LONDON: Cambridge has finally closed the door on Sanskrit as a hallowed subject of undergraduate study, nearly one-and-a-half centuries after it first established a chair in the 3,000-year-old language. The Times of India sought?and received?confirmation of the university'sdecision within hours of Cambridge honouring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with a doctor of law degree, in what some scholars believe to be the most cynical form of ?tactless academic marketing?.
Recently Dr Gordon Johnson, Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge, confirmed that ?Sanskrit and Hindi will no longer be offered to undergraduates within the Oriental Studies Tripos?. But Johnson insisted that ?South Asian Studies are thriving at the University of Cambridge and an agreed plan for their expansion is underway. Students continue to study specialist papers with a South Asian content in History, Geography, Economics, Social and Political Sciences, Social Anthropology, Divinity and Archaeology.?
Even so, Dr John Smith, reader in Sanskrit at Cambridge, told TOI that it is ?not a trivial decision…this is a decision about letting the subject wither on the vine. It is an administrative decision but should actually have been an academic one?.
Smith, who has taught Sanskrit to Cambridge undergraduates for 22 years said the decision was ?tactless? in its timing and skewed in its objectives. ?They are doing this at a point of time when they are honouring Manmohan Singh, soliciting benefactions from wealthy Indian businessmen and seeking students from South Asia,? he said. He said he had no new undergraduate students seeking to learn Sanskrit in this academic year, which began a week ago.
N.S. Rajaram adds: Even the closure of the Sanskrit Department at Cambridge University was long overdue. Its quality and content were pathetic. One can get a better Sanskrit education from a village pandit in India.
One hopes that Harvard also closes its Sanskrit Department which has become little more than a propaganda and political lobbying outfit for the likes of Witzel. His ?scholarship? has been discredited, especially after the appearance of Aryan Idols by Stefan Arvidsson (2006, University of Chicago Press), exposing the origins and motives behind it. (My review of the book will be appearing shortly.)
These departments are a colonial anachronism. The very name Prince of Wales Professor used at Harvard, now politically corrected to Wales Professor, betrays its sordid origins.
If people want to learn Sanskrit, they should come to India? not go to these quacks peddling political propaganda in the name of scholarship. Most of their graduates have trouble even reading Devanagari script.