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Brief History

THE TRIUMPHANT YEARS

“We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” - Romans 8:37

Sastriar trained 13 disciples of whom the most outstanding was Vaman. But like Judas Iscariot, he betrayed his master who had referred to him in his poem Chenna Patna Prevesam (two other disciples who declaimed Sastriar’s poetical works in King Serfoji’s court were Thunganandan and Sorunbanandan.) After King Serfoji passed away, his son and successor Sivaji did not extend the same patronage to Sastriar. So the disciples of Sastriar disbanded and went on their way. But they continued with their evangelical work.

When King Serfoji was dying he requested his court that his body should not be removed till Vedanayaga  Sastriar had composed and sung a  poem at his death. Sastriar fulfilled his desire by singing an elegy. The song he composed runs thus:

Mother and father are you, O King,
I know not who loved me more,
You showed me great favour,
And provided for me,
You who show compassion on living beings,
As though it were your own life,
Great King, Gracious lord, have you,
Left the great city of Thanjavur forever?
And will not be able to listen to my song anymore?
Where have you departed, dear sir?
When will I behold your royal face?
Who will care for me as you have done?
How can I live without you?
How will I ever recover from this tremendous loss!
Great King Thulasi’s son Serfoji
May your fame live forever!
How will I assuage my grief?
How will I comfort my aching heart, O God?

In 1830, after Vedanayaga Sastriar was excommunicated by the Thanjavur Church, he also relinquished his post in Rev. Schwartz’s school. He tutored George Sperchneider in Tamil and was given the title of ‘Munshi’. Surveyor General Mackenzie gave him the job of collecting data on the history of that the part of the country.  This was followed by his elevation to the post of Court poet in which he served God’s cause as well as the cause of the Tamil language. In 1832, King Serfoji died and Sastriar, his income gone, was distressed by lack of funds. However, many of the landed gentry and the wealthy people who appreciated his poetry, sent him gifts of money; some of the Germans under Ochterlony also offered him gifts of money; some of the Germans under Ochterlony also offered him gifts of money. In January 1845, the members of the Thanjavur congregation entered into a covenant with the Sastriar. They sent a document signed by all of them extolling the services he had rendered to God and to them by expounding the Bible. Sastriar also taught the children. They loved his songs. They promised to send a monthly contribution and entered into a covenant binding in the future as well. To this day, the Christian residents of Thanjavur extend the same respect and patronage to the descendants of Sastriar and demonstrate their affection especially on festive occasions. SPCK published his books from which Vedanayaga Sastriar derived a certain income. At Christmas time and during Lent, Sastriar held special services called ‘Sadhur’ at which he expounded the Bible, especially the passion of Christ. On such occasion people contributed towards his support. Out of the little that he had, he shared with the poor, just as the widow who gave her mite, of whom it was said, “she has given all she had”. (Mark 12:44) There were about 30 people in the Sastriar’s household who had to be fed and clothed. Sastriar prayed that the God who provided for 30, 00,000 people in the wilderness would have no difficulty in providing for 30 souls.
Saranam: “What shall we eat or drink?
                 And what shall we wear?
                Can agonishing about it add one cubit to your stature?
               Has the God who created you in your mother’s womb died?

Pallavi:   “Do not fret O my heart, your Redeemer
                The Son of God lives”.

(Gnanappadakkeertanaigal 289)

In 1848, Sastriar fell grievously ill and was on the verge of death. For the first time in his life Sastriar was unable to worship in Church on Christmas Day. The congregation also felt bereft as Sastriar’s songs of praise had not been sung on that occasion. Rev., Guest visited Sastriar frequently. Sastriar prayed for an extension of life for 15 years just like King Hezekiah of old. He informed Rev. Guest about this prayer. To his great joy, he recovered and on New Year’s Day 1849 he was able to go to Church and praise the Lord. Sastriar was thrilled to witness the joy of the people on his recovery and sang the following lyric:

Pallavi:  Sing and praise the Lord, O my soul!
             Praise Him every day.
Anupallavi:  For a long time has the Lord loved me
                    And shown His great compassion.

