New Bong Bible?

©Lucio Mascarenhas.
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I  N  D  I  A

The first complete Catholic translation of the Bible into the Bengali language, the mother tongue of West Bengal state in eastern India, was released in November in Calcutta. The translation, begun in 1964, was done jointly by Belgian Jesuit Father Christian Mignon who came to India in 1949 and Sajal Bannerjea, a Hindu scholar who retired recently as Professor of St. Xavier's College, Calcutta.

Addressing a press conference in Calcutta, the translators said that their work together became "more and more a profoundly satisfying and rewarding experience, based on mutual respect for each other's competence."

A Bengali expert, Bannerjea made the literary corrections in the draft translations made by Fr. Mignon, who mastered Bengali after his arrival in Calcutta.

Right from the beginning, the translators said that they had chosen to avoid "high-flown literary language" and opted for "modern colloquial Bengali in simple style."

The result is the translation of all the books of the Bible into three volumes titled The Good News Bible.

Although there have been other Bengali translations of the Bible by Protestant groups, this is the first to include all of the books of the Bible recognized by the Catholic Church. Bengali is spoken by 60 million people in India.


The Mughal Diwanate of Bengal, then including Bihar and Orissa, was one of the first areas proselytised by the Portuguese and Jesuits. There was a Portuguese station in Bengal, at Hugli, before the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan, (at the instigation of the Dutch Protestants, I believe) attacked and destroyed it. Even after that, Catholics continued their intensive missions in Bengal until the suppression of the Portuguese Jesuits and of the Religious Orders by the Marquis of Pombal, that damnable fraudster who bewitched the impious King Joseph I of Portugal, and who destroyed utterly their work — an accomplishment that the Dutch and the Mughals had tried hard to achieve for more than a hundred years without success.

The Portuguese suppression was followed shortly after by the worldwide suppression of the Jesuits by the hapless Pope under pressure from the impious Bourbon Kings of France, Spain, Naples, Parma, etc., and over the protests of their faithful queens — a fatal error, for with the militant Jesuits out of the way, the Liberals and Godless "Free-Thinkers" who bewithched and motivated these impious and foolish kings, swept them away in the French Revolutions and in the disturbances that followed them.

The Portuguese and Goans who fled from Hughli were reduced to poverty, but many took up piracy against Mughal shipping — and Muslim pilgrims to Mecca — in the northern Bay of Bengal, the swamplands of the Gangetic Delta, (the Sunder-Bans), and in the mountainous coasts of Arakan, modern Burma, and some of their descendants married among the Muslims of Bengal and became Muslims themselves. Other communities — including the famous isolated and priestless community of Banda-Sheel ("Stone-Bound", so-called for its natural stone dam) in Cachar, to the east of Bengal, settled by refugees from Hugli — continued, by and large, steadfast in their Catholic faith, despite mixed marriages with Hindus and animist tribals, until new missionaries after the restoration and after the English gained the dominion over these entire tracts, could relieve them.

[The former Portuguese Marian Shrine and Pilgrimage Center of Bandel was also sacked and destroyed when Hugli was sacked; after the English Conquest it has been restored as the Shrine of Our Lady of Bandel, Bandel, West Bengal — one of the two great Portuguese Marian Shrines in India, presently managed, I believe, by the Salesians. The other shrine is Our Lady of Good Health at Vailankanni, on the Coromandel Coast, Tamil Nadu, where Our Lady appearing to a Hindu boy, inspired the local Hindus to rescue shipwrecked Portuguese sailors.]

Hubert Rosario, one of the fathers of the Bengal Renaissance that culminated in the apogee of Ravindranath Tagore, was a descendant of Hugli refugees in North Bengal.

After the Restoration of the Jesuits, the Jesuits set up their famous missions in Calcutta and Patna, St. Xavier's, Calcutta, and St. Xavier's, Patna.

The latter institution is mentioned, I believe, in Rudyard Kipling's Kim, as the place where the fictional hero, the Irish Catholic orphan Kim was sent for his proper education.

But St. Xavier's of Patna was also famous for its intensive proselytisation and publications in various vernaculars in aid of the missionary efforts in Bihar, Bengal, the tribal redoubts on the Deccan Plateau abutting Bihar from the south — where Belgian Jesuits found many eager converts in what is now the Jharkand and Chattisgarh provinces, besides the adjoining tribal West Orissa, where, under English auspices, the Indians were beginning to colonize and defraud and reduce the aborigines. The Belgian missionaries came to be the sole relievers of the aborgines and their property rights in the English Indian courts.

Although I do not know whether there were translations of the Bible made, I strongly believe that, during all this time, there must have been several translations made, for this was typical of the Catholic missionaries.

In Goa, the missionaries produced several works, most notably the Concannim Christa Paurana ("The Ancient Doctrine of the Christians") written by the English Jesuit Tome Estevao, which Goan colonists and later refugees from the depradations of Sivaji and Sambaji in Goa, took with them when they emigrated to and settled in the Kingdom of Bednore near Mangalore, and which saw them through the long night when the Dutch Calvinist pirates and their depradations in Bednore and Malabar prevented Catholic priests from ministering to them.

From the contemporary Catholic missionaries in Tamil Nadu, I have a Tamil language Bible — a translation dating from the period between the martyrdom of St. John de Britto and the Pombaline Suppression — reprinted by the Lefebvrists.

Therefore, I can only see the pretensions of Mignon-Bannerjea to have produced the first "Catholic" "Bengali language" translation of the Bible as a great lie.

But even more objectionable is the crucial part played by an unreformed, unconverted Hindu in the translation. Prof. Bannerjea, in fact, corrected Mignon's translations! I cannot see, therefore, how it is possible to consider this impious production as being "Catholic" in any sense of the word!

To me, the whole thing reeks of gross impiety.

Lucio Mascarenhas
©Lucio Mascarenhas.
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