have a long history in India, from as early as the mid first millennium BC with the start of the Buddhist era. Although the
Telugu region included major centres of Buddhist civilisation around the lower Krishna river in the centuries following, continuities
from those ancient times are elusive. It is a reformist Saivite movement led by Basava, Basaveśvara
or Basavanna, an official of King Bijjala of Kalyana[a] in the twelfth century, that is relevant here. This was at its root
hostile to discrimination on the basis of caste, since assertive and absolute devotion to Lord Siva was the only and essential
basis for discriminating. It was necessarily fiercely anti-Brahmin.
'Basavesvara is understood to have belonged to a Brāhmana
family of noble traditions. But he was keen to draw a dark curtain over his hereditary superiority and forget his past kinship
and kindreds’. He adopted new parents and choose different kinsmen, ‘and they were all drawn from the low classes
and communities, particularly those degraded and segregated as outcasts. Again and again, he pronounces the name of Dōhara
Kakkayya, a low-born tanner, as his father and Mādara Chennayya, a cobler, as his grandfather’. (Desai 1968: 202)
In the following century, Palkuriki Somanatha, gave the movement the Basava
Purāna, a great classic of early Telugu literature and in effect a biography of Basaveśvara. This was potentially
a powerful tool of propaganda embodying this original message down the centuries, even if it was in practice rarely heard.
The Vīraśaiva or Lingayat movement itself, however, underwent a ‘Brahminisation’ with ‘a validation
of caste identities and of brahminic superiority’ (Narayana Rao 1990 15-16)[b]. Srisailam, the main Saivite pilgrimage
city of Andhra Pradesh, became its Telugu centre.[c] As was seen in Chapter 1, aspects of the Basava
Purāna are alive in contemporary Madiga consciousness.
this chapter it is the interaction between Christian anti-caste influences and such earlier traditions that the readings enable
us to consider. The first observer, Emma Rauschenbusch-Clough, looks for the thinking and the organising in the local society
that made the Christian message less than completely alien when it reached Madigas in the nineteenth century. The Rev. John
E. Clough, with the first Mrs Clough, established the startlingly successful American Baptist Mission at Ongole in the Coastal
region of Andhra Pradesh. Begun in 1866, it became a mission to the Madigas. Already by 1883 when Emma Rauschenbusch first
came to Ongole, there were over 20,000 members, making it the largest Baptist church in the world.[d] The Census of India
for 1891 reported a total of 84,158 Christians of the American Baptist Telugu Mission. Emma subsequently studied in Switzerland
and wrote a PhD thesis on Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer of English feminism. This was published as Mary Wollenstonecraft
and the Rights of Women (London: Longmans, Green & Co. 1898). She married John Clough after the death of his first
wife and returned with him to Ongole, as a researcher and writer rather than an active mission worker. She sought to understand
the Madiga experience behind the conversion in its Hindu context and to present the story to the wider world. In doing so,
as a privileged observer she provides an unparalleled perspective on Madiga life in the nineteenth century.[e]
In the last section, on Christian conversion, her own work
is followed up with accounts of the experience of Madiga Christians of a later generation in Telangana.
Chermanista and Nazraiah
Emma Rauschenbusch-Clough 1899.
While Sewing Sandals.
of a Telugu Pariah Tribe. London: Hodder &
the Chermanishta sect there are meetings that need the cover of darkness. Vague reports only reach the outer world of that
which is done in secret. Once a year the members of the Chermanishta sect meet in the house of one of their number. They may
belong to any other cult or religion, and yet come to this secret meeting. Religious distinctions and caste distinctions are
wiped out for the time being. Strange to say, Brahmin, Sudra and Madiga are, during that night, on a basis of equality. But
the utmost secrecy is required of all. In the morning all resume their own caste, and no one dare divulge the knowledge of
the presence of the others during the orgies of the night.
As midnight approaches, the Guru enters the house of meeting;
the rest follow, one after another. After all are seated, the Guru goes around with a vessel containing sarai [toddy], and
lets each one take a sip. In the other hand he has a piece of meat, and touches the tongue of each. He himself finally eats
and drinks of both. Then nine kinds of meat, previously cooked, are passed around: fowl, pigeon, pig, goat, cow, donkey, cat,
dog and buffalo. Each one puts a little of each on a plate made of dried leaves and eats it, while sarai flows plentifully.
eating, all sing: ‘We have now severed both caste and family connection. We have joined together both ruling caste
and servants. We desire to be saved by the Guru. This is the time.’
The piece of meat, which touches the tongue of each, seems
intended to wipe out every social distinction between them. Later in the night a woman is brought in – generally, it
seems, a Madiga woman – and there are orgies that form a loathsome representation of the creative force in nature. At
last the Guru announces the place for the next meeting, and all steal away silently, one after another, as they came.
fact that the Madigas are admitted to the rites which join kulapathi and dasulathi, ‘ruling caste
and servants,’ is not without its own significance. Perhaps the Brahmins learned the mysteries of the cult from the
aborigines. The members of the sect claim that the deeds of the night are free from lust and vice, because the mind is filled
with thoughts of worship.
Nowhere in books could I find a reference to the Chermanishta sect. I concluded
that perhaps it was Sakti worship under a local name – perhaps the name of the Guru who first taught its rites in parts
of the Telugu country. I thought it would have to be classified as a worship of Siva, because Saktism generally centres in
Parvati, the consort of Siva. But I was told repeatedly, by those who claimed that they knew, that it was part of the Ramanuja
An explanation was given me which is a mixture of fact and hearsay. My informants knew that there
was once a great teacher, Ramanuja[f], who made disciples of all castes and of both sexes. He did not initiate his followers
into the mysteries of his doctrines, but wrote them in a book, which he concealed from them. At the time of his death no one
was with him, and the book of secret doctrines fell into the hands of the Brahmins, who characteristically kept it to themselves.
