The Hermann Gundert estate at Tübingen university library contains printed and lithographed books and pamphlets in Malayalam, Kannada, Tulu, Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and other languages, Indian manuscripts including several palm-leaf manuscripts, copies of texts and notebooks in various languages by Hermann Gundert and his missionary colleagues.

On this portal we have included all 19th century works in South Indian languages that are in the holdings of the University Library, even if they were not strictly speaking from the Gundert legacy. English and German material written by Gundert and his closest colleagues was also added.

Hermann Gundert

Hermann Gundert (1814 - 1893) studied theology in Tübingen, where he also learned Sanskrit and received his doctorate in 1835. In England he then acquired other Indian languages, namely Bengali, Telugu, Marathi and Urdu. In 1838, he went on behalf of the Basel Mission to Nettur, where Malayalam is spoken. He quickly adopted this language too. In the following 20 years he lived in Kerala and devoted himself intensively to researching the Malayalam language and script. It was he who wrote the first important grammar of Malayalam and a ground-breaking Malayalam-English dictionary which is still in use today. Among his pioneering achievements are the introduction of the crescent moon sign candrakala in Malayalam and the consistent use of the recently emerging orthographic distinction between a short and long "e" and "o".

As a missionary Hermann Gundert felt called to translate the Bible and other religious texts from the respective original into Malayalam, but he also did not stop at literary texts and so his legacy contains a wide range of different texts in Malayalam and Kannada.

For health reasons he had to leave India for good in 1859 and moved to Calw in the Black Forest, where he further developed his literary activities and completed his dictionary and other works.

The Legacy

The diversity of Hermann Gundert's interests is reflected in his legacy: The collection includes grammars, primers and religious texts. However, Gundert's literary interests and undertakings go far beyond this framework and it would be a gross underestimation of this scholar to reduce him to these two areas.

Hermann Gundert rather tried to understand an entire culture and to capture it in literature, and so his legacy contains famous works such as Indulēkha and Kundalatā, the first novels in Malayalam. In addition to the modern literary works of his time, he also collected old texts from the Sanskrit and Manipravalam tradition. There is, for example, the Sanskrit work Vajrasūcī, with a Malayalam commentary, or Nalacaritam Maṇipravāḷam, a largely unknown version of the well-known Nala story. The latter was newly published and commented as the second volume in the specially created series "The Herman Guṇṭarṭṭ Rekhālayaparampara / Hermann Gundert Archive Series” in cooperation with the Malayalam University in Tirur and based on the Tübingen edition.

Gundert has been particularly interested in the history of Kerala, because we find several versions of Kēraḷōlpatti, the text Kēraḷapaḻama (History of Malabar from A. D. 1498 - 1631) and Kēraḷanāṭakam (also newly edited as volume one of the Gundert Archive Series), which caused a sensation in Kerala due to unusual legends of the origin of the various castes and communities.

In the Kanarese region, bordering on the Malayalam language area (Kannada), Gundert's close confidant and collaborator Hermann Mögling worked alongside Gundert. In addition to grammatical and lexical works, he also collected and edited literary texts. The most important works of the Kannada tradition should have appeared in his 'Bibliothekca Carnatica'. The series was never completed, but the first five folio volumes contain important texts on the religious and intellectual history of South India, such as the Cannabasava Purāṇa, a hagiography by the poet and religious revolutionary Basava, or Karṇataka Bhārata, the extremely popular Kanarese adaptation of the Mahābhārata.

Interesting sources, not only for linguists, but also for religious and cultural historians, are the various dictionaries in the legacy, which are an excellent way to understand the shift in the understanding of certain terms. For example, the Kannada-Latin or Malayalam-Latin dictionaries were compiled by various institutions for the missions in the Mysore area.

Basel Mission

From 1838 to 1859, Hermann Gundert worked in South India for the Evangelische Missionsgesellschaft in Basel, or the 'Basel Mission' for short. At this point we would like to explicitly refer to the Database of the Basel Missions archives, which contains a large treasure of picture and archive material.

Documentary about Hermann Gundert

On January 5th, 2024, the film The German Step-Father of Malayalam Language | Hermann Gundert premiered in Thiruvananthapuram. This documentary focuses on the life and work of Hermann Gundert in Kerala.