Apr 28, 2013

Sanskrit 2.0 and Diversity Policy - 1

There are numerous reasons why individuals and groups anywhere in the world have chosen to make the Sanskrit language a part of their lives and societies. Curiously, in India one would expect a much greater appreciation of its value and potential than one currently finds, but fortunately a self-corrective grassroots movement is already afoot. Perhaps until this generation the time was not right. Now it appears that its time is come.

Founding Vision
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who chaired the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly and shaped modern India's Constitution, strongly favoured Sanskrit as the national language. He was a lifelong Sanskrit enthusiast, and was also the first Member of Parliament to speak briefly in Sanskrit in the House. Newspaper report posted here

A friend pointed out: 

The move to have Sanskrit had support in three crucial quarters, during the discussions in Constituent Assembly and within the Congress:
1) Scheduled Castes: B.R. Ambedkar was strongly in favor of making Sanskrit as India's National Language.
2) Muslims: Shri Naziruddin Ahmad (formerly Muslim League) made a strong appeal to have Sanskrit.
3) South India: Many Tamil members were also in favor.

Reproduced below is a quote from the above linked report:
As already indicated, the Constituent Assembly did not give a smooth sailing to the Bill on Hindi as the Official Languages. The majority which decided such a vital issue was one of the narrowest. During the few stormy days of the Constituent Assembly's discussion of this question, the impasse was sought to be solved by some members by proposing Sanskrit as the Rastrabhasa; and the late Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, who as the Law Member, was piloting the bill, was also reported to have favoured that proposal. In the course of the discussion of this question in the Assembly, several members, including some ardent protagonists of Hindi, paid due homage to Sanskrit. Apart from all this, the only other Indian languages for the adoption of which as the Rastra bhasha a regular amendment was moved, and discussion on which took a good part of the time of the Assembly, was Sanskrit.
As Shri Naziruddin Ahmad, advocating Sanskrit, put it on the floor of the House, a language that is adopted for the whole country, where so many languages are spoken, should be impartial, a language which is not the mother-tongue of any area, which is common to all regions, and the adoption of which will not prove an advantage to one part of the country and a handicap to all other parts. The late Lakshmi Kanta Maitra, who moved the amendment seeking to replace Hindi by Sanskrit as the Official Languages, observed in the Assembly, that, if Sanskrit was accepted, "all the jealousies, all this bitterness will vanish with all the psychological complex that has been created ............. there will not be the least feeling of domination or suppression of this or that". Thus, neutrality (or not being the spoken language of any section) has been urged as the first criterion of a National Language. That is why efforts were being made to create in Europe quite a new languages like Esperanto, to be used as the International Language perfected for this very purpose of all-India use through all these centuries, why throw it away? The neutrality of Sanskrit is not a mere negative quality; it is also the positive virtue of having grown by incorporating into itself elements from all other languages of the country. In this respect again, Sanskrit, which, as has been pointed out elsewhere, is a synthesis of the best in all the cultural constituents of India, can truly claim to have been developed and enriched by every part of India.
My friend adds: I think that one vote by President Rajendra Prasad which clinched the choice in favor of Hindi, really changed the whole course of world history (if I may be so bold as to say that)! I am trying to retrace the steps. If Sanskrit had been adopted, English would not have been necessarily continued after its foreseen initial 15 years! However the report deserves to be read regardless of the above reason!

If there is one leader whose persona, ideas and preferences encompassed all the tremendous  practical socio-political changes of 60 years of  Indian independence, it is not Mahatma Gandhi, not Sardar Patel, not Nehru, but rather is Dr. Ambedkar. Many of his more talked about ideas on social reformation have created the greatest realignment of social forces in any nation in modern history - through the ballot rather than the bullet. His ideas on economic policy are still relevant, and the intention behind the Constitution's diversity policy are spelled out in the Preamble - to create a confidence and freedom in India that would lead to a fresh round of consilience of subcultures and a re-standardization of the civilizational discourse at a new normal, for a new age. A critical part of this standardization process was a linguistic platform that could serve the civilizational bandwidth. In this, he was not alone in identifying that Sanskrit is the natural choice, and he advocated an aggressive Sanskritization of India as a critical medium of bringing great value and deeply buried resources back onto the worktable, as well as to level out cultural iniquities across the land.

