Sanskrit and the Indian Elite

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M.D. Kini

The ‘liberals’ and the elite of India have questioned the decision of the Human Resources Minister Shrimati Smriti Irani asking the Kendriya Vidyalayas to follow the three-language formula as mandated by law, and offer Sanskrit along with Hindi and English instead of German language. She has clarified that German language will continue to be an optional language.They have denounced the move as 'saffronisation' of education. Every country in the world – Germany, France. Japan, China – use their own language to teach their children from kindergarten to university. India is the only country in the world which teaches her children in the language of their colonial masters, and all the 'liberal' and the elite boast about it.

One columnists belonging to that group has ridiculed Sanskrit learning in a daily under the headline, ‘Scoreboard’, which is followed by the conclusion, “ Let the children decide what they want”, as if language learning is to be decided by the children themselves. It never occurred to her that the children may not like to go the school at all. She starts her piece by saying only six out of 180 in her son’s class chose Sanskrit. “ The few who have chosen it, haven’t for the love of the language or the abiding interest in Indian culture… It’s well-known that scoring in Sanskrit is easier and since they already learn Hindi, they pick it up fast.” Here the cat is out of the bag. It is easier for children to learn Sanskrit as they know or learn Hindi or any other Indian language.

Most our languages have many Sanskrit words and phrases and grammar too is akin to Sanskrit. Max Muller (1823-1900), famous Indologist, says, “all the living languages of India, both Aryan and Dravidian,draw their very life and soul from Sanskrit.”( India - what can it teach us?). Languages of Indonesia,Malaysia, Thailand and others in the South-East Asia have many Sanskrit words. All our languages have Ramayana and Mahabharata based on the originals in Sanskrit.

Then she goes on to say that ‘we have to educate children for the future, not the past’. She does not know that those who have no knowledge of the past will be rootless and will bend to all the passing winds. She might not have read Mahatma Gandhi who declared : “ I want all the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

Her’s is not the voice of self-confidence, but is that of self-serving servility. The ‘liberals’ and the elite live in a world of their own and identify themselves more with the elite of UK and USA. It never occurs to them that English or German is alien to the poor and the middle class of the cities, towns and villages of India. The ten percent of the English-knowing elite of this country are imposing a foreign language on the 90 percent of the people. Most of our ‘educated’ Indians neither know good English, nor their own language well. They are all confused individuals.How can such youth think creatively ? India today is ruled by brown sahibs who continue with English as the language of the administration, courts and universities. This is another form of colonialism.

This fascination for English language has surprised many from other countries. Maria Wirth , a German lady, in her blog, questions the basis of imparting education in a foreign language in India, and has analized it under the title, ‘ Decolonising India’s education’. She mentions an IQ test of the children from India’s villages with that of the children in Indian cities and US cities where the results are quite revealing. Indian village children outperformed the other children. She bemoans the burden of a foreign language crippling children’s creativity. She is right, and this is testified by the fact that India has not created or innovated anything which can be called earth-shaking ever since we started learning English. We are good as the imitators of the West in everything - literature, art, architecture, science. The blog must be a compulsory reading for all the ‘liberals’ and the elite. Maria Wirth came to India during the Kumbha Mela in 1980, and met some spiritual leaders like Ma Anandamayi and Devaraha Baba, and stayed on to explore Indian traditions.

World is a village now, and all countries are our neighbours and we have to learn all languages to know and understand our neighbours. We need to know many languages for trade, tourism and education. However, our children should learn our own languages before they learn others.

Sanskrit has rich literature

The Sanskrit is not merely a language of our scriptures, but also of science. Justice Markandey Katju, in his lecture at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, in 2009, has expounded on the contribution of Sanskrit to Science. “ More than 95% of the Sanskrit literature has nothing to do with religion, and instead it deals with philosophy, law, science, literature, grammar, phonetics, interpretation etc” and added, “ In fact, Sanskrit was the language of free thinkers, who questioned everything, and expressed the widest spectrum of thoughts on various subjects.”

In the English language, says Justice Katju, the alphabets from A to Z are not arranged in any logical or rational manner. In Sanskrit, they are in a scientific and logical manner in accordance with the sounds of human speech. This is the contribution of the legendary grammarian Panini’s ( 5th Century BC),who wrote Ashtadhyayi ( the Eight-Chaptered Book) which is considered to be the most comprehensive scientific grammar ever written for any language, says Sir Monier Williams, professor of Sanskrit at Oxford in 1860, and the author of Sanskrit-English Dictionary.

The Sanskrit language has wonderful structure, ‘more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin and more exquisitely refined than either,’ observes Sir William Jones (1746-1794), who came to India as a judge of the Supreme Court at Calcutta, and started Sanskrit studies. Sir Jones was a child prodigy who had mastered many languages such as Greek, Latin,Persian, Arabic and Hebrew. “ Sanskrit is,” said Max Muller, “ is the greatest language of the world.”

Words can be grouped together, says Alain Danielou (1907-1994), a French author of repute, to express any nuance of an idea, and verb forms can be found to cover any possibility of tense in Sanskrit. It has a wealth of abstract nouns, technical and philosophical terms unknown in any other language. The power of expression in Sanskrit can be gauged by the fact it has 65 words to describe earth, 67 words for water and over 250 words for rainfall. Sanskrit has 16 words for justice each with a different nuance, says Nobel Laureate Amatya Sen.

