In the Shadows of the Mahatma: Bishop V.S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India

Article excerpt

In the Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop VS.Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India. By Susan Billington Harper. [Studies in the History of Christian Missions.] (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William D. Eerdman's Pubfishing Company; Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press Ltd. 2000. Pp. xxi, 462. $45.00.)

Bishop V.S. Azariah was the first Indian to be consecrated a bishop in the Anglican communion, and he was one of the most significant Christian leaders in India, with a high ecumenical profile, in the first half of the twentieth century. A 'Nadar Christian' from Tinnevelly District, Azariah was educated at the Madras Christian College, and spent formative years working for the YMCA in close collaboration with Sherwood Eddy. He became something of a protege of Bishop Whitehead of Madras, who recognised his potential remarkably quickly, and after much controversy, had him consecrated and posted to the rural diocese of Dornakal, in the Telugu country.

Dornakal, when Azariah arrived, was already in the early stages of a 'Mass Movement' of the 'Depressed Classes' into Christianity. Azariah energetically supported the conversion movement and encouraged the development of forms of Christianity which were more indigenous and less anglicized. While broadly sympathetic to the national movement, he had vigorous disagreements with Mahatma Gandhi, and also with Ambedkhar, about the acceptability and appropriateness of conversion in India. Dr. Harper quotes an informant remembering that Gandhi stated privately that Azariah was his"Enemy Number One. …