India's only Sanskrit daily Sudharma completes five decades, against all odds

Rashmi Gopal Rao

It is a little past noon as I enter the sleepy by-lanes of Ramachandra Agrahara, in the city of Mysore. A bit of asking around leads me to the rather humble and unassuming office-cum-printing press of Sudharma. Inside, it is business as usual for KV Sampath Kumar and his wife KS Jayalakshmi, who are busy composing and finalising the newspaper for the next day, while a small team of three other individuals is engrossed in sealing as many as 3,500 envelopes for dispatch.

The setting may evoke that of any other small newspaper office, but this unpretentious venue is where India's (or for that matter, the world's) only Sanskrit daily is printed and circulated. Completing 50 years in July this year, Sudharma's is a story of dedication to and passion for the language of Sanskrit.

Dispatch in progress at the Sudharma office.

Dispatch in progress at the Sudharma office.All photos courtesy Rashmi Gopal Rao

Sudharma was the brain child of Kalale Nadadur Varadaraja Iyengar, a renowned Sanskrit scholar. Iyengar decided to start a Sanskrit daily as he felt a newspaper was the perfect medium to popularise the language.

"Earlier, Sanskrit was perceived as a language accessible only to certain classes of people. Hence, not all could read or write the language. My father wanted to change this view and make Sanskrit available to all. That's how the idea of a daily newspaper was born," says KV Sampath Kumar, Varadaraja Iyengar's son.

KV Sampath Kumar at the Sudharma office.

KV Sampath Kumar at the Sudharma office.

While many €" including other Sanskrit scholars €" scoffed at the idea of a Sanskrit daily and its long-term viability, Varadaraja Iyengar sent his proposal to the government, along with five possible names for the publication. Sudharma (meaning 'assembly hall of the Gods') was chosen.

"The first edition of the paper was released in the premises of the Shriman Maharaja Sanskrit college in Mysore on 15 July 1970, and we have been continuing the legacy till date," says Sampath Kumar. The paper received a postal concession of 2 paise the very next day after its launch; the cost of the paper then was 5 paise, including postage.

Printing and folding in progress at the office.

Printing and folding in progress at the office.

Varadaraja Iyengar later became part of the Sanskrit Advisory Committee, formed in 1974 during the prime minister-ship of Indira Gandhi. He was instrumental in getting Sanskrit news broadcast on the Akashvani channel of All India Radio.

After Varadaraja Iyengar's death in 1990, Sampath Kumar and Jayalakshmi took over Sudharma's reins. Both are proficient in Sanskrit: while Sampath, the editor, is a Commerce graduate with a Sahitya in Sanskrit, Jayalakshmi has a Master's degree in the language and oversees the paper's composing, printing and publishing. Mornings are spent finalising the content for the next day's edition; printing occurs in the evening. The subscribers' copies are then dispatched by post.

Sudharma has a circulation of 3,500, and the annual subscription fee is Rs 500. Eleven years ago, Sudharma gained an online avatar as well €" the e-paper is available for free. (The website is currently down, so the couple is looking for someone to get it up and running for a nominal fee.) To my question about the publication's financial viability, Jayalaskshmi responds: "It is not viable. We are hardly able to cover costs, but are somehow pulling through... probably only through the grace of God."

In its current iteration, Sudharma runs over two pages: page 1 carries news, page 2 has features from contributors. Apart from domestic subscribers, the edition also reaches readers in Germany, Japan and Sri Lanka. "People read our paper because they see value in the language, not for the news which is anyway only a click away these days. For instance, our paper is read daily by the students of a Buddhist school in Sri Lanka," says Sampath Kumar. Jayalakshmi adds that senior citizens and foreigners continue to express interest in Sudharma.

The paper's golden jubilee also marks 100th birth anniversary of its founder, Varadaraja Iyengar. Grand celebrations have been planned for the occasion, including Sanskrit competitions for children, a meeting of Sanskrit publishers, screening of Sanskrit cinema, staging of plays, etc. "We have many plans and dreams to take the paper forward in a big way," says Jayalakshmi. "But the issue is shortage of both funds as well as people to run the show. There is very little support from the government as well. But come what may, the paper will always continue as a daily."

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