Bird’s Eye View of Sanskrit

To many of us, the word “Sanskrit” suggests a wonderful language which belonged to a hoary past. We know that India is the land in which this wonderful language originated. Ancient Indians were well versed in the language. The Vedas, the Puranas, the classical texts – The Ramayana and the Mahabharata were written in this language and they have been recognised and revered by people across the globe even to this day. The Indian way of living, its ethos and flavour is directly related to the language and what it has to offer by way of classics and literature. Just about every subject under the sun has been covered in one way or another in some of these texts. Linguists and scientists marvel at the precise nature of this language. The inherent binary code of the letters in the language has been discovered to be compatible for codification and for use by computers. All the contemporary Indian languages have been derived from this source, with the exception of Tamil.

This ancient language has a hoary past running into millenniums hence it is very difficult to arrive at some consensus about the origin of the language. Traditionally, Indians, believe that the language was initially used by our pantheon of 33 crore gods to communicate amongst themselves. Hence Sanskrit is also called Daiva Bhasha or the lingo of the gods. Later on, the language was gifted to mankind by goddess Saraswathi and hence Sanskrit is also known as Geervana Bharathi.

The fairy tale like origin of the language apparently had few takers amongst the hardcore linguists across the globe who think that Sanskrit evolved from Prakruth derived from the sounds of nature. They believe that long, long ago when man evolved into an intelligent being, he found the necessity to communicate his thoughts, feelings and ideas. He probably played “dumb charades” and sometimes took to hieroglyphics to put across his thoughts and aped sounds from nature in order to communicate. Over a period of time the language was organised and honed till it reached the point of perfection. The phonology, syntax, vocabulary and grammar of the language has the world awestruck with its finesse and completeness.

When an ancient language has so many feathers in its cap (or is it crown?) one would think that the language is on velvet and nothing can ever go wrong in its kingdom. Yet sadly enough, we have come a long away from such a pristine state of affairs. A brief study of the history of the country will reveal that, we as a nation have been introduced to varied cultures and civilisation over the course of history. The invaders left their stamp behind that influenced our way of living and thinking to a large extent. Lots of factors changed. Yet the change cannot be considered complete as we have retained the basic Indian values despite innumerable onslaughts. Perhaps it is at this juncture, we should recognise the power of the Sanskrit language which helped us to carry forward the basis of Indian-ness for it has been the cementing factor which has sustained the spirit in the oral and written format.

All of you are perhaps aware that Sanskrit is one of the most ancient languages in the world which is complete in its own way. Have you ever wondered about the origin of this language? As students, whenever you are taught something new or asked to learn a novel concept, you may have found yourself wondering whoever started it all. Some of your questions may have interesting answers and some may not.

If you have ever wondered about Sanskrit, well, there is a very interesting tale about the beginning of the language in our ancient texts. It is said that lord Shiva lapsed into one of his ecstatic danced to the beat of the Dumroo, a small percussion instrument (see picture alongside) and several variations of sounds flowed out of the instrument. It is said these letters were gathered in this order and used as the basic letters of the language and were represented in the ‘Devanagari’ script.

The sound and the symbols of the language were effectively used by the people to compile a comprehensible vocabulary and record their observations and inferences in the form of Vedas which are called Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharvana Vedas. A close reading of the Vedas will reveal that they not only give guidelines to lead a life that emphasises on living in harmony with nature and fellow human beings but also have a wealth of information on just about every topic under the sun.

A few copies of the Vedic literature was etched on processed palm leaves by scholarly students for reference, but most of them committed the entire text to memory and passed on the texts orally to their juniors. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, we do not have too many copies of the entire text available as on date.

Many a time some words were lost in mis-pronunciation and lapse of memory. In such cases, people resorted to the basic rules of grammar which helped them to supplement the blank with an appropriate word. This procedure is almost akin to solving a crossword puzzle where you have a clue of both the meaning of the word and the number of letters in the answer word.

