How Jesus Went Native: Translators as Transcultural Inventors in the Mir’at al-Quds and the Krista Purana
23 August 2020
Jehangir Sabavala Memorial Lecture 2020
Celebrating Jehangir Sabavala’s 98th birth anniversary
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
A vibrant engagement among religions began to take place in India during the 16th and 17th centuries, with the arrival of European emissaries and Jesuits at the Mughal court and the establishment of the Portuguese colonial presence on the west coast. This engagement took various forms, including attempts at conversion both subtle and aggressive; inter-faith dialogue; and the translation of Biblical narratives. Of these, it is the translation of Biblical narratives that poet and scholar Ranjit Hoskote will address in this lecture. He will focus on two major translation projects that took shape during this period: the Mir’at al-Quds (Mirror of Holiness, 1602), written in Persian by the Spanish- born Jesuit, Father Jeronimo Xavier, and the Indian-born scholar Maulana Abdus Sattar Lahori; and the Krista Purana (Christ Purana, 1616), composed in a combination of Marathi and Konkani by the English-born Jesuit, Father Thomas Stephens.
The Mir’at al-Quds was intended for a single reader, the Emperor Akbar; the Krista Purana was intended for a wide audience, the new converts and the potential converts of Goa. Importantly, through their linguistic choices, terminological inventions, adoption of South Asian poetic paradigms and narrative styles, in each case, the authors achieved far more than a simple translation of Biblical material. What was achieved, in both texts, was a thoroughgoing transcultural process of invention, mutation and theological transfiguration. These texts embody the creation of dazzlingly new forms of religious and literary imagination that were more than the sum of their European and Indian parts; neither colonial impositions nor local approximations. Xavier/ Lahori’s Isa and Stephens’ Krista inhabited Christ’s Biblical context yet made a new home for themselves in the linguistic, literary and cultural landscapes of India.