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Lost manuscript of Hanxleden's Sanskrit grammar found in Italian monastery

Cliché 2010-06-14 10-24-45.jpgIn the last week of May 2010, the manuscript Grammatica Grandonica by the Jesuit Johann Ernst Hanxleden was retraced in the area around Rome. The Belgian scholar Toon Van Hal, Center for the History of Linguistics, K.U.Leuven (former post-doctoral Fellow of the Humboldt Foundation, University of Potsdam, and post-graduate in Indology from the Oriental Institute, Louvain-la-Neuve), succeeded in tracking the lost manuscript to the Convento di San Silvestro, a Carmelite monastery in Montecompatri (Italy, Lazio - see view therefrom infra).

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The manuscript was lost for several decades. Grammatica Grandonica is one of the earliest missionary grammars of the Sanskrit language and it bore a considerable influence on the emergence of the first Sanskrit grammar ever printed in Europe, viz. Sidharubam (1790) by the Carmelite Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo (1748-1806). For the latter scholar had taken with him back from India/Kerala (where he himself lived in the years 1776-89) several of Hanxleden's manuscripts, that he described (cf. his 1799 letter) and used for his own Indological pioneering works.

A popular missionary in Kerala

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Johann Ernst Hanxleden was born in 1681 near Osnabrück (Germany). From 1701 onwards until his death in 1732, he worked as a Jesuit missionary in the region of Trichur (central Kerala - see hereby the view of Hanxleden's house in Velur, Thrissur Distr., become a protected monument in 1995). Hanxleden gained a high-level command of Malayalam, the vernacular language, as well as of Sanskrit, in which he was teached by two local Nambudiri brahmins. This enabled him to write a Sanskrit grammar, in addition to his several other philological and poetical achievements both in Malayalam and Sanskrit. Although none of his works have been published during his lifetime, Hanxleden is still famous in Kerala under his nickname of 'Arnos Padiri' ('Father Ernst'). See :

A first report on the rediscovery of Hanxleden's grammar has been presented by Dr Toon Van Hal during a workshop (June 4, 2010) organised at the Oriental Institute of Louvain-la-Neuve by Prof. Christophe Vielle (with the financial support of the Belgian National Fund for scientific research) and to which also participated the Luxemburg scholar Jean-Claude Muller, who had started to inquire about Hanxleden's manuscript more than twenty years ago (cf. his report in BEI 3, 1985:123-144). Further joint-investigations should cast new lights on the precise relationships between the grammars of Hanxleden and Paulinus, as well as on their indigenous (Sanskrit grammatical) common source and South-Indian peculiar features (in contrastive comparison with the Sanskrit grammars composed in North India by the Jesuit fathers Heinrich Roth, in 1660-62, and Jean-François Pons, 1688-1752).

[Photographs nos 1-2 by T. Van Hal, no.3 by the Department of Archaeology, Government of Kerala]