Europeans’ Service to Kannada

In the history of the revival of Kannada literature, a few Europeans are among those who ought to be remembered with reverence. Antique jewels of (Kannada) literature were initially brought to light by these venerable Europeans. A few distinguished names among them are Reeve, Garrett, Kittel, Rice, Ziegler. Some of them came as here as Christian missionaries. A few others came as employees of the Government’s Education Department.

We shouldn’t denounce people who arrived here as Christian missionaries. They came because of a sense of devotion they had for their religion. The quality of Sva-mata-śraddhā (dedication to one’s own faith) is commendable in everyone. Isn’t it natural for Christians to have faith in Christianity like we have faith in our beliefs? Propagation of religious views is also one of the duties ordained for a practitioner of their religion. Reeve and others found their way here to discharge such sincere duties.

Reverend William Reeve was one such missionary and proponent of his faith. He published an English-Kannada dictionary in 1824.[1]

Basel Mission

Initially, missionaries came to India from a German city called Basel,[2] which is why this institution was called the Basel Mission. It seems like the members of this mission were great adventurers. They settled in the Mangalore region and set up quite a few manufacturing industries. In addition to establishing a printing press, they ventured into the manufacturing of roofing tiles. It is still a common practice to call these as  ‘Maṅgaḻūru heñcu’ (Mangalore Tiles).

The manufacturing facility for type-setting that the Basel Mission had set up in Mangalore was a large one. It grew famous because of its great deeds.

I’ve heard that they were the first ones to bring out the movable type of the Kannada alphabet.[3] But creating the first Kannada type-face isn’t their only specialty. They brought out letters in various fonts and sizes. Their letters appear elegant, clear, and tidy to the eye. We can realize this when we look at Kittel’s dictionary, which was printed ages ago.

Hariram Missar

It might sound surprising to the people of the current generation if I share this experience of mine. In 1906, a building to the north-western side of Bangalore’s City Market—which was a part of the market—housed a publishing house that belonged to Hariram Missar (Mishra). All publishing (and printing) work related to the formation of the Vokkaligara Saṅgha, such as printing of advertisements, publications, and notices etc., were handled by Missar’s press. Kannada, Telugu, Bālabandhu, and English – the press was functional with all four of these scripts. Small-sized typefaces were available in all the four languages. I’ll elaborate a bit on Kannada typeface. Missar was equipped with smallest of the typefaces during those days, including the ones that were of the order of what was known back then as the ‘Ruby type’ in English typeface. I once counted the number of lines that could be filled in a single card of those days. I remember it to be about fifty-six lines in one card. Reading it was difficult indeed, but those small fonts are essential for a few special purposes.

Four or five years from then, we—i.e.  Mysore Standard Srinivasa Iyengar and others—thought about coming up with an English-Kannada dictionary. The Ruby type was well-suited for a dictionary. I went in search of it. Missar’s publishing house was shut down by then. We were possessed by a crazy idea of getting a typeface made and I jostled for it in Madras for about six to eight months. But that’s a separate story.

I feel like bringing up another point while mentioning about Missar (Mishra). Mishra was a brāhmaṇa from Uttar Pradesh; a well-educated and courteous man. I distinctly remember seeing him. He spoke fluent Kannada. His children managed his publishing house for a while after his tenure. I remember that he was a Municipal Councillor for a brief period.

One of the prominent books among the ones printed and published in Mishra’s publishing house was the Kannada translation of Parāśara Mādhavīya. This was a voluminous book. I remember Ciñchoḻi Veṅkaṇṇācārya as the author of its Kannada version. It was published around 1882-83.

The typefaces used in Mishra’s press were manufactured by the Basel Mission.


Did Christian missionaries work on Kannada out of their reverence towards the language or was it out of reverence to Christianity? This seems like a meaningless question to me. Meaningless, as well as immaterial. Let’s presume that there was a combination of both these intentions. But there’s no place for even an iota of ambiguity in realizing who the beneficiaries of their actions were. Had they not started manufacturing typefaces (i.e. movable type) back then, the circulation of Kannada literature would have fallen behind by a large timeline. It’s quite clear that Kannadigas would have been at a loss had that been the case.

