Two news items linked to Sanskrit appeared in the media recently. First, a committee on revival of Sanskriit set up by Government of India made wide-ranging recommendations but made it clear that Sanskrit need not be made compulsory in schools, and that under the three language formula , schools and examination boards should ensure that Sanskrit is taught and available to those who are interested. The committee has also said that if Sanskrit is to become popular, textbooks of all subjects should be available in Sanskrit. The second news item is about an Indian American couple (Anupama and Guru Ramakrishnan) who have donated $3.5 million to Chicago University for the revival of Sanskrit language, adding to the immense contribution by Indian Diaspora towards reviving and retaining our culture. The Ramakrishnans’ gift is part of The University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact, which will raise $4.5 billion and engage 125,000 alumni by 2019. To date, the campaign has raised $2.82 billion and engaged more than 59,000 alumni. Interestingly, last year in India Maryam, a Muslim girl won the contest of Bhagwat Gita, holy book for Hinduism followers. Maryam’s parents supported her idea of participating in the contest. She defeated all the contestants to win the contest.
According to American political scientist Joseph Nye, “The soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority).” In ancient times many civilization were formed that were confined to small regions but world’s first culture came up in India (Yajurveda 7/14: Sa Pratham Sansktiti Vishwara) which focused on inculcating human values in mankind and spread to vast areas of the globe; present day West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia including Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia. Focus of Indian culture inculcating human values in mankind has been widely acknowledged abroad. British Historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) had stated, “It is already becoming clear that a chapter which has a western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race …… At this supremely dangerous moment in history the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way.” Two issues are noteworthy in Toynbee’s statement; first, the world has become much more dangerous than when he spoke, and second, when he said “the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way”, he meant the human values and all inclusive nature of Indians.
The world acknowledges what India gave to them in terms of culture, civilization, Buddhism and Jainism, education, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, science, astronomy, medicine, surgery, rocketry, navigation, etc. India gave the world Zero without which no worthwhile scientific discovery would have been possible, as acknowledged by Albert Einstein. Using an astronomical model developed by Brahmagupta in the 7th century, Bhaskaracharya accurately defined many astronomical quantities, including the length of the sidereal year, the time that is required for the Earth to orbit the Sun as 365.258756484, hundreds of years before astronomer smart. It is also intriguing how accurate and meaningful our ancient scriptures are though not interpreted accurately or realized by any presently. The Hanuman Chalisa reads, “Yug sahastra yojan per Bhanu, Leelyo taahi madhur phal janu.” One Yug denotes 12000 years, one Sahastra denotes 1000 and one Yojan denotes 8 miles, which brings the total distance to 96000000 miles (12000 x 1000 x 8 miles) or 1536000000 kms to Sun, which NASA confirms is the exact distance between Earth and Sun.
Sanskrit is acknowledged as the mother of most languages in the world including European languages. NASA acknowledges it is the best language for computer programming.
In India, Sanskrit is mostly used as hymns and chants by Hindus and Buddhists as ceremonial language and for rituals. CBSE, ICSE and some state education boards provide Sanskrit as second or third language in schools for classes 5 to 8. There are a number of Gurukuls also teaching Sanskrit. Many would be unaware that Moin-ul-Islam madrassa, located on outskirts of Agra, teaches Sanskrit and Arabic to girls and boys of both Hindu and Muslim communities. Spoken Sanskrit has been revived in some villages and traditional institutions as well. Compare this to the proliferation of Chinese language in India. In 2012, China offered to train 300 Indian teachers in Mandarin Chinese covering all expenses in China for six months and under an MoU signed with CBSE for more than 100 CBSE schools to introduce Chinese language. In April 2012, CBSE made Chinese a foreign language subject for middle school students in 500 schools, with plans to promote study of Chinese in 11,500 middle schools. China’s Confucius Institute has been introduced by Vellore Institute of Technology in Tamil Nadu and JNU, Delhi too has been designated to host Confucius Institute online.
The hesitation within India to learn Sanskrit is generally because of the patent question what is the use of learning it? Such question ignores to examine why educational institutions in countries like Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Sweden, Thailand, USA and Russian Federation are teaching Sanskrit. Interestingly an International Conference on “Sanskrit and Indological Studies in India, Russia and Neighbouring Countries: Past, Present and Future” held in Moscow last November saw 24 scholars from India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Belarus presenting papers. St James Schools in England teach Sanskrit because: being the root of European languages its study illuminates their grammar and etymology; its philosophical concepts provide a wealth of human thought; regarded classical language par excellence and considered positive while assessing university admissions.
St. James School, London, has Sanskrit compulsory second language subject for its junior division because it helps students grasp math, science and other languages better. Warwick Jessup, head of Sanskrit department, says: “This is the most perfect and logical language in the world, the only one that is not named after the people who speak it. Indeed the word ‘Sanskrit’ itself means perfected language.” Paul Moss, Headmaster of the school, says: “The Devnagri script and spoken Sanskrit are two of the best ways for a child to overcome stiffness of fingers and the tongue. Today’s European languages do not use many parts of the tongue and mouth while speaking or many finger movements while writing, whereas Sanskrit helps immensely to develop cerebral dexterity through its phonetics.” Students of St. James chanted Vedic hymns in presence of Queen Elizabeth at the Buckingham Palace in 2010 to celebrate beginning of the Commonwealth Games. Significantly, the Gayatri Mantra was proved to be the most powerful hymn in the world through laboratory tests by American scientist Howard Steingeril; the Mantra produced 110,000 sound waves per second. Gayatri Mantra is known to be capable of developing specific spiritual potentialities.
The most significant reason to learn Sanskrit is to be able to draw upon the great knowledge lying hidden in our Vedas. The bane of India always has been lack of political consensus, which is exploited to the hilt by political parties for political gains despites adverse impact to national interests. Therefore, an impression has been created that Sanskrit and Vedas are strictly synonymous to Hindu religion, which is not the case. Even the great teachings of Bhagwad Gita because of the time of Mahabharata are alluded mistakenly to Hinduism, but are applicable across the board to all religions and communities. American Thinker Thoreau clarified, “In the great teachings of Vedas, there is no touch of sectarianism. It is of all ages, climes and nationalities and is the road for attainment of the Great Knowledge.” The misperception in India that Vedas are part of Hindu Religion needs to be corrected, even as foreigners acknowledge that Hinduism is a way of life. German Indologist Max Muller who translated Vedas into English and who was recruited by the British to educate officers of the newly formed Indian Civil Service post the 1857 mutiny said, “If I am asked which nation had been advanced in the modern world in respect of education and culture then I would say it was India.”
At a time when our abundant youth power must join in the development of India, especially with inimical and divisive forces hell bent to lead them astray, we need to make a conscious effort to draw upon our rich heritage and culture though learning Sanskrit and Vedas – it is time to pull the wool out of our eyes.