History & Culture

Home to a shared heritage

The Ziegenbalg House at Tharangambadi

The Ziegenbalg House at Tharangambadi  

For a small town with a population of 23,191, Tharangambadi or Tranquebar as it was known during the colonial days has four museums, of which the Ziegenbalg House was restored to its original glory in 2017 and the Museum on Intercultural Dialogue was inaugurated on July 15. On International Museum Day, observed by Dakshinachitra, Jasmin Eppert, Curator, Ziegenbalg House shared her experience in organising the museum.

Jasmin Eppert, curator

Jasmin Eppert, curator   | Photo Credit: Picasa

From the beginning the aim was to involve the local public in its reconstruction as well as in its activities. While the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church coordinated the restoration of the Ziegenbalg House, under the care of INTACH Pondicherry, the funds were provided by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Initially the museum had the support of the local youth groups along with donations from the Madras Printers and Lithographers Association, the All India Federation of Master Printers, the Salem District Offset Printers Association, the Francke Foundations, Halle, the Ziegenbalg Spiritual Centre, Tharangambadi, the Leipzig Mission Work and the Lutheran Congregation, Sirkazhi.

Several modifications

During the 311 years of its existence, the Ziegenbalg House has undergone several modifications and reconstructions depending upon the use it was put to such as a hostel for young boys and girls, a teachers training centre and a higher secondary school.

Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, the first Lutheran Missionary, along with Heinrich Pluetschau landed in Tharangambadi in July 1706. The house was bought for research and personal use. The two were disciples of educational reformist August Hermann Francke, the founder of the Francke Foundations in Halle, Germany, which traces its existence back to the 17th century. It is an internationally well-known cultural institution. In 2012, the Foundations started the idea of restoring the Ziegenbalg House, though it fructified only 2016. “It is their stated mission and statute to maintain and mediate their cultural heritage, implementing the history of the Danish-Halle Tranquebar Mission,” stated Eppert.

Visitors to the museum (five rooms) will be able to learn about the first Lutheran scholar out of the 56 of the Danish-Halle Tranquebar Mission, Ziegenbalg’s origins in Pulsnitz, his arrival with Pluetschau, their relationship with the local scholars, language teachers etc. They had become part of the “intercultural relationship and dialogue between India and Europe, built on mutual interest, language skills, learning from and trusting each other.” Professional and practical skill and education offered at the campus around the Ziegenbalg House was influenced equally by the training centre at the Francke Foundations, Halle, and the Gurukul system of India satisfying the needs of the local people; the very architecture of the campus proves this mutual understanding.

Ancient printing press

The highlight of the museum is the printing on the ancient printing press from 1834 with wooden letters and black ink. “Supported by eminent printing associations of India, the exhibits prove the international outlook of the printing industry till today.” It is said that though Ziegenbalg introduced printing to Tharangambadi in 1712, it was the Danish Halle Mission which introduced the very first systematic and vernacular printing industry in India.

A printing equipment and tools at the Ziegenbalg House, Tharangambadi

A printing equipment and tools at the Ziegenbalg House, Tharangambadi  

Training people in every aspect of printing and sending them all over the country marked the printing revolution in the country. Be it educational system from the languages to various branches of science or printing industry, the transfer of knowledge was a two-way process. This aspect would be expanded in the future by an astronomical research centre on the roof and an educational garden in the courtyard. The plus and minus sides of restoration of historical buildings is displayed through a series of photographs documenting the construction process of Ziegenbalg House. The construction work was purely by local work force.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday and on Sunday 3-6 p.m.; It is closed on Monday. Guided tours in English and Tamil are provided free of charge, though there is a nominal entrance fee. For students, the fee is less and for children it is free.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2020 2:35:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/home-to-a-shared-heritage/article23977875.ece

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