Sanskrit studies and research, like in India, are facing trouble in the West too. Cutbacks on funds for research and closing down of professorships in Indology have been a worrying factor for many European Sanskrit scholars.
The relevance argument
With the focus of studies shifting from Ancient Indian History to the Modern Indian History, questions are being asked about the relevance of Sanskrit studies, research institutions and universities abroad. “Some of the problems are similar to what scholars are facing here — decreased funding and interest in studying Sanskrit,” said Annette Schmiedchen, honorary research fellow, International Association of Sanskrit Studies, one of the few Western scholars who came here to participate in the recent World Sanskrit Conference.
The decline is palpable. “In the recent years, five out of 15 professorships in German universities were closed. Pure economic arguments such as the teacher-student ratio are pointed out. Getting research funds is difficult,” Ms. Schmiedchen said, and added that the situation was very much similar in England, Italy, France and the Netherlands, once renowned for Sanskrit studies.
It is also difficult to say when the authorities would clamp down. In some cases, there were no debates at all, with the institutions simply cutting off funding or closing professorships.
“Our position is that you can understand India only if you consider whole traditions of the country. You have to understand Sanskrit to understand ancient, medieval and modern Indian history. Further, it is a group of studies that deals with linguistics, history and philosophy among others, and a variety of subjects gets closed down automatically,” said Ms. Schmiedchen, also a professor at Humboldt University.
“Parampara is an important part of Sanskrit learning. You need to have teachers to hand down techniques and methodologies to the next generation. Without professorships, it is not encouraging to take up Sanskrit studies,” she added.
The problem, however, is not restricted to Sanskrit studies alone, she says. “Research on ancient China and Egypt are also facing similar problems in this market-driven economy and globalised era.”
What scholars outside India need, according to her, is the moral support from Indians. The importance of Sanskrit studies should be brought out in political dialogues between the nations, she felt.
SHARATH S. SRIVATSA