In this series of articles, we are introducing the book ‘History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304 to 1996)’ by Shri Sita Ram Goel, to readers old and new. Shri SR Goel was one of the leading intellectuals & writers of Independent Bharat, whose work was subsequently marginalised & suppressed by the left-leaning academic establishment. We are grateful to VoiceOfDharma.org for making this treasure trove of books/articles available for the common public.
Hallucinations of the Devil’s Devotees
For a long time, the Syrian Christians provided the only contact which Hindu Dharma had with Christianity. Bharat lost touch with the Christian West for well-nigh seven centuries because Islamic empires in the Middle East and Central Asia, had raised a barrier between the two. Christians and Muslims were involved in mortal combat soon after the death of prophet Muhammad in 632 CE. Christian travelers ran the risk of death if they tried to come east through Muslim dominated routes on land and sea. Hindu merchants, too, lost the incentive for going to Europe. Muslim merchants had monopolised all trade between the East and the West. Hindu sages and savants could hardly think of going abroad; they were having a very difficult time at home where Islam was heaping humiliations on them.
It goes to the credit of medieval Christianity that in spite of this total loss of physical contact, it kept alive the memory of the Brahmanas in its theology. Christian theologians never forgot to remember the Brahmanas whenever they thought of the Pagan Greeks, which was quite often. Only the status of the Brahmanas vis-a-vis the Greeks had suffered a decline. In Pagan times, the Brahmanas were known as teachers of the Greeks, but in Christian centuries they came to be known only as Pythagoreans who avoided animal food and believed in transmigration. That, however, did not make a difference to Christian perception of the Brahmana religion.
So, when the Church Fathers converted the Gods of the Greeks into devils, the Gods of the Brahmanas suffered a similar fate. St. Augustine, writes Professor Partha Mitter, sanctioned the idea that demons persuaded the ancients to false belief. Some of the most virulent attacks on pagan gods are to be found in St. Augustine’s De Civitate Dei, where he argued that devils presented themselves to be adored, but they were no gods but wicked fiends and most foul, unclean and impotent spirits.1 The Christian travelers who started trickling into Bharat from the fourteenth century onwards, could not help seeing the hosts of hell in Hindu temples.
The first Christian traveler to Bharat who has left a written account was a friar, Father Odoric of Podenone. He was in South Bharat from 1316 CE to 1318 CE. He was the first traveler, proceeds Professor Mitter, to leave a description of a monstrous idol in the form of half man and half ox. The monster at Quilon in South Bharat gave responses from its mouth and demanded the blood of forty virgins to be given to it.2 This description passed into a painting by Boucicau Master, the greatest illuminator of manuscripts in Paris in the first years of the fifteenth century. One of his illustrations in Livres de marveilles, a famous manuscript, is on human sacrifice taking place in Quilon in front of an idol.3 This painting for the first time assigned horns and goat-head to a Bharatiya god which had until now been the common features of the devil.4
But by far the best Christian commentator on Hindu Gods was the Italian traveler, Ludovico di Varthema, from Bologna. He was in South Bharat between 1503 CE and 1508 CE. According to his description of the religion prevailing in the area, the Raja of Calicut paid respect to a devil known as Deumo in these parts. He had an eye for detail, small and big, as is evident from his Itineratio published in 1510 CE.
The Raja of Calicut, he wrote, keeps this Deumo in his chapel in his palace. The chapel had in its midst a devil made of metal. This devil had four horns and four teeth with a very large mouth, nose and most terrible eyes. Its hands were made like those of a flesh-hook and the feet like those of a cock. Varthema saw many more devils in pictures around the said chapel. On each side of the chapel, he found a Satan seated in a seat, which seat is placed in a flame of fire, wherein are a great number of souls, of the length of half a finger and a finger of the hand. He concluded his account of the Raja’s chapel by stating that the Satan holds a soul in his mouth with the right hand and with the other seizes a soul by the waist.5
An illustrated edition of Varthema’s Itineratio was published in Germany in 1515 CE.. The Deumo of Calicut came alive in a woodcut by an Augsburg artist. Varthema was translated in all major European languages and ran into numerous illustrated editions. It became the best travel guide for most European visitors to Bharat during the two succeeding centuries.
Professor Mitter has summarised the reports of these travelers so far as they refer to Hindu Gods. He has also reproduced pictorial samples of what these travelers saw with their own eyes in one Hindu temple after another. He prepares his readers before he proceeds with the travelogues. It does not surprise us, he explains, that these travelers believed in the essential truthfulness of their reports which were of course unquestionably accepted by their contemporaries. Yet as a comparison of actual Bharatiya sculptures with their early descriptions reveals, the early travelers were far from being objective. That is not to say that there was a deliberate conspiracy, for that would have made things easy for us. It is simply that early travelers preferred to trust what they had been taught to expect instead of trusting their own eyes.6
Professor Mitter puts the blame on the Church Fathers who had taught that all pagan gods were demons and devils.7 But that does not explain why devils and demons occupied all the attention of the Church for many centuries to the exclusion of everything else even when no pagan gods were around any more. It has been calculated by scholars of the subject that the number of devils and demons known to the Church ran up to eight millions. We have to face the fact that Christianity has been and remains a cult of devil-worship. That is why its adherents see only devils and demons wherever they go. There is no other explanation for the hallucinations of Varthema and Company. The fact that the Devil is described as God in the Bible should make no difference.
1. Partha Mitter, The Much Maligned Monsters, Oxford, 1977, p. 9.
2. Ibid., p. 11.
4. Ibid., p. 14.
5. Ibid., p. 17
6. Ibid., p. 2.
7. Ibid., p. 17. The medieval Christian image of Hindu Gods persists in our own times. Abbe Duboi, the famous French missionary, wrote a whole chapter on Hindu temples in his book, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Coming to Hindu idols he says, Hindu imagination is such that it cannot be excited except by what is monstrous and extravagant (p. 607). The third and final edition of this book was published in 1897, nearly a hundred years ago. But it remains the best primer on Hindu Dharma for the average Western traveler to Bharat. Max Muller recommended it as containing views of an eye-witness, a man singularly free from all prejudice (p. vii). It has run through a dozen reprints in England. The Oxford University Press has printed its Fifth Indian impression as recently as 1985. Several other Bharatiya publishers have produced it in different shapes and sizes because it is in constant demand. We have no idea in how many languages it has been translated and how many reprints it has run elsewhere. The total turnout over the years must have been considerable. For many modern Hindus, it is the only source of their knowledge about the religion of their ancestors.
(To be continued….)
Book: History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304 to 1996) (Chapter 1 & 2)
Author: Sita Ram Goel
Originally published:1989 (2nd edition 1996)
Published by: Voice of India
Available on: Amazon
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