In The Shadow Of The Mahatma / Edition 1

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Based on hitherto untapped primary sources, including diocesan records and vernacular oral histories expressed in both stories and songs, this volume not only provides the first critical study of Bishop Azariah's life but also offers important - at times challenging - insights for those interested in modern India and the place of Christianity within it.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Harper, a program officer for religious scholarship at the Pew Charitable Trusts, examines the relationship among Christianity, Hinduism, British colonialism, and early 20th-century Indian culture through the life of one man--Anglican Bishop V.S. Azariah (1874-1945). Azariah, the first Indian to be ordained a bishop in an Anglican diocese, spent much of his life leading a successful movement to convert South Asians to Christianity. Considered by Gandhi to be postcolonial Indians' "Enemy Number One," his theology was a mixture of British Christian imperialism and American Reformed theology. He was convinced that Christianity could transform Indian culture. As she tells Azariah's story, Harper illuminates the themes and conflicts that have shaped India's recent history: Gandhi, who considered all religions to have equal value, nevertheless associated Christianity with British imperialism and saw Hinduism as a potent cultural force for uniting anticolonial India. Azariah, on the other hand, considered Hinduism, particularly its caste system, to be responsible for most of the negative aspects of Indian culture. Part of Eerdmans' "Studies in the History of Christian Missions" series, this book is carefully researched and well written. Recommended for university and seminary libraries.--David I. Fulton, Our Lady of Victories Church, Baptistown, NJ Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802846433
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 1/17/2000
  • Series: Studies in the History of Christian Missions
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 504
  • Product dimensions: 1.01 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

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The Conflict with Gandhiand Political Nationalism (from Chapter 9, pages 291-300)

The remarkable story of Azariah has been almost entirely excluded from the historical literature on modern India partly because his entire life was lived in the shadow of the far more famous figure of Gandhi. Gandhi has been seen not only as the tactician and embodiment of successful Indian nationalism but also as the modern exemplar of India's mysterious and ancient spiritual values.

The public image of Gandhi, and much of the scholarship about him, has tended to be idealized and hagiographic rather than critical. Otherwise some mainstream attention would surely have been devoted to Gandhi's hostile relationship with Azariah, whom the Editor of The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi has described as Gandhi's ‘Enemy Number One.' Those who think of Gandhi as a saintly figure working to improve the lot of the Indian masses seem not to have either questioned or explored why Gandhi should have been so hostile to someone who was doing precisely that at the local level within his own country. And it seems odd that the well-subsidized editors of Gandhi's massive collected works seem never to have found—or at least included—any serious documentation of Gandhi's interaction with his ‘Enemy Number One.'

One can place Azariah in the broad historical context of modern India by comparing and contrasting his life with the remarkably parallel yet strikingly divergent life of Gandhi. Gandhi was born five years before Azariah, and was killed by an assassin's gun three years after Azariah was killed by a fever contracted in a remote diocesan village. At the time of his death, Gandhi dressed as an Indian peasant while living in a businessman's Delhi mansion; Azariah dressed as an Anglican bishop—complete with resplendent robes—while living in his rural village. Both men were preoccupied with the problems of poverty and untouchability; and both men had devised entirely different strategies for alleviating its hardships.

Gandhi was born into a Hindu home in the princely state of Porbandar, where his family belonged to a subcaste of shopkeepers and moneylenders known as Banyas, and his father was raised as a Vaishnavi—a member of the Hindu sect that worships Vishnu or his incarnation, Krishna. Although Gandhi came from a higher caste than Azariah, both Gandhi and Azariah began their educations in schools where they learned to read and write by drawing letters in the dirt with sticks. Both boys were shy, and few predicted their eventual importance. Gandhi began his career inauspiciously as a tongue-tied lawyer; Azariah began by failing to complete his college degree in mathematics.

Gandhi, the apostle of Indian nationalism, was actually educated in London, while Azariah, the supposed adjunct of western imperialism, was educated in India. Gandhi spent the first twenty-one years of his adult career in South Africa during the time that Azariah was traveling the length and breadth of India as a missionary advocate. When Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915, he felt in many ways a foreigner in his own land. By the time the Mahatma began his famous train tour of India designed to reacquaint him with the ways of his own people, the younger Azariah had already spent almost twenty years riding trains, bullock carts, and bicycles throughout the subcontinent meeting with ordinary people and promoting his evangelistic message.

Gandhi began his extended years outside South Asia as a careful imitator of western dress and manners, and he ended them by rejecting western civilization and calling for Indian home rule. While hammering out legal and political challenges to racist politics in South Africa, he was inspired by western writers such as Tolstoy and Ruskin to reject western civilization as godless in his 1909 publication Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule). Living abroad for an extended period of time probably intensified Gandhi's need to construct a newly viable Indian identity, both personally and politically.