Because of Ambedkar's visionary advocacy of Sanskrit, it is not surprising that a biography of the father of India's Constitution has been written in Sanskrit - in verse!- a distinction not owned by any other national leader. The report below is heartwarming because of the story it tells, the penitent inspiration felt by the author, his devotion, and the pains borne in accomplishing the task...
Ambedkar’s first biography in Sanskrit
Many of Ambedkar's ideas in other spheres have borne fruit, or are in the process of bearing fruit. But the renaissance of Sanskrit lags behind the rest. Along with some governmental agencies, grassroots organizations such as Samskrita Bharati are actively bridging the gap, and this is a revolution that gives every individual citizen the rare opportunity to personally be part of a history-changing aspect of civilization-building.

Note that Sanskrit serves not 'nation-building' but 'civilization-building', because Sanskrit by its very nature as a meta-language is global in its bandwidth. Internationally, several countries already use it as a root language, and several more can sign up at whatever level of affiliation they feel comfortable with. Therefore, an individual living anywhere can contribute to this civilization-building by partaking of it, for it is a part of an interpersonal process of one's own self-improvement.

In his survey of the entire spectrum of human intelligence, the philosopher and political mentor Vidyaranya put down Sanskrit grammar and linguistics as one of the grades of knowledge and training in a hierarchy of 16 steps that lead from the base to the sublime in human semantics (see Sarva Darshana Sangraha). For Sanskrit grammar not only gives better form to an evolving natural language, but attempts to model speech itself according to the fullest scale of semantic expression. Therefore, it is a civilizing medium for  the edification of the human mind.

Sky and Earth: Sanskrit and Other Languages
Because of this, Sanskrit has a unique relationship to all Prakrits. The Prakrits are vernacular languages in India or any other country that participates in Sanskriti (a culture of refinement). Since its most ancient times, Sanskrit has itself borne the mark of all Prakrits who participated in the culture of Sanskriti. Even the language of the Vedas is considered distinct from nearby Iranic languages because it bears the stamp of "Dravidian" phonetics from South India in its very rudiments. Conversely, a classical Dravidian language like Tamil reveals in its heart an inseparable contribution from Sanskrit in all its aspects, even in its word for "yes" (आम्) / ஆம்)!

Sanskrit does not compete with Prakrits for mindshare, but instead it absorbs their matter and distills it - and then returns the favour by enriching them with a more refined product. Consider an analogy:

Under the warmth of a shared sun, water evaporates from the various rivers, seas, ponds, even the most contaminated gutters, marshes and swamps, and forms clouds in the skies. Depending on the direction of the winds of time, the clouds move and discharge their distilled product. Similarly, Sanskrit has traditionally always absorbed material from all the subcultures that formed part of a shared sphere of civilization, and dispensed its influence on communities related to those fields of human endavour that most absorbed that civilization in any particular era. It re-formed, crystallized and standardized words and meanings according to the best knowledge of the day, and replenished those same Prakritic sources with semantically adjusted words that were standardized across the civilizational span at any given point in time.

Therefore, the Prakrits contribute to Sanskrit, and vice versa. They have a mother-father relationship, and enhance not just one another, but contribute differently and in parallel to the psychological and intellectual development of the children that speak both. May this union revive and prosper.

Reasons, reasons, reasons
Most of the reasons given above are applicable to anyone on the planet, any society that is searching for a methodical approach to globalization, a psycho-linguistic superstructure that can encompass and re-crystallize its diverse cultural patterns without threatening the integrity of their local native culture and language. This is a real challenge in today's world. Languages propagating by sheer economic influence compete for mindspace and cannot interface very well with local languages, or if they do it leads to an ugly creole replacing the original. No wonder there is quite a bit of...er...kolaveri among cultural vigilantes everywhere about the watered-down pop culture.

One landmass colliding with another will lead to distortions or submergence. But a language that intrinsically operates at a higher human level than the bazaar would answer the need. A sky and earth relationship; the sky does not interfere with the diversity underneath, and yet influences it substantively via changes in states and modes.

Of course, many of the people of India have no need for reasons to learn Sanskrit any more than they have a reason to love their fathers. It is directly connected with their identity, their Asmita. Or one could say that the people of India have a special reason to learn Sanskrit - because the sky is so high!


  1. Sir,
    Can the wrong done by Rajendra prasad be undone?

    1. panduranghari ji,
      Yes, why not? It has to first catch fire at a grassroots level. That is why organizations like Samskrita Bharati have such enthusiastic volunteers. Ours should be the generation that does it for love. Every individual does his or her bit, with a little love. Its a lifelong hobby. Next generation can take it to a policy level.