A Compendium on National Language, Indian Unity & संस्कृत – Part I
This series of posts related to “Sanskrit” संस्कृत have been pending for a *very* long time. Something that I read last month prompted me to dust this off and finally publish on the blog. That “something” was this excerpt from Koenraad Elst’s though-provoking article titled, Hindu Survival: What is to be done? (emphasis added, throughout this post):
..If you want Indian unity, you’d better aim for an Indian language that will set India apart from the Anglosphere.
That Indian language can only be Sanskrit..Sanskrit if chosen as the link language would have sent a cry of admiration through countries like China and Japan, Russia and Germany, France and America. The state of Israel, that chose to make Biblical Hebrew its first language, would have understood very well that India made its main Scriptural medium into its second language. The Flemish, who waged a struggle against French-language masses all while accepting Latin masses as a matter of course, would have understood it if the Indians had preferred their common sacred language over a vernacular. Even the Muslim world would have understood it. Most importantly, it would have been accepted by the Indian people. Speakers of the constituent members of the Hindi commonwealth would have had no objection, and speakers of non-Hindi languages (even Tamil chauvinists) would have had fewer objections than against Hindi. As for the English-speaking elite, it would militate no harder against one Indian language than against another.
The vote in the Constituent Assembly, fifty-fifty between Sanskrit and shuddh Hindi, shows how far India has slipped, and what an outrageous failure the so-called Hindu Nationalist movement has been. If the vote were held today, it would rather be fifty-fifty between English and Bollywood Hindi, i.e. Urdu. The secularists were then a small coterie around Nehru, now the same stream of opinion controls all the cultural and other institutions. Back then, a vote for English would be unthinkable, now the same taboo counts almost for a vote against English.
…One of the formative episodes in Dr. Ambedkar’s life was when he was denied the right to study Sanskrit in school because of his low caste. It helped make him a partisan of Sanskrit as national link language, a choice not followed by his so-called followers in the Dalit movement. They favour English, a choice unthinkable to the freedom struggle generation.
Now of course, the “pragmatic” readers of my blog would immediately start arguing against this on the basis that a] no point is being served by going back in the past b] imagine the amount of money/resources that this would involve (which can be better “used” for feeding the poor etc) c] it will create further fissures within society and so on.
So I decided to dig a little bit more to see if I could find some “functional” arguments to support study of Sanskrit – or even better – dedication of significant resources to popularise it, spread it and help it grow, once again. This is what I found:
From “Why does my child do Sanskrit?” by Rutger Kortenhorst, a Sanskrit teacher in John Scottus School in Dublin:
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, we are going to spend an hour together looking at the topic ‘Why does my child do Sanskrit in John Scottus?’ My bet is that at the end of the hour you will all have come to the conclusion that your children are indeed fortunate that this extraordinary subject is part of their curriculum.
..first of all: why Sanskrit? To answer that we need to look at the qualities of Sanskrit. Sanskrit stands out above all other languages for its beauty of sound, precision in pronunciation and reliability as well as thoroughness in every aspect of its structure. This is why it has never fundamentally changed unlike all other languages. It has had no need to change being the most perfect language of Mankind.
…The reason for the constancy in Sanskrit is that it is completely structured and thought out. There is not a word that has been left out in its grammar or etymology, which means every word can be traced back to where it came from originally. This does not mean there is no room for new words either. Just as in English we use older concepts from Greek and Latin to express modern inventions like a television: ‘tele [far] – vision [seeing]’ or ‘compute –er’. Sanskrit in fact specializes in making up compound words from smaller words and parts. The word ‘Sams – krita’ itself means ‘completely – made’.
…The precision of Sanskrit stems from the unparalleled detail on how the actual sounds of the alphabet are structured and defined. The sounds have a particular place in the mouth, nose and throat that can be defined and will never change. This is why in Sanskrit the letters are called the ‘Indestructibles’ [aksharáni]. Sanskrit is the only language that has consciously laid out its sounds from first principles. So the five mouth-positions for all Indestructibles [letters] are defined and with a few clearly described mental and physical efforts all are systematically planned
..You may well say: ‘Fine, but so why should my son or daughter have yet another subject and another script to learn in their already busy school-day?’ In what way will he or she benefit from the study of Sanskrit in 2010 in the Western world?
The qualities of Sanskrit will become the qualities of your child- that is the mind and heart of your child will become beautiful, precise and reliable.
Sanskrit automatically teaches your child and anybody else studying it to pay FINE attention due to its uncanny precision. When the precision is there the experience is, that it feels uplifting. It makes you happy. It is not difficult even for a beginner to experience this. All you have to do is fine-tune your attention and like music you are drawn in and uplifted. This precision of attention serves all subjects, areas and activities of life both while in school and for the rest of life. This will give your child a competitive advantage over any other children. They will be able to attend more fully, easily and naturally. Thus in terms of relationships, work, sport– in fact all aspects of life, they will perform better and gain more satisfaction. Whatever you attend to fully, you excel in and you enjoy more.
..They learn to speak well, starting from Sanskrit, the mother language of all languages. Those who speak well run the world. Barack Obama makes a difference because he can speak well. Mahatma Gandhi could move huge crowds with well-balanced words.
