Jean Antoine Dubois - Encyclopedia

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JEAN ANTOINE DUBOIS (1765-1848), French Catholic missionary in India, was ordained in the diocese of Viviers in 1792, and sailed for India in the same year under the direction of the Missions Etrangeres. 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 gained an extraordinary welcome amongst people of all castes and conditions, and is still spoken of in many parts of South India with affection and esteem as "the prince's son, the noblest of Europeans." Although Dubois modestly disclaimed the rank of an 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: (1) a general view of society in India, and especially of the caste system; (2) the four states of Brahminical life; (3) religion - feasts, temples, objects of worship. Not only does the abbe give a shrewd, clear-sighted, candid account of the manners and customs of the Hindus, but he provides a very sound estimate of the British position in India, and makes some eminently just observations on the difficulties of administering the Empire according to Western notions of civilization and progress with the limited resources that are available. Dubois's French MS. was purchased for eight thousand rupees by Lord William Bentinck for the East India Company in 1807; in 1816 an English translation was published, and of this edition about 1864 a curtailed reprint was issued. The abbe, however, largely recast his work, and of this revised text (now in the India Office) an edition with notes was published in 1897 by H. K. Beauchamp. Dubois left India in January 1823, with a special pension conferred on him by the East India Company, and on reaching Paris was appointed director of the Missions Etrangeres, 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 were his Letters on the State of Christianity in India, in which he asserted his opinion that under existing circumstances there was no human possibility of so overcoming the invincible barrier of Brahminical prejudice as to convert the Hindus as a nation 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." He died in 1848.

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