By Gaurav Sharma
There was a time, when Sanskrit usage spanned the entire Indian subcontinent. At its zenith, the language of the Gods became the lingua franca of the Indian cultural zone.
Reminiscent of its mass expansion, the ancient medium of communication has now ebbed to its nadir.
Sanskrit in contemporary India
The last census of 2011 revealed a shocking reality with a pitiable 14,000 people stating Sanskrit as their primary language. Almost no speaker was to be found in Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the north-eastern states.
Given that a miniscule 1 per cent of the entire Indian population speaks Sanskrit, it is commendable that Doordarshan has launched a weekly program in that language.
Telecasting a five-minute news bulletin–Varta–was hardly doing justice to a language which had mothered several hundred dialects during its heyday.
Can Sanskrit be bracketed into the Hindutva agenda?
The recent invitation of External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj as guest of honor at the 16th World Sanskrit Conference in Bangkok is a significant reminder of the special place India and more specifically, Sanskrit holds in the academic circles of the world.
In spite of its deep scholarly appreciation, the language continues to be taught as an optional subject. This is mainly due to the increase in the relevance of other contemporary languages in the globalized world vis-a-vis Sanskrit.
To amplify its declining popularity, the language is given false religious connotations, viz Hindu credentials.
The liberal secularist of India keeps blowing the communal trumpet against measures to revitalize the glory of Sanskrit as a scientific dialect, a fact which can be corroborated by its astounding suitability as a computer language.
In this regard, it would be pertinent to note that apart from being serving liturgical purposes, Sanskrit was a philosophical language encompassing a rich mixture of poetry, drama and music.
Is Sanskrit literature only religious?
“People have a misunderstanding that it is the language of the Hindus. Ninety-five per cent of Sanskrit literature has nothing to do with religion”, says retired Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju.
This is not to say that the language cannot be used to indoctrinate young minds.
But if re-introducing Sanskrit in the school curriculum is termed as Hindutva propaganda, isn’t flooding of English literature in our school textbooks a classic case of Anglicization?
In the end it is not a question of whether Sanskrit is a holy language worthy of reverence but rather about providing an equal opportunity for an ancient language to re-live itself.