Johann Hanxleden, a great German priest, scholar in Sanskrit amd Malayalam languages!!

Johann Ernst
Johann Ernst Hanxleden (1681-1732), a German Jesuit came to India with a view to pursuing his missionary work. Here in India he mastered Malayalam and Sanskrit and  was equally famous as a lexicographer, and philologist. He was also one of a few pioneers in the area of printing. He is an immortal figure among the Kerala Christian communities of many denominations. 

“He wrote the first Malayalam elegy in Greek style. He was more of a cultural figure than a Christian missionary. He drew inspiration from Ezhuthachan and Poonthaanam. The style of writing in Puthen Pana is reminiscent of that in Jnanappana"......noted at the seminar, that was held in March 2012 in Thrissur as part of 280th death anniversary of Arnos Paathiri as Fr. Hanxleden was affectionately called locally. 

Born at Ostercappeln, near Osnabrück, in Lower Saxony, Germany in 1681. he took up philosophical studies in his native town, What motivated him  to choose India, his future base of work. Any way, Hanxleden  took a decision on his own  on accord for  service in India. Unlike other travellers to India, Hanxleden, along with like-minded Jesuits Wilhelm Weber and Wilhelm Meyer, and a doctor, Franz Kaspar Schillinger, began their overland journey on  30 October 1699. It was a tough and dangerous journey passing through many unfriendly territories ridden with  robbers and religious fanatics. Finally, he arrived in Surat (now in Gujarat) on 13 December 1700.

After gaining training in religious and spiritual studies (Novitiate) in Goa, Hanxleden was assigned to serve in  the Jesuit Seminary at Sampaloor in Thrissur District, Kerala, S. India.  Here. Hanxleden did his Theological studies, an important requirement to receive priesthood.  As the native tongue Malayalam happened to be  the liturgical language of the Thomas Christians of Kerala, the Syriac, Johann Hanxleden decided to learn that language. Since he was a polyglot and already knew Portuguese and Latin, he gained good command over Sanskrit, Tamil and most importantly Malayalam, which he learnt  from Pundits - two Nampoothiris from the Thrissur Sanskrit School. The natives liked him very much as he had close contact with them; he was known among them  as Arnos Paathiri. When he served as  secretary from 1707 to 1711 to  John Ribeiro,  the  Archbishop of Cranganore, Hanxleden,  traveled to many places in Kerala, preaching the Gospel.

At last Hanxleden settled at  Velur, a small village in Thrissur District in 1712 and  had a church built  there and  spent much of his life there. From 1729 onward he lived at Sampallor, and Palayoor where he died on 20 March 1732 (at Pazhuvil) of a snake-bite. He was buried in the church there. Later his mortal remains were transferred close to the Church, upon which, a memorial was built  There is a historical museum at St. Francis Church at Sampaloor - the name coined from 'san-paul-ur', means land of St. Paul. Formerly, the place was called Ambalakad.

St. Francis Xavier Forane Church

Hanxleden religious and poetic work:

01. Hanxleden  took the credit of being the first one to compile a Malayalam Dictionary. 

02. He also introduced a  lexicon, detailing  Malayalam words in both Sanskrit and Portuguese.

03. Hanxleden and his predecessor, Heinrich Roth did pioneering work in Sanskrit, one of six classical language in the world. 

04. Yet another achievement is Hanxleden  became the the first European  scholar to write a Sanskrit grammar - Grammatica grandonica, besides the first one to compose  Sanskrit verse. 

05. His  important contribution to Malayalam language was compilation of grammar in 'simple style'.

06.  Hanxleden is household name among the Kerala Christian communities and is quite well-known for his two poetic works: Puththenpaana and Chathuranthyam. The former is about the various aspects of Christ's life - a religious work and the latter one mystical in nature. 

07. Puththenpaana, a Malayalam narration of  the life of Christ composed during the period 1721–1732. It is believed to be written by the poet at the request of Antonio Pimental, Archbishop of Cranganore.   
This most well-known poetic work is believed to be one of the earliest ones written in simple Malayalam that can be understood even by a layperson.

08. Puththenpaana is well assimilated with the Kerala Christian community and the Paadhams (there  are 14 paadhams) are sung in a particular  fashion in Christian homes during important religious occasions like Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and other days of Holy Week.  Most of the couplets in the Paadhams written  in the Sarppini Vruththam are about Christ and the 12th Paadham (in Nathonnatha metre)  is the center piece of  this devotioal poetic exposition. The couplets bring out the underlying pathos and pangs of pain stoically suffered by  Virgin Mary at the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Other important Paadhams are about the Sermon on the Mount (seventh), Last Supper (tenth), the trial and Crucifixion (eleventh), the Resurrection (thirteenth), and the Ascension (fourteenth). 

 09. His other work, the  Chathuranthyam  is more a spiritual and mystical poetic expression than a religious one, covering the four phases of a man:
Maranam, Vidhi, Moksham and Narakam. They are sung mostly on religious occasions. It's recitation has become part of the Church tradition of Kerala.  

10. Besides Puthen Pana and Chathuranthyam, his other works include Malayala vyaakaranam, Samskrutham Portuguese Dictionary, Samskrutha vyaakaranam, Ave Maris Stella, Genevieva, Punyacharithram and Ummaadaey Dhukhkham.

 Every year, the  seminar is held on the Puthen Pana Christian devotional hymns  and the participants felt that unlike the  Hindu devotional songs that are of high quality, the Christian devotional hymns lack death and streaks of devotion  and if Puthen Puna is set to quality music by well-known music directors, its depth of devotion and sanctity will be fully understood.The spiritual experience emerging from such hymns will be heart-rending and exhilarating.