Saturday, 7 May 2011

Hans Staffner's "The Khrista Purana of Fr Thomas Stephens"

The following is the text of a contribution by Fr Hans Staffner, SJ, to the proposed Dictionary of Indian Christian Theology, ed. Eric J. Lott, D.C. Scott and O.V. Jathanna, to have been published by United Theological College, Bangalore, in the late 1980s. Unfortunately the Dictionary was never published. However, 4 files of pertinent matter are available in the Archives of the UTC Library, from which I have transcribed the following, with minor corrections (see File no. 1, Sl. No. 155).

The Khrista Purana is a poetic work of 10,962 strophes in the ovi metre. Fr Stephens called it “A discourse on the coming of Our Saviour into the world.” 36 cantos deal with the Old Testament and 59 with the New Testament. It is meant as religious instruction. In each canto a biblical event is related, then a Hindu or Christian asks questions which are answered. In a letter written in 1608 Fr Stephens expressed his intention to publish a work in the Devanagari script, but since in his time there was no press printing books in the Devanagari script, he had to transcribe his Purana into Roman script. Three editions were printed in Goa, in 1616, 1648 and 1656. After Indian languages were barred from the cultural life in Goa, the Purana lost its living space in Goa, but remained very popular in Mangalore. Many families had hand-written copies of the Purana. In 1907 J. Saldanha published a very beautiful edition of the Purana in Roman script, known as the Mangalore edition.
The Purana is known as one of the most beautiful works in the Marathi language. Also many Hindus were keen on a Devanagari edition. In 1956 the well-known Hindu publishing firm, Prasad Prakashan, published a beautiful Devanagari edition of the Khrista Purana, which was prepared by Professor S.B. Bandelu of Ahmednagar College.
Prof. Dr S.G. Tulpule writes in the standard work on Marathi, the Maharashtra Sarasvata:

“Fr Stephens has succeeded in the difficult task of presenting Christ in such oriental garb as appeals to the Hindu mind. The Purana is like  sanctuary in the centre of which is the image of Christ whilst the structure and decorations that surround it are in genuine Hindu style.” 

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