Liberative Motifs in the Dalit Religion

by James Elisha

Mr. James Elisha Taneti served as a theological teacher in Serampore College, India. He is now studying at the Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States.

The following article appeared in the Bangalore Theological Forum, Volume 34, Number 2, December 2002, page. 78-88. Bangalore Theological Forum is published by The United Theological College, Bangalore, India. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


There is both need and possibility for finding and documenting the rich resources from dalit culture that can help in theologizing. The author finds liberative motifs and highlights their utility for this challenge.

I. Re ‘member’ing the Faith of our Dalit Forefathers and Mothers

The Assembly of World Council of Churches at Canberra in 1991 has been a landmark in the history of Christian thought for it had initiated a dialogue between Christian theologies and God(dess)-talks of religions of the marginalized of the Third World in seeking to be enriched in our mission of theologizing. Chung Hyung Kyung’s bold and articulate reflection, "Come, Holy Spirit-Break Down the Walls with Wisdom and Compassion" shared at the occasion is a classic example of that trend.1

Gustavo Gutierrez was the earlier one to recognize the indispensability of the utility of religio-cultural resources from the context in the process of theologizing when he proposed in 1983 that "We Drink from Our Own Wells".2

Meanwhile, in 1981, in an innovative paper presented at United Theological College, Bangalore, Arvind P. Nirmal found a point of irreversible departure "Towards a Sudra Theology" which had eventually led him to be the father of dalit theology.3 Nirmal himself used to recall the lores and stories from the Marathi dalit oral tradition and admitted that he has been greatly influenced by them in his understanding of God.

P. Victor Premasagar in his article, "The Gods of Our Fathers - Towards A Theology of Indian Religious and Cultural Heritage",4 has called for a sensitive, critical and inclusive appraisal of dalit religions in the process of our theologizing. He wonders of how capable they were in sustaining for thousands of years the life of the communities that were always under the threat of extinction. Abraham Ayrookuzhiel did study the dalit religiosity but had remained a social scientist and never attempted to allow Christian ‘god-talk’ to dialogue with dalit cultural resources.5 V. Devasahayam in his "Outside the Camp" has made a deliberate attempt to utilize the cultural resources of dalits in interpreting the Biblical texts.6

There is both need and possibility for finding and documenting the rich resources from dalit culture that can help in our theologizing. Hence the paper attempts to find liberative motifs and highlight their utility for the same.

Since the dalit communities are spread all over India except in its North-Eastern region and their culture is richly diverse I restricted my study to the religion and culture of the dalits in Andhra Pradesh.7 And for further clarity and convenience it had been confined to the one prevalent in the second half of Nineteenth century and first half of Twentieth century. Though the period spans for around hundred and fifty years that marked a state of transition and flux because of dalits’ courtship with religions like Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, the study could afford to treat as single ere for the aim of the paper is to only trace out the liberative motifs in dalit religion.

Sources used can be treated as primary if the time of their writing is considered but may be treated otherwise too because of the writers for most of these were written by missionaries or other western observers. The purpose of these writings was certainly not to document the dalit culture but to arouse the generosity of the western world for the missionary work in India and attract their interest to be their partners either by sending or coming.

However, it has to be admitted that it is not impossible to trace out the dalit world-view and value-system of pre-christian8 era by taping the rich heritage preserved in their oral traditions. It should also be pointed Out that the memory-lane of dalits in re’member’ing their cultural values is blurred by the influences of world-view of other religions to which they converted later. But the missionary sources too are jaundiced with their prejudices imported from their ‘Home’. Aware of the influences of editorial motifs and prejudices care has been taken while interpreting the data.

As has been defined by Arvind P. Nirmal, religion, for me, is a ‘symbol-system’ that not only reflects the world-view of the adherent community in talks and rituals but also has a profound influence on the very value-system of the community.9 And since the data consists mostly of observations by others I would pick up cultic practices like festivals and related rituals.

Any reference to the dalits in the paper refers to those who by the virtue of their birth belong outside the caste hierarchy of Hindu society but yet lived at its fringes. Missionary sources have identified them as ‘panchamas"10 or ‘outcasts’. Hindu society had called them ‘avarnas’ 11 , ‘chandalas"2 and ‘lowcastes’. The Congress leaders of 2O~hcentuxy referred to them as ‘Harijans"3 while British administration classified them as ‘Scheduled Castes’. Prominent of these communities were Malas and Madigas while there were others like Baindlas, Jangams, Poturajus, Mashti, Dandems, Bandelas, Sindhollu and dekkali. Mattitolu and Madiga bogam. 14 The latter were numerically not very significant to catch the eye of the missionaries.

