A weeklong celebration begins tomorrow to mark the arrival of a pioneer who laid the foundations for the printing industry in India.

PRINTING came to India serendipitously. In 1556, a Portuguese ship put into Goa for victualling. Aboard were 14 Jesuits bound for Abyssinia (today's Ethiopia) and a printing press. One of them, Joao de Bustamente, a Spaniard, was a printer. He was accompanied by an assistant of Indian origin.

The clergy in Goa felt their need for a printing press was greater than Abyssinia's and, so, requested the Governor-General to make the press available to them. The press was taken over and sent with Bustamente to the College of St. Paul, a seminary that still exists.

Early start

From Goa on the Konkan Coast to the Malabar Coast, then round the Cape of Comorin to the Fisheries Coast, printing in Latin, Portuguese, Tamil or Malabar and, to a lesser extent, Konkani, spread over the next hundred years.

Significantly, all the presses belonged to the Church or the Portuguese. None was set up by Indians and printing did not spread to the rest of the country. Then, as suddenly as it had started, printing died out in India. Tamil printing seems to have stopped after 1612. Records show that the last books in Latin and Portuguese were printed in Goa in 1674.

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Printing in India revived only in the early 18th Century. The beginnings were again serendipitous. In 1620, The Danish East India Company obtained from the Rajah of Tanjore the grant of a 25-square mile coastal territory called Tarangambadi, which the Danes called Tranquebar.

It was here that modern printing was revived - to spread throughout India. It was here too that the foundations were laid for the Protestant missionaries' contribution to education in India.

The Danish merchants in Tranquebar wanted no Danish priests in their territories. However, King Frederick IV's chaplain insisted there should be a Lutheran presence in Danish settlements. As a compromise, King Frederick invited the Pietists from Halle in eastern Germany to send out priests to Tranquebar. The 23-year-old Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and the rather older Heinrich Plutschau answered the call. When they arrived in India on July 9,1706 they founded the first formal Protestant mission in Asia.

Learning local languages

Ziegenbalg realised that if he was to interact with the local population he would have to learn not only the lingua franca of the coast, Portuguese, but also the local tongue, Tamil that the Portuguese called "Malabar".

He must have been a born linguist, for within a couple of months he learnt sufficient Portuguese to be able to use it to learn Tamil with the help of an untrained tutor, Ellappar, who taught him in the traditional way by tracing the letters of the Tamil alphabet on a bed of sand. Within three months, Ziegenbalg was writing home.

Ziegenbalg converted only a few Malabarians and spent far more time studying Tamil. He set up the first printing press in India after the Portuguese effort ground to a halt, established a publishing programme and got the missionaries who joined him to set up schools in the areas they fanned out to, particularly Madras, Tanjore (Thanjavur) and Tinnevely (Tirunelveli).

Ziegenbalg was convinced that the only way the mission could succeed was if books were prepared in "the Malabar language". He went on to write in 1709, "I choose such books as I should wish to imitate both in speaking and writing ... Their tongue ...(now) is as easy to me as my mother tongue, and in the last two years I have been enabled to write several books in Tamil..."

Literary work

With this learning, Ziegenbalg began translating the New Testament in 1708. He had also begun to prepare a Malabar dictionary. All this scholarship, and the fact that he had completed translating the New Testament in 1711 with the help of another arrival from Halle, Johann Grundler, made a printing press absolutely necessary if what had been translated was not to be wasted effort.

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As early as 1709 Ziegenbalg requested a printing press from Denmark. The Danes forwarded the appeal to London to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The SPCK, not allowed a foothold in India by John Company's merchants, was only too eager to help and in 1712 shipped out to the Tranquebar mission a printing press with type, paper, ink, and a printer.

When the SPCK consignment arrived in Madras, the printer was missing. Fortunately, a German soldier in the Danish Company's service knew something about printing and was recruited.

Johann Heinrich Schloricke, 30 years old at the time, printed in Portuguese the Tranquebar mission press's first publications in 1712/13. With this, printing in India got its second wind and the foundations for today's thriving Indian Printing Industry were laid.

Ziegenbalg, however, was convinced that the Mission's work could prove successful only if the press produced books and other literature in Tamil. He therefore sent back drawings of the Tamil alphabet to Halle with the request to create Tamil typefaces there. The Tamil type arrived in Madras on June 29,1713, together with three Germans who were to galvanise the press and printing when they got to Tranquebar by the end of August.

In September/October 1713, Johann Gottlieb Adler, a type founder, printer and mechanic, his 14-year-old brother Dietrich Gottlieb Adler and the 27-year-old Johannes Berlin, a bookbinder and printing assistant used the Halle Tamil type, to print the first 'Malabarick' publication since the Portuguese had put a stop to printing in Tamil c.1612.

Tamil typefaces

The Halle type, however, was too large and gobbled up the Mission's limited paper stock. While more paper was sought from London, Johann Adler began cutting new and smaller Tamil type in June/July 1714 and cast it using, according to legend, the lead covers of tins of Cheshire cheese that were regularly sent out by the SPCK. Using this type, Johann Adler completed the printing of the New Testament in Tamil (Pudu Etpadu) in July 1715.

Adler's type foundry was set up in Porayur, on the outskirts of Tranquebar. In 1715, he started a paper mill in the same village, the Government meeting half the costs and the Mission the rest. He then opened a printing ink manufacturing unit nearby. All three were the first printing material "factories" in India.

The Tranquebar mission press was now virtually self-sufficient and this was to help it to remain active for another 100 years. After 1817 there is no report of the press functioning.

Not only did printing continue in Tranquebar, but it also spread to Madras, Tanjore and another Danish settlement, Serampore, near Calcutta where it flowered.

The Danish Halle Mission in Serampore near Calcutta was where William Carey, Joshua Marshman, William Ward and William Grant, Baptist missionaries, exiled from Calcutta for indulging in missionary activities, found refuge. They arrived in Serampore on January 10, 1800, bringing a printing press with them. In the next 35 years, the Serampore Press cut type in 40 different languages, including 33 Indian languages.

This is why most Indian printers tend to think of Carey as the father of modern Indian printing. They have forgotten the foundations of the industry laid by Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Johann Adler.

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The German-Tamil link

Ziegenbalg was only 36 when he died in 1719. His last 13 years were spent laying the foundations for German scholarship in Tamil that continues to this day.

Apart from the numerous Tamil translations of Christian publications he made, he wrote several books and booklets that could be described as being Indological in nature.

He also had the press printing educational material of a more general nature.

As early as 1708 he had compiled his Bibliothece Malabarke, listing the 161 Tamil books he had read and describing their content.

In 1713, in Biblia Tamulica he expanded this bibliography. Also in 1713 the press produced what was perhaps the first Almanac to be printed in India. Then, in 1716, there appeared what was probably the first book printed in Asia in English, A Guide to the English Tongue, by Thomas Dyche.

The next year the press printed an A.B.C. (in Portuguese) for schools in the English territories.

What did not get printed in Tranquebar were Ziegenbalg's Indological writings. In fact, his works like Nidiwunpa (Malabari moral philosophy), Kondei Wenden (Malabari morals) Ulaga Nidi (Malabari civil justice), and his books on Hindusim and Islam were printed only 150-250 years later in Europe and Madras.