Sanskrit is considered as a dead language by all the pseudo-secular charlatans in India today. These sworn enemies of Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma would be rejoicing along with all the Evangelists and Muslim Clerics in India only because the University of Cambridge in England has de-saffronized itself a few days ago by finally closing the door on Sanskrit as a hallowed subject of undergraduate study, nearly one-and-a-half centuries after it first established a chair in this oldest surviving language in the world. This culturally disastrous decision of Cambridge University was announced within hours of Cambridge honoring our 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'. In my view, it is a planned and deliberate act to run down Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma.
Many great scholars from times immemorial have described Sanskrit as 'A most wonderful language'. The souls of men are the gift from language to mankind. Viewed in this light, Sanskrit has indeed been the soul of Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma, Hindu Society, Hindu Culture and Hindu Civilization from the dawn of history. Very much like the sacred river Ganga, Sanskrit has flowed across India for thousands of years, embracing and nourishing, also uplifting and purifying the entire country and its people and in the process creating a unique civilization and culture.
Last week, 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'. Reacting to this decision, Dr. John Smith, Reader in Sanskrit at the University of Cambridge said: 'It is not a trivial decision. It is a decision about letting the classical subject of Sanskrit wither on the vine. It is an administrative decision but should have actually have been an academic one'.
Dr John Smith, who has been teaching Sanskrit to Cambridge undergraduates during the last 22 years also observed : 'In my view the decision to discontinue the Sanskrit and Hindi courses at the Undergraduate level is 'tactless' in its timing and skewed in its objectives. They are doing this at a point of time when they are honoring Manmohan Singh, soliciting benefactions from wealthy Indian businessmen and seeking students from South Asia'.
Dr Smith also let out his unconcealed anger at Cambridge and other Western universities' increasing propensity to run themselves as commercial businesses that employ MBA-speak. In this context he sharply summed up his holistic view: 'There are some subjects simply worth doing. Sanskrit is a language that has been going 3,000 years and hasn't stopped yet. You cannot understand the culture of the Indian sub-continent and the world outside it without learning Sanskrit. We are not here to sell ourselves, but to be scholars'.
The traditions of Sanskrit learning in Europe date back to the 16th century. An Italian scholar Sassetti studied Sanskrit calling it 'a pleasant musical language' and uniting Deo with Deva. In the seventeenth century the Dutch Protestant missionary, Abraham Rogerius, published in 1651 the translation of Bhartrihari in Europe for the first time. Likewise we find many Catholic missionaries of South India, French and Belgian, studying a little Sanskrit, and mixing with Tamil, producing the faked 'Ezour Vedam' which became the target of Voltaire's criticism.
Anquitil du Perron visited India before the arrival of Sir William Jones in Calcutta in December 1783. Benjamin Schultze, emphasized the similarity between the numerals of Sanskrit, German and Latin in 1726. In February 1786, Sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta, in his third Annual Discourse on the History and Culture of the Hindus, made the following epoch-making observation: 'The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure ; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of grammar and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident ; so strong indeed, that no Philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from a common source, which, perhaps no longer exists ; there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit ; and the old Persian might be added to the same family.
The pioneering work of Sir William Jones had a profound cultural impact on Europe as a whole. The first Chair in Sanskrit was born in Paris, at the College de France in 1814. Bonn in Germany was the next to follow France's leadership in initiating the teaching of Sanskrit language and literature.
The first chair in Sanskrit in England, the Boden Chair, was set up at Oxford in 1831. The tradition of teaching Sanskrit in England, from undergraduate to higher level, dates back to 1831. H H Wilson (1786-1860), described as 'the greatest Sanskrit scholar of his time', was appointed to the Boden Chair. Later chairs were founded in University College, London, Edinburgh, and Cambridge. The Boden chair continues till today. Professor Richard Gombrich, the present occupant of the chair, is known worldwide for his extraordinary work on Theravada Buddhism. Professor Gombrich declares with passion : 'The reasons for studying Sanskrit today are the same as they ever were: that the vast array of Sanskrit texts preserves for us a valuable part of the cultural heritage of mankind, including much beautiful literature and many interesting, even fascinating, ideas.'
Cecil Bendall (1856-1906) who became Professor of Sanskrit, bequeathed part of his personal library, with a grant of £100, to form 'a working library in Cambridge for junior students'. These books were mainly grammars and texts published in Europe but the collection also included an early edition of Kalidasa's Shakuntala published in London in 1792. Apart from Sanskrit, Bendall's original library contained many rare and invaluable books on classical Indian languages. In 1937, books were added from the bequest made by E.J. Rapson (1861-1937) who succeeded Bendall as Professor of Sanskrit in Cambridge.
Soon thereafter the largest and most valuable part of the Sanskrit Library's donations arrived in Cambridge. They belonged to the private library of E G Browne, the oriental scholar whose interests and expertise covered Turkish, Arabic and Persian and who was Professor of Arabic in Cambridge from 1902 to 1926.
The Scarbrough Report was published in 1947. It reviewed the state of the teaching of oriental languages in British universities and had a far-reaching effect in Cambridge. The report supported the maintenance and improvement of the already existing strong academic tradition of teaching the Sanskrit language and literature and recommended the development of appropriate training to ensure a balance between language and cultural studies and between classical and modern languages. The Hayter Report, published in 1961, encouraged the growth of 'Area Studies'. The range of subjects taught expanded once again; Indian history and Hindi were first introduced in the 1960s.
The Cambridge University authorities are advancing the view that there is practically no public demand for Sanskrit studies at the under-graduate level. What has to be noted is that the interest in Sanskrit persists even in those places where there is no demand. The last conference of the International Association of Sanskrit studies held at Turin, in Italy was an eye-opener. There were a number of Sanskrit scholars from the Eastern European countries, including Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Russia. Unlike the US, most of these countries hardly have much of an NRI population. They hardly have any temples. No community funding, no involvement of local populations. Yet, the zeal for Sanskrit continues.
While we in India today consider Sanskrit a dead language, the Westerners consider it as a fascinating language, a language in which the genius of human civilization was perfected to its highest level through the glory of Sanskrit, one of the most perfect and wonderfully sufficient literary instruments – majestic, sweet, flexible, vibrant and subtle – developed by the human mind.
The only question that I would like to ask is whether the Cambridge University would have dared to abolish the Chairs in Arabic or Persian? The whole world can see that even higher academic institutions in England are swayed by the threats and emotions of the Pan-Islamic World.