An almost century long institution of reverence, though not one that deifies itself but invokes indeed the religious and spiritual ethos of a whole faith of people, in fact an entire nation of people believed to be living through the principles of Hinduism, the Gita Press in Gorakhpur of Uttar Pradesh holds the distinction of being the world’s largest producer of Hindu religious texts. Set up in 1923 by two Marwari businessmen-turned-spiritualists Jaydayal Goyandka and Ghanshyam Das Jalan with an aim to propagate the principles of Sanatan Dharma among the general public, the press has since then been selling religious Hindu books at subsidised prices directed to its end of making a Hindu India. On a religious publishing spree since 1927, the now world renowned Gita Press indeed has the numbers to show its stature in emerging as a phenomenon in itself- selling some 72 million copies of the Gita, 70 million copies of Tulsidas’ works and 19 million copies of scriptures like the Puranas and Upanishads by 2014. Particularly with the Hindi translation of the Bhagavad Gita, of which more than a 100 interpretations embedded in its archives, the Gita Press has been able to penetrate the psyche of a whole nation of Hindus even as its numerous other publications on Hindu rituals and practices have made it the mainstay of a nation specifically sought to be driven by the principles of Hindutva in the present times.
Perhaps an enterprise of this magnitude, non profit whatsoever, that focusses on religion as the Gita Press has emerged to be is paralleled only by the Christian Bible society, with the former being the source of the most widely available version of the Hindu canon in the country for over half a century now. Beyond the books and scriptures that Gita Press publishes, mandating the many ideals and rituals of Hinduism to be followed in practice for spiritual salvation as it aims for, the establishment is also noted for its Hindi magazine Kalyan which again is the most widely read religious periodical ever published in India. A monthly magazine that has been functioning since 1926 with Hanuman Prasad Poddar as its founding and lifetime editor, Kalyan and its English equivalent Kalyana-Kalpataru both continue to enjoy widespread popularity. Particularly in an age and time where even literary and political journals thrive in press archives, Kalyan continues to boast a circulation that breaches the 2 lakh mark with its special editions even going on to become collector’s items. With a dual agenda of social reforms and religious propagation as its core, Kalyana holds even today its distinguished identity of a populist nature to firmly establish its belief in Hindu culture and values across the greater Indian spectrum of thought and living.
With a legacy that reaches down to the times of an India under the British rule, Gita Press’ desire to incite spiritual reawakening and moral righteousness through its method rooted in the sprawling folds of the Hindu religion, went on to encompass other dimensions of the social life over times. In fact, as early as 1926, when Kalyan had its inception, nationalism and particularly Hindu nationalism began to make way into the entrenches of the rationale upon which the establishment set out working. Particularly with Poddar, Kalyan and associatedly Gita Press as well, acquired an identity that linked it more intricately to Hindutva over Hinduism with almost every prominent political leader as well as academicians of the times were roped in to express their own through Kalyan, that which also earned these personalities a prominent footing of their own within the majority Hindu masses of India, consolidating therefore a decipherable wave of Hindu nationalism throughout the expanses of the country.
No wonder, the heritage status of this almost a centenary old institution and its definite links with the polity of the Indian space has continuously ruled over popular opinion, with even a whole book chronicling its journey as well as its stance and influence on the premises of that broad but unidimensional understanding of Hindutva. Published in 2015, the award winning book titled Gita Press and the making of Hindu India by veteran journalist Akshaya Mukul offers a very thoroughly researched account into what is undoubtedly one of the most influential publishing enterprises in the history of modern India. From insights into the lives of Poddar and Goyandka and their ideologies that led to the birth of what would go on to be a epoch making not for profit business to tracing the origins of Kalyan and the many ways it would come to influence the formation of a Hindu political consciousness through an exploration of religion in a way that deems it suitable to adhere to the terms of marketing, the book takes an interesting view of the many subtle ‘revolutions’ that the Gita Press has been helping shape up by employing the sobriety of something as spiritual as religious doctrines to stamp its dominance as a platform of multiple influential traits running through it even as it went about its propagation in profusion of the art of living and such other positive adages oft attributed to sanatan dharma and Hinduism.
But beyond the cleverly camouflaged political aspects of it as identified by the book and also by the present day analysis at length of an institution shaped as much by religion as the other way round, the rooting of the Geeta Press in aspects of the more divine realms of the world, or Hinduism more specifically, has not been able to shield it from issues pertaining to its existence as an organization that dwells still on workers and people to drive it forward. From a solitary instance of a strike by its workers back in 2014, what can be inferred is perhaps a draw of sorts that prioritises indeed religion over everything else- be it worker’s rights or the greater social consciousness. According to Mukul though, as elaborated in his aforementioned book, strikes have been a characteristic of the Gita Press right from the 1930s itself, shortly after it commenced operations though little has been done to avert those causes of mismanagement, even when managing to evade them skillfully from treading the concerted path of religious nationalism. For an organisation so deeply entrenched in the moral values that religion supposedly affords to abide by the motto of “Serving humanity for truth and peace”, the Gita Press’ thrust upon spiritual well being should not allow it to consider as subservient the greater ideal of humanity. Simultaneous striving for the righteousness of a moral universe and the more practical physical one as a route it started out with in the early 1900s would perhaps be more validating a point in existence for the Gita Press, one of the truly remarkable century long presences that India has explored both in religious and associated notions of it.