II. Dalits in Andhra Pradhesh

Dalits were the original inhabitants of the lands but later were pushed to the fringes of village settlement where they live in hamlet.15 Their huts in the hamlet16 were loosely connected to a narrow path that would guide to the main road of the village but they can not dare walking into the village. Their entry into the Agraharam17 was strictly prohibited. They were not barred from entering the village lest they spread an atmosphere of pollution around them to the distance of seventy-four feet. Their shadow, it was believed, was capable of polluting the whole water of a well. Therefore, they could not come close to the wells used by Hindus. The sound waves from their mouth were considered polluting and they had to cover their mouth with a little pot when they speak with a Hindu. Of course, it was not the same in Twentieth century because both British administration and Nizams’ administration began to employ them as village messengers. The smoke from their pyre was feared to contaminate the village and hence instead of cremation they had buried their dead.18 Pushed to the margins each family lived in their "mud-walled, one-roomed, mud-floored, thatched-roof hut".19

Malas, who were considerable in number, were mostly agricultural workers like Holeyas in the western India. And it has been pointed earlier, some of them were employed village messengers20 and some as watchmen of the village chavadi by the middle of Twentieth century. Malas were also employed to dig graves. Mala women were skilled in basket making.21

There were kin-communities of Malas such as Baindlas, Jangams, Poturajus, Mashti, Mala dasoos and Dandems. Baindlas were priests assisting at dalit festivals and sometimes at sacrifices for the whole village when epidemics like cholera visit the village. They were also experts in the art of ‘black magic’. Jangams were travelling priests begging from Malas and at night they were to keep vigilance at the graveyards. Poturajus22 were another group of priests serving the village spirits both benevolent and malevolent. They also assist the priestess when the sacrifices were offered. Mashtis were travelling acrobats performing their heroics at the outskirts of the villages where caste villagers turn up to watch them. Mala dasoos were another set of priests who reside with Mala settlements. Dandems were agricultural laborers either hired or bought by landlords.23

Madiga community was another major community among the dalits. And Madigas lived by tanning the leather like Chamars in the northern states. They fed on the carrion and Malas too enjoyed this meat. They were skilled in beating drum like pariahs of the southern states. With the leather tanned they stitched shoes, prepared leather accessories for agricultural works. They were allowed in the streets to sweep and to remove the dead animals. They can be better described in the words of Sackett, an Anglican missionary,

"He (Madiga) was a leather worker. He cured skins and made shoes. He also fed upon carrion. No carcass came amiss to him, no matter how it died. The skin for shoes and the flesh for food, was his dictum. . . . Moreover, he was the drummer at festivals ,"24

Madigas too had their kin-communities such as Bandelas, Sindhollu, Madiga dasoos and dekkalis. Bandelas saw themselves as ‘higher’ in the ladder of community hierarchy. It might be because of the influences of ‘sanskritzation’25 that crept into dalit culture. Sources do not give us the clue of their occupation if different from madigas. Sindhollu26 were itinerant dramatists. Madiga dasoos were the counter-parts of Mala dasoos in the Madiga community. Dekkalis or Dekkalolu were professional beggars who traveled from one Madiga settlement to another living at the mercy of Madigas. Mattitolu was another community engaged in begging.27 They were given a cluster of forty to fifty hamlets to go begging. Dekkalis too entitled to the generosity of Madigas. They go to each hamlet and stay there for a short duration and narrate the Madigas the stories concerning their roots. It was through these the oral traditions of the Madiga history were carried on from generation to generation. Women of Madiga bogam community traditionally were professional sex workers assigned to share their fun and pleasure with Madiga men.

III. Kinship of the Nature and the Supernatural in Dalit World-View

Dalit religion could discern the divine in natural28 objects and the presence of supernatural in natural forces. Western writers, whose twin mission was to subjugate other cultures and to mutilate the Nature, had called this world-view as ‘animism’.

For dalits, beneath every object, whether a growing tree or a static stone, there is life supernatural. As symbol of this kinship of nature and the supernatural innate they have deified objects like stones and trees. In every hut or outside every dalit hamlet a stone or a tree had been dedicated as representation of the Deity.

