When minister Sushma Swaraj and other members of Parliament were sworn in last month, they chose to take their oath in Sanskrit. The language is gradually gaining popularity but there is still a long way to go when it comes to beating the misconception that Sanskrit is just related to the traditions of Hindu worship and rituals. Some educational institutions are making efforts to popularise the language among students.
“As part of Delhi University’s undergraduate degree programme, students can learn the nuances of fashion, make-up, stress management, Vedic mathematics, acting, script writing, arts and aesthetics, medicine, astronomy, and climatology as these have a deep connection with the language,” says Dr Pankaj Mishra of St Stephen’s Sanskrit department.
The Sanskrit scenario
Sanskrit is now studied at various levels. In mainstream education, Sanskrit is studied as a language or literature. “Students normally opt for the language for securing more marks or grades. This continues till class 11. However, not many take up Sanskrit in graduate and postgraduate programmes. All Indian languages face the same problem. If you look at the admissions in PG departments in languages, the numbers are not significant. On the other hand, Sanskrit is studied as a core subject and with specialisation in different disciplines like Nyaya Vyayakarana, Meemamsa, Sankhya Yoga Darshanas, literature, aesthetics etc at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. This traditional way of learning has become possible with the establishment of universities for Sanskrit studies by the Central government and many state governments. Now, there are 15 Sanskrit universities in India,” says Shrinivasa Varakhedi, vice chancellor, Karnataka Sanskrit University.
According to Varakhedi, no other language has got this kind of support. The UGC runs two deemed universities — one in Delhi and one in Tirupati. Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan functions under MHRD as a university as well as nodal agency. Many state governments have established Sanskrit universities in their respective states. These universities impart Sanskrit education with a specialisation in many disciplines, he says.
Varakhedi is also a member of the grant-in-aid committee of MHRD headed by its joint secretary (languages). “This committee looks after the grants for Sanskrit. There are many schemes available for Sanskrit promotion, which include support for non-formal education also. These schemes are supported through the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan,” he adds.
“If you look at the statistics, the number of students is increasing significantly from the 90s. Female students and students from backward communities are applying for admissions, as are students from the families which do not have any tradition of Sanskrit learning are taking admission. We got to know of an interesting point when we conducted a survey in Tirupati Sanskrit Univeristy. Most of the students come from a non-Sanskrit background. Rahstriya Sanskrit Sansthan is offering UG, PG and research courses in its 10 campuses across the nation where more than 5000 students are studying. In Rajasthan and UP, more than 50,000 students are pursuing Sanskrit education,” adds Varakhedi.
What they’re teaching at international universities
University of Pennsylvania Sanskrit was studied at Penn at the Depratment of South Asia Studies as early as the 1890s and a full-time Sanskrit position was first established in 1912
University of Yale
It was at Yale that Sanskrit was first taught in the Western Hemisphere. Sanskrit’s history at Yale dates to the late 1840s. Sanskrit is taught at Yale through the linguistics
University of Oxford
Taught by the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford, though the BA course necessarily concentrates on giving students a thorough grounding in the language, and the bulk of the teaching proceeds by the reading and explication of classical texts
University of Harvard
Sanskrit has been taught regularly at Harvard College since 1872. It is currently offered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the university. A concentration in Sanskrit and Indian Studies provides students with the opportunity to study the languages, literatures, and cultures of South Asia and related civilizations