A newspaper for none...

A newspaper for none...

The only Sanskrit daily in the world is unsure of its future, writes Arathi Menon

One of the narrow bylanes of a sleepy agrahara in Mysuru is famous for a printing press that functions out of the ground floor of a house. The bright yellow and blue board outside the house reads: Sudharma: Advitiy Sanskrita Dinapatrika (the unrivalled Sanskrit daily). It’s been 50 years of existence and Sudharma, the only Sanskrit daily that reports on current affairs, is yet to have any rivals. But if the trend is anything to go by, Sudharma will soon be a thing of the past.

Started by Pandit Varadaraja Iyengar in 1970, the idea to bring out a daily in Sanskrit stemmed from his desire to take this language, considered elitist and restricted to a certain community, to the masses. Sudharma caught everyone’s attention immediately, the testimony to it being the innumerable appreciation letters and citations Iyengar received from luminaries — from former prime ministers like Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai to the current PM Narendra Modi, when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. Since the paper is distributed by post (even today), the postal department offered a concession to distribute it for just five paise a copy then.

A worker shecks the print.
A worker shecks the print.

Bleak future

As this newspaper gets ready to celebrate its 50th year this month, Sampath Kumar (60), the current publisher/editor of the daily is not sure about its future. While the newspaper was conceived with the intention of taking a scholarly language to the masses, it looks like neither the scholars nor the masses want to support it.  He says that the paper has been functioning with just one advertisement from the Karnataka government that fetches them Rs 1,000 a month for many years now. While the subscription has seen a steady increase from 300 in 1970 when it started to 3,500 now, Kumar contends that with an annual subscription rate of Rs 500, it is hardly anything to sustain in these changing times.

“The monthly expense of printing the newspaper is more than Rs one lakh,” says Jayalakshmi K S (50), Sampath Kumar’s wife, who co-edits the newspaper. The four-page paper has news, opinions, interviews, poems and prose written by Sanskrit scholars in Mysuru. Though it started with letterpress, Sudharma was quick to adapt to computerised offset printing. In 2009, the newspaper went online; the e-paper is now accessible for free. While the e-paper has about 10-15 daily subscribers, the editors say that it gets viewed by over 90,000 people from across 150 countries. “A Buddhist school in Sri Lanka prints the e-paper every day for the benefit of its Sanskrit students,” says Jayalakshmi who can’t remember the name of the school.

Sampath Kumar with wife Jayalakshmi
Sampath Kumar with wife Jayalakshmi

 

A dying language

Why is a unique newspaper like Sudharma struggling to survive? It’s easy to conclude that Sanskrit is a dying language. But the official statistics show no such indication. Sanskrit is one of the scheduled languages of the Constitution. The 2011 Census shows Sanskrit is spoken by 24,821 people in the country, which is a steady increase from the 14,135 people registered in the 2001 Census. The number of schools in urban India that encourages students to take up Sanskrit as a second language is on the rise, too.

Mysuru-based Sanskrit scholar Prof Nagaraja Rao, who has been a daily content contributor to Sudharma from the time of its inception, says that it is a complete misconception that the language is dying and there are no takers for it. “There are 13 Sanskrit universities in India, 100s of Sanskrit colleges and 1,000s of pathashalas (schools) too,” he says. He believes that there are many people who can read the language but they do not want to encourage a newspaper in the language because most of them believe Sanskrit is for the erudite and should be restricted to literature and not for daily discourse or current affairs. Well, it looks like the naysayers will soon be vindicated as Sampath Kumar is unsure how long he can bring out the newspaper due to lack of funding.

“I’m fulfilling my father’s last wish to see the newspaper through. I’ve had a heart failure recently. I just want to see Sudharma complete 50 years,” says an emotional Kumar.

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