Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Four Miles

7th March 2010

I wish the date was 28th Feb 2010 instead. For that’s when the others took the exam. I wanted to take it with all of them. I wanted to feel like a student. I wanted to experience the joy of being a student once again. Get into the confines of a 3 hour time limit, the enclosure of a classroom, wooden benches with the markings of register numbers in white chalk dipped in water so the marking would withstand the friction and frenzy of the student occupying the bench, white answer sheets, a question paper and 100 marks.
I wanted to experience the delight of seeing many people – young and old, men and women, living in a ‘cosmopolitan’ city – writing a Sanskrit exam on a Sunday morning.
Love South Bangalore for its people. A small bunch of natives carrying on the beautiful Indian tradition.
I wanted to be among them all.

But as always my last minute preparations were not adequate. When I realized this on the 22nd Feb, I called up the institute and had my exams postponed to 7th March.

So I wrote the last exam, ‘Kovida’, all alone in the large hall on the first floor of the institute at 6 in the evening, unable to postpone it any further, like I had done during the previous 2 exams.

But what the heck! I wrote the exam and with that I COMPLETED ALL THE FOUR EXAMS of this course. Yeeeeaaaahhhh!!! Ah! The joy and the relief!
I started this course 2 years ago. I had written about it in my blog. I had called that post ‘First Step of the 1000 miles. I have completed four exams since. Hence, this post is called 4 miles.

I eagerly look forward to the next course which is the Gita Pravesha. For the first time, I will be studying the Bhagavadgita. Ashamed that being a Hindu, I haven’t read it in all these years.
But what the heck! I will be studying it now (not just reading it) and that too in Sanskrit, with every word of it dissected and explained : )
Thanks to RSS for founding Samskritabharati with the objective of promoting Sanskrit. The institute Aksharam in Girinagar, Bangalore is affiliated to Samskritabharati.

My preparation for this exam was an experience that combined anxiety and delight.
I had secured all the question papers of the previous years so that I knew which portions fetched easy marks and which ones I should omit in case I could not complete all portions. And surely, there was so much that I had to omit! Did someone say ‘old habits die hard’? Wrong. Old habits never die.

Every time I stumbled upon a word that I did not understand, a verse I could not decipher, I called up my Dad or my uncle, both of whom live in Mysore and had my doubts clarified. Distance learning program indeed!

This semester had less grammar and more prose and I loved reading all that I did.

Every sentence, no matter how short exuded the beauty of the language and proclaimed the scientific grammar of the language. Sanskrit grammar is as scientific as mathematics. It blows my mind.

Take ‘Chandas’ for example. Prosody in English or metrical arrangement of syllables in poetry.
The meters have been classified based on the time required for uttering each syllable. Just to give you perspective, one particular meter ‘Anushtup’ chanda is characterized by the following.
A verse of two lines has four padas (quarters) having 8 syllables each. The fifth syllable of each quarter is a short syllable and the 6th is a long one. The 7th syllable of the 2nd and 4th quarter is a short syllable. The 7th syllable of the 1st and 3rd quarter is a long syllable.
The whole of Ramayana and Mahabharata are composed in this meter only! There are one hundred thousand shlokas in Mahabharata and all of them are composed in adherence to the above rule!

Imagine the English alphabet being divided into 2 groups containing 13 letters each and the rules of poetry specifying which group, the letters occupying certain positions in a line should come from!
Composing a poem that has rhyming words itself is difficult. Imagine having to compose thousands of verses adhering strictly to rules that get specific to the alphabet level!
Add to this the other requirements - the verse has to have a meaning, it has to be beautiful, it has to tell a story and so on…
I can’t stop being amazed at the genius of those poets who delivered such brilliance.

Reading all the prose and poetry was enchanting.

The short stories provide glimpses of the high ideals of people. When observed from the point of view of wisdom and practicality though, they may seem bookish - Chanakya sleeping on a thin mat during winter though there was a heap of blankets lying next to him, for those blankets were given him by the king & were meant to be distributed among the poor and hence he had no right to use them. A man repeatedly tried to salvage a scorpion fallen into a flooded river though it stung him, since he believed that it was the dharma of the scorpion to bite but it was the dharma of a human to be compassionate about all living creatures. And then there’s the King Dilipa of Raghuvamsha offering his own life to satisfy the hunger of the lion that dragged away the divine cow Nandini belonging to sage Vasishta, since the sage had entrusted the king with the cow.

Subhashitas on the other hand are 2 or 4 line verses that offer short moral lessons (mostly) but at times teach wisdom, survival and pragmatism. I love Subhashitas, for the analogies used, for their nice ring when you recite them aloud, for their conciseness and yet their richness.

As I read more about important works under the different categories of Sanskrit literature, there comes the sense of loss at the realization that what we have now with us is but a tiny drop of the ocean that eventually dried up – due to plundering by intolerant savages, changing times and neglect shown by our own people. Poets and writers of a bygone era most of whose works are not available now…how I wish someone would find them all while digging earth.

But the drop that we do have now is an ocean by itself, beyond the scope of one man’s life.
The sages Valmiki & Vyasa, the grammarian Panini, the astronomer Varahamihira, one among the nine jewels in King Vikramaditya’s court, Kalidasa of Ujjaini, the ever charming dramas with their never forgettable characters - Charuddatta, Vasantasena, Vasavadatta and her Veena ‘Ghoshavati’, the villain shakara, and many others I get to know. I look back at the past glory as if with nostalgia.

I am transported to a glorious time and world - of India’s past (as always happens when you study Sanskrit). The refined polished ways of the people. The high culture that prevailed during those times that can be inferred from the exchanges that took place between people. Their insistence on treading the path of dharma. The innocence of an age. Individual sacrifices for the long term welfare of the community.

I am not opposed to growth or change, but I am thankful that Sanskrit language has not grown.
Art and Literature rose to their zenith and froze there. Like a maiden attaining the peak of her youth and beauty and turning into a statue. Never to see decay, never to see degeneration.

Ancient Indian culture. It stands like a beacon. It stands for everything that is pure and rich. Pure gold. Pure air. Pure Ganges. Pure thought. Pure conduct. Perfect ideal.

Living in a time when purity is no longer a virtue, not expected anymore, not really appreciated and not available in the first place, in a time when ‘puritanical’ is a word used to ‘criticize’, it’s nice to visit the relics of purity between the leaves of a Sanskrit book.


Hemanth said...

The knowledge of forgotten times create a path for the un-experienced ones. Great Blog. :-)

Saro said...


sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about these Sanskrit books?

Sowmya said...

Thanks Hemanth for the nice words :)

Hey Saro! Thanks :)

sfauthor, thanks for coming here. I will go through the site