Udant Martand: India’s First Hindi Newspaper

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“जैसा करम तैसा फल

सुनने में आया, कि इन दिनों में टकसाल के चाकर ने जो उस टकसाल में बहुत दिनों से पलता था एक दिन सोना चुराया सो वहीं के किसी के हाथों से पकड़ा गया ओ तुर्त पुलिस में भेजा गया फिर तजवीज़ भए परअपने किये का फल पचीस बेंत पाया।”

"As you sow, so shall you reap.
It’s been heard that recently a man, who was working at the mint for a long time, stole gold from there. He was caught by someone who was working at the mint and was sent to police, where he received 25 blows as the fruit of his actions.”

While this might sound like a short, interesting story, it is actually a Hindi news item from India’s first-ever Hindi newspaper, Udant Martand.

Every year, 30th May is celebrated as Hindi Journalism Day, marking the beginning of Hindi journalism in India. It was on this day in 1826 that the first Hindi newspaper in India, Udant Martand, was published, in Calcutta. The newspaper was a weekly publication and it took another 28 years for the first Hindi daily to be published. This was Samachar Sudha Varshan, first published in Calcutta in 1854.

Hindi newspapers and other periodicals and publications have since flourished but let’s return to where it all began.

Hindi: Finding Its Voice

The story of Hindi newspapers is intrinsically linked to the development of the Hindi language itself. Till the early 19th century, Hindi was not the language it is today. It was primarily ‘Khari Boli’, a local dialect of Braj Bhasha spoken in the region around Delhi and Meerut. It was like a template for modern Hindi.

John Borthwick Gilchrist | Wikimedia Commons

It was actually a Scottish surgeon in the East India Company who gave shape to the Devanagari script, which is used to write Hindi. John Borthwick Gilchrist played a significant role in the codification of Hindi in the Devanagari script and the Urdu language in the Arabic script. Gilchrist even published A Dictionary: English And Hindoostanee in 1786, where ‘Hindoostanee’ referred to a language understood by most North Indians. This publication was one of the earliest books printed in the Devanagari type.

In the 19th century, Hindi was still struggling to find its voice. Till 1836, the court language of the East India Company was Persian. In 1837, it changed to Urdu, with a strong affinity for Persian. Meanwhile, with the advent of modern printing in the late 18th century, the Devanagari script began to be used more and more in languages such as Hindi and Marathi.

Birth of Hindi Journalism

The earliest attempts at Hindi journalism took place in Calcutta, chiefly in the 19th century. While Calcutta was the imperial capital of British India before it shifted to Delhi, it was also a prime commercial hub in the 19th century, thus attracting a significant number of Hindi-speaking Indians from North India as well.

Bengal’s flourishing publishing industry undoubtedly played a role in the rise of journalism in this city. The Christian missionaries too played a part, encouraging translations of the Bible in Hindi. This thriving publishing industry created a springboard for Hindi journalism.

But the community in Calcutta was linguistically divided. The language used was Khari, contaminated by Brij Bhasha, which was widely franchised due to the currency of Brij Bhasha poetry, the local Bengali dialect, and the standard Bengali language.

Udant Martand | Wikimedia Commons

This brings us to the first-ever Hindi newspaper, Udant Martand (‘Rising Sun’), published in 1826. This was the first newspaper in the “Hindi language and Nagari script”. It was started by Pandit Jugal Kishore Shukla and published by Manna Thakur.

Shukla was a lawyer from Kanpur working in Calcutta and he wanted to draw attention to the rights of Indians in British India. It was one of the reasons he launched his newspaper. In his inaugural edition, Shukla underlined the need for a newspaper exclusively for Hindi-speaking people, especially in times when there were already newspapers in English, Bengali and Persian.

In his paper, he pointed to the inequality of Indians vis-a-vis the Europeans. Besides publishing local news and news from Hindi-speaking areas, the newspaper also raised all kinds of issues on social inequality.

