Proponents of Sanskrit must resist hard-selling it as Dev Vani – Sudhanshu Ranjan

Sudhanshu Ranjan“Many Sanskrit speakers and scholars feel that the seemingly insuperable controversy and conflict over language can only be resolved by making Sanskrit the national language. Any other language … would have been extinct by now, but since Sanskrit is the language of Hindu religion and scriptures, it is imperishable. … The proponents of Sanskrit … must resist from hard-selling it as a celestial language, Dev Vani. Sanskrit is undoubtedly one of the oldest languages and Sanskrit literature is a treasure trove of learning.” – Sudhanshu Ranjan

Uma Bharti is the Union Cabinet Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga RejuvenationAfter the controversy over replacing German with Sanskrit in Kendriya Vidyalayas, Uma Bharti, the Union minister for water resources, suggested that Sanskrit can replace English as the country’s “link language”. Her suggestion may sound outlandish and have only a few takers, but the idea is neither new nor preposterous. In fact, such a suggestion was mooted in the Constituent Assembly by none other than Bhim Rao Ambedkar. In August-September 1949, the Constituent Assembly had debated the language question extensively. After a long and heated debate, Hindi, with the Devanagari script, emerged as the favourite choice for official language. It was provided in the draft provision with a proviso to continue the use of English for official purposes for another 15 years. It was at this juncture that Ambedkar moved an amendment to substitute Hindi with Sanskrit as the official language. Signatories to the proposal included prominent politicians and public figures from Madras and also Naziruddin Ahmed, a Muslim League member from West Bengal who said, “I offer you a language which is the grandest and the greatest, and it is impartially difficult, equally difficult for all to learn.” It was strongly backed by Kailash Nath Katju and also Rajendra Prasad. However, Jawaharlal Nehru remained indifferent to the proposal though he described Sanskrit as the greatest heritage in the Constituent Assembly itself on February 13, 1949: “If I was asked what is the greatest treasure which India possesses and what is her finest heritage, I would answer unhesitatingly it is the Sanskrit language and literature, and all that it contains. This is a magnificent inheritance, and so long as this endures and influences the life of our people, so long the basic genius of India will continue.”

Now, however, very few people speak and understand Sanskrit. It is not the language of any state either. And, in fact, this is its strength, not weakness. According to the Census Report of 2001, only 14,135 people registered Sanskrit as their mother tongue. But it is also true that for a long time it was the lingua franca of the country. Sriharsha, 11th century poet in the court of King Vijayachandra of Kanauj, describes in Naishadha Charitam (Life Sketch of Naishadh) the swayamvar of Damyanti and her marriage with king Nala. During the swayamvar, kings of different provinces converse in Sanskrit which served as the lingua franca. Though the story belongs to the Satyug era, many literary works speak Constitution of Indiaof Sanskrit being used later as well. Even Adi Shankar (788-820 CE) who traversed the length and breadth of the country used it in his discourses everywhere, the country’s original “link language”.

Article 343 of the Constitution speaks only of the official language, and not of the national language. And the official language of India as of now is Hindi.

Many Sanskrit speakers and scholars feel that the seemingly insuperable controversy and conflict over language can only be resolved by making Sanskrit the national language. Any other language with few speakers would have been extinct by now, but since Sanskrit is the language of Hindu religion and scriptures, it is imperishable.

If the proponents of Sanskrit are keen that the language be accepted by all sections and religious communities, they must resist from hard-selling it as a celestial language, Dev Vani. Sanskrit is undoubtedly one of the oldest languages and Sanskrit literature is a treasure trove of learning.

In December 1854, the Prussian ambassador to Britain, Baron Von Bunsen, arranged a meeting of Max Muller with Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay. Germany and England were not on friendly terms, yet Max Muller was hired to translate the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures in German and English. The East India Co. agreed to pay him £200 per annum. Max Muller accepted the offer with the purpose of spreading Christianity in India, but on reading them was mesmerised and translated the Vedas most accurately and beautifully.

Proponents of Sanskrit must also allow some flexibility in the language. They point out that since Sanskrit was introduced by Brahma, no improvement is possible, and that its purity must not be diluted.

As per historical records, three public recitations of the Bhagwatam and discourses on Krishna Leela had taken place in Sanskrit in 3072 BCE, 2872 BCE and 2848 BCE in which saints and devotees participated. Later, its distorted form with mispronounced words (apbhransha) and grammatical errors developed as Prakrit in the lower section of society which was not so educated. In the plays of Shoodrak, Bhavbhooti and Kalidasa, we find that elites speak in chaste Sanskrit and the underprivileged speak in Prakrit. Insistence that only chaste Sanskrit be spoken and used amounts to isolating it from the common people.

First English Dictionary (1604)A language grows with state patronage. The Mughals introduced Persian and Urdu which became the official languages and are still being used in courts and police departments of mofussil towns. Similarly, English became the official language with the advent of the British. It was a regional language at the time of Shakespeare. When its first dictionary was published in 1604, it had only 3,000 words. The abbreviated title of the dictionary is A Table Alphabeticall. Its full title was: “A table alphabeticall conteyning and teaching the true writing, and vnderstanding of hard vsuall English wordes, borrowed from the Hebrew, Greeke, Latine, or French, &c. With the interpretation thereof by plaine English words, gathered for the benefit & helpe of ladies, gentlewomen, or any other vnskilfull persons. Whereby they may the more easilie and better vnderstand many hard English wordes, vvhich they shall heare or read in scriptures, sermons, or elswhere, and also be made able to vse the same aptly themselues.” Now the same English is the international link language. Sanskrit can become India’s the link language with state patronage. – The Asian Age, 27 November 2014

» Sudhanshu Ranjan is a senior TV journalist and author.