NEW DELHI: A few days ago, an appeal to save perhaps the country’s first Sanskrit newspaper Sudharma from closing for lack of financial support went viral on social media. The appeal had limited impact — it led to donations of only about Rs 2 lakh, which is not enough to buy a colour printer needed to print 3,000 copies of the paper.So, with no advertisers or patronage, the entirely Sanskrit newspaper based in Mysore is barely able to sustain itself today. “It is only through printing posters, wedding cards, etc. that we get the money to run Sudharma,” said Jayalakshmi, 48, who runs it along with her husband GV Sampath.
The story is similar for over a dozen Sanskrit newspapers — often run by family members of the founder with limited staff and money — that are shutting down slowly because there is no one to fund them.
Clearly, the Narendra Modi government’s high-decibel campaign to revive the glory of Sanskrit has not reached these papers that are kept running by people committed to keeping the classical language alive.
“These days there is a lot of noise around promoting Sanskrit, but that is limited to events. There is no encouragement given to people like us who want people to make Sanskrit a part of their everyday life,” said Rakesh Kumar Misra who runs Sajal Sandesh, a Sanskrit paper he started in 2014 thinking the Modi government will promote him, considering its tilt towards preserving Indian culture.
“A lot of it is just noise. There are no takers for Sanskrit. In Germany people are watching an hour of Sanskrit every day,” said the 37-year-old professor based in Delhi.
Jeevan Sharma, a researcher in Delhi who started Sanskritvaani fortnightly three years ago with an intent to get people interested in the language through political news, said his limited resources allow him to publish only 400 physical copies every day. He sends PDFs of the paper to 1,500 people.
“I do it because I made a promise to myself that I will try my best to promote the language that is my mother. This is a sentiment people won’t understand. They think Sanskrit is dead. Even the family members of existing subscribers don’t see any merit in this,” said Sharma, 27.
Jayalakshmi of Sudharma said she and her husband — who bring out the daily from their house in Mysore — decided to take out the social media appeal only when they ran into a financial crunch. “But we only got more subscriptions. It didn’t help us much for the paper,” she told ET.
Started in 1970 by Jayalakshmi’s late father-in-law Kalale Nadadur Varadaraja Iyengar, a Sanskrit scholar, for propagating the language, Sudharma today reaches 3,000 people every day by post and over 1,000 more as an e-paper.
Jayalakshmi and Sampath said they have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, HRD ministry and home minister Rajnath Singh, but have not received any response. They have also written to the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP), asking for assistance in the form of government ads.
“Till three years ago, we used to get Rs 1,000 a month from the Karnataka government but they stopped giving us ads in 2013,” Jayalakshmi said.
Few know that it was because of Iyengar’s insistence that a Sanskrit bulletin was started on Doordarshan and later in All India Radio. He was on the advisory panels of the information & broadcasting ministry then.
“What is India without Sanskrit…what is Bharat if there is no Sanskrit in it?” Jayalakshmi said. “I am sure that after 100 years, people in the country will regret not learning the language of their forefathers. Every day, we get mails from foreign tourists eager to learn Sanskrit, wanting to know about our paper.”
Sudharma has one lakh subscribers in 100 countries. Sudhishta Kumar Mishra, general secretary at Samskrita Bharti, a unit of RSS that focuses on increasing awareness on Sanskrit by conducting teaching sessions for children, young professionals, retired people and housewives in different parts of the country, feels that Sanskrit papers should reinvent themselves.
“It is sad that Sanskrit papers are finding it difficult to survive in India, but it is time even these papers start presenting content in reader-friendly way. They can’t stick to Kalidasa’s Sanskrit in newspapers. Also, Sanskrit needs to be an integral part of the lives and behaviour of people,” Mishra said.
RSS is organising a huge shibir (conclave) in Tirupati next month to get people interested in Sanskrit. In the last few months, Samskrita Bharti has also tried reaching out to professionals trained in Sanskrit teaching.
Sanjeev Lakhe, coordinator at Samskrit Bharti, said, “The interest has to come from people. Governments cannot push beyond a point. People here have been kept away from their roots.”