Word of the Restoration reached India shortly after the first pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley—first through religious tracts and then through Latter-day Saint sailors who shared the gospel in Calcutta. Missionaries first arrived in 1851. They established branches in Calcutta, Chinsurah, Poona, Bombay, Belgaum, and Madras. With members’ help, the missionaries translated tracts into Bengali, Hindi, and Marathi. In 1852 William Willes and Joseph Richards, missionaries from England, went on a preaching tour—traveling without purse or scrip—from Calcutta up the Ganges River Valley. In Agra, after an 800-mile journey during which they baptized 16 converts, Richards’s failing health forced him to return to Calcutta. Willes continued, eventually traveling more than 1,600 miles to what is now Himachal Pradesh.
Although hundreds joined the Church, conditions in British-occupied India made it difficult to establish a lasting presence. Many converts served in the British Army and were subject to transfers. At one point, almost the whole Bombay branch was transferred to Aden, in modern Yemen. Many Indian converts had previously been employed or supported by Protestant churches, and they struggled to transition into a new faith without prospects of church employment. By 1856 most members had been transferred, left the faith, or immigrated to Utah. There were a few members in India at least into the 1920s, but there was no Church presence by the time India achieved independence in 1947.
In different parts of independent India, people read about the Church, corresponded with leaders, and gained testimonies. Though visa restrictions made it difficult to establish a mission in the country, Elder Spencer W. Kimball baptized Mangal Dan Dipty in 1961 while on a visit to New Delhi. Dipty later emigrated, but in the 1960s and 1970s, the Baldwin and Nora Das family laid a lasting foundation for the Church in New Delhi, S. Paul Thiruthuvadoss spread the gospel in Coimbatore, and Edwin and Elsie Dharmaraju brought the Church to Hyderabad, leaving small groups of Latter-day Saints spread from north to south.