Jean-Antoine Dubois


Jean-Antoine Dubois

Abbe J.A. Dubois or Jean-Antoine Dubois (1765–1848) was a French Catholic missionary in India.[1] He was affectionately known as Fraadh Saaibh to the parishioners of the Holy Cross Church, Cordel in Mangalore, among whom he ministered.[2]

Dubois had been baptized on January 10, 1766 in St.Remèze/Ardèche. He was ordained in the diocese of Viviers in 1792, and sailed for India in the same year under the direction of the Missions étrangères.

He was at first attached to the Pondicherry mission, and worked in the southern districts of the present Madras Presidency. On the fall of Seringapatam in 1799, he went to Mysore to reorganize the Christian community that had been shattered by Tipu Sultan.

Among the benefits which he conferred upon his impoverished flock were the founding of agricultural colonies and the introduction of vaccination as a preventive of smallpox. But his great work was his record of Hindu manners, customs and ceremonies. Immediately on his arrival in India, he saw that the work of a Christian missionary should be based on a thorough acquaintance with the innermost life and character of the native population.

Accordingly, he abjured European society, adopted the native style of clothing, and made himself in habit and costume as much like a Hindu as he could. He used to go around in the garb of sanyasi and abjured meat for many years. He gained an extraordinary welcome among people of all castes and conditions, and was spoken of in many parts of South India with affection and esteem as the prince's son, the noblest of Europeans. He was popularly called as Dodda Swamiyoru. He has mastered all the south Indian languages including Sanskrit.

Although Dubois modestly disclaimed the title of author, his collections were not so much drawn from the Hindu sacred books as from his own careful and vivid observations, and it is this, united to a remarkable prescience, that makes his work so valuable. It is divided into three parts:

  • A general view of society in India, and especially of the caste system
  • The four states of Brahminical life
  • Religion--feasts, temples, objects of worship

Not only did abbé give a shrewd, clear-sighted, candid account of the manners and customs of the Hindus, but he provided a very sound estimation of the British position in India, and made some even-handed observations on the difficulties of administering the Empire according to Western notions of civilization and progress with the limited resources that were available.

Dubois's French manuscript was purchased for eight thousand rupees by Lord William Bentinck for the British East India Company in 1807. In 1816, an English translation was published, and about 1864, a curtailed reprint of this edition was issued. Abbé, however, largely recast his work, and in 1897, this revised text (now in the India Office) was published in an edition with notes by H. K. Beauchamp.

Dubois left India in January 1823, with a special pension conferred on him by the East India Company. On reaching Paris, he was appointed director of the Missions Étrangères de Paris, of which he afterwards became superior (1836-1839). He translated into French the famous book of Hindu fables called Panchatantra, and also a work called The Exploits of the Guru Paramarta.

Of more interest was his Letters on the State of Christianity in India, in which he asserted his opinion that under existing circumstances, there was no possibility of overcoming the invincible barrier of Brahminical prejudice so as to convert the Hindus to any sect of Christianity. He acknowledged that low castes and outcastes might be converted in large numbers, but of the higher castes, he wrote: "Should the intercourse between individuals of both nations, by becoming more intimate and more friendly, produce a change in the religion and usages of the country, it will not be to turn Christians that they will forsake their own religion, but rather ... to become mere atheists."

Books

  • J. A. (Jean Antoine), Dubois (1899). Hindu manners, customs and ceremonies. Oxford, Clarendon press. 

Citations

References

  • D'Souza, Edwin J. F. (2004), V.J.P. Saldanha (Makers of Indian literature), Sahitya Akademi, ISBN 9788126020287 .

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 


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