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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 23, March 16-31, 2013
The Memorials of Schwartz
By Dr. Indira Viswanathan Peterson
David B. Truman Professor of Asian Studies Mount Holyoke College, USA

Serfoji II of Tanjore (Thanjavur) (1798-1832) is well known for his innovations in European and Indian cultural forms in several fields, including music, dance, education, medicine and printing. In this article I look at the Mahratta King's pioneering and innovative engagement with European sculpture and with the European culture of public monuments at a very early period of their deployment in India by the English East India Company itself.

In the early 1800s Serfoji commissioned for installation in Tanjore a major public monument in honour of his mentor, Revd. Christian Friedrich Schwartz (1726-1798), a German missionary who worked for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and a portrait sculpture of himself from John Flaxman (1755-1826), a famed neo-classical sculptor in London.

One of the earliest monuments erected for a missionary in India, the Schwartz monument was also the first sculptural memorial commissioned for an European by an Indian. The European portrait sculpture was a first for an Indian ruler as well.

Through a comparison of Serfoji's Flaxman commissions with British sculpture at St. Mary's Church, Madras, it is well known that Serfoji shaped the symbolism and visual language of European sculpture and monuments to assert his own voice and vision as ruler of Tanjore, even under the condition of his subordination by the East India Company.

* * *

Embroiled in the politics of the Carnatic, and especially in the contest for the revenues of Tanjore, between Muhammed Ali, Nawab of the Carnatic, and the English East India Company, by the 1780s the Mahratta kingdom of Tanjore had become a pawn in the hands of the East India Company. British troops were garrisoned in Tanjore city from 1773. On his deathbed, King Tulajaji II adopted the 10-year-old Serfoji, named him his heir and entrusted him to the care of Schwartz, a German Pietist missionary who worked in the Tanjore region. The Company settled the succession in favour of a rival claimant, Amar Singh (who had first been appointed as regent), but arranged for Serfoji to be given a European education in English by Revd. C.W. Gericke, another SPCK German missionary in Madras. In 1798 the Company deposed Amar Singh and reinstated Serfoji on the Tanjore throne. The very next year the king was forced to transfer power to the Company through a subsidiary alliance treaty, in return for a pension and a share in the revenue, with his authority reduced to the fort and city of Tanjore.

Schwartz was the single most important figure in the young Serfoji's life. Championing his ward through all of his travails, Schwartz became a surrogate father, teacher and mentor for him. It was through Schwartz's intervention with the EIC that Serfoji's adoption was declared legitimate and the prince was enabled to claim the succession. In Tanjore in person and in Madras through affectionate letters, Schwartz oversaw Serfoji's education in European knowledge systems, and also in Christian-European moral values. In these initiatives Schwartz was following the German Pietist ideal of a complete education of the young person as the first and necessary step towards becoming a good human being and a true and believing Christian.

Despite the hopes of Schwartz and other evangelists, Serfoji did not convert to Christianity, remaining a staunch Hindu all his life. On the other hand, there was no person in the world he admired more than his missionary mentor. Above all, it was on account of Schwartz's direct influence that Serfoji became an eminent Indian leader of charitable and modernising educational projects in early colonial India establishing, among other things, the first free elementary public schools run by an Indian State. Serfoji expressed his gratitude to and admiration for Schwartz in a myriad of ways throughout his career, but the memorial he commissioned from Flaxman, and a poetic epitaph he wrote for the missionary's gravestone, are the most vivid and eloquent testimonials to the king's feelings for his missionary mentor.

As early as 1800, learning of the desire of missionaries and evangelists in India to erect a memorial for the missionary, Serfoji offered to pay for such a monument. In 1801, he went a step further, writing to the SPCK in London and requesting them to help him commission "a monument of marble" to "manifest the great esteem I have for the character of that great and good Man, and the Gratitude I owe him, my Father, the Protector, and Guardian of my Youth...". The monument was commissioned with Flaxman in 1802 at a cost of £1,000, half paid in advance. Serfoji added to the commission a life-size marble portrait statue of himself.

This is the life-size white marble statue that he ordered at a cost of £1,200. When the sculpture arrived in Tanjore in 1806, the raja had the portrait statue placed on the impressive granite slab on which the Nayaka throne once stood, in the old Nayaka Darbar hall at the palace. Visitors saw the 'noble statue' of the king in the Nayaka Darbar Hall, where it is still displayed. Dressed in Maratha court dress, wearing a real sword at his waist, and a removable turban on his head, Serfoji stands with his palms joined in the anjali gesture of salutation and worship.