Our ancestors had evolved a wonderful way of understanding and learning a language. Panini an ancient grammarian who is believed to have lived in eighth century BC formulated 3964 “Aphorisms” also known as “Sutras” each running into a word or a phrase. If a student of Sanskrit grammar learned these sutras by heart, his language was sure of becoming impeccable. These sutras dealt with different aspects of language like grammar, analogy, vocabulary, communicative language among other things which facilitated the learning of the language almost faultlessly.

The fact that there have been little or no revisions in the basic rules of the language ever since reflect on the level of perfection that had been attained by the grammarian. The famous Vedas, Puranas, epics, classics and even contemporary literature have been written in the language which subscribes to these rules. Perhaps, it is features like consistency and the completeness of the language that keep it going on till this day despite so many setbacks.

Genuine Thirst for Knowledge

Genuine thirst for knowledge

There was a time when people who thirsted for knowledge went to great lengths to acquire it. The passion to learn helped them to overcome distance, hardships and challenges without an iota of hesitation.

Once the students became erudite, they safeguarded knowledge fiercely with great care and awkwardness and passed them on selectively to some trusted disciples for reasons best known to them.

A story in the Upanishads records how Indra, the Lord of Devas, once initiated sage Dadheechi with divine knowledge like Pravarga and Madhu, because he was excessively impressed by the sage’s severe penance to learn the same. Since it was niche knowledge, he categorically told the sage that his head would be cut into 100 pieces if he passed on his learning to anybody else.

The Ashwini Kumaras, who happened to eavesdrop during the last segment of the conversation, were tempted to learn the special subjects. They did not want the sage to pay with his life. So, they cut off the sage’s head and hid it in a secret place and placed a head of a horse on the sage’s torso. The sage was awed by their genuine desire for knowledge, humility and the willingness to take such a huge risk for the love of learning. Dadheechi imparted the Vidya to them. At the end of the session, Ashwini Kumaras wanted to transplant the original head of Dadheechi on his person. They thought that even if Indra decided to carry out his threat, the head of the horse would be mutilated.

In the meanwhile, the enraged Indra decided to take the twin Devas for a ride. Indra took the original head of the sage into his custody. The nervous twins were forced to confess. Indra recognized their genuine thirst for knowledge and returned Dadheechi’s head which was duly fixed. The Lord of the heavens realized that it was impossible to hold back learning if the teacher and the taught were enthusiastic about gaining mastery over the subject.

Today we have come a long way. Just about every subject under the sun is available to us at the click of a button. The opportunities to learn and expand our mental horizons intellectually are infinite. Despite the immense and easy facilities, we find that most of us are not serious takers.

Fear and Greed

Man is perhaps the greediest creature on planet earth. He has not only exploited nature but also his fellow human beings to fortify his well being. If he continues to behave selfishly, it will not take too long for him to enlist himself in the list of endangered species and eventually face extinction.

It is amazing to note that psychologists feel that it is intrinsic fear that prompts avarice in people. A popular folk tale reiterates this line of thought effectively.

Once a Guru was giving a discourse on the six cardinal sins that destroy a man’s personality and spirit. On that particular day he dwelt on the subject of greed. The subject was discussed at length and he summed up his session by declaring that fear is the root cause of greed. Some of his students were perplexed by the pronouncement. They expressed their doubt to the Guru. The teacher said that he would discuss the subject during the next class.

That night the tutor and the taught sat down to partake supper. The cook hurried towards the Guru and told him that he had cooked for the day but they had run out of provisions. He also mentioned that it might easily take them a couple of days to acquire rations again. The Guru waved the cook away and asked the students to eat their meal.

During the course of the supper he noticed that quite a number of students were gorging on the food. Even frugal eaters were asking for a second helping. He waited for everyone to eat to their fill and then assemble in the courtyard of the hermitage. When all the students filed in, he told them that fear indeed is the root cause of greediness. The pupils who had heard the cook speaking about the shortage of ration feared a possible starvation in the coming days and fed themselves to their teeth.

