Tilak, Narayan Vaman (1862?-1919)

Indian Christian Marathi poet and hymnwriter

Tilak was born into a high-caste (Chitpavan Brahman) Hindu family south of Bombay in 1862. As a young man he was already something of a literary celebrity. In his early thirties, in search of a universal religion, he began to read the Bible. He became an “intellectual convert” and was baptized in February 1895. He insisted that the ceremony be performed by an Indian pastor rather than a European or American. Eventually his wife also became a Christian, though not without a bitter family struggle. Tilak wrote constantly, chiefly poems and hymns. In the 1950s the Marathi hymnal contained 254 of his hymns, out of a total of almost 700. In his forties he underwent a conversion of the heart rather than the mind, and for the last years of his life he was an exemplary Christian bhakta (devotee), giving up money and possessions, though not renouncing home and family. This alarmed some missionaries, fearful of disorder, especially since in 1917 Tilak had published an open letter stating that he no longer wished to be associated with any human religious institution. He had long intended to write a life of Christ in Marthi verse, to be called Christavan, but on his death in 1919 it remained incomplete.

Eric J. Sharpe, “Tilak, Narayan Vaman,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 671.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.



Tilak, Narayan Vaman, Bhaskara Krshna Ujagare, and Ashok Devdatt Tilak. Tilakañci kavita. Pune: Vhinasa Prakasana, 1900.


Jacob, Plamthodathil S. The Experiential Response of N.V. Tilak. Madras: Published for the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society by the Christian Literature Society, 1979.

Richard, H. L. Christ-Bhakti: Narayan Vaman Tilak and Christian Work Among Hindus. Delhi: ISPCK, 1991.

Richard, H. L. Following Jesus in the Hindu Context: The Intriguing Implications of N.V. Tilak’s Life and Thought. Pasadena, Calif: W. Carey Library, 1998.

Shirsat, K. R. Narayan Vaman Tilak: Poet and Patriot. Bombay: Bombay Tract and Book Society, 1979.

Tilaka, Lakshmibai. From Brahma to Christ; The Story of Narayan Waman Tilak and Lakshmibai His Wife. New York: Association Press, 1956.

Tilaka, Lakshmibai. I Follow After: An Autobiography. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Winslow, J. C. Narayan Vaman Tilak: The Christian Poet of Maharashtra. Calcutta: Association Press, 1923.


A small number of Tilak’s hymns have been gathered providing text and music.

A larger bibliography of Tilak’s work is available.