Tribute Paid to First Protestant Missionary to India

NEW DELHI – Thousands of Tamil people, including scholars and language experts, paid homage to Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg, the first Protestant missionary to India, for his immense contributions in the development of Tamil language.

Ziegenbalg was among many missionaries whose contributions were recalled during the five-day World Classical Tamil Conference in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Nagapattinam Tahsildar Rengarajan and Zonal Deputy Tahsildar Ramkumar garlanded Ziegenbalg's statue in Tarangambadi, a town in Tamil Nadu.

Tarangambadi is where Ziegenbalg first arrived in 1706 and built a church one year later.

After his encounter with the Tamil people and Tamil culture, the German Lutheran missionary was determined to master it and translate the Bible to communicate with the natives.

He soon set up a printing press, and published studies of the Tamil language and of Indian religion and culture. His translation of the New Testament into Tamil in 1715 opened up Tamil language to the printing technology.

Although Ziegenbalg died in 1719 at the age of 37, his legacy still lives on. In 2006, while celebrating the 300th anniversary of Zeigenbalg's coming, the Indian government issued a postal stamp in his honor.

He left behind a dictionary and grammar in Tamil, and his translations of the New Testament and the Old Testament are still in use.

Ziegenbalg's greatest contribution, however, is said to be his interaction with socially and religiously marginalized people. He established the first school for girls in 1710 to initiate female liberation in a caste-ridden society.

The June 23-27 Tamil Conference also paid tribute to other Christian missionaries such as Roberto De Nobili, Fr. Beschi, Bishop Robert Caldwell and George Uglow Pope, for their contributions in the advancement of the Tamil language.

The massive event was inaugurated by President Pratibha Patil who praised the Tamil language and said it reflected the country's heritage.

The government in 2004 declared the Tamil language a classical language.