A classical language for a new generation

Posted by Menaka Raman on October 14, 2016

The language referred to as Saṃskṛta, "the cultured language" has long been venerated as a sacred, philosophical and classical literary language. A lingua franca in Greater India, today it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of the country.

The 2001 Indian census reported that 14,000 people identified Sanskrit as their mother tongue and in 2010 Uttarakhand was the first state in India to declare Sanskrit as an official language.

Long looked upon as a classical language, in recent years a movement to revive Sanskrit and introduce it to a new generation of learners has emerged. Podcasts, blogs and websites are attempting to take a language that traces its origins to approximately 1500 - 2000 BC and make it relevant to a generation that is plugged in to Google and YouTube. StoryWeaver is proud to play a small role in the efforts of one organisation working in this realm.

StoryWeaver’s Sanskrit Journey

When StoryWeaver launched in September 2015, the digital open source repository of children’s stories had 24 languages. Within weeks of the launch, requests for new language additions began trickling in. One of them was for Sanskrit.

The request came from volunteers at Samskrita Bharati, a not-for-profit organisation, with its headquarters in New Delhi, and branches in Bangalore, India and San Jose, California. The organisation has been working to revive Sanskrit, in a number of ways. Their  10-day spoken Sanskrit classes are extremely popular and routinely organized all over India and in many major countries worldwide. Students learn conversational Sanskrit in a two hour class every day over a ten-day period and develop the ability to start having Sanskrit conversations.

Vikram Gakhar and Sreenivasan Chakrapani, both volunteer their time and efforts at Samskrita Bharati. It was at Vikram’s behest that Sanskrit was added to StoryWeaver, and in the 10 months since StoryWeaver’s inception, a growing community of Sanskrit enthusiasts have helped created a repository of children’s stories in the language on the site.

Mr Chakrapani is a former electrochemical engineer with a flair for languages. Fluent in English, Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Italian and German, he chose to pursue the study of Sanskrit post retirement.

“An  inner urge took me to Sanskrit soon after retirement. I studied full time and set a target to myself: to be able to write in Sanskrit in two years and teach in the third year. I then volunteered to work for Samskrita Bharathi. They trained me, despite my advanced age, to conduct spoken Sanskrit camps. Since then I am doing my part on a small scale.” shared Mr. Chakrapani.

Mr. Chakrapani has conducted 10 spoken Sanskrit camps so far, and was introduced to StoryWeaver by his colleague at Samskrita Bharathi: Vikram Gakhar.  

Vikram is a full time engineer and a part time Sanskrit student/teacher/translator. “I teach Sanskrit to a group of 10 students at my workplace and try to create new material in Sanskrit whenever I get time. I came to know about StoryWeaver from the Pratham Books team at a storytelling session I attended in 2015.”

Both Mr. Chakrapani and Vikram use StoryWeaver to translate stories to Sanskrit with the intent of sharing them with students to help them improve their spoken Sanskrit skills.

“Translating stories on StoryWeaver serves a number of purpose. Creating simple reading material is useful to new students of Sanskrit. It's a fun and effective learning tool for my students which helps them exercise their knowledge of grammar to form sentences.  Also, since the stories are available in multiple languages on the platform, one can read and understand the Sanskrit version first and then read the same story in a more familiar language to find out what they didn't get the first time.” shared Vikram.

74 year old Mr. Chakrapani  admitted to not being very tech savvy, but found himself using StoryWeaver to translate with ease, thanks to its simple and intuitive user interface.

“We have a large student group and we circulate the translated story link via emails. Even the elders on the group have responded well, with grown ups wanting to read these children’s stories!” enthused Mr. Chakrapani.

Sujatha, another active translator, traces the origins of her translation work on StoryWeaver back to Samskrita Bharati too. An alumnus of the 10 day speaking course, she started reading children’s stories to improve her language skills before progressing to novels in Sanskrit.

“Translating stories for kids is a good way to start one’s learning journey as the language is simpler and helps one gain confidence. StoryWeaver has been a wonderful place for me to practice and hone my skills. ”

Sujatha shares how a dedicated group of Sanskrit enthusiasts get together every evening to converse in Sanskrit and share resources.

“Our group logs on to a Google Hangout every night at 9pm. Whoever is free can join in. We speak to each other in Sanskrit about everything from current affairs to what we are reading. We also use a Google group to document and share the translations we create, including the ones on Storyweaver. This way, it’s easily accessible to everyone.”

 

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StoryWeaver is proud to have collaborators like Mr. Chakrapani, Vikram, Sujatha and their fellow language lovers Suneesh Namboodiri, Govindraj Kasul, Sini Mukundan and Anand Viswanathan. We look forward to seeing more translations by them on the site, and hope that we can be instrumental in sharing them with more people across the world.

Further reading and listening

Sudharma, is the only Sanskrit newspaper in publication today. Printed in Mysore, Karnataka, you can read an online version here.

Balamodini is a podcast of Sanskrit stories read by Samskrita Bharati volunteers from the Sambhashana Sandesha Sanskrit Magazine.

 

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