NATIVE LIFE IN TRAVANCORE
The REV. SAMUEL MATEER, F.L.S.
Of the London Missionary Society
Through the introduction of Western civilisation, science, and religion, and the influence of the British paramount power, the English language has been introduced, more or less, everywhere throughout our Indian Empire; and in Travancore the number of educated men and students in the Public offices, the College and District Schools is large, and continually increasing.
An English education is eagerly sought by all who can afford it for their children, as the only avenue to new and higher spheres of activity, preferment, and profit. Without it, now-a-days, there is no hope of high Government employment, or of signal success in the battle of life.
Such an exotic training bestowed on the young from an early period of childhood cannot but profoundly affect the moral sentiments and habits, and the religious views of the people, as well as raise their general intelligence. We are giving to the Indians the scientific method, and a critical spirit which destroys their faith in the old and degrading superstitions of Hinduism.
Amongst the educated men of Travancore, the number of those who appear heartily to believe in the old-fashioned heathenism might be counted on one’s fingers. Such a thing as a man educated in English, and at the same time a devout idolater, is quite a rarity; though, of course, all are obliged outwardly to conform to the national religion; some strongly cling to caste prejudices and aversions, chiefly through the pride of race; and many retain a measure of faith in the minor superstitions in which they have been nurtured from earliest infancy.
It is true, indeed, that, notwithstanding all their opportunities of knowing better, some are utterly godless and indifferent to the vital subject of religious truth, sceptical with regard to all forms of religion, entirely devoid of moral stamina, absorbed in worldliness, hardened and unimpressible; or even scoffing and sneering at the indefeasible claims of Jesus Christ on the allegiance of mankind.
Some are atheists, pretending to a lofty intellectual superiority to, and contempt for, all revealed religions — all, according to them, being equally false. Others more or less completely reject all social and moral restraints, and fall into intemperance, sensuality, and slavish vices. Great diversities of thought, opinion, and character prevail amongst this class.
Several schoolboys, with whom conversation was once held, probably but re-echoed the respective views of their parents and seniors, when one replied, “Your Christ and our Krishna are the same person under different names.”
Another said, “If the mother of Christ was Mary, how can you regard him as God ?”
A third, “I am an Atheist : Mr. Bain, the philosopher, teaches that there is no God in the universe.”
Again said one, “If you require a proof of the power of our mantrams, I can strike you dumb by them.”
Another sneeringly asked “How many people have you converted?”
And yet another, “It is because our Government are so generous to you that people are permitted to become Christians, and to proclaim their religion in our streets.”
A few superficially clever and educated young Hindus, conscious of the difficulty of defending idolatry in these days of light and knowledge, endeavour to put a good face on their position, and brave it out, by bold and brazen assertions of the excellence and truth of Hinduism (if they only understood it thoroughly, as Christians do their religion) and the divine origin of the licentious Nepotistic Law; and by boasting of the true God whom, it seems, they and their ancestors have ever worshipped, and of the innumerable ages during which their caste, customs, and religion have subsisted.
We deplore the error and infatuation of such deliberate rejectors of the Gospel, and the loss they incur by not seeking the blessings which flow from faith in God; and we trust that they and their children may speedily be brought to know and to rejoice in His salvation.
Generally, however, one of the first results of intellectual enlightenment is the weakening of the power of superstition and idolatry over the mind. These evils are but rarely defended by the most intelligent men, indeed, they feel rather sore on the subject of their gross idolatry when witnessed by others — like the backsliding Israelites of old, “ashamed, they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets, saying to a stock “Thou art my father”; and to a stone “Thou hast brought me forth.”
Already we observe some tokens of decay and disintegration in the idolatries of India, in districts where evangelical missions have had reasonable time to operate effectually. Vast and fundamental changes are observable. The Tanjore bull-god which, they tell us, was originally carved of small size, but grew by degrees to its present colossal proportions, has ceased to grow since the white men came — an emblem of the inertness of Hinduism. Learned Pandits now-adays attempt to explain away and spiritualise the worst features of idolatry and the grossest tales of the Puranas.
During the present century the shape of the golden vessel through which the Maharajah of Travancore passes in order to become “twice-born” has quietly been altered from the form of a cow to that of a lily. The priesthood is less feared, the religious orders and astrologers less venerated, the annual festivals have lost something of their enthusiasm; and offerings, car-drawing, and other services are rendered grudgingly. Caste observances are somewhat loosening their hold even in Travancore, their chief stronghold, where the fostering protection of the Government is profusely bestowed upon the temples and priests.
