Historical knowledge

Danish Missionaries and Indian Independence

In 1956, Manikam was ordained the first Indian leader of the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church (TELC) and assigned the title of Bishop of Tranquebar. This was a central event for Indian Protestants in general and for the missionaries from DMS (Danish Mission Society) especially. Although the missionaries worked in the neighbouring Arcot Lutheran Church (ALC), they participated as a matter of course as guests in the ceremony on Fort Dansborg. Manikam and the retiring Bishop Johannes Sandegren, a member of the Church of Sweden Mission, performed the central part of the ceremony: the laying on of hands. In my paper, I shall view the missionaries as representatives of a particular European entity working and living in a former colony and as exponents of a potentially marginalised praxis trying to find its modus vivendi. The following pages thus investigate the changes in the missionaries’ self-perception with an emphasis on the consequences of their attitude towards Indian culture and society. Since the founding of the Lutheran mission in Tranquebar in 1706, the missionaries as well as their Indian co-religionists have worked to create an Indian-Christian, Lutheran community in Tamil Nadu. One main challenge was to try to distinguish which parts of indigenous culture could be separated from Hinduism and accepted among Indian Christians. The objective of my analysis is to cover the later and hardly analytically described part of this history almost to its end, that is, the missionary activities that took place during the first decades after India won independence in 1947. Covering the years between the end of World War II in 1945 and the election of Indira Gandhi in 1966, it will be demonstrated how in only twenty years the Danish missionaries changed from adversaries of Indian independence to advocates of Indian culture in general and the development programmes of the Indian National Congress in particular. It is a strange and monumental change in mentality that went so far as to make some missionaries question the local Christian community itself.

Henschen, Daniel. (2014). “The Bishop of Tranquebar and Shiva's Elephant: Danish Missionaries and Indian Independence”, in Esther Fihl & A. R. Venkatachalapathy (eds.), Beyond Tranquebar: Grappling across Cultural Borders in South India. Orient Blackswan.

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