Hindi and Sanskrit are finding new takers Down Under, with leading universities offering special courses in these languages.

Contrary to the belief that languages such as Sanskrit and Hindi find few takers, the number of those vying to study the subject outside of India is increasing. In fact, several scholars from Australia have travelled to India and spent time in places such as Varanasi to pick up the nuances of the language and teach it to a diverse audience.

Professor McComas Taylor, Head, South Asia Programme and senior lecturer at the Australian National University, says, “When I think of how I have benefited from Indian culture and how it has enriched my life, I feel I am repaying Indian society by teaching Sanskrit. Sanskrit is a beautiful and complex system for expressing profound thoughts.”

Besides the Bachelor’s degree in Asia and Pacific Studies at ANU which also gives students the option of learning Sanskrit and Hindi, Professor McComas Taylor offers a ‘blended model’ of the course, whereby the content delivery is undertaken using an EPUB on the iPad. Every student gets an iPad and classes are held through virtual classrooms where students can practice pronunciation, chanting and singing.

For both Sanskrit and Hindi, the number of takers is increasing by the year. For instance, for Hindi last year, there were about 15 students, this year the university had 30 and they are expecting the number to go up to 50 next year. About one-third of the students are from a South-Asian background including countries like Sri Lanka and India.

For those who love the language and are not able to get access to a ‘guru’ in India or are not able to communicate effectively due to a language barrier, learning the language abroad is an equally good alternative.

Professor Peter Friedlander, an Indologist at ANU, says, “The main reasons for the increasing numbers include growing Australian engagement with India, interest in development work in South Asia, and growing relations and friendship with Indians.” Professor Friedlander has spent a number of years in Varanasi studying Sanskrit and still travels frequently to India to teach and learn.

The University of Sydney offers a major in Sanskrit. The degree is of three years’ duration and every year a student does some units in Sanskrit. The degree offered is a bachelor’s with a major in Sanskrit. While the course is aimed at university students, a lot of them are also mature students who are working. “They are interested in Sanskrit because of their interest in yoga, Indian philosophy, dance or even heritage,” says Professor Mark Allon of the University of Sydney, who specialises in Buddhist Studies.

“In fact, the university used to teach Gujarati, Bengali and Urdu at some point but gradually funds dwindled and the courses had to be stopped. But the university hopes to be able to revive the teaching of Hindi,” Professor Mark Allon adds. Hindi has already been introduced by the Australian government as an optional subject in the high school curriculum.

The University also teaches some modules on India as part of broader courses such as India-China-Tibet cultural relations, Indian philosophy, introductory Asian studies and Bollywood/Indian films, which always find a number of takers.