Teaching of Sanskrit
During the year of Sanskrit, a number of activities are being undertaken at various levels for highlighting the importance of Sanskrit and for considering ways and means by which the study of Sanskrit can become more and more widespread. At its meeting of 25-26 October 1999 of the National Level Committee on Sanskrit several programmes were formulated and recommended such as those of religious harmony of India, importance of teaching methodology of Sanskrit with special reference to the teaching of Sanskrit through Sanskrit, identification of suitable authors for Sanskrit science series and for Sanskrit educational series and the finalisation of the Project of source-book of educational thoughts in Sanskrit literature, including Pali, and of the Project of source material for teaching of modern disciplines with a view to integrate traditional Sanskrit thought with those of modern subjects. All these programmes seem to be of crucial importance, and the National Council of Educational Research and Training has taken up these programmes with seriousness and enthusiasm.
All these programmes should have been undertaken much earlier, but considering the condition of the inertia that prevails in the country, one feels grateful to the Government of India for sponsoring and supporting the proposed programmes. The country needs a new awakening and a new orientation. The country has to strengthen its nationalist spirit and recover those treasures of knowledge and tradition which have been either lost or left in the margins of the national memory, but which can play a major role m re-fashioning our ancient culture at this important juncture of our renaissance.
Among the proposed programmes, the overarching concern is
for popularising the learning and teaching of Sanskrit, and the present Seminar is intended to spell out in detail how this learning and teaching can become effective.
It has been argued that Sanskrit is a very difficult language and that even after the study of that language over a considerable period, one does not acquire any adequate proficiency or mastery. It is also pointed out that even a large number of teachers and professors who have qualified themselves for M. A and Ph.D. in Sanskrit cannot yet converse in Sanskrit. As a remedy, it has been suggested that the curriculum of Sanskrit needs to be redesigned and the direct method of teaching through Sanskrit should be adopted.
I have no doubt that this remedy, if implemented properly, will ameliorate the situation. But first and foremost we must underline the importance of the factors that inspire and strengthen the motivation to learn Sanskrit.
These factors include a general national awakening to the following facts:
a) The earliest composition that is available in the world consists of Vedic Samhitas, the language of which is Sanskrit. In order to determine the nature of the thought and aspirations which are embedded in the Vedic text, the knowledge of Sanskrit is indispensable. Again, considering that these thoughts and aspirations contain a system of knowledge connected with self-culture and self-perfection, that knowledge is directly relevant to the solution of some of the deepest maladies of the contemporary humanity; this enhances the value of the Vedic knowledge and therefore of Sanskrit.
b) Vedas are being now acknowledged not only as a part of the ancient Indian literature but also as a part of the world literature. Hence, the time is ripening when people of the world will turn to Sanskrit with increasing interest.
c) As far as India is concerned, it has to be noted that Sanskrit has always been an all-India language and it has universal appeal all over the country; even in the early part of the modern period we had profound authors in Sanskrit who had written profusely
and some of them had written, each, between 60-100 volumes. It is also to be noted that Sanskrit is the one speech which, in spite of the heavy blows cast on it by misfortunes of various kinds, and even after centuries of decline connects our long period of past history with our present.
d) All that pre-eminently constitutes India as a nation has been expressed continuously through the Sanskrit language. Three greatest national poets, Valmiki, Vyasa and Kalidasa have written only in Sanskrit, and it may be asked as to how, without the knowledge of Sanskrit, at least at the minimum level, one can hope to enter into the spirit that is so vibrant in the writings of these three great poets.
e) At a time when it is increasingly recognised that India needs to recover a great store of knowledge that has been expressed through Sanskrit throughout a long period of its history, and when it is recognised further that that knowledge needs to be revived, reformulated, enriched and made to run on new lines by absorbing what is best and valuable in the modern currents of various disciplines of knowledge, how, it may be asked, can we ever hope to succeed in this task without a widespread knowledge of Sanskrit among students, teachers, scholars and general public?
f) At a time when the importance of Sanskrit is gradually gaining ground, and when the greatest demand that is being made on the modern mind is that one should combine the sublimity and luminosity of the heritage of the Sanskrit literature with modernity, it is indispensable that the country reorients its system of education in such a manner that Sanskrit is learned not only at the minimum level but even at increasing higher levels.
g) It has also to be realised that it is very difficult to master the Official Language of India, namely Hindi, without adequate mastery over Sanskrit, and also that all the other national languages can be mastered only when one has adequate grounding in Sanskrit.
h) The idea that Sanskrit is to be retained as only a language for the scholar is erroneous, since large manifestations of Indian culture involving masses of common people, inevitably invite expressions in Sanskrit. Even ceremonies of various kinds in
which common people participate collectively and massively demand some knowledge of Sanskrit so as to make them truly intelligible and enjoyable.
i) It has also been noticed that in regard to the computer technology, which is fast becoming the universal instrument of transmission and communication, Sanskrit has been found to be an ideal language. With the development of this technology, the importance of Sanskrit will increase, and there is a great possibility that Sanskrit will become a modern living international language.
