Friday, February 24, 2012

Yamunotrii 2012 comes to town

I almost feel like a circus manager when I say something comes to town. Surely you all must have been excited when you were kids and heard 'Barney Circus' or 'Russian Circus' comes to town. The very thought of clowns would derive a big laugh and joy. Well, this time, its not a funny clown who will be in town, but atleast the fun part will be there.

Here is a very succinct write-up of my friend Sudhee Subrahmanya about learning Samskritam.

Have you ever wondered what makes an individual special? It is generally the person's character, wealth or it could be the person's unique contributions to the world.  But, what makes a culture special? Or what about a civilization ? – The answer then, is much more complex.  While everyone works towards for the betterment of one's own self-interest and family, there is also the issue of cultural capital that gets associated with a person based on the person's background and tradition.  This is where Indians have a unique civilizational capital – Samskritam (Sanskrit is the anglicized term). 

Samskritam is the ingredient that changes India from being yet another country on the globe to a Civilization and forms the ‘cultural capital' that Indians can be proud of.
Samskritam is unique in that it is the language in which much of the ancient intellectual tradition of Hindus, Buddhists & Jains are preserved. According to the mathematician Seidenberg, India's samskritam tradition has the origins of geometry in a text called Baudhyana Srauta-Sutra, (which contains what is now wrongly named as Pythagoras theorem) for the design of vedic-yajna altars. The great  mathematician from Kerala,  Nilakantha was the author of a mathematical work called Tantrasangraha  in the year 1501 CE. Prof George Gheverghese in his book “Crest of the Peacock” states that the work of Kerala mathematicians like Madhava and Nilakantha was the foundational source which influenced Newton & Leibniz in their development of calculus. 

There are also linguistic works in Samskritam, such as Panini's Ashtadhyayi, a compact text of four thousand rules that defines all of Samskritam.  The technique used in these rules is very similar to what is used in compilers for modern day computer languages. The great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are in Samskritam. There are also the wonderful poetry and dramas of Kalidasa, Bharavi, Magha, Banabhatta and many others.   The various classical dance traditions of India like Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathak etc all are based on the Samskritam work by Sage Bharata called Naatyashaastra. 

Samskritam has a unique technique of using verb-roots for various actions, noun forms, along with additional sounds called pratyaya. This standardized technique makes it very easy to create new contemporary words.  This has proven very valuable for all Indian languages to leverage and almost all Indian languages now adopt this technique for preserving and enriching India's own languages and also creating a unifying factor among various Indic languages and culture.

Is Samskritam hard to learn?

There is a great misconception that Samskritam is a tough language to learn. This misconception is because in the 19th century under British rule, the method of teaching Samskritam was changed and it was directed mostly towards translation of existing works.  So the focus was shifted to teaching mainly grammar.  If one were to start teaching English, starting with grammar and Shakespearean texts then no one would learn English.  There may be more exceptions in words usage in English than other languages, making it more difficult to learn.  

Fortunately, due to extensive work over the past 30 years by a non-profit organization called Samskrita Bharati, the technique of teaching Samskritam has changed in many places.  Samskritam is now taught in ‘conversational manner', adding a ‘fun' aspect and making it very accessible to people of all backgrounds.

Any speaker of an Indian language, ranging from Tamil to Kashmiri or Gujarati to Assamese, probably knows about 70% of the basic vocabulary and basic sentence formation.  The teaching method of Samskrita Bharati, allows a person to leverage this latent knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure to learn Samskritam.
Many people who know some basic shlokas already know many terms making it easier to learn. 

Opportunity to learn Samskritam in Austin

Texans have a unique opportunity to learn Samskritam this April.  Samskrita Bharati is conducting a weekend Samskritam camp at Radha Madhav Dham from April 6th-8th. 2012. More than 110 participants attended last year's camp and this year about 130 participants are expected. The classes are conducted using games and conversational techniques that are fun.  The beautiful hill country of Central Texas and comfortable accommodation makes the location a perfect place to immerse oneself in Samskritam.
There are multiple levels ranging from beginner to advanced. At the end of the camp, even a raw beginner will be able to understand speak simple conversational sentences in Samskritam.  There are special classes for kids as well.  This camp will be a great, family oriented fun filled opportunity for families in Texas.

For more information visit Samskrita Bharati USA.

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