The first printing press of India was set up in 1556 at St. Paul’s College, Goa. Conclusiones Philosophicas was the first published book.

The printing press is a tool for the mass distribution of systemized printed matters. 

There is no record related to the first printing press. But during the first millennium A.D., the oldest recorded written text appeared in China.

It was not until 150 years after China that the printing press arrived in Europe. As Goldsmith and inventor, Johannes Gutenberg began experimenting with printing in Strasbourg, France in 1440. He was a political refugee from Mainz, Germany.

Later, he returned to Mainz and had a printing machine ready for commercial use by 1450: the Gutenberg press.

The arrival of the Printing Press in India

The first printing press of India was set up in 1556 at St. Paul’s College, Goa. In a letter to St. Ignatius of Loyola, dated 30 April 1556, Father Gasper Caleza spoke of a ship carrying a printing press to sail from Portugal to Abyssinia (current-day Ethiopia) to promote missionary work in Abyssinia. 

Due to some circumstances, this printing press was prohibited from leaving India. As a result, printing operations began in Goa in 1556, through Joao De Bustamante. 

A professional printer was sent to follow the printing press and, along with his Indian assistant, set up and began to run it. In India, the first printed works were not books, but theses called Conclusoes, which were loose sheets containing contested points among those in St. Paul’s College priestly training. 

Publication of First Books in India

Conclusiones Philosophicas was the first published book. One year later, five years after the death of its poet, St. Francis Xavier, the printing press published its second book, Catecismo da Doctrina Christã. 

Printing of Colóquios dos simples e drogas by Garcia da Orta he cousas medicinais da Índia, by Joao de Endem in 1563. The Compendio Spiritual Da Vide Christaa (Spiritual Compendium of the Christian Life) by Gaspar Jorge de Leão Pereira, the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa, is the oldest remaining printed book in India. 

Printing of Indian Script

Joao Gonsalves is credited with preparing the first printing of the Indian Script-Tamil. He was another Spaniard who played an important role in the growth of printing in India. 

The first printed Indian language was Tamil: Doctrina Chrstam, Tampiran Vanakkam in 1558 with paper imported from China, a 1539 Portuguese Catechism translation (the first Tamil book in Romanized Tamil script was printed in Lisbon in 1554.)  

The Jesuit Father printed the first Indian language book in Kerala on October 20, 1578. In 1602, at Vaipincota, near Cochin, the Jesuits also founded a Chaldean (Syriac) printing press.

Konkani letters have been written in Latin styles, and this form is still being used in Goa today. Konkani used in other linguistic areas has been written in similar scripts. The Portuguese seem to have considered the Roman script in Goa more favorable for their political regulation and monitoring of their colonies. The Portuguese printers are said to have found Konkani’s script to be “uncouth shape” and Kannada characters “cumbersome”.

In 1579, England’s Jesuit Thomas Stephen arrived in Goa. He is responsible for growing Konkani literature. His main work was Purana Christda (Kristu Purana – Life of Christ) in the Marathi language (considered a classic in Marathi), modeled after the Hindu epic of Ramayana(Amazon). This was the first book to be printed in the Rachol Seminary Press, 1616. 

Miguel de Almaida’s Jardim de Pastores, printed in Goa from 1658-1659, was a major Konkani work. Some 40 books in Portuguese on religious subjects were published in Goa during the 17th century.

According to PJ Thomas, ” It was at Ambalakad that considerable printing in Tamil and Malayalam were carried on after 1663″. In 1670, the Ambalakad press was busy printing the work of Padre De Nobili. Padri Paulino said the dictionary was printed and all the attempts to print it were made by a Malayalee named Ejnasi Aichamoni, who prepared a Malayalam dictionary for printing in 1679. 

There is evidence to suggest that a Malayali script book was first published in the second half of the same century. It seems that the press at Ambalakad operated before the conquest of Kerala by Tipu Sultan. During the attack, the church and seminary were totally destroyed.

It lasted until 1706, when Bartholomeus Zegenbel, a Danish missionary arrived at Tharangambari, that printing in India might increase again. About 1712-13, a printing press arrived and the first publication was produced by Tranquebar Press. 

The first Tamil publication from the press was recorded extensively in 1713, supported by the New Testament in 1714, at the demand of Zegenbalg.

Printing Press after 19th-century

In the second decade of 1800, outstanding work was done in the field of publishing by Calcutta Book Society by reprinting science textbooks printed in Europe. In Calcutta alone, Baptists claimed to have printed 710,000 school books in various regional languages by 1820.

In 1857, there was a sudden realization of the importance of the printed word for the urban common man. Only print could help the exchange of ideas between different communities in the various parts of the country. 

The British had their own interest in promoting education in the country, to train a large segment of the urban population as white-collared ‘babus’.

Both these goals advanced printing/ publishing in various parts of the country. Organizations such as Higinbotham’s in Madras in 1844; Nawal Kishore Press in Lucknow in 1858; DB Taraporevala Sons in Bombay in 1864; AH Wheeler & Co in Allahabad in 1877; Indian Press in Allahabad in 1884; IMH Press in Delhi in 1885; Gowarsons Publishers in 1888 played an important role in giving the impetus to professional printing/ publishing activities in the pre-independence era.

Printing Press in 20th-Century

The first three decades of 1900 were notable for the entrance of various publishing houses. They were involved in the printing and publication of textbooks for schools and colleges, religious books, books on literature, newly created books in various regional languages inspired by national sentiment.

Publishers like – 

  • Moti Lal Banarasi Das (MLBD) established in 1903
  • Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind) established in 1903
  • Nagari Pracharini Sabha established in 1910
  • Oxford University Press (Indian Branch) established in 1912
  • and Gita Press in Gorakhpur established in 1927

-gave a great push to the Hindi publishing trade in the heartland covering: Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, parts of Andhra Pradesh, and Bengal.

In the south, some printing /publishing houses like Vidyarambham Press and Book Depot were established in 1931 in Alleppey; KR Brothers established in 1925 in Calicut; Prasad Printing & Process established in 1935 in Madras, and Commercial Printing Co established in Madras in 1936 played a key role.

Sri Saraswati Press in Calcutta, established in 1932, performed a crucial role in the printing of hidden publicity materials for the freedom movement. 

As the freedom struggle gained momentum between 1914 and 1947, the Indian press kept pace with it and most of the English-language newspapers kept on updating and upgrading their plants in the areas of pre-press and printing. Most of these plants were provided with linotypes, monotypes, big stereo-rotary presses, cameras, and block-making units. 

Bennett Coleman & Co, who owned The Times of India and The Illustrated Weekly, was the first company to install India’s first rotogravure press to print multi-color magazines. But the vernacular press could not keep pace with the English-language press due to unavailable financial resources and the British Raj imposed restrictions.

>>> Read about History of Newspaper in India

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