The Christian population of the district has increased from 2,785 (m. 1,300; f. 1,485) in 1951 to 4,214 (m. 2,187; f. 2,027) in 1961. It includes, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and a few Europeans of Roman Catholic, Protestant and other Christian faiths. Although foreigners have established the missions, the Christians of the district have not been much affected by the foreign culture and customs. A majority of the Christians in the district are farmers. The others include teachers, nurses and a few private business men. Some tribals especially Korkus from Melghat areas have been evangelised. The converted Korkus speak Korku and Hindi languages. While the other Christians speak Marathi and Hindi languages.
In all there are five missions in the district, the account of
which is given in what follows. These missions have been
serving the inhabitants through educational institutions, dis-
pensaries, and hospitals.
Mission work in the Berar by the Catholic Church of Rome began as early as 1848. The pioneer of Christianity throughout the Berar, and in the neighbouring portions of the Nizam's dominions and the central provinces, was Rev. Fr. John Thevenet, M.S.F.S., a member of the religious society of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. His labours continued for nearly forty years. In Amravati there is still preserved the small church, dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, built by Fr. Thevenet in 1874. The church has seen two subsequent extensions, so that, to-day it is quite an imposing structure. The missionary apostolate of Fr. Thevenet was carried on by his namesake and nephew, Rev. Fr. Ernest Thevenet, M.S.F.S., who also for over 40 years devoted himself selflessly to the spiritual and economic welfare of the people as it is witnessed by the extensive coffee plantations which he established in Chikhaldara, with the able assistance of Rev. Bro. Eugene Oppold, M.S.F.S., in order to give employment to the Korkus of Marianpur, a small catholic colony where a chapel was built and dedicated to St. Ann in 1899.
Amravati district was originally a part of the Archdiocese of
Nagpur, but in 1955 it was raised into a separate Diocese com-prising the districts of Amravati, Akola, Yeotmal, Buldhana, Aurangabad, Parbhani and Nanded. The new Diocese has been entrusted to the missionaries of St. Francis de Sales, with the St. Rev. Joseph A. Rosario, M.S.F.S., as Bishop. The original centre of the Catholic church in the Berar was Akola, but in 1884 the headquarters were shifted to Amravati. Starting from very small beginnings, with only a handful of Catholics in Amravati, Badnera and Acalpur, at present there are approximately 3,450 Catholics in the district at the following centres: Amravati (654), Badnera (124), Acalpur (222), Cikhaldara (459), Dauni (39), Kapus Tajni (943) and Rasseganv (998). A special feature of Catholic life in the area is the annual pilgrimage on the 11th February to the Grotto of Our Lady of Loudes in Cikhaldara, not a few of the pilgrims walking up to 30 miles each way in a spirit of penance. Twelve Catholic priests in the district minister to the needs of the Catholics.
The Catholic church is also engaged in the field of education. There are two Catholic high schools for boys (Amravati and Kapus Talni) and two for girls (Amravati). besides two middle schools (Badnera and Acalpur) and two primary schools (Amravati and Cikhaldara). Practically all these schools have a boarding attached to them where large numbers especially of poor children from the villages are looked after and given facilities for good education.
The sisters of the Holy Cross of Chavanod, France, first came to India in 1886 when they started the Holy Cross convent school at Amravati. They greatly distinguished themselves by the prominent part they took both in famine relief in 1900 and in combating the great out-break of plague in 1903. They are today playing an important role in the field of education, besides running a creche at Amravati for unwanted babies, a big orphanage at Cikhaldara and a dispensary at Rasseganv where they minister to the sick of the village and the surrounding areas. Finally the scope for social service by the Catholic church was even further widened by the coming to Amravati of the missionary sisters of Charity, founded at Calcutta in 1948 by Mother Theresa, M.C. Besides running two free dispensaries at Amravati, and recently opened Isadaya Sisubhavan for crippled children, they are also treating over 350 lepers at Amravati and the surrounding areas.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance is an American Protestant Mission which has its all India headquarters at Akola. The mission started its work in Amravati district in the year 1896. The main centres are at Amravati, Candur and Anjanganv with five out-stations. The mission was organised in the year 1930. Within the past ten years, the nine churches became fully self-supporting. The communicant members number 375. The members pay their monthly subscriptions in closed envelopes. The work of the mission, while supplementing the work of the church, is quite separate as an organisation.
The mission operates a free Christian library and a reading room in Amravati. Each church has Sunday schools for Christian children where religious knowledge is imparted to them. There are young mens' and women's societies in each church. These activities are voluntary and a part of regular ministry.
