Reviving the Indigenous Curriculum of India
Article by: Minaxi Acharya and Vasuki Prasad
His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda was graciously hosted by the Hon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 2nd March 2017 in Delhi. This meeting happened despite the extremely tight schedule right before the Hon. Prime Minister’s campaigning trip to Uttar Pradesh on the eve of the state assembly elections, which then ushered in a fresh mandate and a new state government.
What follows is a description of the meeting itself followed by editorial comments to elucidate the greater context around the plight of longstanding indigenous education. This article focuses much-needed attention on the dire situation regarding the fading institutional support for the infrastructure of Sanskrit studies in India.
The article is divided into three sections followed by a list of references that pertain to the second section. In the third section, we reference a proposal with imperative first steps to guard against the rapidly approaching extinction of Sanskrit schools in Uttar Pradesh.
Meeting the Prime Minister of India
The Honourable Prime Minister (PM) came across as someone in charge, full of conviction and courage. What impressed His Holiness was how the PM Sri Narendra Modi was genuinely dedicated to ardently serving both motherhood and motherland. In that sense the PM stood tall as a genuine server filled with an unshakable faith and a steadfast interest in reviving India’s multifaceted standing. He appeared to be focused on his resolutions and someone who will not vacillate but make careful decisions with a vision in mind.
The Hon. Prime Minister’s various duties clearly drew him in many different directions, but despite this, the expected hustle and bustle in and around him was absent. Before the meeting, his supporting staff briefed His Holiness about the Hon. Prime Minister in glowing terms. The whole ambience was filled with glimmers of the prime minister’s immense popularity.
The two of them met in private and had a rewarding dialogue focusing mainly on spiritual and educational topics. This is the first time the PM Sri Narendra Modi had met Swami Vidyadhishananda. However, this kind of meeting is very much in keeping with the Indic tradition, where a monk or a saint is graciously received or at times consulted by a statesman or a top appointee of the government. For example, the erstwhile and popular president of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who assumed charge after the British Raj ended, took audience with the then Shankaracharya, His Holiness Swami Brahmananda on 4th December 1952 (see picture below).
This meeting with Swami Vidyadhishananda was in recognition of the profound wisdom that a Vedic monk and scholar of his standing can bring to modern society through an effort to highlight India’s ancient hallowed past. Of particular interest at this meeting was the monastic insight into the continuing role of Sanskrit in defining the momentum of Sanskriti, which is the unbroken cultural identity surviving in modern India.
His Holiness disclosed at the outset that he was representing his own lineages that were a combined heritage of rishi sages and nath yogis of the Himalayan Mountains. After gauging first-hand the sincerity of responsibility the PM Sri Narendra Modi brings to his role as a statesman, His Holiness honoured the Prime Minister’s dedication with a Sanskrit verse: sevā-dharmaḥ parama-gahano yogināmapyagamya. This translates as: dharmic service for noble causes is so profound and intricate that even great yogis and meditation adepts cannot reach or access this.
When Swami Vidyadhishananda revealed that it was the sage Kashyapa rishi who requested him to accept this appointment, the Hon. Prime Minister disclosed that he himself hails from the same patrilineal family affiliation (gotra) attributed to the sage. The Prime Minister did not express any surprise or suspicion as to how a rishi of yore could communicate such a message. That a Himalayan monk would be capable of receiving such a message from the subtle world was clearly understood by the Hon. Prime Minister.
Moreover, when His Holiness mentioned that he had not come to meet the honourable statesman in order to ask anything for himself, the Prime Minister quipped back promptly, “Even if I offer, where shall you keep?” Thus implying that a true renunciate has no place to own anything, neither does such a monk desire anything for personal fame. This fortuitous beginning to the meeting fostered an unusual warmth between the two of them.
They discussed the Himalayan tradition of nath siddha meditation and if such great yogis were still reachable by seekers and trekkers. The Hon. Sri Narendra Modi spoke a few words about his wanderings in the Himalayan terrain and his call of service to the motherland. His Holiness touched upon his own meditative penance in the Himalayan terrain and how an ardent meditator can access the world of the siddhas in the middle to high Himalayan mountain ranges.
Thereafter His Holiness emphasized Sanskrit’s multidimensional role and how the indigenous Sanskrit tradition has been a common ground between science and spirituality. His Holiness also mentioned that Sanskrit literature has been a seamless bridge between faith and evolution.
Swami Vidyadhishananda outlined how he and a few other traditional monks and ardent servers were reviving the platform that the Sanskrit tradition instructs us to teach and explained how the Sanskrit heritage integrates all aspects of the knowledge base. The Hon. Prime Minister conveyed his gratitude for these works both in India and in the USA and commended the efforts to truly portray Indic heritage to the world.
