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Is Bengali really derived from Sanskrit?

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By Harshmeet Singh

There aren’t many better examples of India’s diverse culture than its linguistic diversity. The country is home to 780 languages with over 120 of them holding the ‘official’ status. But the other side of the story is that India currently heads the list of UNESCO’s world’s languages in danger. The constitution, in its eighth schedule, lists 22 languages as the official regional languages in the country. This series of articles is an attempt to focus on these 22 languages, their pasts and present, and cherish our linguistic diversity. After discussing Assamese, Bodo, Kashmiri and Konkani in the previous write-up, today, we shift our focus towards Bengali.

It is human nature to identify fellow beings and their habits based on the language they speak. Hence, we assume that those living in Bengal spoke Bengali from the very beginning. While it is a well-accepted fact that Bengali is heavily inspired and derived from the Sanskrit language, a closer look at the Sanskrit texts from the first half of the first millennium BCE suggest that the first residents of Bengal didn’t use languages related to Sanskrit.

In the beginning of 4th century BCE, the commercial relations between Bengal and Magadh began to thrive, which increased Sanskrit’s influence with Bengal. It was during the 4th century only that the Gupta kings began to control the northern parts of Bengal and settle Brahmanas in this region. Post this, the cultural and linguistic ties between Bengal and the mid-Ganga valley region only became stronger.

In 7th century BCE, when the famed Chinese traveler Xuan Zang visited Bengal, he noticed that Sanskrit related languages were in use all over the region. By 15th century, all the dialects in the Bengali group were united under one common language.

Albeit it won’t be wrong to say that Bengali is derived from Sanskrit, the fact that it had to go through multiple stages of evolution can’t be overlooked. Modern Bengali is loaded with words from non-Sanskrit words which have been taken from Persian, tribal and different European languages.

The initial Bengali literature was of two kinds, viz. inspired from Sanskrit and independent of Sanskrit. The former includes works such as translation of different Sanskrit epics into the local languages. These include Mangalakavyas and Bhakti literature. The latter includes the likes of Nath literature, folk tales and fairy tales. (Naths were ascetic people who indulged in different yogic practices)

While the texts of the first category can be dated easily due to the presence to a number of manuscripts, the literature of the latter category was largely passed on orally and hence can’t be dated with precision. The non-Sanskrit literature is especially renowned in the eastern part of Bengal where the Brahmanas didn’t have much influence.

 Here is a piece of trivia for you-

Being a riverine plain, fish and rice are two of the most easily available food items in Bengal. This justifies the popularity of maachh bhaat in Bengal. Fishing as an occupation is extremely common in the state.

Though Brahmanas aren’t allowed to consume non-vegetarian food, Brihaddharma Purana, a Sanskrit text from Bengal belonging to the 13th century, permitted the local Brahmanas to eat certain species fish, owing to its popularity in the everyday diet.

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EXCLUSIVE: Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya in Delhi is trying to keep the Cultural Roots Alive in Students through Sanskrit Language

What makes this Sanskrit School different from others?

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Chintamanni Vedpathi with students
Chintamanni Vedpathi with students. Youtube
  • Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya  is one of the oldest Sanskrit Institutions in Delhi
  • Students wear white dhoti and shirt, they greet their guru or teacher by clasping their hands together
  • The Sri Vishwanath Sanyas Ashram takes care of the student’s  food by providing them with free food and they also stay in hostel free of cost  

New Delhi, August 30, 2017: There is a school in Delhi away from the overdose of technology and westernization. This school is trying to strengthen the roots of Indian culture by giving the gyan (knowledge) of Sanskrit to their students.

Reporter Kritika Dua got in touch with the teachers of Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya– Jai Prakash Mishra and Rajendra Sharma to know what is so special about this Delhi-based School. To get the taste of the pattern that this school follows, she spoke with students- Virender Tiwari and Pushpendra Chaturvedi who shared some interesting anecdotes about the school.

This Sanskrit Vidyalaya is one of the oldest Sanskrit Institutions in Delhi, where classes begin at 11 am and end at 4.10 p.m. The school has produced many Sanskrit scholars in the past and it is run by Sri Vishwanath Sanyas Ashram, which is located just opposite to the school.

On entering the classroom, you can see students wearing white dhoti and shirt, students greet their guru or teacher by clasping their hands together and sit on the carpeted floor while learning at the Vidyalaya.

One of the teachers at this school, Jai Prakash Mishra said, “around 55-60 students stay in the hostel, rest of them come from other areas in Delhi to study here. The ones who stay in hostel come from different states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan.”

Entrance of Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya, Delhi.
Entrance of Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya, Delhi

Students having interest in learning the ancient language of India are welcome in this school, no matter which part of the country they belong to. The only requirement is to be a good shisya (pupil) – he should be serious towards education, ready to lead a disciplined life and should be hard-working.

Mishra added, “the Sri Vishwanath Sanyas Ashram takes care of the student’s  food by providing them with free food and they also stay in hostel free of cost.” There are 10 teachers currently in this school.