The students realised that the conversation had been arranged to clarify a point. They felt a little ashamed and also enlightened on the matter. They promised not to give in to fear and the greed that followed thereafter. When we know that insecurity can lead us to become acquisitive by nature, we must address the matter.


“Education ” By Question Banks

We are in the middle of the academic year. Students are busy taking periodic tests and midterm examinations based on the portions completed. Their answer scripts are being evaluated and assessed. Parents are being apprised of their ward’s performance.

Teachers’ meetings are being conducted to analyse their inputs and involvement in their responsibilities.

Everything seems to be going on like clockwork — just the way it should. Or, is it just a mirage? Perhaps this is the right time of the year for the parent, student and teacher to do a reality check.

Most schools have revision sessions before tests and examinations. They generate a question bank of sorts. The children are told directly or indirectly to concentrate on the revision sessions.

Parents and tuition teachers help the children out with the preparation. Most pupils get thorough with the “necessary portions” and score well. The tests and later on examinations are taken and evaluated — well, you know the drill.

While the process seems natural and harmless, it can turn out to be a quite a negative influence. It can uproot the fundamental aim of learning and education. Young students are being led by the nose to take up tests which prove to be a test of memory rather than understanding.

The very schools which claim to give holistic education shrink even the prescribed syllabus so that the students are not strained to look beyond a few questions.

Limited reading

Reading textbooks, ancillary reading material, referring to class notes are all relegated to the backburner because they do not count as “test portions”.

The learning that can be evinced from group study, working out varied problems, reference works are increasingly becoming non-existent because extensive reading or learning need not be displayed in answer papers.

The young learners cannot be blamed for wearing blinders because they are made to wear them by their teachers. When we look at the problem from the tutors’ point of view, it appears that they are shackled by several constraints. They are expected to cater to unwieldy numbers which makes it almost impossible for them to correct notebooks sincerely.

Then they have to live up to the expectations of the management and deliver cent per cent results as far as possible. When their increments and sometimes their employment depend on the results they deliver, they find it convenient to create “question banks”. This way they hope to step up the level of the results.

Multiple choice papers

The parents for their part do not really seem to mind this new infusion into the system right from primary school because their accountability comes down considerably. Sometimes, schools also opt for multiple choice question paper models partially or completely to make it easier for evaluation.

This method not only encourages blind guessing among students, but also conveniently circumvents the need to comprehend, work out or articulate their thoughts. The net result of this phenomenon precipitates as a mockery of education. No one is any wiser at the end of the day though everyone, the students, parents and teachers have gone through the exercise.

Today, we live in a world where education has been systematised. Learners go through the process of education in a set pattern and emerge as ‘educated’ people at various levels.

Where will all this spoon-feeding and holding hands lead them in the long run of life? Will their education stand them in good stead? Will they be in a position to think out of the box and handle unforeseen circumstances in life?

Can they come up with original or creative solutions to deal with problems? Will they employ just means to achieve their ends? How will they compare with their peer group across the globe? Will their accomplishments fill the lacunae that exist in the world?

The concept of “Question banks” was introduced at the university level, to help examinees to focus after browsing through an exhaustive material. To introduce the same, while shaping minds in their formative years in schools, amounts to committing intellectual suicide.

It is time to break this pattern and pay attention to learning for learning’s sake so that we can pave the way to developing inquisitive, fertile minds that are willing to go that extra mile before arriving at answers!

Gift for teacher? Classroom Discipline

S Radha Prathi, Sep 5 2017, 0:08 IST

If teachers were asked what they would consider the best teacher’s day gift, the answer would be an unanimous chorus — classroom discipline!

