History


Here are a couple of blogposts listing the earliest known printed books in different languages. I found the following entries for the Indian languages.

Tamil. Thampiraan vaNakkam (Goa, India: Henrique Henriques, 1578).

Bengali. Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, A Grammar of the Bengal Language (Hugli, India, 1778).

Hindi. A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language (Calcutta, India: Chronicle Press, 1796).

Oriya. Mrtyuñjaya Bidyalankar, trans. [New Testament] (Shrirampur, India: Serampore Mission Press, 1807).

Malayalam. [New Testament] (Bombay, India: Courier Press, 1811).

Assamese. William Carey, et al., trans. [New Testament] (Shrirampur, India: Serampore Mission Press, 1813).

Telugu. Grammar of Telugu (Shrirampur, India: Serampore Mission Press, 1813).

As is clear, nearly after a century of the printing of the first English book, we see a Tamil book being printed in Goa (while the other Indian languages were printed nearly two centuries after Tamil). This accidental blessing of the printing press in Goa, and the role of missionaries in setting it up, as well as the Tamil connection is discussed in a recent article by Babu K Verghese in the Hindu:

It was Christian missionaries, who wanted to produce the Bible in the several languages of the country, who introduced printing and publishing in India. In fact, we got the first printing press as a happy accident: As early as 1542, Francis Xavier, a Spaniard, was teaching the Bible in Tharangambadi (Tranquebar), Tamil Nadu. Also, when the Viceroy of Goa, on behalf of King Joan III of Portugal, opened schools for Indians, books had to be provided. Thus, pressure was put on Portugal by Francis Xavier to dispatch printing presses to India, Ethiopia and Japan. Meanwhile, the Emperor of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) requested the king of Portugal to send a press along with the missionaries. Thus the first batch of Jesuit missionaries left for Ethiopia on March 29, 1556. En route, they arrived in Goa on September 6, 1556. But, while they were preparing to proceed to Ethiopia, news reached them that the Ethiopian Emperor was not keen to receive the missionaries. Thus, as luck would have it, the press stayed in Goa and was set up at the College of St. Paul in Goa. Today, the huge arch of the St. Paul’s College gate, restored by the Archaeological Survey of India, stands as a witness to this pioneering effort.

In this regard, I should also mention the Italian priest Veeramamunivar, who compiled several dictionaries and composed literary and grammatical works in Tamil in the early 1700s.

PS: Do not take the dates given above to be the final word on the subject; the author of the posts agrees that some of the dates are educated guesses. So, if you know that the dates are wrong, or if you know of any other Indian language and the year of first printing in the same, leave a note.

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weekly wrapup
Another lovely week went away with mutiny picking on hits and getting more hits and then picking a little more.

Chacko wondered what happened to CNN IBN’S website earlier this week. He usually is very very inquisitive, isnt it? Later in the week he goes all crazy, he wants a CSI team for Jamaica led by two Malayalees. Chacko punks.

Angelspace digs a beautiful ad that pleads, “Don’t burn the planet away“. Later this week she’s got a beautiful caricature about the Indian cricket performance.

Guru comes up with another interesting story about how classical music and modern gadgetry are shaping up. Later in the week he provides a bit of history of Indian constitution.

Polite takes a look at the recent UN Slam on India on Dalit Violence. He believes this was coming.

Jo covers the online grievance Forum and how a folk got himself heard and got the BSNL show caused. Later in the week he debates if Mohan Lal is at fault for selling liquor.

Out fastrack expert Maltesh writes about the much talked about F1 track on Rajpath.

HinduMommy comes up with her popular top something things, this time its top 21 things Indians say when they return to India from US. Damn good it is.

GentleDude revisits the Babri Saga. Its a very personal description. Good work Dude.

Towards the end of the week, Jo comes up with his thoughts on conversion and religion.

Polite Indian covers the news of the week – SC stay in OBC.

Guru at the end of the week tells us about how some time back, employment with Govt of India was an honor.

Ujj ends the week with this chotu post on the Globalized Vadapao. The man can eat.

It was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Thathachariar says, who regretted the lack of unity among the religious sects and this prompted the Kanchi Sankaracharya to take the initiative in bringing the heads of different Mutts together into a single organisational frame (when the Constituent Assembly was in session) so that they could speak in one voice.

