The »Medicus Malabaricus« of 1712

Medicine and mission in a global context

A well-preserved coloured drawing from Medicus Malabaricus shows Indian deities in a circle on coloured (red, yellow and green) triangular surfaces.

The manuscript preserved in the archives of the Francke Foundations is an outstanding source from the first half of the 18th century in the history of medicine, pharmacy and missions. Its indexing and editing is to be carried out within the framework of a project coordinated by the Research Centre together with the Centre for Science Studies of the Leopoldina – National Academy of Sciences and an international and interdisciplinary team of scientists.

The missionary Johann Ernst Gründler (1677–1720), who was active in Tharangambadi in southern India as part of the Danish-Halle Mission, collected, translated and compiled medical and pharmaceutical knowledge from various text sources in collaboration with an Indian scribe and a local Brahmin. The resulting manuscript bears the title »Medicus Malabaricus« and is dated 1712. The manuscript comprises 186 written pages, of which 33 pages are a preface and 19 pages a dictionary. The main part of 132 pages collects knowledge on diseases (causes, diagnoses, treatment strategies) and medicines (composition, application) in two sections.

The manuscript was sent by Gründler to Europe, more precisely to Halle, to the Glauchaschen Anstalten associated with the Danish-Halle Mission. The manuscript is of outstanding importance for the preservation of India's autochthonous cultural heritage in the history of medicine as well as for the transfer of knowledge between Southeast Asia and Europe and represents a unique source of medical history.

A project is currently being set up at the Research Centre that will be dedicated to the interdisciplinary indexing, editing and further research of the »Medicus Malabaricus«. To this end, a workshop was held in September 2021 in cooperation with the Leopoldina's Centre for the Study of Science, at which international researchers from various disciplines compiled and discussed the first fundamental aspects of the source. In April 2022, Holger Zaunstöck presented the current state of research on the source and project planning in his lecture »The Medicus Malabaricus of 1712 – Reflections and perspectives on a digital, annotated and interdisciplinary contextualised edition« at the research colloquium of the Leopoldina's Centre for the Study of Science. The focus was on the practices of knowledge generation during the creation of the manuscript.

In the »Digitalen Sammlungen« of the Francke Foundations under »Handschriften/Autographen«, a digital copy of the »Medicus Malabaricus« and further information on the source  are accessable.