Azariah avoided these extremes of imitative westernization and xenophobic nationalism, at least in part because he stayed in India. He agreed in some ways with Gandhi's Hind Swaraj when it criticized westernized Indian professional doctors and lawyers for betraying India's innate spiritual values: Azariah, too, enjoined professional classes in India to pursue a more spiritual mission. But because Azariah believed that Christianity contained the answers to India's deepest needs and that the Christian missionary to India was therefore the truest kind of Indian patriot, he sought ways to express and validate his Indian Christianity by combining the best of both western and Indian civilizations. Azariah shared much of Gandhi's frustration and resentment toward patronizing westerners and their institutions, but he never either fully adopted or decisively rejected western cultural norms or political legitimacy.

Azariah's first personal contact with Gandhi was orchestrated, not surprisingly, by Henry Whitehead and his wife Isabel. Like his more famous Anglican colleague C. F. Andrews, Whitehead was one of Britain's earliest supporters of Gandhi's efforts in South Africa. The Bishop of Madras served as the President of the South African League, a South Indian organization which supported the cause of Indians in Natal and the Transvaal. In 1914, Whitehead delivered a speech on the injustice being done to Indians in South Africa. He advocated breaking the law to resist tyranny, and described the South African problem as ‘doubly hateful' because the rulers called themselves Christian. Finally, he elevated Gandhi to Christ-like stature by concluding: ‘I frankly confess, though it deeply grieves me to say it, that I see in Mr. Gandhi, the patient sufferer for the cause of Righteousness and Mercy, a truer representative of the Crucified Saviour, than the men who have thrown him into prison and yet call themselves by the name of Christ.'

The Whiteheads and Azariah met Gandhi for the first time in February 1916 when the Whiteheads hosted him for a week's visit in their Madras home. Gandhi arrived on February 13 by slow train, 3rd class, and immediately struck Whitehead as ‘a delightful person, very simple in his life and very warm-hearted and affectionate and most responsive to the appeals of poverty and suffering.'

The next day Gandhi addressed a missionary conference in Madras on the subject of Swadeshi, the program of economic self-reliance based on production from ‘one's own country.' Mrs. Whitehead, ever eager to introduce Azariah to the ‘real' India, took Azariah to hear the speech delivered to an audience of nearly all the missionaries of Madras. ‘He represents in rather an extreme form the modern reaction against western influences and western civilization in India, and naturally he is opposed on principle to all proselytizing on the part of the missionary,' Henry Whitehead reported after this speech.

On February 15, the Whiteheads hosted a garden party at their house to introduce Mr. Gandhi to a large number of Indians (including Azariah) and a few Europeans. That the Whiteheads should have been the conduit between Gandhi and new Indian constituencies in Madras suggests once again the importance of liberal westerners in promoting Indian nationalism on the subcontinent. We have no record of Azariah's conversation with Gandhi. In the evening after dinner, Bishop Whitehead and Gandhi had a long talk about swadeshi, and Whitehead expressed for the first time serious concerns about Gandhi's message:

Where I feel that [swadeshi] is defective is that it is opposed to the whole Christian ideal of the brotherhood of nations, and would either lead to absolute stagnation of life and thought and reduce India to the level of the South Sea Islands or would produce a race of self-sufficing and self-satisfied Pharisees, keeping entirely aloof from the rest of the world, and living their own lives and thinking their own thoughts. Mr. Gandhi said that his ideal was that a nation should supply all its needs and not interfere with other nations or be interfered with by them. That is better than the German ideal of domination, but it is certainly inferior to the Christian ideal of mutual service.

Whitehead and Gandhi then turned to the more difficult question of evangelism, undoubtedly with the example of Azariah's Dornakal in mind:

Mr. Gandhi's ideal was that the Hindus should retain their own religion but reform its abuses. What he did not realize was that the main reform needed is in the fundamental conceptions of God and man and the relation between them.

This was, of course, the crux of the difficulty between Gandhi and Azariah: that Azariah favored conversion from, rather than reform of, Hinduism. Whitehead admired Gandhi as a great hero because of ‘his wonderful self-sacrifice and endurance in championing the cause of his fellow countrymen during their struggle for justice' in South Africa, but he now began to question Gandhi's broader views on religion and Indian politics.

The next day Gandhi spoke at the annual meeting of the Social Service League, a British charitable organization chaired by Mrs. Whitehead. When two thousand students showed up, the meeting was moved to an outside courtyard. Gandhi spoke, apparently in a rambling fashion, about the ‘appalling dirt and filth' in the Hindu temples at Benares, ‘the grasping covetousness of the Brahman priests,' his experiences traveling third class on Indian railways, and ‘educated Indians who dress as Europeans and despise their fellow passengers.' Bishop Whitehead was disappointed with the speech, noting that ‘His suggestions were not very helpful, as the programme he put before them was the reform of the Hindu temples, the reform of education and the reform of the habits and customs of third class passengers on railway trains!'

