Hortus Malabaricus the first printed Malayalam book by Van Rheede / ഹോർത്തൂസ്‌ മലബാറിക്കസ്

Hortus Malabaricus the first printed Malayalam book by Van Rheede / ഹോർത്തൂസ്‌ മലബാറിക്കസ്

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. 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, 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 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. Mentioned in these volumes are plants of the Malabar region which in his time referred to the stretch along theWestern 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.