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National Seminar on the Kristapuran

By Father Joaquim Fernandes SDB
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Mumbai, Jan. 18. A National Seminar was held on January 8 and 9 at Mumbai University, Kalina, Mumbai, on the theme of 'The Kristapuran and Sant Sahitya,' in honour of the fourth death Centenary of Father Thomas Stephens sj (1549-1619). It was organised by the Gurudev Tagore Chair of Comparative Literature University of Mumbai; inspired by the twenty-three-year work of  Dr. Father Nelson Falcao sdb on the Kristapuran.
The Head of the Department, Dr. Anil Sapkal worked with Dr. Falcao for a year to plan the seminar, to invite various eminent speakers and academicians from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and to present their well-researched papers. The speakers, as well as the participants, were on a national and international level.

The seminar began with the unveiling of a portrait of Fr. Thomas Stephens sj,  by the Chief Guest, Professor Dr. Sadanand More, the recently appointed Adhyaksha of Maharashtra rajya  Sahitya Sanskruti Mandal.  After that followed the talks by Dr. Anand Patil who spoke on, 'The Kristapuran, Sant Sahitya, Dalits and Injustice'.  

Writer and Publisher, Ramdas Bhatkal spoke on, 'Kristapuran, Theism, Atheism'.  Professor Sadanand More spoke on, 'Kristapuran, Anthropological Philosophy, and Justice'.   Fr. Dr. Nelson Falcao sdb was the main speaker and he presented the main and important ideas in his Bija-bhashan or the root-talk. Dr. Falcao gave an all-around presentation on the theme of 'Kristapuran, Sant Sahitya, Puranas and Influences'.

Besides the above four talks, during the afternoon of the first day and the whole of the second day, the following talks were given:  Dr. Kalyan Kale, the ex-head of Marathi department of Pune University spoke on 'Kristapuran and various editions';  Dr. Cecilia Carvalho - 'The Influence of Sant Sahitya on the Kristapuran';  Dr. Anupama Ujagare - 'Kristapuran and Kristayan of Narayan Vaman Tilak'; Dr. Balkrishna Lalit - 'The Language of the Kristapuran';  Father Francis de Britto -  'Kristapuran and the Bible'; Dr. Aparna Sabne - 'Kristapuran and Sant Chokhomela';  Dr. Annie Royson - 'Kristapuran, Puranas in Marathi and translations'; Dr. Vedashree Thigle - 'The Svarup (form) of the Kristapuran: Special and Relevant Contribution';  Dr. Prajakta Shitre - 'The Sant Sahitya at the Time of the Kristapuran';  Dr. Bhaskar Hande - 'Kristapuran and Art';  Dr. Anil Sapkal - 'Kristapuran and Sant Sahitya - Synthesis and Recapitulation'.   There were in all seventeen papers, with speakers cutting across states, cultures, religions, and languages.

Thomas Stephens set foot on Indian soil in 1579, making the country his home for 40 years until his death. He was born at Clyffe Pipard, Bushton, Wiltshire, England in 1549 and died in Goa, India, in 1619. His father was also named Thomas Stephens (Stevens) of Bushton, and his mother's name was Jane.  Stephens studied at the Winchester College till the age of eighteen (1567).

During the persecutions and conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants in England, Stephens managed to escape to Rome. In Rome, he entered the Society of Jesus on October 20, 1575, and began his studies in preparation for the priesthood in the Society of Jesus.  Having heard and read the letters of St. Francis Xavier sj from India, inviting young people to the great harvest of Indian mission, he opted for Indian missions and with due permissions left Lisbon by sea on April 4, 1579, and arrived in Goa via the Cape of Good Hope, by October 24, 1579.  He worked in India for the rest of his life i.e. for forty years (1579-1619), 39 years in Goa and one year in Vasai.

Enamoured by the rich Indian tradition, zest for spreading God's Word, and seeing an urgent need of Christian literature in Marathi language for the new-converts, Father Stephens went on to narrate the life of Jesus Christ, the  Kristapurāṇa, interpreting it in the Hindu-Vaiṣṇavaite tradition, just as St. Paul interpreted the faith in Greco-Hebrew categories and St. Thomas Aquinas in Scholastic terminology.  The Kristapurāṇa, a Christian Biblical Epic, is a classical example of Hermeneutics for the world to see.  It could be called an 'Indian Bible.'  The original text is in Sanskritized ancient Marathi, consisting of about 11,000 verses.

The Sanskritized Marathi Poetry has been translated into Marathi Prose and also English Prose. In both the translations the original text has been given side by side in Devanāgiri and Roman Scripts respectively.  Through the Kristapurāṇa one can get a glimpse of the immense treasure which is part of Indian Christian heritage;  one can discover the wealth of Eastern, Indian Wisdom;  one can taste and see the mysterious riches of the face of Christ painted, interpreted, expressed in Hindu-Vaiṣṇavaite tradition.

