HARI Om!, Namo Namah, she answers on her mobile phone. Bhawaan katham asti (How are you?). The caller speaking in chaste Sanskrit is no Sadhvi clad in saffron robes. She is Geeta Pathak, a bubbly adolescent girl who hails from Bhantoli, a remote village in Uttarakhand, around 450 km southeast of Dehradun, where the language of use is not the local Kumaoni, but thousands-year old classical Sanskirit. Whenever this 17-year-old girl makes a call or receives it on her mobile, she always greets the person at the other end of the phone line by saying a polite, Hari Om, instead of the usual ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’. In fact, that’s the way this girl is habituated to greeting people!
Geeta Pathak prefers conversing in Sanskrit like the 500 odd other residents of Bhantoli. “Most of the people in this village including women and children now speak in Sanskrit instead of Kumaoni, their mother tongue,” says Gita’s father Shri Rajendra Pathak. This turnaround happened ‘only recently’. It happened almost a year after the Uttarakhand government declared Bhantoli a Sanskrit village last year,” points out 32-year-old Shri Manoj Adhikari, the first Acharya of the Sanskrit Gram. Bhantoli is the fifth such village in the country after Mattur and Hoshahalli in Karnataka and Mohad and Jhiri in Madhya Pradesh.
All these five Sanskrit Grams, according to Dr Buddhdev Sharma, Secretary of Uttarakhand Sanskrit Academy, are a brainchild of Samskrit Bharati, a voluntary organisation dedicated to popularising Sanskrit as a jan bhasha (language of the masses).
The movement, no doubt, is picking up. And Bhantoli is an eloquent testimony to that. For a visitor, this remote village in the Kumaon region with all its residents conversing in fluent Sanskrit seems like placed in 5th century India, the time of the great scholar-poet Kalidas, when this ancient language was the country’s lingua franca.
Kameri Devi (resident of a village near Bhantoli) said there has been a tremendous change in the behaviour of the residents of Bhantoli during the last one year when they got the rare opportunity to converse in Sanskrit. Calling Sanskrit the language of the Gods she said the residents of Bhantoli, especially the women, have become quite civil and cultured in their manners ever since they got to learn to converse in Sanskrit.
National Council for Teachers’ Education (NCET) has now given green signal to con-duct B.Ed. classes in Sanskrit at Uttarakhand Sanskrit University, Haridwar. The decision was long pending on account of different desired parameters for accreditation. In January, the state government adopted Sanskrit as the second official language Hindi remains the first. After this declaration, this step is being counted as next promotional step in the area of language studies and reviving the language of ancient religious texts.
This decision was taken at the regional meet of NCET held on July 18. At present 100 seats are being made available for the current session. Only those students would be admitted to the course who have completed ‘Shastri’ course or have graduation or post graduation degree in Sanskrit.
The admission process for the B.Ed course started from August 15. The decision has not only brought a smile on students’ faces but teachers also. Students would be admitted after the entrance examination and the timely decision of council would help students enroll for the current session. This professional degree in Sanskrit will not only encourage the scholars to learn but also take the language to professional level,” says Shri Mahavir Agarwal of Sanskrit Academy. With lack of infrastructure-just 175 students of Sanskrit, 12 teachers, most of whom work as guest faculties and just half a dozen classrooms, the classes are being held in Sanskrit Academy. The Sanskrit University’s building is under construction on Haridwar- Roorkie national highway. The university in its first year began with two students and a bachelor’s course in Sanskrit. But today 150 of its students are enrolled in vocational courses in Yoga, computers, journalism and library science, apart from undergraduate and postgraduate studies in the Sanskrit literature. Sanskrit is the medium of instruction.
Uttarakhand is the first state in the country which declared Sanskrit as second official language. The state assembly had passed a Bill to this effect in December 2009. Uttarakhand has long association with Sanskrit as many great Sanskrit scholars belong to this state. Kalidas, the greatest writer in Sanskrit, was born in Uttarakhand. Many Sanskrit medium schools and colleges of the state are contributing in spread and learning of Sanskrit. The Uttarakhand government is also providing all possible help to these schools and colleges.
“Our overall efforts are to make the Sanskrit a language of daily use and also in competitions so as to give it the due respect. In a bid to promote Sanskrit, the government has decided to confer Rs. 1 lakh, Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 25,000 cash prizes to the persons who would stand first, second and third in the competitions to be organised by Sanskrit Academy,” says Radhika Jha, Additional Secretary, Higher Education. Talking to Organiser in Dehradun she revealed that apart from launching many schemes to promote Sanskrit a separate Ministry and a separate Directorate have been established for the promotion of the divine language in the state. “Chief Minister Dr Nishank is himself Chairman. About 100 Sanskrit schools and colleges are being run in the state and the government has brought all of them under financial aid. Salary and other facilities will be given to the teachers and staff of these schools and colleges as equal to the teachers and staff of the government schools and colleges. There is a separate Sanskrit University and four other universities where Sanskrit is taught. The government has taken the decision to provide free mid-day meal, books, computers and also scholoarship in the Sanskrit schools. Uttarakhand is the first state in the country to start its website in Sanskrit,” she added.
Uttarakhand Sanskrit Academy organises different programmes to facilitate the promotion of Sanskrit in the state. Through many programmes, the Academy is going to establish direct contact with the people. The academy organises Sanskrit plays, chorus songs, dance, ashubhasan, general knowledge and debate in Sanskrit for students at block, district and state level.
The government has also decided to appoint 36 Sanskrit translators in all the 13 districts (two translators in each district). Two Sanskrit programmers will also be appointed. A separate nodel officer will be appointed to observe the promotional activities in Sanskrit. A decision to release all the government orders in Sanskrit has also been taken. A three-day Akhil Bharatiya Sanskrit Sammelan was organised from March 11 to 13 Hardwar Mahakumbh. On this occasion the Chaturveda Parayan Mahayagya was organised from March 18 to 27. An audio and video recording of the four Vedas was done. One lakh students will be given a two-month Sanskrit Sambhasan training and “Sanskrit Students Sangam” will be held on October 10. All the Sanskrit teachers are being trained to teach Sanskrit through Sanskrit medium only.
Talking to Organiser Dr Budh Dev Sharma, Secretary, Uttarakhand Sanskrit Academy about 50000 students from 3200 schools and colleges took part in different Sanskrit promoting programmes held in all the 13 districts of the state and cash prizes of Rs 45 lakh were distributed. Through “Sanskrit Natyayatra” several Sanskrit plays were staged. “Sanskrit Kutumba Sammelans” were organised in the state. About 154 families were brought together. All spoke in Sanskrit. “Sanskrit Gram Nirman” programme has selected two villages Bhantola in Bageshwar and Kimotha in Chamoli as Sanskrit villages. These villages have been fully developed as Sanskrit speaking villages. Computers have been provided in 56 Sanskrit schools and colleges.
Dr Sharma also pointed out that the government has decided to develop Kaviltha, the birth place of Kalidas, as a centre of literature and cultural excellence at the national and international level. The government is going to open a model Sanskrit school there.