He was a teacher, reformer and writer
July 10, 2017

Ganga Kishore Bhattacharya started the second regional language newspaper in India, the first by an Indian. He was the publisher and editor of a paper titled Bengal Gazetti. He was also one of the pioneers of the printing and publishing industry, writing and publishing several books in Bengali language at a time when there were few available. Mrinal Chatterjee profiles the editor

Ganga Kishore Bhattacharya was born in Bahara Village, near Serampore, about 20 km north of Calcutta. Not much is known about his early life. He started his career as a compositor in the Baptist Mission Press, Serampore. Later on, he shifted to Calcutta. As Mohamed Taher writes in his book, Libraries in India’s National Development Perspective: A Saga of Fifty Years Since Independence, Ganga Kishore opened a Bengali book shop as early as 1815. He also started writing books. In 1816, he edited the earliest illustrated book published in Bengali language, the Annadamangala, printed at the Ferris and Company Press in Calcutta.

There were few printing presses in Calcutta (for that matter in entire Eastern India) then, which could print in regional languages. Though the first printing press, which printed in Devanagari was set up in 1806-7 in Khidirpur (Kidderpore) by Baburam (later known as Sanskrit Press), by 1815 there were a handful of printing presses. Among them, besides the Sanskrit Press under a new management, were Ferris and Co Press, Hindoostani Press, Bengali Press andm Serampore Mission Press. Ganga Kishore ventured in establishing a Bengali printing press in 1818 known as the Bengal Gazette Press.

After installing the press, Ganga Kishore thought of publishing a newspaper – in Bengali, as at that time there were none. In 1818, with the help of Pandit Hara Chandra Roy, he started editing and publishing a weekly Bengali newspaper, the Bengal Gazetti. It was printed in his Bengal Gazette Press. Though the exact date of its publication is not known, the commencement of the publication of the newspaper was announced in two successive advertisements published in the Government Gazette of 14 May 1818 and 11 July 1818.

However, Samachar Darpan (published by Serampore Mission Press on May 23, 1818) started publishing a week or so before Bengal Gazetti was published. Therefore, Bengal Gazetti became the second Bengali newspaper or, for that matter any regional language newspaper, to have been published in India, and the first by an Indian.

Bengal Gazetti, though, was short lived; it survived barely a year. But it left an illustrious legacy as a progressive and pro-reform paper. It re-printed the works of Ram Mohan Roy  on the sati system and advocated its abolition. Besides local news, it used to publish government advertisements, employment news and law-related issues in simple Bengali.

Bengal Gazetti as a newspaper was noticed and its early demise mourned. On 16 May 1818, the Oriental Star, an influential newspaper of the time had this to say: “Amongst the improvements which are taking place in Calcutta… publication of a Bengalee news-paper has been commenced. The diffusion of general knowledge and information amongst the natives must lead to… communication between the natives and the European residents.”

Ganga Kishore was a multi-talented person and prolific writer. He wrote several books to fulfil the needs of people, as there were hardly any books at that time. He wrote A Grammar in English and Bengalee Language (1816). Published by the Ferris and Co Press, it was basically English grammar in the Bengali language. It was written in simple language for the benefit of the students.

Ganga Kishore wrote several books in Bengali on business and economics (Byabasha Darpan), on medicine (Chikitsarnab, 1820) and on chemistry (Drabyagun, 1828). He also wrote and edited works of fiction. Among his edited works were Bhagbadgita (1820), an abridged version of the original Sanskrit text, and Annada Mangal (1816), a quasi-historical tale of Biddyah and Sunder. Printed from the Press of Ferris and Co in Calcutta, it was the first known illustrated work in printing. It was embellished with line-engraving and had six pictures. The blocks used to make the pictures were prepared by Ramchand Roy, who was probably related to Harachandra Roy.

Ganga Kishore Bhatttacharya rose from a very humble background, worked his way up, made a name for himself as a learned man, did his bit to reform the society, tried to educate the masses and students. As an editor he attempted to utilise the press for social reform, without being concerned about the pressure from the puritans. He died in 1831.

(Note: We could find no picture of Ganga Kishore Bhattacharya. If any reader can find one, do send it to us. We’d be happy to publish it.)

(The author, a journalist-turned-media academician, presently heads the Eastern India campus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication located in Dhenkanal, Odisha. This is the first in a series of profiles of great Indian newspaper editors who have, through the course of their work and career, made a signal contribution to India’s Freedom Movement, to the development of society and also to the development of journalism as a profession.)

April – June 2017