In an English lecture on “Our Superstitions,” delivered by a Brahman judge not long since to a large native audience, with a high Brahman magistrate occupying the chair, the lecturer, in closing his address, touchingly and impressively referred to a striking incident which had occurred, a fisherman having had both arms amputated in the Mission Hospital after a hard struggle in the sea for life with a ferocious shark.
“Our case,” said the lecturer, “is exactly similar to this fisherman’s case. While we were sunk in the ocean of ignorance, the shark of superstition seized us strongly, and we had to fight against it ‘for our life.’ The wave of English education has brought us to a place of safety with a little life. It is absolutely necessary that we should save our souls from being condemned to Hell. To do this we, like Michael, must undergo the amputation of the crippled and diseased mind, however painful the operation may be. Let us then kneel down and pray to the Great Doctor of doctors to do the operation, and make our souls healthy, so that they may become fit to enter His kingdom.”
“The Christian preachers,” say some, “have taken away from the hearts of the people the fear of their native gods. People now rob the gods of their gold and silver jewellery; and the gods are afraid that even themselves will be stolen.” Others, in excuse for the practice of idolatry, which they admit is only for ignorant people, say that they attend the pagodas only for amusement; or to show their respect for the religion of the Government; or very often because their women beg them to go.
“Since I read your tract on the ‘ Errors of the Ramayana,’ “says another, “I have ceased worshipping Rama.” Thus there is an incipient turning away from gross idolatry and a religion of the senses, so that we may readily believe that “the old gods of Hinduism will die in these new elements of intellectual light and air, as quickly as a net-full of fishes lifted up out of the water.”
Good moral principles and opinions are also instilled into their minds by an English education. In 1861, for instance, an excellent little manual in English of the “Principles of Morality,” was reprinted by the Sirkar at the instance of Sir Madava Row, the distinguished Dewan, and also translated into the vernacular.
It inculcates the observance of moral duties from the fear and love of God; and the obligation of prayer for Divine aid in their fulfilment. This tract was found by the Dewan among some books received from Bombay for the use of his children; and he thought it so good that he got copies printed for his Government schools.
Similarly, in an English lecture on “Our Morals,” delivered in 1874, His Highness the First Prince, now Maharajah, earnestly reprobated the low standard of morality prevailing in India, and urged the necessity of moral culture.
“Marvellous,” he says, “has been the effect of Christianity in the moral moulding and leavening of Europe. I am not a Christian. I do not accept the cardinal tenets of Christianity as they concern man in the next world. On these matters I have my own beliefs. But I accept Christian ethics in their entirety. I have the highest admiration for them. Speaking, then, of Christianity as it concerns this world, I repeat that it has effected a wonderful moral revolution in Europe. I can imagine the question which probably quivers on the lips of some of you. You will ask ‘Does not vice exist among Christians? ‘
I do not hesitate a moment to affirm that vice, crime, and immorality exist in Christendom to the same extent as they do in India. You have only to look at the great Tichborne trial, which has so recently scandalized civilized England. Under the heading of Law and Crime, in the English dailies, you will always find abundant records of crimes of the worst description. Electioneering, again, is a mine of corruption.
I fully grant all this. But yet there is a difference. That difference consists in the standard of morality which an average Christian and an average Hindu respectively acknowledge. Except, perhaps, among the very scum of society, an immoral act is never applauded among Christian nations. The most truthless Christian is fired by being called a liar. But turn to an average countryman of our own who has not yet studied to adopt European externals, and see how blandly and unconcernedly the epithet ‘liar’ is taken by him.
You must have seen people even complimenting one another with the epithet ‘ clever rogue.’ On the other hand, nothing is more common than to ridicule men of truth and honesty as fools. Again, when two young and intimate friends meet, the staple subject of conversation is — the beauties of the locality, their paramours, their intrigues, their successes, disappointments and revenges — spiced with the needful scandal. Or, the subject is bribes, bribe-givers, bribe-brokers, and bribe- takers.”
Persons not intimately acquainted with the present state of Indian society of this class, might be surprised at the tone of the lectures, essays, and correspondence of Hindus educated in English, and would ask, ‘Are the writers not Christians ?’
They write freely, often very accurately in the English language. I have known them to republish English lectures on science and morals. They correspond with Europeans quite in the style and tone of Englishmen, though with, perhaps, a little more attention to politeness and form. I have heard some of them lecture admirably on the electric telegraph, on astronomy, on art and science, on female education, and similar topics.
