Narayam Vaman Tilak and the Bible (Part II)

Posted: January 30, 2013 in General

$T2eC16V,!ygE9s7HI7KkBQf12kZOtg~~60_3Dr. Plamthodathil Samuel Jacob (knowm as P. S. Jacob) was principal of Ahmednagar College (under University of Pune), Ahmednagar, and was Interim Principal of Union Biblical Seminary, Pune. For more details about Dr. P. S. Jacob go here. I requested him to write a post about Narayan Vaman Tilak and he is herewith for us. See Part I here.

Read Part II below…

[Biblical experience of Christ

The Biblical expression of the person of Christ got translated into Indian literary/poetic format of religious truth. See another sample of poetry in translation:

From henceforth Thou art mine, O Lord,

Beloved Brother, God and King,

From henceforth Thy service is my food,

Meditation on Thee is my sleep,

Proclaiming Thy name is the breath of my life.

My eyes grow dim: towards worldly things and are fixed on Thy feet.

Lord, Thou art mine, Beloved Brother, God and King.

For Thee I give my home and all ties of relationship,

For Thee I give all worldly affairs,

For Thee I give all my bodily life,

I place everything under Thy control.

I offer to Thee myself and all that I am.

I give all to Thee. Lord, take it.

Thou art mine, O Lord, Beloved Brother, God and King.

Thou art my thought, my speech, my knowledge, my devotion,

my final liberation.

I and Thou art one in very truth.

I am free, happy, at peace, always in heaven.

Lord, Thou art mine, Beloved Brother, God and King.

 (Translation from the original(Marathi) by C.S.M.V. Sister of Panch-Howd – in Bhaktinirnjana (n.d.)

 Biblical  IDEAS ON GOD: Tilak’s Configuration

 Tilak accepted the basic elements of the Christian concept of God and let it interact with the ideas of God from other religions, especially, from Hinduism. The major aspects of the interactional experience reflected in his poetic works are:

 (1)   God a ‘Home of all our Trust’.

 The Fatherhood of God is experienced as a great source of comfort amidst troubles and trials, strife and sorrows and the uncertainties of human relations. It serves as the anchor for the soul and the foundation for life itself.   (e.g. in translation

Father! Dear home of all our trust,

What a loving kindness hast Thou shown

That as thy children Thou shouldst own

Frail worthless creatures of the dust.[1]

(2)   God as Father and Mother

Tilak found that limiting God to Fatherhood alone does not give the whole picture of spiritual relations with the nature of God. For discovering the wholesomeness, an interfaith understanding becomes necessary, sourcing the Hindu thought. From his experiential dialogue with Hindu religious thought, he found that the most appropriate title for God should be Father and Mother.

Father and Mother both Thou art,

Whence may I fonder title seek?

Yet even these are all too weak

To show the love that fills Thy heart.[2]

(3)   God as Life’s Inseparable Companion

Another point of reference to God is done in relation to the Bhakti tradition of India; as the inseparable companion in life. The ever present reality of God is felt in every moment of life as Tilak has expressed it clearly in his Abhangs.[3] God is always with us and is inseparable from our sorrows and happiness.

(4)   Existence in all things

God dwells in human hearts and the body is acknowledged as a temple of God. At the same time we should go beyond this and find God in the whole world which sings for God. The presence of God is to be experienced in all events and in all things around us.[4] These are some of the points of reference that Tilak found useful in giving a new dimension to the Christian understanding of God. He successfully brought in an inter faith approach   The experience of Christ also could bring in an inter faith dimension by being a true Bhakta(devotee) of Christ, as Tilak was. Christ should become a deep experience of reality with constant communion rather than by nurturing  it with ‘perfectly’ designed theological concept to support doctrinal beliefs.  See another sample of Tilak’s poetic expression:

Christ is life of all that is

Dharma and Artha both He is

Both Nation and Community

Spirit and Moral Righteousness.[5]

The other ideas he gathered through his experiential interaction with Biblical Truth are:

(a)   Christ, the soul’s rest, bringing out the idea of perfect peace and the state of peaceful creativeness.

(b)   Christ, the gracious tenant of the heart…makes no precondition on the tenancy.

(c)    Christ, the brother and friend…Tilak felt that Christ walks and talks with human believer in the true Bhakti’s way!

(d)   Christ, the King…though he relates to us as brother and friend, He is the ruler of our hearts, mind and life, once we surrender to him.

(e)    Christ, the transforming presence… there is tremendous power passed on to us once we ourselves unquestionably place ourselves at  feet of Christ.

