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Sarvesh K Tiwari @bhAratenduH
, 32 tweets, 11 min read Read on Twitter
Which Hindu wouldn’t have heard the name of Gita Press Gorakhpur, and which Hindu household wouldn’t have at least one publication from it - Gita, Mahabharata, Upanishadas, or at least the HanumAn Chalisa booklet - from over 2,000 granthas published by it in over 20 languages?
In the last 98 years of its existence it has printed and sold over 6 Billion copies of granthas, including over 1.2 bill copies of Bhagavad Gita - all at a very small price (the basic Gita is for Rs 7) with the highest standard quality of paper and printing
The origins of the idea for Gita Press are in a prison cell of British India at the turn of the last century. Hanuman was a young son of a Marwari business family in Kolkata. He was drawn to the activities of Anushilan Samiti revolutionaries - with the likes of Aurobindo Ghosh.
This young Marwari, HanumAn Prasad Poddar used to use his family’s godowns and network to help the revolutionaries procure and store the arms - and he was arrested, tried and imprisoned in Alipore prison (where Aurobindo Ghosh also was kept). That’s where he started studying Gita
He was eventually released but his love for Bhagavad Gita continued. He eventually came in contact with BG Tilak and was very influenced by Tilak’s take on Gita. He also studied other TIkA-s and started to write about Gita himself.
It may be difficult to imagine today - but there was a time when a good copy of Gita was not so easy or handy to find. Poddar was very sorry to see this. On the other hand Calcutta being the capital of missionary activity, Poddar used to see Bibles distributed everywhere.
Poddar decided that he would edit, finance, and mass print thousands of copies of Bhagavad Gita - on as good quality paper as possible and distribute these at an extremely small price - the smallest coin of 1p. This was in mid of 1910s.
He was joined in the enterprise by Jaydayal Goenka, a fellow Gita enthusiast and an older close relative, also a more resourceful businessman as well as one who was better versed in shAstras and an eloquent speaker.
The first printing project was however a disaster. Both the young fellows were disappointed that the first batch of Gitas - despite very careful proofreading by Poddar - had a large number of spelling mistakes. The copies had to be destroyed.
They then chose another printing press and yet, to their utter disappointment, there were still many mistakes - and Poddar would not accept a single error. When Poddar insisted on a reprint, the printing press owner said, half in jest, print it yourselves. Poddar liked the idea!
His older cousin Jaydayal Goenka had some estate in Gorakhpur, and they decided to establish their own printing press “Gita Press”, at Gorakhpur with Poddar to oversee editing and proof himself along with Hindi trans. The year was 1923. Press was inaugurated by Dr Rajendra Prasad
Poddar engaged scholars of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bangla, Marathi and Gujarati for simultaneous translations as well as Pundits for starting the work on the other granthas especially Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas. Also Hired artists from all over India for religious art
Now, there were the likes of Venkateshwara Press and Anand Ashram that were already printing texts since the last few decades and Ravi Varma had already established lithograph press. The key for Poddar was that every Hindu throughout India should be able to ACCESS and AFFORD them
One of those days - and some stories suggest it was the idea of Ghanshyam Das Birla - the thought of publishing a monthly magazine focusing on Hindu matters occurred to the cousins Goenka and Poddar. Under Poddar’s editorship, the first issue of कल्याण was published in 1926
While Gita Press was and is not for profit, thanks to the business acumen that came naturally to the two Marwari cousins, coupled with Dharma at heart, within the first 5 years in operation, Gita Press spread out into a successful large catalogue and a vast distribution network
By 1930s, Poddar had expanded the coverage to both the itihasas, all the Puranas, the main Upanishadas, important Sutra literature like yogasutra and brahmasutra, key bhashyas by the teachers - along with their translations in Hindi and 8 other languages and posters like these
Now Poddar started on Bhakti Literature like Tulsidas’ Ram Charit Manas and Vinay Patrika, Surdas’ Soor Sagar, other Bhakti literature. His vision was beyond Hindi too. Tamil texts like Kamban’s Ramayana, Andal’s Thiruppavai, Telugu text like Potanabhagavatamu, etc.
Gita Press in Gorakhpur became a place where scholars from across India speaking, writing, translating in many languages mixed and cross-pollinated. The Gita Press entrance was designed to look like a miniaturized mixture of the Meenakshi temple and the Kashi Vishwanath temple
Now unlike many others, Poddar and Gita Press were not blind from this-worldly challenges of Hindus. Poddar was very vocal in mid30-40s in condemning the policies of INC. While earlier he was a Gandhian himself, now he wrote to Gandhi challenging his interpretation of Gita.
Poddar was in communication with Savarkar as well - and when Savarkar returned from Andaman, Poddar went to Mumbai and met him. Gita Press actively promoted Gauraksha and removal of untouchability.
Few people know about the collaboration of Gita Press and the Gorakh Matha. Presiding head of the Matha is also “sanrakshaka” of the Press and honorary head (currently Yogi Adityanath is the Sanrakshaka)
Press also has a very rich archive to preserve some more than 6,000 manuscripts of different granthas in many languages. It also curates a museum of religious art works from across India running into many hundreds.
Shall post a few sample artworks of its artists from 1930s and 1940s in the next few tweets:
“जो पै तुलसी न गावतौ...”

If Tulasidas hadn’t sung... imagine the horror
This Panchamukha Parameshwara is my favorite - which one is yours?
Lastly, a few front covers of some old issues of Kalyan magazine... today subscribed by over half a million households... caries no advertisements ever...
... and an old cover of a copy of ईशावास्योपविषद्...
By hari ichchha when the history of Hindu revival will be written - the names of Hanuman Prasad Poddar, Jaydayal Ji Goenka, and their Gita Press Gorakhpur will find a pride of place 🙏🏽
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