Rig Veda

The art of sneering at Modi: Express

Indian Express is breathless in rubbishing the recent speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Parliament that “democracy in India wasn’t the work of Pt. Nehru….but that it was in ragon (veins) of Indians.” In last one week, Ashutosh Varshney and D.N. Jha have hogged Express’ edit pages to sneer at the Prime Minister and swoon at Pt. Nehru as the reason India has democracy.

We know too well the design of such anti-India forces to blacken our glorious heritage. You call them stooges of Western powers (for whom democracy originated from Greece) or the lackeys of Left (sworn enemies of Hinduism) but never forget the vileness of these forces. They don’t mean good of you or me or our future generations.

Varshney defines democracy as one of elected governments and universal adult suffrage, a typical Western notion. Who are we to tell him that Pt. Nehru’s own mentor, Mahatma Gandhi took a dim view of such a democracy! Gandhi saw better merit in “Republics of Village” – a direct democracy rather than a representative democracy—in which India abounded.

Varshney’s second line of propaganda is that ancient India may have had Councils (Gana or Sangha) through which a King governed but a common citizen had no role to play. Here’s what the eyewitness account of Alexander’s campaign to India in the 4th Century BCE by a Greek historian Arrian states: “ (there were) free and independent Indian communities at every turn”.

Greek writer Diodorus Siculus mentions that he mostly came across cities in India which practiced a democratic form of government.” The reference was from an account of no less than Greek traveler Megasthenes who had covered the entire Northern India and went as far as Patliputra.

Varshney probably hasn’t heard of Kautilya or his Arthashastra in the 4th Century BCE which mentions “janapadas” (Republic) where craftsmen, traders and agriculturalists had their guilds and wealth earned from trade ran the political process.

Panini, in his Sanskrit Classic “Ashtadhyayi” mentions the process of decision-making in politics. He provides various terms for voting and decision making through voting. He also mentions that in these Republics “there was no consideration of high and low.” The Buddhist literature in Pali and Brahmnical literature in Sanskrit portray a complex scenario of different groups managing their own affairs.

Indeed, the non-Monarchical governments in India go back to Vedic times. Rig Veda (10/191/2) mentions that “all resources to all stake-holders must be distributed equally.”

As for Pt. Nehru and his democratic credentials, his very appointment as Prime Minister was as undemocratic method as you could come across in any world annals. Nobody voted for him, yet he was made Prime Minister after majority’s favourite Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel bowed to the tyranny of Mahatma Gandhi.

And before touting for “democratic” Pt. Nehru, Varshney also ought to have informed the readers that the first Prime Minister of India had indeed jailed Majrooh Sultanpuri for his poem which didn’t paint him in golden colours. No wonder, his daughter Indira Gandhi went a step further and imposed Emergency.

So much for “freedom of speech” and “freedom of expression” which Varshney calls essentials in democracy.

Angoorlata and her oath in Sanskrit

Angoorlata Deka, the newly elected BJP MLA from Batadroba constituency in Assam, has made front-page headlines with her oath in Sanskrit language. The newspapers are shocked at her audacity for don’t we all have given up the language as dead?

Our ignorance deserves a reality check. Sanskrit is one of the 22 languages listed in a Schedule to the Constitution. It’s the official language in the state of Uttarakhand. Since 1967, Sahitya Akademi has been giving award for literary works in Sanskrit. It’s true of adult as well as kids’ literature.

In all, there are 15 Sanskrit universities, thousands of Sanskrit colleges. Features films are being made in Sanskrit, the ones on Adi Shankaracharya, Bhagavad Gita and Mudrarakshasa (a film on great emperor Chandragupta Maurya) instantly come to mind.

An animated film in Sanskrit, “Punyakoti” is scheduled for release in 2016. There are more than 75 dailies, weeklies and monthlies in Sanskrit. We have television news in Sanskrit. No less than our Prime Minister tweets in Sanskrit. In Karnataka, two villages of Mattur and Hosahalli has everyone speaking in Sanskrit to this date.

All the 125 major languages and 1500 minor languages of the country can trace its origin on Sanskrit. It’s not just India alone, Nepal’s motto is a pick from Valmiki’s Ramayana. There’s Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the word Angkor meaning “City” in Sanskrit.

Initially, Sanskrit wasn’t known by its present name. It was called Bhasha. This was a fact at least till the 6th century BCE. It was essentially a spoken language. When rendered into writing, various different scripts were used. The use of Devanagari is of a recent vintage. In its grammar, letters and words freely merge to form compound letters and compound words. Two of these principals are called sandhi and samasa.

The greatest proponent of Sanskrit language was poet Kalidasa. His classics, such as Malavikagnimitram (the love story between King Agnimitra and Malavika), Abhijnanashakuntalam (the famous Shaknutala story) and Meghadutam (Cloud as messenger) haven’t lost its lustre till this day.

It’s a fallacy to believe that Sanskrit was only spoken by Kshatriyas and Brahmans in ancient times. Instances abound where commoners were known to use the language. In the Rig Veda, 21 out of 407 rishis were women. There was no gender bias in the use of the language.

Since 2003, India has a National Mission for Manuscripts (Namami). Its task is to list, digitize, publish and translate manuscripts at least 75 years old. As of now, Namami has a listing/digitization of three million—the anticipated stock of manuscripts in India is 35 milion. There are at least 60,000 manuscripts in Europe and another 1,50,000 elsewhere in South Asia. Ninety-five percent of these manuscripts have never been listed, collated or translated. To give you an idea of the enormity of the task: Since the advent of printing only an estimated 130 million books have been published in all languages of the world.

We don’t know the treasure waiting to be rediscovered. Take the instance of Arthashastra for instance. The classic on political economy and governance was written by Kautilya (350-275 BCE). But it was rediscovered by R. Shamasastry in 1904, published in 1909 and translated into English in 1915. We don’t know how many Arthashastra we have lost in all these centuries.

Same is true of many variations of scripts of Sanskrit. The sharada script, popular in Kashmir at one time in history, is completely lost. Same is true of Paishachi language and a very famous work in this script, Brihatkatha. Both are lost to us. Many Buddhist and Jain texts were written in Sanskrit too. And lest we forget, Ayurveda, the treatises on medicine, the work of Charaka (2nd century CE), no longer survives.

And here is the surprise of all surprises: “A Companion to Sanskrit Literature,” authored by Sures Chandra Banerji, has an entire chapter on the contribution of Muslims to Sanskrit. This volume traverses 3000 years of Sanskrit literature.

Naheed Abidi was bestowed with Padma Shri in 2014 for her contributions to Sanskrit literature. Her first book in 2008 titled “Sanskrit Sahitya Mein Rahim” is an account of the Sanskrit leanings of renowned poet Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana. Another bookof hers, “Sirr-e-Akbar” is a hindi translation of 50 Upanishads, earlier translated by the Mughal prince, Dara Shikoh into Persian. Naheed has published a Hindi translation of Vedanta, translated into Persian by Dara Shikoh and also the Sufi texts by the prince.

There is no denying the crisis though. The last Census in 2011 still don’t tell us how many speak Sanskrit in our country. The Census of 2001 had put the number to 14,135. There is an initiative from the government for the long-term vision and roadmap for the development of Sanskrit. Angoorlata’s act of oath has brought the Sanskrit language into popular mainstream and we ought to be grateful to her.

(The background of this article is largely based on Dr. Bibek Debroy’s speech in Paris on the occasion of International Mother Tongue Day, organized by UNESCO on March 3, 2016).