Saranam: Time, years, the body and the soul
               All this the Lord has granted me
              With joy Vedanayagam sings
             Remembering His plan for each day”

The very next year Rev. Guest and Rev. Power commissioned an artist to paint his portrait. He was then 75 years old.

From 1850 to 1858, there was a period of struggle between Sastriar and  the leaders of the church. When the Rev. G.U. Pope took over as presbyter of the church he studied the report written by his predecessor, Rev. Spencer. Based on this he laid two restrictions on the Sastriar – that he should not sing his compositions in the church and that his lyrics in which he had suffixed his name should not be included in the hymnal. He also declared without any basis that Sastriar harboured caste prejudices.  He terminated the services of three of Sastriar’s children. Sastriar was not put out or distressed. In fact, he rejoiced that he and his family had the freedom unfettered to extol God where and when they liked.

On one occasion, catechist Vedanayagam fell dangerously ill with food poisoning. Rev. Pope was sent for. He asked the catechist what he could do for him, to which he replied, “Please send Father to me”. Pope asked, “Who is Father?” The catechist replied, “I meant Vedanayaga Sastriar”. So the Sastriar was summoned. He came and felt the pulse which had become very weak. He interceded for the catechist with fervour. On finishing, he found that the pulse was stronger and the patient was recovering.  The Sastriar blessed the catechist and said that God had granted him a new lease of life. This incident helped to dispel Rev. Pope’s earlier prejudices and mark a growing bond of friendship between himself and the Sastriar. However, when Rev. Dealtry took over, he referred to Rev. Pope’s earlier allegations against the Sastriar and transferred him to the Niligiri Hills. In 1856, the church at Tranquebar celebrated the Jubilee which Sastriar was anxious to attend. But he had not the wherewithal to do so. He made a decision. He bundled his wife and children into the bullock cart and walked behind them. He had to rest frequently. When he reached Christian Pillai’s house Kumbakonam, that gentleman loaned him his palanquin and hired coolies to carry him to Tranquebar. The congregation at Tranquebar was overjoyed to welcome Sastriar. Sastriar participated in their festivities and the congregation presented him with a considerable sum of money. In 1857, following the ill fated mutiny, India was handed to the British crown by the East India Company and Victoria became Queen.
24th January 1864 began like every other day with family worship. At the close of the worship Sastriar blessed the household with the usual benediction. “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. He began feeling exhausted and his breath grew laboured. The congregation gathered around him. At 4 p.m. Shreshdar Santhappa Pillai recited the song: “O ye citizens of Jerusalem”. The devotional book, “The three fold cord (Muppurinool)” was read. The verse for the day was, “Father into Thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). He read this and expounded on it and then sang, “Lord our solace”. Noah Gnandickam recited the prayer,” God our solace”. Noah Gnanadickam recited the prayer, “God our redeemer”. Varodayammal brought Sastriar something to drink. With a smile Sastriar waved her away, and entered the heavenly kingdom. Gnanadickam ordered that no one should cry and recited the following prayer in verse.

“At the moment of my last breath
Reveal to me Thy visage in death
Which I behold and carry in my heart
And fall asleep embracing Jesus in my heart”.

He recited the prayer on the passion of the Lord and commended his father’s soul to the safe keeping of the Lord Jesus Christ. The bells of the Lutheran Church and SPG Church tolled lamps and candles were lit in the street. Lyrics were sung and night long Bible readings and exhortations besides Sastriar’s compositions were sung by his bier. Sastriar was laid out in his white apron coat, red angavastram and gold turban. Three of his lyrics were written on a piece of paper which was enfolded in his hand.

Accompanied by solemn music, his body which was borne in a casket decorated within and without, was carried in a procession through the streets where people had put up arches and strewn flowers all along the path. Rev. Naylor and Rev. Albert conducted the funeral service and his body was laid to rest in St. Peter’s Church Cemetery with full honours.
 
 
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