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Brief History

SASTRIAR – THE MAN

I have found…a found a man after my own heart, who will do all my will.” - Acts. 13:22

Sastriar, although an illustrious poet, was equally well-known as a man of faith. Time and time again his physical and materials needs were met in totally unexpected ways. On one occasion, he was very upset because there was no money for food. While he was in a depressed mood, his daughter Gnanadeepam exhorted him to be grateful to the God who was his Redeemer. Sastriar repented bitterly and rolled on the courtyard exclaiming “What a sinner I am”! When everybody rushed to the courtyard to see what was happening to see Sastriar explained to them that he had lost sight of the innumerable benefits heaped on him by his Lord. While he was still speaking a messenger arrived bringing him gift of Rs. 200. Shreshdar Devasigamani Pillai who had celebrated his house warming, had sent this gift some time ago. Since there was no train it took time for the gift to reach Sastriar and arrived just at the moment of need.

On another occasion, when Varodayammal approached him and told him that there was no coffee powder or jaggery or provision to cook breakfast, Sastriar gave her what he had and asked her to make coffee. When she broke the ball of jaggery, she found a silver coin. That met the bill. We are reminded of Jesus telling Peter to fish and when he did so, he obtained a fish inside which there was a silver coin with which he paid the Roman tax.

There have been incidents of people who were ill, being prayed for by the Sastriar and who were healed when he laid hands on them and interceded for them. A nine year old boy had a dangerous fever. He was brought to Sastriar who beseeched God to heal the child. God heard his prayers and the boy recovered.

He was very human and open to people. He participated in weddings, funerals, and other functions and people accorded him great respect. He has composed songs for these occasions.

Pallavi   :              Lord Jesus be present
Always everyday, do Thou
Rule over us!

Anupallavi:        Come as a blessing,
And may, this wedding be blessed.

Saranam   1:        May beauties surround us in this marriage house
Come and bestow Thy grace and Thy love!

Saranam   2:         May the righteous life be lived with devotion
And everlasting peace be upon you!

Saranam   3:         May everlasting joy brighten every devotion
Grant them the gift of children and bless this house!

(Gnanappadakkeerthangaigal 389)

For the ceremony of rocking the bridal couple on a swing he composed a song visualizing Christ as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride:

“We have gained glory and grace through Christ
And the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit
We are able to cry to God “Abba, Father”,
Through Jesus Christ
Through Christ we have inherited eternal life
We will reign for thousands of years.
Rejoice and using happily, ye Christians
Ye Children of the Lord, Sing, Sing, Sing”

(Jebamalai 11: 10 Verse 9)      

Prof. Sathyaasatchi says of Sastriar and his troupe that they were like                                                                   a mobile university. The singers took their musical instruments with them and sang and educated the people regardless of sun or rain, wind or fog, food or no food. And they mostly traveled on foot.  They performed both for king and commoner. At each Kalakshepam, each person would announce his or her arrival. They sang songs of praise and followed it up with expounding the Bible.

Sastriar did not care for wealth. When Varodhayammal pointed out that they had a family to think about Sastriar responded by saying that if they accumulate wealth, they would cease to live by faith.  The king wished to bestow some lands on the Sastriar but the Sastriar refused saying, ‘We are asked to pray for our daily bread, I need no help but God’s. My children may quarrel over the property. Money begets sin. Our physical and spiritual health will decline and we will be traitors to God. Your love and friendship is all I crave, not your bounty”. He requested instead an English dictionary for his daughter and a violin for his son. The king was vastly amused. It made him ponder over what Sastriar had said and rewarded him with many gifts including a green palanquin for Sastriar to visit the palace. This Palanquin is treasured by Sastriar’s descendants to this very day at the Evangelical Hall, Thanjavur.

Sastriar was fearless and outspoken. He respected the convictions of others but at the same time stood firm in his own. He was not cowed by foreigners or rulers in authority as the incidents with Rev. L. P. Haubroe and King Serfoji Show. He would not sing and praise any deity other than Jesus Christ.  He had to face a lot of opposition including that of Vaman who turned against him.  However he did not despair but continued to hold Kalakshepams. Everyday began with devotions for two to three hours attended by everyone in the Sastriar household. In the evening again there were devotions. Sastriar excelled in allegorical writing. In “Suviseda Gnanam”, he weaves an allegory on the parable of the two builders – the one who built on the solid foundation of rock and the other who built on sand:

Build a house which is heaven on earth
With desire build on the rock of wisdom
Construct wisely the house of righteousness;

The spade used denotes sufferings.  The house of righteousness does not arise from mantras.  It has to be built with labour. Knowledge is the sand, faith the foundation, and prayer, the bricks. Holiness is the mortar which lies in the pit of humility. The mortar has to b watered with tears and ground with patience. The walls so constructed are those of unity.  Divine light has to enter its doors.  Bhakti or devotion is the roof and strength of mind, its nails, righteousness its beams.
Another parable that he expounded goes like this.

Body building is in vain
Getting wealth is in vain
Knowledge and discipline are essential
The youngster David defeated the giant Goliath
The ocean is vast but can we grow paddy on it or fruit.
Or sugarcane? Only the heart filled with love and knowledge are required.

In 1841, Bishop Spencer and Rev. Robert Caldwell, who has later consecrated Bishop, met Vedanayaga Sastriar in Thanjavur and conversed with him.  On the basis of his impressions, Bishop Spencer wrote: ‘There is no doubt about the talent that Sastriar the eminent poet of Thanjavur possessed in this part of India. His songs are delightful. They are not tedious. When they were explained to me, I found the message conveyed through them to be good.  He must be around 70years of age. His personality reflects his intelligence and mind. He has a well-developed head.  His countrymen accord great respect to his poetry. They definitely declare that this poetry is to be commended and praised. He is a true Christian. But I think that he wants to start a church of his own’. Bishop Spencer could not have been further from the truth.   Sastriar always worked with the church and identified himself with members of the established churches. He neither sought to create divisions nor to form separate congregation of his own.  He was welcomed by almost all the Protestant churches. His avowed intention was to preach the gospel everywhere and hence the epithet “Evangelical” befits him. He traveled far and wide in South India and Ceylon on this mission. His works also conveyed the same message-The Gospel of Jesus Christ. In subsequent years his descendants – both Gnanasigamani Sastriar’s and Naoh Gnanadickam Sastriar’s descendants – maintained this close link with all the Protestant Churches. They were truly ecumenical and continue to be so.
 
 
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