The lure of Sanskrit

miscellany

The lure of Sanskrit

Is it possible to live according to the norms prescribed by ancient scriptures while assimilating and absorbing technological and scientific discoveries, lifestyle and values of the modern era? An exuberant community living in two remote villages in Shivamogga district has successfully proved that it indeed is possible.

Mattur and Hosahalli are small archetypal villages situated on the left and right banks of River Tunga, just about 10 km from the busy town of Shivamogga. Today, these villages are known to be the only villages in India and the world, where Sanskrit is the primary language.

A vast expanse of lush green areca nut and coconut farms line the roads leading to Mattur and as one enters the village,  Sharada Vidyalaya, the village school with a giant statue of Goddess Saraswati at the centre of a courtyard greets the visitor. The school’s name board outside the gate in Sanskrit appears as a perfect prologue to the story of this village. Children are taught Sanskrit as well as the Vedas here. As we stroll ahead, the melodious chanting of Sanskrit Vedic verses resonate from the confines of mud-walled, tile-roofed homes. Young and old scholars, clad in traditional attire, are busily moving about. At specified hours, these scholars congregate at the mantapa in front of the Lakshmi Narayana Temple located at the centre of the village or on the granite steps beside River Tunga, under the shaded canopy of a giant banyan tree, for Vedic recitals.

In the midst of these divine preoccupations, the same scholars also find time to toil in the areca nut and coconut farms. After putting away their sacred palm-leaf manuscripts, the scholars pick up the sickle and the plough and set out to work in the fields. The village economy depends on agriculture, with areca nut, coconut and banana being the major crops.

Many agricultural postgraduate villagers supervise the cultivation and also work in the farms. It will not be surprising to find a Sanskrit scholar who has mastered the Vedas drying areca nut in the drying yard. Most of the women are also well educated. Some teach music, Gita and Sanskrit to children, apart from helping the men out in agricultural activities.

Everywhere in the village, you can find people engaged in an animated conversation in Sanskrit. Even the shopkeepers and the postman of Mattur converse fluently in this language. Every item in the grocery shop is identified by its Sanskrit name. Out of the total population of about 5,000 people, 80 per cent can converse in Sanskrit and many others can understand the ancient language. The villagers have a dialect called Sanket (devoid of any script), which is a mix of Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu.

A majority of people of Mattur have had a foundation of education in the Vedas before taking up higher education outside. But don’t think that these villagers are only concerned with the old. The village, in fact, boasts of many postgraduates, PhD holders, IT professionals, professors and teachers. Eminent Sanskrit scholars, Mattur Krishnamurthy and Mattur Nanda Kumar, hailed from this village. Both of them headed Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in England. Prof Srinidhi, Aruna Avadhani and Markandeya Avadhani are other leading scholars from the village. More than 50 per cent of the families in this village have  members who are working abroad. Those who are working abroad also devote their spare time for propagating the Sanskrit language and Vedic studies there.

While Sanskrit is taught in the village school, short duration camps are held here for outsiders desirous of learning the language. Sanskrit plays of Kalidas and others are staged and even public meetings are conducted in Sanskrit. While this activity of propagating the ancient language goes on, the pursuit of Vedic studies also continues with full fervour. It is

reported that there are about 20 scholars in Mattur who have mastered the Yajur Veda, which according to the village elders is a ‘Bhageeratha task’, taking eight to 10 years of dedicated efforts and lots of perseverance.


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