Gita Press – Taking Hindu Texts to Every Home

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    In June 2023, the Government of India bestowed the prestigious ‘Gandhi Peace Prize’ on Gorakhpur based Gita Press. It was an honour also timed to mark the 100th anniversary of this press that had over a century published between 100 million to 150 million copies of Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Hindu religious texts! So how did a small printing press in remote Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh become such a big and prolific publishing house and brand?

    The rise of the Gita Press in Gorakhpur was thanks to three factors – The rise of Hindi language, the emergence of publishing industry and the rise of Hindu nationalism in the beginning of the 1900’s

    The Start of Gita Press

    In the early 20th century great opportunities came as India emerged as the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the British Empire. Ambitious Marwari men left their villages and travelled across India seeking their fortune. Among them was Jaydayal Goyandka from Churu in Rajasthan, and had settled down in Bankura in Bengal. Goyandka and fellow Marwari businessmen in and around the region would frequently meet and over time they formed discussion groups studying the Bhagwad Gita.

    In 1922, Goyandka and his friends decided to set up a publishing house that would publish ‘high quality’ versions of Bhagwad Gita and distribute it across India. Ghanshyamdas Jalan, a businessman from Gorakhpur and his business partner Mahavir Prasad Jalan offered to start and run this press. With a seed capital of Rs 600, the Gita Press began its publishing business. Copies of Gita were published and distributed in local villages.

    Riding the Wave of Publishing

    It can be said that the Gita Press was at the right place and the right time. The early 1900’s marked the ‘golden age’ of Hindi literature and publishing. Today, it is hard to imagine that it was only in the 20th century that the Hindi language (LINK TO RISE OF HINDI STORY) actually became prominent. Originally a dialect of Kari Boli spoken in the Gangetic plains, it became popular thanks to the emerging middle class in North India Indian cities like Allahabad, Banaras and Lucknow. Soon local publishers cashed in on this by printing an array of hindi books, periodicals and newspapers.

    It is in this milieu that Gita Press was born. Its focus on purely religious texts like the Bhagwad Gita and Ramayana made it carve a niche for itself and it grew exponentially.

    What Made Gita Press a Success

    The book ‘Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India’(2015) by Journalist Akshaya Mukul gives some great insights into the rise of the press. For example Mukul writes how Gita Press recognized the power of India’s oral tradition quite early on and organised Gita and Ramayana sabhas that would regularly hold recitations throughout India. The press furnished pocket sized Ramayanas suitable for these events and festivals like the Ram Navami.

    It was not just innovative marketing, but also the low pricing that led to the popularity of Gita Press. For example, the copies of Hanuman Chalisa were sold for as little as Rs 2. No other publisher could match their prices. Even on the distribution front, the press cashed into the growing wave of Hindu nationalism and used the network of missionaries who were going from village to village promoting ‘Sanatan Dharma’.

    There was also active advocacy. The Gita Press through its journal ‘Kalyan’ also stood up for the orthodox Right-wing. It took a very strong stand against religious reform and women’s emancipation. Editorially, it stuck strongly with its orthodox Hindu beliefs. The Gita Press has been criticised heavily for this.

    Today, almost a century after its inception, the Gita Press seems to be going from strength to strength. Despite a decline in the popularity of books, it reached a turnover of Rs 100 crore in 2022.

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