Educated Hindus frequently indulge in fine talk about moral obligations — the importance of solid worth as compared with mere gold and social rank — the value of knowledge, and the grand mission which educated men have to perform in the world.
Many of them are beginning to use our religious language and phraseology, “though, of course, not with the same precision and fulness of meaning that it bears with us — rather in a vague theistic than in a Christian sense.
They will freely express themselves in such handsome terms as these : — “We have passed another milestone in our life’s journey. May the beacon of God’s light glow brighter and brighter to all of us.” Another says, “In grateful memory of one long since dead, I may say that I first drew my breath of knowledge — so to say — from a missionary; and I am a witness of the much silent good work that is being done by this class of servants of God.”
Another, “I wish you a very happy New Year, attended with all the choicest blessings the great Author of the Universe may be pleased to vouchsafe.”
I have repeatedly heard with pleasure such expressions at the inauguration of public institutions, as were used by the Hon. V. Ramiengar Dewan, recently, in opening a Mission Dispensary : — “It is not enough in passing through life to do no ill to others : we should omit no opportunity of doing good; and in this respect we should be guided by the example of those good men who dedicate their lives to the good of others; and use such powers and faculties as they are endowed with for the glory of God, and the relief of man’s estate. I thank you,” he added, “for your kindness in asking me to open this new Dispensary, on which I join you all in humbly invoking the blessing of God.”
And, lastly, in illustration of this point : — In the reply of the present Maharajah to the address of the missionaries on the occasion of his accession to the throne, His Highness says: — “While I do as distinctly recognize the hand of God as any of you, in the great change which has so suddenly taken place, I cannot conceal from myself that the mantle has fallen on unworthy shoulders. Nevertheless, I can promise my utmost and conscientious devotion to the solemn duties which have devolved upon me. In the discharge of those duties, next to the wisdom and power which I eminently need from God, I shall prize the moral support of gentlemen like you who are the links of civilisation, enlightened progress, and moral regeneration between the West and the East.”
It is with men such as these that Christianity has to deal now-a-days; but having been brought by general enlightenment, intercourse with Europeans, and the indirect influence of Christian truth so far on the way to a right state as to use such admirable language, even though partly from imitation, and the desire to be thought advanced in enlightenment; and even though its full force be not felt, something, certainly, has been accomplished; and the next step we may look for is the actual carrying of such liberal views into effect by individuals under the constraining impulse of the Spirit of God, and personal conviction of the truth.
At the same time, doubts as to all Revelation and religion, and a general spirit of scepticism and unrest, are often produced by a merely secular education in the minds of Indian students.
They experience a constant oscillation of ideas and opinions which puzzle and distress them, without seeing their way to accept the definite teaching and authoritative revelation of Divine truth which the Bible conveys. “If we believe in one revelation, or incarnation,” argue some, “we might as easily believe in ten.”
In India, a purely secular education and an acquaintance with Western science, are taking from the people their ancestral religion, and destroying all faith. Infidelity, atheism, and universal scepticism are being introduced along with European literature and culture; and unless we hasten to give them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they will be cast adrift, without chart or compass, on a sea of doubts and errors.
The Christian Church should, therefore, be prepared for the intellectual crisis which is fast approaching in India, when the temples shall be forsaken, the national superstitions and religious beliefs abandoned, and society agitated and revolutionized to its very foundation, by the spread of secular knowledge, which may lead to the most disastrous issues of atheism in creed, licentiousness in life, and lawlessness in morals, if the Gospel of Jesus Christ be not in the meantime presented to enlighten and guide the popular mind to right principles of action and obedience to God.
It is no longer a question whether the old systems of heathenism will fall, but whether the Christian Church will be able to take up the work in time to prevent the people falling into utter scepticism, atheism, and godlessness. Happily much is actually being accomplished towards this end in Travancore, Tinnevelly, and elsewhere, by the scriptural training of native churches and preachers and teachers, the establishment of Christian institutions, and the preparation of a sound Christian literature.
“The sum total of what we call civilisation,” says Sir A. C. Lyall, “is to such a society as that in India a dissolving force : it is the pouring of new wine into old skins — the cutting away of anchors instead of hauling them up, so that, in the next emergency, there are none to throw out Conquest and civilisation together must sweep away the old convictions and prejudices; and unless some great enthusiasm rushes in to fill the vacancy thus created, we may find ourselves called to pre- side over some sort of spiritual interregnum.
