By Nithin Sridhar
Bengaluru: Nineteen children, eleven boys and eight girls from the USA, are currently in India learning Samskritam in a two week camp that is being held in Bengaluru from 19 July to 2 August.
While large number of Indians, especially youth, are either averse to or simply ignorant about Samskritam and the Indian way of life, these young children of Indian expatriates in US (who study in 8th – 12th grade), have come to learn and connect with Indian roots through Samskrit, thanks to the persistent efforts of Samskrita Bharati USA.
The two-week residential camp called “Medha,” which means wisdom, is being conducted by Samskrita Bharati USA as part of their three year Sanskrit as a Foreign Language (SAFL) program.
The program, which started in 2009, aims to teach Samskritam in the medium of Samskritam to children in grades 8-12. The program consists of online classes held once a week and 6-day residential camps held once a year. Apart from this, it holds a 15-day honors level Medha camp in India for third year students, which is optional and aims to teach higher grammar and poetry like Kumara-Sambhava.
When NewsGram visited the camp, the students were learning Kumara-Sambhavam written by Kalidasa. They were very enthusiastic to speak about their experiences in learning Samskritam. One student informed that apart from the daily classes, they also visited the Kaveri River and a Samskrita Gurukulam, where students studied Vedas.
When asked about why they chose to study Samskritam, most students said that they did not know anything about Samskritam at the beginning but only joined the classes on their parent’s insistence. One student Sri Vishnu shared that as he kept learning Samskritam, he discovered that Samskritam is not just a spoken language but also the Vedic knowledge.
The same experience was shared by Prachi, who said, “At first I thought learning Samskrit would be just like learning a language as in school, i.e., learning grammar, vocabulary, etc. but, what I learnt after coming to Medha and other camps is that Samskrit is not just a language, but it is like an entire lifestyle, it has an entire culture behind it. (…) the music, dance, the language is so prevalent and has such rich history behind it, that it merges with religion and culture and depicts who we are as people.”
Another student Havisha, who practices Carnatic Classical music, said that learning Samskritam has helped her to understand the meaning of the songs that she sings. Saket revealed that before he started learning Samskritam he was not able to appreciate the value of Vedic traditions that his parents taught, but now he is able to understand some aspects of Vedas, the philosophy, etc. behind various practices.
He said that Samskritam has helped him to understand that the lifestyle propagated by the ancestors so long ago has ideas which hold true even today. Vasu highlighted how Samskritam helps in connecting with the culture and practices like meditation.
Explaining how Samskritam has helped her to discover her roots and identity, Akshata said: “One of the ways that Samskrit has influenced my life is that it has made be more aware of who am I and who we are as a culture, as people whose ancestry lies in the land of Bharat.”
She also revealed that a lot of history taught in US textbooks were very pro-western and highlighted western scientific achievements, but the fact that much scientific knowledge was already present in India long before the west discovered them is not mentioned.
She cited examples like the knowledge of surgery in Ayurveda, the contributions of mathematicians like Aryabhata and Bhaskaracharya, the mathematical discoveries like the Pythagorean Theorem, and the value of pi.
When asked about their experiences in visiting a traditional Gurukulam, Raghava Prasnna said that by seeing students learning various Vedas year after year in the Gurukulam, he realized how less he knows and how much more knowledge there is to be gained and Samskritam serves as a gateway to all that knowledge.
Another student Surya Teja shared his experiences that when his parents taught him various Samskritam slokas and songs, he recognized that they were important to the religion, there was always a disconnect as he did not knew what exactly he is doing and why. But, after learning Samskritam, he was able to understand the slokas, and what were complex slokas earlier now became easy elemental ideas that could be inculcated in daily life.
Mrs. Pratibha who taught Kumara-Sambhava to the students told that the students had been learning various slokas for the last two years and last year they were taught Ramayana and now this year, the students were being taught Kalidasa’s Kumara-Sambhava.
Another teacher Mrs. Parvatavardhini, who is teaching for last 15 years said that students were very enthusiastic and dedicated in learning and speaking Samskritam and she was very happy with the response from the children towards Samskritam.
Mr. Padmakumar who is working in Samskrita Bharati for last 25 years and oversees the Medha camp in Bengaluru, said that Samskrita Bharati USA conducted 2 residential camps for children and 5 residential camps for adults in US every year.
The two residential camps for children are Shraddha — held in Pennsylvania (east coast of US) and Prajna — held in California (west coast of US). The five adult camps are held in California, Houston, Michigan, New York, and Chicago. He further told us that there were 14 teachers in the SAFL program and around 250 volunteer teachers in total.
Regarding the activities that were being conducted in the Medha camp, Mr. Padmakumar said that their main trust was in teaching grammar, kavya (poetry), and conversation. Apart from that they have cultural activities like dramas, etc. during evenings. The students were also taken to various Samskritam speaking houses and Gurukulams so that children were exposed to Samskritam environment. In one of the Gurukulams, the students witnessed how the fire-rituals are practiced. By these activities, Samskrita Bharati hopes to help children connect with their culture and religious practices along with learning Samskritam.
Samskrita Bharati USA was established in 1995 in the USA and this year they are celebrating their 20th anniversary.
In an exclusive interview with NewsGram, Mr. Govinda Yelagalawadi, National Coordinator of Samskrita Bharati USA, spoke about how Samskrita Bharati started in US:
“The organization (Samskrita Bharati USA) was founded in 1995 when a group of Samskritam enthusiasts arranged for “Spoken Samskritam Classes and Workshops” in various cities across the US and invited Shri Krishna Shastry, one of the founding members of Samskrita Bharati in India. Some of the volunteers who were part of the organizing group in 1995 had attended Spoken Samskritam classes while they were in India and were inspired by the teaching method of Samskrita Bharati and wanted to spread the same in the US.
These volunteers also thought that for people of Indian origin living in the US, learning the language of Samskritam would bring them closer to and under their roots. Additionally, the original texts of the many contributions of India – Yoga, Ayurveda, Spirituality, Philosophy, literature and the ancient contributions in the fields of science and technology – are all in Samskritam. To understand these, one need to know Samskritam.”
Samskrita Bharati USA is striving hard in the USA to spread Samskritam among the Indian diaspora and has become immensely successful.
Around 800-1000 people attend their various residential camps and another 2000 people attend their various courses. Around 150 students are expected to enroll in the SAFL program in the coming academic year (2015-16).
They follow the natural methodology of learning language. Just as young children first learn to speak a language and only then are they exposed to reading and writing, similarly Samskrita Bharati USA’s program aims to make a person proficient in speaking, and then teach them reading, writing, and grammar. By employing simple techniques of teaching language, Samskrita Bharati USA is working towards preservation and propagation of Samskritam and Samskriti (culture).