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​Europe and the Tamil World series


The Cartilha em Tamul e Português (A Catechism in Tamil and Portuguese), is the earliest printed book in Tamil or, for that matter, in any South Asian language. The Cartilha em Tamul e Português, a masterpiece of early Portuguese typography, was published in 1554 by Germão Galhardo, a French printer in Lisbon. The royally-commissioned trilingual (Latin-Tamil-Portuguese) catechism was the work of Vicente de Nazarethe, Jorge Carualho and Thome da Cruz, three ethnic Tamil Christians working in Lisbon under the supervision of a Portuguese Franciscan João de Villa de Conde. The significance of the Cartilha em Tamul e Português was first brought to light by the Jaffna-born Catholic scholar Xavier Thaninayagam who scoured European libraries for early Tamil printed books in the 1950s. Professor Thaninayagam was the head of the Indian Studies Department in University of Malaya in the 1960s. Other books identified by this Tamil scholar included Tambiran Vanakkam (1578), Kirisitiani Vanakkam (1579) and the first printed Tami-Portuguese Dictionary (Vocabulario Tamulicao) compiled by Antão de Proença (1679).


The Grammatica Damulica, authored by the Pietist missionary Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, is the first printed Latin grammar of Tamil (in Tamil characters) in the German-speaking world (1716). This was not the first grammar of Tamil written by Europeans, since the Grammatica Damulica was already preceded by Henrique Henriques’ Arte da Lingua Malabar (1548), Gaspar de Aguilar’s Arte Tamul (early 17th century; lost), Balthazar da Costa’s Arte Tamulica (1649) and Philippus Baldaeus’s Malabaarsche Spraackkunst (1672). With the exception of Baldaeus’s short work, all other early European grammars of Tamil circulated in manuscript rather than print form. This was also true of related lexical texts like da Costa’s Vocabulario Lusitano-Tamulico (before 1673) and Ignacio Bruno’s Vocabularium Tamulicum Jafanapatham (before 1659). Antão de Proença’s Vocabulario Tamulicao was the first printed Tamil dictionary (Ambalcat, 1679).


The grammars of Tamil which were written for a European audience followed Latin and vernacular European grammatical models rather than the native Tamil grammatical idiom. There was, of course, no need to write Tamil grammar for Tamils since the Tamil language already possessed a rich tradition of grammatical scholarship. The European missionary grammars of Tamil usually used a colloquial form of Tamil found along the eastern coast and the northern Sri Lankan area rather than centamil or standard literary Tamil.


The Mirror of Wisdom (ஞானக்கண்ணாடி) was, one of the many Tamil, invariably Christian and lexical, texts printed in 18th century Halle (Germany) to support the Danish Tranquebar Mission. The German missionary Heinrich Plütschau and his Tamil companion Timothy Kudiyan, who travelled to Europe in 1711, were the earliest Tamil teachers at Halle and later in Copenhagen. The Mirror of Wisdom is a 1751 Tamil translation of Johann Arndt's True Christianity (1606-1610) by Benjamin Schultze, another German missionary of the Danish-Halle mission at Tranquebar. Johann Arndt (1555-1621) was a famous German Lutheran theologian and his works were printed in multiple editions and translated into several languages.


This image of the goddess Kali belongs to an 18-piece bronze model of a 17th century hall (Putu Mantapam) at Madurai commissioned by Adam Blackader, a British surgeon stationed in Madurai during the 1780s. The model of the Putu Mantapam, built by Tirumalai Nayaka, was presented to the Society of Antiquaries in London through the English naturalist Sir Joseph Banks as means to encourage the study of South Indian temple architecture. Apart from the bronze models, Adam Blackader also commissioned Tamil artisans to produce 143 scale drawings of the same edifice. Adam Blackader was among the earliest European scholars to provide an academic study of the Madurai Minaksi-Sundaresvara temple through his essay published in the journal Archaeologia in 1792.


This mural executed around 1720 at the Rāmaliṅga Vilāsaṃ in Ramanathapuram depicts a Dutch soldier manning a cannon in the Setupati army during the war between Ramnanathapuram and the Maratha kingdom of Thanjavur in 1715. A lasting Dutch presence in the Ramnathapuram kingdom dates to 1690 when the local dynast Kiḻavaṉ Setupati permitted the Dutch East India Company to build a trading factory in the port of Kilakkarai much to the chagrin of Tamil Muslim traders who had hitherto dominated the port of Kilakkarai.


St. Mary’s church, Fort St. George, Chennai (formerly Madras). Completed in 1680 under the leadership of the East India Company agent Streynsham Master in the reign of Charles II, this edifice is the oldest Anglican church in Asia and one of the earliest surviving British edifices anywhere in the East. It was here where Elihu Yale, the founder-benefactor of Yale university in Connecticut, and Robert Clive (aka Clive of India) were wedded. The young Arthur Wellesley, later victor at Waterloo, lived right next door.

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