Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Return of Sanskrit


Sanskrit was originally the language of the gods the their beloved people.  Manu stipulated a terrible fate for the lower caste people who dared to listen to the Vedas or utter the shlokas.  “If the Sudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off.”

Now some 3000 years after those glorious days, the language is struggling to find learners.  Hence the BJP government has decided to make it compulsory in certain schools. 

A language is ineluctably associated with a culture.  When the culture evolves, the language has to evolve too.  Conversely, the death of a language implies the death of a culture.  The ancient Brahminical tradition with its neat and convenient hierarchy which ensured that power remained concentrated in a few hands died as the civilisation evolved and democratic ideas overtook it.

By the time India became independent the Brahminical system was quite dead.  The Nehruvian concept of secularism (which has been pooh-poohed for quite some time now) and the Gandhian ideals which promoted the rights of the erstwhile subaltern people gained vitality.  But the various governments that came to power in Indraprastha after the days of the nation’s founding fathers diluted the concepts and ideals for the sake of vote banks.  

Victors and vanquished change places in history quite often.  Indian history is entering a new phase of evolution with some such displacements and replacements.  Some of those ancient victors who were vanquished at the turn of the 20th century are now capturing back their lost powers.  The return of Sanskrit is a symbol.  That some people who were originally subalterns are the present agents of the dislocations may be an interesting irony.

There is nothing wrong in teaching and learning the classical language of the country.  In fact, there are more Sanskrit scholars outside India now than inside.  The problem, however, is when it is imposed with political motives.  Why not leave it as an optional subject which those interested can choose?  Why not encourage students to choose it rather than ram it down their throats? 


Some things in history change naturally and gracefully; Enlightenment in Europe, for instance.  Some changes are forced upon and they distort civilisation; Nazism, for example.   Only those changes last which merge meaningfully into the current condition of the civilisation.  Indian civilisation is at an advanced status and hence may not absorb all the things being imposed on it by the current regime in Indraprastha.  All saffron is not necessarily holy, Indians have learnt that already. 

13 comments:

  1. According to Alwin Toffler, the re-emergence of fundamentalism from the 70's will not have the longivity these had during the first half and middle of the last millenium- thanks to the faster incremental advancements of science and technology. The art of writing by hand is almost getting extinguished...the art of communication and the medial has gone beyond the traditional terrain...a new smart young generation is ready to discard the old .....they would embrace change and discard the old like they change their dress. If sanskrit can reinvent itself to cater to the demanding needs of the new generation....yes.. then it has a chance. ..I was told some time back that latin and sanskrit are best suited for computer programming.....but nothing has been heard on this front since then....

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    1. I agree with you totally. If Sanskrit can reinvent itself, it has a chance. Otherwise this present move will drive in the last nail on the coffin. Classical languages like Latin and Sanskrit may be more amenable to computer programming for various reasons which I am not able to understand. Is it that computers are going to be our next bosses just like these languages were? :)

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  2. ''If the Sudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead; if he utters the Veda''.You are mistaken .it is not of Veda but a Mantra ,The Gayathry manthra.ॐ भूर्भुवः स्वः
    तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यं ।
    भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि
    धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात् ॥
    Om Bhuur-Bhuvah Svah
    Tat-Savitur-Varennyam |
    Bhargo Devasya Dhiimahi
    Dhiyo Yo Nah Pracodayaat ||

    Meaning:
    1: Om, that (Divine Illumination) which Pervades the Bhu Loka (Physical Plane), Bhuvar Loka (Antariksha Loka or the Astral Plane) and Suvar Loka (Swarga Loka or the Celestial Plane),
    2: That Savitr (Divine Illumination) which is the Most Adorable,
    3: On that Divine Radiance we Meditate,
    4: May that Enlighten Our Intellect and Awaken our Spiritual Wisdom.
    pls avoid the word'' utter''.It is not an uttering but a sorta silent.You cannot defend the ancient civilization of Bharath .I am lazy ,so I stop here ,but i guess you get that what i mean .Thank you

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    1. No, JK. The rule was for all of the Vedas. The scriptures in general, not a particular mantra, were out of reach of the low castes.

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    2. Its because of these practices that awesome things like yoga is not valued by us Indians but there are a whole lot of foreigners who are learning and value the art. The upper castes were just not ready to share their knowledge with anyone else.

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    3. That was a serious mistake of the past, Athena. And now we are making another mistake, forcing children to learn something that they are not able to appreciate or value. Is it because the govt is really concerned about Sanskrit or is it a different game?

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    6. Its definitely a different ball game, its not about Sanskrit, its about anything that can prove that they are working with Hindutva as their core target.

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  3. The caste system developed by ancient india, was the beginning of our trouble. We were never get united. Aliens like Brits divided Hindu and muslim, then hindu into upper and lower, then lower into backward and forward.
    In a country having craze of Western culture, forcing students to learn a language nowhere exists other than books will make the current govt feel like unstoppable calling of nature, and no symbol of swachh bharat, the ultimate toilet in sight.

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    1. We cannot change the past and so it's no use looking back and blaming what happened there. But we can change our present. The govt is changing it in wrong directions sometimes; the approach to Sanskrit being one of them.

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  4. In fact, there are more Sanskrit scholars outside India now than inside. The problem, however, is when it is imposed with political motives. I completely agree with your views but some special thing can be done forcefully only . If not ? why English is in India ? so something or some special things are really motivated by political wings and these should be !!

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    1. As I said, language is an integral part of a civilisation. As Indian civilisation became more and more global - as most civilisations do these days - English became its lingua franca. Nobody is forcing us to learn English; we learn it because we need it.

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