By Radhikka Vashisht and Ajeet Bharti
In the last two centuries, Indian language scene has witnessed a paradigm shift. The vernacular languages, since the infamous Vernacular Press Act of 1878, have been on a decline for long now. This continuous fall can be traced to two factors– our youths’ fascination with anything foreign and our parents’ fixation with English medium education.
One of the major catalysts to this phenomenon is the unofficial acknowledgement of English as the official communication language in India. This, along with educational curricula around the nation, proved to be a death nail for several languages.
Local languages taking the backseat meant a slow decline in language publication and readership. Coming to Hindi, on which the article is focussed, only a few Hindi publishers continue to survive this onslaught and one among them is Gita Press Gorakhpur.
Gita Press, which was founded in 1923, is the world’s largest publisher of Hindu religious text as well as books that have moral teachings and ancient knowledge. It is located in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. It was established for promoting the Sanatana Dharma or Hindu religion by Brahmalina Shri Jayadayalji Goyandka, who was “a staunch devotee and an exalted soul.”
Guided by the philosophy of holy text ‘Gita’ and convinced that Gita was the panacea for mankind’s plight, he began publishing it and other Hindu scriptures “to spread good intent and good thought amongst all.”
The website boasts of having “made available” several millions (582.5 million to be exact, as stated in publication overview section) of copies of ancient text.
“Over the years, the institution has made available more than 370 million copies of the Gita, Ramayan, Bhagvat, Durga Saptashati, Puranas, Upanishads, Bhakta-Gathas, and other character-building books in Sanskrit, Hindi, English, Gujarati, Tamil, Marathi, Bangla, Oriya, Telugu, Kannada, and other Indian regional languages.”
It also publishes a magazine named ‘Kalyan’. “‘Kalyan’ in Hindi and ‘Kalyana-Kalpataru’ in English are monthly magazines brought out by the institution. Information about latest releases and essays are provided in the house-magazine ‘Yug Kalyan’,” says the website.
This publishing house has maintained the quality and traditional style of Hindi text. Elaborating on the traditional style of Hindi text, the typical Hindi that we use today has done away with the concept of Chandrabindu and replaced it everywhere with anuswaar; nowhere, the classical Devanagari style of spelling words is seen. For example: the word चञ्चल is written as चंचल, पञ्चाङ्ग as पंचांग, गङ्गा as गंगा and so on.
Gita Press has kept this spelling intact. They have not compromised on the linguistic aspect even when the digital age has seen a sea change in the way we read and write Hindi.
The main objective of this institution is to spread Hindu principles through affordable and easy-to-read texts (and Hindi translations). Some of them of social relevance are ‘Ram Charit Manas’, ‘Bhagavad Gita’, ‘Vedas’, and ‘Upanishads’. It does so in other Indian languages as well; and that too on subsidized rates.
Recently, Gita Press has been in news for wrong reasons. The employees of Gita Press went on a strike over salaries and wage issues.
Lately, the publishing house has faced closure due to disagreement with workers and staff. Books published by Gita Press do not incorporate advertisement. This means a limitation on revenue. The most important aspect of Gita Press books is that they publish thick books at very affordable prices.
Books like ‘Ram Charit Manas’ which runs in over 1000 pages would cost over 1000 if it were to be published by any regular publishing house. However at Gita Press, the same costs a fraction. This means they have to take care of this extra cost.
Despite reports making rounds regarding the publishing house’s financial crunch, officials working for the organization refute the precariousness faced by them. In an attempt to protest against the crisis, the workers went on a strike that sparked off on August 8 this year. The demands put forth by the protesting workers mainly centred to a plausible pay hike. This was their second strike in less than two years.
This publication has a considerable contribution in maintaining and spreading Hindu culture all over the world. A glance at it website, www.gitapress.org, reveals: “The institution strives for the betterment of life and the well-being of all. It aims to promote the art of living as propounded in the Gita for peace and happiness and the ultimate upliftment of mankind.”
Facilitating the availability of these texts of religious and social significance, Gita Press publishes in as many as 15 languages from North, South, East and West of India. Even the word economical is an understatement for the efforts that the press undertakes.
Any culture, society or nation should be able to keep these endeavours alive and that too when the aim is to help society even if it is a business that runs in loss and expenses are covered by other ventures of the group. With a clear message that it does not accept donations, all we can give it is our support in words and deeds.