Sanskrit : our crowning glory
(By Karan Singh)
THERE ARE at least four good reasons why Sanskrit studies need to be encouraged in this country and given an appropriate place in our educational system.
First, as a classical language, Sanskrit is recognised as being among the most remarkable to have emerged anywhere on this planet during the entire course of human history. Its grammatical structure is so exquisite, and its sonic quality so superb, that it
is universally recognised as representing a high watermark of human linguistics.
It is not necessary to quote numerous Indian and foreign scholars to support this view. Providing as it does the foundation for most of the other Indian languages, it is to them what Greek and Latin together are to most Western languages.
Secondly it, represents, as it were, the great Himalayas of our cultural life, towering as a magnificent testament to the creativity and genius of the Indian mind. It is rich with unbounded treasures —the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Brahmanas, the
Aranyakas, the Puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Yoga Shastras, which represent a cultural and spiritual tradition unique in its scope, depth and vitality, expressing the collective genius and richness of Indian civilisation. It also needs to
be noted that Sanskrit has been enriched by people drawn from virtually all the linguistic and regional entities in India, from the mighty Himalayas down to Kerala and from Gujarat to Assam.
Though it was never the popular lingua franca, it quite clearly provided the basis of our civilisational unity which has survived incredible holocausts and vicissitudes, and without which there could well have been a dozen countries on the sub-continent in
place of one India. In fact, it would be correct to say that Sanskrit is to Indian civilisation what Roman Catholicism is to the Latin American or Islam to the Arabic civilisations. In addition, the impact of Hindu and Buddhist cultures on South and
Southeast Asia took place largely through Sanskrit texts which were later adapted to the languages of those areas.
Thirdly, in literature, Sanskrit has produced outstanding figures such as Kalidasa and Banabhatt, Bharavi and Jaideva, Bhartrihari and Kalhan who can be compared to any in the world. It is a misconception that Sanskrit is concerned only with spiritual
wisdom. Sanskrit texts cover the entire gamut of human activity including politics, economics, aesthetics, law, grammar, prosody, psychology, mathematics, astrology, astronomy and medicine, to name only a few. Many of these disciplines are of immense
importance in our contemporary situation.
The discovery of the ‘zero’, which emerged from the concept of shunya (or void), was a defining event in the growth of human knowledge. The very numerals that the world uses today, known as Arabic numerals, flowed from Sanskrit numbers. This is not to
take the narrowly chauvinistic attitude that seeks to trace all major concepts back to India, but to single out the incontrovertible contributions of Sanskrit to human culture and civilisation of which we can be rightly proud.
Fourthly, Sanskrit articulates significant global values. The Vedanta, which represents the apogee of Indian philosophy, is replete with concepts that are of tremendous contemporary significance. Such seminal ideas as the all-pervasiveness of the divine,
the potential divinity immanent in each human being regardless of race, religion, caste or sex, the entire human race being an extended family; all religions representing different approaches to the same universal truth; the commitment to the welfare and
happiness of the masses and so on are gaining increasing significance as our planet hurtles into an indeterminate future.
These values, which are very much in harmony with the values enshrined in our Constitution, need to be fully understood and interiorised, a process in which Sanskrit has a crucial role to play. The first two stanzas of our national song Vande Mataram are
in Sanskrit, as is our national motto Satyameva Jayate.
In the West, Latin and Greek are still taught, not to propagate Paganism but because they represent the very basis of Western civilisation. Why should we in India deny to millions of our citizens of their cultural heritage? Sanskrit should be an optional
language for those who may wish to explore its many splendoured radiance; while alternate options for studying Arabic and Persian should also be provided, as these too are rich and powerful classical languages.