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Revival of Sanskrit – Roadblocks and Strategy

Revival of Sanskrit

An acute need for promoting Sanskrit back into academics

The year 2016 saw my fourth book The Battle for Sanskrit: Is Sanskrit Political or Sacred, Oppressive or Liberating, Dead or Alive? or TBFS in short, finally being published and released. This book kindled interest, respect, and curiosity among the masses, as it dealt with reclaiming Sanskrit and Sanskriti from the clutches of the faulty theorization by western academia. However, it is only the beginning and there is a long way to go in terms of reclaiming the discourse. When I was writing The Battle for Sanskrit, Shri Chamu Krishna Sastry helped me by providing information, insights, and references to counter Sheldon Pollock, the western scholar whose theories I attempt to refute in the book. We also had extensive discussions on the problems that plague Sanskrit and its study in India. I will elaborate on the nature of the issues in this piece.

Sanskrit Bharati has approximately 5000 centres in India and branches in about 15 other countries. About 10000 volunteers are working selflessly to popularise Sanskrit

Brief Introduction: Shri. Chamu Krishna Sastry and Samskrita Bharati 

Shri. Sastry is the creator of Samskrita Bharati, an organization which was established to revive Sanskrit as a language of the common man. It has approximately 5000 centres in India and branches in about 15 other countries. About 10000 volunteers are working selflessly to popularise Sanskrit. This organization has taught spoken Sanskrit to about 10 million people and has trained around one lakh teachers since its inception 35 years ago. It has also published more than 500 books and CDs.

The root cause of the decline of Sanskrit

Before British rule in Bharat, Sanskrit was a thriving language throughout the length and breadth of Bharat. The learning of the language was organic and natural. Today language is taught through grammar i.e rules to example method. In the case of Sanskrit or for that matter our mother tongue, we always learn the grammar through the language i.e example to rules method. It is the natural way, the way a child picks up languages.

However, the scenario changed when the British forcefully introduced the European education system here. In the British education system, language teaching was through the ‘Grammar Translation Method’. The very purpose of that method was to understand literature for translation. At the time, there was huge translation work going on from Greek and Latin into European languages. For this exercise, obviously the grammar to language method is the most suitable since one is not working with native language. Since that was the norm, the British therefore wanted to implement the same method in their educational policy.

The Grammar Translation method is ideal for dead languages as the active use of these languages is not promoted and its requirement is limited only to understand cultures of dead civilizations. The main motive of the British for learning a living and thriving language like Sanskrit was to rule Bharat, but the problem was that they learnt and translated Sanskrit by applying the Grammar Translation Method. Unfortunately, this faulty method caught on and is now followed by all schools throughout the country for teaching a language.

A revolution in the teaching methodology of Sanskrit is urgently needed.

A great irony is that even the Paninian Grammar is rewritten according to English Grammar. This then meant that it was not necessary to use Sanskrit for communication with the result that Sanskrit students and teachers stopped communicating in Sanskrit. Thus, a thriving, sacred language was transformed into a dry and finally, a dead language.

A revolution in the teaching methodology of Sanskrit is urgently needed. We should go back to the traditional method of learning Sanskrit i.e by using it constantly in our day to day life.

Strategy to promote Sanskrit for common people

For popularizing or promoting any language, there are some requirements to be fulfilled, such as:
• Development or creation of speakers of the language
• Using it as a medium of instruction, entertainment, communication etc.
• Creation of contemporary literature using the language
• Continuous word generation
• Use of technology for its propagation
• Patronage from the government and the corporate sector
• Developing strong will power to bring back Sanskrit in everyday life and to create a demand in Society

Role of Government:

In the year 2015, the Human Resource and Development (HRD) Ministry constituted an Expert Committee exclusively on Sanskrit to revive interest. This committee is headed by Mr. N. Gopalaswami. The uniqueness of this committee is in suggesting an action plan not only for the govt. but also for scholars of Sanskrit, Sanskrit institutions, and the common people.

The government must play a pivotal role to build a bridge between these ancient and modern streams.

As per the committee proposal, all ministries must have something that can associate with Sanskrit. The promotion of Sanskrit is not the responsibility of the HRD ministry alone. However, the HRD ministry will deal with the incorporation of Sanskrit in school, higher education modern streams and universities. The ministry will encourage teaching and popularising Sanskrit not only in traditional Sanskrit pathashalas, but also in science classes and engineering colleges.

The HRD ministry needs to play a very important role to promote interaction between modern and ancient streams, between scholars of Sastra (ancient Sanskrit literature) and scientists or technocrats.

There should be fellowships, internship for both technocrats, who will go to Sanskrit universities and Sanskrit scholars who will attend premier scientific institutions for a few years.

The government must play a pivotal role to build a bridge between these ancient and modern streams. The concentration should be on new ways of teachers’ training and producing Sanskrit study material for students and adult beginners. This will gradually bring the shift from teaching language through grammar to grammar through language, just as a child learns his or her mother tongue.

There should be an attempt to revive the traditional ‘Vakyarth sabha’ or ‘Sastra sabha’ where both sides debate with one another. Now it is the responsibility of the government to revive this traditional debate or at least cooperate in organizing it.

The government must show will to take up this unpopular job of weeding out distorted texts

Further, western scholars have been intentionally distorting and interpreting Sanskrit wrongly and these wrong texts are deeply entrenched in the Indian academy. These texts are required to be pulled out, which necessitates courage, and this step is politically incorrect as well. The government must show will to take up this unpopular job of weeding out distorted texts.

If the government takes such initiatives and funds these types of projects, then all major western schools can be responded to because our tradition is robust.

Role of Scholars of Sanskrit and Lovers of Sanskrit:

Sanskrit scholars can organise Vyakarth Sabha or ‘Purva Paksh – Uttar Paksh’. These vakyarth sessions can be conducted in a novel way. For example, one can take up a certain theory of a western scholar. This can be read, summarised in simple English, and then translated in Sanskrit and finally, responses sought from a group of scholars from orthodox oral tradition. This can then enthuse ordinary people with no knowledge of Sanskrit but with an excellent grasp of English and analysis of Western schools of thought to take up such activity. Similarly, traditional Sanskrit scholars proficient in their field but not fluent in Western language and thought can refute Western arguments robustly without feeling inadequate. This will go a long way in boosting the confidence of the traditional scholars as also those with English and analytical skills just learning what traditional debate entailed.

For the last 150 – 200 years Sanskrit works have been translated to other languages, not vice-versa. All issues and debates are addressed in English. If Sanskrit scholars are interested, then these debates can be conducted in Sanskrit. It is the right time to establish a modern trend and expand the application areas of Sanskrit.

To be Continued….

Author: Rajiv Malhotra

Published: May 24, 2017 (First published on

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