By Jyotsna Kalavar
Reviving Sanskrit is akin to reviving our culture. How can culture and language be separated?
As an NRI who actively participates in learning and teaching Sanskrit in the United States, Jyotsna was appalled to learn of the opposition in Karnataka for the setting up of a Sanskrit University as proposed by the government. Does the West have to embrace this and provide a stamp of approval before we awaken ourselves from our cultural disregard and slumber?
Reviving Sanskrit is akin to reviving our culture. How can culture and language be separated? No hyperbole here, but for us to speak of the glory of Sanskrit is like a blind person attempting to describe the glory of the sun. Sanskrit is the basis of our culture, and we need it more than ever before to stay connected to our roots.
Cut off the root, and the tree will wither thereafter. As Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, “Without the knowledge of Sanskrit, the education of every Indian is incomplete.” The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Agamas and many other texts all find roots in Sanskrit. Take for instance, the emerging field of gerontology, the scientific discipline for the study of aging. Perhaps, you may not have connected the dots but ‘Jara’ is the Sanskrit word for ‘old age’.
Sanskrit is the ideal tool to engender the cultural renaissance of India. Without Sanskrit, we would be at a loss to appreciate the meanings of our names, our literature, our practices, our philosophical concepts, and prayers. How can one appreciate what the word ‘Bhaaratam’ means without knowing the Sanskrit language? ‘Bhaa’ means light, knowledge; ‘ratam’ means immersed. A person or a society, immersed in knowledge is ‘Bhaaratam’. No matter how solid a translation that is provided, the power of this language is woefully lost in any such effort.
Besides being a treasure trove of knowledge, Sanskrit has the power to unify India. Prayers like, “Gange cha Yamune chaiva, Godavari Sarasvati, Narmade, Sindhu Kaveri, jalesmin sannidhim kuru” have sought to promote nationalist pride and an inclusive ideology. And for those who feel that the establishment of a Sanskrit university in Karnataka will promote casteism, let it be understood clearly that Vyasa, Valmiki, Viswamitra, Kalidasa and many other Sanskrit scholars were not Brahmins. Even today, the above are highly venerated for their timeless and priceless contributions in Sanskrit.
Scope for exploration
It is estimated that five million Sanskrit manuscripts are lying neglected and unattended all over India. Cast aside the spiritual or religious based knowledge, even from a scientific point of view, just decoding this information and understanding science and technology related texts may lead to nothing short of a massive knowledge explosion. How can the next generation fully appreciate the original and historical contributions of Charaka to Ayurveda, Susruta to surgery, and Bhaskaracharya to astronomy without the knowledge of Sanskrit?
I would also
In the West today, the growing popularity of Yoga (we indians don't know even how to pronounce it), Ayurveda, Jyotishaa, Vaastu, Vedanta, and Bhagavadgita is enough proof that people are seeking solace from ancient spiritual thoughts and practices. More and more Western scholars are learning Sanskrit with avidity and discovering the treasure chest that we have cast aside in our homeland.
Studying Sanskrit is the gateway to understanding original texts and being enriched by our cultural heritage. Why wait for someone in the West to translate for us from our ancient heritage?
Hebrew was the language of the Jews for thousands of years but it fell into disuse.
However, since 1948, Israel has made rapid strides in the propagation and popularisation of Hebrew. Why can’t we Indians do the same for Sanskrit? In the next 100 years, we can work to revive Sanskrit. In all this hullabaloo created by political parties in Karnataka, let the voice of the common man also be heard in the media. The establishment of a Sanskrit university is a firm step in the right direction.