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Kannada journalism was ushered in with the publication of Mangalore Samachara in 1843. And its date - 1st July - is rightly observed every year as ‘Journalism Day’ in Karnataka. However, only a few people in Karnataka know as to who started it. The Editor was Hermann Mogling, 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.
Let us begin with the Mangalore Samachara. Mogling 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 in India, etc. The local Mangalore news was given priority, while keeping the local populace informed about the new laws and regulations of the British Government. There were also the moral stories and songs of Purandaradasa, etc.
It was no hotch-potch attempt.
The response was good, prompting Mogling to think along the lines of getting it printed by letter-press at Bellary from its 15th issue, dated 1st May issue, under the title Karnataka Samachara. It would then accommodate more news items and a wider circulation. In those days there was absolutely no contact between the Mysore Kannadigas and those in North Karnataka. Mogling 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 Mogling’s credit was his collection of Kannada proverbs (more than 3,500) which was published in 1848. As with all Basel Missionaries, Mogling has not mentioned his name. However Rev. Gundert (a Malayalam scholar) in his biography of Mogling has given details of the field work done by Mogling in this regard. While on tour with his theology students, Mogling 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 Kannadiga.
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. Mogling 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.
But 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).
But where were the manuscripts, and where was the money to procure them and to publish? The person who came forward was one J Casamajor - a retired judge from Madras who had settled in Kaity near Nilgiris. The irony was that he did not understand a single letter of the Kannada language. He was impressed with the sincerity of purpose and the influential personality of Mogling.
A detailed correspondence took place between them in which Mogling outlined his plan of collecting the manuscripts. He says: “I should of course take care to purchase nothing but what would appear to me valuable.” (Letter dt. 17 July 1848).
To this Casamajor responded thus: “Agreed. Do you think a proper person could be employed with an access to go about the Canarese country and collect good manuscripts? Could such a person be found on a monthly salary?”
What a grandiose plan!
So the work, namely collection of manuscripts, and building up a library of ancient works started. After that, selection of good and valuable manuscripts for copying was on. Someone was required to copy 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 Mogling: “From next month, you will, instead of a 70 Rs. have 150 Rs. at your disposal as a running credit.” (Letter dt. 30 Jan. 1849).
Regarding acknowledgement, Casamajor almost warned Mogling 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 to me 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 Mogling'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 (Mogling's Alma Mater) that he be awarded an honorary doctorate, specially mentioning therein the above publication series. 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 brother Weigle (also a Basel Missionary) died suddenly in 1855, leaving behind his wife Pauline and four children. Mogling, a confirmed bachelor till the age of 45 married her. The trio Weigle-Pauline-Mogling were very close to each other. All three had gained proficiency in Kannada literary studies.
Mogling had collected as many as 476 Haridasa songs of which he published about 170, with the title Dasara Padagalu under the above-mentioned Bibliotheca Carnataca (1850). This happens to be the earliest collection of kirthanas and has historical importance.
Mogling 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 in the Bib. Carn. series, Lakshmisha’s Jaimini Bhaarata. Now he translated into German the first two chapters (in all 67 verses) of this classic in the same journal during 1870.
Mogling’s work in Kodagu district (1853-1858) was of a different nature. The conversion affair 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.
Mogling thought it worthwhile to publish the original Kannada version. But there is something strange in its orthography. The double consonant in Kannada, according to Mogling, 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 it be only one double consonant in a line. Mogling decided to accommodate them in the same line by improvising on the double consonant by breaking it into half consonants wherever necessary.
Mogling put this into action immediately by approaching the Education Department of the Madras Province and got it approved. So the whole of Raajendranaame (pages 169) was printed in the simplified orthography. But then this script reform had no effect on the common people.
Mogling'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 appealed to me 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...”
Mogling has composed about 20 poems (along with Weigle) in modern Kannada poetical form, as early as in 1848. In a sense he happens to be the initiator of modern poetry in Kannada.
Lastly there is one more significant work of Mogling done during his retirement days. When a proposal for a Kannada dictionary was mooted, it was Mogling who suggested the name of Kittel. And it was he through a long correspondence with some British officers who got the project moving.
Mogling can rightly be called the first modern Kannada writer and a pioneer at that.