(f)     Christ, the Mother-Guru…Christ is the guru with a difference, a guru with a charming smile and with indulging love of mother.  e.g.,Tenderest Mother-Guru mine, savior, Where is love like Thine?”[6]

(g)   Christ, the crucified… had a special meaning for him. It is not only the climax of divine love but also the experience of spiritual ecstasy (Bhakti tradition).

(h)   Christ, the Lord of Yoga…the devotee is always with Christ and consequently a final union with him is possible.

But this alone I know,

That from that day,

This self of mine had vanished quietly away,

 Great Lord of Yoga, Thou hast yoked me with Thee,

Saith Dasa, even a poor wight like me.[7]

Tilak tried to understand Christ and Biblical truth in an indigenous dimension and for him, it gave  a far more meaningful experience of Biblical Christ. He believed that the indigenous expression will go a long way to convey the gospel message. It was his firm belief that Bible should be presented in a meaningful form to local people. The interpretation of the Bible should not solely on the pattern of interpretation received from Western culture. While making use of it one should let the Bible interact with the ‘cultural soul’ of the believer. Thus Bible becomes a part of the way of living of the believer.

Hymns and Biblical Themes[8]

In his composition of Christian hymns, Tilak based the concept of worship as per his understanding of Biblical concept of God and Christ as savior. The Trinitarian concept of God remained as a part of his belief. The greatness, holiness and the majesty of God were humbly acknowledged. Praises to God and the preparation of a new day with God were very important for him. God as Father and the love of God are reflected in his hymns. There are four hymns devoted to doxology. As it was mentioned earlier, his devotion to Christ remained his lifeline. One of the hymns emphasizes (US: 40)[9] that he needed Christ alone for his life. For him the name of Christ was sweet and enjoyable. Tasting and experiencing Christ experience was considered as the foundation of spiritual life found in the Bible. He composed five hymns on the theme (US: 41,42,43,44,45). Resting in Christ, communion with Christ, Christ as redeemer, Christ as all in all., praises to the savior, unfailing love of Christ, Christ the Messiah, The incarnated Christ and a number of Christmas hymns were created. Here again the projection of Christ remained as the Savior of the world. The most outstanding perception of Christ given by him was ‘Christ’s love is like a Mother’s love’ (US: 55) .He conceived and experienced God as Father and Mother, long before feminist theologians brought it out as a theological perception.

Christ on the Cross remained an important biblical theme for him (US:71). More hymns are found on Christ’s love and suffering as well. Resurrection transforms Christ experience as ‘soul abiding’ experience of God. (e.g. US:88). Another theme which has been found repeated is the ‘majestic sweetness of God crowned in Christ’ (e.g US: 99).

Tilak’s understanding of the Bible gives us an experiential dimension of the biblical concept of God and Christ. For him the understanding of the Bible is achieved by experiencing the concepts. Bible remains a distant knowledge if it is analyzed only intellectually. Experiential dimension of the biblical themes make it more alive. As a renowned poet of Marathi language, he presented his interpretation thematically with a poetic vision. It reveals that the understanding and interpretation could be multidimensional and need not be confined to texts alone. Tilak interpreted the Bible not textually but we may refer to his methodology as an experiential interpretation with a thematic approach to Biblical understanding. The poetic vision of Tilak’s projection of the Biblical truth is noteworthy and has great potential for its application. Tilak opened up an avenue of thematic, indigenous, interfaith, and experiential perceptive of Biblical exposition.


[1] Narayan Vaman Tilak, Bhaktiniranjana, Nagrik Press (Nasik:n.d.), p.3.

[2] Ibid.p.3, verses 3.

[3] Narayan Vaman Tilak, Abhangajali, edited by A.D Tilak, Joshi Bros (Auranagbad:1959) Abhang  no: 13,18.

[4] N. V. Tilak, Bhajan Sangraha, Tract and Book Society, (Kedgaon:1906),5.

[5] Op.cit., Bhaktiniranjana, P.29, Verse 3 translated by J.c Winslow

[6] Ibid., p.113, also in Bhajansangraha, geet no 1, “mazi Guru mauli.”

[7] Op.cit., Bhaktiniranjana, p.117

[8]At a later time I shall present an analysis of his theological ideas reflected in his composition of hymns.

U.S. in reference means Upasana Sangeet, (Marathi Hymn Book).

[9] Upasana Sangeet, the Marathi Hymnal (referred here as US)]

Comments
  1. Rev. Sanjay Gaikwad says:

    Oh this is so rich an exposition on the hymns of Tilak .great learning experience

  2. Yes, it is rich and persuasive. Enjoy!

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