Rev. Moegling’s Contributions to Kannada Journalism

Dr. K. Puttaraju*
D.S. Shivarudrappa**


The pages of history are always fascinating. The most silly things of yesteryears appear to become the finest records of today.

Records on any subject for that matter, reveal important things including the language, literature, culture, life style and behavioral attitudes of the people of the particular period.

The early history of Kannada journalism or modem Kannada literature goes with the names of a few European missionaries like Rev. Dr. Ferdinand Kittel, Rev. Herman Fredrik Moegling and Rev. W. Reeve, whose significant contributions and monumental works enriched both fields.

Though the missionaries had come to this land to spread the message of Christ, they crossed their boundary and took up interest in contributing something for the progress of society. In fact, their burning passion for knowledge and their zeal to know more about the people of India, their language, culture and literature forced them to involve themselves deeply in the day-to-day affairs of the natives.

After gaining supreme command over the language, they came out with lexicons, grammar books, newspapers, translations, and scholarly analyses on literature etc. They left no stone unturned to achieve this. Their total dedication for the cause brought them recognition and high regards.

The first ever Kannada newspaper, ‘Mangalura Samachara’, was published by a missionary Rev. H. F. Moegling in 1843 from Mangalore. In fact, his passion for Kannada was so strong that he worked day and night to master the language within a short period. It is on record that he used to get up at 3 am everyday and spend the whole day studying the language.

Rev. Moegling was a simple man. He preferred to live in a hut rather than the Basel Mission bungalow. He ate Indian food and walked barefoot. This simplicity helped him mix with the local people. He used to attend local festivals, Jathras, and Kolas. He published a collection of local proverbs and manuscripts of classics from Kannada literature. He translated some of the classics into German. Today one may laugh at ‘Mangalura Samachara’ for its appearance, printing, style and language, but a serious student of the evolution will surely understand the importance and significance of ‘Mangalura Samachara’ — it was published in a society where it was a fresh and new concept. ‘Mangalura Samachara’ was a fortnightly with four pages printed by the lithographic process. It was sold for ‘one duddu’ (the smallest denomination of that period) that included postage.

The paper was sold near Kotwalakatte in Mangalore and was available also at the English medium school of the Basel Mission. The paper had very little religious content apart from quotations from Sanskrit and the Bible. It published Dasara Padagalu (poems composed by poets of the Dasa Pantha), local news, government announcements, national and international news items and fiction. It reported the wars in China and Kabul and published local court judgements. The newspaper became popular and gained good readership. ?

The editor wrote in the first issue of the paper: “The people of this country have isolated themselves from activities of the rest of the world. They are not aware of the things of the world as they have closed all windows of their houses. If the paper provides an opportunity to them to know the news of the world, it will help them in keeping the windows of their houses open.” The paper had a good readership in the then Canara district as well as in many parts of the State. After one, the publisher decided in 1844 to shift the publication to Bellary where better printing facilities were available.

The editor wrote in the first issue of the paper: “The people of this country have isolated themselves from activities of the rest of the world. They are not aware of the things of the world as they have closed all windows of their houses. If the paper provides an opportunity to them to know the news of the  world, it will help them in keeping the windows of their houses open.” The paper had a good readership in the then Canara district as well as in many parts of the State. After one, the publisher decided in 1844 to shift the publication to Bellary where better printing facilities were available.

The editor expressed satisfaction over the readership, which was spread over Mangalore, Mysore, Tumkur, Shimoga, Hubli, Sirsi and Honnavara. In view of the expanding base, the editor changed its name to ‘Kannada Samachara’. It did not last long and publication was suspended in 1844 itself.

During his stay in India from 1836 to 1861, particularly in Mangalore and Coorg, Rev. Moegling had made a remarkable contribution in the field of education, printing, literature, and journalism. Among his works, the notable ones were ‘Jaimini Bharatha’ (1848), ‘Torave Ramayana’ (1849), one hundred songs from Dasa poets (1850), ‘Channabasavapurana’ (1858), ‘Basavapurana’ and ‘Kumaravyasa Bharatha’. He translated many parts of ‘Jaimini Bharatha’ into German.

