Date:11/02/2005 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/fr/2005/02/11/stories/2005021101990300.htm
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Thalassery's Gundert legacy

Thalassery paid tributes to Hermann Gundert on his 191 birth anniversary on February 4.



A statue of Hermann Gundert installed by Thalassery Municipality.

A SPRAWLING bungalow situated on a hillock called Illikunnu, about five km from Thalassery town, still invokes the legacy of Hermann Gundert who rendered yeomen service to Malayalam language during his stay in Thalassery for nearly 20 years. Thalassery paid tributes to this great man of letters on his 191 birth anniversary on February 4.

Substantial body of work

Dr. Gundert left behind a substantial body of work in German, English, Malayalam and Tamil as his scholarship extended over a remarkable range of specialised fields. His theological work, including translation of the Bible and missionary tracts, as well as his articles on indigenous religious practises and history may not be well-known today. But the English-Malayalam Dictionary the he wrote while he was staying in the bungalow perpetuates his memory. He also published two Malayalam journals, including the Rajya Samacharam, which is believed to be a forerunner of contemporary Malayalam newspapers.

"The people of Thalassery do not think of Dr. Gundert as someone who belonged to a far off country or as a guest who lived here for nearly two decades. It was here he continued his literary and religious pursuits," says Murkot Ramunny, chairman of Hermann Gundert Foundation (HGF). His lexicon and 50 other books will remain as monuments of his love and learning of the Malayalam language, he adds.

School in Gundert's name

The HGF started a school at Thalassery in his memory. The school authorities provide free education, uniforms and books to 25 per cent of the 400-plus students studying there.

Thalassery Municipality installed his statue and a street has been named after him. It was in this town that he learnt Sanskrit and Malayalam from native scholars, including Oorachery Gurunathanmar, the five scholar-brothers who lived near Thalassery. Dr. Gundert travelled every nook and cranny of the town and nearby areas noting down the Malayalam nomenclature of the things he came across for his lexicon.

Dr. Gundert was born at Stuttgart in Germany on February 4, 1814. He was educated at the grammar school there and the Maulbronne seminary later. Subsequently, he studied Protestant theology and philosophy at the Tubingen University. In 1836, he left Germany for India to work as a private tutor. He travelled extensively in the erstwhile Madras province with an unquenchable passion for learning the languages and cultures of the people.

It was after his marriage to Julie Debois from Switzerland that Gundert joined the Basel Mission in 1838. On an invitation from the Basel Mission to take over the mission establishment at Thalssery, Dr. Gundert moved to the bungalow in 1839. In 1859, poor health forced Dr. Gundert to return to Germany where he managed the Calw Publishing House till his death in 1893. He could not fulfil his desire to publish an improved version of the dictionary, which was published in 1872.

It was no coincidence that Thalassery was chosen to launch the start of the International Hermann Hesse year in 2001. Hesse was Dr. Gundert's grandson.

MOHAMED NAZEER

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