History is filled with examples of warriors adopting enemies’ lifestyles to infiltrate into their ranks. Very few of such examples can be found in civil setups. Roberto de Nobili is one of those few rare examples. The Christian priest went on to adopt Brahmanism in order to lure and trap scores of Hindus into the fold of Christianity.
Born in a religious aristocracy family:
Roberto de Nobili was born in 1577, in the current Italian capital of Rome. His father was a general in the Papal army. Like every teenager, Roberto did not want to follow his father’s footsteps, and decided to become a Jesuit at the tender age of 17. The decision did not bode well for his family, as they already had a long history of people devoted to Christianity. Their family tree consisted of seven Cardinals and at least two Popes.
Christian missionary and arrival in India:
Discarding his family’s wishes, he decided to become a Christian missionary in 1596. His main portfolio was converting people from other cultures into Christianity. His first assignment was in South India, a place where Christians were then a massive failure when it came to converting Hindus.
It was a matter of time before Roberto realised that Indians do not understand religion in the Abrahamic sense; for Indians, religion was (and still is) their way of life. Hindus had arranged their society in a mix of hierarchy and harmony, thus discarding anyone else outside their fold as impure.
Christian missionaries were also outclassed by Hindus. Hindus who had been educated by sages like Shankaracharya, Patanjali, and Panini, refused to engage in any religious conversation with the missionaries. Though they lived in India with peace and ease, they were on the fringes of society due to their insistence of considering Christianity a superior religion.
Nobili adopted Brahmanism for his conversion venture:
Nobili decided to intermix with Hindus. He was probably the first missionary to adopt Hindus’ way of life. Since erudite Brahmins were the most respected members of the society, he decided to follow them and called himself a Sanyasi. He even gave up meat and started to use sticks and water jugs used by Sanyasis.
Other than facing resistance from Hindus, his colleagues were initially apprehensive of his extreme methods. However, exponential results compared to his predecessors ensured that Roberto was accepted by his Christian friends, eventually.
His first victim was a schoolmaster, and within two years of his arrival in Madurai, he had converted at least 10 Hindus to Christianity; the number reached 60 by the end of 1610. After continuing for 30 more years, he was imprisoned for his activities in 1640. Towards the end of 1656 (his death year), at least 4,000 Hindus had been baptized by the cunning Roberto.
Conman and his extreme tactics:
He mastered Sanskrit, Tamil, and Telugu to explain biblical stories to the people. He also translated many Christian scriptures, doctrines, and books into Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. He is also known to have provided appropriate Tamil terminology for Christian religious terms such as “Kovil” for a place of worship, “Vedam” for Bible, “Pusai” for Mass.
To learn Vedas, Upanishads, and other Hindu scriptures, he decided to take the help of a Brahmin named Sivadarma. Though he was initially hesitant, Sivdarma gave in and started teaching Hindu scriptures to Roberto. Sivdarma was under the illusion that he was converting Roberto into Hinduism, but instead, within a few years, the conman convinced Sivadarma to study the Bible. Interestingly, he used to call the Bible as ‘Christian Veda’.
The length to which this conman went in order to convert people, is both commendable and reprehensible. On one hand, we can admire him for his dedication, while on the other hand, he deserves condemnation for trying to tamper with the Sanatan civilisation.
We can learn a lesson or two from him. He was one of the fiercest proponents of his religion, and probably the pioneer of Christian missionaries in India. Meanwhile, our Sanatan civilisation is facing an existential crisis from liberals belonging to our own fold. We need a resolve like that of Roberto, and at the same time, we need to discard his methodologies and follow our own, to save our Dharma.