The worship of nature resulted itself in the preservation of the nature. Thus the dalit religion is eco-friendly.

Clarence Clark, in his Talks on an Indian Village, describes this phenomenon to children in the West in following sentences,

". . . there were evil spirits all around him (a dalit) living in trees and streams and large stones, and they would do him a great harm if he is not careful."29

Clarence continues to ‘talk’ on how offerings were made to the ‘special’ stone outside the hamlet smeared with red palnt as follows,

". . . (dalit women) would take a little grain or a few marigolds and put them down in front of this stone, so that the spirit would not be unkind to her. . ."30

About the deity in the hut which usually was a rough wooden image painted with few colors placed in a shelf at the corner of the hut he says,

". . . some rice was put in a bowl in front of her in case she should be hungry, and some times thread for sewing. But strangest thing of all was this -- as well as food and drink and thread, there was a stick in case she needed to be kept in order."31

The symbolism involved with food, thread and stick suggests they believed in God (dess) who can be hungry32 and thirsty,33 God (dess) who is industrious.34 and God (dess) who is vulnerable.35

Dalits behind every natural calamity saw the divine wrath and behind every bounty the divine blessing. Often offerings were made to propitiate the Deity who withholds the rain. Even as construction of canals and dams were shown as the means to water the lands and provide livelihood to dalits during the famine, Victor McCauley, a Lutheran missionary admits that it was also to remove the ‘fear’ or the sense of awe from the minds of people at the nature.36

IV. The Values of Equality in Goddess-Talk of Dalits

The rituals and ceremonies of the dalits mirror the space that women occupied in the society. Dalits had recognized the feminine dimension of the Deity and it is evident in the fact that in most cases Deity manifested Her (Him)self in the form of feminine. They worshipped Goddesses like Mariamma, Yellamma. Kaamma, Morasamma and Matangi. Somalamma and Moosamma. There were also Gods in the dalit pantheon but they only played a secondary role.

And in the list of Goddesses there were many victims whose past was characterized by the experiences of pain and humiliation. Women victims regardless of their caste and creed were not only given shelter but were later deified by dalits.37

Dalit cult had both men and women as priests and priestess to mediate with the Deity and to officiate at the sacrifices. But it was women who had the lead in the cult.

Coyler Sackett, an Anglican missionary, for whom possibility of women-priest was an anathema, describes the attire of dalit priestess.

". . .Mark her bold manner, impudent stare, fine figure, and the roll of matted hair lying as an ensign of her trade upon her proud head. She was given to the service of the gods early in life, and what she does not know of immorality, bestiality, and brazen-faced evil can be learnt. Her body belongs to the God. See her in her mad frenzy as, with hair flung free, she serves the deity, face aflame with ungodly lust . . ."

Madiga priestesses were consecrated for the purpose early in their life and no restriction of propriety was imposed on them throughout their life. They were free to choose their mates but they usually settle with Baindla priests. The role these priestesses play can be illustrated in the narration of P.Y. Luke and John Carman about a ceremony of sacrifice to Goddess of cholera

"A winnowing fan is put on the pot and clay lid on the fan; some oil is poured onto it. and then a wick is put in and lit. A Kolpula woman sits facing this light inside the enclosure, and she stares steadily at the light. All the goddesses were thought to appear to her through that light. Outside the enclosure, the Baindla priests stand and invoke the goddess, beating their special drums. The Kolpula woman goes into trance, closes her eyes, and is taken possession of by one of the goddesses. The people outside break a coconut, kill a chicken and pour a libation of toddy on the ground where the sacrifice takes place. The women’s face is washed with toddy. Before she becomes unconscious she utters the name of the goddess. . In the following rite, the Kolpula woman gets into the platform near the shrine to the goddess Uradamma. A sheep is let loose as an offering to Uradamma, and priestess pierces its stomach with her sword. The entrails, liver, and the lungs are removed. The lungs and liver will be put in the Kolpula woman’s mouth and the intestines around her neck. A new sari and blouse are dipped in the blood of this sheep and then the Kolpula woman put them on. Lime, vermilion, black ash bottlu are put on her whole body, a broken pot on her head. She holds a broomstick in her left hand, a winnowing fan in her right hand, and goes through all the streets of the village, starting from the shrine of Uradamma. Her brother and the Baindla priests follow her, and the Magidas beat drum in front of her."39

Dalits also incorporated some of the Sanskritic heroin into their pantheon and deified them. Goddess Gonti or Gontellamma is dalit version of Sanskritic Kunti. While in Hindu mythologies these women loyally serve their gods, in the dalit interpretation gods serve these deities.

