The history of publishing and printing in Tamil is as interesting and rich as the language itself.
The first book dates back to October 20, 1578. On the eventful day, Portuguese missionary Henrique Henriques (also Anrique Anriquez) published ‘Thambiraan Vanakkam' with paper imported from China.
Tamil historian Pulavar S. Raju says the 10x14 cm book had 16 pages of 24 lines each and had the very Tamil font that was then used on palm leaves and stones.
The book was a translation of the Portuguese ‘Doctrina Christam,' authored by Francis Xavier. Mr. Raju says the book was published as a result of Father Henriques' efforts to have a prayer book in Tamil.
The book was printed in Kollam using a printing machine imported from Portugal in 1556. “This was the first book to be published in an Indian language,” he points out.
That was the age when Vijayanagar Empire King Sriranga Rayar the first (1578-1586), Mysore ruler Raja Woodayar (1578-1617), Madurai ruler Veerappa Nayakar (1572-1595) and Thanjavur's Achuthappa Nayakar (1572-1614) were still using copper plates and stones for disseminating information.
Prior to ‘Thambiraan Vanakkam,' a Tamil book was published, but in Portuguese script. Mr. Raju says the book, ‘Carthila e lingoa Tamul e Portugues,' was printed in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.
Father Henriques was born in 1520 in Vila Vicosa, Portugal. After his education at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, he arrived in India in 1546. The missionary was so fond of Tamil that he replaced ‘Amen' with ‘Om' while greeting people, says Mr. Raju.
He also authored ‘Christiani Vanakkam' (1579), ‘Confesenario' (1580) and ‘Adiyaar Varalaaru' (1586). He died on February 6, 1600 in Punnaikayal and was buried in Tuticorin.
Mr. Raju says much of the books published for long thereafter had to do with Christianity. The first Tamil book to be published in Tamil was Thirukkural in 1812, thanks to the efforts of the then Chennai Collector Francis White Ellis, who established the Chennai Kalvi Sangam.
It was only in 1835 that Indians were permitted to establish printing press.