Well, that happens to be the harsh truth. An average classroom in any school across urban India is almost always in a state of chaos. The teacher-student ratio is unwieldy in most. Under the circumstances, a conscientious teacher has to also double up as the bad cop, usher the students to step in mentally, not just physically, into the classroom. Healthy classroom practices like interactions, discussions and debates on the subject of study is often replaced with pontification, which has almost become a mandatory feature in the lives of teachers. Seldom can they do much else, because the law of the land forbids them from using the cane.

Most teaching staff are ashamed or afraid to rope in the help of colleagues, seniors or the head of the institutions because they do not want to show themselves to be weak or helpless. Besides, they do not want to jeopardise their chances of getting an increment by showing themselves to be lacking in class control skills. The students, for their part, ranging from primary school to the undergraduate levels seem to find it extremely difficult to sit still in the class and focus on what is being taught. Their attention span seems to be consistently declining year after year. They seem to have collectively traded the art of listening for the art of merely hearing that serves no purpose.

Such being the case, teachers have to often repeat themselves to reach out to everyone in the audience. In the process, a sense of repetition and redundancy sets in in the ones that got it the very first time. They become restless till the teacher takes the lesson forward but only after another round of disciplining. When this exercise becomes repetitive, it can get tiresome for both the students and the teacher. Precious classroom time is spent in shepherding students individually or in little groups into a state of silence before continuing with the lesson. Over a period of time, both parties get familiar with the pattern and play it out like clockwork to the point of frustration.

When teachers bare their hearts out on the subject, they are told categorically that “content is king” and the conduct of the teacher is the benchmark in a classroom. While that may be true, even experienced and passionate teachers who do know their subject and carry themselves with dignity are finding it difficult to handle disruptive behaviour. All the same, teachers agree that kids should have their fun and freedom as long as they do not constantly disrupt the classroom. They also vouch for the fact that the young are perfectly nice alone; it is only when they get together they become unmanageable.

It is time for us to unravel this conundrum. The restiveness stems from the environment the child comes from. The pressure to do well and realise the dreams of their parents has pinned them down. The gadgets they use and the amateurish exposure they get to various subjects on the internet make them feel that they know it all. The junk foods they consume, the sedentary lives they lead and the assorted pollutions they have to deal with have rendered them weak. Their preference to play with gadgets than with siblings or friends has made them strangers to empathy. The stress and strife of modern life is taking a toll on the children.

If we hope to salvage the future of our children, we must work on these issues on a war-footing. Remember, the family is the first school and the mother is the first teacher. Parents should make it their own imperative to spend quality time with children no matter what their age. Children who hail from sensible, ethical and loving homes will reflect those qualities.

Having well behaved students can prove to be a tremendous boost to a passionate teacher’s morale and her capacity to teach. Precious class hours can be channelised to sow the seeds of knowledge, nurture analytical thinking, and help children blossom into responsible, intelligent and considerate individuals. When teaching becomes a fulfilling and pleasant experience, a teacher can make a world of difference to the taught. When that happens, every day will be Teacher’s Day!

Self Respect Vs Ego

Most misunderstandings and rifts in personal and social relationships can be resolved if people start discerning the difference between having self respect and being egotistic. Oftentimes the two traits are confused for one another. While the former is commendable, the latter can prove to be detrimental. The Mahabharatha chronicles the tale of the foremost Guru Drona who rose to great heights because of his self respecting nature and fell from grace because of his bruised ego.

The immensely talented man of humble origin gained employment as the teacher of martial arts to the princes of Hastinapura. Though the royal household came forth to sponsor his living expenses and that of his family, he politely but firmly declined the offer. Drona had a son about the age of the Kuru princes. Yet never once did the self respecting teacher encourage his son to partake or enjoy the privileges of his highly placed peers. He lived and provided for his family within his means.

Once, his child Ashwaththama saw his regal friends drinking milk. The curious child longed to taste the white liquid. When he expressed his desire to his parents, he was given a tumbler of wheat flour mixed with water which the child drank happily thinking that it was milk. Drona could have had all the milk his son needed. Nevertheless the self respecting man would not accept any help from his employers before it was time to collect his rightful Gurudakshina.

