The Tamil translation of the Bible, translated and printed by missionary Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg in 1715 at Tharangambadi, went missing in 2005 from the Saraswati Mahal Museum in Thanjavur.

The cover of the first Tamil translation of the BibleCover of the first Tamil Bible
news Crime Saturday, July 02, 2022 - 12:37

After over 17 years since it went missing from Thanjavur, the Tamil Nadu police have traced the location of the world’s first Tamil translation of the Bible to London. The text, which is over 300 years old, has been found in King’s College, London. The original translation of the New Testament into Tamil was done in 1715, by Danish Christian Missionary Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg at Tharagambadi of Tamil Nadu. Before it went missing, it was housed at the Saraswati Mahal Museum in Thanjavur, which is under the control of the Tamil Nadu government.

However, in 2005, the antique Bible went missing from the museum, following which a complaint was filed with the Thanjavur West station. The investigation did not yield progress, though, and the case was subsequently closed. Years later, in 2017, the Idol Wing CID reopened the case and began a fresh investigation. They said that, during the course of investigation, the team noticed in the visitor’s register that a number of foreign tourists had visited the museum on October 7, 2005 — the day the Tamil Bible went missing.

The police found that these visitors had come to India to attend a function to commemorate Ziegenbalg, the Danish missionary. Based on this finding, the police said in a statement, “When the suspicion pointed to foreign visitors, the idol wing searched the websites of various museums in the world, collector's websites and organisations connected with Ziegenbalg.” The team eventually stumbled onto the website of Kings College, and in a picture they saw of King George III’s personal collection, they found the stolen original Tamil translation of the Bible.

Ziegenblag was one of the first Protestant missionaries to come to India, and is also credited with setting up one of the earliest printing presses in Tamil. The Tamil translation of the Bible was printed here by him. According to historic speculation, the police statement says, the Bible was then transferred to the care of the then Thanjavur ruler, Tulaji Rajah Serfoji, by another missionary called Shwartz. The cover of the bible also bears the signature of the Thanjavur ruler.

Since the Bible’s discovery in London, the Idol Wing has currently undertaken measures to bring it back to its home in the Sarwasti Mahal Museum by invoking the UNESCO Treaty.

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