Sanskrit : our crowning glory (By Karan Singh, December 21, 1998, Hindustan Times, India)
THERE ARE at least four good reasons why Sanskrit studies need to be encouraged in this country and given an appropriate place in our educational system.
First, as a classical language, Sanskrit is recognised as being among the most remarkable to have emerged anywhere on this planet during the entire course of human history. Its grammatical structure is so exquisite, and its sonic quality so superb, that it is universally recognised as representing a high watermark of human linguistics. It is not necessary to quote numerous Indian and foreign scholars to support this view. Providing as it does the foundation for most of the other Indian languages, it is to them what Greek and Latin together are to most Western languages.
Secondly it, represents, as it were, the great Himalayas of our cultural life, towering as a magnificent testament to the creativity and genius of the Indian mind. It is rich with unbounded treasures —the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, the Puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Yoga Shastras, which represent a cultural and spiritual tradition unique in its scope, depth and vitality, expressing the collective genius and richness of Indian civilisation. It also needs to be noted that Sanskrit has been enriched by people drawn from virtually all the linguistic and regional entities in India, from the mighty Himalayas down to Kerala and from Gujarat to Assam.
Though it was never the popular lingua franca, it quite clearly provided the basis of our civilisational unity which has survived incredible holocausts and vicissitudes, and without which there could well have been a dozen countries on the sub-continent in place of one India. In fact, it would be correct to say that Sanskrit is to Indian civilisation what Roman Catholicism is to the Latin American or Islam to the Arabic civilisations. In addition, the impact of Hindu and Buddhist cultures on South and Southeast Asia took place largely through Sanskrit texts which were later adapted to the languages of those areas.
Thirdly, in literature, Sanskrit has produced outstanding figures such as Kalidasa and Banabhatt, Bharavi and Jaideva, Bhartrihari and Kalhan who can be compared to any in the world. It is a misconception that Sanskrit is concerned only with spiritual wisdom. Sanskrit texts cover the entire gamut of human activity including politics, economics, aesthetics, law, grammar, prosody, psychology, mathematics, astrology, astronomy and medicine, to name only a few. Many of these disciplines are of immense importance in our contemporary situation. The discovery of the ‘zero’, which emerged from the concept of shunya (or void), was a defining event in the growth of human knowledge. The very numerals that the world uses today, known as Arabic numerals, flowed from Sanskrit numbers. This is not to take the narrowly chauvinistic attitude that seeks to trace all major concepts back to India, but to single out the incontrovertible contributions of Sanskrit to human culture and civilisation of which we can be rightly proud.
Fourthly, Sanskrit articulates significant global values. The Vedanta, which represents the apogee of Indian philosophy, is replete with concepts that are of tremendous contemporary significance. Such seminal ideas as the all-pervasiveness of the divine, the potential divinity immanent in each human being regardless of race, religion, caste or sex, the entire human race being an extended family; all religions representing different approaches to the same universal truth; the commitment to the welfare and happiness of the masses and so on are gaining increasing significance as our planet hurtles into an indeterminate future.
These values, which are very much in harmony with the values enshrined in our Constitution, need to be fully understood and interiorised, a process in which Sanskrit has a crucial role to play. The first two stanzas of our national song Vande Mataram are in Sanskrit, as is our national motto Satyameva Jayate. In the West, Latin and Greek are still taught, not to propagate Paganism but because they represent the very basis of Western civilisation. Why should we in India deny to millions of our citizens of their cultural heritage? Sanskrit should be an optional language for those who may wish to explore its many splendoured radiance; while alternate options for studying Arabic and Persian should also be provided, as these too are rich and powerful classical languages.
Teaching and researching religions, languages, literatures, films, and ecology of India: http://philosophy.unt.edu/people/faculty/pankaj-jain
Dr. Pankaj Jain
Pankaj Jain पंकज जैन
- Dr. Pankaj Jain is the author of Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability (May 2011), which won the 2012 DANAM Book Award and the 2011 Uberoi Foundation Book Award. His 2nd book is Science and Socio-Religious Revolution in India: Moving the Mountains (Routledge 2017).He is co-founder of American Academy of Indic Studies (www.AAIndicStudies.org) and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism (Springer).He is Associate Professor in the department of Philosophy & Religion. He has published articles in journals such as Religious Studies Review, Worldviews, Religion Compass, Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Union Seminary Quarterly Review, and the Journal of Visual Anthropology. He also contributes to the Huffington Post, Washington Post’s forum On Faith, and Patheos.
His research has been supported by the Fulbright fellowship and by the Wenner Gren grant. His teaching interests include Religion and Ecology, Indian films, and Religions and Cultures of South Asia and South Asian Diaspora in North America. Before joining UNT, he taught at North Carolina State University, Rutgers, Kean, and New Jersey City University. Interested in connecting ancient practices with contemporary issues, he is exploring the connections between religious traditions and sustainability in Hindu and Jain communities in India and the Indian diaspora. He serves as a research affiliate with Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, as scholar-in-residence with GreenFaith, as a board member of the Society for Hindu Christian Studies, and as a board member of the Executive Advisory Council of Hindu American Seva Charities, an NGO working with the White House Office for the faith-based initiatives. He has presented his research at Columbia University, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, University of South Florida, Florida International University, University of Toledo, Texas Christian University, High Point University, Lancaster University (UK), Andhra University (India), Univ of Rajasthan (India), and several conferences, high schools, radio and TV stations, temples, churches, Yoga centers, and other community centers.
He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and an M.A. from Columbia University (both in Religious Studies). In his “previous life” he had also earned a B.S. in Computer Science from India and had worked as a software engineer in India and in New Jersey. Dr. Jain is an active member of several academic and community organizations, is fluent in several Indian languages, and has published poems in Hindi. He was born in Rajasthan and had also lived in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Karnatak (in India) and in New Jersey, Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas (in the USA). Some of his papers and articles are at:http://unt.academia.edu/PankajJain/Papers and videos are at http://www.youtube.com/pj2017. The Facebook page for his book is at:https://www.facebook.com/DharmaAndEcology
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