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VOL. XXIV NO. 14, November 1-15, 2014
Madras beginnings of Hindi Prachar
(By B. Swaminathan)

The Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha sent Madras Musings this article stating that it had begun preparations to celebrate its Centenary in 2018.

The ‘Hindi Prachar’ movement was started south of the Vindhyas long before Indian Independence. The nationalist Tamil poet, Subramania Bharati, wrote in early 1905 in his Tamil daily, India, about the importance of learning Hindi. Bharati even attempted to start Hindi classes in 1908.

Gandhiji, who insisted that Hindi Prachar should be started in the South, sent his son Devdas to Madras as the first Hindi Pracharak.

Mahatma Gandhi, at the Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress in 1916 and the Calcutta session in 1917, drew attention to ‘Hindi Prachar’ in the South. Gandhiji believed that unless and until the Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam speaking people attained a working knowledge of Hindi, national integration and cultural unity could not be achieved. Keeping this in mind, Gandhiji directed the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan to chart out programmes and collect funds to implement ‘Hindi Prachar’ in the South.

In 1918, Gandhiji sent his younger son Devdas Gandhi to Madras as the first Hindi Pracharak. He sowed the seeds for the Hindi Prachar movement in Madras with the help of leaders like Dr. Annie Besant, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer and Srinivasa Sastri. Swami Sathyadev Parivrajak was next sent by Gandhiji to assist Devdas who in turn sent Pandit Harihara Sarma, K.M. Sivarama Sarma, Malladi Venkataseetharamanjaneyulu and others to the North to learn to teach Hindi. They returned in 1919 as Pracharaks. K. Bashyam Iyengar, T.R. Venkatarama Sastry, Sundaram Iyer, S. Ambujammal and other leaders in Madras were students of these Pracharaks. To help Pandit Harihara Sarma and Devdas Gandhi, Prathap Narayan Vajpayee, K. Kshemannand Rahat and Hrishikesh Sharma came from the North in 1919 to serve as Pracharaks. These pioneering Pracharaks paved the way for the establishment of the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha in Madras.

In the first week of May 1918, the first Hindi class was started by Devdas Gandhi in Gokale Hall in George Town, under the presidentship of Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer. Dr. Annie Besant inaugurated the class. Between 1918 and 1927, Hindi Prachar was carried on under the banner of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan at its branch office. In 1927, the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha emerged as an independent organisation and Mahatma Gandhi was its President till he breathed his last.

Till 1920, the Sabha had its office in George Town. After some years it shifted to Mylapore and from there to Triplicane where it functioned till 1936. During those years, the Sabha published Hindi readers, self-instruction materials, Hindi grammars, etc. for Hindi learners. Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam versions were also brought out simultaneously. To produce these books, it was felt necessary to have a printing press of its own and one was established in rented premises in Triplicane in 1922.

In course of time, when ‘Hindi Prachar’ picked up momentum, there was a demand for Pracharaks. A Hindi Pracharak Vidyalaya was started in Erode in 1922 by the Sabha and Avadanandanji and Devadootji were the first instructors. The Erode Vidyalaya was declared open by Pandit Motilal Nehru and it started functioning from the house of E.V. Ramaswami Naicker (Periyar), who later became a bitter opponent of Hindi.

Provincial branches were established in 1936. The same year, the Sabha moved into the then new premises set in five acres in Theagaraya Nagar. The foundation for the building was laid by Janab Abdul Hameed Khan and the building was declared open on October 7, 1936 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who was then the President of the Indian National Congress.

Preliminary examinations were held regularly from 1922. The first degree level examination, ‘Rashtrabhasha Visharad’, was conducted and the convocation was held in 1931. ‘Praveshika’ was introduced in 1948. Vidyalayas gave special training to those who had passed ‘Rashtrabhasha’ and awarded the Hindi Pracharak Sanad to those who qualified.

To exchange views and ideas among the Pracharaks, a Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sammelan was held for the first time in 1923 in Soundarya Mahal. Devdas Gandhi presided over the third Sammelan, held in December 1932. Since then, Sammelans have been held every year, featuring Hindi dramas, exhibitions, book exhibitions and kavi sammelans.

When the Congress formed its first ministry in the then Madras Presidency in 1937, C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), as the Prime Minister of Madras, introduced the teaching of Hindi in all the schools in the Presidency. The Sabha, of which he was the Vice President, was directed to publish Hindi books for use in the schools.

The Sabha celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1946 after World War II ended and Gandhiji presided over the celebrations. Nearly 10,000 Hindi Pracharaks and Hindi lovers from all over the South took part in the function held in ‘Hindustani Nagar’ in the sprawling campus of the Sabha. Gandhiji organised conferences on women development, particularly for authors in Southern languages, artists and Harijans and also held seminars on subjects like charka. Sir Pethwick Lawrence, who was leading a Parliamentary delegation from Britain, met Gandhiji in the Sabha premises to discuss India’s imminent independence. After the celebrations, Gandhiji made a whirlwind tour of the South in a special train taking the message of Hindi to the people. Wherever he went he spoke in Hindi and it was translated into the local language.

To commemorate his presence during the Silver Jubilee celebrations in the Sabha, it was decided to build a Gandhi Mantap where he spoke. The Mantap was inaugurated on June 9, 1963 by Morarji Desai.

In appreciation of the Sabha’s activities, the Government of India accorded it the status of National Importance in June 1964 under an Act of Parliament.

Recent landmarks include a National Hindi Research Library and a Mahatma Gandhi Convocation Hall (Mahatma Gandhi Padhavidhan Mantap) exclusively for conducting the annual convocations of the Sabha. To commemorate the Nehru Centenery celebrations, the Sabha raised the Nehru Centenary Memorial Hall.

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In this issue

The sad state of our roads
Madras Landmarks - 50 years ago
Welcome sensitising of temple restorers
The early days of the I.A.S.
Madras beginnings of Hindi Prachar
Trying to save Jerdon's Courser
Advertising goes outdoors
Answering the need of the hour?
Studying during those 'Quit India' days

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Readers Write
Quizzin' With Ram'nan
Dates for Your Diary


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