Superficially acquainted with the works of Herbert Spencer, and Bain, and Mill, and Tyndall, and other English materialists and pantheists, and devoting almost no time or attention to the study of the evidences of Christianity, or the devout perusal of the Holy Scriptures, which is better still, they naturally fall into a state of perplexity and vacillation, and become unsettled, without any fixed belief.
“I have found,” writes Rev. I. H. Hacker, “in Hindus who have been educated in the Government Colleges, much courtesy and kindly feeling, but a feeling of scepticism with respect to nearly all forms of religion. Many have read such works as those of John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer, but not very deeply. They have read just enough to lay hold of materialistic objections, but not enough to rise above them; and the result is much mental bewilderment. May God help them to see the wonderful attractiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ, and find how graciously He can solve their perplexities and give then true rest.”
The self-same questions and mysteries puzzle inquiring Hindus, and similar difficulties retard from faith as operate amongst ourselves — the origin of evil, the sovereignty of God, the atonement and Deity of Jesus Christ “Religion,” they say, “is too strict for frail men.” “It is difficult to attain to certitude.” “Let each be sincere and upright in his own faith, and hope for the best as to the future world.”
Moreover, through the indirect as well as the direct influence of Christianity, which is at present so largely permeating the country, there is a good deal of inquiry and longing after certainty, and seeking for truth. This spirit, along with the intellectual renaissance that is in operation, has led to the formation of the numerous debating societies, clubs, and literary unions, which are a striking feature of native life amongst educated young men in Trevandrum.
The claim might fairly be made that the first impetus and outward direction was given to this movement by our lectures to educated natives delivered in Trevandrum for five years, from 1863 to 1867, which were attended by crowded and influential audiences. The missionaries, and other Europeans friendly to the scheme, delivered lectures on scientific, literary, social, and moral topics, while the First Prince, the Dewan, and the Chief Justice were pleased to join in the movement. Since then, lectures have been delivered at Eraneel, Nagercoil, and other places in the south, and at Cottayam in the north, in which some of the ablest and most intelligent Hindu officers, as well as Christian preachers, take part.
Trevandrum being the capital and the seat of the Court, the College, High School, Law courts, and the bulk of the educated community, is naturally the headquarters of these meetings. Societies have been formed for various classes of students, with various ends in view, and have met with varied degrees of popularity and success and varying fates. Some rose, and speedily fell again, and new ones are being instituted. There are the Infant Club, the Juvenile Circle, the Reform Club, the Malayalee Union, the Debating Society, and the Students’ Literary Circle; and of a more decidedly religious cast, the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Moral Class, once conducted by the First Prince, and the Moral Improvement Society (Sanmarga Pravarthaka Sangkam).
Some of these associations have been in reality curious and interesting experiments in religion, which one could not but view with profound sympathy, and wish that the true way had been known and tried. The Prince, in his lecture on Our Morals, sketched the outline of a suggested society or order, each member to subscribe solemnly to articles of faith, to which he should unswervingly adhere; and, after due probation, to be admitted into the society, and thenceforth wear a ring as a badge of membership.
The society, as a whole, to possess the full freedom of reprehending any member for misconduct, or dismissing him from the body, without being amenable to the general public. This plan of the praise and censure of a body of enlightened men, guarding one another’s morals and expelling unworthy members, he thought would prove a very effective means of promoting morality. A few of the personal friends of His Highness were happy to join such an association; they met for a time quarterly in the palace, heard addresses on morals, and engaged in conversation on the subject for mutual edification. But there could be no spiritual power in such a scheme, and it soon came to nought.
The membership of the Moral Improvement Association comprised a number of young men, who appeared to be sincerely seeking after truth amongst the various systems of religion and philosophy with which they were, more or less, acquainted. Their association was never, indeed, a power to move those outside it, but, doubtless, helped on its own members, and it was hoped would develop into a means of real public good. They began to translate useful books, and read with attention Christian publications lent them by the Young Men’s Christian Association.
They believed in a personal Deity, opened their meetings, which were held on Sunday afternoons, with prayers out of the Brahmo book, and had a kind of lay sermon delivered to the little congregation, sometimes from a Bible text. These were but feeble imitations of our Christian meetings for worship, but showed a desire to move in the right direction, and furnished a remarkable illustration of the indirect and unacknowledged influence of Christian ideas on the minds of inquiring young Hindus.
This society is unfortunately now quite defunct. There seems at present a cloud over such societies, as some of their most prominent members have, of late, shown lamentable moral weakness.