V. Protest: A Dalit Spirituality

To a dalit, protest is lifestyle. There were several ceremonies that reflect the element of protest and some of them were incorporated into the Hindu culture.

Theodore Wilber Elmore in his ‘Dravidian Gods in Modern Hinduism: A Study of the Local and Village Deities of Southern India’ identifies some of such ceremonies. One of them was associated with the Goddess Matangi40 who was worshipped by Madigas of Kurnool. It was of an annual festival when a Madiga priestess spits at caste people.

"As she rushes about spitting on those who under ordinary circumstances would almost choose death rather than to suffer such pollution from a Madiga, she breaks into wild, exulting songs, telling of the humiliation to which she is subjecting the proud caste people. She also abuses them all thoroughly..."41

Moreover, this ritual has been well integrated into the religious life of Hindus. Though she humiliates them by spitting, it was said, the caste people would eagerly wait for their turn and would not be satisfied "without a full measure of her invective".42

It had also been a custom among dalits to clean their streets with water mixed with turmeric whenever a Brahmin happens to pass by their hamlet. Though it was rare having a Brahmin pass through their hamlet, it was customary to purify the street from his polluting footsteps. It was a form of protest against Brahmins who did the same when dalits walked in the village.

On certain days in a year, especially after the grains were gathered and stored, a couple of dalits were permitted to beg in the village. This procession was called ‘garaga’. A Mala and a Madiga who in ordinary circumstances do not socialize had made the pair to go begging. While the Mala was to collect the grains in a container placed above his head the Madiga joined him to beat the drum. Mala would go each doorstep abusing the family with the filthiest language known to him. The rhythm of the drum heightens the Mala’s fury to abuse them more. And caste people were to reciprocate this gesture politely by giving a winnowful of grain. This indicates the amount of space dalits could make for themselves in Hindu religion to express their protest.

There was another similar ritual when dalit men loot the grains after the harvest reaches its store during the previous night of a festival. Landlords were to allow the group. That was the reason why missionary reports to had made several references to dalits as ‘thieving’ communities.43 It was a token reclaiming of the produce for which dalits labored.

Moreover, there were other sanskritized dalit practices in which dalits could claim their share in the harvest. Every landlord was to offer a sacrifice of cock right after the reaping of the harvest and before the sheaves were gathered. It was a dalit priest’s prerogative to officiate the ceremony. He was to spill the blood of the cock over the sheaves invoking the names of different goddesses. And he was entitled to get all the sheaves where the blood was spilled. Consequently, a dalit priest does his best to throw the blood over as many sheaves as he can.

Another form of protest can be seen in a sanskritized dalit practice. It was socially agreed upon that a landlord could touch the grain only after a dalit takes a winnowful of grain from the land where he worked. Instead of taking the grains from besides the heap of harvested grains dalits usually places their winnow right on the top of the heap that upper chunk of the heap were given away to them lest those grains falling from his winnow would pollute the rest.

VI. Dalit Openness: An Altar Dedicated ‘to an Unknown God’

Dalits were always willing to accommodate and learn from those who preach equality. Stephen Fuchs in his ‘Rebellious Prophets: A Study of Messianic Movements in Indian Religions’ identifies several gurus from whom dalits were willing to learn.44 One of such gurus from Andhra Pradesh was Yogi Pothuluri Veerabrahmam.45 Those followed him had identified themselves as ‘Raja Yogi’.46 Yogi Pothuluri is believed to have hailed from a sudra carpenter’s family and belonged to the early part of Nineteenth century. He preached the values of equality and inculcated in dalits a spirit of self-respect. Any Yogi irrespective of caste and creed was allowed to be a priest in his movement. And the Yogis of dalit origins "did not disdain fowls’ meal and liquor".47

Yogi Pothuluri was believed to have performed many miracles including the raising of dead. He assured people of a new social order with equality and freedom. Dalits made up most of his movement. His influences reached all of Andhra.48

There was another such movement founded by Yogi Nasraiah49 who was contemporary50 of Yogi Pothuluri. Nasraiah51 was a muslim who had followers from all religions. He preached that God is One and is Spirit. He vehemently denounced idolatry and caste exclusiveness. He too had a considerable following among the dalits.52

Dalits’ openness could accommodate a sudra and a muslim because of their liberative teachings.

