The PRESS-ure Cooker

Ashram Graphics, the BSY Printing Press was first established at Sivananda Ashram at the end of 1972. At that time the whole ashram was preparing for the Golden Jubilee Celebrations, and it was necessary to print all the pamphlets, letters, invitation cards, etc. to be distributed around the world.

Of course Swamiji knew all about printing because he had managed his guru's press in Rishikesh for many years. But none of the young swamis knew anything about it. So, Swamiji sent one swami to Delhi in order to purchase the first printing machines and to learn the whole printing process from top to bottom. Three months later he returned to Munger with the basic machinery and knowledge required to start the press. With constant effort and encouragement from Swamiji the work began. The swamis had to learn quickly everything, from composing to binding.

At that time there were two small treadle printing machines, one hand operated stitching or stapling machine, one old style semi-automatic letter press printing machine which could print 4 pages, and an old hand operated cutting machine which required three strong swamis to operate it, two for turning the big wheel and one to place the paper and change the adjustments.

A new venture

In the beginning, working days were long, each day of the week starting at six a.m. and finishing when the job was complete. Often the work went on day and night, and there were also some days when Mooladhara, the printing department, was silent in deep slumber. It all depended on Swamiji for he kept a watchful eye on all the press activities and guided the work at every level.

Before printing, the matter was first prepared in Swadhisthana, the composing department. It was the simplest kind of typesetting system, known as 'hand composing'. Each letter is individually placed in a composing stick and between each word a space is put. To compose one page of matter, which usually consisted of 36 lines, took hours. An average of three to four pages a day was the maximum output for an experienced composer swami.

After the composing was complete, galley proofs were made and then proof reading began. First correction - proof, second correction - proof, and sometimes even a third correction was necessary before the page makeup and justification were done. Justification is the final stage. Each line has to be equally spaced and tightly adjusted. Eventually the forma consisting of 4, 8, or 16 pages would be ready to leave Swadhisthana. In Mooladhara the first machine proof was rolled off. This again had to be proof read, compared and corrected, until the final printing order was given. Swamiji himself used to inspect all the proofs at different stages of printing and make corrections and suggestions, then he would okay the order and write on it the number to be printed. Nothing was printed without his signature. His interest in press work was vital, inspiring the swamis to learn and experience a new and, at that time, exciting venture.

Until 1976 nearly all the press work was done by hand. The production output was a long tedious procedure, but in spite of this, the press managed to supply 500 Kriya Magazines each month in Hindi and 500 in English. Publication of books and office supplies also went on simultaneously.

At that time folding was done by hand. After folding came compiling, also done by hand. The magazines were then stitched on the hand stitching machine.

After stitching, the magazines were again returned to Mooladhara for cutting. Finally news and announcements was inserted. At last, after passing through many hands and departments, the magazines were packed into boxes designed and made in press and reluctantly carried in the summer heat to the office on the third floor for despatch. The magazine alone, from composing to cutting, took up to four weeks.

By the end of 1976 production was too slow to keep up with the increasing work load, and printing standards had to be improved and raised. Swamis also needed to be given the opportunity to expand their technology in the printing field. It was now time to step up production with more modern equipment. A new challenge arose.

Unceasing activity

A great change took place in the press with the addition of an English linotype, and a Hindi and English monotype caster with its dainty partner, the punching machine. These long awaited machines arrived at the ashram at the end of 1976. Two fully automatic HMT printing machines also arrived around the same time. Installation was a long and tiring process. Doors and walls were knocked out to make way. With Swamiji giving the directions and much heavy pushing and pulling, the huge bulky machines were finally manoeuvred into position.

The whole printing production was greatly accelerated and highly charged with all these new machines. Printing was now done very fast. The continuous whirring of the printing machines as they piled up stacks of printed formas under their mechanical arms, the rhythmic chak, chak, chak of the mono caster as it spewed out letters one at a time and formed them into perfect lines, the jingle, jingle of the lino as it dropped letters down into a slot to be cast into a solid line of matter, all these machines working together created a high voltage atmosphere and raised the energy level throughout the whole ashram. It was a real manifestation of Shakti- the awakening of mooladhara, and during those times the pulse of the press throbbed with unceasing activity.

The amazing thing was that the entire press was managed and run by sannyasins, many of whom had never touched a machine in their lives before coming to the ashram. Swamis were not only operators, but in the case of a breakdown they were expected to be able to do repairs. So it was necessary to be very inventive with what few materials were available for repairing the machines. Only by trial and error did we learn.

In November 1976 printing of the new revised editions of YOGA and YOGA VIDYA monthly journals began. For the first issue 15,000 copies in Hindi and in English were printed. This was a gigantic task for the press at that time. All the swamis were recruited for work each night up to 8 or 9 p.m. until the magazines were completed.

