When the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted life in early 2020, several major publishers and printers faced a crisis as readers increasingly moved online to read books and access press materials. study, preferring their e-readers to hardbacks and paperbacks.
While many publishers have strategized to adapt to this change which the pandemic has accelerated, a century-old publishing house based in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh has seen a surge in sales after the first wave. of the pandemic. Even as other publishers, struggling with financial losses, struggled to get their books to stores, Gita Press publications reached book stalls in new 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 in the previous year.
This year, Gita Press celebrates its centenary and the celebrations will end on May 3, 2023. On June 4, President Ram Nath Kovind, Governor Anandiben Patel and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath attended a milestone event the occasion. Kovind acknowledged the publisher’s role in imparting “spiritual and cultural knowledge of India” to the masses. Besides the Bhagavad Gita, Kovind said, Gita Press publishes the Ramayana, Puranas, Upanishads, 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 in Gorakhpur today.
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) June 4, 2022
The founder of Gita Press was Marwari businessman Jayadayal Goyandka from Churu in Rajasthan, based in Bankura, Bengal, and used to trade in cotton, kerosene, textiles and utensils. An avid reader of the Bhagavad Gita, he formed groups of friends in the cities where he used to travel on business and these men joined him in religious congregations, called satsangs, to discuss the book. This network of Gita discussion groups expanded but all satsangis realized that they did not have an authentic and error-free translation of the Gita with a faithful commentary. In 1922, Goyandka had the Gita published by Vanik Press in Kolkata, but errors prevailed. When Goyandka raised the issue with the owner of the press, he was scolded. The owner of the press told him to start his own press if he wanted to see an error-free translation of the book. Thus began the journey of Gita Press.
One of Goyandka’s friendly businessmen from Gorakhpur proposed that the press be operated from the Uttar Pradesh city. Ghanshyamdas Jalan has also offered to direct it. With this, Gita Press came into being in 1923. While at present the books are published using ‘wave offset’ machines made in India and other machines from Germany, Japan and Italy, the first books were published using a treadle machine brought from Boston to the United States.
“He (Goyandka) believed it was (the Gita) a message from God and that he should set up the press,” said Lalmani Tiwari, the current director of Gita Press. “He discussed it with the participants of the satangs. Ghanshyamdas Jalan of Gorakhpur regularly participated in satsangs. He proposed 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 Boston machine, the group began printing the Gita on April 29, 1923. In July 1926, another building, where the existing Gita press campus is located, was purchased for Rs 10,000. The existing campus spans two lakh square feet. Since its inception, the publishing house claims to have printed over 90 crores of books. Its flagship monthly magazine Kalyan has been in circulation for 95 years and so far 16.74 million copies have been printed. Mahatma Gandhi was among the contributors to the first issue of Kalyan.
“We started with the Bhagavad Gita. Currently, we publish 1,800 book titles in 15 languages. On average, we deliver 60,000 books per day. But we are still unable to meet the demand,” Tiwari said. The press focuses on translating the Gita, Ramayana, Puranas, Mahabharata and other books into different languages. She also publishes storybooks for children.
Although it publishes books on “Sanatana Hindu dharma (the eternal religion)”, Gita Press claims to have no association with any political organization. Asked about the publishing house’s ties 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 ties to politics. of Hindutva.
But, author Akshaya Mukul wrote 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 which forged alliances with all world: beggars, liberals, politicians, philanthropists, academics, sectarian organizations like the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha, Jana Sangh and VHP, and conservative elements within Congress.
In the book, Mukul quotes scholar Paul Arney who called Gita Press “the leading supplier of printed Hinduism in the 20th century”. Mukul says that Arney, in his work, cites “a special issue of Hindu Chetna, a VHP publication, which came out in 1992 in honor of Poddar”. The Arney Poddar spoken of is the founding editor of Kalyan, Hanuman Prasad Poddar.
Mukul goes on to write, “The issue contained a 1964 Poddar interview by Shivram Shankar Apte, earlier with the RSS and later on loan to the VHP. Poddar, who was among the founders of the VHP, told Apte that it was Gita Press that “sowed the seed of the tolerant ideals that have now blossomed in the factory of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad”.
When asked why Gita Press does not publish books of other religions, its current director, Tiwari, veered off saying, “There is already so much work in the Sanatana Dharma books that we are not in able to meet demand. We have not yet published the Vedas and Smriti.
Kovind is not the first president to visit the Gita Press office. Dr. Rajendra Prasad inaugurated the publishing house’s main entrance and an art gallery called Lila Chitra Mandir at its premises in 1955. The gallery depicts the Lilacs of the Hindu deities Ram and Krishna in 684 sequentially arranged paintings from the birth at the end of each. The complete Gita is inscribed on marble blocks on the walls, as are about 700 verses and verses from holy-rollers. Over the years, notable names including High Court Justices, Governors and Chief Ministers of different states have visited the press.
Gita Press operates under a non-profit trust called Gobind Bhavan – it is named after the building in the Bara Bazar district of Kolkata where the publishing house took shape – which also does not accept donations. Gita Press now has 430 employees, 20 sales depots and nearly 2,500 booksellers who buy its works. At the press, 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 Founder’s Family Trust. Moreover, the 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 it was fake news. “In 2015, fake news circulated that Gita Press was in financial crisis. By spreading such reports, some people wanted to raise money in the form of donations on behalf of Gita Press,” Tiwari said. “So many people have 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. Moreover, at the time, some employees got their wages wrong and staged a strike for a few days. But this problem has also been solved.