In the digital age where everyone uses a mobile phone to check important dates or even the time and day, most Indian homes still depend on Kalnirnay calendars for all the information about the Panchang, auspicious days, festivals, holidays, sunrise and sunset.
The almanac was launched in 1973 by Jayantrao Salgaonkar, a renowned astrologer, scholar and historian, complete with information on the Panchang. Today, it is powered on by his son Jayraj Salgaokar, 68, the co-founder, publisher and managing director, and Jayraj’s daughter Shakti, executive director at the publishing house Sumangal Press, after Jayatrao’s death in 2013.
Such is the sustained popularity of Kalnirnay that all editions put together (Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and in other languages), the Audit Bureau of Circulation pegs overall sales at 1.8 crore. It’s sustained excellence, considering the inaugural publication sold 10,000 copies.
Kalnirnay has become a trend, like the old jingle in its advertisements, ‘Bhinti Vari Kalnirnay Asaave’ (there must be a Kalnirnay on the walls of the homes). Kalnirnay’s popularity is based on Panchang, or the Indian almanac system which is around 2,000 years old. It literally means “having five limbs” — Tithi, Nakshatra, Rāśi, Yoga, and Karana — depending upon the moon’s movement.
Remembering the five-decade-long journey, Jayraj Salgaokar says that it was like a mountaineering expedition. “I am a mountaineer by nature. Mountaineering taught me a lot of my life that I have implemented all these years. This journey would have been very tough and boring otherwise,” he says.
Mocked by friends and acquaintances before the launch of the almanac, which many called a “doomed business idea”, Kalnirnay was a sold-out in its very first year. The father-son duo went from door to door, from vendor to vendor, leaving samples of the calendar and agreeing to forego payments for the unsold ones. Even when the initial sales didn’t take off as per the plan, Jayantrao, who worked as a crossword compiler from 1952-56 with a leading Marathi daily, contacted his journalist friends to write reviews, which later boosted the sales. He also got advertisers to market their brand on the masthead of Kalnirnay.
“When we were about to launch Kalnirnay, we had already come out of the lottery business which had failed and our family was facing a debt of Rs 30 lakh. My father faced criminal charges over non-repayment of loans. We had no credibility in the market, no credibility among the banks. All we had was this new business idea, bizarre, as it was termed by many,” reminisces Salgaonkar.
Kalnirnay sold 25,000 copies in 1974 and the founders started to believe they were on the right track. “Calendars are traditionally used for depicting images of Gods and Goddesses. Later, it became a medium to depict images of the great masters. In those times, nobody realised the power of this medium as an opportunity for advertising, as each page of the calendar remains in front of you for a month, hence it has a very strong registration and recall value. We at Kalnirnay realised the potential,” Salgaonkar says.
“Our mantra was to stick to the two pillars... content and advertising. These two pillars have played a vital role in our success. Content in the form of authentic Panchang, good articles by well-known writers and personalities. All of this helped,” he says. Kalnirnay almanacs have now evolved into carrying recipes, kitchen tips, health and beauty tips, financial advice, astrological calculations and so on, in in nine languages (Marathi, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu).
Shakti says the keeping with the tradition, the almanac is released on the first day of Navratri every year. “Most of the sales take place by January 15. By Makar Sakranti, we are settled. But sometimes we get bulk orders during April-May as well,” Shakti, a former journalist and the first female member of the Salgaonkar family to join the family business, says, “We want to innovate, as my grandfather and father did, but we don’t want to bring in or plan any radical changes as we are aware that Kalnirnay as a brand has become an intrinsic part of people's life. I hope to contribute wisely to the brand.”
Her father says the entire team is thankful to the pandits who worked hard all these years and did not change the system. “These traditions were dying due to the lack of data. Our pandits ensured the data is not only available but also presented to the common man in a simplified way. It must be noted that we have never, ever promoted superstition,” Jayraj says.
Kalnirnay has adopted the digital mode keeping with the times, but has not reduced its focus on the print version. “We launched our digital versions in 2011. There was a lot of demand for Kalnirnay among Indians settled abroad. The Kalnirnay digital has 15 million downloads so far,” he says.
When Kalnirnay was launched, it had a staff of five people who did everything from designing, printing and distribution. Today, it employs around 250 people. Says Shamal Thakker, the sales advertising manager at Kalnirnay, “I have been working here for the past ten years. I have seen the brand grow and it’s an exciting journey. Here’s to many, many more years of success.”
It could well be. If computers and mobile phones couldn’t get Kalnirnay calendars from our homes, there’s little chance anything else can.