These and other considerations need to be highlighted in very striking manners, so that students and teachers feel inspired to learn Sanskrit as quickly as possible and as proficiently as possible and at higher and higher levels of competence.
Why Sanskrit? This should be a theme for competent scholars to write on, and a programme should be launched under which short write-ups could be brought out in pamphlets and brochures in various languages of the country. Again, these pamphlets should be addressed to various target groups, including children, adolescents, youths, students of all ages, scholars, teachers and members of general public.
It has to be realised that it is only when motivation to learn Sanskrit is strengthened in the minds of the common people of the country that we shall hope to succeed in implementing whatever curriculum that we shall plan and try to implement.
Let us now come to the question of curriculum and medium of instruction for Sanskrit. It is certainly true that direct method of teaching Sanskrit through Sanskrit is most effective and the curriculum should accordingly be designed, — particularly if it is meant for children and adolescents. For at a tender age, learning is effected by direct experience of sounds and by the sensations and emotions that they generate. At that stage, the mental or abstract method of translation and therefore the learning process, which involves translation of meanings from one language to the Other, is found to be artificial. The experiments of direct method and its successful implementation have already been demonstrat
ed by a number of Sanskrit camps that are being held in our country. Simple conversational Sanskrit is already being imparted by the direct method in these camps, the duration of which is not longer than a fortnight.
We have also the example of the direct method, which is used for teaching French in Alliance Francaise. This Institution, which has a number of branches in the country and also in the other parts of the world, imparts high proficiency in French, within a period of three to four years, and it insists on teaching French through French.
It must, however, be noted that the direct method should be well-supported by high proficiency of the teacher, pictorial teaching-learning material, and appropriate use of audio-visual equipment. We can easily recommend as models the books which have been brought out by Alliance Francaise for teaching French. One can notice that the material presented in these books is highly conversational and pertains to events, which occur in the course of ordinary travels, visits, festivals, etc. This is instructive; for direct method thrives best when it is conversational and when it aims at developing conversational abilities.
It may be also useful to underline the fact that all the modern Indian languages contain a very large percentage of Sanskrit words; it would, therefore, be advantageous for any group of students if one were to cull out those words which are common between the language of that group and Sanskrit; thus much of the vocabulary of Sanskrit may be shown to be already possessed by the concerned students. This will not only give confidence but also the feeling that Sanskrit is, after all, not a difficult subject. This would mean that instead of having one uniform teachinglearning material for the whole country, we should prepare the required material relevant to each modern Indian language.
The direct method of teaching Sanskrit through Sanskrit need not necessarily eliminate reference to synonyms in one's own mother tongue or to the languages known to the learner. In any case, in a situation like India where several languages are being taught to the students simultaneously, it would be quite useful to prepare tables showing how a given word is translated by appro
priate words in other languages which are being simultaneously learnt.
Rigidity in regard to method should be avoided, since even an effective method like the direct method may not suit certain individuals; it is also found that the direct method is even more effective when the basics of the given language are learnt through mother-tongue or through a language with which one is already acquainted. In the other hand, it is also found that when a student knows that the teacher does not know any other language than the language that is being taught, a greater effort is induced in the student to learn the concerned language through direct method.
As pointed out earlier, pictorial books are essential if the direct method is to succeed. Also, it is to be noted that various subjects of modern life do not have readily available words in Sanskrit language; we may, therefore, have to coin new words or sanskritise the current ones which are known to the students.
The question of curriculum is, however, more complicated. The reason is that under the three-language formula, students can start learning Sanskrit in Hindi-speaking areas right from the beginning, if adequate facilities are provided by policy makers. If a favourable decision is taken and implemented, a high goal can be fixed in the curriculum for Sanskrit in the Hindi-speaking areas. Elsewhere, too, a slightly modified curriculum but a similar curriculum can be adopted where Hindi and Sanskrit could be combined and taught together on the basis of certain formula where appropriate weightage is given to both Hindi and Sanskrit. At present, Sanskrit is being taught, even in Hindi speaking areas, in classes 8, 9 and 10; considering that too great an emphasis is laid on the study of grammar, teaching-learning of Sanskrit becomes very heavy and difficult. There is a need to develop a new curriculum based on the assumption that Sanskrit is to be taught through Sanskrit; we need not simplify Sanskrit in order to make the learning of the language easy; there is, we might say, a possibility of arriving at what may be called simple but not simplified Sanskrit. Too much emphasis on dual can be minimised, we may also limit ourselves to simple compounds; emphasis on liaison or sandhi can also be minimised; we may distinguish
between learning Sanskrit for personal conversation and learning Sanskrit for understanding Sanskrit books written in earlier times. Even there we can identify such compositions such as Nalopakhyana in Mahabharata which are not very difficult.
