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Future of Sanskrit

K.H. PRABHU

Its non-literary and non-religious utility cannot be overestimated

IT IS painful to learn that Sanskrit departments are closed in some reputed universities in Europe and people in the west are losing interest in Indology ("Indology must change with the times," Open Page, January 7). It is not only in the west but in its birthplace also Sanskrit is in danger of extinction. A few years ago there was a proposal to close down a hundred years old Sanskrit college in Bangalore. The decision was postponed because of a `mercy petition' by the teachers. In degree colleges and in postgraduate classes, the student strength is dwindling and causing anxiety among the teachers. Some State governments think that maintaining Sanskrit colleges is a waste of money. Our classical language does not play the same role in India as Greek and Latin do in European countries. Whenever we read great speeches of British parliamentarians we hear Demosthenes and Cicero speaking most forcefully through them. Every book written in English on a serious topic contains Latin expressions in their original form.

Indifference

By and large Indians have been indifferent to Sanskrit. The manuscripts of Kautilya's Arthasastra and Bhasa's plays were discovered only in the 20th century. Kalidasa's Sakuntala was translated into modern Indian languages many years after it was made available in major languages of Europe. In degree colleges there is only superficial study of Sanskrit, imitation of Indology. We rarely come across original works by Sanskrit teachers. Compared with their western counterparts they pale into insignificance. The latter would have studied European classical languages before they began to learn Sanskrit. This is the reason why no Indian professor of Sanskrit has equalled Max Muller, Goldstucker and Monier-Williams. The condition in Sanskrit colleges is still worse. Students know nothing outside prescribed texts, which too they learn by rote. Many Sanskrit colleges do not have computers. Students do not read newspapers. They are deluded into believing that whatever is described in mythology is a reality. Superstition is perpetuated in classrooms. Sanskrit is being crushed under the juggernaut of globalisation. Sanskritists must make it relevant to the present day society. The study of Sanskrit is still useful for the students of BAMS. In many colleges there is Sanskrit as an optional language in PUC class. Passages from Charaka and Shushruta can be included in the text so that those who intend to join Ayurvedic colleges can have acquaintance with Sanskrit as used in the texts on medical science. Even other students would be convinced of the non-literary and non-religious utility of this language. There are writings in this language on flora and fauna. Our failure to do research in the field of botany of ancient India has made us lose some of our valuable plants to western countries. They were quick to discover the utility of many valuable plants and acquire patent rights. Sanskrit texts must be compiled scientifically. We do not have websites and e-books pertaining to the contribution of ancient India to various branches of knowledge. The phonetic relation with written character is a unique feature of Sanskrit. This could be used to develop software for computer. There is a full chapter on Sutras in The Decline of the West and Oswald Spengler has considered it a significant stage in the development of human thought. Sanskritists have not worked in this area. Reducing a large text to a few aphorisms is an intellectual achievement. This method could be used in information technology. Bill Gates in his The Road Ahead has made a mention of a story about a Hindu king from which he got his idea of multiplication method. Someone in England invented encryption of signature for e-mail with the help of Vatsayana's Kamasutra. Women sending messages to their paramours in code language has been found useful in information technology. Let us hope that Sanskrit will be saved by scholars by modernising the study. >khprabhu@sancharnet.in