This book is a critical biography of Baba Padmanji (1831-1906), a firebrand native Christian missionary, ideologue, and litterateur from 19th-century Bombay Presidency. Though Padmanji was well-known, and a very influential figure among Christian converts, his contributions have received inadequate attention from the perspective of ‘social reform’ — an intellectual domain dominated by offshoots of the Brahmo Samaj movement, like the Prarthana Samaj in Bombay.
This book constitutes an in-depth analysis of Padmanji’s relationships with questions of reform, education, modernity, feminism, and religion, that had wide-ranging repercussions on the intellectual horizon of 19th-century India. It presents Padmanji’s integrated writing persona and identity as a revolutionary pathfinder of his times who amalgamated and blended vernacular ideas of Christianity together with early feminism, modernity, and incipient nationalism.
Drawing on a variety of primary and secondary sources, this unique book will be of great interest for area studies scholars (especially Maharashtra), and to researchers of modern India, engaged with the history of colonialism and missions, religion, global Christianity, South Asian intellectual history, and literature.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction 2. Autobiography and Hagiography 3. Engaging the Avant-Garde 4. The Christian Vernacular Genre 5. Yamunaparyatan: The First Marathi Novel 6. Concluding Remarks
Deepra Dandekar is a historian of gender and religion, having written her Ph.D. on childbirth rituals in Maharashtra, published in 2017. Writing on religious minorities, migration, and the intellectual history of 19th and 20th-century India thereafter, she retains a special interest in the history of Christianity and the importance of narratives for history writing. Her last book The Subhedar’s Son: A Narrative of Brahmin-Christian Conversion from Nineteenth-century Maharashtra was published in 2019, and she presently works as a researcher at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany, on an independent research grant on Muslims in modern Maharashtra.
"This balanced and critical biography of a Marathi-Christian activist, preacher, thinker, and writer makes a splendid contribution to our understanding of Christianity in India. By an accomplished historical anthropologist, its Indo-centric perspectives are fresh, fascinating, and altogether compelling. The result is a remarkable display of cultural hybridity."
Robert Eric Frykenberg, Professor Emeritus of History & South Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin – Madison, USA
"…a persuasive study of Baba Padmanji, a remarkable Maharashtrian convert to Christianity in the era of high colonialism. Dandekar brilliantly showcases Padmanji’s legacy as an educationalist, reformer, novelist, feminist and modern Indian… [his] vernacularization of Protestantism… and quest for Christian faith…is a befitting critique of Western scholarship on the Enlightenment."
Padma Anagol, Reader in Modern Indian History and Director, Centre for Asian Studies, Cardiff Wales, UK.
"Dandekar continues her astute and timely study of the intersection of literature, religion, and Christian conversion in nineteenth-century India through this new biography and intellectual history of Baba Padmanji and the 'vernacular missionary field'. She eloquently shows how bhakti or devotionalism was harnessed to express a modern Indian Christian conviction that asserted Christianity was the only real means toward radical social progress"
Christian Novetzke, Professor of International Studies and Comparative Religion, University of Washington, USA.
"This captivating biography of Baba Padmanji integrates the study of religious conversion, cultural politics, and book printing in Maharasthra. Dandekar brings to light a vernacular Christian tradition that has been ignored or suppressed in missionary and nationalist discourse. At a time when minorities in India are vilified as members of "foreign" religions, this book makes a timely intervention."
Chandra Mallampalli, Fletcher Jones Foundation Chair of Social Sciences, Westmont College, USA.
"Dandekar’s critical reading of Baba Padmanji’s prolific Marathi writings offers an excellent intervention in current scholarship on nineteenth-century Christian literature in Indian languages. Her study brings to life the intellectual contributions of this controversial and polemic figure by juxtaposing Marathi literary history and social reform debates with Christian conversion and feminism, a task seldom undertaken. Particularly valuable is her attention to various genres of Padmanji’s ouvre to investigate his shaping of a Protestant vernacular discourse in response to various interlocutors."
Hephzibah Israel, Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies, School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh, UK.