In the event, thanks to such concerted effort and support by sections across the country, the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom became a reality.

From this profile of Agnihotram Ramanuja Thathachariar.

I did not know about this aspect of Patel‘s contribution. In the event there was no representation, what were the constitutionalists planning to do? Not mention religious freedom at all? It would be interesting to see the records of discussion on this issue at the constituent assembly. May be Ram Guha will discuss this aspect too in his forthcoming  Indian history book!

Sunday,06-Dec,1992.I was a child of 8 years.I was watching DD News along with my parents.Karsevaks demolishing Babri masjidThere were some images being shown on the TV.A mob going wild,demolishing a structure.I asked my mother what it was, and she said ‘Some foolish people are demolishing a mosque.’I asked why.She had no answer.Neither did millions of Indians.

Babri Masjid haunts our generation.Every 6th of December is a black day.Protests pour out all over the country.The law and order situation becomes fragile.The security forces are put on high alert.Why do we need this?

Hindus and Muslims lived together peacefully for hunderds of years in this country.Agreed,there were a few disturbances.Yet India proved itself to be resilient and the differences were settled amicably.Where is that resilience now?Why do millions of people fall prey to the fancies of stupid politicians?

People say Lord Rama was born there,at the exact place where Babri once stood.I didn’t know that technology has developed to an extent where we can predict the exact birth location of a person.OK,agreed that Rama was born there and later the Muslim rulers built a mosque at the place after demolishing the temple that was there.So the Hindu fanatics demolished the mosque. Now let us assume that a temple has been built at the site.What if a few hundred years down the line a Muslim mob demolishes the temple because a mosque existed before the temple has been built?

We,the Indians,have umpteen number of issues that require a very serious attention from us-Poverty,Hunger,Child Labour,Dowry,AIDS,Corruption..the list goes on.It’s time for us as a nation to get over such petty issues.

Let us have a new beginning.We gave the world the weapon of Non-Violence.Now let us show the world our resilience.Get over Babri.Get over Gujarat.Let us build a monument that buries the centuries of hatred between the communities.Let us build the four lion statue from Sarnath. A massive one.Bigger than the Eiffel tower,bigger than Lady Liberty.

The replica of the statue erected by a Buddhist king,Ashoka,standing on the place where Hindus and Muslims fought each other.The four lions bury the centuries of hatchet under their massive feet.They roar in the four directions,announcing the arrival of India,as a nation.As a nation of single religion,Indianism.

The issue of caste is something that has been discussed in this blog time and again; while Vishal, for example, is happy being a practicing Shudra, a Theyyam practitioner from Kerala feels that caste based restrictions on performing Theyyam are part of the tradition (and, every community has a certain role to play in the tradition). For Nita, the very word caste implies discrimination; and, anybody who had read Ujj and Oranjee on the plight of denotified communities can understand why. And, it is comes as no surprise that 55% of Indians think that the caste system is a barrier to social harmony in India. The efforts of government to promote inter-caste marriages, reservation policy, and reservation in private sector have also been discussed (though, not as often as one would wish). Under these circumstances, to ask “What is caste” might sound a bit frivolous; but, not when Andre Beteille raises the question, and tries to answer it.

Prof. Beteille studied caste in Thillaisthanam (a village near Tanjore) for his PhD, and his book Caste, Class and Power: Changing Patterns of Stratification in a Tanjore Village (published in 1965) is something that I have enjoyed thoroughly. As Prof. Beteille himself notes elsewhere,

In Caste, Class and Power, which was a lightly revised version of a Delhi University Ph.D thesis written under the supervision of M.N. Srinivas, I followed the established convention of the anthropological monograph based on intensive fieldwork, long stay in a community and detailed observation of its everyday life. But, instead of focusing on problems that were then central to anthropology such as kinship, marriage, religion and ritual, I chose class and stratification which were central to the concerns of sociology. That book was written with the conviction that the convergence of sociology and social anthropology was a distinct and exciting possibility, and that Indian sociologists could contribute something to its realisation. The book had a mixed response. I was sharply criticised by some anthropologists in Europe for trying to introduce class and stratification into a domain where they did not fit. On that point I believe I have prevailed over my critics.

In his latest essay in Economic and Political Weekly (pdf), Prof. Beteille discusses the distinction between class and caste; the essay is based on the text of the A K Dasgupta memorial lecture that Prof. Beteille delivered recently.

The essay while acknowledging that caste is the defining feature of the community in India, and that is has been a vital socio-economic institution since historical times, goes on to discuss the distinction between class and caste in the Indian context, and the politics associated with it. All this discussion would have been purely academic and would have been of interest only to sociologists, but for the clear connection that Prof. Beteile makes between the Indian middle class, and their political mobilisation towards their own communities. Thus, the article is both of academic and practical interest.

Finally, there are some interesting pieces of historical information too in the essay; for example, I found that K B Krishna’s 1939 book The problem of minorities (which Prof. Beteille feels made the shrewd observation of the connection between the Indian middle class and their caste politics) got this following note the International Affairs journal:

This work is by a convinced Communist who wholeheartedly approves the conditions created by the Bolshevist regime in Russia and who wishes to see a similar state of affairs created in his native country, India.

The note goes on to point out that Krishna faulted the Imperialist Government for its communal representation schemes. In this sense, the present day reservation and communal representations, as they are practised in India might be British legacies.

In any case, if the questions of caste, reservation and caste politics interests you, here is an essay that you must read.

Ram Guha, continuing on his sins of Indian communism, tells about the dangers that the Indian republic faces from the political groups to the extreme left and right of centre:

For the past decade and more, the Republic of India has faced a strong threat from right-wing extremism. The destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya and the pogrom of the Muslims in Gujarat were but the most visible signs of a focused and determined effort to make India a “Hindu Rashtra”.

…the Republic of India also faces a strong threat from left-wing extremism now.

And, as usual, there is some good news and some bad news:

The battle against Hindutva is not yet won, while the battle against Naxalism has barely begun.

Finally, Guha has a few suggestions to make things better:

First, the government must work more honestly to honour the Constitution, by bringing the fruits of development to those sections — principally, the Dalits and adivasis — who have benefited least (and, in the case of adivasis, lost most) from the recent surge in economic growth. Second, the media must go beyond the consuming classes to write about and speak for those Indians who do not own cars or refrigerators. Third, intellectuals must be more vigilant in detecting and exposing threats to the democratic way of life, even (or especially) if these threats travel under the guise of ideologies that profess to be emancipatory but whom history has shown, in practice, to be as violent and intolerant as the reactionary ideologies of the Right.

While I agree with most of what Ram Guha has to say, I think he misses one point in his article. While he correctly identifies the reason for the intellectuals going soft on the left wing extremists,

The reason intellectuals are often less than even-handed in their treatment of the two kinds of extremism is that the left-wing kind presumes to speak for the poor;

he forgets to mention that the middle class support to Hindutva forces stem from similar sources, namely, guilt and the perception that Hindus are soft and hence are taken advantage of.

Ramachandra Guha, in a piece in the Telegraph, analyses a betrayal that Indian communists committed during the early days of Indian independence:

Indian communists are often chastized for not supporting the Quit India movement of 1942. But a far greater crime of which they were guilty is little talked about nowadays. This took place six years later, when the Communist Party of India fomented an insurrection to strangle the infant Indian state at birth.

Guha finds not just the communists but also the Indian intellectuals guilty:

In recounting these events, Indian intellectuals in general, and Indian historians in particular, are notoriously one-sided. When speaking of the RSS threat, they mince no words — as indeed they should not. But when speaking of the failed communist insurrection, they choose to focus instead on the “massive state repression”. But what was the Indian state supposed to do when faced with this armed challenge to its authority? Sit back and allow Ranadive and his men to move into power in New Delhi? The state reacted the only way it could. And its actions were legitimate; behind them was the support of the broad masses of the people. As it happened, the legitimacy of the state was tested and confirmed in the general elections of 1952, won resoundingly by Nehru’s Congress, and in which the now-reconciled Communist Party of India was also a contestant.

And, what is more, the ending of Guha’s piece is ominous:

The purpose of recounting these events from our first years of freedom is not simply to set the record straight. In fact, they have a strong contemporary resonance, which shall be the subject of my next column.

What is the contemporary resonance that he is talking about? I just can’t wait a fortnight to find out the answer.

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