Will Sweetman – The Bibliotheca Malabarica: an Eighteenth- Century Tamil Library


Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 14 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HD

Date: 10 December 2009

speaker_WillSweetmanWill Sweetman The Bibliotheca Malabarica: an Eighteenth- Century Tamil Library

In 1708 the German Protestant missionary, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, compiled a catalogue, called Bibliotheca Malabarica, of the library of Tamil manuscripts he had assembled during his first two years in India. The 183 entries include Muslim and Christian works but the great majority are Hindu and Jaina. His catalogue, which Kamil Zvelebil described as ‘a relatively complete account of Tamil literature’, includes many standard works of Tamil literature from Tolkappiyam to Apirami antati, as well as others which are harder to identify. As such it provides a fascinating snapshot of Tamil literary works in wide circulation on the eve of colonialism. A partial translation of the catalogue was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1967. This paper will survey Ziegenbalg’s Tamil library, including both works acquired after the compilation of the Bibliotheca Malabarica and significant gaps in his collection. It will briefly consider how Ziegenbalg acquired these manuscripts, and what became of his collection following his premature death. Finally the paper will examine Ziegenbalg’s use of Tamil works in his own writings on Hinduism. It will demonstrate that the structure of Ziegenbalg’s last work on Hinduism, the Genealogie der malabarischen Gotter (1713), is derived directly from a little-known Tamil text.

Will Sweetman is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Religion at the University of Otago in New Zealand. His research interests centre on interactions between the religions of Asia and the West in the modern period. He is currently engaged in a study of Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg’s works on Hinduism, in particular the Genealogie der malabarischen Gotter (1713). He is author of the book Mapping Hinduism: ‘Hinduism’ and the study of Indian Religions, 1600-1776 (2003) and several articles, including, most recently “Colonialism all the way down? Religion and the secular in early modern writing on south India”, in Religion and the Secular: Historical and Colonial Formations (2007) and “Heathenism, idolatry and rational monotheism among the Hindus: Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg’s Akkiyanam (1713) and other works addressed to Tamil Hindus”, in Halle and the Beginning of Protestant Christianity in India (2006).








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