But his other followers, too, wanted to know of the teaching of their Guru. Two of his disciples, who were women of the caste
of dancing-women, and were, therefore, versed in the art of reading and writing, sought to meet the emergency by writing each
a book. They claimed that these books contained the teaching of Ramanuja, imparted to them on his death-bed. From one of these
books sprang the Ramanuja sect, from the other the Chermanishta sect. […]
Nazriah the reformer
happened again and again that men and women told me, ‘Before I became a Christian I belonged to the Nasriah sect.’
enquired what this sect was.
‘The Gurus of the Nasriah sect came to us and said, “Don't steal,
don't worship idols, don't drink sarai.” It was a good religion, for they taught us that there is only one God.’
many Madigas belong to it?’
The answers were vague. One man said there were at least one hundred. The next
man said there must have been one thousand. The third man said, ‘How can I know?’
many questions. Who was this Nasriah? When did he live? Where in the multiplicity of Hindu cults was his teaching to be classed?
I found a man who said he had been in Tiprantakamu at the annual feast of the Nasriah sect. Another said he had seen Sundramah,
the last surviving disciple of Nasriah.
Finally I heard of a man, a Madiga, who was said to have seen Nasriah himself.
I sent for him. He came – a stern old man, with Roman nose and shaggy brows. ‘Did you, yourself, see Nasriah?’
laid five finger-tips in each eye; he bent towards me, and the attitude and tenseness of his body emphasized his words: ‘With
these eyes I saw Nasriah.’
Thus I had Nasriah placed as to time. This man was seventy years old, at most
seventy-five. His father had been carried away with the religious movement produced by Nasriah and had taken him, as a little
boy, to Tiprantakamu. There the lad had seen Nasriah, a few years before his death, which must have occurred about the year
I hoped to hear something about the personality of the remarkable man, Nasriah, whose influence
was so wide-spread, even after many years. But the stern old man before me could tell me nothing about the man, though he
was ready to tell me much about the sect which bears his name. For years he was an initiated Guru of that sect. I gathered
from him all he could tell me, but the more I heard the more I desired to know who this Nasriah was. I sent word in several
directions whether there was any man living who remembered hearing his father tell any story about the Guru Nasriah. Thus
a Mohammedan was discovered whose father had been an initiated disciple of Nasriah, and had often told him the story of the
way in which Nasriah became so great a Guru. He himself had seen him when a young boy. He was now an old man, and the story
which he told is characteristic of the religious life of India.
There lived, a hundred years ago, a Mohammedan of the Syed
sect, who was a wealthy trader. He owned several ships, and often went on long voyages. On one of his voyages, Galep Sherif
– for such was his name – met with a Guru whose teaching attracted him. He asked for instruction, and then proceeded
to obey his teacher implicitly. His lucrative business was given up. In the Baputla Taluk he built himself a temple, where
he dwelt, and many came to hear his teaching. His main doctrine was that there is only one God.
Rajah of Narsaravapetta heard of Galep Sherif and the supernatural power which he possessed to work miraculous deeds. He sent
his messenger to invite the Guru to his palace, intimating that he had some inclination to become his disciple. Galep Sherif
came. He waited a day or two, but the Rajah delayed to summon him to his presence. Not willing to wait longer, he arose and
started on his homeward journey.
Now the Rajah had an attendant, Nasr Mahomed by name, of the Shaik sect, who
was deeply interested in this Guru. He followed him as he left the palace, fell at his feet, and begged to be instructed as
his disciple. The Guru demanded an initiation fee of four hundred rupees. So intent was Nasr Mahomed on receiving the desired
instruction that he promised the fee, though he knew he had nothing wherewith to pay it. After he had been taught even the
power to perform miracles, the day approached when he must pay the promised fee. Nasr Mahomed rose up and fled. He reached
Tiprantakamu, where there was a Hindu temple. The attendants at the temple and the worshippers who came listened to his teaching,
and the number of his followers increased daily.
Galep Sherif became aware of the hiding-place of his disciple, Nasr Mahomed,
and appeared in person at the temple to demand the promised fee. There was deliberation among the followers of Nasr Mahomed.
They said: ‘He is a great Guru. Let us pay his debt, and then let us build him a temple. He will stay among us, and
we shall earn salvation.’ Galep Sherif received his fee and went his way. A large temple was built, and ere long the
influence of the new Guru was felt far and near. The common people gave to the Mohammedan name Nasr the Telugu ending, and
thus the sect became known as the Nasriah sect.
And what was the creed of Nasriah? By birth he was a Mohammedan, yet I never
heard that he or his followers mentioned Mohammed, the prophet. The Guru with whom Galep Sherif came in contact on his voyage
must have been a Yogi. The teaching of Nasriah is largely Yogi doctrine. In fact, his followers called themselves Rajayogi
people. The Mohammedan and the Yogi alike assert that there is one God.
