The story of theft of World’s first printed Bible translation in Tamil from Thanjavur, TN and its recovery after 17 years!!

Oldest Tamil Bible stolen and recovered after 17

In India there are gangs of smugglers operating across the country, particularly in the southern states and their targets are invariably valuable antique temple idols of deities made of five metal alloys and many of them are much older than 500 years and 1000 year old idols are common in some historical temples. They fetch few hundred thousand dollars to more than a million on the international market.

Quite surprising is the disappearance of  an a;together different stuff - the world’s first-ever Tamil Bible from the popular Saraswati M (located on the palace premises) Mahal library of Thanjavur city  first founded by the Nayak rulers and later far expanded and developed by the Maratha Dynasty of Bhonsle. The library patronized by Maharajah Serfoji, a scholar and revered ruler,  is a veritable  treasure house of countless rare books, palm-leaf manuscripts, etc covering various fields. Lots of Indian and foreign researchers come here in connection with their research work. 

Oldest Tamil bible Oldest Tamil  Bible

Stolen way back in in 2005 from Thanjavur, when a function to commemorate Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg, the Danish missionary who had printed the Bible was organised, a complaint about the missing Bible was filed in the Thanjavur West station. Despite  sincere efforts the investigation  ended in a blind alley. The rare Tamil bible became untraceable and for more than 17 long years it evaded the officials and the police and at one point the search went cold.  

Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg,

Above image:  Missionary Ziegenbalg, in a span of 36 years which included thirteen missionary years had achieved so much in a strange tropical country with a different culture nobody could ever think of. Being the first Protestant missionary, he established first Protestant congregation and built the first Protestant church, compiled the first Tamil dictionary and translation of the New Testament in Tamil, started the first school for girls and the first Type and Paper mill, first printed Hymn book and other religious books, etc. Besides, he  rejuvenated the dying printing press in India.........................

In 2017, a fresh investigation was started  from the rock bottom by the Idol Wing CID that has talented sleuths.  During that period, the team traced the registration of all foreign tourists who had visited on the day when the Tamil Bible was stolen – October 7, 2015. The idol wing was very meticulous about their investigation  and did not want to leave any clue or lead thoroughly checked. They searched the websites of various museums in the world, collector's websites and organisations connected with ''Danish Ziegenbalg.” The methodical investigation  continued and ultimately it led to  the website of King's college where they saw the personal collection of King George III. There, they also spotted the original Tamil Bible. The Idol Wing finally brought back the First original Tamil Bible  to Saraswathi Mahal Museum and Library through the UNESCO Treaty.

That the old Tamil Bible found in King’s College, London was a big shocking news for the Tamils, considering the British's past record of looting of Indian treasures, etc.  Thanks to the dedicated efforts made by the Tamil Nadu state police and the Idol Wing officials.  

The texts were more than 300-year-old  and its original translation in Tamil was done  by Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg,  Lutheran missionary of the Protestant Mission at the Danish Settlement of Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu.  He had spent more than two and half years for the strenuous translation of the New Testament   into the Tamil language which is one of the classical languages in the world. It was published only in 1715 when a wooden press with Tamil types were available  to print it.  Ziegenbalg, one of the first Protestant missionaries  who founded the first Protestant Mission in India  printed it . According to reports, the then Thanjavur ruler,  Rajah Serfoji, transferred the Bible to another missionaryand his mentor Fr. Christian Frederick Schwarz (1726-1798),  a polyglot and German Lutheran missionary based in Thanjavur. The Bible also has the signature of the Thanjavur ruler. 

Thanjavur palace complex

The Bible was placed at the Saraswathi Mahal Museum in Thanjavur, under the Tamil Nadu government at that time of the theft.