The recent recognition by way of “The Gandhi Peace Prize”, has brought this unique press into popular debate and public interest.
It always fills one with a sense of satisfaction having donated to worthy charities and conversely a bit sad if one missed giving. However, on the day when we were returning from a trip to a donation worthy organisation, you might find it strange, but I felt elated and contended not having donated, having returned with an unused cheque book. The worthy organisation, I was returning from was The Gita Press Gorakhpur. I was glad, instead of mailing a cheque, we had thought of meeting them to thank them personally for their contribution to the society and handover the cheque in person. I came back a learned man.
The Gita Press does not accept donations. I was awestruck; how come their books are cheap and yet have the best print quality and some books are even with a few full colour pages of pictures painted by great painters. I was even more impressed with the fact they strictly use their own resources to fund The Gita Press. I know the ancient Indian, the Hindu, code of charity, teaches that real charity, what earns you real Punya*, is what is done using one’s own resources. Doing charity using crowdfunded resources is not bad as an alternative second best option. Own funding is the purest charity.
My wife and I spent a couple hours talking to their manager, other staff members and knowledgeable guides who walk you through their art gallery cum museum. We tried various ways to find how we can donate and or otherwise help. The only way to help them with funding, we understood, was to buy, if we need, from their shops. They strictly depend solely on their own generated funds. Most shops sell only the books published by them. However, there are some, very few, that also sell Ayurvedic medicines/supplements and textiles, including hand crafted textiles at the same price, never more, as specified on the product labels by well known manufactures.
Salute to the noble and knowledgeable founders, Shri. Jayadayal Goyandka, Shri Hanuman Prasad Poddar and Shri Ghanshyam Das Jalan, who established this press a century ago, in 1923, for their clarity, their vision and for their service to the mother Sanskriti***. I also appreciate and salute their staff, who struck me as simple, caring, knowledgeable and humble****.
When The Gita Press accepted, gracefully, The Gandhi Peace Prize but declined to receive the accompanying Prize money, I was among some of those, who was not surprised.
In 2006, my wife and I first visited The Gita Press in Gorakhpur** (Uttar Pradesh). The Gita Press was almost an unknown place among the tourists, though thousands of them passed through the town of Gorakhpur on their way to Nepal. Everyone we talked to tried to dissuade us from visiting that town as it had no touristic significance. Leave alone the Gita Press, hardly anyone who ‘mattered’ even had a faint idea of its existence there. A website, in fact, openly stated, and I quote, “Gorakhpur is 230 km north of Varanasi. It is a totally uninteresting city and most people (who want to transit to Nepal) will want to leave it as soon as they arrive”.
The Gita Press was certainly invisible, ignored and inconsequential, especially among elites. Books published by them were hardly read, or hardly valued by those elites who prided themselves in scholarships of European literature. They could write thousands of words on Shakespere but knew nothing about Valmiki, Kalidas or Tulasidas.
However, millions like us have seen in our homes, for generations, the Bhagavad Gita, several Puranas, Valmiki Ramayan etc produced by The Gita Press Gorakhpur, all of them having good quality, accurate and error free translations and at a very low price. Perhaps, that was the invisible force, we made it to the press on one very hot and moist day of the month of Bhadra, (Aug-Sept period, 2006), not the best time to go out. We should have rested in the hotel room.
However, we knew better. We were determined to visit the Gita Press Gorakhpur, if for nothing else, to pay our respect for what we considered their great service to Sanskriti.
Now with The Gandhi Peace Prize having been awarded to The Gita Press and with the huge town-development work carried out in Gorakhpur, courtesy the Chief Minister, Yogi Shri Aditya Nath, things have changed for the better since our trip in 2006. Gorakhpur has not yet become a ‘must-go-to’ destination, but it is now certainly attractive enough with many enjoyable tourist and pilgrimage destinations.
Besides The Gita Press and the Gorakhnath Mandir, the Gorakhpur town is revered for the fact that Bhagavan Mahavir as well as Bhagavan Gautam Buddha toiled there, Yogi Paramhansa Yogananda of the Kriya Yoga fame (writer of well known book: “Autobiography of a Yogi”) was born there and just a short distance away, at Kushinagar, Bhagavan Buddha breathed his last. Also, the tallest Hindi novelist Munshi Premchand and the saintly poet, Kabirdas, both lived and worked in Gorakhpur.
*The Indian word ‘Punya’ has no equivalent, perhaps that is why there is no conceptual understanding of this term among westerns. Punya is not just good work. As an example, a good work done with some self promoting intention does not qualify as Punya, but it qualifies as ‘trade’.
**Gorakhpur: In general colloquial speech, क्ष, gets pronounced as ख, hence, what should have been Gorakshpur gets to become identified today as Gorakhpur. Other Examples, Lakhan, Lakh Rupees, etc (Interesting tidbit: The cosmetic brand, “Lakmé” derives its name from a French play named after a lead character having name “Laxmi” but mispronounced as Lakhmi and then spelt as Lakmé)
***Sanskriti is an Indian language word that is not translatable. Readers can assume English words like “Culture” or “Civilization”, but they are not really equivalent words.
****Chp 22 of the book “Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi: Story of Bhagwan Shiva and Me” http://nmsresolution.blogspot.com/2016/06/22-kailash-kathmandu-kashi-travelogue.html