Gita Press Bookstore: Karma Yoga in Action

Gita Press Gorakhpur Bookstore

Tucked away on gritty Princess St and across from Parsi Dairy Farm is one of my favorite book stores: Gita Press Ki Dukan (Bookstore of the Gita Press).

See, I came late to this genre of Hindu scriptures. Educated in a convent school, I drank deeply of the Kool-Aid that western writers were the axis around which the Universe rotated. We studied Browning, Byron, Keats and O’Henry, and passed on Dnyaneshwar, Eknath, Kanaka Dās and Tukaram. I knew more about priests and nuns, and zilch about Alvars and Nayanmars. Romeo & Juliet was a Classic, Ramayana a myth. We doted on Shelley, Hemingway and Shakespeare, but skipped Tulsidās, Mirābai, Tyāgarājā and Kālidās. I knew more about St Peter than Bhagwān Ādi Shankarāchāryā or Swami Madhvāchāryā.

Thankfully I graduated and real education could begin. A tiny booklet of Swami Vivekananda’s lectures bought at a railway station was the spark. And what a roaring fire it kindled. Was engrossed in it for days. Followed hungrily by the Bhagavad Gitā, Upanishads, Purānās, commentaries of various masters and Bhakti poetry. I had just scratched the surface.

Years ago, I came across a dusty copy of Gosvāmi Tulsidās’s RāmCharitaMānas. More than a retelling of the Ramāyanā, Gosvāmi Tulsidās had brilliantly condensed most of our scriptures into this one classic. You study this one classic and you understand them all. Each word of each couplet is exquisitely sculpted; placed there with purpose. Will take a lifetime to study. And the beauty of his verse leaves Byron in the dust. Now I await every opportunity to attend discourses on RāmCharitaManās.

Some of the best translations of the RāmCharitaMānas are published by Gita Press, Gorakhpur, UP. Imagine my delight that the fabled book publisher had an outlet near our home in Colaba, and as a bonus, it was across the street from Parsi Dairy Farm, the best place for mithai.

Gita Press Gorakhpur Bookstore Mumbai, Tulsidas RamacharitaManas
I was expecting a drab, dark store, with shelves buckling under dusty tomes. What a surprise to find this posh marble floored, air-conditioned shop. They sell just about every Hindu scripture: Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, works of Saints to compilations of bhajans. And these beautifully bound books were jaw droppingly inexpensive. A hard bound copy of the Devi Mahātmyan (Greatness of Devi) was Rs 80 (~ US$ 1.60). Bhajan booklets were Rs 2 – 5 (4-10 cents). On my first trip I bought so many volumes, I had to take a cab home.
Gita Press Gorakhpur Bookstore Mumbai, Tulsidas RamacharitaManas

On a later visit I was chatting with the guy at the counter and he explained how the store was indeed a run-down, dusty hole. Then a trustee donated the money to make it a showcase store. Very well done. As we praised his service, 4 laborers were sitting on the floor at the far end of the store, unpacking boxes of books stacked to the ceiling. They had been listening to our conversation and one of them chimed in:

Hum yahan kaam nahin karte, yeh hamari seva hai.
We don’t work here; this is our service.

I was speechless. This was the pure essence of the Bhagavad Gitā and mouthed so simply by these uneducated, laborers. I nodded incredulous.

In the Bhagvad Gitā, Prabhu Sri Krishnā painstakingly explains the essence of devotional service (inspired activity or Karma Yoga) to an impatient Arjuna.

Renouncing attachment, steadfast in your duty, engage yourself in inspired activity, O Dhananjayā!
Bhagavad Gitā 02: 48

Labor performed solely for wages is far inferior than inspired activity performed with steadfastness of purpose.
Seek solace in inspired work; for wretched is the lot of those who labor solely for wages.
Bhagavad Gitā 02: 49

What Sri Krishnā explains, these unschooled laborers live out. They understood the essence of Karma Yoga, practiced it flawlessly and succinctly expressed it in words.

When you do visit Gita Press Ki Dukan, certainly pick up the tomes, but pause to chat with those working there. From them you will learn the essence of all those volumes you labor to bring home.

My two other posts about Gosvāmi Tulsidās:

Gita Press Website.
You can download many complete manuscripts in PDF for free, including the complete RamCharitaManas.

Gita Press Gorakhpur Bookstore Mumbai

44 thoughts on “Gita Press Bookstore: Karma Yoga in Action

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  1. Siriman ji mujhe kuch purane bhajno ki books chahiye jese sundarkand, mayra ets kya apke stoke me ye books hai , agre hai to mail jarur kare

    1. All old bhajan books, including Tulsi Ramayan, Hanuman Chalisa and Sundar Kand are available at the Gita Press Store. Please visit their website: GitaPress.org to place the order or call their phone number at the nearest sales outlet. Please check their website as they have numerous sales outlets and there may be one near your home.

