krista Puraan. The new converts were not yet deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. The Church thought the best way was to impose the Western theology and culture to prevent them from reverting to their former life and religious practices.

Uniformity of the Roman Catholic Faith and of the religious practices obligated the traditions of others to be obliterated for smooth religious governance. Hence the natives of Goa were forced to get away from and to abandon their diversity of religious thoughts and cultural practices of former life.

The visionary creative venture of enculturation efforts in Krista Puraan was indeed avant-garde and revolutionary. The lyrical poetic form in literary Marathi was limited to the needs of a small number of new converts from the high caste Brahmins who had a special liking for such a literary creation.

The Church felt Krista Puraan was irrelevant to the large number of the fisher folk, the farmers and of other castes converted by force and persuasion. Their instruction had to be in their own local languages. No doubt, the Roman Catholic Church imposed traditional missionary approach, Tridentine theology and the Western culture on the natives of Goa when Fr. Thomas Stephens SJ took a detour with the Krista Puraan.

(Fr. C. Drago S. J. has Ph. D. in Christology and in Pastoral Counseling. Ordained in 1975, he taught in many worked in many Jesuit formation houses and JDV Pune. His main subject of teaching has been Counseling and Indian Religions.)

(Photo Courtesy - Wikipedia)

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