It was around this time Drona’s wife Kripi reminded him of his childhood friend who had become the king of Panchala and requested his friend to seek his help. Drona was reluctant in the beginning, but went along all the same to meet his friend for old times’ sake.

Unfortunately for him, Drupada refused to take cognizance of him and behaved high-handedly. Drona was deeply hurt when his erstwhile chum offered him cows by way of charity to a Brahmin as against the token of friendship. Drona vowed to trounce Drupada’s arrogance.

One thing led to another and to make a long story short when the master’s self respect manifested itself as his ugly ego he failed miserably, to the point that his dead body was beheaded by Drupada’s son Dhrishtadyumna.

Evaluation of Evaluators

The citizens in the world of academics are only too aware that there are wheels within wheels. Students, their parents and their teachers know that the path to progress is many tiered.

Students have to imbibe what they are taught, customise their knowledge to cater to the needs of the examination system and then await results post evaluation. The process appears to be ancient, normal and warranted as far as one can see.

The evaluators take over from the point the students finish their examinations, and it is this factor that most students and parents are apprehensive about. Realisation dawns on them that the ball is no longer in their court; their results are in the hands of unknown evaluators especially when they take up the board or university examinations.

The routine of nervously scanning through the Internet and news channels for the forthcoming results can be quite draining to all examinees, no matter to which age group they belong. Though the law of cause and effect is well known to be proportionate, it is apparently not applicable in our desi educational system to a large extent.

It appears that the shloka from the Bhagavad Gita which says, “Karmanye Vaadhika-raste, Maa Phaleshu kadachana,” which means “You have the right only to do your duty, but never anticipate the fruit for your deeds” is applicable to the students who complete their examinations. That is why we find students spending their vacation with fingers crossed for the outcome of their performance.

The anomalies in the realms of examination results can range from appearing late to appearing wrong. Though all boards and universities do have channels for re-totalling, revaluation, availing copies of answer scripts and even provisions to appear in the court of law, the number of mistakes that happen have not come down considerably.

It is understandable that to err is human. After all, it is the teachers who correct answer scripts. It is quite possible that they could have made an error or two out of sheer oversight or fatigue. Considering the fact that they are also willing to recheck and award rightful scores when approached through proper channels also speaks for the fairness and the transparent nature of the system.

All the same, the students find it difficult to repose faith in the system because many of them have been unsuspecting victims of sheer apathy and convoluted processes which have scorched their spirits and singed their opportunities.

Shortage of evaluators

When the matter is scrutinised from the teachers’ point of view, many factors that seem to justify their slipshod job come under the magnifying glass.

Firstly, there is an acute shortage of evaluators. Since most teaching jobs are offered by private educational institutions, they have a floating population of teaching staff.

Teachers resign their jobs at the end of the academic year in search of greener pastures and are sometimes willing to take an unpaid holiday while in the process of switching jobs. This trend automatically shows a large dip in the number of evaluators during the annual academic break.
Teachers who are hired on a contract basis for the occasion try to earn a little extra money by hurrying through the answer scripts.

The teaching faculty with secure jobs usually decides to put up their price during this season and prefers to go on strikes and dharnas. They feel that it is probably the best time to make their presence and value known. The harsh truth is that teachers are the lowest paid educated class in society.

It is a fact that teachers are burdened with the onus of wading through a sea of answer scripts without respite and the remuneration mostly does not match with the effort put in.

Apart from that, the evaluators are answerable to the chief examiner as well as the students if they have bungled in the process of correcting an answer script or totalling the marks obtained. They can be even sued in the court of law for not taking up their responsibility seriously.

The callousness in assessment of students can be averted to a large extent if knowledgeable and conscientious teachers are chosen for the job consciously. In addition, they should be given their due importance, respect and remuneration. They will be only too delighted and diligent to carry out the responsibilities bestowed upon them. And then, the rest assured students can enjoy happy holidays.