THE THREE GERMANS WHO PIONEERED EDUCATION IN COORG
(By: C.P. Belliappa)
In 1836 twenty-five-year-old Rev Hermann Moegling (in picture on top), a German missionary from the Basel Mission, arrived in Mangalore. Christianity was already popular on the west coast of India. He set up the Basel Evangelical Mission Seminary, which became a hub of learning of not only religion but also Indian languages and culture. Moegling, a linguist, was fluent in English, Sanskrit and Persian, besides his native German. He started learning Kannada and soon became proficient in the language. The credit for starting the first newspaper in Kannada – Mangaluru Samachara – goes to Rev Moegling. The maiden issue of this newspaper was brought out on 1st July 1843. This eventful day is still being aptly celebrated as ‘Kannada Press Day’. Rev Moegling went on to translate several Kannada classics to German and vice versa. Basel Evangelical Mission Seminary started by him in Mangalore continues under the new name – Karnataka Theological College. Rev Moegling laid the foundation for Mangalore becoming a centre for education.
In 1852, Rev Moegling was preparing to leave for Germany for medical treatment when he had an unexpected visitor from Coorg – a man named Alamanda Somayya. The tall impressive looking man was dressed as a sanyasi. He requested Rev Moegling to accept him into the Christian fold. He offered his land in Coorg for construction of a church. Rev Moegling was quite taken up with Somayya’s resolve. Believing this to be a divine intervention, Rev Moegling cancelled his trip. He moved to Coorg in 1853 along with his wife, and adopted spiritual son Rev Anandarao Kaundinya. Alamanda Somayya was baptised on 6th January 1853 and was christened Stephanas Somayya. Dr. Moegling built a house and a modest church on Somayya’s land in Armeri village.
Lt. Col. Mark Cubbon was the Chief Commissioner of Coorg at the time, and he encouraged Rev Moegling to establish the first Protestant church and a school in Madikeri in 1855. Another notable personality in the field of education in Coorg was Rev Georg Richter (in picture on left), also from the Basel Mission in Germany. He was brought to Coorg by Rev Moegling in April 1856 and was given charge of running the school. Rev Richter spent most of his life in promoting education in Coorg and was the first principal of Central School in Madikeri, which was started in 1869. He later took charge as Inspector of Schools. His book – Gazetteer of Coorg – published in 1870 is a comprehensive recording of social, cultural, historical, and geographical aspects of Coorg. Rev Richter’s wife, Armella, taught needlework to Coorg girls.
The British administration granted 97 acres of land in Siddapur to Rev Moegling for him to establish a church, and to develop a Christian settlement with a coffee estate. The work on this ambitious project started in 1857. Even though Rev Moegling had his hands full with preaching the Gospel and opening the coffee plantation, he found time to author two books on Coorg. One in German, ‘Das Kurgland’, details his evangelical work in Coorg. The other, written in English, titled – ‘Coorg Memoirs’ – is one of the first in-depth study of history of Coorg.
Rev Anandarao Kaundinya ably assisted his mentor. The new settlement was named Anandapura or ‘city of happiness’. Rev Moegling found Coorg to be an ideal place to live and called it his second country. In 1860 Rev Moegling left for Germany to be with his ailing wife. He himself was in poor health. To his great disappointment, his illness did not permit him to return to Coorg. He died in 1881.
After Rev Moegling’s departure, the work at Anandapura continued under his disciple and another fellow German missionary: Rev Ferdinand Kittel (in picture above). An Indologist and a polyglot, Rev Kittel first came to India in 1853, and in time became a renowned scholar in Kannada. He too translated some of Kannada classics to German, and wrote several books and poems in Kannada. His most famous work is the first ever Kannada-English dictionary consisting of 70,000 words which he painstakingly compiled and published in 1894. He also wrote a book on Kannada grammar. He was a regular contributor to Mangaluru Samachara. His work took him to Mangalore and Dharwar as well. In recognition of his contribution to Kannada, an impressive statue of him stands prominently on M.G. Road, Bangalore. Further, a Kittel Science College, and a Kittel Arts College, have been established in Dharwar. There is talk of starting a university in Rev Kittel’s name. That would be a fitting tribute to this great champion of Kannada.
One of the major hurdles faced at the Anandapura settlement was malaria, which the Europeans referred to as the ‘Coorg Fever’. There were many deaths, and gradually this scourge affected the project adversely. Anandapura coffee estate was subsequently taken-over by British planters who had shifted to Coorg from Sri Lanka. The coffee estate grew in extent and is now a part of Tata Coffee Limited. It still retains the name: Anandapura Estate.
These three Germans were pioneers in promoting education in Coorg. However, their hope of making Kodavas embrace Christianity did not find favour beyond Somayya and his family.