Monday April 23, 2018
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Sanskrit as a link language for imparting scientific knowledge

Photo: @PratyashaNithin

By Nithin Sridhar

A language is the backbone of a nation, its identity, heritage, and culture. This is so because, a language acts as a medium to sustain, express, and transmit the knowledge and wisdom of the particular society. Thus, languages are not only tools for communication, but are also abodes of knowledge systems developed by a society. They act as carriers that keep the knowledge systems alive and transmit them to future generation.

India has been made rich in its culture and heritage by numerous languages that have taken birth in this land. But, among all the Indian languages, there is one language- Sanskrit that has historically played a unique role of being a mother, a link between various regional language speakers, and an abode of scientific knowledge.

The role of Sanskrit as a mother is well recognized. She has been a nourishing mother who has always assisted various regional languages in evolving themselves. The role of Sanskrit in the past as a link language is also well recognized. But, it is often ignored that Sanskrit was not only the repository to religious and philosophical knowledge, but also to Math, Science, Astronomy, and other secular subjects.

In a 2009 lecture delivered at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Markandey Katju says: “There is a misconception about the Sanskrit language that it is only a language for chanting mantras in temples or religious ceremonies. However, that is less than 5% of the Sanskrit literature. More than 95% of the Sanskrit literature have nothing to do with religion, and instead it deals with philosophy, law, science, literature, grammar, phonetics, interpretation, etc. In fact, Sanskrit was the language of free thinkers, who questioned everything, and expressed the widest spectrum of thoughts on various subjects. In particular, Sanskrit was the language of our scientists in ancient India

The astronomical and mathematical achievements of Aryabhata, Bhaskaracharya, etc., the medical discoveries of Charaka, Sushruta, etc., the philosophical world-views of Darshanas, were all expressed and transmitted through Sanskrit. Despite having diverse regional languages, India of the past was well connected in terms of communication and there was a free flow of knowledge- religious, secular, and scientific, thanks to Sanskrit.

With the advent of the British, Sanskrit was slowly, but in a planned manner, rooted out of Indian education and academia and was replaced by English. The traditional gurukulas which were repositories of Indian knowledge systems were replaced by English schools and hence, through thorough planning and meticulous implementation, the Indian education system was completely colonized and westernized.

This colonization of education has today resulted in generations after generations of Indians who are not only disconnected to indigenous heritage, culture, and philosophy but are also largely unaware of Indian scientific traditions and knowledge systems.

The present education system and academia entertain a study, research, and imparting of scientific knowledge only in English. This has helped Indians to connect with the global scientific community and build upon western scientific research, but at the same time Indians have become alien to their own indigenous scientific knowledge.

There have been many calls for imparting education in schools in vernacular languages. There is a great merit in this as children who are largely taught in English, are imbibing values that are alien to India. The English education has further impressed upon youths that everything Indian is superstition and regressive and everything western is liberal and modern.

The result has been disastrous politically, socially, ecologically, spiritually, and even scientifically. Thus, in order to reclaim the Indian identity and create Indian narrative, many spiritualists, scholars, and nationalists have time and again given a call for imparting primary and secondary education in mother tongues.

There is a great merit in imparting education in native languages. But, using native languages to impart primary education in math and science is accompanied by various issues and complications for the students.

First, the education at graduate and post-graduate levels are imparted in English alone. Hence, a person who has studied in the regional language medium will find it very difficult to study during graduation. Thus, students who studied in regional language mediums will be at a great disadvantage.

Second, if regional languages are introduced as a medium to teach in graduation and post-graduation level, that will again give rise to a few complications. The regional languages are largely devoid of means for imparting higher scientific subjects, be it math, physics, medicine, or engineering subjects. Further, if people in different states study and do research in different languages, then there will no free flow of scientific knowledge within India. That will be a huge obstacle to scientific advancement.