A unique opportunity was once afforded of getting direct at the views of some educated Hindus, by the unexpected absence of the appointed essayist at the meeting of a Debating Society in Trevandrum, which I attended. Being asked to suggest some topic to occupy the time to advantage, I proposed the query — “What is the opinion of Educated Hindus on the subject of Christianity?” opening with a few observations on the desire of many persons in England for reliable information on this point, and requesting a frank and unreserved expression of their real sentiments.
The first speaker rose and said that he regarded God as an aggregate of moral principles— an idea like that of a mathematical point — not a person. . He brought moral principles and acts to the test of his own rational faculty and conscience, and felt that this was sufficient. Christianity certainly had many excellent moral principles, but also, like other religions, made statements which were without proof; therefore he did not feel bound to embrace it. He believes in “pure Theism.”I thought however that the opening remark was atheistic.
The second speaker had read the New Testament and portions of the Old Testament in the High School (several made the same reference), but did not feel quite competent to pronounce on the truth or otherwise of Christianity. It certainly inculcated excellent moral teaching, which he thought it quite right to follow, though he did not wish to be called a Christian. Jesus Christ was only a man, but certainly a saint in the true sense of the term, as an example and teacher of the highest virtue.
Yet he did not wish to depreciate his own religion. The fact must be confessed with shame that he was not fully acquainted with Hindu modern and ancient Sanskrit literature; and was informed by Hindu scholars that if competent to form a judgment on Hinduism he would at once see its excellence and superiority. He was aware that Europeans who seek to make converts, do not seek to make them Christians merely in name, but instruct them in true morality. It is little matter by what name a man is called. We must prepare ourselves as well as we can for the future world.
Another young man, who had been chanting a Hindu song in praise of Rama before the meeting opened, said — “There is not sufficient proof that Jesus Christ ever really existed, but if He did. He taught much that was good.” (His incredulity with regard to the historical fact of Jesus Christ having existed was received with laughter.) “He believes there is a God, a creator, ruler, and sustainer, to whom he prays to keep him in the paths of righteousness. There are many excellent moral principles in Hinduism, as in the Kural (written by a Pariah !) which deserve to be followed. Any religion is sufficient. We might select from Hinduism and Christianity, taking the pure essence and leaving the dregs of both. A Christian may be a Hindu (by inconsistency of conduct), and a Hindu may be a Christian (in heart and in the truest sense).”
Lastly, an able Christian youth rose and said — “Education has done much for the Hindus; they are now ashamed of the idolatry which they formerly believed in. They appreciate the excellence of the Christian religion, but are unwilling to embrace it through fear of worldly loss. Brahmans regard themselves as of high birth, and will not embrace Christianity, even when partly convinced of its truth.”
In conclusion I thanked them for their frank statements and for the information they had communicated, which perhaps could have been obtained nowhere else in Travancore so readily, and offered my own views of Christianity as an authoritative declaration of the Divine will and of our duty.
Several had referred to their having read the Bible in the High School; we claim their present enlightenment as the indirect result of Christian effort. Even the admirable ethical precepts occasionally found in their literature were owing largely to external influence from Jewish, Muhammadan and Christian sources.
Sin is a deplorable fact, to which only one speaker had even alluded; the idea of ‘preparing one’s self as well as one can for the future world” is in direct opposition to the distinctive teaching of the Gospel as to our need of a Saviour, of mercy and pardon through Jesus Christ, and Divine grace to renew the soul, and help in the paths of righteousness.
This was a most interesting and touching occasion, and the remarks, being unpremeditated, presented no doubt a fair and accurate view of the state of mind, the doubts and errors and hopes of Young Travancore.
Throughout not the educated classes only, but amongst all classes, the objections to Christianity formerly raised, and the aversion shown to the gospel, are, in a very marked degree, less bitter and violent than in former times. There is apparent a readiness to listen to judicious and kindly expositions of the Christian revelation, and a favourable estimate is often expressed of our religion. A better feeling towards the truth everywhere prevails, and young men are eager to obtain the tracts distributed at open air services.
Tracts and other publications are in general well received, and thousands, says Mr. Yesudian, “do not hesitate freely to discuss and compare the merits of Hinduism with those of Christianity, and candidly to confess that the Christian religion is destined to erect its fortifications upon the ruins of Hinduism and all other systems of worship. They are also heard to express a wish to see the downfall of idolatry in their lifetime, and to enjoy the privilege of worshipping the true God as one that looks at the love and sincerity of the heart of the worshipper, and not at external formalities, however costly or awe-inspiring they may be.”
