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CULTURE

Keeping Sanskrit alive

SUBHA J RAO

Mathur’s residents are doing all they can to ensure that the ancient language continues to flourish.

PHOTO: SUBHA J RAO

Scholars all: A new generation grows up speaking Sanskrit.

A first-timer would love to classify Mathur, about 10 km from Shimoga in Karnataka, as yet another “sleepy village with lush green fields’. But, there is more to this village than stately arecanut farms, winding roads and friendly people. For more than 25 years now, the village has been in the forefront of a movement to keep spoken Sanskrit alive. And, you notice the difference from the minute you step into the village.

“Suprabhatam!” greets M.B. Srinidhi, Karnataka South Secretary, Samskruta Bharathi. He is one of those spearheading the spoken Sanskrit movement. And, when he breaks into Sanskrit with spontaneous ease, you know he is not speaking just for effect “Tvam Kutra Gacchati?” (Where are you going?), he asks a fellow villager. “Aham Gramam Gachchami,” (I am going to the village) he replies. “Saavadhanena Gacchati,” (Be careful!) wishes Srinidhi before walking us around the village, home to over 3,000 people.

Tradition-bound

There is a slight drizzle in the air. But that does not deter the many scholars in the area from heading to the temple, a jar of holy water in hand. En route, Srinidhi happily converses with a two-year-old in Sanskrit, and she lisps back one-word replies without a second thought.

The seed for change was sown in 1982, when the organisation got together a 10-day programme to teach the villagers spoken Sanskrit. And, people in this primarily agricultural society eagerly took part in the unique experiment. Now, Sanskrit has become the primary tongue for many of the residents. In the local Sharada Vilasa High School, Sanskrit is compulsory till Class VII. It is the first language from Classes VIII to X. So, the present generation too has learnt to speak it. And, it is not as if the village has not kept in touch with modernity. More than 150 of its young men and women are in IT and work outside. But, they have managed to retain their core values, says Srinidhi.

The routine that has been absorbed by most minds from childhood may be a reason for this. Most of the villagers wake up at 4.30 a.m., bathe in the river, perform their daily puja and then tend to the fields rich with paddy and arecanut. The evenings are devoted to reciting the Vedas and other prayers.

Sanathkumara, another scholar, who has done his doctorate in ancient Hindu law, says the values learnt at home are not forgotten easily. Which is why Srinidhi is sure that the forthcoming marriage of a girl brought up in London to a local boy working in Bangalore will be a success. Was it easier following the cause because they did not have to worry about bringing food to the table? “Yes. The fields have helped. But, what has really helped is the support our women give us at home,” he says.

Linguistic heritage

This village and the neighbouring Hosahalli are mainly populated by Sanketis, who speak Sanskrit at home. And, it is not just them who speak the language. The village has a fair share of people from other communities, and all of them are exposed to Sanskrit. Local teachers attribute the fluency to the dedication with which a “new language’ was learnt. Take Keerthana, Srinidhi’s daughter. She uttered her first word in Sanskrit when she was just two. And, though all she said was “maastu” (no), her father was delighted. “I like speaking in Sanskrit. It is part of my heritage, and I think we should not let it perish,” she states. Part of the reason for such devotion to the language may be that her father has made it a point to speak to her only in Sanskrit.

And, surprisingly, the onslaught of television has not made a huge dent in the kids’ enthusiasm. You believe Ashwathanarayana Avadhani, headmaster of Samskruta Patshala, when he says that he and Girish T.N., the Sanskrit teacher, drive this movement in the school. They say kids pick up the language best when taught at home by their mothers. The second best method is teaching employing gestures, and the question-answer mode.

Does the present generation not question these beliefs and practices? “They do. But, we teach them to understand the faith, and not question it. You try and find out why, but don’t let go of something because you don’t understand it,” says M.B. Bhanuprakash, 52, another resident.

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