Life & Style

The accent is on Sanskrit at Karamana agraharam

Agraharam at Karamana   | Photo Credit: S Gopakumar

Kuthrapi vrishti nasti. If that sounds like Greek and Latin to you, then perhaps you ought to visit the heritage Karamana agraharam in the city to understand what that means. As I reach the quiet agraharam on a humid afternoon, animated conversations can be heard from a hall — Swagatham (Welcome), Bhavathya nama kim? (What’s your name?), Griham kuthra asthi (Where’s your home?)….

Welcome to Karamana agraharam, one of the oldest Brahmin settlements in the city, where Sanskrit is slowly becoming a way of life. Thanks to a group of dedicated teachers, the ancient language is gaining new speakers and a new life. It takes a village to nurture a dream and this one dreams of becoming a Sanskrit village like Mattur in Karnataka.

Since November 2018, under the initiative of MH Sastrikal Smaraka Samskrita Padana Pracharana Kendram, a batch of students, mostly senior citizens, have been learning to get his/her tongue around the consonants and vowels of a language that has found takers all around the world.

Sanskrit class in progress

Sanskrit class in progress   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

It was in early 2000 that Viswasamskritha Prathishtanam, the Kerala chapter of Samskrita Bharati, a non-profit organisation that has been propagating Sanskrit language and literature across India, started workshops in the agraharam. However, by 2004, there was a lull in the classes due to lack of coordinators.

“We revived the sessions in 2017 with an evening class on Wednesdays. Now we have students in all the age groups,” says S Padmanabha Iyer, one of the coordinators of the initiative.

At present, two one-hour sessions are held on Mondays and Thursdays in the morning and on Wednesdays in the evening. “The morning batch has homemakers and senior citizens, while evening sessions are for those holding jobs and students. Around 100 students are there in all the batches taken together,” he adds. Sessions were conducted for school students during the summer vacation.

So, why are people learning this classical language? “Although many in the agraharam have been exposed to Sanskrit, courtesy the Upanishads, religious texts, the epics and so on, most of them did not know the meaning of the verses. That was the main reason why many people registered for the classes,” says GH Mahadevan, son of MH Sastrikal and also a coordinator of the programme.

Another reason for the footfall is the nature of the syllabus prescribed by Samskrita Bharati. “It is simple because the focus is on spoken Sanskrit and not grammar or written script. Grammar is blended in the conversation. People have assumed that it is a tough language to master and can be handled by only a particular class or community. But the classes are open to all, irrespective of community or caste,” says Santhosh Kumar, who has been teaching Sanskrit since 2000.

Devoted students

For many, a fascination for the language motivated them to join the classes. For senior citizens Lalitha KK and Padmini VK, it is a dream come true as they couldn’t study the language when they were employed. “I always wanted to learn and teach Sanskrit. Now, I want to improve my command over the language,” says Padmini, a former lecturer in Physics. R Renganathan, a former bank employee, adds, “I was pleasantly surprised to see a packed room when I came for the first class and, contrary to my expectations, none of the students has dropped out,” he says.

A sentence in Sanskrit is written every day on the board near the Siva Temple

A sentence in Sanskrit is written every day on the board near the Siva Temple   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

For S Anandavally, a homemaker, learning the language is about revelling in its richness and classicism. “The present generation has no clue about Sanskrit and I want to set an example by encouraging them to say at least a few words in Sanskrit,” she says. While homemaker Gomathy R tells us that she can recite the Sanskrit shlokas better now, fellow student Ramani says that she joined the class to read books in Sanskrit.

Many of them point out that while many in the West are now making an effort to learn the language, the same is not the case in India. For H Somasundaram, a former employee with Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, it was a trip to the US that inspired him to learn Sanskrit. “I had gone to visit my son and some people in the neighbourhood had approached me to learn the Vedas. But I was at a loss when they asked me the meaning of the verses. That’s when I decided to learn Sanskrit,” he says. For Saraswathy Ammal and her husband, Sambamoorthy, the classes are the best way to keep themselves busy post retirement. “Our wish is to visit Mattur one day,” says Saraswathy.

Fact file
  • MH Sastrikal Smaraka Samskrita Padana Pracharana Kendram is in the name of MH Sastrikal, an eminent Sanskrit scholar who lived in the village.
  • Sanskrit classes are conducted by Samskrita Bharati in the city at its centre near Fort School on all days except Thursdays. On Thursdays, the classes are held at a place near Pulimood. Classes are also held in Ulloor (Thursdays), Pattom (Friday), Neyyattinkara (Saturdays) and Attingal (Sundays). All sessions are free. Contact: 9846820030
  • Residents of Karamana talk about scholars such as Parasurama Sastry, Subramania Vadhyar and Rama Iyer who laid the foundation for learning Sanskrit before handing over the mantle to other scholars

Once they master the conversation part, the group learns the shlokas from Sri Ramodantham, a summary of the Ramayana in Sanskrit. “Many of them have registered for correspondence courses that has four grades of certification,” Santhosh adds. Besides him, the classes are taken by Janani Girish and Meera CR. “I was a student of the first workshop held in the village and I feel proud that I am associated with this as a teacher now,” says Janani.

Early this year, the group had organised an exhibition in the village where they displayed things used in daily life with their names written in Sanskrit and Malayalam. Two out of the 18 streets in the village now have the white board where a sentence in Sanskrit is written every day. The residents also take pride in the fact that their councillor Karamana Ajith had taken his oath in Sanskrit when he took over the post.

And Kuthrapi vrishti nasti means there is no rain anywhere! And by the time, the monsoon gains strength, the students would have learnt to announce that in Sanskrit too. “We have a five-year plan to make this the first Sanskrit village in Kerala and we are resolved to make that happen,” Santhosh says. So be it (Thathasthu!)


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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 9:56:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/how-karamana-agraharam-is-working-towards-becoming-a-sanskrit-speaking-village-in-the-city/article28294421.ece

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