Rev. Dr. HERMANN GUNDERT
[Death : 25 - 04 - 1893]
Rev. Dr. Hermann Gundert (Stuttgart, 4 February 1814 – 25 April 1893 in Calw, Germany) was a German missionary, scholar, and linguist, as well as the grandfather of German novelist and Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse. Gundert compiled a Malayalam grammar book, Malayalabhaasha Vyakaranam (1859), the first Malayalam-English dictionary (1872), and contributed to work on Bible translations into Malayalam. He worked primarily at Tellicherry on the Malabar coast, in Kerala, India. Gundert also contributed to the fields of history, geography and astronomy.
ChildhoodThough as a child Gundert was obstinate and presumptuous, his personality is said to have changed after his sister's death when he was about 13. In 1831 he obtained a doctoral degree in philology from Tübingen. and then a Doctor of Philosophy from Switzerland.
Trip to IndiaHe left Germany at the age of 22 for missionary work in Calcutta (Kolkata) India. While travelling in the ship he mastered Bengali, Hindustani and Telugu. Instead of Calcutta he reached Madras (Chennai) in 1836. There he learned Tamil. He worked in Chittor and Tirunelveli. While he was there he published a book in Tamil. Then he joined the Basel Mission and went to Mangalore for missionary work. But on his way to Mangalore he passed through Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) and had an audience with His Highness Sree Swathi Thirunal Maharaja, the ruler of Travancore. Most probably it was here he heard Malayalam for the first time.
In KeralaIn 1838 he reached Mangalore but by April 1839 he moved to Illikunnu near Thalassery. At first when he moved to Illikunnu he was interested only in spreading the Gospel among others. Then he was a school inspector for two years in Malayalam-Karnataka region. At Illikunnu he lived for 20 years. While he was there, Malayalam language was taught by Ooracheri Gurukkanmar from Chokli, a village near Thalassery. He helped him to write the first Malayalam Dictionary.
MarriageIn 1839, the year in which he moved to Thalassery, he married Eulia de Bova, whom he had known for many years.
Scholarly workAt first when he moved to Illikunnu near Thalassery, he was interested in spreading the Gospel among others. During this period he published around thirteen books in Malayalam including a translation of the Bible, Old Testament from Hebrew and New Testament from Greek. The archives of information he collected from Tellicherry are kept in the Tuniberg University, Germany and were collected and compiled by the scholar Dr Skaria Zacharia as Thalassery Rekhakal. In Kerala, he took a deep interest in the local culture and the Malayalam language, attempting a systematic grammar of the language. This was one of the prominent non-Sanskrit-based approaches to Indic grammar. Gundert considered Malayalam to have diverged from Proto-Tamil–Malayalam, or Proto-Dravidian. Apart from the early inscriptions found on copper and stone, Gundert traced Malayalam to the Rama Charitam, a poem predating the Sanskrit alphabet. Gundert is held in high regard to this day among linguistic experts in Kerala for the high scholastic aptitude exhibited in his work. His dictionary has been described as "monumental" in a review of the work on Dravidian languages.
Last daysHe spent his working years at Calw. During this time he published in German four publications including a children’s newspaper. In 1855 his wife had died. Even before that his son Samuel Gundert died. Suffering from dropsy, Dr. Gundert was bed ridden by 1890, and on April 25, 1893, he died. Though Gundert came to Kerala as a missionary, he is remembered today mainly for his literary contributions. In the city of Thalassery (Tellicherry), he has been honored with a statue. The bungalow in which he used to live is now the home of the Nettur Technical Training Foundation (NTTF).
Source: Rev. Dr. Hermann Gundert