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And indeed, every four years, enthusiastic knowledge seekers do get the golden opportunity to indulge in the pursuit of happiness—through the Spoken Sanskrit Summer School. This year too, students from the world over—including from Costa Rica and Serbia—gathered on campus at the Australian National University for the Fourth International Spoken Sanskrit Summer School.
What makes this school so coveted and unique, though? Well, for one, ANU—apart from the University of Leipzig in Germany—is the only place in the western world that teaches Sanskrit in its spoken form, as far as we know. According to Dr McComas Taylor, the ANU School of Culture, History & Language Sanskrit professor, “People who have heard of Sanskrit think of it as a classical language, and most do not even know that it is a spoken language”.
What students can enjoy and experience is a complete fortnight of immersion into spoken Sanskrit—everyday conversation, traditional singing, storytelling, and lots more. Of course, all students who enrol do have some background of Sanskrit grammar, but speaking application is something new they get to master. It is this end purpose that drives Dr McComas Taylor and his passion, the fact that “students pick up something really big and old and simply pick up the ball and run with it. That’s the beauty of learning in the true sense!”
Eventually, students of the Sanskrit Summer School conclude by talking about themselves in Sanskrit and learn to sing about 30 verses, leaving with a much deeper appreciation of the language, as well as the concepts and ideologies it shapes.
One such verse goes like this:
हस्तस्य भूषणं दानं सत्यं कण्ठस्य भूषणम् ।
श्रोत्रस्य भूषणं शास्त्रं भूषणैः किं प्रयोजनम् ॥
This translates to: “Generosity adorns the hand; truth, the throat; sacred texts, the ear. What use are other adornments?”
This is the kind of learning and energy students take away from the school.
Dr Sadananda Das from Leipzig, the guest instructor of the Spoken Sanskrit Summer School, has been associated with Dr Taylor since 2003. Together, they have driven this unique experience every four years.
According to Dr Das, while Sanskrit is an ancient language, it is equally modern. As a language belonging to the Indo-European family, Sanskrit is related to many European languages. It nourishes modern languages even today. In fact, it has a lot to give us beyond being just a language—Sanskrit provides energy, thoughts to think, rich literary perspective, spirituality and so much more. So Sanskrit today is as relevant as it was in ancient times.
To aptly sum up the joy and positivity of the experience behind this initiative, Dr Taylor quotes one of his early tutors, Richard Stanley, who said in a broad Aussie accent, “Sanskrit makes ya feel good”!