This article was originally published in Swarajya
“Sanskrit is the golden treasure of epics, the cradle of grammar, politics and philosophy and the home of logic, dramas and criticism,” eulogised Babasaheb Ambedkar.
An occasion befitting such heritage will be the launch of a comprehensive digital platform for Sanskrit that supports learning, scholarly interaction and research, including manuscript access and management, not just in situ in the campus but globally as well. Madras Sanskrit College, one of the finest centres of Sanskrit learning and scholarship in the world has taken up this project in association with Classle, an online learning-teaching platform.
Minister for State Shrimathi Nirmala Sitharaman will preside over the formal launch of the online platform that will take place on 7 March 2017, Tuesday, at 4 pm . It should be a satisfying experience for anybody to witness the seamless synergy of information technology and Sanskrit, which for quite a while now has been recognised for its computationally friendly structure apart from the beauty of its grammar.
The digital avatar
The vast diversity in the composition, age and backgrounds of students and scholars was making it increasingly difficult for the college to be able to serve all demands from just a traditional brick-and-mortar campus. Thus, with the assistance of Cloud Campus by Classle, a home-grown innovative startup based in Chennai, they have taken a major step ahead by launching a comprehensive online digital presence which is on par with any international centre of learning. Classle is a home-grown innovative startup based in Chennai.
There are around 50 million Sanskrit (and some Indic language) texts from around the globe, many having ended up abroad during the European invasion of India. At this moment, though, we do not yet have enough scholars and researchers to reveal the wisdom contained therein. Many would dispute the usefulness of this proposed endeavour without understanding the fact that less than three per cent of such manuscripts are religious or spiritual in nature, the rest being from Ayurveda to Zoology.
To explicate with a glowing example, Panini’s Vyakarana text is only about 50 pages in toto, but nearly 100,000 research papers have been published by the Western academics alone on this one text with many more being produced everyday. It is the only text of its kind in any language anywhere in the world known to mankind. Impressively, there are and there will be many more such texts to be found in the above-said manuscripts “stores” if only we were to look for it. So it is our moral and Dharmic duty to humanity that we produce more scholars to reveal our hidden “golden treasure”.
A lot of misinformation and abuses are hurled at Sanskrit and one such hyperbole or statement of ignorance is that “Sanskrit is dead.” Such statements have been made repeatedly and in various forms and fora, but those are being proven wrong, and more importantly again, by Madras Sanskrit College.
A little history of Indic languages in India.
Indian populace appears to have been often bilingual, if not trilingual, before the introduction of the English Education Act. And not just that, Sanskrit texts seems to have been a common fixture for all students, both the ones studying the Vedas and the others studying the various Shastras (the then common term for all sciences and philosophies, including technology). It goes without saying that the introduction of English education, due to British mercantile needs (the centralised taxation system that drained all the revenues off to London) and Christian missionaries’ machinations, and the pro-active dismantling of the native education system severely damaged Indian education, its then world leading industries and economy, and above all its Sanskrit and vernacular language (Prakrits) learning.
However, Sanskrit learning continued in many temples and patasalas, which in fact helped in the sustenance of not only the local culture but the vernacular languages themselves as all Indic languages share a common grammatical system with the Sanskrit language. To give a couple of examples, doyens of the modern Tamil literary revival Shri U Ve Swaminatha Iyer (who recovered most of the then lost ancient Tamil texts) and Shri Subramania Bharathi (a multilingual scholar-poet who created many new scholarly works in Tamil in the 20th century) were both Sanskrit scholars par excellence. It is now known through neurosciences research that both brain power and language capacity can increase with bilingualism and more, often exponentially and with the number of languages known.
Sadly, aping the West (particularly the Anglo-Saxon “monolingual” world) has been the most favoured fashion amongst the English-speaking elite in India, even to this day. Thus came further assaults on the Indian culture and its symbols; the temples were taken over often by corrupt government departments and the learning activities and performing arts therein were stopped. Further, in a declining economy in an already colonially ravished country, not much funding was forthcoming for Sanskrit.
It is during such difficult times that institutions like Madras Sanskrit College have done immeasurable services to the preservation of the language and kept its knowledge traditions alive. This hoary institution was founded in 1906 by Shri Krishnaswami Iyer who later became a judge of the Madras High Court and a Member of the Governor’s Executive Council.
We need not have any doubt, whatsoever, that this will take not just Sanskrit language, but also the enormous “golden treasure” of wisdom in its literature to every corner of the globe, even reaching beyond the visionary dreams of Ambedkar, who sponsored an amendment in the constituent assembly to declare Sanskrit as the national and official language of India.
-Dharampal: Collected Writings, 5 Volumes, Other India Press, Mapusa 2000 (https://archive.org/details/DharampalCollectedWritingsIn5Volumes)
-Dharampal: Despoliation and Defaming of India: The Early Nineteenth Century British Crusade, Bharat Peetham, Wardha 1999
-Shashi Tharoor: An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, Aleph Book Company 2016