While Panini and Patanjali (author of Mahabhashya) are pioneers in grammar, Aryabhata, Brahmagupta and Bhaskar have written books on astronomy and mathematics which opened new frontiers for mankind. Similarly, Charaka and Sushruta (who invented cataract and plastic surgery) with their works on medicines have helped mankind in the field of health.

Aryabhatiya, famous book by Aryabhata, explains algebra,arithmetic, trigonometry, quadratic equations, and the sine table.He mentions the value of Pi as 3.1416 which now has been calculated as 3.14159 with all modern precision instruments. Varahamihira has mentioned the gravitational theory centuries before Sir Isaac Newton.

Sanskrit excelled in philosophy. Gautam (founder of Nyaya System), Ashvaghosha (author of Buddha Charita), Kapila (founder of Sankhya system), Shankaracharya (Advaita system) and many others have enriched Sanskrit with their contribution to the literature on philosophy - it ranged from spiritual, religious to atheistic.

Works of Kalidasa (Sakuntala, Meghadoot and others), Bhavabhuti (Malati Madhav, Uttara Ramcharit, etc) and epics of Valmiki (Ramayana) Vyas (Mahabharat) have won acclaim from the world.

Some of the great achievements of India – zero, decimal system, art and architecture, health (ayurveda) – are all in Sanskrit. "We owe a lot to Indians," said Albert Einstein, "who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made."

Many of the advances in the sciences", writes the British Historian Grant Duff(1789-1858), " that we consider today to have been made in Europe were in fact made in India centuries ago."

Will Durant (1885-1981),eminent American historian, in his book, The Case for India, writes, " India was the mother of our race, and Sanskrit, the mother of Europe's languages. India was the mother of our philosophy, of much of our mathematics, of the ideals embodied in Christianity .. of self –government and democracy. In many ways, India is the mother of us all."

Sanskrit and Indian genius.

“ If I was asked what is the greatest treasure which India possesses and what is her finest heritage,” says India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, “ I would answer unhesitatingly that it is the Sanskrit language and literature and all that it contains. This is a magnificent inheritance and so long as this endures and influences the life of our people, so long will the basic genius of India continue. If our race forgot the Buddha, the Upanishads and the great epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata), India would cease to be India.”

And Mahatma Gandhi said, “Without the study of Sanskrit one cannot be a true Indian, and a true learned man.”

In spite of its importance in the life of our people and the country, Sanskrit has not received the encouragement it deserves as the depository of our tradition and knowledge from the government. In spite of this, more than 3000 Sanskrit works have been written since Independence and there are 14 Sanskrit Universities in India today. There are about 90 weeklies, fortnightlies and quarterlies. There are three daily newspapers in Sanskrit - Sudharma (Mysore), Sanskrit Vartamana Patram and Vishwasya Vrittantam (Gujarat), All India Radio has a short daily news broadcast and DD National has Sanskrit news telecast every day at 6.55 a.m. Jnanpith Award has been conferred on Satyavrat Shastri in 2009. There are about 49,736 fluent speakers in Sanskrit in India (1991 Census) and 14,135 people have declared Sanskrit as their native language (2001 Census). A musician, Sa Dingding, in China has written pop songs in Sanskrit.

Where there is will, there is a way.

Indian elite has always followed the line of least resistance. It is rootless and has no pride in the country, its history, its tradition and its culture and the civilization. The main reason for this is, it is never exposed to the greatness and richness of India in our schools and colleges. Our educational system has not changed much after Independence. Sanskrit and other Indian languages such as Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Kannada,Telugu, Malayalam have a great literature but they have not been encouraged by teaching our people in our own languages from KG to University. It requires great effort and determination to produce suitable textbooks and teachers.

If all the countries in Europe and elsewhere can do it, why we can do it ? A small country like Israel can revive Hebrew and teach their children in Hebrew, why we can not do it ? It is sheer lack of will. Where there is a will, there is a way. If we start today, within the next 20/25 years, our languages can be as advanced in knowledge (literature, science) as any other language in the world like English or German. The first decisive step is crucial for the long journey. With proper training, one can scale the Everest.

A recent report, “Whose language is it anyway” (DNA, 9.12.14) exposes the apathy of the political leadership in India not merely to Sanskrit but to all our languages. The report is about the fate of Marathi in the state of Maharashtra. The Marathi language department has 25 percent vacancies - 77 out of the sanctioned 278 are vacant. Only 19 out of the 23 volumes of the Marathi language encyclopedia have been published, and 17 digitized though the work was started in the ‘70s. The Vidhi Anuwad Samiti (Legal Committee for Translation) has only translated the Constitution of India, 15 central acts and 6 state acts This is mainly because of the very low salary offered to the highly qualified candidates. Everything is half-hearted though everybody clamoured for linguistic states. It is almost the same situation in all the states of the country.

English is slowly killing all our languages in India. Let us be very clear about it, and it will undermine our culture, our tradition and our civilization.The controversy about German language has brought it to the forefront. It is time the educationists, politicians and media wake up to the corrosion of our national identity, and rectify the situation. Let us learn our own languages, and enrich them with translations, and original works. It will increase the pool of knowledge in all our languages. It will make it easier for all the poor and the neglected sections of our society to access knowledge. Our poor and illiterate people are intelligent and innovative.( One will be astounded by the number of ideas and innovations based on traditional knowledge the poor and the illiterate have been collected in the Honey Bee Network and set up by Prof.Anil K.Gupta of the IIM, Ahmedabad.) Let us not cripple their creativity with an alien language.
(The writer is a commentator on current affairs, and has a blog, Sense, Non-sense and Common Sense.)