Dr. Deepra Dandekar
Researcher, Center for the History of Emotions
Max Planck Institute for Human Development
Baba Padmanji was a prolific Marathi writer, who espoused women’s education, empowerment, the need for spiritual reform, and Christian conversion in mid-nineteenth century Maharashtra. Educated in convents and influenced by the Scottish Free Church Institution of India, and especially by charismatic Christian reformists such as Rev. Narayan Sheshadri, Padmanji went on to stay in Bombay as a missionary of the Scottish Free Church and became well-known for his vociferous Marathi Christian texts. While Strividyabhyasnibandha (1852) is a prize-winning essay on women’s education, Yamunaparyatan (1857), credited as the first Marathi novel, documents the travails of a Hindu widow, whose true redemption lies in Christian conversion. Apart from this, Padmanji’s treatises include an exposition of heathen licentiousness, Vyabhicharnishedhak Bodh (1854) and translations of Biblical stories: Paharekaryachi Vani (1878) and Jagatshetacha Putra Narnayak (1879). He translated various expositions of the Vedas, such as Vedic Hindudharma (1892) and Hindudharmache Swarup (1901), and produced annotated grammatical treatises and lexicons such as A Compendium of Molesworth’s Marathi and English Dictionary (1863) and Shalopayogi va Gruhopayogi Saunskrut-Marathi Kosh (1891).
Padmanji participated enthusiastically in the flourishing print journalism of the mid-nineteenth century. He contributed to bilingual (Marathi and English) journals such as Dnyanodaya published by the American Mission Press from Bombay.
His autobiographical reminiscences and memoirs, for which he is best known, consist of a detailed documentation of conversion and everyday Christianity among the upper castes in nineteenth-century Maharashtra: Arundodaya (1908 – 2nd edition) and Anubhavasangraha (1904).
His intellectual scope was not limited to reformist modernism in the field of religion and conversion alone, since he compared Hindu deities, such as Krishna and Christ in Krushna ani Krista hyanchi Tulana (1867) and published literary criticisms of Bhakti hagiographies, Eknath Charitra Pariksha (1891), in addition to various other documents such as Biblical commentaries. Padmanji’s literary contribution to religion as an emergent field in the Marathi nineteenth-century, was accompanied by his lived witness to experiments with ‘truth’ that were unparalleled in the writing of other Marathi Christian converts of the time.