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.”
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