By Harshmeet Singh
“If I was asked what is the greatest treasure which India possesses and what is her greatest heritage, I would answer unhesitatingly that it is the Sanskrit language and literature and all that it contains. This is a magnificent inheritance, and so long as this endures and influences the life of our people, so long will the basic genius of India continue.”
– Jawaharlal Nehru (Discovery of India)
The history remembers Thomas Babington Macaulay as the person who introduced ‘English medium education’ in India in 1835. He said that he wanted to turn the Indian high class into “a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”. Close to a couple of centuries later, Macaulay seems to have achieved his goal. His motive behind such a move can be deciphered by one of his other statements. “It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England”, he said. The same Sanskrit that he discarded has been known as the origin of a number of languages which are in use today.
That Sanskrit is dying a slow death has been a much accepted fact for long now. The stature of Sanskrit started diminishing long before our independence. Post independence, the efforts to revive Sanskrit were confined to “government feeding tubes and oxygen tanks”. Even the first 5 Sahitya Akademi Awards in the field of Sanskrit literature were actually awarded to works based on Sanskrit culture, but written in Hindu and English languages! As the mother of a number of present day Indian languages, the need for Sanskrit’s revival is recognized by all. However, making it compulsory at the school level might not be the ideal way forward. Even in its prime, Sanskrit was never used by the masses. This was essentially why Mahavir and Buddha came up with Prakrit and Pali respectively.
Forcing the masses to use Sanskrit as a tool for communication won’t bring any good. Rather, coming up with specialized Sanskrit excellence centers, offering scholarships to pursue higher education in Sanskrit and translating popular reading material into Sanskrit might just provide the much needed boost to the language. Such steps would also enhance the waning population of Sanskrit language experts in the country.
Ironically, most of the Sanskrit research and translation work today is being undertaken by foreign scholars. In January this year, Germany’s Dr. Annette Schmiedchen was conferred the Padma Shri award for his significant work in relation with his research and teaching of Sanskrit language at many German universities. He himself studied Sanskrit Epigraphy and Indology at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Thailand’s Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is another well renowned patron of Sanskrit who has promoted the cause of Sanskrit at the world stage.
While forcing Sanskrit down the throat of the public isn’t the best way for its revival, the Government can surely encourage the students to take up the language by making it more rewarding. At least those who are willing should be provided with the resources to learn the language and spread its glory.