The process of sanskrization, which, of course, had an adverse impact on dalit cultural values, and the attempt to dalitize53 certain elements of Sanskrit culture further prove the openness of dalits to other culture.

Dalit conversions through the centuries to different religions -- Islam, Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism - do affirm that dalits in their religion always had an altar dedicated to an unknown (foreign) God.

VII. ‘Cast the Nets to the Marginalized Side’

‘Theologians’, who had labored in libraries down the centuries to dialogue with the cultures and thought-forms of the dominant only to find those resources that help our theology legitimize the status-quo, now need to cast their net to fish in the cultural resources of the marginalized. It is not only to discover the liberative motifs in their cultures but also to allow the marginized theologize for the church.

This search to find liberative resources from the religions of the marginalized begins with re’member’ing their faith that missionary’s Christianity had once dismembered. Given the vitiated versions of oral tradition and biased written sources the task is difficult but not impossible.

Experiences of pain and humiliation had caused in dalits a spirituality of protest and hope. In its search for a relevant spirituality the church in India can not but look up to learn from dalit culture.

Church in India, which had faithfully held on to a theology imported from a civilization responsible for ecological degradation, has to reconsider and redefine its mission in the context of worsening ecological crisis. It has to discern the presence of Spirit brooding over in this creation which groans for the joy of freedom.

The feminine dimension in Godhead which dalit culture seem to have articulated well is yet to be studied and made use of in our feminist theologies. It would also be interesting and enriching to study how dalit Christians understand and interpret Mary.

While reading the history of dalit conversions into Christianity, our historians begin to identify the role of native (male) evangelists and of (foreign) women missionaries in the conversions but are yet to attempt a study on the role that dalit women played in the conversions. An effort to recall their past would help reclaim their status especially in a context where church is still hesitant to give women their due place in its ministry.54


End Notes

1. Ursula King (ed.). Feminist Theology from the Third World: A Reader (London: SPCK, 1994), pp. 392-394.

2. Gustavo Gutierrez, We Drink from Our Own Wells: A Spiritual Journey of a People (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1984).

3. Sathianathan Clarke, Dalits and Christianity: Subaltern Religion and Liberation Theology in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), p.45; George Oommen, ‘The Emerging Dalit Theology: A Historical Review’ Indian Church History Review 34/1 (June, 2000), p. 19.

4. P. Victor Premasagar. The Gods of our Fathers - Towards A Theology of Indian Religious and Cultural Heritage’ South India Churchmen (December, 1985).

5. cf. Clarke, Op.cit., p.56, n. 66.

6. V. Devasahayam, Outside the Camp (Chennai: Gurukul Theological College and Research Centre, 1998).

7. The present Andhra Pradesh was a part of the erstwhile Madras Presidency and of Nizam’s Dominion. It had initially been sliced out of Madras Presidency (also known as Madras State) in 1953 on linguistic basis. Later in 1956 several districts of Hyderabad State (erstwhile Nizam’s Dominion) where Telugu was spoken were added to the state.

8. When I refer to ‘pre-Christian’ I refer to those years before the advent of Protestant missionaries to Andhra. Catholic missionaries, of course, were the first ones reach the land but seem to have had very little contact with dalits. Among the Protestant missions the earliest one was that of London Missionary Society which started its station at Visakhpatnam in 1805. And American Baptist Mission and Godavari Delta Mission started their stations in 1836. They were followed by Church Missionary Society in 1841 and then American Lutheran Mission in 1842.

9. Arvind P. Nirmal, ‘Some Theological Issues Connected with Inter-Faith Dialogue and their Implications for Theological Education in India’ Bangalore Theological Forum 12/2 (July-December. 1980), p. 107.

10. The word ‘panchamas literally means. ‘fifth ones’ because dalits do not belong to anyone of the four castes.

11. The word ‘avarnas literally means, ‘ones with no color’. Aryans had used this term to refer to dalits who usually look dark.

12. The word ‘chandala literally means, ‘filthy ones’. The term implies that the dalits are a species lower than human.

13. The word ‘harijan literally means. ‘God’s people’. Indian National Congress leaders like M. K. Gandhi used it with a strategic purpose of assimilating the dalits into Hindu fold in their fight against the British raj. The word has also been used to refer to those children born to temple-prostitutes and those who can’t identify their father. The English equivalent for the term is ‘bastards’.

