Features Tuesday, April 07, 2015 - 05:30
By Shanmukh  December 1, 2014 | 17.40 pm IST (An article recently appeared in the Economic Times, questioning the relevance of Sanskrit to modern life. Further, there were several claims about Mattur in particular, and Sankethis is in general. "Karnataka's Mattur: A Sanskrit speaking village with almost one IT professional per family." This article is an attempt to set the record straight. In the interests of disclosure, it may be mentioned that the author of the current article is also a Sankethi and fluent in Sanskrit, but not from Mattur). शृङ्गाद्रिमध्यप्रविराजमानांभक्तेष्टविश्राणन कल्पवल्लीं।तुङ्गासरित्तीरविहारसक्तांश्रीशारदाम्बां शिरसानमामि॥ This is a quote from the famous Sankethi poet, Shree Narayana Shastri, the author of two elegant महाकाव्याः, विद्यारण्यकथातरङ्गिणी and नाचाराम्बाविजय in Sanskrit, two of the few महाकाव्याः in Sanskrit in recent times. Further, there is a giant statue of the Goddess Saraswati that sits in the front yard of the school in the village. And the verse and the statue exemplify the spirit that drives Mattur, a village that appropriately sits on the bank of the aforementioned Tunga river in the verse above. Mattur and Hosahalli, (which is famous for गमक – a form of musical storytelling) are two Sankethi speaking villages in this part of Shimoga district. Mattur has the reputation of being Sanskrit speaking villages, with Sanskrit for daily use being pioneered in this part of the world by the Sankethi community. Nevertheless, it must be emphasised that while the overt use of Sanskrit for daily use has proceeded apace since the late 70s and early 80s, the Sankethi community has always been Sanskrit literate, for the most part. Read: An entire village that talks in Sanskrit Sankethis, in recent history (since 1800s, at least), have lived not only in Mattur, Hosahalli and other villages in Shimoga district, but also in several villages in Chikmaglur, Mandya, Hassan and Mysore districts of Karnataka state. In almost all these Sankethi communities, knowledge of Sanskrit is fairly common, knowledge of Vedas was also routine until independence. Beginning in the late 50s, as Sankethis began to migrate out of their villages in search of jobs, there was a move by many concerned elders to teach children Sanskrit, and the community returned to its cultural roots. Elsewhere among the Sankethis, while Sanskrit is not spoken quite as often as in Mattur, knowledge of Sanskrit is by no means rare. Roughly a quarter of the total population of Sankethis (including those from Mattur) of the younger generation is settled outside India. The rest are scattered throughout India. Most of the Sankethi villages now consist of older generation people who have returned after retirement, and are unwilling to leave their villages. The younger generation has completely been scattered. They are mostly well trained, well educated successful professionals throughout the world. Most Sankethis are tri-lingual (or quadri-lingual). Knowledge of English, Kannada, and Sankethi (an archaic mix of Tamil, Malayalam & Kannada) along with Sanskrit is fairly routine. In fact, any visitor to the Sankethi villages will find people willing to converse in any of the four languages mentioned. Indeed, if the visitors have a bit of patience, they can even get away speaking just Tamil, Malayalam or Hindi. Among Sankethis abroad, apart from the aforementioned languages, knowledge of French, German, and Russian is by no means rare. This author is yet to find a Sankethi who cannot converse fluently in English, Kannada or Sankethi. Knowledge of music is usually rigorously taught and learnt by many young Sankethis. Many Sankethis, which includes the celebrated RK Shreekanthan, are famous musicians, poets and authors. With roughly a quarter of the younger generation Sankethi population scattered outside India, it is common for Sankethis to marry outside the community. Inter caste, and even inter-religious marriages are not even rare in the Sankethis. Indeed, the total Sankethi population is so small that it is practically impossible for everyone (or even most) to marry within the community. In the author's immediate circle of relatives, quite a few have married outside the religion and several more have married outside the caste. All such marriages are accepted as a matter of routine. Sankethi women have full literacy in the post-independence generation. Women with post graduate and doctoral degrees are fairly common, and it is hard to find women without at least a graduate degree today. There are several Sankethi women professors (including from Mattur). To the best of the author's knowledge, women are not discriminated in any way among Sankethis. As the author of the ET article himself admits, crime rate among Sankethis is extremely low. There have been no forced marriages, no honour killings or crimes against women, sexual harassments episodes, or even dowry harassment cases. Sankethi women probably have among the highest personal incomes in India (those who are in India anyway) in the professional class. Many Sankethi women have risen high in civil services and judiciary, too, in India too. This author has met non-Brahmins sitting at the same table (or floor, since many conservative Sankethis eat sitting on the ground) with the Sankethis in Sankethi homes. In fact, the famous singer R K Padmanabhan routinely invites non-Brahmins to participate at the death ceremonies of his parents, and both Brahmins and non-Brahmins dine, sitting next to each other. Many Sankethis being professionals, it is necessary to have people from different castes at home. Any `frowning' on non-Brahmin guests would be counter-productive to the Sankethis. While there are many reasons for the successes of this Sanskrit literate community, one vital reason is the knowledge of Sanskrit and the close contact with our ancient culture and tradition that the Sankethi community emphasises upon. And knowledge of Sanskrit has produced a strong, self confident community, that emphasises on academic and professional success, vital in the modern world. Sanskrit defines our connection with our history, with our tradition. Sanskrit is the link language of India. Learning Sanskrit, as this author can testify, makes learning most other Indian languages much much easier. In a modern economy, when it is vital to be fluent in more than one language, it is helpful to have a working knowledge of the language that links most modern Indian languages. Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam have borrowed at least 50% of their vocabulary from Sanskrit. Even Bengali and Assamese have a large number of borrowed words from Sanskrit. In these days of high speed connectivity, both physical and virtual, with many people learning more Indian languages, knowledge of Sanskrit can speed up learning all other Indian languages, inter-connectivity, and thus national integration. Even beyond India, Russian (to this author's specific knowledge) is extremely close, both grammatically and structurally, to Sanskrit to the point that one can think Sanskrit and write in Russian (and vice versa). Even the Baltic languages are said to be very close to Sanskrit. Learning Russian and Baltic languages become a whole lot easier for anyone who is familiar with Sanskrit. Secondly, research in humanities, particularly history, grammar of languages, religious sciences, economic practices of the country, and comparative religions, etc requires a working knowledge of Sanskrit. Indeed, most Indic concepts have no equivalent words in English or other languages in which these topics are taught (unless those words are borrowed from Sanskrit). An in depth knowledge of these fields inheres from a fluent knowledge of Sanskrit. More importantly, Sanskrit provides us with an identity. In these days of modernity, it is so easy to lose sight of what we are. The author of the ET article himself has remarked on the low crime rate, the high academic achievements, etc of the Sankethis. Is it not plausible that the two are correlated? These are people with their solid identity, with discipline, and strength of character and will. That was provided by their identity, which Sanskrit allowed them to discover. Consequently, they are less prone to crime, and more prone to academic achievements – which their culture and tradition, their sense of identity and confidence provides them. Read more: Punyakoti, India’s first Sanskrit animation film, is a 'proud funded' movie Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.
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