The following instructions for devotion, given by Nasriah,
coincide with Yogi doctrine: ‘Concentrate your mind. Put away all secret thoughts. Turn the eye upward. Forget the existence
of the body. Let the sight turn towards the coil of hair on top of the head (as worn by sanyasis). Gaze with firm mind. The
following will appear: Light, angelic spirits, sacred rivers and places, also Rishis, the sun and moon, lightning, thunder,
fire, water, sound will fill the heavens, the earth will appear as if it were an egg, Brahma will be seen, all as if one.’
made disciples and sent them out to preach. He made no distinction of either caste or sex. Women as well as men passed through
the initiatory rites, and then went forth to make converts. I enquired about these rites, but came upon a solid wall of silence
every time. The most that any one told me was that something was whispered into their ear which must never be passed on to
any one who was not in turn found worthy to receive initiation.
During the life-time of Nasriah his disciples feared to do
what he had forbidden. He rebuked them when he found that sarai and bhang were used by them. He frowned on caste distinction.
He was a man whose righteous indignation could overpower him. Even those who could not tell me who Nasriah was could tell
of his act of vengeance when he shed blood to mark his hatred of lust. He heard one day the cry of one of his female disciples
who was being insulted and injured. He caught the evil-doer, and stabbed him in the heart. Nothing was done to him, for, though
he was imprisoned, none could hold him. The common people saw him pass through the prison walls and walk about in the bazaar
while the keepers stood at the prison door. Such were of the powerful hold which he had upon the people.
his death the sect became corrupt. His disciples said it could do no harm to worship idols.In their ethical precepts they
grew lax. Why should not a man steal if he could do so without exposure ? It was irksome to abstain from sarai and bhang.
It seems that even the most revolting forms of Sakti-worship entered the sect.
I doubt whether the separate temple for the Madigas at Tiprantakamu
was built during the life-time of Nasriah. He would not have permitted such emphasis on caste-distinction. One of his earliest
converts seems to have been a Madiga, who was made a Guru, and was sent out to convert his people. To belong to the Nasriah
sect meant advancement to the Madigas. They realized that the theism of Nasriah was better than the polytheism of their village
cults. One man said to me: ‘A Yogi first told me that I am of sinful nature, and must seek to earn salvation. I never
before had thought of myself in that way.’ Another man said: ‘Beside our own village gods, I worshipped the idols
of Vishnu. But when the Rajayogi people came and told me that there is one God, and that idols are useless, I believed them.
It was much better than anything I had before heard.’ It raised the Madigas in the social scale, too, to belong to the
Nasriah sect, for when they went to Tiprantakamu in the autumn of the year to the annual feast, they stood in a line with
people of all castes and classes.
Whole families went to the feast together. They took with them a goat, fowls,
rice, tamarind, and the various spices used for curry. All these they delivered to Sundramah, as they bowed low before her
with special reverence, for she was the last of the band of disciples who gathered around Nasriah. They laid flowers on the
grave of Nasriah, and worshipped there. Sundramah took all that was brought, and passed it on for the general cooking. The
food for all who came, regardless of caste, was boiled in one pot, and when it was time to eat, all sat down and ate together.
But the Madigas sat a little to one side. Not even in the Nasriah sect would the Sudra sit side by side with the Madiga and
eat with him.
When the movement toward Christianity began among the Madigas, the men and women who had sought
salvation in the Nasriah sect were among the first to open their hearts to the divine life that is in Christ. The followers
of Nasriah became the disciples of Christ. At Tiprantakamu it was said, ‘The Madigas are leaving us.’ Some shrugged
their shoulders. ‘What can we do to hold them? They are following a new religion.’ Others said, ‘Let them
go.’ And thus the Nasriah sect became to many a man as the memory of a stepping-stone to something higher.
N. Sudhakar Rao 1998. Organised
and Unorganised Resistance
[Nellore district, AP]. New Delhi:
Aravali Books International
N. Sudhakar Rao 1998
See introduction in Chapter 3 above.
Tree grew roots up and shoots down, oh man!
This tree grew, oh man!
the guru steadfastly,
Search the soul, the eternal Soul, oh man!
The trunk is one, but the branches are many, oh man!
In the middle, at the top most, there is one fruit,
This is the fruit given by the eternal Soul, oh
If you want to pluck it, you can't reach it, oh man!
The fruit of the soul,
10 The fruit given by the
This tree, this is the limitless fruit,
This is the fruit eaten by Veerabrahmam of Kandi Mallaiahpalli,
The fruit is given by the eternal Soul.
This song was composed by Mapu Khan of Nannuru.
song was sung by a Madiga man and it was learned from a sadhu. The sadhus are known for their wise sayings
expressed in lyric format called thathwalu which are sung. This song states the philosophy of Sri Veerabrahmam […].
The widely circulated philosophy of Sri Veerabrahmam is a symbolic tree, hence, it is called a tree born without any seed.
The tree is growing upside down, which means the preaching of the saint is the opposite of what Brahmanical religion teaches.
The saint received his wisdom from the eternal Soul. The Hindu concept of the soul states that God is a soul, called the great
or eternal soul (paramathma) and from this comes the human soul. The protagonist says one cannot obtain spiritual
wisdom by one's effort but by serving the guru, Sri Veerabrahmam.
Veerabrahmam lived around 1800 AD and his great-grandson Venkateswara-swamy, Pitadhipathy (Chief of the seat) of
Sri Veerabrahmam's mutt (monastery) is said to have died on September 10, 1932. Sri Veerabrahmam belonged to
the Kamsali or Vishwa-brahmana caste, but his exact place of birth is unknown. He grew up in Banaganipalli in Kurnool district
where annual celebrations are conducted, became a Yogi and established a mutt near Kandimallaiahpalli village which
is now called Brahmamgari Matham and has been made a mandal headquarters in Cuddapah district. He was buried alive (jeevasamadhi).(1)
travelled around Cuddapah and Kurnool and even visited Hyderabad during his life. Even now he is known in all of Andhra Pradesh
nor confining to the places he had been, and pilgrims visit his Mutt for annual celebrations and at other times also.
