In defense of Sanskrit ||
- By Prathibha Nandakumar
In 1835, Lord Macaulay was the President of the General Committee of Public Institution. Under the Macaulay system of education English became the court language. Printing of English ...books was made free and they were available at relatively low prices. There was curtailment in the fund for ‘oriental’ learning, while English education got more fund. The Macaulayian system was an attempt to focus on educating the upper strata of society through English.
A quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835 is very popular for the obvious reasons: "I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient
education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."
That Macaulay accomplished his mission is history. Whatever the for -and -against arguments to his system of education, for there are many who do agree with him, the outcome has had very deep impact on one thing – losing out on our traditional method of teaching. Take for instance Sanskrit learning. The way it declined and the way we the “progressive thinkers” marginalized not only Sanskrit studies but also learning the scriptures is something beyond any anthropologist’s analysis. We did not just lose it but willingly gave it all up by our sheer ignorance and nothing else. An entire branch of knowledge we threw to the wind and have no clue how to retrieve it.
:: The relevance of Sanskrit ::
Just when I was thinking on these lines I chanced upon a series of write ups in Kannada in a popular web
journal about the relevance of learning Sanskrit and what are the chances of making a livelihood out of it. Also linked to this thought was highlighting the problems of a purohita, (priest sounds so out of place here!), taking up jobs as poojaris in temples. It was written by a young Sanskrit student from Sringeri Naveen Bhat Gangotri, who discussed some vital issues in this regard.
Naveen Bhat is a short story writer and a poet. His short story got the first prize in AKKA, (US), competition and it deals with two childhood friends who part ways and meet after a long time. One is a poojari in the village temple and the other has come from far away place as a ‘successful’ guy, who has just got married and has brought his bride to the temple. The story narrates the mental agony of the poojari while offering pooja, aarati and prasada to his eminent friend and bride. He can’t but notice his friend’s expensive ring clad fingers,
the green currency note he puts in the aarati plate and the car that drives them away. He feels a deep sense of failure as he looks at the bride and remembers his mother’s futile attempts to get a bride for him, the anguish in the family as nobody wants to marry a poojari.
An excerpt from his essay says “it is true that the Vedic studies have escaped the tragedy of Macaulayian system of education. Though it is not good to deny the necessities of the contemporary world to a Veda student it is good that some attempts are being made to fulfill such lacking, the ‘play and learn’ method of lighter ways of teaching is forever out of the limits for Vedic learning. Here no one takes special classes to teach social behavior. The student (in a conscious state!) of this field learns it all as a natural process as it is imbibed in all learning.
“An imbalanced mix of Indianness and alien learning systems is bothering the education system,
as it does in other fields as well. No need to point out the consequences of
“At a time when mankind is forgetting the regality of any language,
the study of the languages is as desirable as study of any technology. How many
students, writers, littérateurs are acquainted with the exact pronunciation of
the Kannada phonemes? What we will lose eventually if we do not make efforts to
contain the language is considerably valuable. It is like how we never realized
the way residual Urea is present in the milk we consume today.”
So I spoke to Naveen Bhat Gangotri and at 25 he comes up with more concrete ideas to
save our linguistic heritage than all those ‘elderly’ who are criticizing him on
“The other day in a Kannada newspaper I read a letter to the
editor by a senior writer stating that Sanskrit is an unscientific language.
Even if I forgive his ignorance how can an editor publish such ‘childish’
letter? He openly admits he does not know Sanskrit and in such a case how can he
call it, or for instance any language, unscientific? Nobody is imposing
Sanskrit. But why attempt to give a complex to those who are interested in
studying Sanskrit. Today we see modern students with laptops at JNU Delhi,
discussing Panini. A Sanskrit student need not necessarily be a fundamentalist
or fanatic. Branding is a curse of the current time. I had an opportunity to
teach a group of foreign students at Mysore. I was surprised by the response
from many petty minded neighbors. Here each small step is also gigantic. For
those who live in big cities where people have time to bother about others it
works differently. But in rural life one is still bound by the dictums of the
society and when they equate learning Sanskrit to being a priest and limit it to
that one wonders what is wrong with our thought process.
“You know, till recently traditional Sanskrit studying was not recognized by the education department. After Pathashale, and after completing Vidwath which is equivalent to MA, which would take 8 years after SSLC, the student would get a certificate from the SSLC Board and he would be qualified as an SSLC holder! So no university in the country would consider him eligible to join a degree course. It is a different matter that compared to any student who has completed post graduate studies in any field a Sanskrit Vidwath is more proficient academically! We have National Eligibility Test (NET), Junior Research Fund (JRF) and Ph D but the complications with regard to eligibility was too confusing and many a student lost out in the bargain. Only after the Karnataka Sanskrit University was established two years ago that our certification problems were sorted out.
“When they ask me what future for a Sanskrit student I ask back what future for an engineer or a doctor. The odds are the same, in a way.”
Definitely Naveen Bhat doesn’t have to worry about future.
- Published in Bangalore Mirror, Dated 29.9.2012 in
her column Shining Spotlight on Kannada Culturescape.