Thus, imparting primary and secondary education in mother tongues has serious practical issues and may curtail scientific research and advancement. These practical issues can be easily overcome by introducing a link language that is not only suitable for scientific purposes, but also has a harmonious relationship with the regional languages. And among all Indian languages, only Sanskrit fits the requirement.

Sanskrit had successfully nourished various regional languages, preserved Indian world-views, and had ensured a free flow of scientific knowledge in the past. And Sanskrit alone is equipped to accomplish it again in the present.

Thus, the Sanskrit Commission set up by the Government of India in 1956 observes: “in course of time, the prospective All-India Language — Bharati Bhasa — at least in its written norm, which would be acceptable to all regions of India, especially in the higher reaches of education and literary activity, will be a form of simple and modernized Sanskrit.”

More stories on Sanskrit:

Only through Sanskrit, can India make a credible narrative about its Sanskriti

If you look carefully at English you will see Sanskrit hidden everywhere: Jeffrey Armstrong

Let’s revive Sanskrit in correct manner

All hail Sanskrit – the most perfect language ever

Why Sanskrit Channel is a good idea for the language as well as for the country

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  • govikannan

    //The traditional gurukulas which were repositories of Indian knowledge systems were replaced by English schools //
    only male higher cast people studied in those gurukulas, what about woman, poor lower cast and dalits ? is there any school for them before Christian machineries ?

  • govikannan

    //The traditional gurukulas which were repositories of Indian knowledge systems were replaced by English schools //
    only male higher cast people studied in those gurukulas, what about woman, poor lower cast and dalits ? is there any school for them before Christian machineries ?

Next Story

Modern Science and India’s Universal Wisdom

What if an Indian research scholar would have become adamant by saying that “Pi” was first computed by Madhava instead of Leibniz?

Old Indian Wisdom and Modern sciences.

Salil Gewali, Shillong

  • India is a land of knowledge and culture
  • Many scientific principles of today were already discovered in ancient India
  • The modern sciences stem from the old Indian wisdom
Of course, for various reasons I was also brought up with less respect for the country. If one asks why, then it requires me to write pages after pages. The reasons are mostly absurd and unpleasantly paradoxical. This strange characteristic of India we hardly find in any other countries.

In brief, my mind had gathered a good amount of misinformation about the country which I realized not very late. Thank God, that all didn’t get tenaciously ossified which would have been very difficult later if I had to cleanse myself of or unlearn whole over again what I could have learned from various biased sources. Please kindly note, those biased sources are still held as credible. And, if ever any sane voice is raised against the biased academia then it is criticized as a vile attempt to distort the established history or as a show of insane chauvinism. You will be totally disgraced.  Therefore, many prefer to keep quiet.

Erwin Schrodinger was a great scientist.
Till a decade ago the computation of “Pi” was ascribed to a renowned German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz which was in fact wrong. What if an Indian research scholar would have become adamant by saying that “Pi” was first computed by Madhava instead of Leibniz? It would be like stirring up a hornet’s nest in India, if not in the West.  Then Dr. Srinvastava, Prof. Mehta and others would have lampooned the researcher, the next day the uproar of condemnation would have come from the media – so much so that he might have run the risk of losing all your academic carrier and position.

Incidentally, there in the west emerged a number of scholars like Marcus du Sautoy, the former President of the Mathematical Association, and others, who battled hard to establish that “Pi” was first mathematically calculated by Madhava of India in the 14th century, almost about three century earlier then by the German mathematician Leibniz. Very recently only the fact has been officially established and now known to be “Madhava–Leibniz series”. This bold step cannot be taken by any Indians within the country. Because other Indian scholars would be foaming at the mouth. Discrediting the West is quite like a blasphemy. Here people can proudly discredit their own country for which they usually find good support.  That is why they disrespect their languages, they often take delight in disrespecting their heritage, and they can snobbishly distrust their native values. I’m afraid, here in India, distrusting the nation’s glories requires no logic and trusting the foreign requires no validity!