14. List of Scheduled Castes as promulgated in an order by the President of India in 1976 names 59 dalit communities. The same has been used in the process of enumeration for Census Report -- 2001.

15. Though they were amateur observers even the missionaries seem to have understood the original status of dalits well. One of the reasons was the British administration policy of recognizing the dalits as distinct. Another reason was the growing movements in South India among dalits to be recognized as Adi-Dravidas, Adi-Andhras and Adi-Kannadigas.

16. Telugu word for hamlet is ‘peta or ‘palle.

17. The word ‘Agraharam literally means, ‘the higher ground’. It was usually the center of a village where Brahmins lived.

18. It is also claimed that burial was dalits’ choice because being eco-friendly was integral part of their religion. Cremation amounts to both deforestation and air pollution.

19. M. L. Orchard and K.S. McLaurine, The Enterprise (Toronto: The Canadian Baptist Foreign Mission Board, n.d.), p.3l8.

20. F. Colyer Sackett, Posnett of Medak (London: The Cargate Press, 1951), p. 134.

21. Clarence H. Swaley, One Hundred Years in the Andhra Country: A History of the Indian Mission of the United Lutheran Church in America (Madras: Diocesan Press, 1942), p. 106.

22. The word, ‘poturaju. literally means, ‘king of beasts’. This name has been given to them because during the time of offering sacrifices they kill the sacrificial animal. If it was a hen to be offered they only use their teeth to kill the bird.

23. P.Y. Luke and John B. Carman, Village Christians and Hindu Culture (London: Lutterworth Press,1968), p.9.

24. F. Colyer Sackett, Vision and Venture: A Record of Fifty Years in Hyderabad, 1879-1929 (London: The Cargate Press, n.d.), p. 128.

25. Definition of the term can be found in, M. N. Srinivas, Social Change in Modern India (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1966), p. 7.

26. Telugu words ‘sindhu or ‘chindu literally mean, ‘dance (suggestive of protest)’.

27. P.Y. Luke, Op. cit., p. 9. The presence of the beggar communities for both Malas and Madigas illustrates the virtue of sharing with poor despite their poverty. This practice had, in turn, sustained the virtue. It involved self-dignity. Both Jangams and Dekkalis did not beg from others.

28. It reminds me of the Lord Krishna, an avatara of Deity in the Bakthi tradition of Hindus, who said, "In me you see everything and in everything you see me.

29. Clarence Clark, Talks on an Indian Village (London: The Cargate Press, 1934), p. 20.

30. Ibid.

31. Clark, Op. cit., p.21.

32. cf. Jn. 21:10.

33. cf. Jn. 4:6 & 7 and Jn. 19:28.

34. Compare with anthropomorphism in the creation accounts.

35. Compare with passion narratives of the four gospels.

36. Swavely, Op. cit., p. 207.

37. V. Devasahayam finds its parallels in the image of a victim who becomes the Judge found Mt. 25:31-46.

38. Sackett, Vision, p. 117.

39. Luke, Op. cit., p. 57.

40. Other names given to her are Mathamma, Mathangamma, and Yellamma.

41. Wilber Theodore Elmore. Dravidian Gods in Modern Hinduism: A Study of the Local and Village Deities of Southern India (Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1925), p. 25.

42. Ibid.

43. It reminds one of the heroics of Hebrew slaves in their exodus to the promise land of freedom and fullness.

44. Stephen Fuchs, Rebellious Prophets: A Study of Messianic Movements in Indian Religions (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1965).

45. Ibid.. pp. 260-263.

46. Telugu word ‘Raja Yogi literally means, ‘Royal Priest’.

47. Fuchs. Op. cit., p. 263.

48. Many Yogis embraced Christianity later towards the end of the century. Similarities in the values, claims, promises and practices had made Christ intelligible to the dalit communities.

49. John C.B. Webster, Dalit Christians: A History (Delhi: ISPCK. 1994), p.43, n. 20.

50. He died in 1825.

51. I suspect this to be a dalit rendering of Naassar.

52. John E. Clough, a Baptist missionary from Ongole, reported that many of his dalit converts were once the followers of Yogi Nasraiah.

53. Attempts by dalits to adapt elements from other cultures and to give their own interpretation so as to strengthen the cultural values.

54. This paper was presented at a Faculty Seminar of Serampore College on 15th November 2001.