Background of the study

The year 2013 is being celebrated as the 170th year of Kannada journalism by the Karnataka Press Academy. The celebrations, which will be held in all the districts of the State, began at Mangalore, the birth place of the first Kannada journal, on January 28. This is indeed the occasion to recall the history of Kannada journalism and to pay homage to the memory of people like Rev. Moegling who have enriched Kannada language and literature.

Kannada journalism was ushered in with the publication of Mangalore Samachara in 1843 on 1st July, which is rightly observed every year as ‘Journalism Day’ in Karnataka. However, only a few people in Karnataka know the history behind it. The paper’s Editor was Hermann Moegling, a German missionary from Basel.

Hermann came to Mangalore in AD 1836 and left for Germany in 1860 A.D. In the decades in between he was not only involved in missionary work, but also worked zealously for Kannada literature, something which was highlighted recently in a seminar organised by the Hampi Kannada University at the Karnataka Theological College, Mangalore.

Magalura Samachara and Karnataka Samachara

Let us begin with the ‘Mangalura Samachara’. Moegling started it with the sole purpose of giving news, because people around were ‘completely’ unaware of what was going on outside their limited circles. In its four pages published fortnightly, the news coverage even touched Afghanistan. Other aspects of news included wars waged by the East India Company with native States, population of India, etc. The local news from Mangalore was given priority, while keeping the local populace informed about the new laws and regulations of the British government. There were also moral stories and songs of Purandaradasa, etc.

The response was good, prompting Moegling to think along the lines of getting it printed by letter-press at Bellary from its 15th issue (dated 1st May) onwards, under the title Karnataka Samachara. It would then accommodate more news items and a wider circulation. In those days there was no contact between the Mysore Kannadigas and those in North Karnataka. Moegling was the first to conceive a Samagra Karnataka. He announced as such in his last issue. Unfortunately, ‘Karnataka Samachara’ did not survive longer than three issues.

Another first to Moegling’s credit was his collection of Kannada proverbs (more than 3,500) which was published in 1848. As with all Basel Missionaries, Moegling has not mentioned his name. However Rev. Gundert (a Malayalam scholar) in his biography of Moegling has given details of the field work done by Moegling in this regard. While on tour with his theology students, Moegling would ask them to collect information from the common folk and report to him. His basic interest in this regard was to understand the mind of the Kannadigas.

As for conversion to Christianity which was his avowed assignment, he continued with the job as late as 1843. In this context, a convert Anandaraya Kaundinya and his family members had exchanged some letters. Moegling published them under the title Iraaru Patragalu (Twelve Letters). This publication of letters was a literary phenomenon as can be seen from the numerous publications of letters from eminent persons like A N Murthyrao, M Govinda Pai, etc. The collection of letters has turned out to be the first in Kannada literature.

Bibliotheca Carnataca

His solid contribution to Kannada literature came with the editing and publishing of ancient classics under the series Bibliotheca Carnataca during the period 1848-1853. (B.L. Rice, noted epigraphist also brought out a similar series but much later).

So the work, namely collection of manuscripts and building up a library of ancient works started. Then came the selection of good and valuable manuscripts for copying on paper in a neat and legible handwriting. Next came the search for stone slabs. Casamajor made enquiries and found out that they were cheaper abroad than in Karnataka. And the lithe-writing in a reverse way! It was a highly skilled job requiring minute attention. In the correspondence cited above, the size of the pages, spaces to be left at intervals and even the size of hand-lettering were discussed.

Casamajor voluntarily bore all the expenses. In a later correspondence, he writes to Moegling: “From next month you will have Rs 150 instead of Rs 70 at your disposal as a running credit.” (Letter dt. 30 Jan. 1849).

Regarding acknowledgement, Casamajor almost warned Moegling in this regard: “There must be no mention of my name in that title page, or indeed in any part of the binding. Let the title be Bibliotheca Carnataca, a collection of the best Canarese writings or something of this sort.” (Letter dt. 11 Aug. 1848). It is still a puzzle that these two gentlemen took such an unusual interest in Kannada literary works and their publishing. Finally, eight works were brought out of which Raavana Digvijaya – a Yakshagana Prasanga had the privilege of being the first one, Kanakadasa’s Haribhakthisara the smallest one and Basava Purana being the largest, containing as many as 760 pages.

