As we commemorate the centenary of Malayalam Bibles, I would like to share the transforming power of the Word of God by sharing about the transformed life of Chandu Menon, who was instrumental in translating the English Bible into Malayalam.
To begin with let me share the brief history of the Malayalam Bible.
Are’nt you surprised to hear that the year 2011 is the double centenary of the first Malayalam Bible!
Yes! it was made possible by Scottish theologian Dr. Claudius Buchannan in the year 1811.
First Bible in Indian language
Out of 1652 main Indian languages, the Tamil language was privileged to have the first Bible in the year 1658, which was 352 years prior to the Malayalam version! It was made possible through the efforts of a Dutch chaplain named Philip who came to Tamil Nadu in 1658. He translated the Bible into the first Indian language.
Only a portion of the New Testament was published at that time. In 1840, the Bible Society published the first complete Tamil Bible. The Baptist missionary William Carrey made a revolution by translating the Bible into the maximum number of Indian languages, starting with the Bengali language in1793.
First Malayalam Bible
As mentioned earlier, the first Malayalam Bible was published by Dr. Claudius Buchannan, who was the chaplain of the East India Company. He came to Kerala to study about the Christians living there. During that time, the Malankara Metroppolita Mar Divannios (Mar Thoma VI) gave a copy of the Syriac (Suriyani) Bible to Buchanan. Dr Claudius gladly accepted it and with the help of 8 Tamil pandits and 8 Suriyani pundits, he was able to translate and publish the four Gospels and the book of Acts.
Two Syriac scholars, Kayamkulam Philipose Ramban and Pulikottil Ramban, assisted by Subbayya Pillay translated the four Gospels from a very old manuscript written in Estrangelo Syriac. Dr. Buchanan initiatiated the printing of the Malayalam translation in Bombay. Mr. Thimappila took the hand written translation to Bombay. He got it printed at Kuriyyar press and brought the copies back to Kerala.
Reading the Bible in their own mother tongue was a big surprise for the Malayalees! However, the language was mixed with Tamil. This was in the year 1811.
Benjamin Baily in 1819
Later, in 1819, Benjamin Baily, with the help of Moses Essarfathi, a Hebrew scholar, and Vydyanadha Iyer, a Sanskrit pandit, together with an English-Malayalam scholar Chandhu Menon, managed to translate the Bible. Then he got it printed at CMS press, which was established by him at Kottayam. Thus he published the Gospel of Mathew in 1819, the New Testament in 1825 and the full Bible in 1841.
Gundert in 1854
In 1854, the German missionary Gundert, published the New Testament from Thalassery. Later, a few of the New Testament portions were published by Basal Mission.
Bible Society in 1889
In 1871, the Bible society Madras auxiliary formed a Committee, with representatives from the London mission, Church Mission, Basal Mission, Jacobite church and a few others, headed by Mr J. M. Freets. Their combined effort enabled them to publish the New Testament in 1889 and the whole Bible in 1910. This is the version that is in circulation now and celebrating its centenary in the year 2010.
The Malayalam Bible is the combined effort of many linguistic pandits and the laborious efforts over 39 years in various stages! Now it is the most blessed of all Indian languages, since we have different styles and versions of Malayalam Bibles.
Conversion story of Chandhu Menon
Now let me share the brief life and experience of Mr. Chandhu Menon (1778-1837) who is the man credited for helping with the Bible translation from English to Malayalam.
Mr. Chandhu Menon was born in Chunagad (a known Hindu family) in the Ottapalam village of British Malabar.
He lost his mother when he was very young and was brought up by his uncle who taught him the martial arts. After that he moved to Madras and continued his education and became an employee of the Madras Revenue Department. Later, he became a tutor of the Travancore Divan Mannadiyar Raman Menon, after which he became the Tahasildar of Chengannur.
Chandhu Menon married Parvathiamma of Pulivelil House in Aala, a village near Chengannur Town. Chandhu Menon was an expert in Malayalam, English and Sanskrit. While he was working as the Kottayam Tahasildar, he became acquainted with the Church Mission Society (CMS) missionary, Rev. Benjamin Baily. Rev. Baily was in need of a person like Chandhu Menon to help him translate the Bible from English to Malayalam. Moved by Baily’s request, Chandhu took leave from the Travancore Government Service, and joined back after two years, completing the translation work in 1819.
The Bible translation transformed his life and he accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour. On 2nd November, 1831, he was baptized in the Anglican Church in Calicut and was given the name Joseph Fenn. Later, members of his family were also baptized. Chandhu Menon had to resign from his government job as Travancore Rules dictated that “non Hindus were not allowed to hold the post of Tahasildar.” However, he joined the British Government Service and worked as a ‘Salt Peshkar in Ponnani’, Record Keeper in Calicut; and District Munsif in Cochin. He passed away in 1837, at the age of 57, and was buried at the St. Francis Anglican Church, Cochin.
Yes, the Bible still transforms life! It is powerful. Are we allowing the Word to transform our lives? The Bible we hold is the sweat and blood of many who tirelessly laboured and made it possible to get it in our mother tongue with the one and only purpose – that you and I may love and live by the Word. The Bible is the only book which is capable of transforming your life at any stage.
The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver. (Ps 119:72).
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Ps 19:10).