It is seen that in the discussion document issued by the NCERT concerning national curriculum framework for school education, a remark has been made that the three language formula exists only in our curriculum documents, and other policy statements that some States follow only a two-language formula, whereas in some other States a classical language like Sanskrit or Arabic is being studied in lieu of a modern Indian language. It is also pointed out that some boards or institutions permit European languages like French or German in place of Hindi. A question has also been raised if classical languages can be taught as a part of the composite course with mother tongue or regional languages. However, this document does not spell out any precise recommendation in regard to Sanskrit. In this situation, it is necessary that specific recommendations are made by us here in regard to Sanskrit, which has a very special place in the development of national consciousness.
In addition to the suggestions that I have made earlier, provisions need to be made to continue the study of Sanskrit at the higher secondary stage. For if a student has done three years of Sanskrit at the elementary and secondary stages, there should be facility to continue that language in order to sharpen the required competence. Actually, the scheme of studies provides in the senior secondary stage only one language and one more language as a part of elective courses. This seems to be unfortunate, because study of languages is extremely important, and we should ensure that there is sufficient room to study Sanskrit in addition to Hindi and English at the senior secondary stage, apart from the study of the regional language.
A distinction should be made between the study of language and the study of literature. More often than not, most of the language courses are designed with the aim to enable the student to study the literature of the concerned language. Most of the books meant for the study of English demand a great part of the time
for the study of English literature. The argument is that the more one studies the literature, the greater is the proficiency in the concerned language. This argument has indeed considerable force. But experiments show that a large number of students of literature do not exhibit proficiency in the language at the same level as those who studied the language in an intensive manner. For example, in order to master a language, one needs to spend a lot of time in the art of summarising, paraphrasing, composition of essays and letters, and copious exercises of translation from one language to the other.
Applying the same ideals in regard to Sanskrit, it seems desirable that the courses in Sanskrit at the school stage should provide numerous exercises for conversation, mastery of idiomatic expressions, computer abilities in regard to Sanskrit, development of capacity to translate from and into Sanskrit, and letter writing, and writing of summaries and paraphrasing.
Since the curricular framework for Sanskrit is still uncertain, the task for preparing teaching-learning material suffers from many handicaps. In any case, the following things may be suggested:
1. Open school courses for Sanskrit may be. designed in such a Way that through pictorial books, audio-visual cassettes and language laboratories, Sanskrit can be learned in a graded manner by target groups of three starting points: those who start at a young age; those who start at a period of adolescence; those who start at later stages.
2. The Government should sponsor a scheme of teaching Sanskrit as an additional language on an optional basis, at all the levels, and financial assistance should be given for running this additional course. In addition, just as British Council and Alliance Francaise conduct classes for English and French, respectively, for students of various stages and even for general public, such classes should be conducted for Sanskrit throughout the country, with adequate financial support from the Government of India.
3. In addition, crash courses for teachers to attain language
proficiency should also be prepared carefully. These crash courses should be introduced in the colleges and universities, where students can start learning the Sanskrit language right from the beginning so as to achieve some minimum level of proficiency.
4. Finally, it may be suggested that experts should organise teaching-learning materials for Sanskrit language laboratories which can be set up in schools, colleges and universities as also in cultural institutions. A language laboratory facilitates the students to study language mostly by self-help under the supervision of one supervising teacher, who can help the students by occasional intervention. Each student in the language laboratory can study language at his or her own pace. Auto-testing is also provided for in the language laboratory. However, the success of language laboratory will depend on the expertise employed in preparing the graded courses of Sanskrit for various types of students. This subject should be undertaken by institutions like NCERT and Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan.
As will be seen from above, the question of teaching Sanskrit through Sanskrit has many aspects and calls for a complete re-orientation, not only of methodology of teaching Sanskrit but also of curriculum, framing of alternative syllabi for various target groups, preparation of suitable teaching-learning materials, development of language laboratories, training of teachers on massive scales throughout the country, and above all, creation of a new climate in which the importance of Sanskrit is underlined so that a sustained motivation to learn Sanskrit is generated in the country