Spoken Sanskrit and Spoken Sanskrit

Stella Sandahl ssandahl at SYMPATICO.CA
Wed Aug 13 03:49:54 EDT 2008

In the current debate about "spoken Sanskrit" I believe we are  
talking about two different things. It is one thing when for example  
a Bengali pandit speaks to Telugu pandit in Sanskrit in order to  
debate finer points in a text, or a philosophical issue, a literary  
allusion and so forth. Sanskrit is then their common language, a  
language of learning, of elegance and wit. And this is quite wonderful.

It is an entirely different matter to try to revive and 'modernize'  
Sanskrit. Lying on a table in our university library I found a  
typical example of the latter. There were new-fangled "Sanskrit"  
words for money order, check-out counter, bus station, bank draft -  
as if one finds these things in classical Sanskrit texts! These  
manuals are quite ridiculous: I found a sentence like ahaM  
sevaphalAni khAdAmi which was supposed to mean 'I eat apples'. First,  
as far as I know there were no apples in classical India (weren't  
they brought in by Babur?), second the word seva is obviously modeled  
on Hindi seb 'apple' from the Persian sib with the same meaning. This  
is exactly in line with the examples given by Professor Nair: "adya  
kati iddali bhakshitam?" "adya chayam piitam kim?", equally  
ridiculous.  My niece in Delhi once asked to help her with her  
Sanskrit homework. She had to translate the sentence "Kings live in  
palaces" into Sanskrit. The word given by the teacher for palace was  
'mahala' !!!  I tried to convince the little girl that there was no  
such word in Sanskrit. In vain. The girl said :"teacher says it is  
mahala", and that was what it had to be.

It is very sad to se how the ignorant Hindutva forces demean and make  
the wonderful classical language into something trivial and  
ridiculous. How do we stop them?
How can we rescue Sanskrit from these vandals? I doubt that the  
sevaphalAni-eating student in his mahala can read and understand even  
one line by Kalidasa or Bana or Jayadeva.
But he can cut the throat of those who cannot speak his so called  
Sanskrit. When he is not busy demolishing mosques and raping nuns.

Stella Sandahl

Professor Stella Sandahl
Department of East Asian Studies
130 St. George St. room 14087
Toronto, ON M5S 3H1
ssandahl at sympatico.ca
stella.sandahl at utoronto.ca
Tel. (416) 978-4295
Fax. (416) 978-5711

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