Years later, Whitehead recalled that Gandhi was ‘a delightful and most interesting guest and obviously a man of transparent honesty and sincerity,' but abstract in thinking, indifferent to concrete realities, and inconsistent. Worst of all, Gandhi preached a ‘perverted patriotism' and was blind to the false consciousness created in India by indigenous religion and philosophy. ‘He could not see that the true enemy of the soul of India was not western civilization, but Indian tradition, and that the great need of India was a new religion and a truer philosophy,' Whitehead wrote in 1924.

Azariah and Gandhi did not clash directly over these issues until the 1930s. But the fundamental religious and philosophical disagreements that lay at the heart of their debates emerged much earlier. Gandhi's position that all religions were equally valid was directly opposite to Azariah's position that Christianity was the only true religion. Gandhi had long believed that all religions were merely ‘different roads converging to the same point,' and that conversion from the religion of one's birth to another was an offense against the dharmic order. Azariah's evangelism, despite its obvious benefit to untouchables, offended Gandhi by its focus on conversion and baptism. Gandhi disapproved of Christian missions that went beyond social work—education, medicine, and the like—into the realm of religious confession and commitment. Azariah's emphasis on the importance of membership in the visible church set him on a collision course with the Mahatma from their earliest years.

Azariah and the Christians in his diocese were also increasingly isolated by the growing Indian nationalist consensus that Indian Christians, especially those who opposed aspects of the Independence movement, were not really patriotic. In a 1929 letter to Gandhi, the Indian Christian Community of Nandyal in Andhra—probably with Azariah's help—defended themselves from accusations of being ‘unpatriotic and anti-national in outlook.' They objected that these charges were ‘utterly unfounded, ' defended western missionaries, and described their own church as ‘an object lesson on self-government.' They advocated the more moderate political goal of Dominion status for India within the empire, and cautioned ‘against extreme and militant nationalism which seeks to destroy the most fundamental of all truths, viz., the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God.'

Later, after the great rift between Gandhi and Azariah, the bishop expressed the heart of his grievance against Hindu nationalists who criticized the attitudes of Indian Christians toward their countrymen:

He has forgotten—the critic—the great service to India that Christians are rendering, through bringing Christ and His faith to bear upon the social problems of India. My love to my countrymen and my nationalism—they think—ought to be measured by my attitude to Congress or to political problems. No, I say my love to my country may be exercised through my ex-political work. If I labour to remove illiteracy, dirt, social enslavement and superstition of the neglected and the unprivileged or underprivileged—am I to be reckoned a foreigner with foreign sympathies with no love for my country? Should I be denounced as unpatriotic, simply because I am not dressed in a particular way or do not eat in a particular style or am not a member of a political party?

Azariah concluded by calling for a ‘nationalism that will not be narrow, and will not lead to nationalistic egoism.' But even in the 1920s, before his conflict with Gandhi, Azariah realized that a confrontation might be inevitable between Indian Christians—whose affiliations with the religion of empire were drawing intensified criticism—and India's nationalists.

The events that precipitated confrontation in the 1930s were set in motion by the British themselves as they gradually introduced parliamentary institutions and elective government to India. The British and Indian governments used communally based categories as the basis for organizing political reform in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some limited and indirect elections and representation for different groups had been introduced in the last quarter of the nineteenth century; but the British introduced their first major constitutional innovation in 1909 when, under the Morley-Minto reforms, they instituted elections for an expanded number of seats on the Provincial and Central Legislative Councils. At this stage, separate electorates were introduced to protect the interests of various classes and interests, especially the Muslims who insisted on separate seats for Muslim constituencies and the right to vote in general constituencies (in all provinces except Bengal, where they were in the majority). Muslims and their British allies claimed that communal electorates—which guaranteed each definable community a predetermined level of political representation&#8212were necessary to safeguard oppressed or underprivileged groups. Indian nationalists argued, in response, that the Raj was using communal electorates to bolster its own political position in India through a policy of ‘divide and rule.'

Separate electorates were given to Indian Christians in 1919 as part of the next major phase of constitutional reform: the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. Separate electorates were also granted (or re-granted) to Muslims, Sikhs, Anglo-Indians, Europeans, Mahrattas in Bombay, and Non-Brahmins and Depressed Classes in Madras. However, limitations on the franchise kept the bulk of Azariah's converts from voting until greater rights were extended through the Government of India Act of 1935. Before this, on 4 August 1932, as a result of the deliberations in London of the Second Round Table Conference, the Government issued a Communal Award which granted separate electorates to almost every possible group, including Christians and Depressed Classes. The expanded numbers of Indians on the electoral rolls were now also increasingly divided according to their religious, caste, and economic status.

