It is not necessary to know Sanskrit to love it. Tea shop owner Mani would know. Customers at his shop get a Rs 1 discount if they order an uzhunnuvada in Sanskrit. Not that Mani himself is fluent in the ancient language. But he is making an effort. "I know a little of it and am eager to learn more. My children are helping me," says the 53-year-old Karamana in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, is home to one of the oldest Tamil Brahmin settlements in the state.
It was once famous for its scholars who lived in the 18 theruvus or streets here. Today, thanks to N Santhosh Kumar and his Viswa Samskritha Prathishtanam, the suburb is having its own back-to-the-past moment. The Prathishtanam wants to make Karamana a ‘Sanskrit village’.
Over the years, the Prathishtanam—a subsidiary of the Samskrita Bharati, an international organisation working for the propagation of Sanskrit—has trained thousands of people. "From youngsters, senior citizens, office-goers, homemakers... people's interest in the language is amazing. I have seen senior citizens reappearing for exams to get better marks," says Santhosh, who established the Prathishtanam in 2000. Santhosh is not the only one trying to rekindle interest in an ancient language.
Malayalam filmmaker Vijeesh Mani is also rooting for the ‘language of the Gods’. His upcoming venture, Namo—set for an OTT release—is made in Sanskrit. The director says he was inspired by a Sanskrit-speaking German scientist. To help him with the making of the film, Vijeesh’s team was assisted by Thrissur-based collective, Live Sanskrit.
But what makes the revitalisation programme at Karamana special is the community’s involvement. To make the learning process easier, each year the Prathishtanam organises a unique exhibition at the local temple. The displays are the things one would find in a regular household—from furniture to clothes, provisions and kitchen utensils. Each item’s Sanskrit name is marked alongside.
Owners of a restaurant and a mini-super market in the area have also displayed the Sanskrit alternatives for product names on display boards. "Through such interventions, learning becomes an automatic process," says Santhosh. He shares the story of Lakshmi, a 70-year-old who appeared for exams last year.
"She was suffering from respiratory ailments. She came straight from the hospital bed wearing an oxygen mask and sat for the examination at the nearby Fort School. We’d arranged a separate room for her," he says. The courses at the Parthishtanam are open to all and are free of charge. So the next time you head to Mani’s shop, keep in mind to order a mashavadakam to get your share of the discount.