Thampuran Vanakkam (Christian Doctrine in Malabar Tamil)

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Item Code: NAH345
Author: Dr. K.J. John
Publisher: Publication Division University of
Language: Malyalam Text with English Translation
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 9788177480894
Pages: 52
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 80 gm
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Book Description

Back of the Book

“Doctrina Christian in Lingua Malavar Tamil” is the earliest example of printing in the charecters of one of the languages of language executed in India. The book has also the distinction as the first printed book in Kerala. It is a Tamil Translation of basic Christian doctrines or catechism from Portuguese prepared by Fr. Manual of St. Peter. The only surviving copy of this rare book is preserved in the Harvard University Library. U.S.A.

The present volume, presents transliteration from Tamil to Malayalam and translation into Malayalam and English from Harvard copy. It also provide detailed historical study by the editor who procured a Xerox copy of the volume from Harvard. The facsimile of the Harvard copy is also incorporated in this edition. The linguistic importance of the text is analysed by Dr. T.B. Venugopala Pamkkar. Doctrina Christin is of great value of the students of history of printing technology in India, to the students of evolution of Tamil writing system, to the students of history of Tamil prose and to the students of Church history in India.


Kerala’s contact with the West is more than two thousand years old; but the beginning of the real contact with the West especially Europe, which had later left imprints in various walks of life and letters goes to the momentous year of 1498 when Captain Vasco da Gama set his foot on the serene and picturesque shore of Pantalayini Kollam, a sleepy coastal village near Calicut, on the coastal western India. Since then, European powers like the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British competed with each other in controlling the land and people of this sub-continent politically, religiously, culturally and otherwise and during their presence here they acted as agents of great change and to the development and spread of advanced European technology in various fields. In India printing and publication are two important legacies that we inherited from the Portuguese in the 16th century. Printing technology in India had its earliest beginnings in Kerala (after Goa). The first book to be printed in Indian language was Doctrina Christam en Lingua Malavar Tamul, a Tamil translation work from Portuguese entitled Doctrina Christam composed by Padre Manuel de Sao Pedro. Father Henrique Henriques was the translator and he published it under the title Tamburan Vanakkam (Salutation to the Lord). The book contains 16 pages and was printed in the San Salvador press at Thangasseri near Quilon on October zo- 1578 with types made by Juan Gonsalvaz a Spanish lay brother of the Society of Jesus, who is considered as the Gutenberg of India. The advent of the Jesuit missionaries and the innovation of the ‘black art’ in Kerala not only marked a new phase in its cultural history but also quickened the process of cultural renaissance in Kerala. Thus Kerala has a unique in the history of printing in India.

Beginnings in India

In India printing can be said to have commenced with the opening of the first press in Goa in 1556 by the Jesuits, about 57 years after the arrival of the Portuguese. The press was brought from Europe accompanied by three experts viz. Joao de Bustamante, Juan Gonsalvaz and an Indian (his name is not known). It is worth mentioning that many of the members of the Society of Jesus who hailed from Italy, Spain, Austria and Germany were expert printers too. The pioneer of the art of printing in India is Joao de Bustamante under whose initiative the press was set up at the College of St. Paul at Goa in 1556 and the first material printed was a thesis known as Conclusoes. It Was printed on loose leaves intended to be pasted on church doors as an aid to the discussions held in the Church on certain philosophic and religious themes. The first book printed in Goa is Doctrina Christam in Portuguese by Francis Xavier in 1557. No doubt these pioneering efforts were creditable indeed but they had their limitations in the sense that the Latin types with which printing was done were unintelligible to the masses whose conversion and the propagation of Christian literature were the primary aims of the missionaries.

Jesuits in Malabar

The Portuguese did not content themselves with military and trade enterprises alone, evangelisation too was part of their imperialistic designs. The religious orders like the Fransicans, the Augustinians and the Jesuits were given whole hearted support by the King of Portugal with the blessings from Rome. Of all the religious orders that laboured in India the Jesuits were by far the most active and resourceful, and after their arrival in Goa they extended their activities to other regions particularly to the Malabar and Fishery Coasts in the South. The Jesuits came to Malabar under the leadership of Francis Xavier, in 1542. He was one of the worthiest and ablest disciples of Ignatius Loyola who founded the Society of Jesus. Xavier who was endowed with a majestic and dynamic personality sojourned the coast of Malabar from Calicut to Cape Comorin and from there to the Coast of Tinneveli preaching the gospel and establishing churches, founding schools and seminaries after western model in places like Calicut, Cranganore, Cochin, Quilon, Kottar in Kerala and Punnakayal, Tuticorin and other places in the Fishery Coast. The language barrier posed no less obstacles in his labours but with tireless efforts and indefatigable industry not only did he try to learn Tamil and Malayalam but also translated his Catechism and Doctrines. into these languages, though with imperfections.