It was from Acalpur in 1874 that attempts were made to evangelise the Korkus, but these failed and it was not till 1899 when the mission had been established at Cikhaldara for three years that the great famine gave the Fathers a second chance. A few families and some orphans were then gathered together and formed into a village of about 160 souls to which the name of Marianpur was given. A chapel of Saint Ann was consecrated. The first efforts however at the evangelisation of the Korkus had been not by a missionary but by an officer of government Mr. J. Mulheran, who about 1860 was deputed to make a survey of the Melghat and to report on its inhabitants. During his tour he used freely to preach to the jungle tribes; and he appealed to the bishop of Calcutta to despatch a missionary for the work. However, before his appeal could be met, he died suddenly. In 1870 the Rev. H. Haden and his brother were appointed but stayed only a short time, being relieved in 1874 by the Rev. H. Norton. A short sketch of the Korkus as well as a Korku grammar and several translations into that tongue were compiled by the Rev. E. F. Ward, who settled at Acalpur in 1885. In 1889 the Korku and Central India Hill Mission, organised by the energies of Lt.-Colonel Oldham (of the Hyderabad contingent) took over from the Rev. A. Norton the work which he had carried on since 1874. The mission did a good work in the famine of 1896-97. Besides, the mission did a good deal of work in the field of education. In the year 1950 the property of the mission was transferred to the Central India Baptist Mission which worked since 1945 with the Korkus and the Central India Hill Mission. The Central India Baptist Mission (Protestants) has its headquarters at Acalpur. The mission has an affiliation to a branch of the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society with headquarters at Wheaton, Illinois, U.S.A.
There are now 19 missions, 12 pastors and preachers and about 550 communicant members in the district. The mission has no church building of its own but regular church services are held. The mission serves humanity through a hospital for lepers where medical treatment at reasonable rates is given. There are three hostels for boys and girls, two dispensaries and six libraries. These provide vocational and religious guidance and free reading privileges to the public. Very moderate fee is charged to every member of the library. There is a Lay Workers' Institute at Cikhaldara where social and moral uplift work is done. At Tondganv camp a religious mela is held every year. The site of the camp is owned by the Evangelical Baptist Sanghatna. All boys and girls and men and women from different places join and participate in the mela. Most of the Christians are farmers
and Some have taken to professions like carpentry, teaching and
The Church of India, Burma and Ceylon, a Protestant Mission,
Anglican, has its headquarters at Nagpur under the diocese of Nagpur. The Bishop is the head for Vidarbha and Madhya Prades State. There are church buildings at Amravati, Acalpur and Badnera. The buildings are of the shape of the Holy Cross and a piece of a good architecture. They are dedicated to St. Thomas and St. Andrews. The cemeteries at these places, where most of the foreigners have been buried, are partially closed due to the opening of local cemeteries used by all other missions.
A priest in charge of the Vidarbha region appointed by Bishop is stationed at Amravati. He conducts holy communion and other services once in every month in each church. The total number of communicants is about 60. At Amravati most of the members are old settlers of Amravati, and government servants who stay for a few years. At Badnera most of the members are from the railways while at Acalpur most of them are teachers and private businessmen.
The United Church of Northern India (Protestant) has a church building dedicated to the memory of Rev. Sidoba Misal at Amravati. The headquarters of the mission is at Nagpur. A priest in charge of Amravati, serves about 15 families with about 35 communicants in Amravati. A Sunday school for children, fellowships for young men and women are the activities of the church.
Rituals and Ceremonies.
The aim that one should save his soul applying to oneself the
merits obtained for mankind by Christ governs the ritualistic customs observed by a Christian. The seven Sacraments, viz., (1) Baptism, (2) Confirmation, (3) Penance, (4) Holy Eucharist, (5) Extreme Unction, (6) Holy Order and (7) Matrimony, make these merits of graces available to the mankind. Of these Matrimony and Baptism, considered as important in all Christian churches, are described below.
The rite of baptism is that laid down by the Roman Catholic
Church. The child is brought to the church for Baptism accompanied by two persons, called as God parents, who answer in the name of the child the questions put by the priest to the child. The priest exercises the evil spirit or influence that may have dominion and then anoints the child with holy oil. After being ascertained of the desire of the child for being baptised, answer coming from the God parents, the really essential rite of baptism is performed. The name by which the child is addressed remains henceforth as the Christian name of the child. Most Christian churches ordinarily administer for baptism to children. However, they also provide for adult baptism in the case of adults converted to Christianity.
The Christian churches have developed a solemn ceremony
about marriage, a very important event in the life of a human being.
The bride dressed all in white with her head covered with a white veil and crowned with a wreath of white flowers comes into
the church resting on the hand of her father or some elder male
relative. Alter interrogating both the bride as well as the bridegroom about their tree consent to the marriage and alter their
affirmative replies the priest solemnises the marriage.
Among the Maharastrian, Tamil, and Malyali Christians of this region it is still customary to tie a mangalsutra made of gold thread and black beads round the neck of the bride after it has been blessed by the priest.
Death and Funeral.
Christians are very much concerned about the administration of a priest to a sick person in danger of death. On sickness taking a serious turn, a priest is sent for, who comes to the house to hear the dying man's confession and to give him the communion. The priest (if a Roman Catholic) then gives him absolution, i.e., in God's name forgives his sins. Anointing the vital senses of the dying man with oil the priest prays God to forgive the dying man for whatever wrong he might have done.
Christians bury their dead. The well-to-do lay the body in coffin and the poor carry it in church bier. The hands are tied together across the chest and small crucifix is placed in them. When the body or coffin is lowered in the grave the priest first puts a few handfuls of earth over it and then the mourners follow. On the seventh and on the thirteenth day. and at the end of the year, and in some cases, every year solemn prayers arc sung for the repose of the soul of the dead. All persons who attend are given a festive dinner or breakfast. Black clothes are a mark of mourning and the close relatives of the dead person observe mourning for one year during which period they do not attend public or social functions.