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Hundreds in Fiji take crash course in Sanskrit

Excerpts from The New Indian Express article published on 1st June 2013:

Hundreds of people in Fiji are coming out to take a seven-day crash course of the Indian classical language Sanskrit.

Sanskrit scholar Gajendra Panda is in that south Pacific island nation at the invitation of the Fiji Sevashram Sangha (FSS) to impart knowledge of the language, the Fiji Times reported Saturday.

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“The way this course was run was easy to understand and it captured the participants’ interest and enthusiasm on the first day and they were compelled to take time every evening for classes.”

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Ethnic Indians comprise 37 percent of Fiji’s total population of nearly 870,000.

Most of them are descendants of indentured labourers who were brought in from India between 1879 and 1916 to work in the country’s sugarcane plantations.

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Full article at

http://newindianexpress.com/world/Hundreds-in-Fiji-take-crash-course-in-Sanskrit/2013/06/01/article1615515.ece?commentId=75870&pageNumber=1#comment-75870

Bajaj Ad at Sanskrit speaking village

Guess what they speak!

http://youtu.be/KuObYcMI_Zw

 

 

Sanskrit alphabets: ancient but easy

I got booklets for Sanskrit by correspondence course of Samskrita Bharati yesterday. It is so interesting to practice the alphabets of this language of great antiquity and surprisingly it is quite easy. The picture above shows my first copies of the Sanskrit alphabets. Seems it is only a matter of days before I can directly read Sanskrit text!

Aishwarya invokes Sanskrit peace mantra at UN meet

South India born former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan advised cutting of desire, ambition and ego for peace at an annual peace meet at the United Nation.

Some excerpts from Times of India:

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, 38, visited the UN headquarters here yesterday, participating in the world body’s annual ceremony to commemorate the International Day of Peace.

It was a packed day for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who met UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN Messengers of Peace actor Michael Douglas, British anthropologist Jane Goodall, Jewish-American writer and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and American actress and singer Monique Coleman.

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She later participated in a panel discussion attended by students from across the country on the theme of ‘Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future.’

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“We need to cut out our wants, desires, basic ambition to try and override each other and expand power. Only then we will be able to find our peace,” she said.

She concluded her address with the Sanskrit shloka ‘Om Shanti’ noting that peace is not just a word but a “divine manifestation which we have to give birth to within ourselves.”

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http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/bollywood/news-interviews/aishwarya-rai-bachchan-invokes-sanskrit-shloka-at-un-address/articleshow/16513169.cms

Ms. Rai who had a successful career as a movie actor has stopped acting since the birth of the first child. Whether the big change in her life has brought new perceptions to her or it is all to the credit of some speech writer  it was an inspiring and fitting speech from the much loved celebrity of India.

Sanskrit – an easy to speak language

A dynamic and dedicated volunteer from Samskrita Bharati phoned to inform me about weekend Free Spoken Sanskrit classes in Chennai. Four hour classes each on weekends was ideal for me instead of an hour a day course spanning ten days. Besides it would be better in a metro like Chennai than near Puducherry. So taking my shoulder bag I started off  at 10 am last Saturday morning.

I reached the Aiyyappan Temple on Second Avenue – the venue of the course –  exactly at 3 pm. The temple gatekeeper was annoyed at my entering the premises wearing foot-wear. He won’t answer my query about the location of the Sanskrit classroom unless I left my footwear outside. I obliged him and then told him I wouldn’t have stepped in with my footwear if there was a warning board at the entrance. He got the point and I went up a stairway he showed into a marriage hall. Some ladies who seemed like SB volunteers were near the dais and I told them of my wish to attend the course and on getting their welcoming words and nods, took a chair.

I was a bit worried that continuous four hours of  class from 3 to 7 might be tedious but as classes were shared by several teachers there was no monotony.  The class profile was very diverse. There were about 25 students at the maximum consisting of primary school kids, college students, working people and the retired. Some had preliminary level of exposure, others had already attended classes and yet others, like me, had never been to a Sanskrit class.  Such a class profile would be daunting to any teacher but the SB volunteers, to their credit, took it in their stride.

Many objects, actual and miniature, were physically shown while giving their names in Sanskrit. That helped remembering the names easily. Some names were same as in Tamil or were derivable from related Tamil words. Aeroplane is Vimana, chair is Aasandhaga. Since I knew spoken Malayalam and Hindi as well a lot of words were quite familiar: Kuppi is bottle, Samasaha is spoon, Budha vaasaha is Wednesday, Nava is number nine etc.

A volunteer teaching Sanskrit

Amazingly it was also possible to understand quite well the story narrations. Listening to stories already studied in schools by children everywhere in India is really a wonderful way for learning new words naturally. I noted a number of words and terms that were same or similar in Tamil. Anyone would have understood that “Veera maranam praapthu” meant “Veera maranam adaindhaar” or “Anya raja aakramanam karodhi” meant “anniya raja aakkiramiththaar”.

A common feature of the teaching was that all volunteers spoke almost entirely in Sanskrit.  Instead of giving translations they tried to explain unknown words of Sanskrit with known words of the same. The reason was explained by one of the teachers: Everyone learns his mother tongue, in childhood, by listening to the people around and teachers. All students of the Sanskrit class are like children learning a new language and therefore taught in the same way.  That is so true but language teaching experts might disagree for various reasons such as for example the acute need of the language while learning the first language not being present while learning second or third language. There are also researches that show children being able to learn more than one language at a time than adults. And quite a lot of adults really enjoyed acting  childlike, particularly while learning songs. It was amusing to seem them follow the gestures of the teachers like nursery kids do.  I too followed them but after a while felt a bit embarrassed to continue.