..For many years, we taught Sanskrit like zealots i.e. with high levels of enthusiasm and low levels of understanding..We did not perhaps inspire a lot of our students and may have put a number of them off the study of Sanskrit. It felt to me like we needed to go to the source. Sanskrit teachers worth their salt need to live with people whose daily means of communication is in Sanskrit..So I moved into a traditional gurukulam for the year. This meant living on campus, eating lots of rice and putting up with a few power-cuts and water shortages, but by December 2009, I made up my mind that I would step down as vice-principal of the Senior School and dedicate myself to Sanskrit for the rest of my teaching life. It felt like a promotion to me as quite a few could be vice-principal but right now which other teacher could forge ahead in Sanskrit in Ireland? [Hopefully this will change before I pop off to the next world.] With Sanskrit I’m expecting my mind to improve with age even if my body slows down a little..The effects of studying Sanskrit on me have been first and foremost a realistic confidence. Secondly, it meant I had to become more precise and speak weighing my words more carefully. It also taught me to express myself with less waffle and therefore speak more briefly. My power of attention and retention has undoubtedly increased.
..Now, let me explain for a few minutes, HOW Sanskrit is taught. To my surprise it is not taught well in most places in India. Pupils have to learn it from when they are around age 9 to 11 and then they give it up, because it is taught so badly! Only a few die-hards stick with it, in time teaching the same old endings endlessly to the next generation. This is partly due to India having adopted a craving to copy the West and their tradition having been systematically rooted out by colonialism.
..Then I found a teacher from the International School belonging to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry..Narendra says he owes his method to Sri Aurobindo and his companion The Mother who inspired him to come up with the course we now follow in Dublin. This is one of the many things The Mother said to inspire him:“Teach logically. Your method should be most natural, efficient and stimulating to the mind. It should carry one forward at a great pace. You need not cling there to any past or present manner of teaching.”
Sadly, the vast majority of children and students in India do not get educated in this manner in Sanskrit (or in any other subject, for that matter!). It is tempting to dismiss Rutger Kortenhorst and the John Scottus School as “Sanskrit fanatics” but they are not alone. From the heart of London, here is a story of a school that has been teaching Sanskrit to their pupils since 1975:
St James is an unlikely location for Sanskrit lessons. The schools – two junior and two senior ones – based in central London, have no Hindu, or indeed any other religious, affiliation. The pupils are by no means predominantly, let alone solely, of Asian descent; plenty of white middle class English girls and boys, as well as children from Kazakhstan, Africa and Iran, are educated here. So why Sanskrit?
MacLaren’s (Founder of the school) lofty principles are perhaps of less importance to parents than the fact that their children seem both to enjoy and to benefit from the exposure to a language famous for its grammatical perfection and wealth of literature. Paul Moss, the headmaster, cites improved motor skills through writing in Devanagari, better control over pronounciation thanks to the range of sounds Sanskrit has, and a general increased sharpness as evidence on the advantages of learning Sanskrit.
.. The school’s publishing arm now print an entire collection for the junior course, where children begin with tales of Krishna from the Bhagavata Purana, graduate to Rama and then finally encounter the Mahabharata. The textbooks use very simple Sanskrit to retell the stories for their young audience.
What this article does not mention is that the school has made Sanskrit compulsory subject for its junior division because it helps students grasp math, science and other languages better! Back to the article. How many of you noticed the reference to “improved motor skills through writing in Devanagari” in the article above? Could that really be true?
From Learning Hindi is good for your brain by Dinesh C Sharma, Nov ’09
In a first-of-its-kind study in the country, scientists have discovered that reading Hindi involves more areas of human brain than English. Scientists at the Manesar-based National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) have for the first time studied the processing of an Indian script-Devanagari-in the human brain using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).
..”Our results suggest bilateral activation-participation from both left and right hemispheres of the brain-for reading phrases in Devanagari,” said Nandini Chatterjee Singh, who led the multi-disciplinary team of researchers.
English, which uses the Roman script, is alphabetic. That is, it has vowels and consonants that are written linearly from left to right. Reading English-and other alphabetic languages-involves activation of areas in the left hemisphere of the brain. In contrast, Devanagari has the properties of both alphabetic and syllabic scripts. Scientists have found reading the language involves activation of the left and right hemisphere.
There does appear to be some credible research that learning Sanskrit and the Devanagari script may have long-term positive and beneficial side-effects on mental development and therefore the quality of education received by a child. One final excerpt before we get back to Dr Elst’s article. This is from Rajeev Srinivasan’s “The Higgs Boson: Is it the end of physics?:
Without demeaning Einstein, I believe the most astounding achievement of a single human mind in all of history was that of Panini, 2,500 years ago. He achieved a Grand Unified Theory of Language: An even more daunting task. Panini had the audacity to imagine that the infinity of language could be captured in a finite number of rules; he did this by defining Paninian Sanskrit in some 4,000 rules. Computer scientists in the 1950s rediscovered the Paninian rules for formal languages; for instance the C language is defined by 100 or so rules in the Panini-Backus form.
..Unfortunately, the tendency to not give credit to non-whites persists. S N Bose, the eponymous discoverer of bosons was never nominated for the Nobel Prize [ Images ], even though Einstein himself gave him priority in the Bose-Einstein Condensate. Panini is not given due credit: The formal languages definition, despite strenuous efforts to give the original discoverer priority, is still called the Backus Normal Form.
In Part II tomorrow, Can we really make the case for Sanksrit as our national language? Here is the link.