His important precepts included human equality; he accepted as a disciple a Dudekula caste man, Siddaiah, who later became
his most important follower. All high castes objected to this because Dudekulas, Muslim converts, were originally low caste
Hindus. But Sri Veerabrahmam ignored that objection because he believed that God does not entertain such differences. A motion
picture was produced in Telugu and released in 1989 about his life and deeds.
Sri Veerabrahmam is popularly known for his prophesies, several of which
people believed to have come true after his death; he prophesied coming of automobiles, reign of a widow (Mrs. Indira Gandhi),
Untouchables taking up high civil positions (District Collectors and Ministers in the Government) and so on. People are now
expecting several other prophesies to come true, and they believe that he is going to return (analogous to Jesus Christ's
second coming) as he said.
He argued with Brahmins (who discounted his authority as a sage because he was born in
a Kamsali family) that Brahmins were not superior to any one. He explained that whoever was born as a human being and becomes
learned, wise with the acquisition of knowledge contained in the Vedas and other sacred texts, had to be considered a Brahmin,
but not the one who was born in a Brahmin family. He said that the belief that Brahmins and the rest of the varnas
emerged from Brahma was wrong. The head, shoulders, thighs and feet of Brahma, the creator, spoke of the hierarchy of wisdom,
not the origins of varnas or castes. According to Sri Veerabrahmam, whoever was patient, sober, composed and wise
considered a Brahmin. […] The practice
of caste was only a social construct based on one's occupation. He explained that the sages in the Vedic period were born
to animals, chandala (Untouchable) women, and inanimate objects, and thus there was no caste (Navabhushanadas n.d.,
A Madiga man of Anthatipuram spoke to me about a Madiga's devotion to Sri Veerabrahmam. The
story of the Madiga Kakkaiah is the following. One day Sri Veerabrahmam was teaching Siddaiah about shatchakra, six
wheels/centres in the body, and the gods in charge of each centre. A Madiga by the name of Kakkaiah came and was listening
carefully from outside, pressing his ears to the wall. When he heard about the gods he wanted immediately to test what he
heard. He went back home and cut open the stomach of his wife, but he did not find any god. He came back and again started
listening. When Siddaiah wanted to listen to the entire teaching one more time, Sri Veerabrahmam started all over again. At
this stage, Kakkaiah said loudly that the entire thing was false. At this, the saint shouted that he who was outside should
come to him immediately. Kakkaiah went and stood in front of the saint and explained that what he said was wrong because he
cut open the stomach of his wife and did not find any circle or flowers or gods. He cried saying that he killed his wife with
his own hands, believing what Sri Veerabrahmam had said. Marvelling at the man's bravery and steadfast faith, the saint
said he did not preach falsely and he would prove it. He once again explained to them about the six centres, and then all
the three went to the house of Kakkaiah, where they found a woman in a pool of blood. The moment the saint asked them to look
at the vertebral column they saw the gods, the circles and everything that he had said. Kakkaiah fell at the feet of the saint
and asked him how he could obtain remission of sin for killing his wife. He was told that he need not worry because the saint
was going to bring his wife back to life. The saint took magic water from his kamandala (a small brass vessel), sprinkled
it on the woman and blew vibhudi, sacred ash, on her. Yet she did not move. When Kakkaiah said that she did not come
to life, the saint took a cloth from Kakkaiah, spread it on the woman and asked him to go outside with him. They all went
outside the house and stood talking, and in a few minutes the woman got up, exclaiming, ‘What a deep sleep I had!’
When she found the saint at their house, she was surprised and fell at his feet. Sri Veerabrahmam said that Kakkaiah had great
faith and deserved to be his disciple. He could go to him any time and obtain more divine knowledge (Navabhushanadas n.d:
276-292, 343-366). The Untouchables and all others believe that this was a true story.
Whenever I raised the
issue of caste and hierarchy, the Untouchable respondents mentioned Sri Veerabrahmam who claimed no caste is superior. They
argued that the castes are created by Brahmins for their own superior status and that the high castes are rich, clean, and
may even have good habits, but these do not make them superior, and even among the Madigas and Malas there are good, clean
and religious people. Thus, the ideology of human equality as propagated by Sri Veerabrahmam and other saints is profound
among the Untouchable castes.
Emma Rauschenbusch-Clough 1899.
While Sewing Sandals.
Or Tales of a Telugu Pariah Tribe.
London: Hodder & Stoughton
I knew Bangarapu Thatiah seventeen years ago, when he was yet in his prime, honoured and loved
by all. I saw him again when old age rested heavily upon him and his memory failed him when he tried to recall the happenings
of yesterday. But when I asked him about the far-away past, his almost sightless eyes seemed to peer into the distance, and
he told me many things.
‘I called our Dora and he came,’ he said to me, and then relapsed into silence.
I looked about on the mission-houses, the school-houses, and the busy activity of the mission compound. And I remembered how
this man, many years ago, came to this spot, his heart burning within him, to see whether the white teacher had not come.
He found it overgrown with cactus, and Gundla Pentiah living in a hut in one corner of the compound, a faithful man, who told
him that the Ongole Missionary was yet in Nellore, but was soon coming.
