Father of Marathi journalism
Balshastri Jambhekar was a highly qualified learned pundit. He was the first person to start a daily newspaper Darpan in Marathi in the early days of the British rule in India. He was instrumental in molding the Maharashtrian mind-set in the beginning of the 19th century.
He was born in the village Pombhurle in the Rajapur taluka in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. A great scholar and researcher in many subjects, he was a very good teacher, excellent author and left a stamp of his personality as a social reformer and a journalist during the period 1832 to 1846.
Balshastri Jambhekar is mainly known as the founder of the Marathi newspaper Darpan. He ably carried out the responsibility as editor of this newspaper during the British rule in India. He had grasped very early the importance and power of the print media in the coming times. He was sure that if the British was to be overthrown and freedom was to be attained, then it was essential to awaken the society and the pen was the most useful tool to that end. He was a hard-core patriot. The newspaper Darpan was born out of this patriotism and social awareness. This was a new dawn in Marathi journalism. Govind Kunte and Bhau Mahajan were also associated with him when this newspaper started. Balshastri Jambhekar was only 20 years old then. But even at that early age he had the mastery on the language and social awareness as required by the editor of a journal.
The first issue of Darpan was published on 6th January 1832. The matter was in both English and Marathi languages. It was priced at 1 rupee, and had 2 columns, in Marathi and in English. Marathi was meant for the general public and English was meant for the ruling British. A newspaper was a new idea in India at that time and so naturally very few people used to read it. The subscribers were very few in the beginning but slowly people appreciated it and agreed with the thoughts expressed in it. The readership grew. The newspaper mirrored the personality and thinking of Balshastri Jambhekar. It was published for eight and half years. The last issue was published in July 1840.
Balshastri Jambhekar was the first generation social reformer from Maharashtra. Darpan was an instrument at his disposal for the enlightenment of the masses. He specifically dealt with the issues of widow re-marriage and to inculcate a scientific temper amongst the readers. He wrote abundantly on these topics. This resulted in a large-scale debate in the society and finally in a movement for the support of widow re-marriage. He wanted the society to pursue knowledge, scholarly studies and intellectual development. He passionately desired that the knowledge should percolate in the society. He was aware that the country could only progress with the use of scientific knowledge and a rational outlook towards social problems. He wanted to build a society having a scientific outlook. To summarize, he dreamed of a society as we see today, as early as 200 years back. He was a visionary social reformer. Knowing the importance of public libraries he founded ‘The Bombay Native General Library’. He also started ‘Native Improvement Society’, of which ‘Student’s Literary and Scientific Society’ was an offshoot. Intellectual giants like Dadabhai Navroji and Bhau Daji Lad drew inspiration through these institutions.
In 1840 he started publishing first Marathi monthly, Digdarshan. He edited this magazine for 5 years. This magazine published articles on geography, history, physics, chemistry, nature and environment etc. The magazine had ample illustrations, maps and diagrams to make the topics easier to understand. His erudition had many dimensions. He had mastery in many languages including Sanskrit, Marathi, English and Hindi. In addition he also had a good grasp on Greek, Latin, French, Gujarati and Bengali. He had exceptional insight in science, geography, physiology and general knowledge. Today, he is acknowledged as The Father of Marathi Journalism. He was also well known as the first professor of Hindi in the Elphinston College, Mumbai. He was the first Indian to have published research papers in the quarterly journal of the Asiatic Society. He was the first person to print Dnyaneshwari in 1845. It was known as the first ever-printed version. He also worked as Director of the Colaba Observatory. He wrote books –Neetikatha (stories on morality), Encyclopedic History of England, English grammar, History of India and Mathematics based on Zero.
He was active during the years 1830 to1846 and worked for the betterment of Maharashtra and India. In those days most of the populace was ignorant and illiterate. It was plagued with blind faith. Therefore his contribution to the society in his short life span of only 34 years proves admirable, important, and of fundamental nature. His birthday and coincidently the day of publication of the first issue of Darpan is 6th June and it is celebrated as the Journalist Day in Maharashtra in his memory.