Narayan Waman Tilak

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Narayan Vaman Tilak (6 December 1861 – 9 May 1919) was a Marathi poet from the Konkan region of then Bombay Presidency in British India, and a famous convert to Christianity.


Tilak was born on 1861 in the village of Karajhgaon in Ratnagiri District of Bombay Presidency.

During 1869–1873, he studied in the town of Kalyan near Mumbai, and studied primarily Sanskrit literature during the next four years in the town of Nashik. After learning English and other school subjects during 1877–1889, he terminated his studies, undertaking a modest job as a teacher to support himself and his bride, Manakaranika Gokhale (मनकर्णिका गोखले), to whom his marriage was arranged in 1880 by his family in accord with the social custom of his times. After marriage Manakarnika was given the name Laxmibai. She had no formal schooling; however, through Tilak's encouragement, she learned to read and write Marathi, mastering the language to the extent of later writing her autobiography, Smruti Chitre (स्मृतिचित्रे), which turned out to be an autobiographical masterpiece in Marathi.

Tilak undertook a variety of modest jobs in different towns in Maharashtra at different times in his life, including the job of a teacher, a Hindu priest, and a printing press compositor.

In 1891, he got a job in Nagpur as a translator of Sanskrit literature. (He himself wrote some poems in Sanskrit in the following years.) Under the patronage of one Appasaheb Buti, he edited for a while a Marathi magazine named Rushi (ऋषि), which was aimed at discussions of Hindu religious matters.

In 1893, Tilak was once travelling by train from Nagpur to Rajnandgaon, a princely state ruled by a Hindu priest, and located within the then Central Provinces of India, in search of employment. During this journey, he met a Protestant missionary Ernest Ward of the Free Methodist Church who spoke glowingly of Christianity, presented a copy of the Bible to Tilak, and suggested that Tilak would become a Christian within two years.

Tilak's journey to Christianity was painful as he understood the reactions that would follow conversion. He anonymously corresponded with a missionary magazine and after confirmation through a series of dreams decided to be baptized. His baptism in Mumbai on Feb. 10, 1895 was done without the knowledge of his relatives, including his wife. Lakshmibai's ordeal is a remarkable story, as she was separated from Tilak for over 4 years before rejoining him, making a radical break with caste, and then embracing discipleship to Jesus.[1]

Tilak immediately began teaching in the seminary in Ahmadnagar and was ordained as a minister in the Congregational church in 1904. He became editor of (and frequent contributor to) the Marathi section of the missionary magazine Dnyanodaya in 1912, a position he held until his death. After about ten years as a Christian he began expressing his faith in local idioms, particularly the poetic style of the Varkari Hindu sampradaya of Maharashtra. The many songs he composed remain very popular among Marathi speaking Christians. But Tilak was a critic of traditional Christianity, and for the last two years of his life moved beyond the church to focus on developing a new brotherhood of baptized and unbaptized disciples of Jesus. This new approach never took root due to Tilak's early death in Mumbai on May 9, 1919.

Tilak's son, Devdatt Narayan Tilak, edited and published the epic poem Christayana. Tilak's grandson, Ashok Devdatt Tilak, was an accomplished historian who edited a critical edition of Smruti Chitre (स्मृतिचित्रे) and wrote a biographical novel about Tilak (चालता बोलता चमत्कार, Chalta Bolta Chamatkar) among other works.

Writer and poet[edit]

Tilak composed over a hundred Christian devotional songs in Marathi in either abhanga (अभंग) or ovi (ओवी) form. They were published in a book titled "Abhanganjali" (अभंगांजली). He also commenced in 1909 composition of epical Khristayan (ख्रिस्तायन). He composed 10 chapters of it and left it uncompleted at the time of his death; Laxmibai subsequently completed it by adding 64 chapters of her own.