Volleyball Court in School Playground
Volleyball Court in School Playground

The students play Volleyball and Cricket in the school playground though there is no sports teacher in the school. Rajendra Sharma, Hindi teacher said, “The students here can get the education -9th class and 10th class called purva madhyama, 11th and 12th called uttar madhyama, till graduation called Shastri though they get a post-graduation degree from the school. The degree they get is from Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya (SSVV), Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh as the school is affiliated with this university.”

The School teaches other subjects apart from Sanskrit like Hindi, history, science, English literature, English Grammar, law etc.  Sharma told about his expectations from the students, “Our students are preserving Indian Culture by learning Sanskrit. I wish that they have a bright future ahead.”

ALSO READ: Move to Make Sanskrit Classes Mandatory Raises Ruckus in Assam

The students of this all boy’s school have short cropped hair which is sometimes shaven heads with tufts of hair at the back. They are rooted in Indian culture which can be seen through their behavior, good manners, dressing and talking sense.

Rahul Shukla, a 9th class student said that he can recite shlokas perfectly and wants to be a Shastri when he grows up. Vishwanath Sanskrit Vidyalaya has branches in Haridwar, Varanasi, Shimla, Kolkata, Mount Abu, and Bikaner.

Virender Tiwari (19) is pursuing graduation from this school and here the B.A first year course is called Shastriya Pratham, and he will become a Shastri after he completes his graduation. Tiwari said, “my experience has been extremely enriching in this school so far, all the knowledge I have of Sanskrit is because of what I have been taught here.”

Pushpendra Chaturvedi completed his graduation last year, now he lives in Dilshad Garden and is a priest in a temple. Pushpendra said, “I came to this school in the 9th standard, this school did a lot for me and I have fond memories of this place. I want to pursue B.ED and become a Sanskrit teacher.”

He talked about the ex-principal of the school, Ram Sarmukh Dwivedi, 95 years old Mahatma. He was a Sanskrit  Scholar and had in depth knowledge of Sanskrit language, literature, and ‘Ved Puran’. The current Principal of this unique Sanskrit school is Dr. Brahmachari Balram.


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Tamil Nadu Schools make Singing Vande Mataram Mandatory

The Madras court has announced that all schools throughout Tamil Nadu must make the singing of Vande Mataram mandatory

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Vande Mataram Mandatory
Students are to sing the national song twice as per the Madras High Court ruling. Wikimedia
  • Singing Vande Mataram is now mandatory in every school of Tamil Nadu after Madras high court announced its ruling
  • The students are to sing the national song twice every week
  • Given a valid reason, an individual or group may be exempted from the decision

July 29, 2017: Tamil Nadu school students are now compelled to sing Vande Mataram as per the Madras High Court’s recent ruling. The national song is to be sung twice a week.

Private as well as government schools have been instructed to comply with the ruling and confirm that it is implemented in their schools.

ALSO READ: First Clap: Short Film Fest to Unearth Budding Filmmakers from Tamil Nadu

The Madras Court’s ruling was the result of a petition filed by K Veeramani. Mr. Veeramani, interestingly, was unsuccessful in clearing the written test in the process of recruiting teachers because of a question related to the National song, mentioned PTI.

In an objective type question, K Veeramani selected Bengali as the original language in which national song was written. This answer was considered wrong by the board. Veeramani scored 89 while the cut off was 90. For this one mark and “wrongfully” missing the opportunity to work, he petitioned to the High Court.

And he was right. Advocate General R Muthukumarswamy agreed to K Veeramani’s claim. The National Song was originally penned in the Bengali Language.

PTI reports Justice M V Muralidharan gave no actual reasons behind this verdict. The Justice also said that Monday and Friday should be the ideal days.

Justice M V Muralidharan’s ruling is backed by Article 226 of the constitution; The High court posses the power to pass orders within their juridicial territory upon any individual or group. The Judge also stated, “If people feel it is difficult to sing the song in Bengali or in Sanskrit, steps can be taken to translate the song in Tamil. The youth of this country are the future of tomorrow and the court hopes and trusts that this order shall be taken in the right spirit and also implemented in letter and spirit by the citizenry of this great nation.”

– prepared by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394

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Bengali to be a compulsory subject in all Schools across the state: West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee

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Mamata Banerjee
Bring Software Industries to West Bengal, says CM Mamata Banerjee to Bengali Diaspora. Wikimedia

Kolkata, May 16, 2017: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday announced that Bengali will be a compulsory subject in all schools across the state as part of a three-language formula.

“Students have the freedom to take any language of their choice as a first language, second or third language. If the student chooses Bengali, Hindi, English, Urdu, Gurmukhi, Nepali, as first language, he/she may opt for two other languages of their choice,” Banerjee said in a Facebook post.

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“One of the three languages would have to be Bengali. The two other choices are completely dependent on what the students chooses,” she said.

She said this method would enable them to reach regional, national and international standards.

“Bengal respects all languages and languages of all States. Our three-language formula shows how we really do… India is a vast country and the strength of our nation is unity in diversity.

“We must respect every mother tongue and also give every regional language its importance. We believe in the freedom of choice and the three-language formula,” she said.

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Banerjee’s statement comes a day after State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee announced that from now on, it will be compulsory for students to learn Bengali in schools from class one to 10.

The minister said even English medium schools affiliated to boards other than the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education will have to make provisions for teaching Bengali as a second or third language. (IANS)

NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt.