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India and the World of Print

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The earliest type of print technology, which was a hand printing system, was invented by China, Japan, and Korea. Beginning in AD 594, books in China were printed on rubbing paper and folded and stitched on both sides. For a long time, China was the leading manufacturer of printed material. China began holding civil service tests for its bureaucrats, and a large number of textbooks were written. The print was no longer limited to academics and government officials. The print was employed by merchants to collect trade information. Reading became a leisure activity, and wealthy women began to write their own poetry and plays. In the late nineteenth century, Western printing methods and mechanical presses were imported.

India and World of Print

India and the World of Print

Life Before the Printing Press

A man was not equipped with a writing device long before the printing press was ever thought of. The only thing that was passed on was the spoken word. The instrument that was relied on was memory. As a result, when writing began to permeate the mainstream culture, many people, including Socrates, opposed it, believing that it would only cause amnesia and a “display of wisdom without reality.”

This opinion, of course, was highly fleeting, since writing had become fairly prevalent soon after. Nonetheless, it remained the domain of society’s elites, preserving the written word on papyrus or vellum. The writing was not done in the common language at medieval monasteries, cathedrals, and universities; instead, a special, sacred language, Latin, was utilized. This further limited access to writing to individuals who were fluent in Latin. 

Despite the fact that the effort attempted to eliminate variability, there were alterations that occurred gradually. One significant change that had occurred by the beginning of the Middle Ages was the transition from scrolls to codices, the form in which we are familiar with our books. The codex made the written word more accessible by decreasing the wear and tear caused by the repeated rolling and unrolling of scrolls, and many historians feel it was a greater revolution than the printing press.

Around 1350, stationery shops sprouted up around the nascent universities of Medieval Europe, making bookselling a far more lucrative business. Scribes would copy books on demand here. With the introduction of the Gutenberg printing press, all of this, as well as several other social structures, underwent substantial transformations. 

India and the world of Print

The changes in India and the world of Print are as given below:

Manuscripts Before the Age of Print

India had a long and rich heritage of handwritten manuscripts in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, and other vernacular languages. Manuscripts were handwritten or copied on palm leaves or handmade paper. Pages were wonderfully illustrated and would be pressed between hardwood covers or sewn together to preserve them. They were produced until the late nineteenth century. Manuscripts were both expensive and delicate. They had to be handled with care, and they were difficult to read because the script was written in several styles. 

Thus, manuscripts were not frequently employed in daily life. Despite the fact that pre-colonial Bengal had a large network of local primary schools, children rarely read books. They had only recently learned to write. Teachers dictated passages from memory to students, who copied them down. As a result, many people became literate without ever having read any form of text. 

Printing in India and Goa

In 1780, James Augustus Hicky began editing the Bengal Gazette, a monthly periodical. As a result, it was a private English company, proud of its independence from colonial influence, that initiated English printing in India. Hickey ran a slew of advertisements, many of which were with the import and sale of slaves. However, he also spread a lot of rumors regarding the Company’s senior executives in India. Enraged, Governor-General Warren Hastings prosecuted Hicky and promoted the establishment of officially sanctioned publications to offset the flow of information that harmed the colonial government’s image.

A number of newspapers and journals were published by the end of the eighteenth century. There were other Indians who started publishing Indian newspapers. The weekly Bengal Gazette, published by Gangadhar Bhattacharya was the first to emerge. 


In the mid-sixteenth century, Portuguese missionaries brought the printing press to Goa. Jesuit priests learned Konkani and published a number of pamphlets. By 1674, over 50 books had been printed in Konkani and Kannada. In 1579, Catholic priests in Cochin printed the first Tamil book, and in 1713, they printed the first Malayalam book. Dutch Protestant missionaries had printed 32 Tamil writings by 1710, many of which were translations of previous works. Despite the fact that the English East India Company began importing presses in the late seventeenth century, the English language press did not flourish in India until much later.

Print Revolution and Its Impact

The print revolution was not merely a new method of creating books; it also changed people’s relationships with information and knowledge, as well as with institutions and authority.

  1. People’s lives were changed as a result of it.
  2. It shifted their perspective on information and knowledge.
  3. It had an impact on interactions with institutions and authorities.
  4. It altered public conceptions by opening up new ways of looking at things.

Reading Public

The print revolution cut the cost of books. It spawned a new reading culture. Previously, only the elites were authorized to read books, while the general public had to listen to sacred scriptures read aloud. Books were prohibitively expensive prior to the printing revolution. However, the shift was not without difficulty. Books could only be read by the literate, and literacy rates in most European countries were extremely low until the twentieth century. As a result, printers began publishing popular ballads and folk stories, and such books were lavishly decorated with illustrations. These were then sung and recited at rural meetings and in town bars. As a result, oral culture penetrated print, and printed literature was orally conveyed. The distinction between oral and written cultures grew hazy. And the hearing and reading publics grew entwined.

Religious Debates amidst Print

  1. Print enabled the widespread dissemination of ideas, ushering in a new era of debate and discussion.
  2. They could persuade individuals to think differently and motivate them to act by using the printed message.
  3. Many people were concerned about the implications that increased access to the printed word and wider distribution of books may have on people’s minds.
  4. It was feared that if no one had control over what was printed and read, rebellious and irreligious ideas would proliferate.
  5. The authority of ‘valuable’ books would be undermined if this occurred.
  6. This worry, expressed by religious authorities and monarchs, as well as many writers and artists, served as the foundation for widespread criticism of the newly circulated printed literature.

Raja Rammohan Roy and his Contributions to Press

Ram Mohan Roy was born on May 22, 1772, in Hooghly, Bengal, to a Hindu Brahmin family. Ramkanto Roy, his father, was a Sanskrit, Persian, and English scholar who also studied Arabic, Latin, and Greek. Little is known about his early life, but it is usually assumed that he traveled extensively and learned languages like Persian, Arabic, and English, in addition to Sanskrit, Bengali, and Hindi.

While Roy is best known for his role in abolishing the social evils of sati and child marriage in India, his entrance into journalism was also one of his many endeavors to improve the country’s socio-cultural landscape via learning and education. 

In 1821, he launched Sambad Kaumudi, the first Bengali language weekly newspaper, and the first newspaper in the Indian language. The weekly publication promoted reading habits, the value of debate, and the significance of education for all. In 1822, he also produced Mirat-ul-Akhbar, a Persian newspaper.

FAQs on India and the World of Print

Question 1: What impact did print culture have on women in nineteenth-century India?


Because of advances in printing technology, books have become more affordable. Many hawkers began selling books door to door. The majority of women now have easy access to books as a result of this. Aside from that, many liberal guys encouraged their female family members to read. Novels included fascinating descriptions of women’s lives. This piqued the interest of female readers. Women who had previously been cooped up inside their homes could now learn about the outside world owing to print technology. This resulted in a surge of female writers in India. It is possible to argue that print culture not only developed readers but also authors among women.

Question 2: What role did print culture play in the development of scientists and philosophers?


The ideas of scientists and philosophers are now more accessible to the general public. Maps and scientific illustrations were frequently produced, and ancient and medieval scientific books were compiled and published. When scientists like Isaac Newton began to publish their findings, they were able to reach a considerably larger audience of scientifically interested readers. Thinkers such as Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau’s writings were also widely printed and read. As a result, their ideals about science, reason, and logic found their way into popular fiction.

Question 3: What is a print revolution?


With the invention of the printing press, a new reading public arose. The cost of books was reduced as a result of printing. The time and labour necessary to make each book decreased, allowing for the production of many copies with more ease. Books saturated the market, reaching an ever-expanding audience. The availability of books spawned a new reading culture. Previously, reading was only available to the upper crust. 

Ordinary people lived in an oral culture environment. They heard sacred texts read aloud, ballads sung, and folk tales told. Oral transmission of knowledge People listened to a story or attended a performance in a group. Books were not only expensive before the introduction of print, but they could also not be produced in adequate quantities. Books can now reach a wider range of people. If there was a hearing public before, there is now a reading public.

Question 4: Describe the role of nationalist newspapers in spreading nationalistic feelings among the people in the early 20th century.


Despite coercive tactics, the circulation of nationalist journals increased throughout India. They exposed colonial misrule and aided nationalist operations. Attempts to muzzle nationalist criticism sparked a fervent backlash. This, in turn, triggered a new round of persecution and demonstrations. 

When Punjab revolutionaries were deported in 1907, Balgangadhar Tilak wrote about them in his Kesari with tremendous sympathy. This resulted in his arrest in 1908, which sparked enormous protests across India. Thus, in the early twentieth century, nationalist newspapers played an essential role in propagating nationalistic feelings among people.

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Last Updated : 24 Mar, 2023
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