A Spanner in Reviving Sanskrit

This January, the Indian Govt. cut funding for a Sanskrit program because it is now a sin to learn an ancient language and the reason: India has a large Muslim population.

Such camps, run by volunteers from Hindu nationalist groups, are designed to promote a language long dismissed as dead, and to instill in Hindus religious and cultural pride. Many Sanskrit speakers, though, believe that the camps are a steppingstone to a higher goal: turning back the clock and making Sanskrit modern India’s spoken language.

Their endeavors are viewed with suspicion by many scholars here as part of an increasingly acrimonious debate over the role of Sanskrit in schools and society. The scholars warn against exploiting Indians’ reverence for Sanskrit to promote the supremacy of Hindu thought in a country that, while predominantly Hindu, is also home to a large Muslim population and other religious minorities.

“It is critical to understand Sanskrit in order to study ancient Indian civilization and knowledge. But the language should not be used to push Hindu political ideology into school textbooks,” said Arjun Dev, a historian and textbook author. “They want to say that all that is great about India happened in the Hindu Sanskrit texts.”[Summer Camps Revive India’s Ancient Sanskrit]

When the Supreme Court of India writes judgements admiring the language in which Indian minds expressed noblest ideas, it takes the UPA Govt. to accuse that it is communal. Instead of whining about the Govt. the best course of action would be to organize a Samskrita Bharati camp in your area.

4 thoughts on “A Spanner in Reviving Sanskrit

  1. I have taken part in helping organize samskRta-bhArati courses ( in US, but I have attended one in India too ). Granted, they chant Hindu prayers but I haven’t seen anything like calling Hindu culture superior to other cultures. In fact one of the saMskRta-bhArati teachers who has taught me is anti-hindutva!
    If you have access to JSTOR you might want to read an journal article in “Comparative Studies in History and Society” called “Death of Sanskrit” by Prof. Sheldon Pollock – he wanted to claim that Sanskrit was dead ( well, that Sanskrit is in dire straits is widely accepted, even by traditionalists – I don’t know why he wants to make it totally dead ) – and he, though not in so many words, asks us to “get over it”. I saw a partial rejoinder ( not along Hindutva lines though ) in our bhAShApOShiNi magazine ( which is way better than mAtRbhUmi weekly )! The main purpose of the article is too analyze why Sanskrit “died” – he talks of the “vanishing” of the kashmIr school, regional languages taking over in the vijayanagara empire etc., and he gives instances of Muslim rulers funding Sanskrit. And to say this much he brings in rAmAyaNa, VHP etc., wants Indian Government not to fund creative literature in Sanskrit because so far increased funding produced only mediocre research etc. ( which per se would be fine, if he didn’t himself want funding for his own history research ).
    I remember hearing that the UPA government stopped funding to publish some saMskRta-bhArati text books or some such thing – so saMskRta-bhArati had to revert to their old textbooks or so; don’t know the exact issue. Their textbooks are a delight to read, courses are quite scientifically organized, kind of along the lines of how some westerners seem to teach their languages to other countries. But the currently increasing popularity in US should hopefully fund samskRa-bhArati sufficiently well.
    BTW if you are interested – they occasionally offer “conference call” classes – on laghu-siddhAnta-kaumudi there was one ( couldn’t attend so don’t know how it was ), there is one on going kumAra-saMbhavaM class etc.
    Sorry for the haphazard organization of the comment.

  2. I tried the sanskrit bharti site but it appears to be broken. if you know someone with the organisation, could you please ask them to fix it. in particular, i am interested in their activities in bangalore.

  3. I have to clarify : I didn’t refer to Prof. Pollock’s article just to vent my anger against it. Only because it is considered to be a seminal paper, and kind of summarizes reasons why leftist-type university based programs don’t do their discourse in Sanskrit etc. It kind of summarizes their views regarding the issue and also actually provides some good info. about the wane of Sanskrit.

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