Using the literary style of the Hindu Purāṇas, The Kristapurāṇa traces the history of salvation from Creation to Parousia, the focus being on the life of Jesus Christ.  Besides the monumental Kristapurāṇa, Stephens also wrote two other important works:  A Marathi, Konkani Grammar (Arte de lingoa Canarim) and a book on Christian Doctrine in Konkani language (Doutrina Cristam). Thomas Stephens is well known in several Indian Universities for his early (XIV century) literary contribution to Marathi Literature and culture of India.

After every session which consisted of three or four presentations of papers, there followed a small discussion or classification of ideas. During the short exchanges and discussions, various viewpoints emerged. Dr. Sadanand More, President of Maharashtra rajya  Sahitya Sanskruti Mandal said, ''The word 'Mission' cannot be translated in Marathi. Wherever there is humanity there will be injustice, inequality, violence, and hatred. Kristapuran and Sant Sahitya is a help to build justice, unity, and peace. Among various Christian Puranas which were composed between 16th to 19th centuries mostly by foreigners, Kristapuran seems to be the only one that fits into the frame of Mahakavyas;  it is a Great Biblical Epic.''

''In all the Puranas the weaving thread is the eradication of human injustice, striving for classless and casteless society, equality of all, and peace among all. We need critical, just, and right interpretation and hermeneutics of Puranas,'' Dr. Anand Patil, retired English Professor, Comparative Studies, Kolhapur said.

''Kristapuran and Sant Sahitya have three common weaving threads and they are:  'Bhakti', 'Sarveshwar, One God,' and 'Sarvadharmasamabhava','' Dr. Ramdas Bhatkal, Gandhian, writer and publisher, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, said.

Dr. Fr. Nelson Falcao sdb, professor of Philosophy and Theology,  speaking of his 23-year long journey with the Kristapuran, said, ''Kristapuran is born out of the whole great Indian tradition of Puranas. Thus, there are many similarities and differences between the Kristapuran and the Sant Sahitya.''

''The Kristapuran could be called a Mahakavya because it fulfills all the necessary conditions required for being one such. The two critical editions of Dr. Falcao, both in Marathi and English and his forthcoming translations will help the research at college and university levels,'' Dr. Kalyan Kale, ex-head of Marathi department, Pune University, said.

''The Kristapuran is teaching us that all religions should come together through interreligious dialogue and cooperation, and work out Sarvadharmasamabhav, peace, harmony, and non-violence,'' Father Francis de Britto, Ex-Editor of Suwarta Magazine, said.

''The composition of the Kristapuran is much influenced by Sant Sahitya. Thomas Stephens read several Puranas and composed the Kristapuran according to the style and format of Indian Puranas,'' Dr. Cecilia Carvalho, Marathi author, Ex-Principal of St. Gonzalo Garcia College, Vasai, said.

''There are some similarities and differences between the Kristapuran of Thomas Stephens and the Kristayan of Narayan Vaman Tilak,'' Dr. Anupama Ujagare, said. ''In the Kristapuran there are beautiful words of praise sung for the Marathi language.  Also, Dr. S.G. Tulpule has words of praise for Thomas Stephens for his Kristapuran. The Kristapuran falls under Smruti and it is a Mahakavya,'' Dr. Balkrishna Lalit, Member of Marathi Abhyas Mandal, Savitribai Phule, Pune, Shirur Mahavidyalaya, Pune, said.

''There are a lot of similarities and differences between the Kristapuran and the Abhangas of Sant Chokhomela.  Both try to eradicate injustice, inequality, and differences based on caste. Both stand for human justice, equality, and casteless society,'' Dr. Aparna Sabne, retired Marathi guide, Pune, said.

''The Kristapuran is the first retelling of the Bible; there being no Biblical translations before this text, this turns out to be the first indirect translation of the Bible into Marathi poetry,'' Dr. Annie Royson, Ph.D. on the Kristapuran, said. Dr. Vedashree Thigle, Principal at Dindori College, Nashik said, ''Human beings cannot digest the Great God, Sarveshwar. Kristapuran is full of values of life and of truth.''

''Thomas Stephens is the Shakespeare of Konkan and contemporary of the real Shakespeare of English Literature; both are from England;  Thomas Stephens is the first grammarian. He spent one year at Vasai (1611),'' Father Francis Correia, ex-Editor of Suwarta Magazine, co-Editor presently, said.

''The Kristapuran is a Mahakavya. Thomas Stephens is a Marathi Poet.  Kristapuran is full of values of life. Jnana is common to all peoples,'' Dr. Meela Gokhale, said. Dr. Anil Sapkal, Head of Marathi department, Mumbai University said, ''The Kristapuran is a monumental work;  it is part of the syllabus in several universities and it calls for interdisciplinary studies.''
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