The Hindi Swedenborg Society (India, 1914)

group in india.jpg“Mr. M. R. Bhatt, writing from Baroda, India, after expressing thanks for a parcel of books and tracts, says: ‘I have since had the good fortune of reading many of the wonderful works of Swedenborg, and I have got them together with all the available works of the venerable Dr. Wilkinson. . . . I am a Brahmin [the highest Indian caste] by birth, but already I am a follower of the Heavenly Doctrine revealed by Swedenborg; and I hope I shall be able in due time even to appropriate his doctrine of the Lord. . . .’ Later the same gentleman wrote: ‘In continuation of my last letter I am happy to inform you that since I sent it our Lord has graciously blessed me with the faith I longed for, and I am made a missionary of the New Church. . . .  Already the new light has been hailed in various quarters with more or less delight. I have been reading the Word and translating Heaven and Hell. My wife follows me in the new faith, my mother and sister alternately hope and fear, and my friends and pupils wish to believe . . .’” (“The Swedenborg Society,” New Church Life 1898, 128).

heartofindia.jpgManishankar Ratnajee Bhatt worked for the spread of Swedenborg’s theological works in India from the 1890s until his death in 1923 (see New Church Life 1924, 61). Bhatt was the first president of the Hindi Swedenborg Society, established in 1914, and oversaw its journal, The Heart of India (see photo, left). He first learned about Swedenborg when he came across a copy of William White’s Life of Swedenborg in a public library in Bombay. He then contacted the Swedenborg Society in London, England, for further reading material, and began a systematic study. When he became convinced of the truth of Swedenborg’s writings, he published a public letter proclaiming his Christian faith and removed from his left shoulder the sacred thread which was the sign of his caste (see Herbert N. Morris, New Church Life, 1913, 126).

Herbert N. Morris, an English Newchurchman, was very supportive of Bhatt’s work in India, and suggested the idea of an Indian Swedenborg Society in a letter he wrote to Bhatt in 1913 (see The Heart of India, January, 1915, 1). Morris was present at the first meeting of the Hindi Swedenborg Society and was asked to address the assembly. A few months later, Rev. Frederick E. Gyllenhaal, an American New Church minister, wrote to Bhatt while travelling to a pastorship in South Africa. Bhatt immediately sent him an invitation, and Gyllenhaal’s subsequent visit to India included a 19th of June celebration at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay (see The Heart of India, January, 1915, 14-21).

Manishankar Ratnajee Bhatt remained President of the Hindi Swedenborg Society (later known as the Swedenborg Society of India) until his death. D. Gopaul Chetty succeeded him and the Society continued on in some form until at least the late 1960s (see New Church Life, 1967, 322). The editors of NewChurchHistory.org are not aware of the history of the Society after that time. However, in 2007 a new organization called the Indian Society of the New Church was formed in Cochin, India. Rev. Goran Appelgren of Stockholm, Sweden, was present at their first conference in October, delivering several papers and performing church services and baptisms.

Connections between New Church ideas and Hinduism have been made by a variety of New Church people, in both the east and west, for more than a century now. In the words of Manishankar Ratnajee Bhatt, “the Vedas [the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism] and Swedenborg support each other. The Vedas contain important statements about the immortality of the soul, about heaven and hell, about the Sun in heaven, and about the Lord in a human form abiding in that Sun. The writings of Swedenborg throw a flood of light on all these subjects. An interpretation of all the Vedas in the light of the science of correspondences is still to come. But come it will; and when it does, we shall all be convinced that the Savitar [a solar deity] of the Vedas is no other than ‘the Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come’” (New Church Life 1914, 425).

Glencairn Museum is sponsoring an exhibit, “Hinduism in Pennsylvania,” from January 26 through May 31, 2008. In a lecture at the museum on April 10th at 4 pm, the Rev. Prescott Rogers will present a New Church perspective on Hinduism, an ancient faith still flourishing around the world today.

Photos: The photograph of M.R. Bhatt, Herbert N. Morris, and a group of Hindu receivers was taken in August of 1912. Unfortunately the individuals are not identified. The photograph first appeared in the October 1912 issue of the New Church Young People’s Magazine, and was subsequently reprinted in a 1913 issue of New Church Life. The copy of The Heart of India is in the collection of the Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, PA.

Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at [email protected]

February 12, 2008 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact