German Kannadigas

German Kannadigas

Euro-connection: German votaries were, in a way, the pioneers of journalism in Kannada. C P Belliappa explains why and how it happened

In 1836, 25-year-old Reverend Hermann Francis Moegling arrived in Mangalore. He was a German missionary from the Basel Mission. 

Christianity had already begun to gain popularity as a religion along the west coast of India. Soon, Rev Moegling set up the Basel Evangelical Mission Seminary in Mangalore.

It grew to become a hub, not only of religious learning, but also of Indian languages and culture. The Basel Evangelical Mission Seminary started by him continues to exist under a new name – Karnataka Theological College. He laid the foundation for Mangalore to become a centre for education.

Heralding journalism

Moegling was a linguist, who was fluent in English, Sanskrit and Persian, besides his native language German. He began learning Kannada upon his arrival and became proficient in the language in a short time. In fact, Rev Moegling is the pioneer of journalism in Kannada.

He started the first newspaper in Kannada – Mangaluru Samachara (Mangalore News). The maiden issue of this newspaper was brought out on July 1, 1843.

This eventful day is now symbolically celebrated as ‘Kannada Press Day.’ He went on to translate several Kannada classics into German. He also translated many German works into Kannada.

In 1852, Rev Moegling was preparing to leave for Germany due to personal reasons, when he had an unexpected visitor from Kodagu – a man named Alamanda Somayya

 The tall, impressive man was dressed like a sanyasi. He requested Rev Moegling to accept him into the Christian fold. 

He also offered his land in Kodagu for the construction of a church. Rev Moegling was quite impressed with Somayya’s resolve. He cancelled his trip and decided to move to Kodagu in 1853 along with his spiritually adopted son Rev Anand Rao Kaundinya.

Alamanda Somayya was baptised on January 6, 1853 and christened Stephanas Somayya. Rev Moegling built a house and a modest church on Somayya’s land in Armeri village. 

Lt Col Mark Cubbon was the Chief Commissioner of Kodagu at the time, and he encouraged Rev Moegling to establish the first Protestant church and a school in Madikeri in 1855.

Another notable personality in the field of education in Kodagu, Rev G Richter was given charge of running this school. Rev Richter spent most of his life in promoting education in Kodagu.

He was the first principal of Central School in Madikeri which was started in 1869. He later took charge as Inspector of Schools. His book, ‘Gazetteer of Coorg,’ published in 1870, is a comprehensive recording of social, cultural, historical, and geographical aspects of Kodagu.

The British administration granted 97 acres of land in Siddapur to Rev Moegling for establishing a church and developing a settlement with a coffee estate. The work on this ambitious project started in 1857. 

Even though Rev Moegling had his hands full with preaching the Gospel and in developing the coffee plantation, he found time to author two books on Kodagu. One in German, Das Kurgland, details his evangelical work in Kodagu.

The other, written in English, titled Coorg Memoirs, is one of the first in-depth study of history of Kodagu.  Rev Anandarao Kaundinya assisted his mentor ably. The new settlement was named Anandapur or ‘City of Happiness.’  Rev Moegling found Kodagu an ideal place to live and called it his second home. In 1860, Rev Moegling left for Germany to be with his ailing wife.

To his great disappointment, his failing physical conditions did not permit him to return to India. He died in 1881. 

Untiring efforts

After Rev Moegling’s departure, the work at Anandapura continued under his disciple and a fellow German missionary, Rev Ferdinand Kittel. An Indologist and polyglot, Rev Kittel first came to India in 1853, and in time became a renowned scholar in Kannada.  He too translated Kannada classics to German, and wrote several books and poems in Kannada. His most famous work is the first ever Kannada-English dictionary consisting of 70,000 words which he painstakingly compiled and published in 1894. He also wrote a book on Kannada grammar. He was a regular contributor to Mangaluru Samachara.  His work took him to Mangalore and Dharwad as well. In recognition of his contribution to Kannada, an impressive statue of his was erected in Bangalore and Dharwad.

Further, a Kittel Science College and a Kittel Arts College have been established in Dharwad. Talks about starting a university in Rev Kittel’s name are also on. 

One of the major hurdles faced by the Anandapura settlement was malaria, which the Europeans frequently referred to as Coorg Fever.

 There were many deaths, and gradually, this scourge affected the project adversely. Anandapura coffee estate was subsequently taken over by British planters who shifted to Kodagu from Sri Lanka. 

In 2011, Rev Moegling’s 200th birth anniversary was celebrated at the Karnataka Theological College in Mangalore, where a bust of his was unveiled.