DE’ NOBILI DE MONTEPULCIANO, Roberto (Robertus de Nobilibus, Tattuvapodagar [‑pōtakar]). Montepulciano near Siena 1577 — Mailapur 16.1.1656. S.J. Italian Missionary in South India. Born of a family of high nobility (related to the Duke of Modena), joined the S.J. in 1597. Studies of theology in Naples and Rome. In 1605 arrived at Goa and after brief stay in Cochin in the next year went to Madurai. There he soon saw that the Christian religion should be presented in an Indian garb in order to have any success at all with its propagation. Therefore he started the study of Sanskrit with Indian religions and philosophy. He adopted the life of an Indian ascetic in any respect where it was not in direct contradiction with Christianity. Thus he was a vegetarian, had the robe of a sanyāsi and Brahman hairstyle, presented himself as a Kṣatriya (as an Italian nobleman) following the caste rules of a Kṣatriya. After several years of studies under pandits, he settled down among other gurus in the Brahman quarter of Madurai and began explaining Christianity. Said to have known perfectly Sanskrit, Tamil, and Telugu, he wrote a number of religious and philosophical works in Sanskrit and Tamil dealing with Christianity in a purely Indian manner. Unlike many others he turned to the higher castes.
His unconventional methods soon evoked the opposition of some other missionaries (and of some orthodox Hindus, too). In 1613 he was even criticized by a Cardinal, but with the support of the Archbishop of Cranganore and because of his high birth he won the case. The final victory came in 1623 with the Letter of conciliation (?) by the Pope. In his late years RDeN became blind. He spent a few years in retirement in Jaffna, but felt unhappy there, and moved to Mailapur, where he died. He was not the author of the Ézour-védam.
Publications: Apologia, with some notes on Sanskrit, in abridged French version published by Bertrand in his La mission du Maduré. 2. 1850 (see Dahmen below).
– severat unpublished letters preserved.
– on his works in Indian languages see Dahmen and Caland (with citations) below.
Sources: A. Bal[lini], Enc. Ital. 12, 1931, 619; W. Caland, “R. de’ N. and the Sanskrit Language and Literature”, AO 3, 1924, 38-51; *Koch, Jesuitenlexikon; A. Sauliere, Indica. The IHRI Silver Jubilee Comm. Vol. Bombay 1953, 372-376; published works listed in *Sommervogel; Wikipedia with portrait (another in German version)..
Monographs on RDeN: *P. R. Bachmann, R. N., 1577–1656. Ein missionsgeschichtlicher Beitrag zum christlichen Dialog mit Hinduismus. 301 p. Bibl. Inst. Hist. 1:32. Rome 1972; *V. Cronin, A Pearl of India. The Life of R. de N. 297 p. N.Y. 1959; *Dahmen, three books (R. De N., S.J. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Missionsmethode und der Indologie. 1924; Un Jésuite Brahme, R. De N., S.J. 1925 [same work?]; R. De N. Première apologie 1610. 1931); *S. Rajamanickam, The First Oriental Scholar. 1972.