Roberto de Nobili (1577-16 January 1656) was a Tuscan Jesuit missionary to Southern India. He pioneered new methods of evangelism (inculturation), adopting many Brahmin customs which were not, in his opinion, contrary to Christianity, in order to get a hearing. This practice was very controversial in the following decades.
Roberto de Nobili arrived in Goa on May 20, 1605. After a short stay in Kochin, he arrived in Madurai. He observed that the Sadhus (Hindu monks) are respected in the society, and he assumed the robes of a Hindu sadhu. However he discovered that a sadhu cannot mingle with householders. He then presented himself as a Kshatriya, but then realized that being a Brahmin mendicant would allow him to be most effective. He then began wearing saffron robes and carrying a kamandalu (a water jug) like brahmin monks.
He first became an expert in Tamil. He studied Sanskrit from a Brahmin teacher Shivadharma. He was eventually able to convert twelve brahmins.
He is mainly responsible for the words (usually associated with Hinduism ) being used by South Indian (especially Tamil Nadu) Catholic masses. Words like Kovil was used by him in place of Church, Prasadam for Communion, Aiyar for Priest, Vedam for the Bible, Poojai for Mass. Robert de Nobili even went to the extent that he shaved his head and kept a tuft, wore white dhothi and wooden sandals to look like a typical Brahmin priests of the time. It is also said that he wore a three-stringed thread across the chest just like brahmins. He claimed the three-stringed thread represented the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
A considerable amount of controversy exists over his possible forgery of a vedic manuscript. This could be one the earliest examples of ethnographic propaganda.
- J. Castets, "Robert de' Nobili" and Malabar Rites in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)
- Vincent Cronin, A Pearl to India: The Life of Roberto de Nobili (1959) ISBN 0-246-63709-9
- James MacCaffrey, History of the Catholic Church from the Renaissance to the French Revolution (1914), chapter 5
- "Roman Catholic Brahmin" by Jyotsna Kamat
- European Missionaries and the Latin Church in India
- Who was Roberto de Nobili?
- The "Roman Brahmin"
Moffett, Samuel Hugh. A History of Christianity in Asia, Vol. 2, 1500-1900, 2005, ISBN 1-57075-450-0 kaka
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