Sanskrit, part of the Indo-European language family, is an ancient language with more than 3,500 years of history. Most of the religious texts of Hinduism, along with some major texts of other religions like Jainism and Buddhism, have been written in this language. In this modern era, Sanskrit is perceived to be a language of mantras and religious scriptures in Hinduism. However, this could be anything but true. Not more than 5% of the Sanskrit literature is based on religious texts, the rest is based on diverse subjects, including medicine, mathematics, philosophy, and literature, and more.
Most of us, Indians, have known since childhood through various academic books or teachers about Aryabhatta inventing zero, giving an approximate value of pie or claiming for the first time that the Earth is round in shape. But the point is that those unparalleled and unprecedented texts, originally written in Sanskrit, did not receive the same significance. When it comes to diversity, Sanskrit is as diverse as a language could be. Many scholars across the world believe that Sanskrit has the most logical arrangement of the alphabet and accurate grammar of all the languages known. The glory of this language is visible to the world. Apart from India, other countries like Germany, Italy are teaching Sanskrit.
In spite of the sublimity that Sanskrit carries, the country, where the language is deemed to be originated, saw only 24,821 people – still more than 10,000 when compared to the 2001 census – register it as their mother tongue in the 2011 census. In 1991, this headcount was 49,735, making it difficult to draw a regular pattern of its practical presence in the Indian society. It can’t be claimed that the successive governments in the center or of various states have not made endeavors to encourage Sanskrit, but the question is: Are these efforts enough?
The first Sanskrit University was established back in 1791, in Rajasthan. Till now, 18 universities, having more than 1,000 colleges affiliated to them, dedicated to this ancient language have been founded. According to reports, there are about 5,000 traditional Sanskrit Pathashalas at school level and about 1,000 Veda Pathashalas in the country. The statistics above, though not so satisfactory, can’t be termed pathetic. However, it is vital to draw points as to why this ancient language with glorious history has failed to find its relevance in the country.
Before we begin to understand why Sanskrit has witnessed an incredibly massive shrink in its prevalence in the course of time, we are required to have a chronological understanding of our culture variance. It was evident that Sanskrit – precisely the Vedic Sanskrit, was the language of the Vedik Period, spread for roughly thousand years, from 1500-500 BCE, in which great texts like Rigveda along with other Vedas and Upanishads are found to have been compiled. The language had a prominent significance in literary culture until medieval period, 500 BCE-1500 BCE.
The foundation of the decline of the language, I believe, was laid down with the political establishment of the Turkish Sultanate around 1200 BCE, in the medieval period. The commencement of a considerable fall, however, was observed when the Mughal Empire set its foot in the country from 1526.
The language was even given far less importance rather in the British rule, which followed the Mughal Empire.
The Britishers had aimed at preparing an efficient workforce to serve their business purpose in the country, leading them to start introducing English in a much broader way, not paying enough heed to regional languages, including Sanskrit. With the English Education Act, 1835, being passed in the country, the western education system, which laid emphasis on the medium of education in India to be English, started prevailing rapidly at the cost of the encouragement of its native literature.
Let us admit that Northern states have not taken as much advantage of this as the Southern states did. Formulated in 1968, it emphasizes on the study of Hindi, English, and other modern Indian languages (preferably one of the southern languages) in the Hindi-speaking states; and Hindi, English, and a regional language in the non-Hindi speaking states. Hindi-speaking states chose Sanskrit as the third language since no compulsion was made to choose a southern language.
On account of poor supervision and a great scarcity of not-so-qualified teachers, Sanskrit fell victim to the education system in the Northern states as it turned out to be a subject to be mugged up in order to fetch higher marks – as there’s a predictable pattern that’s applied for its exam, yielding no actual learning out of it. However, it is evident that the Southern states have learned Hindi, chosen by most of the non-Hindi speaking states, well, are gaining advantage from it.
According to the data presented in Lok Sabha on July 30, 2018, there were over 10 lakh posting of teachers lying vacant at elementary and secondary level – 9,00,316 and 1,07,689 respectively. On November 25, 2019, Human Resource Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank revealed more than 30, 000 vacancies were lying vacant across universities in the country.
These figures imply that the government either feels students can learn on their own or it considers investing here a low, rather highly low, priority. These figures, as discouraging as they are, instill fear among people who aspire to render their service of imparting education, and this fear turns bigger when they have received their formal education in Sanskrit, in the environment, due to scarcity of teachers. Hindi teachers are somehow managing to teach Sanskrit and, with their help. students are looking up various references to pass the exam.
(I may need to correct myself: where I state above, “people who aspire to render…”; In our society teaching at the primary or secondary level is, at large, deemed to be a job left for those failing to excel anywhere in life.)
We don’t see any required steps being taken to encourage the study of Sanskrit. Sanskrit has often been made to be associated with the Hindus only, in some way or the other. Sudharma, only Sanskrit daily newspaper in the world, demanded funds from the government to help them survive its publication, they did not even get a reply, either from UPA-2 or Smirti Irani in NDA-1 though such funds are reserved. It appears to have failed in maintaining high standards at the university level. Universities don’t find many students in their courses devoted to Sanskrit as they fail to provide required teachers.
We need to understand that a language should not be imposed to be learned, to be spoken. It must also be conceived that Sanskrit cannot be a common or linking language used for communication. But, are these reasons sufficient for letting it die gradually, overlooking it’s important in Indian literature. Sanskrit shouldn’t be confused as a language that only contains religious texts. It’s been a pioneer in other fields as well, for example, medicine, Science, Yoga, History, Philosophy, Astrology.
Many may seem to believe that apart from religion, Sankrit’s texts don’t offer authentic information. However, they themselves may not have read a single text. It can’t be denied Sanskrit has a lot to unravel, taking into consideration the fact that more than 90% of texts have not yet been translated – which at times is perceived to be coloured by bias of a translator, causing the actual essence to turn less visible, or filtered by their preoccupations or comprehension, tarnishing the image of our glorious culture.
Sanskrit is needed to be taught in Sanskrit itself. It seems to be the only language that is not taught through Sanskrit, rather Hindi or any other language is used to teach it resulting in substandard quality. We are also required to encourage those willing to contribute in any way and not make a mockery of them.
Note: This post has originally been published at The Opinion Express.