Thursday, July 19, 2012

Keeping Sanskrit Alive on Newsprint

Via india.blogs.nytimes.com

Sudharma, which means “good faith” in Sanskrit, is world’s only Sanskrit-language daily newspaper that reports on the affairs of the world. Four pages in all, about 12 inches long, the paper covers a wide range of issues like India’s economic policy, politics, sports and weather. Sudharma’s circulation is a little under 2,000 copies per day, which go to Sanskrit scholars and students across India and abroad.

In 1970, when Mr. Kumar’s father, Varadaraja Iyengar, wanted to start the newspaper, he was met with resistance from various fronts. Mr. Iyengar took up this challenge by himself. “He just wanted to keep a ‘dead’ language alive,” Mr. Kumar said.

The question people were asking then was a natural one – why attempt to keep a dead language alive? “Sanskrit is an essential tool for anyone who wishes truly to understand India’s history over any longer period than the last two or three centuries,” said Professor J. L. Brockington, vice president of the International Association of Sanskrit Studies. “A proper understanding of its past is vital for any culture to truly stay alive — all the more so when, as is the case for India, that past stretches over so long a continuous period.”

Mr. Iyengar , who died in 1990, believed that the language was dying because it was not flexible enough to adapt to the changing times, said Nagaraja Rao, who has been the editorial head of Sudharma since its start. “And, therefore, we began simplifying Sanskrit,” he said. “We started adapting the language to express the ideas of modern India, what is happening in the elections, change of governments, the accidents on the road, et cetera. We had to invent new words to express new ideas like train, bus, police, democracy et cetera.”

As for the money, the newspaper barely breaks even on most days, with revenue coming purely from subscribers — Indian subscribers pay 400 rupees ($7.20) a year, while overseas subscribers pay $50 – and donations, given largely by Sanskrit scholars.

For now, Sudharma’s greatest challenge is to find more readers. “In our estimate, there are more than a 100,000 Sanskrit scholars in India and about a similar number abroad. But we have not been able to cross a few thousand in subscription,” laments Mr. Rao. The paper has begun a free online edition that can be accessed without a registration.

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