After the Basel Mission came the Wesleyan Mission Press. Typefaces of this press are beautiful and have gained their popularity for it.

It is only owing to circumstances that I brought up the topic of publishing houses and manufacture of typefaces. Our primary focus here is on literary works. Typefaces are auxiliary to it. They have enabled the publishing of books.

Reverend Ferdinand Kittel (1832–1903)

One of the most popular publications of the Basel Mission Press is Reverend F Kittel’s Kannada dictionary (1894). This work remains as a quality benchmark to this day. Inclusive of enigmatic usages found in Kannada mahākāvyas[4] in addition to citations of proverbs and aphorisms as examples, this dictionary has elucidated the nuances and rich vocabulary of Kannada. Any amount of appreciation offered to the linguistic reverence, scholarship, and diligence of Kittel – who set out to author such a herculean text seventy-eighty years ago after having equipped himself with all the necessary pre-requisites for it and eventually succeeded in creating such a marvellous classic – will turn out to be insufficient.

Kittel worked on other literary endeavours too. The honour of compiling a lot of ancient Kannada texts and preparing them for printing belongs to him. With great enthusiasm Prof. A R Krishna Shastri wrote an essay on Kittel and I distinctly remember him securing Kittel’s photo and unveiling an enlarged version of it. Notable among Kittel’s compilations are his collections of Śabdamaṇidarpaṇa of Keśirāja[5] and Chandhombudhi of Nāgavarma I[6]. Śabdamaṇidarpaṇa, a text on Kannada grammar, has been re-published. I haven’t heard about Chandhombudhi being re-published.

Kittel authored a grammar book in Kannada. He also published a collection of poems called Karṇāṭaka Kāvyamale (3rd Edition, 1874).

Germany’s well-known Tübingen University showed its appreciation to Kittel through an honorary doctorate that it conferred upon him in 1896.

Garrett, Ziegler

A person named J. Garrett also did a great deal of work. He brought out an English-Kannada dictionary even before 1868. Some of the prominent works that he edited were Śabdamaṇidarpaṇa (1868), stories of the Pañcatantra and Vāgvidhāyini. I remember him also as an author of a book on the history of the Hindu Nation.

An individual named Reverend F Ziegler authored an English-Kannada dictionary (1876) and also a Kannada-English school dictionary. His work on Kannada grammar (2nd Edition, 1862) has earned high repute.

Lewis Rice (1837-1927)

Benjamin Lewis Rice’s name is quite popular. He was the one who revised and published all the inscriptions of the Mysore state. These inscriptions are prevalent by the name of Epigraphica Carnatica[7] in twelve mammoth volumes. As a part of accruing inscriptions, Rice seems to have visited and inspected each village in the Mysore State. He was supported by R Narasimhacharya in this endeavour. A person by name of Dakshinamurti Shastri (or something similar) preceded Narasimhacharya as the primary scholar in the epigraphy department. Rice’s accomplishment was indeed made possible with the help of Hindu scholars. Even so, the help rendered by our scholars was limited to the realm of meanings and translations of the words. Rice didn’t lack the least bit of scholarship.

Rice revised and published several traditional works of śāstra like ‘Karṇāṭaka Bhāṣābhūṣaṇa (1884), Śabdānuśāsana, etc. He was the first one to publish the Kavirājamārga of Nṛpatuṅga[8]. He was supported by K B Pathak in this venture.

Another immensely helpful work of Rice is an English treatise called Mysore Gazetteer. The history of the Karnataka state, its geography, census, description of castes and sub-castes, religious sects and traditional practices, languages, and literature – none of these facets of the life of the people was left unnoticed by Rice. Further, he has shared all this information in a lucid, scholarly, and a concise manner. His style of English is beautiful.

