Scholars feel pride in Sanskrit's rich past, but see no future

  • Vikas Pathak, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 26, 2015 11:05 IST

He wrote his doctoral thesis on rainfall forecasting through Sanskrit literature. Three years later, Shambhu Dayal Mishra, 32, earns his living as an astrologer at Hazratganj in Lucknow.

For Ganesh Kumar Mishra, 26, an acharya (post-graduate) in Sanskrit from the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth in Varanasi, the degree was of no help in fetching a job.

The world of India's Sanskrit scholars is a mix of despair and hope. While some see little opportunity, others say there is plenty coming the way of those well-versed in the classical language at a time when the government is trying to balance global outreach with a return to roots. The Union HRD ministry last year made Sanskrit the third language option in Kendriya Vidyalayas replacing German.

Mishra, however, doesn't see much hope. He cracked NET, the eligibility test for lectureship, a decade back and completed his PhD from the Lucknow branch of Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan in 2012. But only two regular teaching vacancies have been advertised at his alma mater since then. He didn't make the cut and doesn't want to teach part-time.

"Teaching Sanskrit in schools won't help. Children will study it during elementary years and forget it later, choosing to become engineers," he says bluntly.

However, Mishra, like most Sanskrit scholars, takes pride in the ancient language and believes that linking Sanskrit learning to modern knowledge will benefit both. "I can forecast rains but meteorological department officials believe my knowledge is irrelevant. This disconnect helps none," he says.

Politics gives the disillusionment a twist: students of the Sampoornanand Sanskrit University in Varanasi claim that the SP and BSP governments have patronised Urdu over Sanskrit, hurting the language.

But many believe there are opportunities to be tapped if one innovates. One of them is Annu Sharma who is pursuing MPhil in Sanskrit from JNU in Delhi while working as a rajbhasha adhikari in a government bank.

Her job requires people who have studied Hindi and English in graduation and Hindi or Sanskrit at the post-graduate level. Since Hindi and most other Indian languages derive from Sanskrit, those well-versed in it have a huge advantage in terms of vocabulary, she says.

She adds that there is demand for Sanskrit students when it comes to religious ceremonies. The latest trend, she says, is of NRIs seeking out Sanskrit scholars to perform online ceremonies for them, suggesting how Indians abroad see in Sanskrit a means to connect with their roots.

For Sharma, however, there is much more to Sanskrit. "Be it embryology or soil management, Sanskrit texts discuss a range of issues that are relevant in every way."

Praveen Dwivedi, who is doing a doctorate at the Sanskrit centre in JNU, agrees. "Historians have relied on translations by Europeans. We need to re-read our Sanskrit texts in the original and bring them before the world," he says.

According to Dwivedi, while performing religious rituals is fine for Sanskrit graduates, those with research orientation should delve deeper. The government has been running a National Mission for Manuscripts, where knowledge of Sanskrit is required, since 2003. There's lots of work for those with zest for it, he says.

(With inputs from Pawan Dixit in Varanasi)

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