Thatiah’s plea was the last link in the chain
of circumstances that brought the Ongole Missionary to this place. He could justly say before the younger generation, when
he leaned heavily on the sturdy shoulders of the young men, ‘I called our Dora, and he came.’
I said, ‘Thatiah,
tell me about the old days.’ He looked about helplessly, and one of the younger men said, ‘Grandfather, the Dorasani
wants to know about the time when the Dora first came here.’
‘When the Dora first told me to go and preach,
I said, ‘How can I go about alone all the time?’ But he said, ‘Take your wife with you and you will be two.’
After that Satyamah and I always went together. Sometimes she carried the bundle, sometimes I put it on my shoulder. What
I preached, she preached; what I ate, she ate. Satyamah was always with me.’
‘Did not men
persecute you in the old days?’
Thatiah’s face, grown passive with age, brightened with animation,
as he assured me, ‘No one ever abused me, no one persecuted me; men always treated me kindly and respectfully.’
‘They tell me that you were much with Rajayogi Gurus. Did you learn anything from them?’
learn anything from them? They told me that there is one God, and that He is Spirit that He has created all things, and pervades
all things. It was well that they told me this, and I believed it. But nothing satisfied my soul till I heard of Jesus Christ.’
Thatiah told me this, without hesitation, as one of the facts of his life. He was too old for meditation. Thus I had the
summary of Thatiah’s search for truth. He had found a nugget of gold in the Rajayogi sect, but the pearl of great price
he had found when he heard of the Christ.
Thatiah had, years before, written a sketch of his life, at the request
of the Missionary. This was supplemented by the story of many a man, who could not tell of the old days without bringing in
Thatiah at decisive points. A singularly pure and holy life this man led before the eyes of thousands of his people.
He was born when his parents were advanced in years. The duty of caring for them fell upon him. It never occurred to him
that he might learn to read. There was no one in those days who would teach a Madiga boy to read. He learned of his father
to tan leather, and sew the sandals which the Sudras ordered.
In the time of his grandfather, a Guru of the Ramanuja
sect had been invited by the family to come with the idols of Vishnu and perform sacred rites before them. This was repeated
on special occasions, and the fees demanded by the priest were paid out of the scant earnings. When his father died, Thatiah
took pride in having the funeral ceremonies performed according to the dictates of a Guru of the Ramanuja sect. This was considered
an advance, both religiously and socially, upon the cults and customs of the ordinary Madiga.
A very old woman, bent with age, came to Thatiah’s neighbourhood to visit her married daughter.
This old woman, Bandikatla Veeramah, was a disciple of the Yogi Pothuluri Veerabramham. She must have been a spiritually-minded
woman, and of strong personality. Thatiah and several others soon sat at her feet and learned of her.
The personal history of Veerabramham is clothed in much that is legendary. His father was a devotee of Siva; he himself,
when a young man, saw a vision in the field, which invited him to a certain shrine, where he henceforth often held converse
with the Deity. After the manner of the Yogi he entered his grave alive, and ordered to have the door closed. His chief disciple,
Siddapa, who had been absent, came to the grave and called aloud to his master, for he had not given him the final initiation.
With an invisible hand, the words which his master had to say to him were written on his tongue. He departed, and directed
his preaching mainly against caste; and prophesied, in the name of his master that in the day when God again became incarnate
caste would vanish and all men would be equal.
This was the teaching which Thatiah received from Bandikatla Veeramah.
Her life was an illustration of her precepts. People of all castes came and went in her house, even Madigas, though she belonged
to the goldsmith caste, and was, therefore, far above them.
The woman in whose house she and her daughter were living
began to object to the custom of her tenants. She said, ‘All these people are coming and going. They may touch our cooking
utensils, and thus spoil our caste. You can look for another house.’ Rather than ask her followers of low degree to
stay away, Veeramah looked for another house. Her heart was large, she loved them all.
When she went
away, she talked most lovingly to them: ‘You must be like the children of one mother, for you are the followers of one
Guru. Be full of faith, don’t go and sin. Strive without ceasing to earn salvation.’
received his initiation as a Rajayogi Guru from Bandikatla Veeramah. For an hour every day he sat in meditation, his eyes
closed, his fingers pressed over ears and nostrils, so that objects of sense might be completely shut out, and the soul might
perceive the great, all-pervading Divine Being. He was much with the Rajayogi people, and seems to have been looked upon as
a leader among them, because of his religious fervour.
In the Kanigiri Taluk, where Thatiah lived, the soil
was dry and hard, and the Sudras had to dig wells in their fields to water the growing crops. In large buckets they brought
the water to the surface, and these buckets were made of leather, and had to be made and kept in repair by the Madigas. Thatiah
heard that much cattle was dying in the Godavery district, stung by a poisonous fly, and that, therefore, hides were cheap.
He decided, with a kinsman, to go north on trade.
It was during his stay in that northern district that Thatiah first heard
of the Christ. A Madiga, who was also bent on trade, told him of a Dora who was preaching this new religion. They decided
to go and see him, and were kindly received. They went again. Thatiah said, ‘This religion is true. My soul is now satisfied.’
The Padre said, ‘You are going back to your home. Inquire from time to time, for soon a white teacher is coming to Ongole.
Go to him; he will tell you more about this religion.’