Also Read: Science writing: A neglected form of literature that needs focus

Therefore, I must salute a few of the world-renowned westerners who awakened me. Those dispassionate scholars who flashed their spotlight towards India for “knowledge”. That flashlight was to dispel what I call it as my delusion. It was in fact destined to change my perspective to look at the country. One of the foremost among them to change my mind was an opinion/quote by Robert Julius Oppenheimer (father of atomic bomb) which I had come upon in a world-acclaimed book “The Tao of Physics” by a renowned American physicist Fritjof Capra.  This atomic scientist, who learnt Sanskrit around 1933 to go deeper into the ancient text of India, proclaims, — “What we find in Modern Physics is an exemplification, an encouragement and a refinement of old Indian wisdom”. Though it appeared quite ridiculous to me but I could not dismiss it. Rather, this bold opinion triggered my inner intellect. Of course, for a couple of months I remained skeptical of the views expressed by Oppenheimer, I persistently “reasoned” that a scientist does not utter a single word unless he/she evaluates the fact with the mathematical algorithms. In the meanwhile, I had overheard the roar of the father of Quantum Mechanic – Erwin Schrodinger, best known for his “Schrodinger Equation” — only one equation in the vast studies of Quantum Mechanic. That “roar” was in consonant with what my inner intuition vaguely held after reading the ancient text.  Of course, it did not take me very long to figure out what so marveled Schrodinger, and also other modern physicists like David Bohm and the Nobel laureate Brain David Josephson about India’s literature of wisdom.

The very fundamental essence of the Vedanta that — “apparent multiplicity is an illusion and everything in the universe is from ONE WHOLE” was thoughtfully paraphrased by Schrodinger. The grand notion of the East that‘MAKER AND THE MADE’ touched the heart of inquisitive Schrodinger.  Indeed, after the in-depth research, observation and experimentation of probably not less than a decade, Schrodinger remarked: “The UNITY and CONTINUITY of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of ‘wave mechanics’. The incredible doctrine that “All in ONE” of Upanishads perfectly dovetailed with the new experimentation of the matter or “particle” and its subtle “wave function”.

That’s why we have infinite species of flowers amazingly blooming in uncanny colors and fragrances at the same time in multiple Earth-like planets; we see endless verities of trees bearing fruits with amazing flavors and tastes; all celestial stars are rotating and revolving with perfect precision. Even one CELL/ATOM of an object is subtly as complex as a factory. Just imagine how many cells in the trillions and trillion of objects in the cosmic ocean? What is most intriguing is that everything is in perfect order, perfect harmony and at peace. Therefore, how could that be possible to “separate” the Divine from His boundless creations which are inherently divine themselves! So, the Vedantic proclamation that “Creator and Creation are ONE” makes much more sense to Schrodinger and his likes.

Sensing the grand meaning Schrodinger exclaimed in his masterpiece “What is life” : “The earliest records, to my knowledge, date back some 2500 years or more… the recognition ATMAN = BRAHMAN (the personal “self” equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal SELF) was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into the “HAPPENINGS” of the world. The striving of all the scholars of Vedanta was after having learnt to pronounce with their lips, really assimilate in their minds this grandest of all thoughts.”

Schopenhauer was a great influence on Einstein.

It’s worthwhile to mention here that “The Unity and unified theory of Upanishads” was introduced to this great modern scientist by the front-ranking thinker of Germany – Arthur Schopenhauer.  Albert Einstein always held Schopenhauer as one of his masters whose portrait he had decorated his study room with.

Finally, I salute a very brilliant American historian Will Durant who, after serious studies of the history and philosophy of the East and the West, concluded: “India was the motherland of our “race”, and Sanskrit the mother of European languages. She was the Mother of our philosophy, of our mathematics, of the ideals embodied in Christianity, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the Mother of us all.”  Will Durant authored a world-acclaimed series ‘Story of Civilization’ in 11 volumes. But what is so weird is that this Mother Indian has given birth to some of the children who consider themselves totally orphaned unless they follow and adopt the West and find fault with the East!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter: @SGewali.