In his mission district this distinguished Native Missionary considers that “about one-fourth of the heathen population are apparently well disposed towards Christianity, as is evident from their welcoming our agents with every mark of love and respect, refreshing them with food or drink when fatigued, or exhausted by journeys or exertion, and then sitting up for hours together to receive from them, in return, the food that never perisheth. They not unfrequently deplore their spiritual condition, and mourn over the system of idolatry which the Sirkar upholds.”
Educated Hindus are always delighted to converse with cultivated Europeans, and to form even intimate friendships with them, as far as the unsociable system of caste will allow. They are seldom reluctant to enter into religious conversation, and are quite accessible to discreet and appropriate effort.
Many appreciate the efforts of the missionaries and their native helpers, continually at work to spread the gospel over the country. A general conviction prevails amongst many of the people that Christianity is destined ultimately to conquer. The unity of God is now admitted by our hearers : conscience is being aroused, and a sense of spiritual need awakened. Christian ideas are permeating many minds, and Christian influences everywhere at work. The truth has entered more deeply into the hearts and modes of thought of many than they themselves are aware of, and society is being quietly leavened by it. A new spirit is penetrating even into the homes of the Hindu.
Only last year we were privileged to hear of tokens of a feeling for which we have been long looking — the reflex influence on heathenism of the marvellous illustration of the practical operation of the Christian religion furnished by those who have embraced it in South Travancore.
“The idea,” writes Mr. Hacker, “of what were called low-caste people teaching divine truth, which at one time was such an abomination to the orthodox Hindu, is now becoming familiar. It is not an unfrequent sight now to see one of our Christian teachers talking about the highest truths to members of the so-called higher castes.”
The caste Hindus must soon be convinced by their own common sense that they are losing much blessing in every way, by not placing themselves in the van of the movement towards Christianity, as the Malagasy rulers so wisely did. One lately remarked to a mission catechist :
“To-day, when passing by your schoolroom, I heard the children sing their sweet and instructive lyrics with great delight. We Sudras, regarded as of high caste, are now becoming comparatively lower; while you, who were once so low, are being exalted through Christianity. I fear,” he added, “Sudra children in the rural districts will soon be fit for nothing better than feeding cattle.”
“How pleasant,” said the master of a house visited by the Bible-woman, “is it to see your women and girls with their books, and to hear the singing in the very place where devil worship was practised a few years ago. This results from the efforts of the missionary ladies. You must make our women like the Christian women in Nagercoil. And when the women are willing, the whole country will embrace Christianity.”
“There is in general,” says Mr. Yesudian, “a movement observable in favour of Christianity among the higher classes. Many are now more than ever setting themselves to examine the nature of the truths contained in the wonderful Book of God; some study the ten commandments and the Lord’s prayer; some (women and children included) have committed to memory short prayers and Christian lyrics, while others are ob- served to lament their sad failure to embrace the Christian religion earlier, to regret their folly in having allowed the lower castes to step in before them, and to consider the best way they should adopt for availing themselves of all the privileges offered by the Gospel.”
Some of the higher classes have seen the folly of idolatry, look upon the name of Christ with profound respect, express a high regard for the Bible, and say that they daily peruse it for spiritual light, solace under affliction, and help in the path of rectitude. The Bible is still read once a week in the Maharajah’s High School, the only Government School, perhaps, in India, in which it is taught, and we hope that it will not be allowed to drop. Respectable caste-men frequently converse with our native teachers, and even admit them into their houses, read the Holy Scriptures with them, ask to be taught to pray, and to have prayer offered with them, and make anxious inquiries on the solemn topics of the resurrection, the final judgment, and the eternal world. They even contribute to the funds of the Mission.
One Sudra corresponds with a Christian catechist by post, asking explanations of Scripture and the solution of various doubts and difficulties. Many are now thankful for help in sickness, and consolation from Christian teaching in times of sorrow and bereavement. A wealthy and intelligent Brahman purchased a Bible from a native Christian doctor, and brought out the sacred volume one day to ask whether it is mentioned in the Bible that we may pray to God in time of trouble. The 15th verse of the fiftieth Psalm was shown to him, and he gladly committed the text to memory.
Chiefly, perhaps, in the South, where political freedom is greater, and active missionary operations have been always directed towards Hindus, and have had greater room and longer time to work, the number of those who may be called secret believers is noticeable : not uncommonly in such cases courage to confess Christ as the Saviour is only gained on the death-bed, when the world and its trifles begin to fade, and to be seen in their true light, and eternity approaches.