But then the whole scheme came to a grinding halt because of the sudden demise of Casamajor, and Moegling’s departure to Kodagu.

Nevertheless, the Bibliotheca Carnataca created a rebounding impression in Germany. R Roth, a reputed Indologist in Germany, recommended to the University of Tuebingen (Moegling’s Alma Mater) that he be awarded an honorary doctorate, specially mentioning therein the above series of publications. The degree was awarded in 1858. This is surely the first doctorate for Kannada work awarded by a foreign university to a non-Kannadiga!

Meanwhile, his cousin Weigle (also a Basel Missionary) died suddenly in 1855, leaving behind his wife Pauline and four children. Moegling, a confirmed bachelor till the age of 45, married her. The trio of Weigle-Pauline-Moegling was very close to each other. All three had gained proficiency in Kannada literary studies.

Moegling had collected as many as 476 Haridasa songs of which he published about 170, titled Dasara Padagalu, under the above-mentioned Bibliotheca Carnataca (1850). This happens to be the earliest collection of Kirthanas and has historical importance.

Moegling went a step further. After his return to Germany in 1860 he translated into German some 24 songs, mainly of Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa. These were published in the Z.D.M.G., an Oriental Society magazine in Germany.

Earlier, he had published as part of the Bib. Carn. series, Lakshmisha’s Jaimini Bhaarata. In 1870, he translated into German the first two chapters (in all 67 verses) of this classic in the same journal.

Adopted Country

Moegling’s conversion job in Kodagu district (1853-1858) took much of his time and energy. However, he immensely liked the region, so much so that he called it as his ‘adopted country’.

However, his academic work in Kodagu took a different turn. He came out with three publications, one each in Kannada, English and German. The German book Das Kurgland mainly deals with his Christian activities. The Kannada book Raajendranaame was written by someone at the behest of the Senior Virarajendra and was translated into English by a British official in A.D. 1809.

Moegling thought it worthwhile to publish the original Kannada version. But there is something strange in its orthography. The double consonant in Kannada, according to Moegling, has two inconveniences. One, it is difficult for children learning the script. Two, while printing, a blank space between the two lines has to be invariably provided to accommodate the double consonant. This is true even if there is to be only one double consonant in a line. Moegling decided to accommodate them in the same line by improvising on the double consonant by breaking it into half consonants wherever necessary.

Moegling put this into action immediately by approaching the Education Department of the Madras Province and got it approved. So the whole of Raajendranaame (169 pages) was printed in the simplified orthography. But then this script reform had no effect on the common people.

Moegling’s publication Coorg Memoirs (1855) is unique in several ways. First, it is written on modern historical principles. And it happens to be the second history book on Karnataka (the earlier one is by Wilks). He claims he has not accepted any event without verifying the same. He has also described the social life of Kodavas, including the marriage ceremony and some festivities in great details.

What appeals most is the poetical tinge evinced here and there, for instance, his description of the advent of rainy season, heralded by the fire-flies.

“These beautiful insects have their periods of nocturnal arrival all over India….. The sun has set unobserved. The western sky is overhung with clouds. And in the endless East, the full moon rises slowly. The air perfectly pellucid; the stars glittering in fresh glory; not a breath of wind; all still. You turn from the blood red orb of the rising moon to the host of golden stars on the deep azure, from them to the retreating clouds, lit up here and thereby faint lightning, thereby the pale beams of the moon, their bold edges fringed with silver…”

Moegling composed about 20 poems (along with Weigle) in modern Kannada poetical form, as early as 1848. In a sense he happens to be the initiator of modern poetry in Kannada.

Lastly, there is one more significant work of Moegling done during his retirement days. When a proposal for a Kannada dictionary was mooted, it was Moegling who suggested the name of Kittel. And it was he who through a long correspondence with some British officers got the project moving. Moegling can rightly be called the first modern Kannada writer, a pioneer.


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1 thought on “Rev. Moegling’s Contributions to Kannada Journalism

  1. Dr A B Sai Prasad December 4, 2021 — 12:45 pm

    Very useful authentic information.


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