A powerful, and memorable, character in the black-and-white era of Hindi movies was the pandit who determined the feasibility of a marriage proposal. He made calculations, his fingers stabbing the air, before consulting his Panchānga and sealing the destiny of the protagonists.
In a country where many time important life decisions—from buying a house to moving cities to switching jobs—to occur at an auspicious time, pandits have been in great demand.
Panchānga or the Indian almanac system is around 2000 years old. It is based on the Saka calendar believed to have been founded by King Shalivahana of Shatavahana dynasty in 78 CE.
Panchānga, a Sanskrit word, literally means “having five limbs"—Tithi, Nakshatra, Rāśi, Yoga, and Karana—depending upon the moon’s movement. Starting from the Saka month of Chaitra (March/April) to Falgun (February/March), the alamanac measures time, and marks intervals, in complex divisions called “ghatika" and “pali". Little wonder that pundits thrived, serving as translators from the Panchanga to the Gregorian, ghatika and pali to hours and minutes.
Forty years ago in 1973, Jayantrao Salgaonkar, a renowned astrologer, scholar and historian, democratized the Panchānga and founded Kalnirnay, a calendar almanac. He integrated the Indian system with the Gregorian calendar and translated traditional time into hours and minutes.
Today, it is perhaps the largest selling publication in the world with a circulation of more than 18 million copies (18,187,168 copies according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, India).
“We enjoyed the journey immensely," says his son Jayraj Salgaokar, the present managing director of Kalnirnay, speaking about the 45-year history of the publication. His simple words do not hide the pride, happiness and satisfaction of creating a product with great cultural value.
Kalnirnay was first printed in Marathi. At that time, shopkeepers were not enthusiastic about stocking them. A year later, the situation transformed radically. People discovered the freedom of knowing astrological information without consulting professional astrologers.
“Any change in the traditional religion is not accepted easily, but we could convince the establishment and people," explains Jayraj.
Twenty-three years after the original publication, in 1996, they launched their website, Kalnirnay.com. The Kalnirnay app for iOS was launched in 2011 by Paul Folmsbee, the then consulate general of the US, in Mumbai.
Kalnirnay is today published in nine languages; apart from Marathi, which remains its most popular version—there are English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu editions. Each contains significant information useful for practising Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jews.
It looks deceptively simple, listing auspicious days and time, festivals, national days, phases of the moon, and sunrise and sunset times. What differentiates it most from other calendars, besides its longevity and jaw-dropping sales, is the content on the reverse of each page--articles by prominent writers on household and health tips, recipes, and even career advice. The Kalnrinay is a calendar, planner and a magazine all rolled into one.
“My father worked with Loksatta, a premier Marathi publication, from 1952-56. Being in the media, he knew writers, poets and critics at that time," explains Jayraj.
This helped him get articles and reviews when he started Kalnirnay.
The tradition has continued, and many well-known writers in Marathi have contributed articles over the years. Prominent writers of other languages helped with the other editions—Vyasrao Ninjoor was associated with the Kannada edition and Dharamvir Bharati with the Hindi edition.
The 2018 Marathi Kalnirnay edition contains recipes for Apple Toffee and Indonesian Salad, articles on topics from antibiotics to smartphones, from financial planning to seasonal healthcare.
Each year’s new edition hits the market on the first day of Dusherra Navratra in October. And the bulk of the publication’s sales take place from October to December. Work for the next edition begins almost immediately, from January each year at their Sumangal Press at Andheri in Mumbai. At full tilt the press prints 40,000 copies an hour.
Kalnirnay offers two theme-based editions, Swadishta (recipes) and Arogya (health) and is available in different sizes—micro, and mini, small and big. There is a Kalnirnay for the smallest car to the biggest office. There is even a special farmer’s edition.
“Now we only have to launch a bathroom edition," says Jayraj, laughing.
Kalnirnay also prints diaries and weekly planners for a small but loyal customer base, shares Jayraj’s daughter Shakti Salgaokar, director, Sumangal Press.
Jayaraj emphasizes the importance of knowing the cultural life of a city before planning any event in one. When he was the secretary to Bombay Master Printer's Association, Jayraj recalls that a conference was organized in Mumbai at Nehru Centre. International delegates had been invited. A fortnight before, organizers realized that the conference coincided with Ganesh Visarjan, when the entire city comes to a halt. The conference, needless to say, experienced enormous problems.
“Do you know who the best users of our planners are?" Jayraj asks. “The meat, chicken and fish sellers who need to plan supply in advance." He realized this when he spotted Kalnirnay in these shops.
Indians settled abroad depend on Kalnirnay to plan their India trips. People travelling overseas carry multiple copies of Kalnirnay for relatives and friends. “It is a great prized gift," says Shakti. It is also exported and sold through the website.
Jayraj attributes Kalnirnay’s growth to their advertising strategy. Shakti points out the nostalgic value of their advertisements on social media
“We put all old ads on our YouTube channel and people love singing and sharing these advertisements," she shares.
The advertisement jingle sung by Ravi Sathe many years ago is popular even now and is often sung at weddings in chorus, Shakti explains. “Today, Sathe's voice has become the religious voice, branded forever," adds Jayraj.
“People have a great ownership for the brand so if we change anything, they let us know if they liked or hated it, on social media," says Shakti.
The content keeps changing. For instance, Kalnirnay stopped printing train timings from 2017.
Both father and daughter are cognizant of changing technologies and the ubiquity of apps and social media platforms. “We have to wait, see and jump without reservation, otherwise, we will be left behind," says Jayraj.
Today they are perhaps 40 similar calmanac brands. Many more are launched each year. “Copying is the best form of flattery, and we see diverse formats," says Shakti.
“But Kalnirnay is Kalnirnay."