Role of Christian Missionaries in Andhra Pradesh

Role of Christian Missionaries in Andhra Pradesh

It was in A.D. 52 that St. Thomas introduced Christianity in Kerala in South India. However, Christianity was limited to the South West Coast of India, i.e., within the boundaries of Kerala State only until the arrival of the Portuguese in India in 1498 and later by East India Company from England in Seventeenth Century. The dynamic spirit of missionary activity began in different parts of India including Andhra and other parts of the State during these periods.

Although the first contacts of the Telugu people with Christianity were established at the beginning of the 16th century, the seeds of salvation have not taken deep root among them during the first three centuries in the Nizam’s Dominion. The reason could be political, the attitude of the Telugus towards Christianity and the lack of missionaries to spread the Faith.

In the 16th century, the present day Andhra Pradesh was divided among the many kingdoms. Most of the land was in the muslim kingdoms and the southern part of Andhra Pradesh was under the Bisnagar kingdom. The idea that religion of the Ruler should determine the religion of the subjects accepted in the 16th century, was no exception to the greater part of Andhra Pradesh as it was under the Golconda and Bijapur kingdoms. Islam religion gained more followers than Christ in these parts. The missionaries tried to penetrate into these kingdoms, but without much success. The rulers were frequently at war with each other, with the result that the missionaries found it difficult to penetrate into the interior.

At the beginning of the 16th century the missionaries who came in contact with the Telugus, found them rather inimical to Christianity, although by nature they are very kind and sympathetic, due to the instigation of the Brahmin gurus. The Hindus argued that as it is not good to change one’s wife, so it is not proper to change one’s religion.17 Missionaries could not travel in the mountain area with safety as there were a lot of highway robbers. In other words, Telugus were not very much prepared for the Word of God in the 16th century. Although there were some Portuguese and American Christians settled down in Golconda for trade, they were far from being exemplary in Christian life.

The early missionaries who had come to India, concentrated themselves on the coastal areas. Very few really tried to go into the interior. A few missionaries did travel across the vast and extensive Bisnagar kingdom. They set the spark of Christianity at the very heart of the kingdom, namely, the capital of the kingdom. Unfortunately they did not persevere in their efforts of conquering souls to Christ in these parts, for whatever reasons it might have been. At the very beginning, a new Christian needs a constant reminder and an encouragement to face all the difficulties arising from social and family life. This was not given to the new Christians. There were times when the Christians of these parts were neglected even for a period of forty years.

Catholic missions in Andhra pradesh

The first contact of the Telugu people with Christianity dates back to 1505 on the arrival of Fr. Luis de Salvador, a Franciscan Missionary who came as an ambassador to Vijayanagara empire from Portugal. His main object was two fold – to win over the friendship of Vijayanagar ruler for the advancement of the Portuguese trade in India and to obtain permission to preach the Gospel.

His approaches and discussions with Brahmins with regard to religious aspects did not bear any fruit but on the other hand, he was even ill treated by them. During his preaching he could make single conversion before he was murdered in the capital of Vijayanagar empire by a mission. Although the atmosphere in the South India was not very favourable to the missionaries, the missionary activity went on. It was Antonia de Padraoe, another Franciscan, who came to India sometime in 1530 converted and many to the Christian faith in the kingdom of Vijayanagara empire. He also built a Church there. During the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah I (1535-37), there took place good number of conversions to Christianity from the Golla, Sale and Goundla castes at Mudgal and Raichur areas.


Jesuit mission in Andhra pradesh

The Jesuit missionaries came to India in 1542. In the beginning they too confined to the coastal areas but eventually they began to extend their apostolate to Bijapur and Vijayanagara empires as well. In the year 1561, the King of Bijapur requested the Archbishop of Goa, to send two scholars. The Archbishop sent Gonsalves Rodringuiz and Superior of the Dominicans. Though they were received well by the king, soon the Bishops realized that the king of Bijapur asked for them only out of curiosity and nothing else. They returned to Goa, disappointed. Yet according to a Report of 1582, they made a few conversions in Bijapur.

In 1608, two Jesuit Missionaries requested the ruler of Bijapur to grant permission for a Christian settlement and to construct a Church in Bijapur. The King favoured their request on one condition that the Portuguese should allow for a construction of a Mosque in Goa. This condition was not liked by Portuguese and hence the whole idea was given up. But their third attempt in 1662 was successful. The king gave them permission to build a house to a Christian missionary. This act has resulted in immigration of Christians from Portuguese territory to Bijapur.

Franscesco Manco, the Jesuit Missionary toured the kingdom of Golkonda in 1641. He travelled across the kingdom from one end to the other and ultimately started his apostolate at Masulipatnam. His travel and gospel preaching has resulted in the establishment of two Christian Mission stations, one at Golkonda and the other at Masulipatnam. The Jesuit Mission constructed a Church at Masulipatnam in 1652 to facilitate 300 Catholic converts. In due course Franscesco Manco expanded his activities and as a result of which several churches were established at Narsapur, Bimilipatnam, Chicacol (Srikakulam) etc. A Church was built at Hyderabad in 1652 with a congregation of 100 Christians. Another Church, built 6 miles away from Hyderabad incourse of time was dedicated to our Lady of the Rosary, with a following of 300 Christians.


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