Tranquebar Press

October 19, 2007

Ziegenbalg’s Tranquebar press

Filed under: Uncategorized — indikoi @ 11:01 am
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The first printing press in India was, strictly speaking, a kidnap victim.

As S Muthiah writes:

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.

The “new” technology spread, but the Portuguese guarded their presses jealously, and by 1674, printing had almost died out in India.

It wasn’t until a Dutch missionary, Bartholomew Ziegenbalg, came to Tarangambadi in 1706 to found the first formal Protestant mission in Asia that book printing in India started up again. In 1712-13, a printing press arrived, and the first publications from the Tranquebar press rolled out. Ziegenbalg, who combined missionary zeal with shrewdness, insisted that they had to print in Tamil as well, and the first Tamil publication from the press came out towards the end of 1713, followed by a printing of the New Testament in 1715.

The reason why printing and publishing spread to the rest of India after 1715, but not in the time of the Portuguese was simple: Ziegenbalg and his fellow missionaries believed that they needed to share the “new” technologies in order to spread the good word. In the process, they ensured that the printed word would spread to other parts of India–Bombay, Bengal, Madras. The Indian publishing industry may have begun–some would say fittingly–with an act of near-piracy, but it was in Tranquebar, with the sharing of technology, that it set down roots. And that’s why we chose Tranquebar as the name for our literary imprint. Because if you’re going to publish anything–words, books, ideas–of lasting worth, it’s important to spread the word.

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