Justifying teaching of Sanskrit

aklujkar at unixg.ubc.ca aklujkar at unixg.ubc.ca
Fri Jul 28 19:52:54 UTC 1995

        I reproduce below a short  article of mine in response to the
request for help posted by Bob Hueckstedt on 22 July 1995. 
        My intention is so doing is not to start a debate on any of the
observations I make. (Those wishing to debate should, of course, feel free
to debate.  Only, they should not assume that I shall have time to
        The article was published in Inaugural Souvenir and Amara Vaa.nii,
p. 48 March 1992, International Foundation for Vedic Education, USA. Since
it was intended for a different readership, its order of points is not
exactly suitable in responding to Bob's request. However, in order to place
an authentic version before you, I have retained the original order.  If I
wereBob (for the unreality of which possibility I am sure he is thankful),
I would read the anvaya paragraphs 4 and 3 first and then the vyatireka
paragraphs 1 and 2. 

        The article may be photocopied and distributed free of charge.  If
translations are published or distributed, one copy should be sent to me.

ashok aklujkar


Ashok Aklujkar
Department of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C.
Canada V6T 1Z2

       [Para 1: ] In texts such as Pata;njali's Vyaakara.na-mahaa-bhaa.sya
(4.1.3) and II;svara-k.r.s.na's Saa.mkhya-kaarikaa (verse 7), several
conditions due to which something existing is not perceived are listed.  In
contemporary India, these conditions seem to have conspired and
simultaneously brought themselves to bear on (the unfortunate) Sanskrit. 
Indians are increasingly failing to notice Sanskrit because, on the one
hand, it is too close, like collyrium in the eye,  (atisa.mnikar.saat,
saamiipyaat) and, on the other, it is placed at too great a distance for
most people by teachers teaching it with unrealistic expectations and
inappropriate methods (ativiprakar.saa , atiduuraat), because politics
aiming at short-term gains come in its way  (vyavadhaanaat), because it is
allowed very little exposure in main-stream education (tamasaav.rtatvaat),
because there is relatively little emphasis on giving the students an
instrument for approaching their heritage (indriya-daurbalyaat,
indriya-ghaataat), because most Indian minds are occupied with other things
   particularly with what happens in the West or with basic problems of
survival (atipramaadaat, manonavasthaanaat), and because languages like
English, which offer greater economic opportunities, have come to dominate
life (abhibhavaat).  

           [Para 2:] What even a less-than-sharp observer notices these
days in India is the growing anglicization of Indian languages.  In the
speech of the majority of educated Indians in any province, frequently only
the verbs and suffixes are in the vernacular and the words crucial to the
proposition in the sentence are in English.  Unfortunately, this is only
the surface malady.  The deeper malaise is that the connection with older
or traditional Indian ways of thinking, of imagery, and of linking the past
to the present and the future    in short, the connection with natural
creativity, is increasingly under strain.  Generally, English is not
supplementing the older Indian way; it is largely replacing it.  There does
not seem to be widespread awareness that this process, if allowed to
continue uncontrolled, will mean intellectual impoverishment, not only of
India but of the entire world, and will make India go through highly
damaging periods of polarization and social confrontation.  
       [Para 3: ]  The main Indian way of thinking and mode of creativity
have probably been somewhat influenced by the Perso-Arabic way and mode. 
The possible contribution of tribal cultures in shaping them need not be
doubted either.  However, essentially and predominantly, the way and the
mode are Sanskrit-Tamil.  Without the complexes of languages, literatures
and (sub)cultures that are ultimately traceable to Sanskrit and Tamil,
there would be no indianness to India.  And regardless of the perception to
the contrary that the propaganda based on some ill-informed research has
succeeded in creating, it is a fact that Sanskrit and Tamil heritages have
generally moved ahead on a tandem at least since the beginning of India as
a cultural unit. 

        [Para 4: ] Yes, Sanskrit is important because it is one of the very
ancient languages, because it has produced bodies of ;saastra and kaavya
that are most impressive in quantity as well as quality, because it opens
the doors to India's past, because it relates India, on the one hand, to
the cultures shaped by classical European languages and, on the other, to
the cultures that received Buddhism and Vedism, because its sounds offer
solace to millions, because it contains thoughts directed to spiritual
liberation, and because it has, on the whole, spread a philosophy of
tolerance, non-fanaticism, inclusion, or integration and thereby
contributed to unification.  But what needs to be principally realised at
this time in human history is that Sanskrit is the strongest line of
defence India has if it wishes to remain a culturally distinctive entity
and that Sanskrit is one of the very few multifaceted traditions which the
increasingly English-using world needs to preserve and promote for its own
good.  Unless it has around itself diverse ways of thinking and diverse
stores of human experience    diversities of comparable strength    a
unilingual world will not only be a much less interesting place, it will
stagnate or court 'ecological' disaster.  As for India's interests, an
organic growth of its literary and culturally influential langauges will be
possible and those languages will have a better chance of escaping
replacement by English, only if they have Sanskrit around    only if they
are not deprived of the arteries that have brought nourishment to them for
centuries.  A linguistic and cultural transplant is the last thing India
needs while it is coping with the changes effected by political and
economic transplants.  The talk of language policy-makers in India
frequently proceeds as if Sanskrit is to be somehow accommodated in the
scheme of things.  The policy-makers as well as the promoters of various
modern Indian languages need to realise that at this time Sanskrit does not
so much need the modern languages as those languages need Sanskrit.  The
place of Sanskrit is already secure in the museum of the world.  There is a
very significant message in the fact that no other South Asian language is
studied as widely as Sanskrit is around the world.  There is a significant
message also in the fact that presentations of the Raamaaya.na and the
Mahaa-bhaarata on Indian television attract large numbers of unusually
intense viewers throughout South Asia.  I do not take this to be mainly a
tribute to Vaalmiiki and Vyaasa or to be a recognition of the art of the
presenters.  In my view, it is primarily a demonstration of the yearnings
of a population that is being increasingly removed from its roots.  The
dangers of playing with roots and allowing creation of cleavages, at a time
of economic and political realigning, do not need to be spelled out.  It
would probably suffice only to mention the rise of religious


More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list