CHRISTIANITY IN KARNATAKA (EARLY PERIOD)

This brief note is confined to the advent of Christianity in Karnataka prior to the beginning of eighteenth century. This influx was predominant in coastal Karnataka. It was the visits and migrations of people from Goa both Christians and non-Christians that brought in a flavour of Christian culture. This happened as early as the sixteenth century. Christianity reached Karnataka in the 16th century with the arrival of the Portuguese and St. Francis Xavier in 1542 A.D. even though there are speculations about the arrival of Christianity as early as the fourteenth century. It’s essentially the Roman Catholic Church that made its presence during this period. Rosario Cathedral, The Church of the most holy Rosary, at Bolar in Mangalore district is one of the oldest Churches in Karnataka built by the Portuguese in the year 1568. “The Portuguese also had trade links in Kanara and Malabar and as such they built a factory for curing and storage of spices and other condiments prior to shipment. Since they felt the necessity of a church for their spiritual welfare they built a church (Holy Rosary Church) referred to as the "Factory Church" of Bolar.”  Rosario Cathedral has a turbulent past. It was allegedly destroyed by Tipu Sultan during 1794 to 1799. In the year 1910, the ruins of the church were flattened and the construction of a new and grand church was commissioned.  Apparently two more churches were established in UllAL and PirangipET. (“The Churches of Nossa Senhora de Mercês de Velala (Our Lady of Mercy of Ullal) and São Francisco de Assis (St. Francis of Assisi) at Farangipet were also erected by the Portuguese during the same time in South Canara.) These three churches are mentioned in the travel accounts of Pietro Della Valle the traveler from Italy.

Two bouts of migrations seem to have taken place from Goa to Karnataka. The first was during the regime of Vasco da Gama when many converted Christians had to flee Goa unable to face the inquests. They got the support of the royal dynasty of Ikkeri. The number of Christians under the rule of Shivappa Nayaka is estimated to be between 6,000 and 30,000. Jesuits priests were responsible for the building of a church in BasrUr again in South Canara district. Much later there was another influx of Kannada speaking Konkanis and Christians in 1683, when Maharashtrians took over the reins of power. Even though this did not lead to large scale conversions and propagation of the religion, there was an in direct impact which might have lead to some cultural exchanges.

          The situation in North Karnataka and the princely state of Mysore is slightly different. Churches were built in Khanapura (Belgaum district) and sunkEri (North Canara district) in 1606 and 1709 respectively. They were supported by the kings of sOndA and bidanUr dynasties.

            Franciscan missionaries spread the gospel during the closing years of the sixteenth century in the state of Mysore. Leonardo Cinnami the Jesuit monk from Goa made a systematic effort to convert and met with a fair degree of success. It is estimated that there were as many as 30,000 Christians and eighteen missionaries by the end of seventeenth century in Mysore state.

            ‘Riglo Jezu Molliant’ (a Konkani epic written by Fr Joachim Miranda and ‘kristAmv purANa’ (1614 A.D.??) a biographical account of Jesus Christ by Fr Thomas Stephens were quite popular. (Krista Purana, an epic poem on the life of Jesus Christ written in a mix of Marathi and Konkani. Adopting the literary form of the Hindu puranas it retells the entire story of mankind, from the creation days to the time of Jesus, in lyrical verse form. The Christian Puranas - 11,000 stanzas of 4 verses - were very popular in the churches of the area where they were sung on special occasions up to the 1930s. Although no copy of the original edition is extant it is believed to have been written or published in 1616.)

            The history of Christianity after the seventeenth century is long and illustrious and this is not the occasion to document it.

 

Further reading and links:

1.      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangalorean_Catholics

 

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