Tracing the history of Subodhini Press in erstwhile Travancore

Subodhini Press was once approved printers of Travancore High Court and several government commissions

January 12, 2018 02:48 pm | Updated 02:49 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

 Some of the objects once used in the press.

Some of the objects once used in the press.

V. Nagam Aiya in his Travancore State Manual , published in 1906, gives a list of private presses in erstwhile Travancore, the names of which have mostly vanished from popular memory. It is only in old books, worn with age, that we come across the names mentioned in the list. Saraswathivilasam Press (Attakulangara), Bhaskara Press (Pazhavangadi), Keralodayam and Western Star (Cantonment), Malabar Mail and Shanmukhavilasam Press (Puttenchanda) were some of the prominent names. ‘Subodhini Press’, another name mentioned is seen marked against Chala, where the press may have operated in the early 20th century.

A search for the history of Subodhini Press ended in Nenmanasherri Bungalow (better known as ‘Kukie’s Holiday Inn’), a charming old house, located in Luke’s Lane, near G.P.O. Nenmanasherri family and its occupants have a prominent place in the history of Thiruvananthapuram.

Nenmanasherri, established by C. Luke Vaidyan (1843-1894), the ‘Government Oculist’, is an offshoot of the Thayyil Vaidyan family of Thevalakkara. L.C. Koshy (1876-1934), the ‘Royal Oculist’ and the eldest son of Luke, carried forward the family tradition. Koshy, also an employee in the Travancore government service, was Assistant Superintendent of the Stationery Department, Huzur Cutcherry (Secretariat). He established the Subodhini Press in 1905. According to Nagam Aiya’s reference, it should be gathered that the press initially operated in the Chala Bazaar. “It is quite probable,” says Alexander Kurien, grandson of L.C. Koshy, “our family owned shops in Chala, and so the press might have been set up there initially.”

However, Kurien had never seen the press functioning in its days of glory, but recalls that the treadle press and related equipment were imported from Edinburgh. The press was later relocated to Statue, where it was housed in a building opposite the Huzur Cutcherry where L.C. Koshy worked.

“Following the untimely demise of my grandfather, the press was shifted to Nenmanasherri Bungalow, where it functioned in a large shed erected to the south of the house.”

Days of glory

Apart from printing books, the press, from 1083 M.E. (1918 A.D.), was the ‘ approved printers of the Erstwhile Travancore High Court ’ and later, took up government commissions such as the printing of electoral rolls.

L.C. Koshy’s death came as a blow to the family and threatened the very existence of the press. But thanks to Elizabeth (1881-1953), Koshy’s widow, Subodhini Press continued to function successfully. Elizabeth, assisted by her sons, maintained the press commendably. Later, her son ran the press till early 1960.

The old name board of the press, beautifully carved in wood, is still preserved by Kurien. Some old books and pamphlets printed at the press and a few objects used there are what remains of the once-prominent establishment. “The treadle press was sold in 1950s,” recalls Kurien, “but I have preserved some objects associated with it, for these are not just heirlooms, but valuable relics of early printing history in Travancore.”

The author is a conservation architect and history buff

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