Journey Through Bangladesh
Genesis of Christianity in Bangladesh
History tells us that the Christian Faith started spreading to different corners of the world through discovery of new lands. This phenomenon can be traced back to the times of Christopher Columbus, when he tried to find a route to India by crossing the Atlantic, but instead had stumbled upon and discovered North America. But, the credit of bringing Christianity to our subcontinent goes to the Portuguese seafarer and discoverer Vasco da Gama.
The journey began in 1498, when the Portuguese sailor charted the seas and established a sea route by tracing the west face of Africa to cross its southern most point and successfully reach Kalikot of Kerala. Soon after this establishment, the Europeans didn't hesitate to expand their travels and thus succeeded in opening new trade routes to Africa, Asia, South America and Australia. The convoys not only comprised of merchants, sailors and military forces, but priests as well for converting the people of the new worlds they were discovering and establishing trade with. And these priests, in sailors' attire, were the ones responsible for the spread of Christianity in the Indian Subcontinent.
Since the Martyrdom of Tomas, the exalted twelfth Disciple of Christ, recruitment into Christendom had practically come to a standstill. It was as late as the sixteenth century that Christian priests revived their practice of calling out to people to join the faith. The most prolific figure, correlated to this subcontinent, has to be Saint Francis Xavier, who had established a base in Goa of India as an ambassador from his kingdom. Starting from his base, he had traversed spreading the name of Christ as far as Japan, ending his journey in the island Sanchian of present day China's Mackaw. Alas, he left this world on the island nearly all by himself, and alone.
Just as Saint Xavier, the Portuguese priests followed in his footsteps in the next three decades, after the establishment of the trade route by Vasco da Gama, and arrived in Bangladesh. From different historical evidence, we know that the Portuguese seafarers had already made their presence known in Bengal's Hugli, Hijli, Pipli, Chattagram, Shandip, Noakhali, BakherGanj, and even Dhaka through residing there and constructing trade bases. Modern day West Bengal's Hugli was the main base and port for the Portuguese.
The Portuguese of the time had been welcomed by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. But even then, the Portuguese sailors proved to be dominant. Their behavior and everyday correspondences soon proved to be unacceptable, and thus the Mughal Emperor ordered the Nabab of Bengal Kashim Khaa to take care of the situation. Kashim Khaa showed no mercy and nearly destroyed the whole of Hugli, comprising then of thousands of Portuguese and newly converted local Christians. Nearly four thousand Christians were taken to Agra as captives. But it should be mentioned that a few years later the place was restored with better benefits by the Mughal Emperor.
History tells us that the merciless raid by the Nabab in 1632 left many Christians dead, and many captured, while what is not very evident is that many had also escaped. A group amongst these escapees had succeeded in taking refuge in Larikul of Faridpur by the Padma river. As the land on the banks of the Padma started breaking away to be consumed by the river, the Christians then crossed the river to the other side and started inhabiting Narisha, Jhonaki, Malikanda, and Dhapari. The forefathers of the Atherograam originated from this group as they had migrated to the north to Bandura, Hasnabad, Golla and Tuital areas.
Father Antoine da Rosario is still revered by the Christians from the Atherograam area, as he holds the roots of their journey into Christendom. In fact, the forefathers of the area accepted Christianity and were educated in the faith by his hands. Father Antoine da Rosario was the prince of Bhusana, son of King Sitaram Ray. Bhusana was a small kingdom by the side of Jessore, twenty miles south of Faridpur city. The young prince was kidnapped in 1666 by Mog pirates and taken to Arkan. The Portuguese priest Manuel da Rosario had bought the boy and failed trying to preach him Christianity. He later accepted the faith through inspiration from Saint Antoni's visit to one of his dreams. After acquiring enough knowledge about the faith he adopted the new name of Antoine da Rosario or Dom Antonio. He returned back to Bhusana four years later and took up the place of a great preacher. As many as thirty thousand locals from Bhusana and the Larikul districts had accepted the faith through his preaching.
Another interesting story surrounding the area is that of the Jamindar of Hasnabad. Hasnabad was initially a Muslim populace. It was under the governance by of Dosto Muhammad Osmani, who was tricked into abdicating his post by a local Bishnu Chandra Tewary. Tewary took over the Jamindar title after Osmani's leave. Father Rafael Gomes, a Portuguese priest, was in charge of looking after the Christians in the area at that time. As he was successfully preaching Christianity amongst the people of the area, it did not sit well with Tewary and the father was put into isolation. But soon after the incident, Tewary fell seriously ill. Four days after the isolation, Father Gomes was rescued unharmed by the request of the Jamindar's wife's request. Surprisingly, Tewary had recovered immediately after the Father's release. Spooked by the development, he gave his lands for the preaching of Christianity and left Hasnabad for good. Christianity started spreading even faster than before in the area after the incident, and the morale was also boosted for the local Christians of the time.
Hasnabad was once the center for Atherograam. The Church there was erected in 1777, rebuilt in 1888. The Golla Church was established in 1844, and the current one was built in 1965. The Tuital Church was opened in 1914 and the Sholpur Church in 1850. The ancient Church of Hasnabad remains as a milestone in the journey of Christianity into our country. Father Antoine da Rosario had started in the noble cause from Faridpur's Bhusana and had stopped at Atherograam. Yet, his efforts had not ended there. The whole world now knows of his prowess and has been affected by his works.
The Hasnabad Church has been renamed to Japmala Mata Church, and is being renovated at the moment. The Church is a landmark for all the Christians in this subcontinent and has been identified as a wonder for the people from this faith. Thousands every year visit its holy grounds.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009