Friday, April 27, 2007

Sanskrit Conference

I spent all day at the university for the Sanskrit conference. Third annual. Sanjaya put me as the first speaker. तिक्तेन समारभ्यताम् ! In fact, I was very tired and my talk was not very well prepared. So I just talked off the cuff.

Sanjay followed; he was well-prepared with a Power Point presentation about Bhishma's आश्रमधर्म. He is very eloquent and droll.

Next speaker was Giribharatan, the Sanskrit Bharati missionary. Sanskrit Bharati has come out with a very nice book on scientific advances and found in the Sanskrit literature, which was the basis of his talk.

Ajaya Rao, a young professor at the University of Toronto, spoke about making Sanskrit a living language. All of these speakers were followed by lively question periods and discussions, which was perhaps the best feature of this year's conference. Arvind Sharma said to me that it seems everyone is losing their inhibitions.

An elderly engineering professor from India named Brij Kashyap read some Sanskrit poems he had written. Then Saraswati Sainath, who was the MC for the entire day, gave an enlivening talk on Madhusudan Saraswati, particularly about his discussion of ahimsa. She nicely recited Madhusudan's Krishna-bhakti oriented verses from the Gita-bhashya. I expressed appreciation with a sadhuvada and she laughed and said, "I thought you would enjoy that."

The morning session was completed by a first-year Sanskrit student reciting some verses from Kumara-sambhava. Another student read a rather lengthy life of Vasubandhu he had himself written. His accent was difficult to follow, but I was impressed that these two students had the nerve to participate in this way.

Hema Murty was the first speaker in the afternoon, on the evolution of yoga teaching in the West (she is herself a part time yoga teacher in Ottawa).

Arvind Sharma spoke without notes in his usual concise manner, drawing an analogy between the four kinds of dvandva-samasa and four different kinds of attitudes to the relations between religions.

Sharada Varadarajan, an elderly woman from Bangalore, who has been teaching Sanskrit all her life. She gave a very clear and entertaining talk on the Valmiki Ramayana. Again, this was the source of a lengthy discussion, as Ajaya Rao's doctoral research is based on the Sri Vaishnava commentary traditions around the Ramayan.

Ratnakar Narale, who came last year also, gave a brief talk, handing out a printout of a Sanskrit poem he had written on the Satya Narayana Katha.

The conference ended with Rishiram Sharma, who is the pandit at the biggest Hindu temple in Montreal. He made a very dignified presence, being the most formally dressed (amongst the men, anyway). He gave a very learned presentation on dharma, peppered with quotations from the Upanishads and Mahabharata. मधुरेण समापयेत् ।

I was pretty tired by the end of the day and hightailed it home and went straight to bed. I took a two hour nap and now I am writing this. The next order of business would be to produce some kind of document with the contents of the various speakers' talks. The state of my own paper is a total mess, but I think I could get it together... But then, do I have anything else on my plate?


Malati dasi said...

Jagat: Ajaya Rao, a young professor at the University of Toronto, spoke about making Sanskrit a living language.

Firstly please don’t clobber me about the things I will say here. I don’t know that the above idea is very feasible especially in this part of world’s history.

I am a native speaker of Tagalog (a Philippine language) and English is my everyday language of use now. I also learned Spanish for 2 semesters as a required subject for my course in the Univ. (which was stupid as it had no practical purpose for most courses other than for the reason that we were conquered by the Spaniards and many writings about our history were in Spanish— it is now abolished there as a requirement for all courses). I find learning English and Spanish easy.

Three months ago I tried to learn Sanskrit via the SN-Pure Bhakti internet school which was developed by your God-brother’s college in Florida ( I forgot his name, I think Bhuddi yoga das) and also through the by Madhavananda . I found it very hard. Im not talking of scripts here. I don’t know if it was because of my age. But I noticed that there was no such thing as verb tenses in sanskrit eg, present, past, future, past-present participle, etc. And I remember that our early lessons were memorizing sentences. In english and spanish you learn at the beginning the tenses of the verb and how you will contruct them– that is the formula and then you can construct your sentence.

I find learning sanskrit hard so I gave up. I really thought having learned 3 languages would make it easier for me.

I remember that in Advaita’s blog , Krishna das, you and Advaita were debating the meaning of a 3-word phrase. Does it mean that meanings in sanskrit is a bit broad that you can put a few meanings in a phrase? Sanskrit may have died for everyday use as society has become complicated and it can not cope with society’s conmplicated ideas. On the other hand, I read somewhere that sanskrit can be the best language to program a computer --but that is computer , on-off,

Still, I know that sanskrit is the language by which our acharyas wrote the Vedas and spoken by Krishna.

Just my observation. Hare Krishna

Jagat said...

Why should I clobber you for expressing a reasonable opinion? But I am really sorry to hear that you have had such a poor experience learning Sanskrit. One of the things that impressed me about the conference was that there were two students who had been studying less than a year and were still able to participate.

I would suggest trying the Sanskrit Bharati method of learning Sanskrit. But I don't know if you would find it available in your part of the world. Look it up on the internet (

But I don't understand how you did not start with verbs or how you got the idea that there are no verb tenses, etc. Normally, Sanskrit education starts with learning conjugations and declensions.

I once tried starting a course on the internet based on the Bhagavad Gita, going through it verse by verse and learning the grammatical lessons that are present in them. It was not the most direct method, but it was an alternate method intended for those who would like to learn the language as it is used in the scriptures.

But if there is one thing that these Sanskrit conferences are proving to me, it is that it is indeed possible to experience Sanskrit as a functioning language. It is a little more difficult to find real life situations to use it, but it could be done. I don't think that it is more difficult in terms of grammar, etc., than many living languages such as Russian, Polish or even German.