Home » Uncategorized

Sanskrit, not quite as dead as a dodo?

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on February 2, 2008 No Comment

Not your typical question that teases the intellect at a late hour on a rainy Saturday in Berkeley, but then is anything typical on a precipitative night? So, is Sanskrit, the language which is considered “Quite dead, really,” living on purportedly only in liturgical services or in classical literature, really, honestly, extinct?

Before I hit my teens in New Delhi, I received Sanskrit initially in somewhat low doses…during Hindu festivals like Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja, and during wedding ceremonies. During the former, we would repeat parts of the priest’s prayer recitation. During the latter, almost the entire ceremony would be conducted by the priest in Sanskrit, with the bride and groom chiming in occasionally, when instructed to do so. Even at a young age I was sensitive to the accents in which priests spoke Sanskrit: at the bare minimum, the Bengali priests’ tendency to pronounce the “v”s as “b”s and frequently add “o”s in the coda always caught my ear. Apart from religious and social ceremonies, I had very little exposure to Sanskrit, mainly in the form of little sentences we used in the home, mainly because my mother was doing a doctorate in Sanskrit, and my father picked up little introductory books in Sanskrit to show his support.

As a teen, I received intensive instruction in Sanskrit, from grades 6th through 10th, as many Indian students do. It was mandatory till grade 8, after which I elected to pursue it (with some “coaxing” from my parents). However, the texts were drawn from ancient writings, exciting in that they provided glimpses into life and beliefs in ancient India, but definitely far from immediately relevant to our modern lives. I remember the texts today as being moralistic in tone, though not in overtly religious ways. The instruction was primarily grammar-centric, which made studying Sanskrit quite easy, since its grammar is highly structured and grammatical patterns relatively predictable. After I finished my final year of Sanskrit, I came out thinking it was “deader” than I had thought.

However, in my very recent trip to India, on a trip to an orphanage, I was struck by its life. I observed little boys, mostly between the ages of 4 and 6 (1st language speakers of Bengali, and 2nd & 3rd language speakers of Hindi and English respectively) doing their prayers and singing devotional songs in Sanskrit. In the little boys’ “dealings” with Sanskrit, there is a special kind of spiritual and devotional engagement; even though it is mostly parroted and recited, and the uses confined to ritualized settings, their perception appears to be that the language is sacred, holy, but meaningful and expressive of their spirituality. Of course, due to the limited data I have, I am not sure I want to stretch this too far, but suddenly, a language I had left for dead has just…resurrected as a living force, at least in my mind. Sanskrit, for me, is not quite as dead as a dodo.

Digg this!Add to del.icio.us!Stumble this!Add to Techorati!Share on Facebook!Seed Newsvine!Reddit!

Leave a Reply:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  Copyright ©2009 Found in Translation, All rights reserved.| Powered by WordPress| WPElegance2Col theme by Techblissonline.com