CHRIS­TIAN SCHWARTZ: THE RAJ-GURU OF THANJAVUR

The Ger­man Lutheran mis­sion­ary was much re­spected

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - OPINI N -

Be­fore the Bri­tish be­came the undis­puted master of In­dia in the early 19th Cen­tury, the Euro­pean view of In­dia was not as dis­dain­ful or prej­u­diced as it would come to be. In this “pre-colo­nial” phase, for­eign schol­ars and mis­sion­ar­ies had im­mense cu­rios­ity and re­spect for all things In­dian. In­dia was known to be fab­u­lously wealthy and in­dus­tri­ous for cen­turies. Thou­sands of Euro­peans, fired by re­li­gious zeal or de­sire for knowl­edge or per­sonal am­bi­tion, trav­elled to In­dia. Many of them suc­ceeded: Some even be­came pow­er­ful lords, gen­er­als and ad­vis­ers. The pre­colo­nial Euro­pean mis­sion­ar­ies who ar­rived to “dis­pel hea­then dark­ness” were re­spect­ful of In­dian faiths and tra­di­tions, bar­ring some notable ex­cep­tions. They learned In­dian lan­guages and ob­served and recorded lo­cal tra­di­tions. Chris­tian Friedrich Schwartz, a Lutheran mis­sion­ary from Prus­sia, was per­haps the most fas­ci­nat­ing of them all. Dur­ing his 48 years in In­dia, he founded nu­mer­ous con­gre­ga­tions and schools in present-day Tamil Nadu and Ker­ala. He was also a diplo­mat, ad­viser and men­tor to kings. Chris­tian Schwartz ar­rived when war was rag­ing in In­dia. The Bri­tish, the French and nu­mer­ous lo­cal pow­ers were fight­ing for supremacy: The mis­sion­ary was soon swept into this mael­strom.

Schwartz stud­ied Tamil and Tel­ugu, along with mul­ti­ple Euro­pean lan­guages, be­fore sail­ing to In­dia in 1750. In In­dia, he be­came pro­fi­cient in San­skrit, Marathi, Urdu and Per­sian. His fame spread, and thou­sands flocked to his schools. Schwartz’s un­planned foray into turbulence be­gan in 1762. De­spite be­ing a Lutheran, he agreed to pro­vide last rites for Angli­can Bri­tish sol­diers killed in a gun­pow­der ex­plo­sion. The Bri­tish were im­pressed by his ser­vices; when they cap­tured Madu­rai, they ap­proached him again for sim­i­lar ser­vices. The Com­pany even en­gi­neered an agree­ment be­tween the Lutheran and Angli­can churches: Schwartz could now of­fi­ci­ate ser­vices for Angli­cans but re­main a Lutheran. In 1773, the Ar­cot Nawab’s forces in­vaded and con­quered Thanjavur. Thanjavur was ruled by the Maratha Tul­jaji Bhon­sle. Schwartz and his fol­low­ers en­tered Thanjavur to serve the af­fected Chris­tians. He soon ex­panded aid to non-Chris­tians as well. He ex­e­cuted re­lief mea­sures and be­came very pop­u­lar with the peo­ple. This led to Ma­haraja Tul­jaji (re­stored to his throne in 1776) invit­ing him to be an ad­viser in his court. In re­turn for en­dow­ments to spread his faith, Schwartz agreed. How­ever, the Com­pany sud­denly re­quested him to un­der­take a sen­si­tive mis­sion to Hy­der Ali, the King of Mysore, who had specif­i­cally re­quested that Schwartz be sent. Ap­par­ently, his fame as a poly­glot of im­pec­ca­ble hon­esty had reached Mysore. For his se­cret mes­sages to the Bri­tish, Hy­der Ali could not trust even his own men. Schwartz agreed, in the cause of peace. In Mysore, Schwartz and Hy­der Ali con­versed and Schwartz re­layed the terms to the Com­pany. The Bri­tish re­fused, and An­glo-Mysore ri­valry con­tin­ued. Schwartz now took up his post in Thanjavur. Dur­ing the 2nd An­glo-Mysore War (1780-1784), Mysore’s armies stormed into Tamil Nadu. Schwartz once again led the re­lief work. Hy­der Ali con­tin­ued to display re­spect of Schwartz by al­low­ing him to work un­mo­lested. Three more times Schwartz acted as the in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween Mysore and the Bri­tish. As the Mysore armies laid waste to Thanjavur, un­scrupu­lous court of­fi­cials en­gaged in hoard­ing and cor­rup­tion. This led to a ma­jor re­volt, but Schwartz was able to con­vince the rebels to dis­band. Af­ter Mysore re­treated, Tul­jaji re­quested Schwartz to in­ves­ti­gate the cor­rup­tion. Af­ter Schwartz’s suc­cess­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Tul­jaji dis­missed the cor­rupt of­fi­cials. Tul­jaji and Schwartz be­came closer, and the Ger­man mis­sion­ary be­came the de-facto Raj-Guru of Thanjavur.

In 1787, Tul­jaji be­came se­verely ill. On his deathbed, he re­quested Schwartz to pro­tect his adopted heir, the 10-year old Ser­foji II. Schwartz agreed, well aware of plots to elim­i­nate the heir. Tul­jaji ap­pointed Schwartz as the guardian and Ra­jaGuru of Ser­foji be­fore dy­ing. The re­gent, Tul­jaji’s half-brother, usurped the throne in 1793, but Schwartz fled with the prince to Madras. In 1797, the Bri­tish gov­er­nor gen­eral agreed to re­in­state Ser­foji at Schwartz’s in­sis­tence. Com­pany forces es­corted Ser­foji to Thanjavur and de­posed the usurper. How­ever, a few months be­fore his mentee was for­mally crowned, Chris­tian Schwartz passed away. The griev­ing Ser­foji com­mis­sioned an im­pres­sive mon­u­ment: A white mar­ble sculp­ture de­pict­ing Schwartz on his deathbed and hold­ing Ser­foji’s hand.

Chris­tian Schwartz’s work as a mis­sion­ary helped spread Chris­tian­ity in south In­dia. Alumni of the pub­lic schools he founded served the civil ser­vices for decades. His in­sti­tu­tions also trained many re­puted schol­ars and artists. Schwartz’s role as pro­tec­tor, teacher and Raja-Guru to Ser­foji also had a last­ing im­pact. Ser­foji proved him­self to be a highly ac­com­plished and en­light­ened King. Dur­ing his long reign, Thanjavur be­came a well-de­vel­oped state and a ma­jor cul­tural cen­tre. The Bri­tish ab­sorbed Thanjavur in 1855, af­ter King Shivaji II died heir­less, but Thanjavur re­mained a model king­dom em­u­lated by princely states such as Mysore and Tra­van­core.

The author is an IIM Ahmed­abad alum­nus work­ing in the en­ergy sec­tor. He has a keen in­ter­est in history, pol­i­tics and

strate­gic af­fairs.

The Schwartz Me­mo­rial Church in Tan­jore

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