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Early Life and Education
Mathan was born in the village of Kidangannoor, Kerala, India, into an aristocratic family of Tharakans, a noble family in the Kingdom of Travancore. From childhood he showed great aptitude for learning and since Mathan’s father had died at a very early age, his uncle Rev. Kurian Kathanar took charge of his education. Inspired by Kurian Kathanar, he became a Kathanar (Deacon) in the Jacobite church. Thereafter he received an offer from Anglican missionaries for further education at the newly opened Madras University in the then principality of Madras. He accepted the offer and after graduation became an Anglican priest. He was the first ordained native priest of the Anglican church in South India.
Mathan first started his ministry in the Mallapally area of Kerala and became known as “Mallapallil Achen,” meaning father of Mallapally. He was instrumental in converting the first lower-caste family (headed by a man named Habel) to Christianity in Mallapally. This day is celebrated even today in Kerala as Habel’s Day. This family’s conversion into Anglican Christianity encouraged the conversion of a large number of lower-caste people into the faith.
Rev. Mathan was also a contemporary of Hermann Gundert, a German priest, who wrote the first dictionary in Malayalam. Hermann Gundert is grandfather of Nobel-prize winning writer Hermann Hesse, author of novels such as Siddhartha (novel). Historically, he is also a contemporary of great writers like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. Rev. Mathan has been honoured by the Kerala Sahitya Akademi (the central body of Malayalam literature) by being included in the list of prominent Malayalam literary figures on their website. A short history of his literary oeuvres can be found here and his life history can be found here in the Kerala Sahitya Akademi website.
While ministering to the people, a full-time job, Mathan found time to write erudite treatises on grammar and local culture. He wrote the first book of Malayalam grammar called "Malayazhmayude Vyakaranam," which was published in 1863. This grammar book was acknowledged and recommended by the then government as the most authoritative volume on grammar of the Malayalam language. His other books, sort of longish essays, include, "Satyavadakhedam," "Vedasamyukthi," and "Balabhyasam."
Rev. Mathan was also a keen educationist. He helped collect funds to build the Cambridge Nicholson Institute (CNI) and oversaw the construction of its building and facilities. Later on, he became the principal of the CNI, which was instrumental in spreading English-medium education throughout the state of Kerala.
The Malayalam poet and littérateur Mahakavi Ulloor Parameshwaran Iyer (who is considered Kerala's (Malayalam’s) finest poets along with Kumaran Asan, and Vallathol) stated "All in all, George Mathan built a permanent framework for Malayalam literature and thus made all Malayalis (people of Kerala) indebted to him, this fact is beyond dispute."
Death and Memorials
Rev. George Mathan died on March 4, 1870. His immortal body is buried at St. Thomas CSI church Thalavady.The George Mathan Memorial Hospital in Mallapalli was dedicated to his memory and offers medical services to the people in that region. A memorial lecture at Bishop Moor's College is also dedicated to his memory.