For example : —
“We rejoiced to find a certain intelligent Sudra who was powerfully impressed by the saving truths of the Gospel giving vent to such expressions as the following : — “I feel I am a sinner, and that Jesus the Son of God is my only Saviour; ‘ then lowering his head with pensive tears, and after some moments of solemn silence raising his head upwards, he said, “ Jesus! thou art the way to Heaven. I pray thou wilt pity me, and pardon my sins, and take me to that place of bliss, though I feel that I have not the courage to make a public confession of my spiritual adherence to Thee.’ This interesting man died within two weeks or so after he had made this serious confession.”
The last words which another Sudra of large property and influence, whose changed life had signally evidenced his true conversion to God, uttered to his wife and friends were these : “I see now nothing else but Jesus. He appears to me to be everything. Commit your souls to His care and protection.”
There must be several hundreds of such in Travancore, who, though now weak and timid, restrained by strong social and domestic obstacles from assuming a distinctively Christian position, and halting between two opinions, sorely struggling between conviction and self-interest, between God and mammon, would at once embrace our faith, and profess Christ openly were the caste difficulties and social persecution removed out of their way, or a sufficient number of them ready to come forward, so as to encourage and stand by one another. They would be glad and thankful to be carried in safely and pleasantly on a wave of Christian movement and revival, and such a movement may begin at any time, and come with a rush upon us.
Serious impediments, indeed, lie in the way of conversion on the part of high-castes. House and home, wife and children, office and emoluments — all must be surrendered. Under present circumstances, it would be, humanly speaking, a perfect impossibility for a Christian Maharajah to remain in the palace, a Christian Dewan to retain his administration, or a Christian revenue collector to fulfil the duties required of him. Even in posts where the religion professed might not make an essential difference, government patronage and dependence on government office, which is, unfortunately, the sole aim of almost every educated native in Travancore, stifles all independence of thought and action.
Professional advancement seems often to quench convictions of sin and longings after spiritual light, or to tempt men to feign a heartier zeal in the cause of idolatry than appears to be sincere. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the good seed. A merely intellectual is commonly substituted for a real, living, moral standard. All the temporal hopes and interests of a young Travancorean demand his continuance in Hinduism. Conversion to Christianity is, in fact, civil death, the funeral rites of a Brahman convert being performed as soon as it is ascertained that he has been baptized.
Caste customs and laws also check conversion. The opposition of relatives and hostility of caste companions it is hard to brave. A Nayar who was suspected of a leaning towards Christianity was actually threatened by his daughters’ partners that they would return all their wives and children on his hands if he dared to follow out his convictions.
The obstructive power exercised by uneducated women is also very great. “The native, on retiring to his domicile, usually takes off his turban, his upper garment, and his ideas of Western civilisation which are incompatible with his domestic life : all are equally donned and doffed for use in a world that is unknown within his household. He is alive to the theories gathered from Western books, but he fails to carry them into practice within the precincts of his own house. Why? Because, probably, the husband, in reality, no more reigns supreme in the house of a native than in that of the European.
Women do not bluster or order; but they can offer irresistible passive opposition in the limits of their own domain, that is, the household. The man who, using the superior knowledge with which he is gifted, would wish to accomplish a deed contrary to caste prejudice, would not so much fear the resistance of his fellow castemen as that of his female relatives. They are the persons who would organize a guerre d outrance against him, for it must be remembered that caste, with all the little ceremonies it entails, is essentially an observance of domestic life.
However much, then, the liberalminded native would wish to break the bonds, he can but see that he pushes himself forward in a contest that would only result in his being isolated, and would not make the slighest impression on the vast question at stake.*
Amid all these difficulties and discouragements, it is no wonder that the general weakness of character, want of conscientiousness, and absence of moral courage and self-help, which the Hindus themselves admit, the effect of an enervating climate and the long reign of ignorance and error, deter many from openly declaring themselves. Some confidentially express their regret that they have not the courage to save their widowed virgin daughters from an unhappy and desolate life, by again giving them in marriage; or that they dare not refuse in the company of their rulers to “bow the knee in the house of Rimmon.”
Some present one side of devout idolatry to the Brahman priests, another of liberal thought and enlightenment , and it is often difficult to reconcile these with entire sincerity. They acknowledge and bewail their frailty and hesitancy. I have heard one frankly and publicly acknowledge : — “In our country one cannot express one’s opinions freely. We should never get on if we did. A beggar must not displease his patron ! ‘’ This insincerity, double-dealing, and servility are terrible and damning evils.
