Posted on: 17 December 2013

Digital Rare Book:
Hortus Indicus Malabaricus
By Hendrik van Rheede
Published by Johann van Someren, Amsterdam: 1678-1693
In Latin

Hortus Malabaricus (meaning "Garden of Malabar") is a comprehensive treatise that deals with the medicinal properties of the flora in the Indian state of Kerala. Originally written in Latin, it was compiled over a period of nearly 30 years and published from Amsterdam during 1678-1693.[1] The book was conceived by Hendrik van Rheede, who was the Governor of Dutch Malabar at the time. The book has been translated into English and Malayalam by Dr. K. S. Manilal.

Van Rheede is said to have taken a keen personal interest in the compilation of the Hortus Malabaricus. The work was edited by a team of nearly a hundred including physicians [such as Ranga Bhat, Vinayaka Pandit, Appu Bhat and Itti Achuden ] professors of medicine and botany, amateur botanists (such as Arnold Seyn, Theodore Jansson of Almeloveen, Paul Hermann, Johannes Munnicks, Joannes Commelinus, Abraham a Poot), and technicians, illustrators and engravers, together with the collaboration of company officials, clergymen (D. John Caesarius and the Discalced Carmelite Mathaeus of St. Joseph’s Monastery at Varapuzha). Van Rheede was also assisted by the King of Cochin and the ruling Zamorin of Calicut. Prominent among the Indian contributors were three Gouda Saraswat Brahmins (physicians) named Ranga Bhat, Vinayaka Pandit,Appu Bhat and Malayali physician, Itti Achuden,[4]who was a Thiyya Vaidyan (ayrvedic doctor) of the Mouton Coast of Malabar. The ethnomedical original information in the work was provided by these three working on it for two continuous years morning and evening as certified by them. Their certificate to this effect is given in the first volume of the book.

The comprehensive nature of the book is noted by Whitehouse in his Historical Notices of Cochin:
All the country around was diligently searched by the natives best acquainted with the habitats of plants; and fresh specimens were brought to Cochin where the Carmelite Mathaeus sketched them, with such striking accuracy, that there was no difficulty in identifying each particular species when you see his drawings. Names of each species is written in Malayalam as well as Konkani (Then known as Brahmananchi Bhas) A description of each plant was written in Malayalam and thence translated into Portuguese, by a resident at Cochin, named Emmanuel Carneiro. The Secretary to Government, Herman Van Douep, further translated it into Latin, that the learned in all the countries of Europe might have access to it. The whole seems then to have passed under the supervision of another learned individual named Casearius, who was probably a Dutch Chaplain and a personal friend of Van Rheede. A book of its size, on which such care was expended, must have consumed a fortune before its publication, and confers honour, both on those who compiled it and the place where it was compiled.

The Hortus Malabaricus comprises 12 volumes of about 200 pages each, with 794 copper plate engravings. The first of the 12 volumes that comprise the book was published in 1678, and the last in 1703. It is believed to be the earliest comprehensive printed work on the flora of Asia and the tropics.[5] Mentioned in these volumes are plants of the Malabar region which in his time referred to the stretch along the Western Ghats from Goa to Kanyakumari. The book gives a detailed account of the flora of Kerala, along with sketches and detailed descriptions. Over 742 different plants and their indigenous science are considered in the book. The book also employs a system of classification based on the traditions adopted by the pre-ayurvedic practitioners of that era. Apart from Latin, the plant names have been recorded in other languages viz. Konkani, Arabic and Malayalam.

Several species of plants have their type illustrations in this work

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I would like to source some books,and info about the origins and practice of Kalaripayattu. I have already read most of the commonly available texts, so any direction from the society to explore lesser known documents would be appreciated.

Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede, born in 1637 in the castle Draakesteyn, near De Vuursche, a village in the province of Utrecht, became the colonial governor of Malabar, on the south-west coast of India, and from 1684 the head of the Dutch East Indies Company in India. He was an enthusiastic botanist and investigator of the Indian sub-tropical flora, and was interested in the medical and traditional uses of the plants he encountered. He had as collaborator Johannes Caesarius, a missionary in Indochina, who edited the first two volumes, but died before their appearance in print. After his death the editorship was taken over by Arnold Seyn (1640-1678), the director of the Leiden Botanical Garden, and by Jan Commelin (1629-1692). Commelin’s connection with Rheede and other patrons in the East Indies Company made the Amsterdam Botanical Garden, of which Commelin was director, the richest in Europe at the time. In Philosophical transactions for 1698 there is a note by James Petiver saying that the Dutch physician at Batavia, Willem ten Rhyne, who had served as resident physician at Deshima in Nagasaki Bay, Japan, also worked for Rheede in collecting and describing plants. As soon as enough material for a volume had been assembled Rheede sent it home to Holland, where botanists such as Commelin and others added notes and saw it through the press.Rheede writes that several artists contributed drawings, but much of the credit he gives to Pietro Foglia, or Father Matthias, a Neapolitan Discalced Carmelite, ca 1617-1691, who both drew and engraved many plates. The engraver Bastian Stoopendael (1636-1707) signed the first plate, which was drawn by Antony Jakob Goedkint. Rheede compiled the work also with the help of other missionaries, native doctors, native princes, and most probably native draughtsmen. ‘It is quite clear from the nature of these engravings that most of them were taken from drawings by Indian artists in Malabar. They show all the decorative qualities found in the drawings done for the British by Indian artists a century later, and even the details of techniques are similar. In particular, the tendency for them to spring straight out of the edge of the paper and to slant diagonally across it are very characteristic.’ (Hulton and Smith, Flowers in art from East and West).Each plate has the name of the plant in ‘Latin’ (in fact a transcription of the native name), Malayalam, Arabic, and Sanskrit. The plates depict both wild and cultivated plants, and many now familiar tropical fruits and spices. Several plates are devoted to ‘Tenga’, the coconut palm, the most important economic plant of Malabar. There are also the first illustrations of a large number of orchids

Hortus Malabaricus has been republished by Kerala University, a stupendous effort by Dr K.S.Manilal. Search the university website.

Malayalam version of Hortus Malabaricus The Hindu Thiruvananthapuram: The University of Kerala is bringing out a Malayalam version of Hortus Malabaricus, 325-year-old Latin treatise on the plant wealth of Asia and the tropics, with special reference to the Malabar coast. The Malayalam issue will be published in 12 volumes spanning 350 pages. The printing work will be undertaken by St. Joseph's Press here. University Vice-Chancellor M.K. Ramachandran Nair on Thursday handed over the CD of the treatise to press manager Jacob Korakkal. The Department of Publications under the university plans to release the volumes next year. University sources said the translation of the treatise into Malayalam was complete and the editing work was on. The English translation of Hortus Malabaricus, which was brought out by the university earlier, contains modern nomenclature and botanical interpretations of the rich and varied plant wealth of the region. The palm leaf inscriptions of Itty Achuthan, a traditional physician who belonged to Alappuzha, formed the original matter for the Latin text. It is thanks to the Dutch that the palm leaves were recovered, more than three centuries ago. Some of the plants that find a mention in the book have since become extinct.