Bibliotheca Malabarica: Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg's Tamil Library. Edited and translated by WILL Sweetman with R. ILAKKUVAN. Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient, Collection Indologie 119. Pondi-cherry: INSTITUT FRANCAIS DE PONDICHERY and ECOLE FRANCAISE D'EXTREME-ORIENT, 2012. Pp. 153. 17 [euro].
Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg, Pietist Lutheran missionary educated at Halle and commissioned by the Danish king, arrived at the Danish enclave of Tranquebar (Tarangambadi), South India, in July of 1706, and shortly set about learning Tamil. His daily regimen was to begin the day, at seven, with an hour going over new words and phrases written down by his scribe from the previous day's study; then, till noon, reading works new to himself in the presence of an "old poet," a seventy-year-old schoolmaster, who explained them; from three to five in the afternoon, reading the works of individual authors; and after dark, from six thirty to eight, having read to him, "often a hundred times," works of authors whose style he admired and sought to imitate. Assiduously collecting Tamil manuscripts, two years later he had a substantial library and wrote an account in German of Tamil literature, the Bibliotheca Malabarica, and had written three short works in Tamil in addition to letters and sermons.
In this volume Will Sweetman translates and annotates the section of the Bibliotheca Malabarica that deals with Hindu and Iain works, 119 in all (other sections cover Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim works). It is a valuable contribution to the body of works on Tamil manuscripts and libraries, of which there remains so much more to know. He is modest about its contribution, as Ziegenbalg's library had no works of the Sangam period, and lacked many medieval works of central importance. It was far from representative. But every bit of knowledge about the availability of particular works at a particular time is a gain.
Ziegenbalg went on to write other works in German explaining Hinduism to Europeans, notably Malabarisches Heidenthum (1711) and Genealogia der malabarischen Gotter (1713), and, in Tamil, works of apologetics and a translation of the Bible, unfinished at his death in 1719, revised (and superseded) by the translation of Johannes Fabricius.
The prevailing European classification of religions at the time was Bible-centered and had four categories at varying distances from sacred scripture: Judaism...