Although both sculptures were completed by 1805, their shipment was delayed by the Napoleanic wars. Meanwhile, the East India Company had decided to demonstrate its own gratitude to Schwartz, who had travelled to the courts of the Mysore rulers Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan on behalf of the British, and commissioned a monument for him to be installed in St.Mary's in Fort St. George, Madras.

When the monuments ordered by Serfoji (an approving East India Company waived Serfoji's shipping fees and customs) arrived in Madras in early 1807, their packing cases (and the order of 650 books, mostly on medicine, that Serfoji had ordered from London) were damaged by salt water. Luckily, the sculptures were unharmed, but the Schwartz monument was too large for the pillar near the pulpit at Christ Chruch, Schwartz's old church in the little fort, the space Serfoji had originally intended for it, and it took the raja another five years to get a mount built for the monument. The king hired a British engineer, a Mr. Bliss, to mount the monument, and it was finally installed at the western end of the Fort church in 1812. Meanwhile, in 1807, the Company had already erected its own monument to Schwartz in St. Mary's.

The Tanjore memorial

The most remarkable thing about Serfoji's monument to Schwartz is the scene it depicts. The sculpture portrays Schwartz lying on his death-bed, with Gericke standing behind him, and Serfoji ministering to Schwartz. The faces of Schwartz and Serfoji form the centre of attention. The raja has a sorrowful expression on his face, one hand placed tenderly behind his dying mentor's head, and the other grasping his hand. Two Mahratta courtiers, one of them with a sword raised in salutation, stand to the right, and in the right foreground four little boys huddle together sorrowfully, representing the poor and orphaned boys who had been sheltered and educated by missionery. Serfoji worked closely with Flaxman on its content and design, possibly another first for an Indian prince. Flaxman, for his part, designed the monument according to the conventions of memorial monuments for deceased celebrities prevalent at the time in England, but he had to keep in mind the intentions and wishes of his Indian client.

* * *

During much of the 18th Century, when the English East India Company was rising as the dominant political power in India, Company policy forbade government sponsorship and encouragement of Christian missionary activity in India. The policy was stringently followed in Calcutta, the major centre of the Company government. In South India, however, sympathetic Company officials and a pragmatic government permitted Halle-trained German Protestant missionaries, who had settled in Tranquebar near Tanjore in the early 18th Century under Danish auspices, to conduct schools for Eurasian and poor children in Madras and the districts.

Gericke was the director of the Madras Female Orphan Asylum, established by the English community in Madras in 1787 as a charity school and institution for Eurasian and European children, while Schwartz aided the British in many ways. By the time of the death of Gericke in 1803, evangelical lobbies in England had influenced both local English sentiment and metropolitan policies regarding Christian proselytisation among the "heathen" in India. Although overt missionary activity was not officially sanctioned until the signing of the revised charter of the East India Company in 1813, already in the first decade of the 19th Century there was a strong movement for the recognition of the evangelising as well as benevolent and educational work of missionaries in India.

Closely related to this change in policy was the upsurge of nationalism, based on British victories abroad. As art historians and historians of religion have pointed out in recent years, British colonial memorial monuments in churches, especially in Madras, articulated this new configuration of the ideology of benevolent colonial rule and evangelical morality, most vividly, powerfully and clearly.

Around the year 1800 there was a sudden rise and then a steady proliferation of memorial monuments to Britons and other Europeans who worked for British interests, first at St. Mary's Church (est. 1658), the principal place of worship associated with the EIC government in Madras and, later, at St. George's Cathedral, Madras, built immediately following the Charter renewal of 1813 and the establishment of an Anglican Bishopric for India in Calcutta. Of the 88 public monuments erected between 1791 and 1876 in the three Presidency cities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, most of which were raised under government auspices or by public subscription (among the British population), 19 memorial monuments, mainly for deceased persons, were erected at St. Mary's, and 25 in the Cathedral.

The monuments were executed by Britain's pre-eminent sculptors – John Flaxman, John Bacon, Jr., F.L. Chantrey, Richard Westmacott and others, who had also executed similar monuments at London's prestigious Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral. Flaxman held the first chair for sculpture at the Royal Academy, established in 1810. Among them is a memorial to Schwartz in St. Mary's and another to Gericke.

