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Hold the Shloka

World’s only Sanskrit daily holds out against the odds.

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For long, golf has been viewed as a rich man’s sport in India while the all-consuming passion for cricket has somewhat stunted the growth of a discipline that will be making its debut at the 2016 Olympics. The trend is changing with dozens of youngsters walking about the greens of Delhi and elsewhere with a golf kit slung across their shoulders.

Sudharma, possibly the only Sanskrit daily in the world, is struggling for survival as it approaches its 43rd anniversary later this year.

In the face of dwindling interest in a language that many feel has no future, and lack of financial support from advertisers, the husband-wife team publishing the single sheet daily from Mysore is disillusioned, but not disheartened.

“We will continue to run the paper against all odds, as it is a mission with us,” editor Sampath Kumar, returning after two months in hospital for a mild heart attack, said.

“There’s no question of looking back, despite the gross indifference of the state government and the Directorate of Audio-Visual Publicity (DAVP) to release advertisements to us,” added Jayalakshmi, the publisher.

It is not that Sudharma’s subscription base is shrinking. “We have close to 4,000 subscribers that include institutions and individuals, academics and religious bodies. It’s a pity the powers-that-be do not realize the historic role of Sanskrit, which has now been globally recognized as a scientific and phonetically sound language,” Sampath said.

The contents are a mix of news and views on all subjects. Lots of people who meet the duo wonder why they bring out the newspaper when it is not financially viable.

“My answer is that it is our shared responsibility and commitment to posterity not to let the language die, even as pro-globalization forces are promoting use of English in a big way,” Sampath explained.

Jayalakshmi reacted sharply to the charge of Sanskirt being a dead language. “Who says Sanskrit is dead? Every morning, people recite shlokas, conduct pujas...ceremonies like marriage, childbirth and death are in Sanskrit. India is united by Sanskrit, the mother language sustaining so many languages... and now even IT professionals are saying it is useful,” says Jayalakshmi.

Sudharma was started on July 15, 1970, by Sampath’s father, Varadaraja Iyengar. “On his (father) deathbed he made me promise that I would not let Sudharma be shut down. I am trying to keep the tradition and fire alive,” Sampath said.

Sudharma’s annual subscription is Rs 400. The daily mostly carries articles on the Vedas, yoga and religion, as well as politics and culture.

Sampath recalls that his father took the initiative to get All India Radio to broadcast regular news bulletins in Sanskrit.

Mysore has become an important centre for Yoga and Sanskrit learning. Thousands of students from all over India come to learn yoga at the 40-odd centers in the city. According to Sampath, interest in alternative medicines like Ayurveda has also helped pique interest in Sanskrit.

Originally printed manually, Sudharma now has a computerized printing facility. An e-paper is available online, making its reach international.

Lamenting the lack of official patronage, Sampath said: “Being in Sanskrit, Sudharma never had sufficient revenue from advertisements. Despite ample lip service and appreciation, no concrete help comes our way. But constraints have never deterred us and we will continue to keep alive this glorious tradition.”

The modest office in Agrahara has been visited by ministers, governors, Shankaracharyas, and other dignitaries. Sampath showed his vast collection of messages from politicians, scholars, intellectuals and business leaders.

The signs may not be too hopeful, but perhaps the paper, like the language it is published in, will be able to survive the test of time.

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Books | Life | August 2012 | Magazine

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