09 July 2011

World's only Sanskrit daily turns 42

Even as English and modern Indian language newspapers continue to flourish in the country, Sudharma, which claims to be the only Sanskrit newspaper in the world, is struggling hard to survive as it enters its 42nd year next week.

"That's because no state or central body comes forward to assist us in any way and the response from various organisations in the private sector is indifferent," K.V. Sampath Kumar, editor of the Mysore-based daily that has over 2,000 subscribers, told IANS.

But then why publish a paper in a "dead language" at all?

The editor's wife, Jayalakshmi, who is well versed in Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, English and of course Sanskrit, reacts sharply: "Who says Sanskrit is dead? Every morning, people recite shlokas, conduct pujas...all ceremonies including marriages, childbirth to death, are in Sanskrit. India is united by Sanskrit, which is the mother language sustaining so many languages in the country. It's growing and now even IT professionals are saying it is useful."

Sampath Kumar said his father Pandit Varadaraja Iyengar started the paper July 15, 1970. "When he was dying in 1990, he made me promise I would continue the mission, come what may. So this daily is now a dream mission continuing with the same passion and commitment, and I will continue till my death."

Priced at Re.1, the paper mostly contains articles on Vedas, yoga, religion and also politics and culture, among others.

The husband-wife pair are the paper's contributors and publishers rolled into one.

"Credit for starting Sanskrit radio bulletins on Akashvani goes to my father, who successfully persuaded the then information and broadcasting minister I.K. Gujral," Sampath Kumar said.
According to him, Mysore is the Sanskrit capital of India, with a fairly good strength of scholars. A large number of yoga enthusiasts also come to learn Sanskrit here. Interest in ayurveda and alternative medicines has also led to an increase in the demand for Sanskrit learning centres.

In India, Sanskrit was considered the 'language of the gods'.

Despite the contribution Sanskrit has made to Indian philosophical and literary traditions, vested interests have spread the impression that the language is dead, inaccessible and of negligible relevance to daily life, Kumar said.

Initially printed manually, Sudharma now has a modern computerised printing facility. An e-paper too is available online, making its reach international.

"We have lots of subscribers among the minorities also. Most academies and language centres are our subscribers. Each morning, the two-page tabloid-sized sheet is folded and posted to more than 2,000 subscribers. Every year, a special number is brought out during Dussehra celebrations to mobilise funds to support the mission," Kumar said.

Lamenting the lack of official patronage, he said: "Being in Sanskrit, Sudharma never had sufficient revenue from advertisements. Despite the ample lip service and words of encouragement, no concrete help comes our way. But the constraints have never deterred us and we will continue to keep alive this glorious tradition."

The modest office in Agrahara has been visited by ministers, governors, Shankaracharyas, and other dignitaries. "Words of encouragement and felicitation has come profusely from prime ministers and presidents over the years," Kumar said.

He showed this IANS correspondent his vast collection of messages from politicians, scholars, intellectuals and business leaders, including late president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, social reformer Jagjivan Ram, L.K. Advani, Arjun Singh and others. The common strain was that Sanskrit was a unique unifying force and a treasure to be preserved.

As part of its 42nd birthday celebrations, Sudharma is organising an all-India Sanskrit Book Exhibition. A photo exhibition is also planned, apart from a felicitation of Sanskrit scholars.

But will Sudharma be able to preserve the pristine glory of Sanskrit, or be overwhelmed by modernity?

Many university students this IANS correspondent talked to in Mysore had not heard of the paper. Just a few paces from the newspaper office, a chemist blinked in incomprehension when told about Sudharma.

The signs may be ominous, but perhaps the paper, like the language it is published in, may be able to survive the test of time.