Educated Hindus will talk contemptuously of the Brahman priests and their authority, of superstition and injurious customs, of reform and true nobility, and of patriotism, while they have not the self-sacrifice or courage to put forth a finger to bear the burden of the true reformer, who is prepared to suffer for the good of others, and to live or to die for his country or his fellow men. They indulge in vague looking out of themselves for the forces that are to regenerate the society in which they move.
“Education is appealed to with weariful iteration as the cure for all the social and moral evils of the country; but those who appeal to it do not, many of them, seem to dream that anything more is due from them than to suffer themselves to be educated without resistance, and to abstain from offering resistance to the education of others.”
What has this class of men as yet attempted or effected for the suffering masses in Travancore? Not long since two young men of gentle birth and liberal education, being disgusted with the world, and the corrupt state of society around them, became ascetics, and wandered away from the sphere of duty, instead of setting themselves manfully and prayerfully to fight in the name of the Lord against the prevailing evils. A solemn responsibility rests upon those who are at the head of Hindu society, and whose patronage and support are given to idolatry and error.
Owing to the comminuting and insulating action of Caste, the conversion of large numbers of the lower classes in some of our missions, though it will ultimately, through the beneficent action of the Gospel, so raise them in character and social position (as it is already doing) that they will become the really higher classes; and will thus, in the end, give them an influence calculated to bring about the conversion of the whole country; yet does not, at present, directly or speedily affect the high castes, the nobles, priests, rulers, landholders. The common people are being brought under instruction, and this work of evangelization has only to go on in the same way as hitherto to win over the masses.
But for the “upper ten thousand “ distinct and special efforts are claimed, and in some places being initiated. We long to see the Rajahs of India converted, the men of rank and leaders of public opinion brought to God. In the introduction of Christianity into Europe it was usually the conversion of the chieftains that opened up the way for the Gospel amongst the common people. So also in Madagascar, when the Queen and Prime Minister placed themselves at the head of the new civilisation and religious reform, the national idols were burnt, and the whole population held themselves ready to listen to the voice of the Christian preacher.
Some of the princes and nobles of various parts of India now permit the visits of the Zenana missionary to their palaces, and speak appreciatively of the Bible and the benignant operation of the Christian religion. May they be brought to accept for themselves the message of salvation, and receive Jesus Christ as their Saviour ! Then those secret disciples who now hang back through fear of persecution and worldly loss, will be emboldened to come forward at once; many of the overwhelming obstacles which hinder the spread of truth in India shall be removed; and the whole population favourably disposed towards Christian teaching.
The marvellous advance which has already been made among the higher classes in India, and the moral and social revolution which has begun, through the introduction and diffusion of Western knowledge and the English language, fully repay all the labour that has, so far, been expended for the elevation of the country. The education which the Hindus are gaining fits them for the exercise of rational thought, and for wise and manly action. It is no small thing that men of liberal education are raised up and prepared (if they will but divest themselves of caste prejudice and moral vacillation) to occupy positions of influence and responsibility.
Civilisation and secular knowledge, though accompanied by certain evils and dangers, are, on the whole, helping on the good work of amelioration— female education is rapidly spreading, and widow re-marriage advocated— the railway, the telegraph, and the press, the “increase of knowledge” and the “running to and fro,” modern industries and commerce, and a strong and righteous supreme Government influencing the life of the country, all combine to aid in “preparing the way of the Lord and making his paths straight.” Vast possibilities lie before a believing and witnessing Church in the immediate future, if she will but rise to the crisis of India.
A noble work indeed it is to spread the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ amongst the nations, and to make our brother men hear the voice of God speaking in His Word. * Madras Mail, 1881
The masses are at the same time, to some extent, being educated, though not nearly so much as might be were the British Indian Government to direct more of its energies and expenditure towards primary education, as it is hoped it will henceforth do. Still, many are being prepared to read useful books and the Holy Scriptures.
The whole country is in a state of transition, and we feel assured that the truth will at last conquer, through the might of our Divine and glorious King. Gracious and potent influences, and varied instrumentalities are already at work everywhere for the uplifting and regeneration of India, all combining towards one end which no power on earth or hell can effectually hinder.
The fount is opened, from whose streams
Celestial life and knowledge spread :
The sun hath risen, whose radiant beams
Restore the sick) and raise the dead.
And nought their glorious course shall check,
Till earth with moral verdure glows;
Till they her desert wilds shall deck
With blooming Eden’s deathless rose.