Gita Press: A Century Of Serving The Cause Of Sanatana Dharma
In its 100-year journey, Gita Press has served as a custodian of Sanatana Dharma.
It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to claim that every Hindu household in the country, irrespective of differences of region, sect, school of thought, language, has one common object in their space of worship — a copy of either the Bhagawad Gita, the Bhagavatam, a pocket book of Hanuman Chalisa or other religious scriptures from Gita Press, Gorakhpur (GPG).
It has been 99 years since the publishing house began its modest operations in the land of Gorakhnath. It has produced countless religious texts and ensured they reach anyone who seeks them — and at unimaginably affordable prices.
In its 100th year, the institution which is more of a shrine to its visitors is proud of keeping the tradition alive despite the hurdles it faced. From a strike few years ago to rumours of a shutdown owing to a financial crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic, to hit jobs by authors who painted it in colours of hate and bigotry, the mammoth book house has stood tall and says it owes it to the ideals and principles that guide its running.
When we visited the press in February this year, we were given a detailed tour of this premises that has produced countless books — from as small as a matchbox (which is the highest selling) to as large as an A4 sheet that is used for community readings, from a brief inscription of the Hanuman Chalisa to a elaborate exposition of the Bhagavatam, from the illustrated English book for children on Ramlalla, to the simplified yet detailed Durga Saptashati. The large store opposite the press that is a retail counter for the books is a shopper’s delight for the spiritually inclined.
The dwar or the aesthetically appealing entrance painted in a multitude of colours, the Partha Sarthi model in a glass case, the name of gods painted on its pillars, has come to stand for the institution and its dharmic pursuits and draw tourists to pause for a moment and pay it their due respect. As two large framed paintings at the entry point explain, various gods and their ‘ayudhs’ and key pilgrim centres find space in the design.
As one enters the massive wooden door, the large buildings with transports one to an ‘ashram’ feel as ‘subhashitas’ or words of wisdom are painted in large strips on the walls of the structures, while corners have boards that prohibit smoking, or chewing paan on the premises.
The walkway opens to a large porch, where one finds lorries parked and queued up to be loaded to take the words of Sri Krishna across the country. As the manager, who has served at the press for over three decades now explains, the lorries await to be loaded for daily despatch. “We make almost 50,000 books every day. The Ramcharitmanas alone sees 20,000-30,000 copies printed each month and to this day we have printed 8,289,000 copies of the manas,” said Rajesh Sharma.
As he gives us a detailed tour spanning few hours of every section, one notices the meticulous way in which every page is printed, gathered, sewn, bound and jacketed, all on machines that use the latest technology. While certain portions of the effort are still done manually, most of the work has been now shifted to machines that “ensure the books are error free”.
The press works regularly for eight hours each day and on days they have to meet certain printing requirements work for an extra four hours. And as it enters its hundredth year, the Gita Press is all set to bring in the century year with celebrations starting from Churu “where our founder Goyandkaji came from”, explains Lal Mani Tiwari, who has also been associated with the press since the early 1980s.
While no plans have been finalised, the celebrations will take off from Vaishakh Shukla Trayodashi — the tithi on which the press was founded in 1923, which falls on 14 May this year, Tiwari explains. A four-member committee has been formed to plan the 100th year celebrations which will be a year long affair, and this will include, a special collector’s edition of the Kalyan magazine.
The press was established on 29 April 1923 after the founder Jaydayal Goyandka found errors in his maiden attempt to print the Gita at a press in Kolkata. The printers advised him to get his own press if he wished to ensure an error free copy of the Gita and his friend Ghanshyamdas Jalan, a businessman from Gorakhpur volunteered to manage it if it was set up there.
As Tiwari explains, Goyandka used to read the Gita regularly and during one such session when he was reading the 18th chapter, the 68th and 69th shlokas caught his eyes. The lines where Bhagwan Sri Krishna says “ke Gita ke pracharak se mera priya bhakt na hua hai na hoga” appealed to him and he decided to make it his life’s mission.
“So he got 5,000 copies of Gita printed at Kolkata’s Vanik press but he found some faults in them and they would try and stop the machine and set right the errors but the faults would remain. So, the printers since they were known to him, they told him that if he wished to print such a clean copy, he better get it printed himself — only if you start your own press will you be able to do it — because someone won’t stop their machine multiple times and clean it,” explains Tiwari of the start of what was to be a mega lesson in religious charitable entrepreneurship.
“Goyandkaji thought this was divinely ordained and that god was telling him this through the person to take up this task.”
This is how the journey began in a house that they rented for Rs 10 and with a machine from Boston, that now sits in a glass case in the Lila Chitra Mandir, the religious art gallery, at the premises. And over the 100 years the venture has grown to now encompass a space of around 2 lakh square feet.
“When they bought the house for Rs 10,000 in 1926, the work wasn’t of the scale that it needed such a large space. But the foresight and vision of Goyandkaji saw that the growth of the organisation was similar to that of Sri Krishna’s Matsya Avatar and that is how our campus now measures 2 lakh sq ft of which 145,000 sq ft is the press activities and 55,000 sq ft we have our own shop, some shops rented and some residential spaces for some officials and workers,” elaborates Tiwari.
And what aided its journey has been its keeping with the times and technologies. “With time, our machinery too improved and at present apart from Indian ones we have machines from Germany, Japan, Italy which are used at different tasks for the process of making a book”.
