Mumbai: One of the world’s oldest languages is going online to reach the modern masses.
India’s only Sanskrit newspaper—Sudharma—began a Web version this month to increase its reach from a tiny 3,000 to a larger worldwide audience.
Based in Mysore, the simple two-page (front and back) paper has a loyal following among Hindus in India. But against rising costs of newsprint and no advertising, the paper, which is available for an annual subscription of Rs250, was getting too expensive to sustain.
It hopes the website will attract advertising and new readers, “not only in India but also in other countries”, says Jaylakshmi, who owns the newspaper with her husband, Sampath Kumar. Calling Sanskrit the language of science, she says that even scientists say it is a mathematical language and that it “does not belong to any one community. It is the language of the world.”
On Tuesday, the lead story on the website was about an event celebrating Sanskrit as an “immortal language”. But the newspaper’s front page—which is reproduced at http://sudharma.epapertoday.com —also ran the story of Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s resignation.
Many other regional language newspapers have gone online in their own languages —the Gujarat Samachar in Gujarati, the Malayala Manorama in Malayalam, Aajkaal in Bengali—and almost all have found a large readership, notably among members of their diaspora overseas. More than 70,000 daily readers visit the website of the Gujarat Samachar.
The newspaper’s online version has no value-added services or any interactive stories. The Malayala Manorama website offers value-added services such as discussion boards and opportunities for citizen journalism, and draws 3.8 million users every month.
E-medium: A screenshot of Sudharma’s website. India’s only Sanskrit newspaper began a Web version this month to increase its reach.
However, a Sanskrit newspaper is different, because few still understand the classical language. Yet, scholars say there has been renewed interest in Sanskrit, with origins as far back as 1500 BC.
“Sanskrit has started becoming popular with people now and there is increasing interest in learning the language,” says K.K. Sharma, who is a Sanskrit professor at Benaras Hindu University. He adds that he has read and liked the newspaper Sudharma.
Sharma believes that people will go online to read the newspaper because of the efforts of organizations such as the Sanskrit Bharati to promote the language.
The organization conducts camps in different parts of the country to teach Sanskrit and Sharma says that because of its training, “more and more people are realizing that Sanskrit is not a very difficult language after all.”
Jaylakshmi says that this was the group for whom her father-in-law, the late Sanskrit scholar, Pandit Varadaraja Iyengar, launched the Mysore-based newspaper in 1970: “For people who wanted to speak and understand Sanskrit,” she says. Today, Iyengar’s son and daughter-in-law run the two-page newspaper that covers current events, teaches Sanskrit grammar and introduces Sanskrit poets to readers. Kumar says it is mailed to 3,000 subscribers in India, the US, Finland and other European countries. “When my father died in 1990, I promised him I will continue his work. I told him I will continue serving the language of the gods,” he says.
Publishing a paper is challenging since the four-member owner-editor team also doubles as the reporting team of the newspaper.
Kumar attends press conferences, makes calls and writes stories.
“Sometimes we get stories from contributors in other parts of the country,” says Jaylakshmi. But mostly, editors and its staff of Sanskrit scholars—Vidvan H.V. Nagaraja Rao and Vidvan T.V. Satyanarayana—translate stories from newspapers and the Internet using Shrilipi, the word-processing programme of Devnagari script. “We are the reporters, writers, editors and proofreaders,” Jaylakshmi says. The newsroom staff communicate with each other in Kannada and Sanskrit.
Kumar says that the work generated a lot of interest and many governors, sadhus and Shankracharyas have visited “my office to bless this work”.
But the blessings have not been enough to keep the newspaper out of financial difficulty. While the annual subscription to the paper costs Rs250, the daily cost of paper and printing “is going up everyday”, says Kumar.
He declined to reveal printing costs, but says that since there is no advertisement revenue, it has become difficult for the newspaper to stay afloat. “I am taking it online because it seems to be the best way to reach more people, without the expense.”
He might just succeed, says Sharma. In addition to reaching the Hindus in India, the website hopes to reach about one million Hindus in the US, about 1.5 million in the UK and Hindu sections in countries such as Kenya in Africa and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.
Many of these Hindus have formed organizations for their local community, their temples might even teach Sanskrit to children, and families become more involved with so-called Hindu issues in India. For instance, many pan-Hindu organizations have joined hands to protest the possible demolition of the Adam’s Bridge connecting India and Sri Lanka that they believe was built by the Hindu god Ram. Similarly, Hindu groups have insisted that land be reallocated for pilgrims visiting the holy cave of Amarnath in Kashmir.