      Thank you for your interest.
      Arun

  2. Great and succinct axiomatic message is taught by the people at the bottom of the pyramid. God truly lives in midst of the poor.

  3. My family has subscribed to Gita Press’s monthly publication, Kalyan, for over 60 years now. I myself have had the priviledge of reading Kalyan since I was 6 years old. This manazine can be subscribed to for delivery both in India and internationally.

  4. Dear Arun Shanbhag,
    Thanks for a lovely post. Happy to note that out of U.P. people are receiving GeetaPress Publications with love, respect and devotion. I too own some books and read them at leasure. Your post ha(ve) inspired (me) to make serious studies and understand the messages and apply them in daily life. Hari om.

  5. What a wonderful post Arun. I am also a regular visitor to that particular Geeta Press shop across Parsi dairy. The reason Geeta Press books prices was its thinking that books on Dharma should not be published for profit. My father tells me that Bhaiji used to say “Geeta press should make loss every year and then its purpose will be fulfilled”. What a person !!

    Even I love to stop thereby and speak with shopkeep. helpers there. Once I asked a helper there about then how can Geeta Press afford such low prices ? The helper there looked at me for a while, pointed to the first page of the book I had bought which had the words ‘Hari’ and asked me if there is God ? I said yes. He said ” then you have the answer. Thakurji is running Geeta Press. I just stood there and wondered what we are trying to learn, these simple men have already internalized and assimilated into their daily lives. Amazing!!!

    1. Thank you Prateek for sharing that with us.

      The more I hear from our commenters, I more I am impressed with Gita Press work ethos. “Karma Yoga” in action.
      Am heading to Mumbai next week and will stop by the store … and Parsi Dairy too 🙂

      Jai Shri Ram
      Arun

  6. Very good Arun. The reason why their books are so inexpensive is because they do everything in God’s name as His sewa. Among the many things they receive donation for, one item is printing paper.

    In the big and main store that they have in Gorakhpur, they have one man whose job is to just roam around and remind the name of God to everybody.

    I visited Rishikesh last month and went to their store. Once you get in it’s very difficult to come out. There are many books they come out with. I bought a complete set of Mahabharat which I did not get in their Nai Sark store in New Delhi. What a beautiful piece of art!

    They even organize satsangs during a particular time of the year when sadhus from all over assemble and discourses are held. Because of lack of time I could attend only one by Swami Ram Sukh Das, one of my favourites. You can read his articles in the monthly ‘Kalyan’ they publish. Hanuman Prasad Ji, Goenka Ji are the other inspiring writers whose articles are published in ‘Kalyan’.

    Gita Press is doing a completely selfless service. If you want authenticity, you have to turn to them.

    Best,
    S. Srinivasan (Srini)

    1. Thank you Srini for sharing the details.

      I have personally not been to any other Gita Press store, but I would love to visit their Gorakhpur Store. I was told, they have the entire Gita transcribed on marble there. (or something like that).

      Nice time I visit India, I’m going to spend more time with the wonderful folks there.

      Thank you
      Jai Shri Ram!
      Arun

  7. You are the Best, Arun!

    Thank you for the post. I will go check their website and I hope we can order on line.

    Also, anything that we can do to link their ‘store’ to Amazon?

    /Suri

    1. Hi Suri:
      Thank you for your kind words of encouragement.
      I somehow forgot to add a link to their site. WIll do so soon, Its gitapress.org
      And check out the Downloads section! An amazing resource.

      I think someone at GITA PRESS will have to do the linking to the Amazon Store. A beautiful idea. When I visit Mumbai in December, I will try and mention this to one of the managers there. At the very least, they should get this on Google Books. A Great Idea and Thank you

      Hope you are all are doing well.
      Best
      Arun

  8. Dear Arun,

    As a kid I had given few papers for competition on Ramayana, Vivekananda etc. Even we used to watch Mahabharath serial but back then I never understood the true essence of it. I prepared for papers as if reading story.
    But all changed when we were in Shanghai. We got together with a group of youngsters who did Geethapaat in a different manner. We read the shloka’s with translations and discussed among ourselves as to how we could apply it to our life.
    When we again saw Mahabharath serial geethopadesh part we understood better 🙂
    Now that we are back I really miss those geethapaat sessions as the group did not read the geetha for the sake of reading it but searched for the true essence behind it.. Now I understand Karma yoga better 🙂

    1. Ujwal:
      You are pointing out a very important point. It appears that when we ‘leave’ our homeland that we start to appreciate and understand the true significance of our heritage and the beauty and richness of our scriptures. Your experiences exactly parallel mine, but I took a long time to come to the realization.

      I hope that once you have settled in with the new life/love, you will get a chance to organize and re-initiate the GeetaPaat sessions. However many times I have read it, I am always learning something new.