The example set by Xavier was emulated by the Fathers who joined him from time to time. The need to communicate with the masses prompted them to learn the indigenous languages. Brother Juan Gonsalvaz, Father Henrique Henriquez, and Father Joao de Faria were notable linguists among them. Pedro Luis, a Brahmin from Quilon, was probably the first Indian to enter the Society of Jesus. He was of considerable help to the Fathers in their literary pursuits.

The presence of the large community of Christians including the traditional St. Thomas Christians and the neophytes in the South attracted more and more Jesuits to labour among them. Besides evangelisation their aim was to bring them all under the control of Rome and one of the ways they thought best was to educate and train them in the Catholic Faith by the circulation of such books as Catechisms and Doctrines in the local languages. The Fathers who came from the different countries of Europe were aware of the tremendous impact the printed word, particularly the religious literature, had on the minds of the people. With these ideas in mind the Fathers addressed themselves to the task of translating the most fundamental books dealing with Christian doctrines, but it was by no means an easy job for them. How to have them printed with types cast or cut in the local languages, was the biggest problem before them.

Different versions of Jesuit Printing

When we consider the literature in English and Malayalam on Jesuit printing in Kerala we find that writers have given different versions of the story. The main sources of our information on the subject are the contemporary compilations of authors like Sacchini and Francesco de Sousa and the letters and annals of the Fathers, but these are not easily accessible to ordinary readers because they are in Portuguese, Latin and other European languages. According to Rev. George Schurhammar S.J. and G.W. Gottrell, Jr. who have dealt with this problem, “very little has been known of this printing through scantiness of records and absence of actual specimens. And in all such cases speculation has been rife, leading to frequent confusions that have been intensified by simply borrowing.’” No wonder that we come across different accounts of Jesuit printing with inaccurate dates of the printing of the first books.

Circumstances influencing Jesuit Printing

As the Fathers were contemplating and preparing translations of Catechisms, Doctrinas and devotional books that were indispensable for the edification and strengthening of the native Christians and neophyres two events seem to have accelerated their printing efforts. First is the Third Council of Goa which expressed its concern over the total absence of any kind of printed books on the Christian doctrines in the South. Second is the visit of Fr. Alessandro Valignano, the famous Visitor and organizer of the Jesuit Missions in the East. During his visit to the coast of Malabar to settle religious disputes, the absence of any printed work in the vernacular came to his notice and he deplored the fact that not even a short Catechism was available in the local language and so ordered Father Henrique Henriquez to prepare such works as the Catechism and other devotional books.

Gonsalvaz, the first ‘Malabar’ Typographer

Juan Gonsalvaz, the Spanish lay-brother who was associated with the printing operations at Goa had the necessary skill in metal craft and had a sound knowledge of the local language. He was called to Malabar to assist the Jesuits in their arduous task of starting the printing operations. It is not certain whether he had brought a press to Cochin or Vypicota. According to Sacchini, the author of Historia Societatis Jesu (1652) Gonsalvaz cut the ‘Malabar’ types with which he printed a Catechism in 1577. What is known about him from contemporary sources is that he was born in Spain in 1525, entered the society of Jesus in Lisbon in 1555 and took the simple vows in Goa in 1557. Francesco de Sousa in his book Oriente Conquistado (1710) has mentioned that Gonsalvaz was adept in metal work and that he died in 1580 at the College of St. Paul in Goa “after a life filled with holiness and good works.” The Catechism, believed by some writers, to have been printed in 1577 might be a translation of Francis Xavier’s Doctrina Christa by Fr. Henriquez. The existence of any copy of this work has not been reported so far.

Regarding the location of Gonsalvez’s press different views have been expressed by contemporary and recent writers. Some writers base their arguments on de Sousa’s views that Jesuits had immediately occupied Vypicota and set up a printing press in 1577 after an agreement was reached by Father Valignano with Mar Abraham, Bishop of St. Thomas Christians. This view was rejected by Bishop Leo Prosperio who after a good deal of inquiry into the problem came to the conclusion that the Jesuits had in all probability, not settled down at Vypicota before 1581. He says that tradition has long been on the side of Vypicota but all records concur in awarding the distinction to Cochin.


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