The Hon. Prime Minister agreed about the tragedy of framing Sanskrit narrowly as a religious language, which has resulted in tainting such a universal heritage by reducing it to a trivialized status. Swami Vidyadhishananda pointed out the greatly diminished funding and lack of maintenance of institutional facilities for the teaching of the Sanskrit language in India, and how Uttar Pradesh could be a model to revive the root of this indigenous strength.
In this regard, the Hon. Prime Minister invited His Holiness to submit meaningful proposals to his office and even promised that he will read them personally. With humility and poise, the Hon. Prime Minister affirmed his dedication and welcomed policy suggestions from monks.
Hon. Dr. Rajendra Prasad in audience with HH Swami Brahmananda Saraswati on 4th December 1952. Image courtesy of Premananda Paul Mason.
Editorial Comments about the Backdrop to this Meeting
This background summary is based on our own experiential understanding further refined by our meaningful discussions with the scholarly monks, HH Swami Vidyadhishananda and HH Swami Sharadananda (see picture appended to the end of this article), who directly oversee traditional accelerated learning schools that train hundreds of children per year. We append these comments as a reminder about how preserving the longstanding Sanskrit curriculum and Sanskrit-based studies, especially in North India, is a pressing duty of all those who care.
Often the lack of hindsight or depth of study about the true Indic history can hurt the revival of the indigenous knowledge base despite well-intentioned governance (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Therefore, we conclude this article by referencing a proposal that outlines a crucial first step for safeguarding the foothold of India’s most precious strength. Obviously we must turn to the nation’s leaders and their teams, starting with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and of course involving the state level authorities wherever necessary.
Those sincere in the search for India’s glorious past and indigenous knowledge resources, which include scientists, historians, academicians and scholars, invariably conclude that India provided leadership in many areas of science, besides the realm of spirituality (6, 7, 8, 9).
Widely studied and accepted works of scholars and academicians have indicated that the Indian decimal place value system and method of calculation had been spread around the world from India where it had originated. Though some of the original works are lost to historical turmoil, translations of those scholarly works bear witness to the far outreach of India’s indigenous knowledge since ancient times (10, 11, 12, 13, 14).
The Sanskrit curriculum and its integrated systems always held together the common ground of higher knowledge (15, 16, 17, 18, 19). The universities of ancient India seamlessly combined mathematics with meditation, philosophy with music, and yoga with art among many other interwoven diverse parts of the Sanskrit-based curriculum. This is a far cry from the disastrous divide between institutionalized religion and philosophy that arose from the turmoil in post-Roman European history (14, 20, 21).
Unlike Europe, India did not suffer a centralized loss of continuity of knowledge streams due to the sudden onslaught of institutionalized religion, which destroyed Alexandria and resulted in the widespread adoption of Byzantine Greek literature. Sanskrit studies and its living tradition were safeguarded in multiple regions across India and therefore there was immense opportunity to protect and extract the continuity of knowledge despite the historical turmoil in India over the last thousand years.
The current education system has been ignoring the scientific value of Sanskrit and not supporting the extant traditional learning platforms. The original and erstwhile systems of accelerated learning were used in renowned universities of yore and were surviving far better before the appointed experts of the British Raj marginalized India’s core educational foundations.
The colonial administration sponsored skewed studies to purposely misconstrue the cultural and historical heritage of India. Most important in this scheme was the deconstruction of the Sanskrit-based learning and education system (22). We are still struggling to overcome the gripping mindset that the famous trinity of William Wilberforce, James Mill and Thomas Macaulay inflicted upon India by changing its education system. Their plot was for the indigenous education system to collapse under the mighty thrust of anglicized education, thereby leaving the Sanskrit-based learning system to wither away.
If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.Popper, Karl. The Open Society and Its Enemies: New One-Volume Edition. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.
This plotting to ignore the Sanskrit-based indigenous education system reached its zenith in the post-British Raj era when policy-makers failed to admit that the true cause of India’s poverty was: (a) plundering, (b) wealth transfer and (c) the break-up of the indigenous education system. Having embraced a Western approach to mathematics and science plus English-medium education, the reconstruction policies of the post-British era further perpetuated the colonial momentum.
This transpired without a proper blueprint to unite multilingual experts and systematically translate the vast regional Sanskrit resources of extant manuscripts that were left intact despite the historical turmoil. Even at present, following the trail of valuable manuscripts leads to many countries in Europe where ample funding and human resources have been pulling rare manuscripts away from Indic repositories.