Ram Ratan Bhatnagar, a scholar who published his thesis on The Rise and Growth of Hindi Journalism in the 1940s, wrote that Udant Martand contained all sorts of new market rates, news from India and abroad, government measures, and news about the whereabouts and tours of the Governor-General. It also featured advertisements.

The newspaper primarily used the Khari Boli and Braj Bhasha dialects of Hindi and was, in fact, called ‘Oodunta Martand’. It was book-sized, 12 inches x 8 inches. The first issue had 500 copies printed.

However, the newspaper did not last long and it shut the next year, in 1827. Readership was thin as there were a limited number of Hindi-speaking people in Calcutta and it was difficult to get the paper to the Hindi heartland, which is North India.

Postal costs were high and, in a long petition to the government, he asked for financial assistance. The government refused, and in the face of diminishing subscribers, the paper was shut.

An excerpt from Ram Ratan Bhatnagar’s thesis reveals how our earliest news was written almost like stories:

“एक यशी वकील वकालत का काम करते करते बुड्ढा होकर अपने दामाद को वह काम सौंप के आपसूचित हुआ।दामाद कई दिन काम करके एक दिन आया ओ प्रसन्न होकर बोला -- हे महाराज ! आपने जो फलाने का पुराना ओ संगीन मोकदमा हमें सौंपा थासो आजफैसलाहुआ।येसुनकर वकील पछताकर बोला तो तुमने सत्यनाशकिया।

उस मुक़दमे से हमारे बाप दादा बढ़े थे तिस पीछे हमारे बाप मरती समय हमें हाथ उठाके दे गए ओ हमने भी उसको बना रखा अब तक उसी भांति अपना पिन कटा ओ वही मोकदमा तुमको सौंप कर समझा था कि तुम भी अपने बेटे-पोतों परपोतों तक पालोगे या तुम थोड़े से दिनों में उसे खो बैठे।”

“A famous lawyer, doing advocacy work, grew old and handed over his work to his son-in-law. The son-in-law, after working for many days, came one day, happily, and said - Oh my Lord! That old and serious case of so-and-so that you had entrusted upon me, its decision has been taken today.

On hearing this, the lawyer repented and said that you have messed up all of it. My father and grandfather grew up with that case. When my father was on his deathbed, he handed over that case to me. I also followed the suit and handed it over to you, with the expectation that you will also live with it and pass it on to your sons, your grandsons and great-grandsons, but you lost it just within a few days!"

But all was not lost. Even if Udant Martand, India’s first Hindi newspaper didn’t survive more than a year, it was a trendsetter as it set the tone for other newspapers in Hindi. These included Raja Rammohan Roy’s Bangdoot, the second Hindi newspaper, launched in May 1829, in Hindi, along with editions in English, Bengali and Persian.

India’s First Hindi Daily

Samachar Sudha Varshan via Twitter

Shukla once again tossed his hat into the ring and published his second Hindi newspaper, Samayadand Martand, in 1852. This one too didn’t survive for long. Then came India’s first daily Hindi newspaper in 1854, Samachar Sudha Varshan. Launched in June 1854, three years before the Great Revolt, the paper was edited by Shyam Sunder Sen and was printed both in Hindi and Bengali.

Every issue contained six to eight pages, of which more than half were allotted to Hindi. The Hindi section preceded the Bengali one and comprised important news, articles, editorials etc. The Bengali section dealt mainly with commercial news, advertisements, rates etc.

Although the paper was bilingual, it was led by Hindi. According to Ram Ratan’s thesis, a number of issues of the paper are preserved in the British Museum, London, and many issues from the first year of publication are preserved in the National Library of India in Kolkata.

Between 1850 and 1857 a number of Hindi newspapers were published. Among them were Benaras Akbar, Sudhakar Tatwa Bodhini, Patrika and Sathya. Benaras Akhbar (1844) from Varanasi was the first paper to introduce the Devnagari script in the North-West Provinces. It was started by Raja Shiva Prasad, an Indian scholar and journalist.

Due to the efforts of many of these pioneers, which also include Bhartendu Harishchandra, one of the earliest Hindi journalists, Hindi journalism had found a firm footing by the 20th century.

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