For whom the bells toll

Last Updated 25 January 2010, 11:14 IST

Though the primary objective of the Basel Evangelical Missionary Society (popularly known as Basel Mission) that arrived in Mangalore in the early decades of the 19th century (1834) was to promote evangelical works, its contribution to the overall development of Karnataka in general and coastal districts in particular have been considered phenomenal.

The missionaries did not limit their activities to religious propaganda (for which they were sent from Basel) but made the region a laboratory for their experiments in commerce, literature and education. If anybody needs to comment on the growth of the social, economic, literary and academic fields of the coastal belt, s/he should inevitably begin from the work of Basel missionaries.

Many of the century-old monuments in the coastal districts carry with them a rich legacy, telling the present generation interesting stories from the past. The giant bells on the Shanthi Cathedral in Balmatta and Kanthi Church in Jeppu have stood testimony to the historical links between the port town of Mangalore and Switzerland.  

Made in Switzerland
The panchaloha bells, said to be the biggest ones in the region, were made in Switzerland about a century ago. The most fascinating thing about the bells, weighing several hundred kilograms, is that they have Bible quotations in Kannada embossed on them. Unfortunately, not many details are available in the old documents of Basel Mission regarding the bells. The records preserved in the archives section of Karnataka Theological College (KTC) at Balmatta in Mangalore speak about the history of the churches, where only some passing references have been made to the installation year of these bells. However, there is certain information on the surface of the bells which may prove interesting for a researcher or even a casual observer.

First among churches in Mangalore
Shanthi Cathedral is the first among the churches established by Basel Missionaries (December 11, 1862) after their arrival in Karnataka. It got a bell-tower in 1904.
The biggest among the three bells has a circumference of 90 inches and a diameter of 29 inches at the opening end. The other two bells are of a similar size with a circumference of 60 inches and a diameter of 20 inches.

The embossment on the first bell reads thus: Mahonnatavadavugalalli devarige mahimeyu! Bhoomiya mele samadhanavu! Manushyaralli dayavu!

The bell quotes the names of Nathanael and Anna Weitbrecht, mentioning two dates: 11 November, 1873 Mangalore; 11 November, 1898 Esslingen.

The second bell quotes: Ella janangagale, Yehovanannu stutisiri; Ella janagale, avanannu hogaliri. There is also the name of Ernst Weitbrecht born in Mangalore, 7 December 1874. The third bell says: Koosugalu nanna balige baragodisiri; yaakendare devara rajyavu inthavaradagide. The name traceable on the bell is Elizabeth Mauz Weitbrecht born in Mangalore, 25 January 1876.

As per the information on the bells, they were manufactured by Gegossen Von Heinrich Kurtz in Stuttgart in 1900. The information given along with the Bible quotations indicate the name and the date of birth of the persons in whose memory the bells were donated. 

The Kanthi Church in Jeppu too has three bells. Though they were installed in later years, they are bigger than those of the Shanthi Church. The biggest among all, has a circumference of 118 inches (almost two meters) and a diameter of 37 inches. Another bell is of 93-inch circumference. The third one is a little smaller. All the bells have one Kannada quotation each, comparatively shorter. Rev Winfred Ammana, the church priest says the quotations appear in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, a part of the Bible. They are: Ninna naamavu parishuddhavagali; Ninna rajyavu barali and Ninna chittavu agali. As per the information on the bells, they were manufactured by Geg. V Bochumer Verein I. Bochum in 1922. The Kanthi Church was established in 1883, for which a bell tower was added under the supervision of one Albert Glattfelder, an architect in 1925. He was also the manager of the tile factories in Malpe and Jeppu, the Basel Mission ventures. “The tower was severely damaged due to a lightning strike in 1977. But nothing happened to the bells; not even a crack was developed,” says Bennet Ammana, the in-charge of the KTC Archives.

“It is really amazing to think about the effort that might have been put to prepare separate jumbo-sized moulds, and how cleverly the Kannada letters might have been carved inside the moulds in Switzerland about a century ago; and what kind of technology might have been used to install the bells at such a great height...,” wonders Ammana. The Kannada quotes on the bells indicate the significance of the local languages which the missionaries understood. The missionaries started the tradition of conducting mass in Kannada in 1836 and in Tulu in 1851 in order to attract and reach the locals.

Interestingly, the first book to come out of the Basel Mission Press, the first ever printing press of the region (1841), was a collection of Christian Prayers in Tulu titled Tulu Kirthanegalu. The press has the credit of printing books in Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, English, Sanskrit and German. The first Kannada newspaper Mangalura Samachara of Herman Moegling, the Kannada-English Dictionary of Ferdinand Kittel were published from this press. The missionaries had even printed Kannada classics like Jaimini Bharata, Dasha Parva Bharata, Basava Purana and Dasara Padagalu using stone blocks.

(Published 25 January 2010, 11:14 IST)

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