There is a sense that Hindu pundits were not bothered about the mass conversions that Christianity brought to India. It was, however, not that Hindu pundits were sitting quiet as Christian evangelists were on a rampage. In their efforts to engage Hindus at a philosophical level, Christian evangelists tried to prove Christian religion as a superior religion.
There was a work by an Englishman John Muir titled Matapariksha which tried to do the same. Sita Ram Goel wrote about this book in his work – History of Hindu Christian Encounters. John Muir wrote Matapariksha in Sanskrit by quoting Hindu sources to depict Christianity as superior. Like Rajiv Malhotra ji mentioned in all his lectures on The Battle For Sanskrit, Muir too, like William Jones, learnt Sanskrit to impress Hindus. The book is supposed to have been styled as a conversation between a Guru and a Shishya where Shishya ultimately convinces the Guru that Christianity is the only true religion. Sita Ram Goel’s book has some detail on the book.
Three Hindu scholars responded to John Muir’s book – Harachandra Tarkapanchanana, Somanatha and Nilkantha Goreh. The now infamous Richard Fox Young discussed these events in his book Resistant Hinduism: Sanskrit Sources on Hindu Apologetics. Note the use of the term Hindu Apologetics. The intimidating evangelist strategy didn’t change much.
Harachandra Tarkapanchanana – a poor pundit from Bengal wrote a small pamphlet as a rebuttal to Matapariksha. Due to his financial condition, he couldn’t publish a complete rebuttal. He wrote to John Muir that he would publish a complete rebuttal if Muir were to fund it.
Somanatha who was a Maharashtra pundit published a rebuttal to Matapariskha. However, the name Somanatha was a pseudonym of Subaji Bapu, who was a clerk. He used a pseudonym so that he is not embarrassed to face his colonial masters.
Nilakantha Goreh was a Maharashtra pundit who lived in Varanasi. Nilakantha Goreh’s rebuttal was in the form of a book – Sastra Tattva Vinirnaya. Though lost for some time, it was published again in 1951 by S L Katre with a commentary. S L Katre published some details Nilakantha Goreh’s as an introduction to the book. A digitized version of the document has been available on Internet Archives since Dec 2014. Nilakantha Goreh’s rebuttal to John Muir expresses the best of Nyaya traditions of Hindu traditional schools. However, what transpired later shocks any Hindu. S L Katre wrote in introduction
However, our knowledge regarding the author and his environments would remain awfully incomplete if it stopped only with what the Sastratattvavinrnaya states or suggests in the matter, for, N [Nilakantha Goreh] is known to have revolted against himself and to have, only, four years later, actually embraced Christianity to prove a most formidable antagonist to his original faith for the rest of his life!
S L Katre notes in the introduction that he extracted the details of post-conversion life from a short biography of Nilakantha Goreh published by the Christian Literature Society for India and some research by interviewing descendants of Nilakantha Goreh.
Sita Ram Goel’s book describes Nilkantha Goreh’s initial encounters with Christians in the form of 9 objections/questions about Christianity that he circulated as a pamphlet while he was working against conversions in Varanasi. It was later that Nilakantha Goreh wrote Sastra Tattva Vinirnaya as a thorough rebuttal of John Muir’s work. SR Goel’s book details Nilakantha Goreh’s rebuttals to Christian supremacists and quotes from S L Katre’s book. An overview of Nilakantha Goreh’s rebuttal is provided by S L Katre in introduction of his 1951 critical edition. Nilakantha Goreh’s work was supposed to have completely vanished but for a couple of manuscripts, according to S R Goel. S L Katre’s critical edition ensured that what remained survived.
Of course, we do have to note that Nilakantha Goreh later converted to Christianity. S L Katre based on his research says that it was a persuasion from the English father Smith that could have made it possible. S L Katre lays a straight charge that it was a more of psychological persuasion instead of a philosophical persuasion. After Nilakantha Goreh converted to Christianity through proper Baptism rite, he was completely disowned by his own family including his wife who refused to join him at his new church sponsored residence. Nilakantha Goreh went on to write a book called Shaddarsana Darpana critiquing 6 darsanas of Hindu philosophy to prove superiority of Christian faith.
S L Katre’s research tells us that he was faced with severe criticism from pundits of his own pankthi in Varanasi, which included his own brother. Despite numerous debates where Nilakantha Goreh’s assertions and claims on superiority of Christianity were challenged and disproved, he continued to remain a staunch Chrisitian and visited England several times on missionary work. S L Katre’s research also tells us that Nilakantha faced discrimination and hatred in England from Whites and even his daughter who studied in Christian Convents in England also faced similar criticism for her race and color. Despite all this, Nilakantha died as a Christian and was buried after his death in a Christian graveyard in Mumbai.
This is not an isolated incident. British missionaries mastered the art during British Raj. They took the finest among Hindus, converted them by psychological persuasion and then used them to penetrate Christian faith. Hindus couldnt understand this sort of assault on their faith. The sad reality is Nilakantha Gorehs continue to happen in India even today.
3 rebuttals – one by a clerk with pseudonym as he worked for British and wanted to avoid retribution from his masters; one by a poor Brahmin who had to ask John Muir himself to fund publication of his rebuttal; and one pundit who finally converted to Christian faith even though he could inspire a great lot of people with a scathing rebuttal!
Nilkantha Goreh wrote Sastra Tattva Vinirnaya in the form of 752 Anushtubh verses and structured in 6 chapters. In each chapter, the author takes each claim of John Muir and debunks it with an analytical approach. Given the fact that Nilakantha Goreh gave such a pithy and powerful rebuttal, how could he convert to Christianity? Probably a systematic study into the stories of Nilkantha Goreh-s since British Raj would reveal why.