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Of all the Indian languages, it was only in Tamil that the first book was printed. That Tamil book was CartiIha published with Roman characters in Portugal in the 16th century. Cartilha remains an invaluable document which speaks about the greatness of Tamil language in the annals of printed works.

During the times when print characters were not cast in Tamil, the historically significant Cartilha was printed in Roman script in Lisbon in Portugal in the year 1554. Though it was a Tamil work, it was printed and published only using Roman script as Tamil print characters had not developed.

Cartilha is the first book printed in any Indian language. It was also the first to have been printed in more than one colour. The credit of being the first Indian book published beyond our borders also goes only to this work.

That a work of such immense historical importance remains in an iron safe in the archives of Pelham in Portugal, was found out by late professor Thaninayagam Adigal in the last century and the Tamil world remained blissfully unaware of this rare work till then.

This book was printed on the directions of king Swam III of Portugal for facilitating Christian missionaries in their work in India. Vincent D Nazareth, Yodge Kavalco and Thomas De Cruz are the three Tamils who translated the prayers and hymns in that work. They were called to Portugal during that time all the way from Thoothukkudi belt, known then as Muthukuliththurai. It was the Tamil-knowing Catholic Father Swam De Villa Konde, who had also worked in South India and Sri Lanka, who verified and corrected this work. The 38-page book CartiIha was thus published in 1554.

“Two colours have been used in this book. Also, they printed the Christian meditative hymns and the religious tenets in bold letters in Tamil and gave the same in Portuguese language too, along with. Further, they also printed the word-to-word translation of the Tamil hymns in Portuguese against every word in red. It is rare to find such a book, which includes new preaching methods, two colours and skillfully printed letters even in the European print history”, says Thaninayagam Adigal about this book.

How this book came to the archives of Pelham in Lisbon, is a long story. This was in a monastery in a place called Evora in 1598 and, in due course, reached the hands of the head of Lisbon city library. Subsequently the book vanished without a trace from the library and was accidentally found with an illiterate by the chief of the archives in the year 1909, who took it from him and kept it in the Pelham archives.

A researcher, who wanted to write a book on printing technology in 1948, found that such a work is available. When Thaninayagam Adigal went to Lisbon in 1954, he brought the photographs of a few pages of this book. He also wrote articles, both in English and Tamil, about pioneering printed books in Tamil. That archives released an edition of this book in 1970 and professor Father S. Rajamanickam brought its copies to India. The French Institute of Puducherry has published a French translation for this.

Had the book been lost, we would have been deprived of an important document that highlighted a glorious chapter in Tamil printing history. This work got published in Europe in the 16th century, full 2 years before printing machines came to India and this can be said to explain its significance.

Rev. Andrick Adigalar took the help of Manuel Adigalar and translated the book Doctrina Christian in Tamil and named it Thambiran Vanakkam.

Likewise, ‘Thambiran Vanakkam’ is the first Tamil book printed in our country and this happened in Kollam in 1578. This is a translated work, which contains the translations of the prayer hymns found in Christian sacred scriptures. This is a book of 16 pages. Rev. Andrick Adigalar took the help of Manuel Adigalar and translated the book Doctrina Christian in Tamil and named it Thambiran Vanakkam. This book was published with the help of print characters developed in Kollam.

While there is information that Tamil print characters were designed in Goa in 1577 before the printing of this book, no book printed using those characters are actually available. However these Goa-designed print characters have been given in the last page of Thambiran Vanakkam along with those designed in Kollam.

It is worth noting that this book has been translated in the spoken language of the fishermen of Muthukulithurai area, where Andrick Adigalar worked. Wherever Portuguese words have appeared in this book, the code ‘G ‘ has been used on both their sides.

No dots were used in those days for Tamil consonants (This practice came in vogue only later, during the time of Veeramaa Munivar). There were also no clear differences between kuril and nedil, that is, the Tamil words starting with falling sounds and those with increasing sounds. In some places, the words with increasing sounds were like conjunct consonants or in composite letter forms.

On the request of the king of Abyssinia, the Portuguese had sent some printing machines to that country, but those landed in Goa unexpectedly, and that marked the beginning of printed publications in India. However it is sad that India doesn’t even have a copy of the material printed in our own land, and the only copy of this publication is available in the Harvard university, USA. This book published in India was sent to Rome in 1779 and its copy was found later in a library of Austria. Then it somehow came to the book market in Europe, then went from there to America, changed many hands and at last reached one, Curt Redsinger. Thankfully, he donated that book to Harvard university in 1951, otherwise that book too would have simply vanished from our eyes. It was only Thaninayagan Adigal who got a photo copy of the book from that library. It seems he gave them an old copy that they wanted and obtained from there, the photo copy of Thambiran Vanakkam, in return.

Professor Rajamanickam published this work in 1963 as part of the book Vanakkam. Thamizhnadan released a copy of the book along with its Xerox format during the world Tamil conference held in Thanjavur.

The first printed books of Tamil language were printed in India, but it is unfortunate that their originals are not there in our country. Still, a lot of credit for having found these rare books out, goes to Thaninayagam Adigal and to their publisher, professor Father Rajamanickam. We should similarly remember with gratitude scholars like Suramar and Graham Shah, who did handsome research on the first Tamil printed publication.

Above all, it was Andrick Adigalar who translated the printed Tamil works and also wrote them as separate books in the 16th century and he deserves special mention for his great contributions to Tamil. Born in Portugal, he came to India, learnt and mastered the Tamil language, and lived and died here in our land. Father Rajamanickam has regarded him as the ‘Father of Tamil Printing’ and gratefully acknowledged his eminence. Adigalar also took steps for the starting of a Tamil university in Punnakkayal, and the Tamil world owes a lot for this love of his for the Tamil language and for the service that he rendered for its cause. After he passed away, his body was brought from Punnakkayal to Thoothukkudi for burial, when people cutting across religious barriers assembled in large numbers.

CartiIha is the destiny of the Tamil printed works. The history of the printed books in Tamil begins only from this pioneering work! And in that, Andrick Adigalar remains an unforgettable milestone!

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