Sunday, 26 March 2017 marked the 45th anniversary of the First World Sanskrit Conference. The idea first proposed in 1971 came to fruition in 1972 that Ministry of Education, India will hold an International Sanskrit Conference with the following themes:
- Contribution of the various regions of the world to Sanskrit Studies
- Contribution of Sanskrit to the advancement of knowledge in different regions of the world
This coincided with the notion that Sanskrit scholars attending the International Congress of Orientalists (now International Congress for Asian and North African Studies) approached the Indian government regarding holding a conference on Sanskrit citing limited scope for comprehensive discourse.
The International Sanskrit Conference or विष्व संस्कृत सम्मेलन of 1972 was convened jointly by Ministry of Education (Government of India) and the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi.
After permission from Ministry, in 1973, IASS (International Association of Sanskrit Studies) was formed by eminent Sanskrit scholars from around the world, as a body to organise World Sanskrit Conferences and the Delhi conference was retrospectively recognised as the First World Sanskrit Conference. Professor V. Raghavan (1972–79) was the first President of IASS while Professor V. Kutumba Sastry (from 2006) is the incumbent.
IASS is a member of the International Union of Oriental and Asiatic Studies and, through it; it is affiliated with the International Council of Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH). It has successfully organised fifteen such conferences since the one in 1972 at different locations including Paris, Melbourne, and Kyoto among others on four continents. Out of the fifteen, India has played host thrice; Varanasi (1981), Bangalore (1997) and New Delhi (2012).
16th edition of the World Sanskrit Conference was held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2015 where a strong Indian contingent of 250 Sanskrit scholars was led by Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj who was also the Chief Guest. She gave a speech entirely in Sanskrit to 600 delegates from 60 countries and stressed the need for more functional research in Sanskrit so as to better apply it in the modern world.
The 17th conference will be held at Vancouver, Canada in 2018 and the 18th will be held at Canberra, Australia in 2021.
Papers presented at the world Sanskrit conferences cover diverse themes such as Veda, Epics, Puranas, Agamas and Tantras, Vyakarana, Linguistics, Poetry, Drama and Aesthetics, Scientific Literature, Buddhist Studies, Jain Studies, Philosophy, History and Epigraphy, Law and Society, and Art and Archaeology thus dispelling the notion that Sanskrit texts are merely liturgical in nature. Nowadays people dismiss Sanskrit as only a ceremonial language, or refer to it as the language of elites in ancient Indian subcontinent used in mostly Brahmanical rites and rituals.
Supreme Court of India however took a progressive view and echoed the following words from Sanskrit Commission Report 1957 in a judgement, ” (Sanskrit went) hand in hand with the historical development of the Indian people, and gave the noblest expression to their mind and culture which has come down to our day as an inheritance of priceless order for India, nay, for the entire world.”
Sanskrit: Ancient but Not Dead A verse from Bhagavad Gita
Source: Jagruk Bharat
In 2001 census, only 14,135 people selected Sanskrit (one of the 22 official languages as recognised by the 8th Schedule to the Constitution) as their first (primary) language, i.e. less than 0.01% Indian population. The decline is often cited, incorrectly perhaps, as a failure of Sanskrit to find a place in the contemporary world. Although, successive Indian governments have made stop-start approaches to promote Sanskrit, the issue somehow always regresses into a political one and dies out amidst controversy. However, several volunteer organisations such as Samskrita Bharati, individuals, and universities in many nations are trying to research, digitize, or preserve the language. In India (and some cases in Nepal and Indonesia), Sanskrit phrases are widely used as mottoes for various national, educational and social organizations including branches of military and Supreme Court of India.
- On our National Emblem, the motto – सत्यमेव जयते – Truth alone triumphs
- Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) – बलस्य मूलं विज्ञानम – The source of strength is science
- On Emblem of Nepal, the motto – जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपी गरीयसी – Mother and Motherland are greater than Heaven
Sir William Jones who was the founder of Asiatic Society of Bengal and Judge of the then Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort Williams remarked in 1786, “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…”
Words of Sankritic origin are found in almost all Indo-Aryan languages and distorted versions in many other world languages as well. Almost 4000 years old, the crude Vedic Sanskrit was systematized by the great grammarian Panini around 5th century BCE, a version we still use today and which has potential to be a pillar of Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing due to its unique structure which can be understood by machines.“(In Panini’s Sanskrit) there is a derivational process, and so there is no ambiguity. You can explain everything structurally. There is a base meaning, a suffix
“(In Panini’s Sanskrit) there is a derivational process, and so there is no ambiguity. You can explain everything structurally. There is a base meaning, a suffix meaning and a combination meaning. The base is the constant part, and the suffix is the variable part. The variables are most potent. With suffixes one can highlight, modify or attenuate.” – Dr. P. Ramanujan, Associate Director (IHLC), Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Bengaluru, excerpt from theHindu.
Ancient scriptures contain wisdom which is timeless in nature. Scholars, scientists and leaders have often extolled Sanskrit. Jawaharlal Nehru referred to it as the ‘greatest treasure which India possesses’ while Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam called it a ‘beautiful language’ with a ‘wealth of knowledge’ while noting the importance of carrying out research on Atharva Veda in particular for stimulating valuable information in Science and Technology.
Alas, much needs to be done to preserve, protect and enrich this aspect of our collective cultural heritage so it does not merely remain a language of rites and scholarly articles.