The Gericke memorial (1803) and the Schwartz memorial (1807), both EIC and subscription monuments are by John Bacon, Jr. In both, the missionary is shown blessing or preaching to Indians who are kneeling or listening attentively and some of the attendant figures are children. It is important to note that in later monuments, grown-up Indians are shown as figures of smaller stature, as though they were children, in comparison with the towering missionary figure.

The Madras memorial.

The Schwartz monument in Madras depicts the missionary, as does the Serfoji-Flaxman monument in Tanjore, lying in his deathbed. Here, too, Schwartz is surrounded by loving and grieving children, the orphans and other boys he educated. But in the Madras monument the missionary's outstretched arm and otherworldly gaze are turned toward an angel with a cross, representing Schwartz's piety, his unswerving and ultimate focus on the eternal life in Christ. This imagery contrasts with the touching, intimate and highly personalised scene in Serfoji's monument, in which the missionary is lying inert, while Serfoji is fondly and benevolently placing his hand on his mentor's head. Serfoji's monument portrays, alongside European missionaries and orphan children, the king himself and his ministers in individualised portraits, not as generic 'Indian' figures, and with himself as the active figure at the centre of the composition, in contrast to the generic Indian Brahmins and peasants of British monuments to colonial British figures. It is clear that Serfoji wanted to highlight his own benevolent and protective affection toward the missionary, who had shown love and affection for him, feelings echoed in the last line of the English inscription he commissioned for the monument.

The long inscription for the Schwartz monument at St. Mary's gives prominence both to Schwartz's reputation as a virtuous and benevolent man and his work as envoy to Haider Ali during the Carnatic war. The much shorter Tanjore inscription (also composed by an Englishman, and not by Serfoji himself), offers a similar portrayal of Schwartz, a saintly benefactor of Indians, and as a political intermediary for the British. However, the last line of this inscription gives resounding testimony to the personal relationship between the prince and the missionary: "And the very marble that here records his virtues was raised by the liberal affection and esteem of the Raja of Tanjore Maharaja Sirfojee."

Yet other layers of meaning are suggested in Serfoji's monument. First, there is no doubt that Flaxman and the king agreed on the focus on orphans and education implied in the inclusion of the grieving little boys in the monument. At one level, such a focus graphically portrays the life-work, virtue and benevolence of the deceased, in the conventions and sentimental idiom of British (and especially colonial) memorials. But in some ways the orphan children in the sculpture are homologues of the king himself, as the fatherless boy who was rescued by the missionary, who became his father, a personage more sympathetic than the paternalist colonial state, which was represented in the many paintings and memorials. Let Serfoji speak for himself, in the English poem with which the raja memorialised his guru and surrogate father. The poem, inscribed on the granite slab covering Schwartz's grave in front of the altar in St Peter's Church (formerly the Mission Garden Chapel in Tanjore) reads:

Firm wast thou, humble and wise,
Honest, pure, free from disguise,
Father of orphans, the widow's support,
Comfort in sorrow of every sort.
To the benighted dispenser of light,
Doing, and pointing to that which is right.
Blessing to princes, to people,to me;
May I, my father, be worthy of thee
Wishes and prayeth thy

The poem suggests not only the missionary's virtues, but his role as an examplar for Serfoji, and the king's own role as a benevolent ruler. Serfoji prided himself in his own aspirations and achievement as a royal protector and saviour of the poor and orphans in his kingdom, activities that resonated with his mentor's teachings and example, and ones that he, Serfoji, had undertaken innovatively, autonomously and in indigenous idioms. With a few years of his accession to the throne in 1798, and certainly by the time of the installation of the monument (1807), no t only did Serfoji support missionary education in Tanjore and Madras, but had himself become a pioneer in state-run elementary free education (ahead of the Company in Madras), especially for orphans and the poor in Tanjore. In the king's charity schools, education was imparted in five languages, English, Hindustani, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu and set apart from Christian contexts.

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In this Issue

Dear Mr. Finance Minister
Desalination plants
Govt. funding helps heritage thrive
The Memorials of Schwartz
KVK and his public causes
The Stanley Hospital Story by Shobha Menon
From Gandhi & Rajaji to Em & Big Hoom
Past Times
A management guru remembered

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Short 'N' Snappy
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Madras Eye


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