It seemed the entire class was made up of Hindus excepting one girl in burka. It is perhaps a sign of the potential of Sanskrit to appeal across religions. But if Sanskrit has to become a popular language spoken by people belonging to all religions then it maybe wiser to hold the classes in secular places and avoid using pictures of deities and religious shlokhas etc. which maybe construed as promoting Hinduism through Sanskrit teaching. Then I think more people would be encouraged to attend. But it must be said that Sanskrita Bharati has been conducting classes in other public venues, not only in temples.

The barefoot inside rule made visit to the urinals a problem. A youth was trying to avoid contact with the wet floor by by straddling the narrow passage like a spiderman complete with bootless feet.

The return to Puducherry was by a Volvo bus. The journey was the next best thing to flying in a passenger plane at the cost of less than rupees two hundred.  Though the bus was designed for city commutation with lot of standing space and reclining (but rigid) seats, the air-conditioning and great suspension system made the journey swift and smooth.

After the two day course, the notion of Sanskrit being a difficult language was certainly gone. Writing Sanskrit could be another matter but spoken Sanskrit is certainly easy if one attends a course like this and someone who knows Sanskrit is available to converse with.

Glimpse of a Sanskrit speaking future Indian Society

Everyone was speaking in a strange language. Strange yet somewhat distantly familiar. Tada, Kim, Danyavadhaha were the words often heard. Some spoke torrentially with pride and some haltingly but enthusiastically. From the reception stall where a gentleman with a very friendly spirit tied a Raksha Bandhan on my right wrist, to the roads beyond, grounds, stairs, corridors, stairs, halls and auditorium one could hear nothing but this new language everywhere. Costumed boys and girls awaiting to stage their plays men and women of all ages didn’t utter a word in English, Hindi or Tamil. But when I asked some explanation or direction they willingly talked my language and that helped me from not feeling lost.  At times their first reply was in that strange new language followed by its translation which I found a very endearing way to learn the language quickly.   That was my first experience with a Sanskrit speaking society. The place was a college campus in Chennai where SamskritotsavaH2012 was on – from 18th to 20th August, 2012.

Entrance of Vaishnav College, Chennai during Samskritostav2012

I could get to imbibe the spirit of the occasion a little more as my co-student from high school days and close friend from college years  Suresh (presently a senior software engineeer at Bangalore) happens to be a Sanskrit enthusiast and came down to Chennai participate in the festival. Suresh looked like a Greek philosopher – quite a transformation from the dense haired Rajnikant appearance he had in his youth. He had attended spoken Sanskrit course conducted by Mr. Ramachandran who is the present Tamil Nadu head of Samskritha Bharati,  the organisation spearheading the Sanskrit movement in India since the eighties. Though he seemed to have several friends who were fluent in the language he himself doesn’t speak Sanskrit. When I suggested that perhaps it requires the availability of someone to talk to, a Sanskrit teacher friend of his escorting us around the festival said, “Tadasmi”. I had heard that term before – isn’t it from some Upanishad? Suresh’s translation confirmed: “I am there”. To speak Sanskrit, I felt, is to become godlike; it has been aptly called as the Deva Basha – Divine language.

A Sanskrit play by school kids

There were a hall with posters displaying quotes from eminent people around the world on the greatness of Bhagavad Gita. I found a couple of quotes from Sri Aurobindo displayed there.

A quote from Sri Aurobindo on Bhagavad Gita

Solomon Pappiah who is a star of sorts on Tamil TV Channel discussions presided an assemblage of Tamil and Sanskrit scholars on the stage on Sunday morning. The auditorium was nearly full. He regaled the people in his inimitable way and expressed regret at the lack of opportunity to learn Sanskrit during his youth because of the anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu. He lamented that none of his teachers had told him that Vada Mozhi – as Sanskrit was termed in ancient Tamil literature – actually implied that it was a language that was taught under the Banyan tree, according to Encylopedia Britannica. I think Britannica found the meaning but lost the significance. Probably it was called as a “Banyan- like-language” as countless languages in the world have words traceable to Sanskrit. He also decried the yester year purist Tamil scholars’ rejection of sounds not existing in original Tamil but prevalent in Sanskrit. They started calling Samaskrutham as Samakrudham to avoid the “s” sound. One of the participants in the discussion read out Mahakavi Subramania Bharati’s advocacy of Sanskrit as common language for India which I think is a valuable piece of information quite unknown to public at large. Another speaker – whom I have seen anchoring doordarshan tv discusions – spoke eloquently on the Sanskrit knowledge that Tamil poets like Pattinaththaar and Kamban had. It was pointed out by a speaker that rulers in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat used Sanskrit to correspond with each other in ancient times. Another panelist described the story of a great Sanskrit scholar in deep poverty and requested the organisers to do something for very poor Sanskrit and Tamil scholars.

Solomon Pappiah delivering opening address of a discussion forum

To commemorate Swami Vivekananda’s 150 th birth anniversary and SamskitotsavaH, Samskrita Bharati is organising over 40 Sanskrit classes all over Chennai in August and September.

It seems Sanskrit is going to be unstoppable as it has a magical way to charm and enter every Indian heart.