The visit of Chancellor Angela Markel is pegged around business, but the links between Germany and Karnataka are quite strongly rooted in the cultural landscape, dating back to the 19 century.
The first name that pops up in any discussion on the cultural links is Rev. Ferdinand Kittel, who compiled the first Kannada-English dictionary in 1894, which is to this day regarded a model for lexicographers. It was another German, Rev. Hermann Friedrich Mögling, who brought out the first ever newspaper in Kannada, Mangalooru Samachara , in 1843.
Both belonged to the Basel Mission from Germany, which sent many missionaries to the Karnataka coast. Though their primary task was proselytizing, many took up work that went far beyond spreading the message of the Gospel. Besides the dictionary, Kittel published his own work Kathamale , presenting the life of Jesus Christ in metrical form, and authored books on Kannada grammar. Rev. Mögling travelled extensively to document folk literature and collect manuscripts. He edited and printed many of them.
Both these pioneers are remembered in Karnataka over a century later, even though they have been forgotten in their own land of birth. Rev. Kittel’s statue stands near Mayo Hall in Bengaluru and his dictionary is used extensively. The day on which Rev. Mögling started his paper, July 1, is celebrated as “Patrika Dina” in Karnataka.
While these two names stand out, there were several other German missionaries who did commendable work. Rev. Friedrich Ziegler, for instance, besides working in the field of education, served as president of Karnataka Vidya Vardhaka Sangha. Another researcher was Rev. G.H. Veigle, who documented the folklore of Dakshina Kannada.
“While Indologists, including many from Germany, were constructing “the India” as a monolithic construct based on Sanskrit sources, scholars like Kittel were looking at a multi-cultural, multi-lingual landscape. They particularly focused on Dravidian languages and traditions,” says K.V. Narayana, linguist and chairman of Kuvempu Bhasha Bharathi Pradhikara.
Rev. Kittel, for instance, extensively tapped oral traditions as sources, gathering proverbs and spoken idiom, which are cited extensively in his dictionary.