11/09/2020, 14.30
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Chennai: tribute to Italian missionary Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi

He is one of the most important Jesuit priests of the 18th century. A Tamil poet, writer, translator and grammarian, he took the name of “Vīramāmunivar”, becoming the Father of Tamil prose.

Chennai (AsiaNews) – The Jesuits of Chennai (ex Madras) paid tribute yesterday to their confrère, Italian missionary Costanzo Giuseppe Beschi (1680-1747), whose statue stands on the waterfront of the capital city of Tamil Nadu (picture 2).

Thiru K. (Ma Foi) Pandiarajan, Tamil Nadu's Minister for Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture, was present at the ceremony.

Costanzo Giuseppe (Constantine Joseph) Beschi has an important place in Tamil culture because he assimilated the language so well that he became a Tamil poet, writer, translator and even grammarian.

Born in Castiglione dello Stiviere (Duchy of Mantua), he became a Jesuit in 1709 and a year later was sent as a missionary to Madurai, in southern India.

Here, like his brethren in China, he adopted an Indian (vegetarian) lifestyle, dressing up as a sannyasi (Hindu ascetic), building churches inspired by the temples of the majority religion (picture 3).

Most importantly, his command of the Tamil language was such that he was able to create unforgettable poetic and literary works.

The most important was the Thembavani (A Garland of Unfading Honey-Sweet Verses), an epic poem of 3,615 stanzas, about the life and redemption of Jesus Christ, an opus that is considered a classic in Tamil literature.

He came to be known under his Tamil name, Vīramāmunivar, as the Father of Tamil prose because he wrote two Tamil grammar books.

He is said to have baptised at least 12,000 people from the highest to the lowest castes. Many miracles were attributed to him during his lifetime.

Fr Beschi died in Ambalakaadu, Thrissur, Kingdom of Cochin (now part of the state of Kerala). His burial place in Sampaloor is a destination for pilgrimages and pleas for graces.

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

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