Life in India/The Sabbath at Chintadrepettah

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Life in India by John Welsh Dulles
The Sabbath at Chintadrepettah

The Sabbath at Chintadrepettah.

Our first Sunday in India broke upon us with the bright hot sunshine of the tropics; but before the sun was up we were awakened by the loud cawing of hordes of crows. They were soon followed by the scarcely less numerous and more insolent Pandarums, or religious beggars, who live upon the superstitious fears of the people. They were at this early hour passing up and down the rows of huts on the other side of the compound wall, before the inmates were abroad, chaunting the praises of their patron gods. They accompany their noisy music with castanets or small tomtoms, (Hindu drums,) and carry brazen pots to receive the gifts of the people. They are seldom entirely refused, as a handful of raw rice will dismiss them to the next door, and the curses they invoke on those who will not pay them this tax are greatly feared. The perseverance, importunity, and impudence of these so-called holy men is such, that they are like bands of locusts devouring the fruits of the poor labourers. They do not ask because they are poor, but because this is their calling, and they confer a favour upon those from whom they receive. To give to them is an act of piety; to refuse, of impiety. Their blessing gives riches and prosperity; their curse brings loss, sickness, and misfortune. Believing these things, the people will not refuse, though they may hate them.

Without, were discordant noises; within, all seemed still and Sabbath-like. The Christian may carry his Sabbath with him to India. Even here are some who delight to keep holy-day, and to meet to worship God among the heathen. On going at half-past eight to the school bungalow, we found the higher classes of the girls' and boys' Tamil schools assembled as a Sunday-school, and busily reciting catechisms and
Page 122 Life in India or Madras, the Neilgherries, and Calcutta.png

Mission church, school-house and Bungalon at Chintadrepettah, p.99.

Scripture lessons. Our captain was with us, and great was his surprise at hearing a translation of some of the questions and answers. "Why,” said he, “these heathen children know more about the Bible than I do.” And indeed in many a school in Christian lands questions on Scripture truth would be far less correctly answered than by the Hindu boys and girls of the Madras schools. Going to the high school, we found the pupils similarly engaged. As they study the Scriptures in English, we each of us took a class of bright boys, and for the first time had the pleasure of commending the religion of Jesus Christ to these intelligent and engaging youth.

At half-past nine o'clock both schools adjourned to the church,[1] and public services commenced. The building is sixty feet long and thirty wide, and plainly but neatly built of brick, plastered within and without. The floor is matted, and the half of the room next to the door furnished with settees. These were filled by the youth of the high school and adults from the neighbourhood; in front of them the floor was completely covered with children from the Tamil schools, the teachers being seated here and there on chairs, like watchmen, to preserve order. The native Christian men sat on one side of the house, and the mission family on the other. The native women who were members of the church, as they entered, modestly took their places on the matted floor, first wrapping their faces in their white or coloured mantles, and spending a few moments in prayer.

When all was still, the services commenced with singing a hymn in Tamil, one of the natives leading; "then followed prayer, reading the Scriptures, the sermon, and other parts of worship, as in our own country. Though it was all unintelligible to us, yet it was most pleasant to see so large a number gathered to hear the gospel in their own tongue in this heathen city. Nor was it less pleasant and interesting to hear the quick answers to questions from the pulpit, showing the preacher that what he said was understood. Now and then a sleepy boy would be awaked by a rather loud tap on the head from his teacher, or a group of men from the street make audible remarks; but on the whole the decorum was great, and the scene very pleasing to a new-comer.

In the cities of India few adults from among the heathen will attend at a place of Christian worship. The Sabbath is not to them a day of rest. All are busy with their ordinary duties. The carpenter is at his work, the merchant at his shop, and the teacher in his school. While the missionary is preaching at Chintadrepettah, the creaking of the castor-oil mill across the street is constantly in his ears. Nor is this the only obstacle. The people fear that they will in some way be injured in their caste, or perhaps by some sorcery made Christians against their will, if they enter the church. Still, as they pass to and fro on their own business, attracted by the singing or preaching, they crowd around the doors and windows, and some venture in. They thus learn something about Christianity and the order of Christian worship. But the masses will not come to us; we must go out to them.

  1. Our illustration gives a fair representation of the Chintadrepettah church, school-house, and preaching bungalow. On the right is the church; next to it the schoolhouse, (the high school,) two stories in height, with Venetian doors in the first story and Venetian blinds in the second. The back part of the school-house is but one story in height, with a low roof. Beyond the school is the open bungalow for preaching on week days, so stationed as to attract persons passing along the street, who will not enter a church. In Burmah, such a building would be called a Zayat.