Melur, currently the part of Madurai from where the name Madura (Melur) was referred to in this period and was the hub for the missionaries
Golden Era of Christianity in Madurai
1. A Brief History of Madurai, The Temple City - From Christianity Perspective
Birth of Christianity in Tamil Nadu, India:
Christianity had its birth in Tamil Nadu, and in India when St Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ landed in Kerala and reached the Mount of St Thomas, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, where he was stalked to death in 52 A.D. Later, with trade and commerce developing relationships with British, French, Portugese and Dutch travelers and traders, the movement of Christian missionaries to India increased.
Madurai, Temple City - Places of Worship for Everyone:
Madurai, the city of Temples as is known for, Temple City, stands true to its name with more number of temples, churches and mosques. This is not only the temples of the religion Hinduism that makes the city, Temple City, but the next equal population of Christianity and Muslims and their churches and mosques makes this city a secular place to live. As far as Christianity is considered both CSI and Roman Catholic stands monumental to some of the oldest churches in India and now there is a mind blowing increase in the number of independent and pentecostal churches. The temples of the Hindu religion symbolizes the architecture of Indian architecture, while the Christian churches and Muslim mosques stands cue to the transitional period of the reigns of the monarchs and the colonisation of the Westerners who entered India as traders.
The Missing Years:
Even though the city of Madurai, geographically speaks more of British colonisation, much forgotten in the recent past in the 18th-20th century are the deeds of the American Missionaries (as on 5.3.2017). This probably maybe due to the reason of the irrelevant stigma imbibed in the minds of the administrative authorities blaming religious leaders to community leaders involved in caste riots that has risen in the recent past between the Dalits led by a Christian Community leader and the opposition by a Hindu community leader, who in fact was helped the very same American Missionaries to have a life for himself.
Roman Catholic Versus Protestant Missionaries in Madurai:
Though with the descendant of St Thomas makes Roman Catholic more ancient, and as should be the case when one turns back the pages of the world history; protestant Christians and their work became increasingly abundant in Madurai, which was then Madura - spanning Melur, Madurai, Sivagangai and Ramnad Districts during the 19th to the 20th centuries. This was the period when the missionaries from Britain and America migrated to Madurai from Tirunelveli. Having found Madura as a hotter climate, these missionaries established their centers of administrative activities to serve the local community in Pasumalai, Melur (Madura) and Kodaikanal. Hence, the work of the Protestants missionaries contributed to a major role in this region of Tamil Nadu, especially in alleviating the downtrodden uncivilized society before independence, and post-independence as well (Biography of Reverend Thirithuvadasan, to be published).
The Lost Sheep - Madurai City as Found by Protestant Missionaries:
Madurai, considered to be the abode of Goddess Meenaskhi, though flourished and prospered, unlike the old Sangam days of denying the entry of Kovalan into the city that resulted in the destruction of the city by fire by his wife, Kannagi, invited and facilitated the Christian Missionaries. Of those, besides the British rule in this Golden era, the American Missionaries flourished the city with their deeds of charity, education, health and much more than only preaching the Word of God.
The Sheperd - Reverend M S Thirithuvadasan:
Reverend Thirithuvadasan, born in a family of Christian Missionaries, as you will find in his Biography (to be published) that God lead his life — education and career — from Tirunelveli, for he found "favour in the sight of God", to serve in Madura (Madurai-Melur). This was the Golden Era of Christanity in this region of Tamil Nadu (and India). There were other people who served God and Christianity in Tamil Nadu via developing Tamil language and literary works pertaining to Christianity during this era. They are Sangai Vedanayagam Sastriyar in Tanjavur (who also moved from Tirunelveli) and Henry Alfred Krishnapillai (who abode in Tirunelveli and was well-lauded as Christian Kambar). Talking more about the Reverend, his work of Christianity focused on the Protestant missionary activities in the region, which even today has a name for itself and is networked world wide. His contribution to this community of Madurai remains commendable that people of this Protestant Christian community remember him even today as their beloved Reverend. During his period, he who was helping the American missionaries predominantly in their administration, communication and theological services, found that The Mission, as is the American Missionaries organisation was referred to, expanded their services to the fields of education, hygiene, health and in collaboration with the then independence heroes of the Indian society and worked towards alleviating the prevailing malpractices in the name of the Hindu religion like caste system like "Harijans" and other superstitions like black magic. The work of the American missionaries during this period recognized the interests of many women in evangelism not only from America but also from India and was hence considered as the "Golden Era of Christianity in Madurai". This has a significance to mark that the the women American and Indian Evangelists were "accepted by the introvert and male dominated society of Madurai". Probably, being the land of the Goddess of Meenakshi, the people would have incarnated in themselves these women evangelists as angels and equivalent human incarnation of Goddess, which could have been the reason for this acceptance and the gratification of the expectation and consolation from these women Evangelists by the deprived population and the lesser privileged population of that society, as Mother Mary is accepted and worshiped by people in distress seeking relief from God as Mary Amman.
Moreover, the missionaries found that they can in no way reach the word of God to those people who know not what is to read and write - and so they taught them to read and write; they cannot help those who are ailing with the word of God and so helped the ailing with their knowledge of hygiene and medicine; they found shelter and food to the needy; employed for their livelihood needs and provided job opportunities and thus an occupation for their living. Thus they served God by serving the community and in the process started becoming one among the locals of Madurai population.
Golden Era of The American Missionaries:
With the increasing Christian missionary work, many churches were also built and thus some of the oldest churches in India and the world exist in this part of the country, in specific the Protestant Churches. The main reason for the Protestant missionaries to flourish in India is the stronger governance by British India, who were Protestants, initially by the King and later by the Queen herself. This is the period when the American missionaries reinvented their missionary work, (1795 - 1812, the Second Awakening), and that continued to the establishment of Indian soil as abode for their families and those who served God with them.
Madura, as was known in those days, and the entire geographic region that remained united and undivided, became a hub for Protestant Missionaries. The deeds and services by these missionaries remains unsurpassable to the city for one reason: one of the stronger foundations in the name of the God for the existing civilized society in the metropolis. This is the reason why this protestant community developed into its own governance and leadership as CSI Madurai-Ramnad Diocese (one of the biggest Diocese in CSI) and blessed to multiply not only by numbers but also in deeds. (Find News clipping in the image below).
From here onwards, we will move forward only to discover and learn more of the silent Christian Society and from where its gross-root foundation was established: serving the city in its development towards modernisation and civilisation; and the Reverend and his life with the American missionaries and the local community of Madura (Melur).
© Rachel Predeepa
Madurai - The Hub for American Missionaries
© 2017 Rachel Predeepa MJ Thirithuvadasan