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About the revival of Sanskrit

About the revival of Sanskrit

Did you know that Western philosophy and culture trace its sources to ancient Greece… which in turn was greatly influenced by Hinduism? Famous Indianist Jean Herbert reminds us that “many many centuries before us, India had devised most of the philosophical systems which Europe experienced with later.

They contained, at least in its essence, the philosophy of the Greeks, the Alexandrine mystique, the religious speculation of the Middle Ages, the rationalism of the XIXth century and even the most recent incarnations of modern pantheism”. In 1782, already, French philosopher Pierre Sonnerat had written: “Ancient India gave to the world its religions and philosophies : Egypt and Greece owe India their wisdom and it is known that Pythagoras went to India to study under Brahmins, who were the most enlightened of human beings”.

But it is in the XIXth century Europe that an open admiration for ancient India’s Sanskrit culture flourished best, particularly in Germany, where philosophers, such a Frederich Shlegel, y said that “there is no language in the world, even Greek, which has the clarity and the philosophical precision of Sanskrit”, adding “that India is not only at the origin of everything, she is superior in everything, intellectually, religiously or politically – and even the Greek heritage seems pale in comparison”… The great Shopenhauer agrees with him and writes in the preface of his “The World as a Will and as a Representation”: “According to me, the influence of Sanskrit literature on our time will not be lesser than what was in the XVIth century Greece’s influence on Renaissance. One day, India’s wisdom will flow again on Europe and will totally transform our knowledge and thought”. And Nietzsche himself had read the Vedas, which he admired profoundly, could quote from the Law of Manu and thought that “Hinduism and Brahmanism are a hundred times deeper and more objective than Christianity”.

France itself had in the XIXth century a great India- tradition. Anquetil- Duperron had translated the Upanishads in 1801, Eugene Burnouf published in 1844 an Introduction to Indian Buddhism and it is in Paris that was created the first Chair of Sanskrit in Europe. Schools and universities were teaching Indian philosophy and famous writers and philosophers, such as Edgar Quinet, Ernest Renan, Hippolyte Taine, or Charles Renouvier, were devoting pages and pages to India. One of the last great French Romantics, the remarkable historian Michelet, wrote: “From India comes to us a torrent of light, a river of Right and Reason”…

But when @Nietzsche collapses in January 1889, the India of Sanskrit, of the Vedas and spirituality, seems to disappear with him from the consciousness of Europeans and the references to Indian culture fade gradually from all schools and universities. Since then, Europe (and the United States) practice what French philosopher and journalist Roger-Pol Droit calls “helleno-centrism” (Greece-centered) education, which means that the West believes that all philosophical systems started with Greece and that there was nothing worth the name before them. In his a remarkable book called, “L’oubli de l’Inde” (the forgetting of India) Droit explains the reasons of this “intellectual amnesia”. Firstly, he says, the great responsible for this forgetting of Vedic and Sanskrit India is German philosopher Hegel. “Hegel, he writes, did not discover the Greeks, he created them and made up for them a destiny and thoughts which they did not always have”. And it is true that it is Hegel who immortalized the myth that the Spirit of Europe, her philosophy and her history are eternally rooted in Greece. But Hegel had much more words for India: “As to the Indians, he wrote, their life and thoughts are solely an opium of foolish superstitions, which explain their utterly lethargic and dazed appearance”…

And sadly India, too, has forgotten the greatness of its Sanskrit language, thanks to three centuries of British colonization & later Marxism, which shaped generations of Indian intellectuals whose only culture is rooted in the West.
Yet, since independence, India has faced a huge problem which is of a unified language. The Central Government has tried to impose Hindi upon the rest the country, which is typical of the arrogance of too centralised a power. Why should they seek to impose on the whole of India a language which is spoken neither in the East, nor in the West, nor in the South ? But then, what could be the unifying language of India, bare English, which is spoken only by a tiny minority, as it has no roots here? The answer is here, so simple and luminous: “Sanskrit ought still to have a future as the language of the learned and it will not be a good day for India when the ancient tongues cease entirely to be written or spoken”, admonishes Sri Aurobindo (India’s Reb 113). Yes, Sanskrit! Sanskrit the Mother of all tongues, one of the richest languages in the world. A dead language, you say! Impossible to revive? But that’s what they argued about Hebrew. And did not the Jewish people, when they got back their land in 1948, revive their “dead” language, so that it is spoken today by ALL Jewish people and has become alive again?… The same thing ought to be done with Sanskrit, but as Sri Aurobindo points out: “it must get rid of the curse of the heavy pedantic style contracted by it in its decline, with the lumbering impossible compounds and the overweight of hair-splitting erudition”. Let the scholars begin now to revive and modernise the Sanskrit language, it would be a sure sign of the dawning of the Renaissance of India. In a few years it should be taught as the second language in schools throughout the country, with the regional language as the first and English as the third. Then will India again have its own unifying language.

Author: Francois Gautier

Published: Oct 24, 2015

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