WILSON, John, of the Scottish Mission, Bombay.

An Exposure of the Hindu Religion,

in Reply to Mora Bhatta Dandekara: to which is prefixed a Translation of the Bhatta's Tract.

Bombay: Printed at the American Mission Press, 1832 Stock Code: 145823
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First edition of this uncommon and confrontational tract by the eminent Scottish missionary and orientalist John Wilson (1804-1875), a reply to the Hindu theologian Mora Bhatta Dandekara's Hindudharmasthapana (Vindication of Hindu Religion), published in Marathi and translated here by way of preface; part of a fascinating print war between the two men.

Wilson (1804-1875) studied for the ministry at Edinburgh and while there founded the Edinburgh Association of Theological Students in Aid of the Diffusion of Christian Knowledge. Intent on missionary work in India, he studied anatomy, surgery, and the practice of physic at Edinburgh in 18278, and in 1829 sailed, with his wife Margaret, for Bombay. Inspired by the example of John Eliot, the American Puritan "Apostle of the Indians", he made a point of studying vernacular languages and within six months of arriving had mastered Marathi to the point where he was able to deliver sermons in that tongue; later, such was his knowledge of native dialects that during the rebellion in north India in 1857 his knowledge "was of great service to the government, for whom he deciphered the insurgents' secret dispatches" (ODNB). He played a significant role in Indian Christian circles and, in the words of C. E. Buckland, was "greatly esteemed by the highest officers, the natives and visitors".

His opponent, Mora Dandekara, was a Bhatta, a Vedic Brahmin scholar, from Karnatka in south west India. Their debates turned around "the efficacy of image-worship and the status of mantras as speech acts able to influence the deity" (Yelle, p. 118). This war of words was part of a series of debates undertaken in February 1831 on the relative merits of European and Hindu astronomy and religion, which were "avidly attended and were indeed spectacular pubic performances in which Wilson willingly participated, certain as he was that Western science would show up Brahmanical faith" (Ramaswamy, p. 190). The almost ritualistic nature of these debates is described by Wilson in a letter to his father, "they brought their chief champion every day in a carriage, with garlands of flowers hanging about him" (cited in Smith, p. 110).

Provenance: bequest label to front pastedown of New College Library, Edinburgh ("From the Library of John Duncan, LL.D."). John "Rabbi" Duncan (1796-1870) was "a colourful, intelligent and, at times, tortured soul, one particularly gifted in the study of languages and in missionary work" (New College Librarian blog 26 February 2019, retrieved 8 January 2021).

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Octavo. Contemporary dark red foliate-patterned cloth. Library withdrawal stamps to front endpapers and title page. Spine a little sunned and chipped at head.


Spine a little sunned and chipped at head. A very good copy in an appealing period binding, almost certainly Indian in origin.


C. E. Buckland, Dictionary of Indian Biography (1906); Sumathi Ramaswamy, Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe, The University of Chicago Press, 2017; John F. Riddick, Who Was Who in British India (1988); George Smith, Life of John Wils


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