BANGALORE: Amidst the buzzing-with-activity Chikpete area, lies a white and red building. Despite looking a little out of place, in contrast with the traditional Mysore style houses, this building in all probability goes unnoticed. The plain, non-descript structure, sitting comfortably in the middle of a noisy market place, is the Rice Memorial Church.
The Rice being honoured with this memorial is Benjamin Rice, a missionary who worked in Bangalore for 50 years. He is often mistaken for his illustrious son Benjamin Lewis Rice who compiled the Mysore Gazetter and helped document the then Mysore state. The revered Rice family is nothing short of a legend in Bangalore. This is something that came as a surprise to the descendants of Benjamin Rice who visited Bangalore in 2009 in an attempt to know the legacy left behind by their ancestors.
Soon after their visit they went on to document their family’s life in India in a website http://ricesinindia.info/.
The lesser-known Benjamin Rice was the man who started it all. Born in 1814, Benjamin Rice joined the Church at the age of 15. In 1836, he was ordained and married to Jane Peach Singer, who wished to become a missionary. Benjamin was appointed by the London Missionary Society to go with two college friends to South India and thus the legacy began.
The Bangalore Mission of the London Missionary Society had begun in 1820. Their main task was to be among the Kannada-speaking population, who were thought to be conservative. Secondly, to work with the more progressive Tamil congregation and thirdly, to hold an English service in a chapel in the Cantonment.
Benjamin is said to have made rapid progress in learning Kannada then called Canarese. He also learned Tamil and briefly preached in that language too. His first tract, Strictures on Hinduism, was published in 1839. Benjamin also wrote school textbooks in the native language. His publications include books on Arithmetic and Geography.
“In 1840, the first Canarese Day School had been opened; the following year there were three, with 35 pupils who came once a week to the house for instruction and on other occasions Mrs Rice visited them at their schools. Benjamin wrote that - the fact of Hindu girls being educated, and of English ladies going to instruct them in their own language, seems to have created much interest among the people,” says the website.
In 1842, a Canarese Girls’ Boarding School was established under Mrs Rice’s care. It still exists, now called the Mithralaya.
“Benjamin soon turned his attention to higher education in English. He and another colleague started an Anglo-Vernacular School in the Pettah in 1847, and had about 100 scholars. By 1859 the school had 397 pupils, and expanded into a new building where the High School is now.
It was clearly an important educational establishment and continued to grow, training ‘Hindu young men of the higher classes’, as well as ‘giving a good education to the children of native Christians’,” the website adds. In 1887, Benjamin passed away and was buried in the New Cemetery, Hosur Road, Bangalore.
Thirty years after his death a new church was built on the site of the old where he had ministered for so long which is the Rice Memorial church.