When Thatiah turned toward home, he was determined to
break away from the old life and begin the new. He refused to bow before the village idols. He ttold the Rajayogi people that
he was no longer one of them, that he had found something far better than they had to give. When they asked him which swami
he was going to worship, he told them that he bowed to one, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had died for men. A Dora had
told him, and another Dora was soon coming who would tell him more.
So bold a declaration from a man of the influence of
Thatiah was not to be accepted with indifference. Some of the Madigas, who feared the demons and fiends of the village, predicted
that their vengeance would smite them all, because of Thatiah’s daring words. Nor were the Sudras pleased with his determination.
His friends reasoned with him, ‘You are believing a God not of this country, but a new God. You are bringing new standards
of living among us. Our old-time gods, Poleramah and Ankalamah, you no longer come to worship; you stay away when we beat
the drums on their festal days. Don’t you know that they will turn from us and curse us on your account?’
Thatiah was not a man to be abused. No one dared to insult him or ill-treat him. All the more keenly he felt the isolation
when all withdrew from him. Those who had heretofore looked up to him as a spiritual leader now passed him by. Work that had
been promised him by the Sudras was quietly withdrawn; the pay for work which he had done was not forthcoming.
But the grief that was deepest in all his sore trial came through the desertion of his wife Satyamah. She did not stand
by him. Perhaps she was not greatly to blame; for she had not been with Thatiah when he opened his heart to the religion of
Jesus Christ. He had told her all when he returned, but at the same time she saw him opposed on every hand. The change in
him seemed like a wall between them, she felt that she was losing her husband, and when relatives and friends, who knew that
Thatiah held her dear, told her that she must save him by sternly opposing him, she lent a willing ear.
Her former care
for his comforts was turned to neglect. His food was often late or unsavoury, and sometimes he had to go hungry. When he wanted
to drink there was no water. His remonstrances were met by reproaches from her. Finally he said to her: ‘By thus plunging
me into all kinds of trouble, you cannot keep me here. I shall join the people of the Christian sect as soon as I can find
them, and I shall eat with them.’ The strife was ended. When referring to this circumstance in later life, Thatiah said
simply,’God in His great mercy changed her mind.’
In all the forsaken condition of those days, Thatiah
never forgot that a missionary was coming to Ongole. Could it be that he had already come? Satyamah agreed with him that it
might be well to go and see.
Tired and footsore Thatiah came to the compound in Ongole, which was said to belong to the
Nellore Missionary. In the midst of it was a little bungalow, but no white teacher living in it. As Thatiah went about the
compound, he must have looked like a man who wanted something, for Gundla Pentiah saw him, and came out of his hut toward
him, and asked, ‘Why did you come here?’
‘I have come to look for the white teacher. Why is he not here?’
Pentiah was a Christian from Nellore, sent to Ongole to watch the compound and await the coming of the Missionary. He took
Thatiah into his hut, and they talked it over. Pentiah grasped the situation; he sympathized with Thatiah, and he knew that
there would be joy in the mission house at Nellore should a message be received that there was a man in Ongole, that spot
of many prayers, who was hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
Pentiah knew of a way to do. He said, ‘Come with
me to the house by the hillside, to a lady who is a friend of the Nellore Missionary. She will know what to do.’ They
went, made a respectful salaam, and Pentiah, as spokesman said : ‘Ammah, this man, Thatiah, as he went north on trade,
saw a missionary who told him that a white teacher would come to Ongole. He believes in Christ as God, and has come to see
this teacher. As he does not find him here, he is very sad, and wants to know the reason of the delay. We have, therefore,
come to make his request known to you.’
The lady understood. She said to Thatiah: ‘I shall write to the
Nellore Missionary. Be
ready to come at any time when I send for you.’
Not many days had
passed when a cooley arrived in Thatiah’s village, asking him to come to Ongole, for the Missionary had come. With his
wife, Satyamah, he hastened on his way, barely taking needed rest as they walked the fifty miles. The joy when he saw the
Nellore Missionary, and with him a younger man, who was soon to become the Ongole Missionary, is described by Thatiah as unspeakable.
The older of the two men had been stoned in the bazaar of Ongole in the years gone by. But now, in the spot where his message
had been spurned, he had a man before him who could not hear enough. A holy joy shone in the face of the one man; a yearning
desire to hear more was in the face of the other as he sat hour after hour quenching his thirst.
their own community, Thatiah and his wife had made their way to Ongole.
Received into the religious fellowship
of the race that rules over India, they returned home. They could not have had more than a very dim conception of the fact
that they were now counted among the hosts of men and women who represent the salt of the earth, yet they knew that their
days of isolation were over. With a bundle of tracts and books on their shoulders, as many as they could carry, with the words
of benediction from their white teachers ringing in their ears, and a new light in their countenances, they returned to their
And now that ceaseless activity began that bore such abundant fruit. With untiring devotion
Thatiah journeyed from village to village, his wife Satyamah always with him. The women loved Satyamah, and would gather about
her and ask her whether she was not tired and thirsty after her journey, and take her away to refresh her. Late in life a
mild insanity rendered her helpless.
With a display of the same faithfulness which she had shown in accompanying
her husband during twenty years, he now cared for her with a gentleness which called forth comment in the Madiga community.
When her mind wandered, he took her by the hand, bade her sit down, and gave her to eat.
like a granite pillar in the early days of the mission. He was a leader among his people, when the Madiga community was astir
in discarding the old beliefs and accepting the new. He carried himself like a man of experience, of authority, in his humble
sphere, to whose opinions deference should be paid. His bold features, measured gait, and a certain innate dignity, blended
with a childlike humility, won for him the respect of all whom he addressed.
