August 21, 2015

Book chronicles Gita Press' journey, its Hindutva stand

Business Standard

Book chronicles Gita Press' journey, its Hindutva stand

Press Trust of India | New Delhi August 21, 2015 Last Updated at 14:57 IST

Gita Press, on the verge of completing 110 years, has marketed religion successfully like no other publishing house in India and despite claiming to maintain a safe distance from politics, it has regularly taken political stands, says a new book.

"Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India" by journalist Akshaya Mukul takes a look at one of the most influential publishing enterprises in the history of modern India and features an extraordinary cast of characters - buccaneering entrepreneurs and hustling editors, nationalist ideologues and religious fanatics.

In the early 1920s, Marwari businessmen turned spiritualists Jaydayal Goyandka and Hanuman Prasad Poddar set up the Gita Press.

As of early 2014, Gita Press had sold close to 72 million copies of the Gita, 70 million copies of Tulsidas' works and 19 million copies of scriptures like the Puranas and Upanishads.

And while most other journals of the period, whether religious, literary or political, survive only in press archives, Kalyan, a monthly spiritual magazine in Hindi published by the Press, now has a circulation of over two lakh and its English counterpart, Kaylana-Kalpataru, of over one lakh.

The ideas articulated by Gita Press and its publications played a critical role in the formation of a Hindu political consciousness, indeed a Hindu public sphere, says the book.

"As Gita Press stands within striking distance of a century, the only organisation that may be said to parallel its success is the Bible Society. No other publishing house in India has marketed religion so successfully. And despite claiming to maintain a safe distance from politics, Gita Press has regularly taken political stands.

"Not only has it played a pivotal role in 'popular efforts to proclaim Hindu solidarity (sangathan), pious self-identity and normative cultural values', as a player in the theatre of Hindu nationalism it has also stood side by side with the majoritarian narrative of the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha, Jana Sangh and BJP at every crucial juncture since 1923," the book, published by HarperCollins India, says.

"And in times of intense communal division, Kalyan has exchanged the sobriety of a religious journal for the language of hate and religious identity. The fact that its publications reach even secular Hindu homes adds to the might and mystique of Gita Press. And as Indian politics becomes more polarised with a definite right turn, organisations like Gita Press may get their second wind," it says.