'Sanskrit has relevance even in HR, management arenas'
When Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, a towering Indian Renaissance figure made waves in Bengal in the 1850s as principal of the Sanskrit College in Calcutta, its ripples were felt in the South too...
In December 1905, the late V Krishnaswami Iyer, a leading lawyer and later judge of the Madras high court, with a few close friends founded the Madras Sanskrit College (MSC), not only to promote the study and research in ancient ‘Sastras’, but also to see that the “College made valuable contribution to the progress of human thought both in the East and the West.”
Nearly 105 years later, weathering historical and political vicissitudes, the MSC stands as a torch-bearer of tradition, yet blending with the modern. Its present principal, Dr N V Devi Prasad spoke to M R Venkatesh of Deccan Herald. Excerpts:
The Madras Sanskrit College is one of the oldest in India. What has been its USP that helped it to brave many a storm all these years?
At a time when the then British government gave prominence to western-type education, the learning of our ‘Shastras’ and preparing students to become pundits for the society’s larger benefit started taking the back seat. There was a serious shortage of traditional Shastraic scholars and pundits. It was in that scenario, to retrieve Indian traditional knowledge and studies, our cultural heritage and to take it forward, V Kirshnaswami Iyer founded a trust to fund this college. Starting with a four-year course with two departments of ‘Vedanta’ and ‘Mimamsa’, MSC has been affiliated to the University of Madras since 1912.
In fact, its first-batch student, ‘Mahamohopadhyaya’ Chinnaswami Shastri went from here to establish the first ‘Mimamsa’ department at the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) later.
All papers must compulsorily be written in Sanskrit, besides students being required to acquire a decent knowledge of both English and Tamil. This strong foundation has made MSC one of the unique institutions in India. Over the years, other departments of ‘Sahitya’, ‘Nyaya’ (Indian logic), ‘Vyakarna’ (grammar) and ‘Jyotishya’ (astrology) were added to make it comprehensive and cover all Indian systems of thought. Now we offer up to MA Sanskrit ‘Siromani’ course, besides part-time diploma courses in Sanskrit.
How was MSC’s role perceived during the days of freedom struggle?
Several great scholars and distinguished sons of India who have visited our college including Prof MacDonnell, professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University (1906), were very happy with the starting of such an institution. Let me cite a few examples. “I am very much pleased to see this institution. There will be no doubt about the usefulness of the study of Sanskrit,” wrote Mahatma Gandhi in the visitors book when he visited our college on April 27, 1915. When Rabindranath Tagore came to our institution on Oct 9, 1922, he expressed similar sentiments.
Amid an explosion in science and technology and management institutes and universities, how relevant is Sanskrit studies today?
If anything, Sanskrit is even more relevant today. It has quietly moved into even the management arena, in human resources, to deal with workplace stress, besides in areas like behavioural ethics in governance. Our students teach scientists, as there is so much of science in our Vedas and Puranas and Ayurveda. Judges, lawyers and legal experts often find the need to interpret original Sanskrit texts, as good part of our modern civil law, from marriage to property laws are based on our ‘Dharma Shastras.’ There are original texts describing the science of Indian metallurgy, alchemy, mathematics and thousands of precious manuscripts which need to be copied, read and interpreted. The Union HRD ministry has initiated a major project to digitise our ancient manuscripts. All these require a certain proficiency in Sanskrit language, a sin qua non to also retrieve and preserve the manuscript treasures. We also guide western scholars in reading manuscripts, as when an American scholar did research on the impact of ‘Yagnas’ (fire sacrifices) on the environment.
Do you have any entry barriers and how are your students faring outside?
The popular perception is that a course in Sanskrit is useless. On the contrary it is a miracle that almost all our students, except the few who pursue research, passing out every year get jobs very quickly. There is a good demand for Sanskrit teachers and professors in schools, colleges, religious institutions and in some cases even in foreign universities. Some of our boys have even become vice-chancellors.
A computer science paper has been added recently to better the students’ job prospects. There are no entry barriers. Anyone who has completed school final or from a ‘patashaala’ can join our college. Cutting across caste and creed, our part-time certificate course in Sanskrit is now very popular among various professionals who want to learn the language. This year, 60 students have joined our diploma courses alone.