Reviving an ancient language. Samskrita Bharathi is continually making efforts to reintroduce Sanskrit in Indian communities over which its hold is fast loosening, writes
The moment one hears the word Sanskrit, one associates the word with the intellectual elite. It speaks of a rich cultural past, the incomprehensible treasure troves of knowledge and an innate sense of well-being. Nothing about Sanskrit appears to be contemporary or happening. Yet everything about India is associated with Sanskrit. In fact, the synonym of Sanskrit, called Geervana Bharathi, suggests that it is the language of Bharatha (India). The Indian term for culture - Samskruthi - has been derived from the word Samskriti. In short, Sanskrit is the decoction of the very essence of India. The Indian way of living, the languages that we speak, the religion we follow, the concepts of morals and ethics are but an offshoot of what the language holds in its wide spectrum. This language enjoyed supreme status once upon a time. The syntax, structure, phonetics and grammar of the language have been adjudged as most scientific and precise. Perhaps the quintessence of the tongue can be best expressed in the words of Sri Aurobindo, “Sanskrit language has been universally recognised by those competent to form a judgement and is one of the most magnificent, the most perfect, the most prominent and wonderfully sufficient literary instrument developed by the human mind.” Yet somewhere along the archives of time Sanskrit was relegated to a corner, crowned as a finer language meant for the scholarly Brahminical race. Sanskrit was excluded from the mainstream and was patronised by the priestly clan to communicate with God in the form of prayers. Interestingly, it is ironical to note that the best literary products of the language display a contrary record. Great Sanskrit works were written by non-Brahmins, Vyasa, the son of a fisherwoman authored the Mahabharata; Valmiki, a hunter, wrote the Ramayana; Kalidas, a shepherd, composed extraordinary plays and poetry, and Jabala, an outcast, compiled the Jabala Upanishad. The constant invasions and exposure to varied foreign culture made the common man in India lose track of the language over a period of time. He shunned the language unable to cope with its exactness and wholesomeness, switching over to user-friendly dialects. Sanskrit was slowly sidelined and all the Indian languages that we speak today emerged and evolved varying in shades, complementing the region it was adopted by. The education policy put forth by Lord Macaulay nailed the language to irretrievable levels. Yet Sanskrit survived the onslaught because academicians across the globe realised that a wealth of knowledge encompassing all subjects under the sun lay beneath the veneer of this ancient language. The decline of Sanskrit in modern times worried people like Sri Krishna Sastry who agonised at the vistas of learning and research we were losing by forgetting the language. He proposed, “Let service to Sanskrit not stop at worshipping with the language; everyone should be able to speak it. Conversational Sanskrit has to be taught and popularised.” Sri Krishna Sastry, with a group of like-minded friends at Tirupati Sanskrit College, founded Samskrita Bharathi and evolved the “Speak Sanskrit Movement” in 1981 at Bangalore. The Aksharam centre at Girinagar in Bangalore has taken the onus of spreading the spoken language of Sanskrit through extensive Samskritha Sambhashana Shibira, which teaches elementary communication in just ten days. A Sandhya Kendra conducts a five level course sponsored by Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan among a horde of other courses. The Organising Secretary of Samskritha Bharathi exudes the spirit of the language by supplementing a chaste “Hari Om” instead of the customary “Hello” over the telephone. He strongly feels that the only way to resuscitate the language is to speak it. Surprisingly, it is not at all difficult to comprehend the casual conversation in the language carried on by the inmates of Aksharam though one cannot reply in the same lingo. The atmosphere strongly reminds one of Swami Vivekananda’s words who said, “Sanskrit education must go along with general education because the very sound of the language gives prestige, power and strength to people.” Mr Srikanth Jamadagni, the organiser of the Sandhya Kendra at JP Nagar, realised the virtues of Sanskrit while he attended a Sambhashana Shibira in the US and decided that he should do his bit to contribute to the rejuvenation of the language. He feels that a lot of educated people across the globe, especially Indians, have realised the need of the hour. Mr Balasubramaniam, the President of Sanskrit Lovers’ Association, feels that the misconceptions regarding the language can be best eliminated only when they start speaking the language. Ms Bhatt, a Sevavrathi, feels that the so-called students of Sanskrit who study the language as a part of their academic curriculum are not in a position to speak even elementary sentences in the language. This scenario can change only when people start conversing in the language. Twenty four years after its inception, the organisation has managed to train 70 lakh people to speak the language from all over the world. They have trained over 50,000 teachers and have their own publications, audio/video cassettes; they have also established over 5,000 Sanskrit homes. They have found Karnataka a veritable haven for their widespread activities which propagates the language. Bangalore functions as the epicenter which co-ordinates with nodal centres at Bidar, Gulbarga, Belgaum, Dharwad, Karwar, Shimoga, Udupi, Tumkur, Kolar, Mangalore and Chamrajanagar. Among the most unusual results of the Speak Sanskrit Movement are those in the two villages of Mathoor and Hosahalli in Karnataka. The movement adopted them as a means to promote spoken Sanskrit. Today, everyone irrespective of caste, creed, educational level and social status speaks Sanskrit with elan. These two villages are known throughout the country. More recently, Samskrita Bharathi succeeded in teaching conversational Sanskrit to the entire tribal village of Mohaka, near Jabalpur. Perhaps the success of Samskritha Bharathi lies in its secular and practical approach while highlighting the linguistic features of the ancient language. The word sanskrita- means “purified, consecrated, sanctified.” The language has by definition always been a ‘high’ language, used for religious and scientific discourse and contrasted with the languages spoken by the people. The oldest surviving Sanskrit grammar dates back to the 5th century BC. Almost every student of Sanskrit hears the traditional story that Sanskrit was created and then refined over many generations (traditionally more than a thousand years) until it was considered complete and perfect. When the term arose in India, “Sanskrit” was not thought of as a specific language set apart from other languages (the people of the time regarded languages more as dialects), but rather as a particularly refined manner of speaking, bearing a similar relation to common language that “Standard” English bears to dialects spoken in the United Kingdom or United States. Knowledge of Sanskrit was a marker of social class and educational attainment, and was taught through close analysis of Sanskrit grammarians such as Panini. This form of the language evolved out of the earlier “Vedic” form, and scholars often distinguish Vedic Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit as separate languages. Vedic is the language of the Vedas, the earliest sacred texts of India and the base of the Hindu religion. The earliest of the Vedas, the Rigveda, was composed in the 2nd millennium BC. The Vedic form survived until the middle of the first millennium BC.