Rice also published a collection of Kannada poems called Prākkāvyamālike. It remains a valuable volume to this day. But copies of it are unavailable. I feel that it is perhaps with Prākkāvyamālike as a reference that S G Narasimhacharya authored his Padyasāra. Examples from a lot of layers of Kannada poetry can be seen in Prākkāvyamālike. Moral poetry, depictions, prose; dvipadi, tripadi, caupadi, ṣaṭpadi, dāsara padas, kanda-padya, vṛttas – examples of all such forms of poetry have been selectively published in it.

Another feature of this work is that towards the end of the volume, it has cited examples of poetry composed by Christian missionaries. They are of a particular pattern:

ಏಳಿರೀ, ಕೇಳಿರೀ
ಸ್ತೋತ್ರಕ್ಕೇ , ಪಾತ್ರಕ್ಕೇ
[Arise, Listen
To chant, To act]

They were of this sort. It can be called Anglicized Kannada. No one should laugh at this. It was an effort by people who weren’t native Kannadigas to transplant the sentiments of English prayers (chants) into Kannada. Though it doesn’t blend well with the tradition and style of Kannada, it can be appreciated by considering it a good attempt.

An Incident

This situation reminds me of a story narrated by R Narasimhacharya. Christian missionaries had already translated the Bible from English to Kannada. They thought of revising it and set up a small committee for the purpose. This committee seems to have included Reverend Sade, Reverend Galliford and other European members, totalling to five and two Hindu scholars – Karibasava Shastri and Ayyashastri. This committee convened in a place like the Nilgiris or Nandi Hills for its work. Arrangements were made to reimburse the travel expenses incurred by the committee members. Narasimhacharya happened to meet with Karibasava Shastri after the conclusion of one such meeting and asked him, “How’s the work progressing?”

Shastri replied, “Conflicts often arise between us and the white people. They had translated one of the English sentences as ‘ಅವನು ಬುದ್ಹಿಯನ್ನು ಹೊಂದಿದ್ದಾನೆ’ (‘He possesses intelligence.’) When we said ‘This isn’t a common practice in Kannada,’ the chair of the committee said, ‘If so, raise your hand!’ Whites raised their hand; and our legs arose. This is how the work progresses, sir.”

This is an English translation of the second chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 3 – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Manjunath Hegde Balagar for his review. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.



[1] Reverend William Reeve (1794–1850) from the London Missionary Society prepared the first Kannada-English dictionary (as well as English-Kannada) called Carnāṭaka-English Dictionary in 1824.

[2] Basel is in today’s Switzerland. It lies on the border of Germany, France, and Switzerland.

[3] A common method of printing in the early days was letterpress printing, where multiple copies were produced by repeated direct impression of an inked, raised surface against sheets of paper. The ‘movable type’ (individual components of the typeface) was composed and locked into the bed (or chase) of the press; it was inked; and paper was pressed against it to transfer the ink from the type, thus creating an impression on the paper.

[4] Mahākāvya (lit. great poem, epic poetry) is a genre of Indian poetry, typically in classical Sanskrit literature. It is characterized by beautiful and elaborate descriptions of nature, love, war, and conflict of values. A typical example is Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṃśa.

[5] Thirteenth century poet and grammarian who was in the Hoysaḻa court.

[6] Tenth century Jaina poet who was patronized by the Gaṅgas.

[7] Epigraphia Carnatica is a series of books on the epigraphy of the Old Mysore region compiled by B L Rice, the Director of the Mysore Archaeological Department. Rice published the books in a set of twelve volumes between 1894 and 1905. Three additional volumes were subsequently published through the efforts of R Narasimhacharya, the successors of B L Rice, and Dr. M H Krishna.

[8] Amoghavarṣa Nṛpatuṅga I (800–78) was a poet, scholar, and an emperor of the Rāṣṭrakūṭas.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.


Kiran Prasad

Kiran is a mechanical engineer by qualification who's habituated to the routine of learning and unlearning. He has an abiding interest in Indian culture, art, and literature.