But how does it manage to have machines worth crores of rupees running to produce books that sell almost for ‘peanuts’. Apart from economies of scale it is the fact that the ‘overheads’ that any other organisation would have, especially the salaries of its top management, the cost of the infrastructure aren’t borne by the products offered. “Mainly we aren’t a profit-oriented organisation nor do we accept any donation or charity,” clarifies Tiwari, explaining how their other ventures like the rent from some shops, the garment business that is spread across Uttar Pradesh, funds the running of the press.
“This has been our principle from the beginning that we will earn from our means and fund Gita Press and so we do not accept any donation be it from the government or private individuals or CSR funds from any organisations,” explains Tiwari.
The press now prints books in 15 languages. More than 1,800 types of books are published and the press is unable to meet the demands, say officials.
And in contrast to the economic slowdown during the global pandemic, the Gita Press has witnessed a huge rise in demand during the last two years. “Our sales too have seen not just an increase but a huge leap,” explain officials at the press.
One of them explains that the pandemic and increase in people working from home, or distressed during the pandemic, like the viewership of the serials like Ramayan, the demand for these books too has risen and especially owing to increased curiosity about our religious scriptures among the youth.
As Sharma talks of the increase in demand, he says, it is owing to the trust that the press has earned. “Also, this is god’s work. If you see, this entire space is like a temple. Saints have always said that one copy of the Gita can rid a home or space of all evil and negativity, and here we are loaded with just these books so how can anything else prevail here,” asks Sharma, as he heads to share bits about Goyandkaji’s spiritual journey and the Gita Vatika that is located five to six kilometres away where the founders were said to have had divine experiences.
“Our founder member had just one objective that every single person should have access to such literature and he should progress and he be connected with god and that is the sole intention that drives this press to this day,” he explains.
While the numbers will be announced at year-end, but in the last financial year “our books had a total sale worth Rs 51 crore and this year, since, comparatively we had fewer months affected, we are estimating that it will cross Rs 75 crore,” said Tiwari.
Talking of the pandemic times, the press has also had to deal with rumours of the press shutting down. Posts on social media went viral multiple times during the pandemic claiming that the press was reeling under financial duress and was likely to call it quits. While the scale of operations that we witnessed, the cost of the machinery that is at work and in the pipeline speak of anything but bad finances, the negative publicity too worked only “positively”, says Tiwari.
“The negative publicity was no challenge. The reaction and response we received proved, yet again, that the support of people for GPG is so much that we kept getting calls from not just across the country but from people across the world saying ‘Gita press shouldn't stop printing — no matter what the scale of funds required — that we will ensure it reaches. These kinds of rumours will only help spread our work further,” he says.
The total count of books published till date stands at 73 crore along with 16.5 crore copies of the Kalyan magazine. The Kalyan magazine is in its 96th year of publication, has 175,000 subscribers and its first and long time editor Radheshyam Khemka was awarded the Padma Vibhushan a few days ago.
“Although Gita Press has, by principle, never worked for any reward or recognition, this award that was given to Khemkaji, we accepted because it isn't for us to decide in his absence,” clarifies Tiwari, adding that the award is more of a challenge to improve its efforts and do better which he is confident the press will manage to “with the grace of Thakurji”.
“Because until now it was the love and recognition of people but now the government has officially recognised our efforts, while it is a huge honour, it will also motivate us to outdo our own efforts.”
The only portion that is still being handled manually is binding of some books as the German machine that does it involves the use of animal glue which is a strict no-no for the dharmic venture. Tiwari who on his latest machine did check for a version that can be installed using the regular Pidilite that they currently do for other processes says a trial run will be made to check if it works and then the machine which is worth almost Rs 5 crore will be purchased. The press sees a consumption of around 400-500 tonne paper per month and as informs Sharma, the machines at any given point need at least one truck load of paper for printing.
The effort is to create something very important and it shows as one of the employees working with the binding machine says ‘phaadne pe bhi nahin phatega’ (won’t tear even if you try to) stressing on the strength of the stitching and binding process. The Saral Gita, informs an official, has been printed with ways to read it, so that even those who hold beliefs that an incorrect reading can amount to sin, will read it with ease.
In 1955, on 29 April, the then president Rajendra Prasad inaugurated the Lila Chitra Mandir along with the dwar, and even after half a century it stands as a must visit site of religious enchantment. Designed by the first editor of Kalyan, Hanuman Prasad Poddar or ‘Bhaiji’, as he was known, the museum of sorts has the entire ‘lila’ of Shri Ram and Shri Krishna in pictures along with the Gita engraved in marble among other religious tales displayed there. “The effect is almost as good as reading the entire Ramcharitmanas once,” says Sharma, so that even if someone hasn’t read it, they can witness it here through these works of art.
One can simply not have enough of the tour as trivia like the stacking of the papers at every stage on raised platforms to ensure it doesn’t rest on the floor, the special paper that ITC has now labelled the ‘Gita Printing Paper’, the one sheet Gita that has the entire conversation on a single sheet of paper, the handwritten Gita that has to be seen with a magnifying glass, the beautiful covers of the books and the pictures that are customised and handmade, the sheer range of books, the library of the press that has some rare manuscripts and various important works of religious literature, the nearly zero error operations, keep one besotted.
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