In his preaching he was not like other men, who had
not pondered Rajayogi problems. He was wont to begin his discourses with some of the peculiar combinations of the Shastris.
He would say, ‘The alphabet has five lines each way, thus also the body is composed of five elements. There is another
five: two to hear, two to see, one to speak. But there is yet another five: the five wounds of Christ.’ By this time
the interest of his hearers was aroused; it was a mode of proceeding congenial to the Hindu mind. In later years, when men
trained in the Theological Seminary made their influence felt, critics arose, who said Thatiah might at last wheel into line.
It was a species of the old strife between philosophy and theology. But Thatiah held his own. Hundreds believed in the Christ
through his preaching. Spiritually-minded to an eminent degree, there was power in his words and his example.
In his old age Thatiah journeyed to Ongole once more. Slowly they brought him to his
accustomed place on the platform
of the chapel on Sunday morning. The Missionary stopped in his sermon to put him in his own chair. He saw the look of wonder
on the faces of some of the younger generation, who knew little of the old days and its leaders. His heart was very tender
toward the man who had never moved an inch from his God-appointed task, who had stood by his side in the days of small beginnings,
in the days of calamity and of overwhelming responsibility.
He turned to the hundreds of listeners before him: ‘Do
you want to know who this man is? I will tell you. When you get to heaven – and I hope you will all get there –
you will see someone who looks radiant with light, far above you. You will almost need a telescope to see him distinctly,
the distance between you and him will be so great. And you will ask some one, “Who is that man clothed in exceeding
brightness?” Then you will be told, “That man is Bangarapu Thatiah from the Telugu country.” And you will
strain your eyes to behold him.’
There was a look of reverence on many a face as the Missionary proceeded
with his sermon. A year later Thatiah’s spirit took its flight.
In the language of Western civilization Pullikuri Lukshmiah would have
been called ‘a fast young man.’ He decked himself with earrings, finger-rings, bangles, belts, and various jewels,
all of them conspicuous for glitter – not for their value. Red turbans and bright-coloured jackets lay in the box ready
for use. He frequented places where there was dancing, singing, and festivity of every kind. Sin and lust grew apace, until
a sense of disgust with the whole situation began to creep into his soul. He was weary of it all, and one day, he did not
know from whence, the thought came: What if I should die?
At this juncture one of the wandering disciples
of the Yogi Veerabramham came into the village and attracted Lukshmiah's attention. All his earnings were now spent on
paying fees and giving gifts to this wandering Guru. He was bent on finding out something that might show him a way to salvation;
he desired to secure a blissful state of the soul after death. But the days passed and he heard nothing definite, and one
morning the Guru had taken his staff and wandered to the next place. But soon another came. Lukshmiah hovered around him.
He did his share in giving the Guru to eat bountifully. He saw him partake of the intoxicating sarai freely, and then roll
into a corner to sleep off the effects. After a few months he too went his way, and Lukshmiah found that he was none the wiser
Six Gurus were thus supported by Lukshmiah, wholly or in part, some for weeks, some for months.
The rumour had spread in the Madiga community that he had lost interest in fine clothes and jewels, and was sitting at the
feet of Rajayogi Gurus. Soon one after another of those who could claim some degree of kinship to him came to take advantage
of this circumstance. They were his guests while they inquired of him concerning the hymns and mantras which he had heard, and the initiation through which he had passed. They
were introduced to the Guru who happened to hold sway for the time being, and there was much inquiry and interest among them.
Some of the friends came again and again. Bangarapu Thatiah, too, was sometimes among them, especially after Bandikatla Veeramah
had gone away. A sense of cohesion was established among these men which lasted through many a year, for almost every member
of this group became a strong force in Christian propaganda
in the years that followed.
An honest search
for truth is never wholly in vain. Lukshmiah and his friends had risen above the superstitions of the ordinary Madiga. They
wanted something better, which shows that they had outgrown the beliefs of their childhood. Each individually tried what the
abstractions of the Yogi could do to still the hunger of the soul. Friendship and a common interest had led them to meet and
findd out what the result on each might be. Each in his way had grown disheartened.
One after another
of the friends went north to trade in hides. Lukshmiah remained behind with the Guru Balli Somiah, who had been his instructor
for two years. He lived in the village proper, with the Sudras, but his chief supporter was Lukshmiah. This meant a constant
drain upon his resources. He was already deeply in debt. The Komati who had lent him money at different times demanded the
interest, and it was compound interest. The hospitality freely offered to his friends and co-searchers in truth had cost him
far beyond his means. They were gone, and there was a rumour that they were again banded together in the north, and that now
they were investigating a religion which had come from the land of the English.
Lukshmiah decided to go north, and hoped that by the
lucrative trade in hides he might cancel a part of his debt. But what should he do with the Guru Somiah, who showed no intention
of leaving? It might prove dangerous to tell him that he could no longer support him, or to simply go away, leaving him in
the lurch; for could he not pronounce a curse over him? But the presence and the sway of the Guru Somiah grew daily more irksome, till finally a way appeared to get rid
of him. Lukshmiah knew that the Guru had a brother living in that northern district. He said to him: ‘Your disciples
are all in the north, earning much money. I must go too; for my debts are very heavy. If you will come with me, you will find
support.’ Thus the journey was undertaken.
