When Kerala got its first printing press 200-years ago

The priniting press brought to Kerala by Benjamin Bailey at the CMS press in Kottayam.
The priniting press brought to Kerala by Benjamin Bailey at the CMS press in Kottayam.

Kottayam: It has been 200 years since the printing press reached Kerala. Benjamin Bailey brought the first printing press to Kottayam from England on October 18, 1821.

As the arrival of the printing machine from England got delayed, Bailey decided to set up a press on his own. He did not have any prior experience in printing and so he read some books, and got the necessary metal parts made with the help of an ironsmith.

Bailey cut short the number of types in Malayalam from 1128 to 500. He also made some changes to the 'Koottaksharangal'. The letters used in Malayalam now are similar to the round form of alphabets designed by Bailey. Though the first printing press reached Kerala in 1821, it took another three years to print the first book – ‘Cheru Paithangalkka Upakarartham Englishil Ninna Paribhashappeduthiya Kathakal’ (stories translated from English for children).

In the same year, the gospel of St Mathew was also translated and published. Along with religious texts, text books were also printed from here.

Benjamin Bailey was the first principal of the Kottayam College (CMS College). Text books were also printed from there. Bailey also started English education in colleges and began formal education for common people. At a time, when palm leaves and feather pens were used, the printed books heralded a revolution.

Bailey was also the first to compile an English-Malayalam dictionary and Malayalam-English dictionary. In 1829, the New Testament was translated and printed in Malayalam. A total of 5000 copies were printed. ‘Njananikshepam’, one of the first news periodicals in Malayalam, was published from the CMS press in 1848.

As Malayalam printing completes 200 years, a book 'Vakile Lokangal: Achadi Malayalathinte 200 varshangal' will be unveiled on Monday. The book is brought out by Sahithya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangham along with the Benjamin Bailey Foundation. The book that chronicles the origin and history of Malayalam printing has been prepared by researchers Babu Cherian, K Arya, Shaji Jacob, Shiju Alexi, and A G Sreekumar.

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