Besides the initial parts of Khristayan (ख्रिस्तायन), Tilak wrote many long poems comprising several hundred lines, each. His over 2,100 poems include:

  • Khristayan (ख्रिस्तायन)
  • Wanawasi Phool (वनवासी फुल)
  • Sushila (सुशीला)
  • Majhi Bharya (माझी भार्या)
  • Bapache Ashru (बापाचे अश्रू)
  • Parwatarohan (पर्वतारोहण)
  • Srushtichi Bhaubij (सृष्टीची भाऊबीज)
  • Pure Janato Micha Majhe Bala (पुरे जाणतो मीच माझे बळ)
  • Ranashing (रणशिंग)
  • Majhya Janambhumiche Nav (माझ्या जन्मभूमीचे नाव)
  • Priyakar Hindistan (प्रियकर हिंदीस्तान)
  • Lekarachi Jidnyasa (लेकराची जिज्ञासा)
  • Kawichi Winawani (कवीची विनवणी)
  • Kawi (कवि)
  • Kevdhe He Krourya (केव्हडे हे क्रौर्य)


Primary Sources[edit]

  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. "Maza Anubhav." (Steps to Christ). Dnyanodaya 54/11 (Mar. 1895) 2 pp.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. "Stree" (Woman). Dnyanodaya 54/13 (Mar. 1895) 2 pp.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. "A Brahman's Idea of Sin." Dnyanodaya 59/23 (Jun. 1900) 1.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. "Hindus as Givers." Dnyanodaya 59/29 (Jul. 1900) 1.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. "A Few Thoughts on the Lord's Prayer." Dnyanodaya 66/37, 38, 41, 42, 43, 49 (Sep. Nov. 1907) 6.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. "The Study of Indian Myths." 71/37 (Sep. 1912) 1.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. Bhakti-Niranjana. Nasik, n.d. 160 pp.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. (Translations of his poems into English, including parts of the Khristayana.)
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. "India's Great Demand." YMI (Jan. 1909) 10.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. "My Motherland." YMI (Sep. 1917) 513.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. "No Longer I But Christ." YMI (Apr. 1926) 219.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. Susila and Other Poems. Calcutta: YMCA, 1926. 60 pp.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. (Poems in English translation by J.C. Winslow.)
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. Christayan. Tr. into English by J.C. Winslow. CSS Review.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. Translations in J.C. Winslow, Narayan Vaman Tilak. Calcutta: YMCA, 1923. 137 pp.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman. Loka Bandhu Prabhu Yeshu Khrist. (Jesus the People's Friend, I). [Prose.] Bombay: Bombay Tract Society, 1921. 38 pp.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman, and Tilak, Laksmibai. Khristayana. Nashik: Devadatt Narayan Tilak, 'Shantisadan,' 1938.
  • Tilak, Narayan Vaman and Laksmibai Tilak. Khristayana. Sanskipta. [= Abridged] Mumbai: Bombay Tract and Book Society, 1959.

Secondary Sources[edit]

  • J. C. Winslow, Naryana Vamana Tilak. Calcutta: Association Press, 1923.
  • Nazareth, Malcolm J., Reverend Narayan Vaman Tilak: An interreligious exploration. Temple University, 1998.
  • Patil, Subash, Santa Tukaram ani Rev. Tilak: Ek Bhāvanubandha. Pune: Snehavardhana Publ. House, 2005.
  • Richard, H.L., Christ-bhakti: Narayan Vaman Tilak and Christian Work among Hindus. Delhi: ISPCK, 1991.
  • Richard, H.L., Following Jesus in the Hindu Context. Revised and expanded. Secunderbad, India: OM Book, 1998.
  • Richard, H.L., Following Jesus in the Hindu Context: The intriguing implications of N.V. Tilak’s life and thought. Revised American edition. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1998.
  • Sheikh, Mir Isahak, Laksmibai Tilakanchi Smrtichitre: Ek Chintan. Pune: Pratima Prakashan, 2000.
  • Tilak, Ashok D., Chalta Bolta Chamatkar. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 2005.
  • Tilak, Ashok D., Chavaituhi. Nashik: Mukta Ashok Tilak, Shantisadan, 2001.
  • Tilak, Ashok D., Sampurna Smruti Chitre. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 1989.
  • Tilak, Ashok D., Jara Vegala Angle. Nashik: Mayavati Ashok Tilak, 1979.
  • Tilak, Ashok D., Takkarmāl. Nashik Road: Vangmayaseva Prakashan, 2006.
  • George, Anthony D., Svatantryapurvakalatila Dharmantarita Khristi Vyaktinci Atmanivedane Samajika Ani Vangmayina Abhyasa. Mumbai: Mumbai Vidyapeeth, 2007. [PhD thesis on pre-1947 Marathi converts to Christianity, submitted to Bombay University.]


  1. ^ Lakshmibai's story is summarized in chapter six, pages 32-41, in H. L. Richard, Following Jesus in the Hindu Context.

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