20 Dec 2014
SIR, In his excellent article, “German vs Sanskrit” (8 December), Arunabha Bagchi did not give his own opinion about the Union HRD Minister, Smriti Irani’s fiat on reintroducing Sanskrit as a second language in Central schools or whether Sanskrit should replace German. Such sitting-on-the-fence won’t help address the crucial issue, either way. In West Bengal, teaching and learning of Sanskrit had a long and hallowed tradition in the land of its birth and growth until it was made optional in secondary classes, as a second language. In school, it was difficult to memorise Shabdarupa and Dhaturupa etc, but with a little effort, one could score a ‘letter’ (80 per cent). To serious students, it was a pleasure too, as it was the gateway to the study of the rich Sanskrit literature and as Mr. Bagchi says, ancient Hindu mathematics.
Many Sanskrit scholars occupied high posts in Western universities, pre-eminently Bimal Krishna Motilal who was Spalding Professor in Oxford. Romain Rolland and Max Mueller did pioneering work in ancient Hindu scriptures and other texts through the mastery of Sanskrit; T S Eliot read classic Sanskrit poetry and used bits in ‘The Waste Land’, ‘Four Quartets’ and other poems with great effect. Sometime ago, it was reported that in British schools, Sanskrit grammar was taught in higher primary classes to improve some students’ erratic English grammar.
Apart from seven in India, not less than a staggering 150 universities and institutes, (46 in Canada, USA and Mexico and over 40 in Japan), across the world, now teach and award degrees for studies in Sanskrit; of them the most renowned are the universities of Columbia, Cornell, John Hopkins, Harvard, Ohio, Sao Paolo, California (in Berkeley and Santa Barbara), Chicago, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, North Texas, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Toronto, Washington, Wisconsin, Yale, Queensland, Sydney, Vienna, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Sorbonne, Lyon, Berlin, Bonn, Heidelberg, Hamburg, Leipzig, Cambridge, Oxford, London, Bologna, Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence, Leiden, Oslo, Moscow, Stockholm, Lausanne, Zurich, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Oman, Beijing, Tokyo, Kyoto and Mahidol (in Thailand).
Jyoti Basu made Sanskrit an optional second language in 1980 to ring its death knell. Mrs. Irani is doing the right thing by reintroducing Sanskrit in school curricula. If the village tols (Sankrit learning centres), run by local pundits, which are practically defunct, are revived and research and teaching jobs are created in all rungs by the state governments, there will be students to learn this ‘language of the gods’ and thereby restore it to its pristine glory.
Yours, etc., Bibekananda Ray,
Kalyani, 9 December.