The Tamil script enjoys the status of being the first Indian script to be adapted for typesetting. Yet, Doctrina Christam, the first Tamil book printed in Goa, 1577, marks what can only be described as a ponderous beginning to a Tamil print culture. Despite the dithering, changes to Tamil typography were afoot.
With Latin—a script well into its adolescence in terms of typography—as the metric, Tamil suffered an accelerated change to adapt itself to the multiscript page. In fact, the eventual design of the typeset Tamil page fractured all links with its handwritten predecessors. Monolinear forms acquired a distinct contrast; the oblong horizontal manuscript turned vertical; pages once populated with a single style of a scribe, now witnessed a cambrian explosion of typographic hierarchy.
Such changes were not a result of explorations in design but were guided by the mission of the press and its agents: the proselytising zeal of the Jesuits and Lutherans, and the requirements for governance by the English colony.
In this talk we tread o’er paths previously travelled by giants like Priolkar, Kesavan and Shaw, albeit with an eye for the granularities of type and typography. One part history, one part survey, we reconstruct the Tamil page acknowledging the conditions that shaped its present form.