Sanskrit : Struggling for Survival

Sanskrit is dying
Verses from Rig Veda

Sanskrit, part of Indo-European language family, is an ancient language with more than 3,500 years of history. Most of the religious texts of Hinduism, along with some major texts of other religions like Jainism, Buddhism and have been written in this language. In this modern era, Sanskrit is perceived to be a language of mantras and religious scriptures in Hinduism. However, this could be anything but true; Not more than 5% of the Sanskrit literature is based on religious texts, rest is based on diverse subjects including medical, mathematics, philosophy and literature, etc. Most of us, Indians, have known since childhood through various academic books or teachers about Aryabhatta inventing zero, giving an approximate value of pie or claiming for the first time the Earth is round in shape. But the point that those unparalleled and unprecedented texts were originally written in Sanskrit, did not receive the same significance. When it comes to diversity, Sanskrit is as diverse as a language could be. Many scholars across the world believe that Sanskrit has the most logical arrangement of the alphabet and accurate grammar of all the languages. The glory of this language is visible to the world. Apart from India, some countries like Germany, Italy are teaching Sanskrit.
In spite of the sublimity the language carries, the country, where the language is deemed to be originated, saw only 24,821 people - still more than 10000 when compared to 2001 census,- register it as their mother tongue in 2011 census. In 1991, this headcount was 49735, making it difficult to draw a regular pattern of its practical presence in Indian society. It can’t be claimed that the successive governments in the center or of various states have not made endeavors to encourage Sanskrit. But the question is: are these efforts enough?
The first Sanskrit University was established back in 1791 in Rajasthan; till now 18 universities –which have more than 1000 colleges affiliated to them- dedicated to this ancient language have been founded. According to a report, there are about 5000 traditional Sanskrit Pathashalas at school level and about 1000 Veda Pathashalas in the country. The statistics above, though not so satisfactory, can’t be termed pathetic. However, it is vital to draw points as to why this ancient language with glorious history has failed to find its relevance in the country.

Abhigyan Shankutalam by Kalidas created by Raja Ravi Verma
By Raja Ravi Verma of Abhigyan Shakuntalam

 From Delhi Sultanates to British Rule

Before we begin to understand why Sanskrit has witnessed an incredibly massive shrink in its prevalence in the course of time, we are required to have a chronological understanding of our culture variance. It was evident that Sanskrit- precisely Vedic Sanskrit- was the language of the Vedik Period, spread for roughly a thousand years, from 1500-500 BCE, in which great texts like Rigveda along with other Vedas and Upnishads are found to have been compiled. The language had a prominent significance in literary culture until the medieval period, 500CE-1500CE. Even though the foundation of the decline of the language believed to be laid down with Muslim political establishing the Turkish Sultanate around 1200 EE, in the medieval period, The commence of a considerable fall was observed as the Mughal Empire set their foot in the country from 1526, with Babar being the first king. The empire must be remembered for the immeasurable damage it inflicted on the Hindu culture and the expansion of Sanskrit. The language was even given far less importance rather in the British rule which followed the Mughal empire. The Britishers had aimed at preparing an efficient workforce to serve their business purpose in the country, leading them to start introducing English in a much broader way, not paying enough heed to regional languages, including Sanskrit. With the English Education Act,1835, being passed in the country, the western education system, which laid emphasis on the medium of education in India to be English, started prevailing rapidly at the cost of the encouragement of its native literature.  

Three Language Formula

Let us admit that Northern states have not taken as much advantage of this as Southern states did. Formulated in 1968, it emphasizes the study of Hindi, English and modern Indian language (preferably one of the southern languages) in the Hindi speaking states and Hindi, English and the regional language in the non-Hindi speaking States. Hindi-speaking states chose Sanskrit as the third language since no compulsion was made to choose a southern language.

On account of poor supervision and a great scarcity of not-so-qualified teachers, Sanskrit fell victim to the education system in these states and turned a subject to be mugged up to fetch high marks due to the predictable pattern applied for its exam, yielding no actual learning of it. However, it is evident that southern states have learnt Hindi, chosen by most of the non-Hindi speaking states, well, gaining advantage from it. 

Job Security

According to the data presented in Loksabha on July 30, 2018, there were over 10L posting of teachers lying vacant at elementary and secondary level- 9,00,316 and 1,07,689 respectively. On November 25,2019, Human Resource Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank revealed more than 30 thousand vacancies were lying vacant across universities in the country.
These figures imply that the government may either feels students can teach themselves or it considers investing here a low, rather highly low, priority.

These figures, as discouraging as they are, instill fear amongst people who aspire to render their service of imparting education, and this fear turns bigger when they have received their formal education in Sanskrit, in the environment, due to scarcity of teachers, Hindi teachers are somehow managing to teach Sanskrit or students looking up in various references to pass the exam.

I may need to correct myself when I state above “people who aspire to render...” ; In our society teaching at primary or secondary level is, at large, deemed to be a job left for those failing to excel anywhere in life.

Lack of Government’s Effort

We see not required steps have been taken to encourage the study of Sanskrit. Sanskrit has often been made to be associated with the Hindus only, in some way or the other. Sudharma, only Sanskrit daily newspaper in the world, demanded funds from the government to help them survive its publication, they did not even get a reply, from UPA-2 and Smirti Irani in NDA-1 though such funds are reserved. It appears to have failed in maintaining high standards at the university level. Universities don’t find many students in their courses devoted to Sanskrit as they fail to provide the required teachers.

We need to understand that a language should not be imposed to be learnt, to be spoken. It must also be conceived Sanskrit cannot be a common or linking language used for communication. But, are these reasons sufficient for letting it die gradually, turning a blind eye to literary treasures it contains. In Sanskrit, texts are not only in religions, but also in various fields like medical, Science, Yoga, History, Philosophy, Astrology, etc. Many may seem to believe that apart from religion, Sankrit’s texts don’t offer authentic information. However, they themselves may not have read a single text. It can’t be denied Sanskrit has a lot to unravel, taking into consideration the fact that more than 90% of texts have not yet been translated- which at times perceived to be colored by biases of a translator, causing the actual essence to turn less visible, or filtered by their preoccupations or comprehension, tarnishing the image of our glorious culture. Sanskrit is needed to be taught in Sanskrit itself. It seems to be the only language which is not taught through Sanskrit, rather Hindi or other language are used to teach it resulting in substandard quality. We are also required to encourage those contributing in any way and not make a mockery of them.    



  1. It is soothing to read such a knowledgeable and apt article. Keep writing 👍


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