Sudharma: The world’s only Sanskrit newspaper in India keeps glorious tradition of ancient language alive
Dwindling readership and advertisers’ apathy has not ebbed the spirit of a couple, who has a date with India's rich history and culture
The royal city of Mysuru in southern India is known for its grand palaces, fabled Dasara festivities characterised by Jamboo Savari, a tradition dating back to 1423 in the Common Era (CE).
Mysuru’s rulers, the Wodeyers, also known as the Wadiars, were great patrons of Sanskrit. But the city’s links with the Sanskrit language goes beyond that, as it hosts and preserves the original document of the political treatise 'Arthashastra' (statecraft) by Kautilya, or popularly known as Chanakya, written in Sanskrit.
The city’s love for Sanskrit is legendary.
Mysuru is home to Sudharma, the only newspaper in the world that is published in Sanskrit, a tongue that celebrates India’s rich culture, tradition and civilisation.
Sudharma is the leader in ancient language newspapers of the world.
“In antiquity, Pali and Prakrit were the oldest languages. They are yet to have any regularly published matter for public consumption. But Sanskrit has, and how? It's reaching readers in over 100 countries of the world in epaper avatar, which is commendable, considering many of us are eager to believe that Sanskrit is a dead language” Professor M Uday Raj told Khaleej Times.
Professor Raj is the head of the country’s only Prakrit research Institute in Shravanabelagola in Karnataka and located around 80 kilometres (km) from Mysuru.
Who runs Sudharma?
A gritty couple from a down-to-earth Brahmin family of Mysuru, KV Sampath Kumar and his spouse Jayalakshmi have been publishing Sudharma for the past 31 years.
“But that is not the beginning of the paper. We just continued it when my father late Varadaraja Iyengar died in 1990. He started Sudharma, which translates to good faith in English, in 1970. It was a mission for him. He set up a printing press in his own house in Mysuru in 1945. He persisted with printing for several years.
However, his love for Sanskrit and altruism inspired him to start the newspaper in 1970.
Iyengar backed his own instincts and found out through research that the Sanskrit language was indeed losing ground rapidly because it was not flexible to adapt to the changing needs of the society. So, he simplified the language to suit the newspaper format. His journalistic career in Sanskrit spanned 20 years. Every article he wrote, every spot news he reported was a record, as there was no other newspaper in Sanskrit in the world. "That continues even today,” Kumar, the Managing Editor, recounted.
Sudharma did not take long to become a member of mainstream journalism, politics, entertainment, society, mishaps, and even crime. It included everything that a normal newspaper publishes.
“The Sanskrit language has that aura around it. Many people who tried the Sanskrit language in some walk of their lives felt it was a language for scholars, pundits, and academia since it is written in Devanagari script many people can read it.
Sudharma’s endeavour was to bring it closer to the common man who can read Devanagari and had the basic knowledge of Sanskrit. "We put together Sudharma in such a way that our reader got his daily dose of news from his city. My husband and I have been catering to our readers’ daily needs for the past 31 years,” said Jayalakshmi, who herself is a Sanskrit scholar.
However, despite its strong cultural moorings, the daily is struggling financially. Advertisements have dried up and the only sustainable revenue is from the dedicated, little over 4,000 subscribers. The digital platform attracts 1,50,000 readers.
The advertisers have been steering clear because of lack of reach of the print product amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic.
“They weigh their options precisely and turn a blind eye towards the fact that Sudharma has been keeping alive an ancient language that belongs to the very culture they live in,” lamented Kumar.
The 51-year-old legacy of the publication is in tatters, as the subscription base has dwindled to a little over 4,000. The paper, a tabloid in five columns and comprising four pages, is dispatched by post, or hand-delivered to subscribers, who live adjacent to the publishing centre at Ramachandra Agrahara in central Mysuru city.
The digital readers are spread across the globe. Sudharma covers a wide array of topics from features, spot news to model question papers just before the examinations of schools in Karnataka, pre-university and degree programmes. There is government news and snippets.
Accolades and wide acclaim
Though the publication has seen better days and the publisher couple has been bending over backwards to keep it going, awards and accolades have flown in thick and fast through the awards.
For instance, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, Padmashree, was conferred by the Union government last year.
India’s superstar and iconic actor Amitabh Bachchan, in his 10th session of Kaun Banega Crorepati, a popular Indian TV game show, had asked a participant: “What is the name of the world’s only Sanskrit daily published since 1970?”
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had mentioned Sudharma in a Mann Ki Baat, an Indian radio programme, where he addressed people of the nation on pubcasters such as All India Radio (AIR), DD National and DD News.
On the occasion of the Golden Jubilee last year, Sudharma had brought out a souvenir edition.
It also started publishing on Sundays and added a magazine page,
In 2010, the e-paper was launched for Sanskrit lovers across 100 countries in the world.
Jayalakshmi, who has put together the e-edition, said the Shree-Lipi font is a boon to publishers.
“We not only use it for composing news but also translating the wire copies into Sanskrit. The font makes our job easy. My husband has an excellent command over Sanskrit. He is a one-member powerhouse, who combines multiple tasks of a reporter, an editor to a publisher with elan,” said the proud wife.
At present, Sudharma is read at Sanskrit Vidyapeetha and other academic institutions, the Union government-run Kendriya Vidyalayas, and also public libraries in Karnataka, Jammu & Kashmir, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, and Rajasthan.
Professor Gopalacharya, a Sanskrit scholar in Udupi Sanskrit College, is among the dwindling bunch of its readers.
“Many of my pupils read Sudharma. The language used is pristine Sanskrit. But how Kumar has managed to mould the classical language for journalistic writing such as catchy features is a must-read for young Sanskrir enthusiasts,” he added.
Varadaraja Iyengar is the pioneer of Sanskrit newspaper publishing in the world. He also broke the taboo of ensuring education for girls by establishing a school for them in 1963 in Mysuru and also established the Sanskrita Pathashala in Mysuru.
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