Disappointment awaited the Guru Somiah when he reached the little settlement
of his former followers. They wanted him no more. For the sake of old relationship they gave him food, but they omitted the
sarai. He complained bitterly because the customary beverage was withheld. The friends talked it over and agreed to help Lukshmiah
to get rid of his burden. They put together ten rupees and sent the Guru to his brother. Bangarapu Thatiah alone stood aloof,
and said: ‘I shall give nothing. Send him away empty-handed as he came.’ But Pullikuri Lukshmiah rejoiced; for
the presence of the Guru had hindered him greatly in making any progress in finding out what this new religion was.
[…] One after another of the little
colony of Madiga traders up in the Godavery district started on his homeward journey. He and his kinsman, Ragaviah, remained
behind, intent on speculations that would bring financial gain. Rumours had been brought to them that a missionary had come
to Ongole, that everybody was talking about the new religion, and that somehad said they would join this Christian sect. They
longed for certain news, and were glad indeed when one day a friend and neighbour came from the old home on business, and
visited them to tell them what had happened. The Ongole Missionary had come to Tallakondapaud and baptized twenty-eight, among
them Lukshmiah's brother and his son, Ragaviah's son, and others of their friends and relatives.
After the visitor
had left, the two men sat down together, sad at heart; they could hardly keep back the tears. Lukshmiah said: ‘The brother
born after me and my own son are on the way to heaven before me. I cannot stay here longer.’ The next day they proceeded
to hire sixteen bandies, to load one hundred hides on each, and to start for home. Eight bandy-loads were sold on the way,
and with the remaining eight they arrived at home. Their sons, they found, were in Ongole in school, and they were glad that
that which had been denied to them was being granted to their children. The Missionary had been informed of their return home,
and a preacher was sent to tell them much about the religion of Christ that was new to them.
heavily in debt when he bade farewell to the last of the six Gurus of the Rajayogi sect on whom he had spent his substance.
His former associates in the search for truth had become preachers, and were enduring the toil and enjoying the honours of
Lukshmiah held aloof. When questioned, he pointed to his debt. The fact was that the debt was
an excuse, for as the years passed all was paid, with the exception, perhaps, of some of the compound interest. Lukshmiah
was a man who preferred to be his own master. He did not want to become a link in the chain of organized preachers' work,
but wanted to go about on his trade, make money, preach when and where he liked, and be answerable to no one.
Six years thus passed. The Missionary asked him, whenever he came to Ongole to the monthly meeting, whether the time had
not come for him to cease going about on trade and to stay and do God's work in earnest. He always replied he would come,
but never came. Finally the scales were turned. It was a word from the Missionary that compelled him. Lukshmiah's son
was leaving school and returning home for vacation. The Missionary told the young man to say to his father that the Dora sent
salaams to him. He added: ‘When I call your father to work, he does not come; he runs about the country like a masterless
dog.’ This word travelled over the country.
Lukshmiah laughed at the time, and laughs to-day as he tells the story.
The preachers all laughed; for they saw that Lukshmiah's undetermined position was well characterized by the Dora's
words. But Lukshmiah's son said, ‘You must go’; and the father, still laughing, agreed that he must, but not
just at present. What pleased Lukshmiah was that he had measured his strength with that of the Missionary, and in honest combat
had been outdone. He was strong in holding aloof, but the Missionary was stronger in wheeling him right about and making him
face his real position.
Soon after this the Missionary made an extensive tour through the Kanigiri Taluk. He saw
that Lukshmiah, who joined the other preachers in accompanying him, was in fact the spiritual leader and pastor of a number
of Christians in all the region round about his own village. Before they separated he had a talk with Lukshmiah and his wife.
He said, ‘What would you like to do, Lukshmiah?’ He replied, ‘I would like to engage in the Lord's service,
but have a debt.’ The Missionary knew that this was all by way of excuse. He took a piece of paper that was lying on
the table, tore it into small shreds, threw the handful of them over Lukshmiah, so that they flew to every corner of the tent,
and said, ‘That is how your' debt is gone.’ He gave him a friendly tap on the shoulder and sent him home.
On his way to his own village, Lukshmiah was stung in the face by a poisonous insect. Soon there was a painful swelling,
and people said, ‘He will surely die; a Komati was thus stung and died.’ Lukshmiah was very anxious about this,
and on the second day took the Bible to see whether he could not find something to comfort him at the prospect of a speedy
death. He happened to turn to the chapters on the prophet Jonah's experience, and thought to himself that he too had fallen
into trouble for refusing to preach as he was sent. He dictated a letter to the Dora: ‘I am coming, and will go to work.’
Two days later the swelling disappeared. He arose, visited a number of villages, preaching everywhere, and arrived in Ongole
at the time of the monthly meeting.
The Dora saw him among the other preachers and smiled knowingly. ‘Have
you come, Lukshmiah?’ ‘I have come.’
P.Y. Luke & John B. Carman 1968.
Village Christians and Hindu culture.
Study of a rural church in Andhra
Pradesh, South India.
The Rev. P.Y. Luke, a presbyter of Medak Diocese of the Church of South India, together with his wife made the original
field study of the Christian congregations of five or six villages or hamlets in Medak district over a period of 10 months
in 1959. John B. Carman assisted, specially at the planning stage and in the writing of reports submitted locally and for
the final publication. He was an American research student at the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society
The valuable and unique evidence from this study sadly cannot be made available here.
is owned by the British publisher and permission from them to use their text is too costly. The book is not in print
but copies are available - at a fraction of the publisher's fee - from www.abebooks.co.uk .
The relevant and recommended sections are:
pp 64-69 The founding of
pp 158-63 The Madiga community of Mallupalle