Tranquebar: the history missing in our history books

We have all heard about the Europeans in India, right from the ancient times of Alexander The Great in 326 BC, to the modern times of the British monarch.

Looking through the history text books I used in school (DN Kundra, Part I & II, 1983 edition), a full section can be found devoted to the modern Europeans. Titled “The British Period”, it starts with Vasco-da-Gama who arrived in Calicut in 1498 from Portugal, and continues with the Dutch, British and French, and their East India Companies. So when anyone talks about the Danes in India, it would be a surprise, to even those who think they are well-read. The Danish travelers find no mention at all in our history books, and if you have heard about them, it is most likely by conversational chance! (Unless, of course, you are from Tranquebar.)

The first Danish settlement was established in 1620, after Danish Admiral Ove Gjedde’s (Gedde) fleet landed at Tranquebar (also referred to as Trankebar / T(h)aragambadi, in present Tamil Nadu). There were several other trading points, administered from Tranquebar, including Frederiksnagore (Serampore, in present West Bengal) and Frederiksøerne (Nicobar Islands). Mismanaged and fleeced by some of its own people, by 1845, the Danish East India Company was bankrupt and in dire straits, and it was forced to sell its territories to Britain. In 1868, with the sale of the Nicobar Islands, the Danish rule in India ended.

More information on Danish India can be found on Wikipedia here.

While the Portuguese, French and British finally left India after independence (1947), the Danes left about a century earlier. This may be one of the main reasons that our history books have forgotten them. However, a visit to Tranquebar, the small town on the Coramandel Coast, will establish that the contribution of the Danes in religion, education, language, literature, printing technology and other areas, surely influenced the course of Indian history.

Location of Tranquebar (Taragambadi) #

Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg, the German Protestant (Lutheran) missionary who came to Tranquebar on the orders of the Danish King Fredrick IV, is one of the most visible names in today’s Tranquebar. To his credit, among other things, is the first Tamil dictionary, the first girls school in India, the mid-day meal scheme, the first printing press in India, the first paper mill in India and a printing ink factory. When he translated the Bible into Tamil, he modified the Tamil alphabet font to make it printer-friendly.

Ziegenbalg Monument to commemorate the Ter-Centenary of his arrival in Tranquebar (1706-2006)
About Ziegenbalg (at the Zion Church, Tranquebar)
Ziegenbalg, the “First” to do many things in India

For those interested in history, there is lots to see and delve into at Tranquebar, that could take a couple of days. Fort Dansborg, built by Ove Gjedde in 1620, and its museum are major attractions. And for those who just want to sack out, there is scope to do that too. Bungalow on the Beach, the biggest bungalow in Tranquebar is now a hotel, run by Neemrana and offers comfortable heritage accommodation.

Fort Dansborg and Bungalow on the Beach (hotel)
Fort Dansborg as seen from Bungalow on the Beach

More on Tranquebar in future posts.
Pics taken May 18-19, 2014


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