Monday 8 August 2011

Rev. Uttangi Chennappa

Uttangi is a village in Bellary district of Karnataka. Around 1810 A.D. Chennappagouda was the headman of the village. He was a Lingayat by caste and he later converted to Christianity.
A son was born to Chennappagouda who married Subhadramma in 1877. And a son was born to them on October 28, 1881, who was named ‘Chennappa’, after his grandfather, Chennappagouda.
Chennappa, as a boy, lacked intelligence. His memory was poor and always stood last in his class. His father, a teacher, often punished him. But his mother was exceedingly kind to him and advised him to pray to God for a better memory. Chennappa began offering prayers to God, though there was not much improvement in his memory.
A missionary, Rev. Risch, opened a residential school in Dharwad for the poor Christian children. In the first year, twelve students were admitted, of whom Chennappa was one. Rev. Risch taught them English and Sanskrit. In these years, Chennappa developed signs of independent thinking. Owing to Rev. Risch’s special care, Chennappa could get admission to the fourth standard at Basel Mission High School, Dharwad.
In the matriculation examination, Chennappa failed. His mother said, “Son, I got you as a gift from God in answer to my prayers. Maybe, God is not pleased with your seeking a worldly living. You better give up those efforts and join the School of Divinity for Christians at Mangalore”.
In obedience to his mother, Chennappa joined the Christian Seminary at Mangalore (1901).
When he completed eighteen years of age, his intellect bloomed, his memory gained in strength. His personality on the whole, took on a new form. His life, which seemed to have been enveloped in darkness, was now brightly lit up. The desire to study all subjects relating to science and humanities in depth had sprouted in him. “I have a lot of creativity in me,” said he to himself.
From then on Chennappa became a truth-seeker. From 1904-1908 he made an in-depth study of the works of many Western and Eastern philosophers in Mangalore. He came to the conclusion that philosophy ultimately ends up in mathematics. The love he bore for Plato, Kant and Bradley turned towards William James and other mystics. He came to admire the Upanishads, the Gita and the Vachana literature.
After his completion of the course in Mangalore, Chennappa was appointed preacher at the Basel Mission.
The Protestant missionaries, who had come to India to propagate Christianity, had the tendency to point out the drawbacks of native religions, and extol the principles of their own religion.
It did not take long for Chennappa, to know the reasons for the missionaries’ behaviour. He adopted a mode of preaching which ran counter to the missionaries. He started praising the noble principles of other religions too. Rev. Uttangi visited several places to lecture on the geniuses of the 12th century, Basavanna and others of the Anubhava Mantapa.
 “Rev. Uttangi”, it was rumoured, “is about to disown Christianity and embrace Virashaivism.” The missionaries issued him a show cause notice asking him why he should not be removed from the Christian mission’s service.
In a rejoinder, Rev. Uttangi answered: ‘It is the duty of both of us to propagate the truth in Christ’s message. I plead, with all humility, that I have as much liberty in translating this into reality as you have. Belonging to this country, I have a greater degree of freedom than you. Maybe, there is a difference between your mode of preaching and mine. But that is inevitable. If you want to know my line of thinking better, please read the small book, ‘Bethlehem’s Entreaty to Benares’. The missionaries did not pursue the matter.
A surprising turn came about in Rev. Uttangi’s life around this time.He was appointed instructor in Kannada to Rev. J. J. Urner, a foreign missionary, who had come to Karnataka. Once, when Uttangi had explained one of the Vachanas of Sarvajna, the missionary raised the questions: “Where was the poet born? What century did the poet live in? since he propounded a single God worship, condemned caste discrimination and preached universal brotherhood, had he by any chance come under the influence of Christianity?”
 Rev. Uttangi, who knew nothing about the poet, could not answer Rev. Urner’s questions satisfactorily. From that day, Rev. Uttangi set on his research-oriented study of the poet. It was his love of Sarvajna that motivated Uttangi to master Kannada. It was his study of Sarvajna that got him deeply interested in Virashaiva religion and literature.
 The Anubhava Mantapa of the 12th century had become a living reality, a home where he was a familiar sojourner. Sarvjna’s practical mantra that the true Veda (knowledge, in other words) is the Veda (understanding) of the experiencer (also, spiritualist practitioner). And his book on Sarvajna came to be his well-researched tome.
Rev.Uttangi’s book has become a valuable and essential a guide for later literary researchers. In a pen portrait on Sarvajna, Rev. Uttangi describes his idol in the following insightful words:
“Martin Luther, who translated the Bible into the language that the people spoke, freed their minds thereby from the stranglehold of the priests. He has, therefore, been known as the founder of Protestantism. Parallel to him, in the East, Basaveshwara worked similar reforms and came to be known as the revivalist of the protestant religion of South India, namely, Veerashaivism. If Basaveshwara was the Luther, Sarvajna, who went round the country in order to propagate the tenets of such a protestant religion was a missionary of a high order.”
Rev. Uttangi wrote several research articles. When he retired from Basel Mission Service (1945), the citizens of Hubli presented him a volume titling it as “A present to Shri Chennappa Uttangi, the Guiding Spirit in Kannada Literary Criticism” on his completion of 60 years. As many as 10 independent books and over 30 articles have been published as tributes to his contribution to Kannada literature and Veerashaiva Philosophy.                 
Article by : Dr.S.R.Gunjal
Source: Bhavan's Journal 15 March 2007
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