Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah

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Bishop Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah (August 17, 1874 - January 1, 1945)[1] (also transliterated as Vedanayakam Samuel Azariah) was an Indian Anglican bishop. He was a pioneer of Christian ecumenism in India. Azariah was the first Indian bishop in the churches of the Anglican Communion, being consecrated as the first bishop of the diocese of Dornakal[2] in December 1912. He was considered by Mahatma Gandhi to be postcolonial Indians' "Enemy Number One."[3]


Vedanayakam Samuel Azariah was born in 1874 in India, in the village of Vellalanvilai, Thoothukudi District, Tamil Nadu. He was the son of a Christian (Anglican) presbyter, Thomas Vedanayagam, and his wife Ellen. He was educated at Christian missionary schools and at Madras Christian College. In 1893, at the age of nineteen, he became an evangelist in the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and was secretary of the YMCA in south India from 1895 to 1909. He already saw the importance of indigenization in the Christian mission, and In 1903 he helped form the Indian Missionary Society (based in Tinnevelly) and in December 1905 he was one of the founders of the National Missionary Society. For many years he served as chairman of the National Christian Council.In 1898, He had married Ambu Mariammal Samuel, one of the first Christian women in South India to take a college course, whom he described as "the most spiritually minded girl in Tirunelveli.

Ephiphany Cathedral, Dornakal, visioned and built by Rt. Rev. V. S. Azariah

In 1909 he left the YMCA, to be ordained to the Anglican presbyterate. He spoke on the need for indigenisation, at the 1910 World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh. The Diocese of Dornakal began its life on December 29, 1912, when the Rev. V. S. Azariah was consecrated its first Bishop in St. Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta. Dr. J. R. Mott, the well-known missionary authority, who was present on the occasion, has stated that it was one of the most impressive ceremonies he ever witnessed. There were no less than eleven Bishops of the Province of India taking part in the act of Consecration. Indians from all parts, and especially from the new Bishop's own country of Tinnevelly, were present in large numbers to do honour to their distinguished brother. The real significance of the ceremony lay in the fact that Bishop Azariah was the first Indian to be consecrated a Bishop of the Anglican Communion.[4] For the two years previous to his Consecration he had been Head of the Mission at Dornakal, started by the Indian Missionary Society of Tinnevelly.

When the Diocese of Dornakal was first formed in 1912, it was quite a small diocese in the south-east corner of the Nizam's Dominions. A few years later it was enlarged by the addition of the District of Dummagudem, in which the Church Missionary Society was working. Then came a Resolution of the Episcopal Synod in the year 1920, which transformed this comparatively small diocese into a diocese which has now probably as large, if not a larger number of Anglican Indian Christians than any other in India. By this resolution all the Mission Districts of both the Church Missionary Society and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in the Telugu country, were placed under the Episcopal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Dornakal.

This meant that the new Diocese of Dornakal included a large portion of the Kistna district, together with the part of the Godavery district named Dummagudem; parts of the Kurnool and Cuddapah districts to the south occupied by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; also the areas in the Hyderabad State occupied by the Indian Missionary Society of Tinnevelly, the Singareni Mission, the Khammamett Mission (formerly under the Church Missionary Society), and the newly formed Dornakal Diocesan Mission, which has started work in the hitherto totally unevangelised area in the Mulag Taluq.

As bishop he ordained many Indians to the presbyterate, and in 1936 he consecrated the new Epiphany Cathedral in Dornakal, built in Indian architectural style. He was the most successful leader of grassroots movements of conversion to Christianity in South Asia during the early twentieth century. He was the first and only native Indian bishop of an Anglican diocese from 1912 until his death in 1945. As both an effective evangelist to Indian villagers and a respected bishop in the British church hierarchy, Azariah provided a unique bridge between ordinary Indians and British elites during the late phase of their imperial associations. He was a popular leader in rural Andhra Pradesh, an esteemed builder of Protestant unification within India, and a pioneer of the ecumenical movement globally.[5]

Azariah saw that the mission of the Church should be an expression of its unity, and he took a leading role in negotiations for Church reunion in India. These resulted in the inauguration of the Church of South India in 1947, two years after his death.

With Bishop Henry Whitehead, Bishop Vedanayagam wrote Christ in the Indian Villages (1930).[6] In 1936 was published his India and the Christian movement. His book, Christian Giving (1954), was translated into several languages. He also wrote articles on Christian mission, such as 'The Necessity of Christian Unity for the missionary enterprise of the world' and 'The Expansion of Christianity'.

He died on 1 January 1945, just two years before the creation of a united Church of South India.

Further reading[edit]

  • K. Heiberg, V. S. Azariah (1950)
  • B. P. Emmet, Apostle of India, Azariah, bishop of Dornakal (1949)
  • C. Graham, Azariah of Dornakal (1946)
  • J. Z. Hodge, Bishop Azariah of Dornakal (1946)


  1. ^ Melton, J. Gordon (2005). Encyclopedia of Protestantism. New York: Facts on File, Inc., pp. 59-60.
  2. ^ K. J. G. Sundaram (1931): A Deccan Village in India, Journal of Geography, 30:2, 49-57
  3. ^ Forrester, Duncan B. 2002. In the Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop V.S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India (review). Catholic Historical Review. 88 (4): 821-822.
  4. ^ Chatterton, Eyre. The Diocese of Dornakal, 1912. A Diocese of Mass Movements. IN,: Project Canterbury: A History of the Church of England in India since the early days of the East India Company, London, SPCK, 1924
  5. ^ Harper, S. B., In the Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop V. S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000.
  6. ^ Azariah, V.S. and Whitehead, Henry Christ in the Indian Villages, Student Christian Movement Press, London, 1930. Internet Archive

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