      Best Wishes to you
      Arun

  9. Gita Prakashan reminds me of Giri Traders both in Chennai and Matunga.

    Like you, I spent a greater part of my school life in a convent and was ignorant of Hindu literature. It was Chinmanya Mission’s Gita Yagna sessions in Chennai that brought me closer to Hinduism.

    I agree with Dilip that the store workers views are so touching. I must adopt their attitude to work in my life too.

    1. I am a big fan of the Chinmaya Missions “Nyana yagna,” and have been attending their events for the last year here in the Boston area. WoW! what a fabulous resource. Have been going through a huge DVD library of Sw Chinmayananda-ji’s discourse on the Gita. Additionally, we have various swami’s come here and do Nyana Yagna’s every month. Tulsi Ramayana is a favorite and we just finished the Sundar Khand – What a treasure.

      Glad to hear you have been touched by that magical touch!
      Wishing you bliss!
      Arun

      1. Dear Arun,
        Fifty years ago, I used to work in Mumbai, with a kind gentleman called K R Shanbhag. Like me, he must be over 80 by now. The reason for this reply is that I have enjoyed your post about Gita Press, Gorakhpur. I had also bought a book only for Rs 100/- at the Churchgate Station. The name is, “Eeshaadi Nau Upanishads”. It Is in Sanskrit with Hindi translation and Shaankar Bhashya. The book consists of 1337 pages.
        I hope, you won’t mind if I point out a slight slip-up regarding “Nyana yagna,” It is a Sanskrit word, ‘Jnana Yajna’. Maharashtrians mispronounce it as ‘Dnyana Yadnya’ ( you also mention about Dnyaneshwar) The last consonant in the Devnagari script is ‘JNA’. North Indians pronounce it as ‘gya’ .
        I am aware that Shanbhags are Saraswat Brahmins originally from Gomantak (Goa), migrated to Karwar . {Really speaking, Karwar is a Gomantakeeya town forcefully included by the interested parties in the State of Karnatak. But forget about, Goa, Karnatak and Maharashtra; what is important is that Karwar is in Hindusthaan.}
        In the fiftys, I used to live in Thakurdwar and know Princess Street well but never knew about the Gita Press shop. I shall visit it next time I visit Mumbai.
        By the way. the areas is known as ‘Fort’ area (Metro Cinema etc. ) Kolaba starts from Kalaa Ghodaa (Regal Cinema) and stretches up to the Sasoon Docks.
        Well. wish you all the best.
        With regards,
        Vasoo Kamulkar 24 January 2014

        1. Thank you for sharing that.
          I grew up in Colaba and went to school and college in Colaba. My parents still live there and I visit regularly.

          Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. Please do share your thoughts on related posts.
          Best Wishes,
          Arun

  10. Beautifully written post, touching inspiring quote from the laborers.
    Work is hard if uninspired, done without appreciation for the chance to work.
    Dilip

    1. Thank you Dilip Ji:
      Isn’t it amazing that somehow the laborers “got it,” while we the educated, the elite have a more difficult time with this inspired work, concept.

      Best Wishes
      Arun

  11. Arun, I came across this definition of KARMA YOGA:

    True Karma Yoga is when your MIND is absorbed in God’s love and you are performing duties with your body.
    But,if your mind is attached to the world and it only does devotion as a physical formality,then it is just Karma and
    NOT KARMA YOGA.

    In Hindi:

    man hari meṁ tan jagat meṁ karmyog tehi jān
    tan hari meṁ man jagat meṁ yaha mahān ajñān

    1. Baab:
      Thank you for sharing this beautiful gem with the readers and me. How beautifully said.

      It will take a lot of time and effort for us to apply this to all aspects of our everyday life. And now is a good time to start.

      Blessedly, Thank you
      Arun

    1. Hi Poornima
      Thank you for reading through the long post and for your interest in the topic.

      It was my oversight that I did not link to their website.

      Here is the list of their outlets. There is one in Bangalore.
      http://gitapress.org/Sale_out.htm

      They do have many publications with English translations, so you should be fine.

      Also, if you look at their website, they have several manuscripts including the Bhagavad Gita and the RamaCharitaManas (with English translations) available for free download. Check it out.

      Enjoy.
      Arun

  12. Lovely post!
    I’m so eager to go by one day myself;like you, I was raised blended in western readings and came to the light of the Gita and a few other Hindu pearls a little more than 3 years ago and have been blessed with my Indian friends contact ever since.
    Love your writing style; so fluid and poetic…
    Devu bare koro,
    Clélia

    1. Thank you Clélia for sharing in the joy of the Gita and other gems. And what a treasure it is.

      Mumbai is so filled with these stores ~ but they are all hidden in various nooks and crannies of the city. It will be fun to explore and find them.

      If you get a chance, read a few lecture by Sw Vivekananda – transforming!

      and thank you.
      Best
      Arun

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