Efforts were taken to communicate the Christian message in the local language. One of their main projects of the Christian missionaries was translation of the Bible. Search for a meaningful biblical terminology was particularly difficult because religious language in Tamil was greatly shaped by Hindu religious traditions. Tamil terms were able to render key Christian concepts like God, sin and grace. They were highly loaded with specific connotations that were derived from Hindu philosophy and Bhakti traditions.
In some cases, the early missionaries were unable to find adequate equivalents. It was a long process before a reliable and mature Christian vocabulary in Tamil was established. Among the Protestants the Bible translations had an extraordinary impact on that development. The history of the Tamil Bible is complicated but three major interwoven threads can be differentiated: a Lutheran, a non-Lutheran Protestant, and a Catholic tradition.
From the very beginning the missionaries had planned to translate the whole Bible into Tamil. However it was only Johann Philip Fabricius (1711-91) who brought together all earlier efforts and prepared a complete Bible translation that was published posthumously in 1796. It was known as "Fabricius Version1' and this became the standard Bible translation within the Tamil Lutheran Church. It was regularly reprinted until 1951. Its terminology and phrases have shaped the liturgical and religious language of the Tamil Lutherans till today.
In the first half of the nineteenth century many Protestant missionaries began their work among the Tamil speaking population. Initially, they adopted the Fabricius Version, but later on they started their own translation projects. Finally a joint Protestant effort for a new Tamil Bible translation was planned. A thorough revision of the Fabricius Version was undertaken under the leadership of the Anglo-Indian, H. Bower. It was published as the Union Version by the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1871. This remained the l authoritative Bible translation for the non-Lutheran Protestants.
Several efforts were made to revise the Union Version. It was only in 1956 that a moderately changed version gained wider approval. Although the Revised Version was reprinted, it never gained approval within the Protestant congregations where the Old Version is used even today.
The publication of complete Bible translations indicates that denominational "church Tamil" had been established in the beginning of the twentieth century. Spiritual and liturgical life was shaped by the biblical language that was the base for a special "church Tamil." The younger generations were socialized in a fixed technical Tamil terminology that gradually became the only way to speak about Christian doctrines.
(Last Updated on : 18-10-2011)
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