The language lives on

OLD SCRIPT, NEW STUDENTS Learners are required to speak Sanskrit on the campus. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan  

It’s unlike the bustling, noisy corridors of colleges. Enter the quiet campus of the 108-year-old Sanskrit College in Mylapore and it feels like you have stepped into the sets of a mythological or historical serial.

Barefoot students clad in veshtis with angavastrams around their shoulders, many of them sporting a knotted lock of hair at the back of the head, recite shlokas, read out from ancient treatises or chant Vedic hymns. Tiny birds chirp softly in the small green patch in the centre of the building that combines old-world architectural charm with conventional concrete structures. A student walking past greets a lecturer with a namaskara, who acknowledges it with a suprabhatam and you are briefly transported to the gurukulas of yore. 

In an era when communication is mainly through the SMS lingo, here is an institution that’s helping youngsters seek a future in an ancient language.

“The courses offered may not be much in demand but employment opportunities are aplenty,” says Principal N.V. Deviprasad, who first entered this premises 42 years ago as a student. After serving many years as a lecturer, he became the principal in 2003. Most of the college’s distinguished former principals have been recipients of the President’s medal. This year, K.S. Maheshwaran, assistant professor in Advaita Vedanta has been chosen for the national-level Badaarayana Samman (best young scholar).

“Students passing out of the college take to teaching at schools and colleges across the country after Siromani (graduation and post-graduation programmes) which involves specialisation and can be pursued after a two-year foundation course. The degrees are awarded by the University of Madras. In fact, there is a constant demand for Sanskrit teachers. Not just within India, there are students who have started centres abroad and are doing really well. And we are only too glad as it will encourage more youngsters to learn this language,” adds Deviprasad as he signs the leave application of a student.

Namo namah, ekam dinam viramaha avashyakah (greetings, I want a day’s leave), says the student.

Kimaratam viramaha avashyakah (why do you want leave?),” asks the principal.

Aham mam grame devalaya utsavaratam gantum ichchami (I want to attend the celebrations at the temple in my village), replies the student.

The conversation sounds fascinating. After all, how often do you hear someone speaking fluently in this rarely-heard Indian language? 

Founded by philanthropist and legal luminary V. Krishnaswami Iyer, over the years, the institution with the glorious record of being the only one in the country to teach all six shastras (Advaita Vedanta, Jyotisha, Mimamsa, Nyaya, Vyakarana and Sahitya) has been attracting students from even outside the city.

“They generally come from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi. Last year’s pass-outs included two students from Sri Lanka,” informs the principal.

Also, this must be one of the very few colleges in the country that does not charge a tuition fee besides offering free lodging and boarding to out-station students.

Manish Sharma from Ujjain, who is pursuing Jyotisha Shastra, wants to take his family profession of astrology forward while Dhirendra Tiwari from Allahabad and Manish Dwivedi from Katni in Madhya Pradesh decided to take up Sanskrit for higher education because of their love for the language that they have been learning from school. Their friend Umesh Sharma from Delhi wants to promote the language. “Believe me, once you have mastered Sanskrit, it’s easy to pick-up other languages, including some foreign ones,” he says.

Besides offering an integrated seven-year course, the college also holds weekend classes for certificate and diploma courses that were introduced in 1988. “The duration ranges from six months to a year and are preferred by working professionals. There are IT executives, businessmen, auditors and engineers. Sanskrit is obviously the college’s focal point but for the all-round development of the students’ personality, Hindi, English and computers are compulsory too,” says Deviprasad.

The students are also encouraged to participate in debates, discussions on current issues, skits, singing, sports and NSS activities such as temple tank cleaning and environmental protection campaigns. The college follows a ‘no plastic’ policy. The research institute in the premises houses rare books and manuscripts that date back to more than 200 years.

Scan through the college’s visitors’ book to know the institution’s glorious past and dreams for the years ahead.

April 28, 1915, Mahatma Gandhi wrote “I am very much pleased to see this institution. There will be no doubt about the usefulness of the study of Sanskrit.”

On October 9, 1922 Rabindranath Tagore visited it. Annie Besant and K.M. Munshi have also been here.

As you turn the notable chapters in the college’s history, you realise that like any classical tradition, Sanskrit too is gaining a contemporary connect.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2020 1:48:36 PM |

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