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Lalmani Verma | Indian Express | Gorakhpur | July 3, 2022:: When the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted life in early 2020, several big publishers and printers faced a crisis as readers increasingly shifted online to read books and access study materials, preferring their e-readers over hardback editions and paperbacks.
While many publishers strategised how to adjust to this change that the pandemic had speeded up, a hundred-year-old publishing house based in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, recorded a surge in sales after the first wave of the pandemic. Even as other publishers, struggling with financial losses, were struggling to send their books to stores, Gita Press’s publications reached book stalls in newer areas and its footprint expanded. The publisher claims to have sold books worth more than Rs 77 crore in the 2021-’22 financial year, up from around Rs 52 crore the year before.
This year, Gita Press is in its centenary year and the celebrations will conclude on May 3, 2023. On June 4, President Ram Nath Kovind, Governor Anandiben Patel, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath attended an event marking the occasion. Kovind acknowledged the publisher’s role in taking the “spiritual and cultural knowledge of India” to the masses. Apart from the Bhagavad Gita, Kovind said, Gita Press publishes the Ramayana, the Puranas, the Upanishads, the Bhakt Charitra, and other religious books. It has the distinction of being the world’s largest publisher of Hindu religious books.
President Ram Nath Kovind addressed the centenary celebrations of Gita Press at Gorakhpur today.
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) June 4, 2022
The founder of Gita Press was Marwari businessman Jayadayal Goyandka from Churu in Rajasthan who was based in Bankura, Bengal, and used to trade in cotton, kerosene oil, textiles, and utensils. An avid reader of the Bhagavad Gita, he formed groups of friends in the towns where he used to travel for business and these men joined him in religious congregations, called satsangs, to discuss the book. This network of Gita discussion groups expanded but all of the satsangis realised that they did not have an authentic, error-free translation of the Gita along with a faithful commentary. In 1922, Goyandka got the Gita published by Vanik Press in Kolkata but errors prevailed. When Goyandka raised the matter with the press owner, he got told off. The press owner told him to set up his own press if he wished to see an error-free translation of the book. Thus began the journey of Gita Press.
One of Goyandka’s businessmen friends from Gorakhpur proposed that the press be operated from the town in Uttar Pradesh. Ghanshyamdas Jalan also offered to run it. With this, Gita Press came into being in 1923. While, at present, books are published using India-made “wave offset” machines and other machines from Germany, Japan, and Italy, the first books were published using a treadle machine brought from Boston in the United States.
“He (Goyandka) believed that it (the Gita) was a message of god and he should set up the press,” said Gita Press’s current manager Lalmani Tiwari. “He discussed it with the participants of satangs. Ghanshyamdas Jalan of Gorakhpur was a regular participant in the satsangs. He offered that if a press is established in Gorakhpur, he will take care of it. Then it was decided to look for a space in Gorakhpur for the press.”
A small building was rented for Rs 10 per month and using the machine from Boston the group started printing the Gita on April 29, 1923. In July 1926, another building, where the existing campus of Gita press is located, was purchased for Rs 10,000. The existing campus is spread over two lakh square feet. Since its establishment, the publication house claims to have printed more than 90 crore books. Its flagship monthly magazine Kalyan has been in circulation for the last 95 years and so far 16.74 crore copies have been printed. Mahatma Gandhi was among the contributors to the first issue of Kalyan.
“We started with the Bhagavad Gita. Presently, we are publishing 1,800 titles of books in 15 languages. On average, we are supplying 60,000 books daily. But still, we are not able to meet the demand,” said Tiwari. The Press focuses on the translation of the Gita, the Ramayana, the Puranas, the Mahabharata and other books in different languages. It also publishes storybooks for kids.
Though it publishes books on the “Sanatana Hindu dharma (the eternal religion)”, Gita Press claims to have no association with any political outfit. Asked about the publication house’s links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Tiwari said Gita Press was associated with everyone in society but had no connection to Hindutva politics.
But, author Akshaya Mukul has written of the publishing house in his book Gita Press and the making of Hindu India, “It was a crucial cog in the wheel of Hindu nationalism that struck up alliances with everyone: mendicants, liberals, politicians, philanthropists, scholars, sectarian organizations like the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha, Jana Sangh and VHP, and conservative elements within the Congress.”
In the book, Mukul cites scholar Paul Arney who has called Gita Press the “leading purveyor of print Hinduism in the twentieth century”. Mukul says Arney, in his work, cites “a special issue of Hindu Chetna, a VHP publication, which came out in 1992 in honour of Poddar”. The Poddar Arney talks about is Kalyan’s founding editor Hanuman Prasad Poddar.
Mukul goes on to write, “The issue carried a 1964 interview of Poddar by Shivram Shankar Apte, earlier with the RSS and later loaned to the VHP. Poddar, who was among the founders of the VHP, told Apte that it was Gita Press that ‘sowed the tolerant ideals that have now blossomed into the plant of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’.”
Asked why Gita Press does not publish books of other religions, its current manager Tiwari deflected by saying, “There is already so much work in books of Sanatana Dharma that we are not able to supply as per the demand. We have yet to publish the Vedas and Smriti.”
Kovind is not the first president to visit the Gita Press office. Dr Rajendra Prasad inaugurated the main entrance of the publishing house and an art gallery called Lila Chitra Mandir at its premises in 1955. The gallery depicts the Lilas of Hindu deities Ram and Krishna in 684 paintings arranged sequentially from birth to the end of each. The complete Gita is inscribed on marble blocks on the walls, as are about 700 couplets and verses of exalted saints. Over the years, notable names, including High Court judges, governors and chief ministers of different states have visited the Press.
Gita Press functions under a non-profit trust called Gobind Bhavan — it is named after the building in Kolkata’s Bara Bazar area where the publishing house took shape — that does not also accept donations. Gita Press now has 430 employees, 20 sales depots, and almost 2,500 booksellers who purchase its works. At the press, the religious books once printed are not left on the ground and are placed on pallets.
“The Trust is also not hereditary. There is no one in the Trust from the family of the founder. Also, members of the Trust are not elected. They are selected and assigned responsibilities,” Tiwari said.
Asked about reports that Gita Press was about to shut down a few years ago, Tiwari claimed that was fake news. “In 2015, fake news was circulated that Gita Press was in a financial crisis. By circulating such reports, some people wanted to collect money as donations in the name of Gita Press,” said Tiwari. “So many people offered donations. But we did not accept. We even had to close our bank account for a few days so that no one could transfer money. Also, at the time, some employees got confused about their salaries and staged a strike for a few days. But that issue was also resolved.”
Courtesy: Indian Express.