First Protestant Mission in India at Tarangambadi, TN produced the first print in Tamil language

Lutheran Saints  Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1682–1719
Tharangambadi, India

Above image: Although he had  his own printing press, he had to depend  on two Dutch blacksmiths to create Tamil character molds. There was also a scarcity of paper. Most Tamil classics were written on palm leaves. He solved this problem by setting up a paper factory...............................

Though printing press was discovered by Gutenberg, it was the Portuguese Jesuits and missionaries  who popularized their indispensible use in their chosen field - evangelism in Goa, India. They were instrumental in the growth and development of printing press in India and showcased their value in the area of missionary work , education, etc.   The first printing press in India was established at the Jesuit St. Paul's College in Old Goa in 1556 and prior to that year Indians had no  idea about  either  the printing press or its utility or mass producing capability of printed materials. The jesuits who accompanied the Portuguese explorers on their trips to India in the 15th century to pursue  their missionary work brought the press and technicians  to print early religious matters that could be distributed among the natives. They focused on publication of Christian literature - bible, etc in vernacular languages along with preaching. In Goa the printing was done under the direction of jesuits on the press owned by  churches. 

printing machine, protestant  mission, Tharangambadi, TN

Above image: Protestant mission, Tharangambadi, TN An old printing machine on display in the museum at Ziegenbalg House. . ...................................

Prior to 1550s  as there was no mechanical device to print  scripts,etc., and  much of the scriptures, literary works and  messages between rulers, etc were  written on the dried palm leaves. But the main disadvantage was their preservation for a long period and periodic check on the condition of the palm leaves was essential. The printing press was mainly active in Goa till 1612, and after that it declined. 

 The 18th century India saw the revival of  modern  printing press and this rejuvenation was quite helpful for generations of Indians later.  Printing related religious matter in the form of lose pages in local languages had spread along the coastal areas of south India - both on the west and east coasts. 

 Credit goes to Protestant missionaries from Denmark based in Tarangambadi (now in Nagapattinam district, Tamil Nadu) in the Dutch settlement  who took on the task of reviving   modern printing primarily for religious purposes.  Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (10 July 1682 – 23 February 1719), a member of the Lutheran clergy.and his elderly  associate  Heinrich Plütschau  who landed here on July 09, 1706 on orders from King Frederick IV  took the honor of establishing the first formal Protestant Mission in  Asia. Ziegenbalg  took the credit of  bringing for the first time  Lutheranism and a printing-press to this part of South India  by ship (1712). 

One Johann Heinrich Schlöricke, a 30 years old printer  printed in Portuguese the Tranquebar Mission press' first publications in 1712/13. This heralded the revival of printing in India.  The  Protestant Mission  highlighted the importance of  modern printing  that was first introduced in India by the jesuits from Portugal whose endeavor in  printing activities  slowly declined toward the end of the 15th century.   

So, it became imperative, as part of missionary work to  supply  Christian related pamphlets, etc to facilitate the spread of Christian  faith among natives. The arrival of the first press in Goa (1556) during Francis Xavier period  for the purpose preparing some written religious materials  was of great help to the preachers. The press was, however, mainly used by the Church of Portuguese  in their settlements and there was no printing press owned by the natives in the rest of India. At Tranquebar their religious work continued till the British conquer of this place in 1845.

First page of the Bible (New Testament).

 Above image: First page of a Tamil Bible (New Testament)  was printed in Tranquebar/Tharangambadi in 1715 to communicate with the natives The Tranquebar press was established in 1712 and the Tamil alphabet types needed for the press were made in Germany by Ziegenbalg  friends. The Pica sized types were bulky, missing some letters and were not carved properly. Rev. Ziegenbalg used  special Tamil typefaces made in Halle on his request. The Tamil typeface set and  another wooden press arrived  on June 29, 1713. It revolutionized the printing in Tamil. It was for the first time Tamil work was printed. Besides  Christian literature, Ziegenbalg published grammar and textbooks, religious texts of Hinduism and translated Tamil books, including Ulaga Needhi (Universal Justice), into German..........

At the the Danish-Halle Mission, Tranquebar  Ziegenbalg learned Tamil, the local language spoken here, and was  good enough to preach and write Tamil to communicate with the natives. He wrote Tamil translation of the Bible - New Testament (1708 to 1711) and other Christian works. He also found suitable typeface for his work.  The arrival of a printing press from Denmark  was useful to him to make the locals understand the new faith.  Although he had brought his own printing press, he had to depend on  two Dutch blacksmiths to create Tamil character molds. There was also a scarcity of paper. Most Tamil classics were written on palm leaves. He solved this problem by setting up a paper manufactory.............................  

This way Ziegenbalg re-established the practicality and functionality of a printing press in the service of god.  He was well supported by Johann Gottlieb Adler, a type founder, printer and mechanic who later set up (1715)  a paper mill in Porayur, near Tranquebar and printing ink making unit. The press was active till 1817. The printing activities continued in other Danish missions in  Serampore, Calcutta and other places. Over a span of 35 years, the press here produced works in 40 languages, out of which 33 were Indian. It was here at the mission   modern printing was revived-to spread throughout India and  the foundations were laid for the Protestant missionaries' contribution to education in India.

 Ziegenbalg  became a prolific printer and publisher and in 1708 he had compiled his Bibliotheca  Malabarke, listing 161 Tamil books he had read and describing their content.  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. He also wrote books on Hinduism and Islam that were printed 150 years later in Europe and Madras. Throughout his missionary related works he had faced challenges from a small section of natives and also from the Danish government and in the midst of it, his involvement in printing press activities never failed to slow down. The other challenge he had  faced was working under the  soaring heat and hot wind that affected his physical wellbeing.  He died on 23 February 1719, at the age of thirty-six, having spent  his last 13 years in Tranquebar where the first publication was produced by Tranquebar Press. Tamil is the first Indian language to appear in print