Basel Mission Press, which pioneered the printing revolution in coastal districts 175 years back, continues to breathe in Mangaluru, although not in its earlier glory. Established in 1841, the press is now recognised as Balmatta Institute of Printing Technology and Book Craft, located at Balmatta, Mangaluru. The institution has seen many ups and downs in a century. The printing press is currently run by KACES (Karnataka Christian Educational Society) and continues to operate.
The press is also evidence to the first Kannada newspaper ‘Mangaluru Samachara’, the first copy came out in 1843 as a fortnightly. The landmark publications in Kannada, Tulu, Malayalam and Konkani languages were also printed in the same printing press.
The printing revolution in Dakshina Kannada was pioneered by German Missionaries who landed in Mangalore on 1834, with an objective to spread the holy gospel, at a later stage, consciously involved themselves in the publication of literary works in Kannada, after mastering the language. During the year of their arrival, the missionaries started organising religious meetings in Kannada and also opened a Kannada medium school. Realising that there was a need to print the hymn books, they decided to introduce the lithograph technology, which had already started in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Kannada printing was available in Bellary and Serampore. Rev Hermann F Moegling, who is acclaimed as the Father of Kannada Journalism, along with another missionary Wagler, brought the lithograph machine, from Bombay to Mangalore.
Between the period 1852 and 1862, the lithography printing was in the pink of robust health. Textbooks of all schools in the then Madras Presidency were printed in the Basel Mission Press. The first publication was a book containing 50 hymns. Textbooks were brought out for the school established by the Mission. A book on Word of God according to Matthew was printed in 1842. In the stewardess of Rev Ferdinand Kittel and other scholars, the Basel Mission printed English- Kannada and Malayalam - English dictionaries, which were the first of their kind.
The printing press was located at Neereshwalya near Pandeshwar in Mangaluru. Due to space constraints, the press was shifted to Mission compound, Balmatta. Dasa compositions, ‘Chennabasava Purana’, ‘Haribhaktisara’ were among the major Kannada publications in 1847.
Karnataka Theological College Archives assistant Bennet Ammanna said that in 1913 the printing press was again shifted to the building where the Hebik’s Technical Institute exists today and later to the existing location in Balmatta Road in 1907. The current printing press building was a handloom unit then. By 1940, the number of employees had reduced to merely 30. The press had to remain closed in 1970 and 1972 owing to administrative drawbacks. During the world war, the ownership went to another organisation and continued till the KACES took over the management of the press in 1978. The institution also provided training to the interested in printing and book binding. The institution was named Balmatta Institute of Printing Technology and Book Craft. In 1980, offset machines were introduced in the press.
At present, there are 15 staff in the press. The old printing machines are preserved in the building. To mark the post-centenary diamond jubilee celebrations of Basel Mission Press, KACES, plans to open a museum where the machines depicting the printing technology of those days, such as lithography machines, will be displayed while the existing press will also be upgraded with new machines.
(Inputs from Karnataka Theological College Archives Assistant Bennet Ammanna)