The National Manuscript Mission was introduced a little too late, long after the British period ended. Even now precious manuscripts of indigenous knowledge are being sold by antiquarian sellers to interested parties abroad for high financial remuneration. In scouting for rare regional knowledge bases and hunting down pockets of Sanskrit works hugely relevant to modern times, scholars and researchers are facing the results of the migration of Sanskrit resources, which continues even today at an uncomfortable rate. Perhaps no other country is so careless in safeguarding its most precious heritage.
There is no mistaking that Sanskrit is one of the most scientific languages due to its phonetic structure and grammatical construction (23). However, what has been a tragedy of immense proportion is the failure of independent India to appreciate or support the lineages of teachers safeguarding the texts and keeping the indigenous system of education alive. A very large amount of extant literature covering all aspects of knowledge and fields of study was laid to waste, as hardly anyone remains who is trained to extract the meaning or well-practised enough to teach eager students.
The old mathematics known as Gaṇita-śāstra that was once the great attraction for Pythagoras and many others is all but extinct (24). Lack of salary for trained teachers, no structured provision for an institutional platform and the absence of a curriculum that could properly interpret the Sanskrit knowledge base have assured the near collapse of this traditional mathematical heritage.
It is well known in intellectual circles that Indic history has been held hostage by the colonial offensive and its remanence. Not only this, it has been held captive due to the homegrown political decadence and spurious scholarship that have reinforced the imperialistic Eurocentric dogma. Forcing the colonized populace to conform to a mosaic chronology and Hellenization of history resulted in a crushing suppression of the unbroken history of India’s much older, continuous civilizational heritage.
The vested interests have severely denounced the Indic culture and rejected India’s extraordinary achievements in all aspects of Sanskrit-based knowledge systems, including mathematics and philosophy. The retrofit to a farcical, jumbled chronology conveniently hides how India’s advanced agriculture generated wealth. These riches and the wealth generated through Vedic fire ceremonies were plundered by invaders and their missionaries who took advantage of a void left behind after the Mahabharata war and subsequent chaos in governance.
Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1949.
We can abjectly trace many of the current issues of identity crisis and confusion in India’s youth to the wiping out of the Sanskrit-based knowhow and suppression of India’s hallowed past through the superimposition of a distorted history. Those students, teachers and their communities most directly affected by being uprooted from their accelerated whole-brain learning system are not cloistered in their own world of grievances.
It is an amazing story of courage how these deprived communities who were thriving a thousand years ago are neither claiming victimhood nor resentment. They have been carrying on doing their utmost despite upheavals and political apathy spanning centuries. However, in the face of materialism and modernism, the survivors of the old Sanskrit-based system are currently incapable of umpiring their own resurgence. They need more than empathy.
The authorities often claim that the interest level to sustain these accelerated learning systems has plummeted and hence the decrease in numbers of enrolling students and lineages of teachers. The facts are quite the opposite and can be easily verified. By giving financial incentive, providing proper placement after graduation, and investing in existing institutional infrastructure, the indigenous system of learning can be made sustainable. The time is encroaching fast when our regret will be too late to decolonize education.
The roadmap to rebuild confidence in and access to the indigenous heritage begins with reviving Sanskrit language studies. This meaningful step will reconnect the aspiring youth with the scientific understanding of Sanskriti, of which only the ritualistic traditions are still somehow surviving. Still there is some hope of reconstruction by enlisting the services of the remnant lineages of teachers if some sort of priority is given to institutional funding and reinstatement of an appropriate curriculum.
Current Situation and Proposed Solution
In the proposal, UPMSSP Appointment of Sanskrit Teachers, submitted by HH Swami Sharadananda and HH Swami Vidyadhishananda, Uttar Pradesh is chosen not just because of the dire situation, but to allow the rectification measures to serve as a model and inspiration for other fading indigenous curricular programmes nationwide.
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His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda
His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda was awarded the degree of Mahāmahopādhyāya (DLitt et Phil) due to his Sanskrit-based scholarship, the highest award by the university system in India. The degree was presented by the late Sri Ramaranjan Mukherjee, the ex-president of the Indian Association of Universities on 6th January 2006 at Jadavpur University, Calcutta.
His Holiness Swami Sharadananda
His Holiness Swami Sharadananda was awarded Dharmālankāra by the Kashi Vidwat-Parishad for his authoritative contribution on Sanskrit scriptures at Daxinamurti Math, Varanasi. He was awarded the accolades of Vedantācharya and Sānkhyayogācharya for his extraordinary command of Sanskrit-based cardinal philosophies by the Sampurnananda University, Varanasi.
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