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Sanskrit in German Schools

Given below is a Press Trust of India (PTI) report on the great demand for Sanskrit learning in Germany.

AVK Teachers, Parents and Students please read the report. I hope this will encourage AVK students to continue learning, reading and writing in Sanskrit.

Sanskrit fever grips Germany: 14 universities teaching India's ancient language struggle to meet demand as students clamour for courses. Will Germans be the eventual custodians of Sanskrit, its rich heritage and culture? If the demand for Sanskrit and Indology courses in Germany is any indication, that’s what the future looks like. Unable to cope with the flood of applications from around the world, the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, had to start a summer school in spoken Sanskrit in Switzerland, Italy and - believe it or not - India too.

“When we started it 15 years ago, we were almost ready to shut it after a couple of years. Instead, we had to increase strength and take the course to other European countries,” said Professor Dr. Axel Michaels, head of classical Indology at the university. The summer school in spoken Sanskrit at the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, is attended by students from all over the world.

In Germany, 14 of the top universities teach Sanskrit, classical and modern Indology compared to just four in the UK. The summer school spans a month in August every year and draws applications from across the globe. “So far, 254 students from 34 countries have participated in this course. Every year we have to reject many applications,” said Dr. Michaels.

Apart from Germany, the majority of students come from the US, Italy, the UK and the rest of Europe. Professor Dr. Axel Michaels, Head of Classical Indology at the University of Heidelberg, says students from 34 countries have taken the course.

Even the core thoughts of Buddhism were in the Sanskrit language. To better understand the genesis of oriental philosophy, history, languages, sciences and culture, it’s essential to read the original Sanskrit texts as these are some of the earliest thoughts and discoveries,” he added.

Francesca Lunari, a medical student who has been studying Sanskrit at Heidelberg University, agreed. “I am interested in psychoanalysis and must know how human thoughts originated through texts, cultures and societies. I will learn Bangla also to decipher the seminal works of Girindra Sekhar Bose, a pioneer of oriental psychiatry who has hardly been studied – even in India. Learning Sanskrit is the first step,” she said.

Languages such as Bangla, in which Bose had written his theories challenging Freud, might face a crisis similar to Sanskrit because of the onslaught of English if these languages aren’t preserved within households, felt Dr Hans Harder, head of the department of modern South Asian languages and literatures (modern Indology), Heidelberg University.

“A significant part of the global cultural heritage will become extinct if major languages like Hindi and Bangla fall prey to Indian English which, in the process, has only got poorer,” he added. An expert in Bangla, Hindi and Urdu apart from European languages, Harder cautioned against such a disaster as more upwardly mobile families stop teaching their own language to their children. Studying ethno-Indology helps contextualise and link subjects to ancient texts. “One can better understand evolution of politics and economics by studying Arthashastra by Chanakya,” said Dr. Michaels.

So this semester the institute is offering a course on ‘human physiology and psychology in the early Upanishads’ by Anand Mishra, an IIT mathematics graduate who took up the study of Sanskrit for his research on evolving a more grammatically suitable computing language. “Working on Panini’s Sanskrit grammar, I realised it could be a great tool in computing language,” said Mishra.

Dr. Michaels feels that instead of indulging in a political and religious debate, Indians should try to preserve their heritage. “Don’t we conserve a rare, old painting or sculpture? This is a live language…and rich cultural heritage which might become the casualty of neglect just as great civilisations like Hampi, the art of Ajanta and temples of Konark got buried in oblivion. It was up to the British to discover them later. Sanskrit, along with its culture, philosophy and science might become similarly extinct,” he claimed, adding: “On the other hand, there is so much yet to discover through Sanskrit…details of Indus Valley civilisation, for example.”

Germany has already been a storehouse of Sanskrit scholars to the world. “The majority of Sanskrit scholars, including those at Harvard, California Berkeley and the UK, are Germans,” he said.

But why? “Probably because we never colonised India and maintained a romantic view about it,” quipped Dr. Michaels.

'Language cannot shake secularism'

India's secularism is not so weak that it will be shaken just because of a language, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said in the backdrop of a row over Sanskrit replacing German in government-run schools in India. Addressing a reception for the Indian community on Monday, Modi referred to a time decades ago, when German radio had a news bulletin in Sanskrit. “In India, there was no news bulletin in Sanskrit at that time because perhaps it was thought that secularism would be endangered,” the prime minister said. Modi said India’s secularism is not so weak that it will be shaken just because of a language. One should have self-confidence. Self-confidence should not be shaken, he added. The prime minister did not elaborate, but his veiled comments assume significance as these came months after a row over replacing of German as third language in government-run Kendirya Vidyalaya schools with Sanskrit. (PTI)

Thoughts on the Alumni Meet on 11th July 2015

After attending the most enjoyable AVK Alumni meeting on 11th July, I was impressed by the poise, self-confidence and warmth that I saw in the past students of AVK. This only goes to show that there was a deep empathetic relationship among the students of a class and between them and their teachers. Many of them came to share their journeys through life after they left AVK. Some nice thoughts as romanticized by me, that came out of the meeting:

  1. Chase your dreams; we all make mistakes in the beginning; let not these be your stumbling blocks.
  2. The world is full of opportunities; there are many paths to take. Look beyond the beaten tracks.
  3. If you find you are a square peg in a round hole, either become a different peg or find another hole.
  4. Notwithstanding the pressure of exams and results, AVK does not compromise on fundamentals. This has enabled us to do well in our later academic pursuits.
  5. Roots are important. You may become a big branch in a large tree, but without the roots that go deep into the soil and sustain you, you would not be where you are.

Can Reading Make you Happier

Teachers and students and parents may find the article linked here interesting. It describes how the author as a young girl was prescribed Bibliotherapy. This is a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect. The author initially resisted the therapy but began to read the recommended books.

As a grown up she now writes about her experience: "I worked my way through the books on the list over the next couple of years, at my own pace—interspersed with my own “discoveries”—and while I am fortunate enough to have my ability to withstand terrible grief untested, thus far, some of the insights I gleaned from these books helped me through something entirely different, when, over several months, I endured acute physical pain. The insights themselves are still nebulous, as learning gained through reading fiction often is—but therein lies its power. In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself. As Woolf, the most fervent of readers, wrote, a book “splits us into two parts as we read,” for “the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego,” while promising “perpetual union” with another mind."

Further she writes: "For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain. Since the discovery, in the mid-nineties, of “mirror neurons”—neurons that fire in our brains both when we perform an action ourselves and when we see an action performed by someone else—the neuroscience of empathy has become clearer. A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology, based on analysis of fMRI brain scans of participants, showed that, when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings. Other studies published in 2006 and 2009 showed something similar—that people who read a lot of fiction tend to be better at empathizing with others (even after the researchers had accounted for the potential bias that people with greater empathetic tendencies may prefer to read novels)."

I recommend that teachers and students and parents should visit this site and read the experiences of the author and her plea for reading as a great way to treat yourself. The link is given below.

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