Folding was a massive job with 120,000 sheets to be hand folded for 30,000 magazines and also 30,000 covers to fold. To complete this project the whole ashram participated. All departments were closed and swamis as well as visitors and even the kitchen staff packed into the press. Luckily it was the winter season, when energy and enthusiasm are at a peak. So we all rugged up and sat folding day and night. Swamiji was with us during the entire time encouraging us.

In July came the long and eagerly awaited semi-auto folding machine capable of doing three folds. It was delivered to Munger Railway Station in dismantled parts. Swamis carried it back to the ashram and soon they had it assembled and operating at top efficiency. Now the only hand work left was compiling and stitching which were both quite simple and fast.

The melting pot

These were truly golden years in the press, when discipline was maintained and devotion to the work was high. Those who managed to pass through the difficulties of these strenuous times, came to know the pleasure and pain, laughter and tears of simple and continuous work. Everything was done with maximum awareness and efficiency and also at maximum speed.

Apart from the constant pressure of getting all the work done on time, there were also many pressures and tensions due to the working conditions. The weather for six months of the year was unbearably hot. Often there were electricity cuts throughout the day which meant no fans. When it was hot there was no escape from the situation.

In Mooladhara it was forbidden to lean or put anything on the machines. At the end of the day, machines had to be cleaned, the surrounding area cleaned, tool boards arranged and all tools checked. This routine was a daily practice. Oiling and a thorough check of nuts and bolts was done each morning without fail.

At 4.30 p.m. the work generally stopped and thorough cleaning of the whole press would begin under supervision. In a rather exhausted state, the swamis would sign off and go back to their rooms, though many times after dinner, they would return to the press for a few hours, depending on the urgency of work.

In the monsoon season when the air was heavy and humid, no one felt like work, but the work went relentlessly on. Heavy reams of paper were carried downstairs for cutting or printing or heavy lead matters carried upstairs for distribution. Somehow the output had to be maintained. Even at 4.30 p.m. an important message could come to have work finished and dispatched. The tension would rise as the work energy increased and there was no time for sympathy or feeling exhausted. Of course if you cracked up or threw a tantrum that was okay too. Work just seemed to carry on around these situations.

As the summer changed to winter, so did the atmosphere in Mooladhara. Everybody now loved the old lead heating machines, for they provided warmth on cold, crisp mornings. In winter the energy was higher. People were fresh and energetic, more willing and enthusiastic to carry heavy boxes or matter here or there, upstairs and downstairs. In this way, another year passed.

For the machine operators, the machines became personalities, each with its own specialty, likes and dislikes. One swami speaks of his machine 'Ugrakali' - "I felt I was working with a very powerful and noisy woman." An understanding of care and love developed between operator and machine. The more you could accept its failures or its level of production, be it great or small, the less attached you became to the fruits of action. A consciousness of true affection and devotion to work grew, along with strength and stability to contain oneself under the most arduous and disturbing conditions.

This sadhana taught endurance, going for long stretches without sleep and food, working and working until the mind stopped - no thinking, no worrying, no thought of tomorrow - a true lesson in Karma Yoga! One swami says "I was pushed to the point of wondering what I was doing there? At these times I would turn around and there would be Swamiji. He would just smile and go."

There was a constant awareness that Swamiji's energy, inspiration and love was right behind the work. In this way there was a great and noticeable transformation in the personality in a very short time. Continual noise, intense heat over a melting pot of 6,500F tested the limits of endurance - this was tapasya!

The swamis saw the books that they had written through transmission from Swamiji, through every process from writing and editing to composing, printing and binding. It was not just a printing of books but a profound imprinting of the most powerful samskaras of their lives.

Shifting of the press

In June 1983 the press began shifting to Ganga Darshan. Machines were dismantled and with much care and gentleness, rolled out of Mooladhara to be transported to the new, spacious and airy press which awaited them. Mooladhara was finally left to rest. The walls reflected a sigh of relief as the last machine was rolled out through the green doors. Her days of battering, hammering noise, heat, tears and laughter were over.

Now, once again, a new era is beginning in the history of Ashram Graphics. December is the last issue to be printed on the present faithful but tired old machines. Soon all the machines will be sold and the press will be closed until more modern printing equipment can be acquired. But we feel that the press is one department that has truly served its purpose. Not only did it produce books and magazines for many years, it produced swamis; strong, self-disciplined and controlled swamis, some of whom are still living in the ashram today, and some who have gone farther a field, fulfilling greater roles and responsibilities in life and spreading the seeds of yoga in all directions.