Sanskrit is the mother tongue of only a handful of Indians (the 2001 census gives a figure of 14,000), but its significance as a classical and liturgical language cannot be overstated. William Jones, the influential British scholar, wrote of Sanskrit in 1786: “… more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either…”
Apart from the wealth of religious and philosophical texts in Sanskrit, such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Brahmanas and Aranyakas, it also has some of the greatest collection of literature in any language; the Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, are among the crown jewels of human literary accomplishment.
However, Sanskrit is often considered a difficult language to learn. Given this, the effort by the Sanskrit teachers of St. James Schools in London, to put together a new learning package to help students learn the language is very welcome.
This set of seven course books – a three-part Sanskrit is Fun , which introduces the beginner to the Devanagari script, including showing them how it is written, and grouped together under different heads; the workbooks and daily reading charts should provide a good grounding in reading Sanskrit texts [the use of animal characters provide both relief and is a good teaching device].
This series does a good job of progressing from the basic vowels and consonants to more difficult joint, or compound, consonants. After this, comes word and sentence formation.
Sanskrit is Fun should ideally be read with a second grouping of books, The Story of Rama (2 vols), and The Stories of Krishna (2 vols), which take up common noun and pronoun declensions (variations), verb conjugations (how verb forms change according to tense and person), gerunds (a noun formed from a verb, ending in –ing), transliteration (converting a text from one script to another, in this case from Devanagari to English) to expand the student’s grammatical grasp.
The Stories of Krishna also include 12 tales based on Krishna’s childhood; Rama in 16 episodes tells the story of the Ramayana. A diligent study of the seven course books should give learners a good grasp of Sanskrit, including its vocabulary, structure and grammar. The emphasis throughout is on teaching in a ‘simple and systematic way’ in the words of Prof. Satya Vrat Shastri; the idea being that Sanskrit is not that difficult, and is indeed, fun to learn.