Nominated | Book Awards 2020 | English Non-fiction
In the early 1920s, Jaydayal Goyandka and Hanuman Prasad Poddar, two Marwari businessmen-turned-spiritualists, set up the Gita Press and Kalyan magazine. As of early 2014, Gita Press had sold close to 72 million copies of the Gita, 70 million copies of Tulsidas's works and 19 million copies of scriptures like the Puranas and Upanishads. And while most other journals of the period, whether religious, literary or political, survive only in press archives, Kalyan now has a circulation of over 200,000, and its English counterpart, Kalyana-Kalpataru, of over 100,000. Gita Press created an empire that spoke in a militant Hindu nationalist voice and imagined a quantifiable, reward-based piety. Almost every notable leader and prominent voice, including Mahatma Gandhi, was roped in to speak for the cause. Cow slaughter, Hindi as national language and the rejection of Hindustani, the Hindu Code Bill, the creation of Pakistan, India's secular Constitution: Kalyan and Kalyana-Kalpataru were the spokespersons of the Hindu position on these and other matters. The ideas articulated by Gita Press and its publications played a critical role in the formation of a Hindu political consciousness, indeed a Hindu public sphere. This history provides new insights into the complicated and contested rise to political pre-eminence of the Hindu Right. Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India is an original, eminently readable and deeply researched account of one of the most influential publishing enterprises in the history of modern India. Featuring an extraordinary cast of characters - buccaneering entrepreneurs and hustling editors, nationalist ideologues and religious fanatics - this is essential (and exciting) reading for our times.
Akshaya Mukul is an independent researcher and a Homi Bhabha Fellow. Journalist for over two decades, he has contributed to A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures in English (2005) edited by Prem Poddar and David Johnson, Edinburgh University Press. He lives in Gurgaon with wife Jyoti, daughter Jahnavi and Dalmatian Bella.
The book, now. A funny thing to say about a piece of serious research, but I couldn’t put it down. It is meticulously researched, and very perceptive in its insights. More important, it tells a fascinating story in a lucid, accessible manner. I’d consider it money very well spent. A must-read for anyone interested in the recent social history of India.
– Abhik Majumdar
Mukul’s book was a highly original and commendable work involving a dogged determination to set out the many particularities of the Gita Press and the colourful personalities that drove its agenda. It is also a book that is relevant to cultural homogenisation across the ages, since at its heart it reveals what it takes to be a cultural mythmaker, and how a specific nexus of religious, caste and linguistic considerations have reaped extraordinary rewards.
– Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2016