Church that tells a thousand stories

Ganjam church

The fourth Anglo-Mysore war was just over following the death of Tipu Sultan in 1799. The embers of the battle were still dying out. A battered Srirangapatna was slowly limping back to normalcy. The East India Company was gradually expanding its grip over entire southern India.

At this juncture, in 1800, Rev Fr Abbe J A Dubois, a French Catholic missionary, set his foot on Ganjam, a small village, located about two km away from Srirangapatna town. Father Abbe donned the role of a priest, social reformer, healer, educationist and philosopher, and ushered in an era of recovery from the bruises of the past.

Born in 1765 in France as Jean-Antoine Dubois, he opted for the priesthood when he was 27. He joined The Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) and stayed at Puducherry, Coimbatore, Dharmapuri and several other places.

On an invitation extended by the then Governor General Lord Richard Wellesley, Abbe arrived at Ganjam. During his stay, he earned the trust and respect of local people by adopting their way of life, customs, language, food, traditions and attire. He wore a 'dhoti' and a 'panche' and enjoyed the local staple food. He learnt their language and soon came to be known as the ‘Dodda Swamiyoru’ of the church he constructed in Ganjam. Today, the church stands as a testimony to the noble services rendered by him. So greatly was Abbe influenced by the local language and land that he authored a book, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies.

Father Abbe constructed a church in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, which became the centre of all religious activities. The church was named as Amalodhbhava Matheya Devalaya. The 30-foot-tall church was built on a ‘T’ shape foundation, with pointed towers. A cross placed on the main entrance continues to beckon devotees even today. Time has not affected the gigantic metallic bell from France installed in the church that continues to ring melodious jingles. The church was recently renovated.

The life of Jesus Christ is narrated through beautiful sketches on the inside walls of the church. The clothes, wall clock, books and various items used by 
Father Abbe are on display. Father Abbe also constructed The Harobele Church in Ramanagara, St Mary’s Basilica in Bengaluru, the Catholic Church in Hassan, and many more. Presently, the church in Ganjam and the Basilica church in Bengaluru are intact.

Almost for a quarter century (from 1799 to 1923), Ganjam became the home of Father Abbe. He introduced allopathy to the reluctant residents who did not treat themselves beyond the home-made medicine. He introduced them to pills and pricks to fight against smallpox, cholera and plague that had largely afflicted the region. He conducted vaccination drives and saved thousands of lives from the jaws of death. According to the records available, in a period of 18 months, as many as 25,432 people were vaccinated.

Chamaraja Wadiyar IX, the ruler of the Mysore dynasty, also succumbed to smallpox. Father Abbe administered vaccination against smallpox to Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, who succeeded Chamaraja Wadiyar IX.

In an attempt to educate the locals, he opened a school and imparted free education in Kannada and English to all. He came to the rescue of farmers by introducing the concept of Sahakaara Besaya (cooperative farming). Under this, farmers exchanged goods like fruits, vegetables, flowers and food grains, in exchange for goods.

(Translated by Jyotsna P Dharwad)

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Church that tells a thousand stories

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