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From another time and culture, a proselytiser and Kannada litterateur

Last updated: 28 May, 2011
Ronald Anil Fernandes, Mangalore, May 28, DHNS: 1:19 IST

Celebrating a bicentenary

Hermann Frederick MoglingOne-hundred-and-seventy-five years ago a diminutive German arrived on the shores of Mangalore armed with the Bible, seeking to spread the message of the Gospel.

Seven years later, in 1843, the Christian missionary had mastered Kannada well enough to launch Karnataka’s first vernacular newspaper Mangalura Samachara.

With that enterprising leap in journalism, Hermann Frederick Mogling of the Basel Mission, for which Mangalore was the “most important centre” of its work in India, not just propelled 19th century Karnataka into the world of news—the four-page weekly Mangalura Samachara even published news on Afghanistan—but took the pioneering step in translating several literary works in Kannada into German.

It is Mogling’s achievements that the Basel Mission here will celebrate on Monday on the occasion of his 200th birth anniversary. Born on May 29, 1811, Mogling studied theology in Eberhard Karls University of Tbingen and subsequently joined the Basel Mission which brought him to Mangalore in 1836.

Research on Mogling’s early days in Mangalore and other parts of northern Karnataka revealed that along with another German missionary, Samuel Hebich, Mogling travelled on foot from here via Goa to look for a suitable place in the upper part of the region to “plant the Gospel among people who had never heard of it before”.

According to the Basel Mission Annual Report for 1837-8, “with the help of a competent local teacher, within six months our dear messengers (Hebich and Mogling) were able to make themselves understood to the people in their own language.”

The same report goes to reveal that in Dharwad “our beloved messengers did not hesitate for one moment to unfurl the banner of Christ in this heathen wilderness...The preaching is having no dramatic effect as yet, but people are listening politely”.

Besides his proselytising activities apart, Mogling was a zealous learner and litterateur who, during his sojourn in Mangalore between 1836 and 1853 and later in Kodagu between 1855 and 1860 (when he returned to Germany), he produced copious volumes, including “Dasara Padagalu”, “Kanakadasara Bhaktisaara”, “Chennabasava Purana”, “Basava Purana”, “Jaimini Bharatha”, “Thorave Ramayana”, “Kumaravyasa”, New Testament (in Kannada), “Kannada Gadegalu”, “Christa Geethegalu” (hymns) and many more — all firsts in Kannada.

‘True news’

Providing details about “Mangalura Samachara”, Benet G Ammanna of the archives department of the Karnataka Theological College, told Deccan Herald that it contained eight different aspects that included ‘voora varthamana’ (local news), ‘sarakarada niroopagalu’ (East India Company and its laws and regulations), ‘sarva rajya varthamanagalu’ (state news), ‘nuthanavada ashcharya suddigalu’ (unusual news), ‘anyara nadthegalu’ (mannerisms), ‘subuddigalu’ (good conduct), ‘kathegalu (moral stories and songs of Purandaradasa) and an announcement stating that “anybody can send the news and it will be published if it is true.”

The paper was printed using stone slabs, which exist even to this day in the Basel Mission Printing Press in Balmatta. Recalling Mogling’s great efforts, Rev Ratnakar Sadananda said it was a very difficult task to publish a newspaper at that time because there was no simple way of communicating news and other written words to the general public.

Lasting contribution

But Mogling’s most lasting contribution to Kannada literature was with the editing and publishing of ancient classics under the series Bibliotheca Carnataca (1848-1853) for which he was awarded a doctorate in 1858.

When his cousin Gottfried Weigle died in 1855, Mogling (at the age of 45) married Weigle’s widow Pauline. This marriage gave Mogling four stepchildren from Pauline’s earlier marriage.

One of Mogling’s last contributions to Kannada was the publication of a Kannada-English dictionary.

He motivated the British in this endeavour and suggested the name of Rev Ferdinand Kittel as the ideal person to head the project.

Mogling died in 1881 and his memorial remains in Esslingen, Germany.

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