These complex communally based political categories for electoral and employment procedures threatened to open up many barely submerged religious and caste fissures in national politics. Both Gandhi and Azariah opposed the separate electorates, but for different reasons: Gandhi did not want the depressed classes to be separated from his conceptualization of modern Hinduism; Azariah did not want Indian Christians to be separated from Indian society more generally. Ultimately, both men were forced to accept a compromise through the intervention of yet another untouchable leader, B. R. Ambedkar, who sought to defend and maximize separate representation for the depressed classes against Gandhi's efforts to keep them in the Hindu fold.

In this new political landscape, Indian Christians were distinguished from all other groups, including non-Christian depressed classes. Conversion instantly became a highly charged political as well as spiritual act. The mass movements now threatened to take substantial numbers, not just out of a new and increasingly organized modern Hinduism, but also off the Hindu electoral registers. Furthermore, depressed class converts to Christianity would lose all special privileges inherent to their former depressed class status; and caste converts would be grouped with former outcaste converts. Problems quickly emerged after the Congress Party gained control of the Legislature in the elections of 1937, problems that became more commonplace, complex, and troublesome after Independence. By 1939, Azariah described the emergence in his diocese of widespread communal discrimination in the matter of school fees and admissions which ‘is rightly resented by all':

Six boys seek admission to a Board School—all of the same economic status, with parents living on daily wages, and all of Harijan origin. Three have to pay fees because they are Christians, and three pay nothing because they are non-Christians! If this is not unfair communal and religious discrimination, what is?...We do notwish to call our Christians Harijans for the sake of concessions. We assert however that it is iniquitous to levy on the basis of the communal, and not on the economic status of the parents. Is it right for the son of an Hon. Minister to have full fee concession because he is a Harijan Hindu, and for the son of his peon, who until recently was a Harijan, to have to pay full fees, because the father has now become a Christian? This is surely religious partiality and communal favouritism, and [is] as bad as untouchability. Educational facilities given by Government should be certainly reckoned on an impartial basis, applicable alike to all, irrespective of caste or religion. The Hon. the Educational Minister argued that after three generations, converts ought to have been so absorbed into the Christian community, that any stigma of having belonged to the ‘Harijans' should have disappeared by then. True: but the removal of the stigma does not make the convert prosperous. Is it right for the Government to penalise conversion in this way? Fee concessions must be given on the strength of poverty certificates and not on communal affinities. Here is an injustice unworthy of any government — much more of a Government professing to be national. The Brahman and the Harijan, the Christian and the Hindu, ought to be all treated impartially by a national Government.

The effects of political reforms—some intended, others unexpected—changed the role of Christian missions in India and forced leaders such as Azariah into several contentious public policy debates. Previously, most Indian nationalists had cared little about Christian mission to the untouchables; it was, if anything, merely honorable charity work. Now that Indian Christians were placed in a separate electoral category, conversion from Hinduism (or other faiths) to Christianity (or other faiths) posed a more pressing political threat to the national movement, to Gandhi's leadership of the ‘Harijans,' and therefore also to Gandhi's broad moral and political agenda.

Azariah and Gandhi united in battle against the British government's communally based political reforms of the 1930's, but before long Gandhi attacked Azariah with criticisms and innuendo, and eventually he undermined the effectiveness of Azariah's missionary work in his diocese. An ill-conceived reconciliation effort by yet another group of unrealistic westerners exacerbated Azariah's problems and caused him publicly to defend Gandhi against his Christian missionary colleagues. This retreat marked a significant defeat for Azariah and for the Christian missionary enterprise, since it prevented them from engaging Gandhi in a clear public debate over issues of religious freedom that still plague India today.

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Table of Contents

Maps and Illustrations
A Note on Transliteration
Introduction 1
Pt. I The Rise 9
1 Local Background: Secure Roots and a Spiritual Core 11
2 Pan-Asian Ecumenism: A Vision beyond Nations 36
3 Indigenous National Base: A Nonpolitical Missionary 67
Pt. II The Reign 91
4 Bishop in the British Empire: Church-State Conflict under the Raj 93
5 Bishop in the Indian Church: Race and Identity Formation 138
6 Bishop in Andhra: Local Transformation through Conversion 176
Pt. III The Resolutions 221
7 Overcoming Divisions in Christendom 223
8 Overcoming Caste and Culture in India 244
Pt. IV The Rift 289
9 The Conflict with Gandhi and Political Nationalism 291
Conclusion 353
Bibliography 367
Index 443
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