CHENNAI: Around seven years ago, one of the subjects that the teenaged daughter of a Muslim IAS official scored a centum in her Class XII board exams was a language which continues to be seen in popular discourse as a preserve of Hindus, specifically Brahmins. Though a State rank evaded her, she was felicitated with a cash award by an organisation, which has since 1981 imparted spoken Sanskrit lessons to lakhs of Indians and foreigners bemused by the political battles fought over one of the oldest languages of civilisation.
The organisation, Samskrita Bharati (SB), was founded by then young RSS worker and Sanskrit graduate Krishna Shastry, who “wanted to start a Sanskrit magazine but was chided by elders in his village that there weren’t enough Sanskrit-literate readers”, according to M Sriram, Tamil Nadu organising secretary of SB.
Now fuelled by 200 full-time volunteers, SB conducts a 10-day (20-hour) intensive spoken Sanskrit class which teaches the language much like how parents teach the mother tongue to a toddler by showing objects. It is free for everyone regardless of caste, class or religion. And guess what, Joe D’Cruz, a Christian Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer is its State president.
“SB’s direct teaching methodology, which is more conversational, is effective compared to the grammar translation method followed in schools,” said ex-CEC N Gopalaswami, who was introduced to SB in 1996 when he was with the Planning Commission.