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Visit this Church of an orthodox Brahmin who opened Pune to Christianity

pune Updated: Aug 02, 2017 11:16 IST
HT Correspondent
Brother Deshpande Memorial Church in Rasta Peth has been designated as a heritage site.

Brother Deshpande Memorial Church in Rasta Peth has been designated as a heritage site.(Pratham Gokhale/HT PHOTO)

The Brother Deshpande Memorial Church sounds mysterious. The church has been built in memory of Ramchandra Pralhad Deshpande, an orthodox Brahmin from Nagpur district. The church in Kasba Peth, the oldest part of Pune, stands as a symbol of the social life in 19th and 20th century Pune. 

Deshpande spent 32 years of his life in Pune and is considered as a crucial link between Christianity and orthodox Pune. Born in an orthodox Brahmin family on May 13, 1874, at Multai village, 75-km from Nagpur, Ramchandra lost his parents at the age of three, but was helped by his maternal aunt. 

He was a staunch Hindu. In fact, he as a child, had great resentment against Christianity and against some prominent persons who gave up Hinduism. He joined a college in Nagpur, but wanted to leave because of the fear that he would have to learn the Bible and embrace Christianity if he continued his education. 

However, he was eventually deeply influenced by the Bible which he ended up studying. He was strongly opposed when he decided to become a Christian, but nobody could stop him. He came to Pune in 1917 after he became a Christian. 

For the rest of his life, Deshpande was a Punekar. He joined the Christ Church in Rasta Peth and spent his life spreading Christianity and doing social service for the downtrodden. He was so popular among the poor that his bungalow came to be known as ‘Deshpande Math’. 

Pune was an orthodox city when Deshpande came here. Christianity had little following among the local people. Most Christians in Pune were Tamil, Keralites, Portuguese or Goan.

Deshpande became a link between the local population and Christianity. 

Old timers admit that opposition to Christianity got diluted because of Deshpande, as he was an orthodox Brahmin. Very few Brahmins had acknowledged Christianity at the time. Deshpande’s work helped Christian missionaries gain some recognition and acceptance among Brahmins and other caste Hindus.

A considerable number of people from Nana Peth, Bhavani Peth, Ghorpade Peth, Rasta Peth and Mangalwar Peth, all parts of old Pune, became Christians because of Ramchandra Deshpande. 

Deshpande was so affectionate to everyone that people used to call him ‘Brother’ and he was like a family member to many. 

Deshpande died in 1949. Ten years after his death, Christ Church members identified an old structure in Kasba Peth for permanent prayers and it was called Brother Deshpande Memorial Church.

It is situated near Pavle chowk in Kasba Peth. Some remains of Punyapattan are even traced to this area. A Scottish mission built a structure for a school here. The existing building is 130 years old and is listed as a heritage site. 

The Scottish Mission decided to hand over the school structure for a new church which was opened in 1968. Old timers recall that the church was named after Brother Deshpande with the hope that his name would dilute opposition. Church members say that they did not face any problem since its beginning. 

The ‘L’ shaped building is currently under renovation. The structure is Gothic in style and has a prayer hall besides other rooms. The church has 550 members and they gather every Sunday for prayers in Marathi. 

The church has a woman secretary currently, a fact pointed out by members with pride. It has also four women as trustees.